Looking at Australian politics from a libertarian/conservative perspective...  
R.G.Menzies above

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Two of my ancestors were convicts so my family has been in Australia for a long time. As well as that, all four of my grandparents were born in the State where I was born and still live: Queensland. And I am even a member of the world's second-most condemned minority: WASPs (the most condemned is of course the Jews -- which may be why I tend to like Jews). So I think I am as Australian as you can get. I certainly feel that way. I like all things that are iconically Australian: meat pies, Vegemite, Henry Lawson etc. I particularly pride myself on my familiarity with the great Australian slanguage. I draw the line at Iced Vo-Vos and betting on the neddies, however. So if I cannot comment insightfully on Australian affairs, who could?


31 January, 2011

Floods' economic pain is greatly exaggerated

Ross Gittins

Most of us are back at work, but the silly season won't be over until we get the Queensland floods into perspective. They are a great human tragedy, but they're not such a big deal for the economy.

It's not surprising the public has been so excited about such amazing scenes and so much loss of life and property. Nor is it surprising the media devoted so much coverage to the floods when, with most of us at the beach, there's been so little other news.

It's not even surprising the Gillard government has been beating up the story, making it out to be the biggest thing since the global financial crisis. At one level this is just the pollies doing their instinctive I-feel-your-pain routine. They could seem heartless if they tried telling people things weren't as bad as they seemed.

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At another level it's easy to see Julia Gillard trying to gain the same boost to her popularity as Anna Bligh. She'd be well aware of all the seats Labor lost in Queensland at the election in August. It's an almost inevitable assumption by the punters and the media that if an event is huge in human and media terms it must be just as big in its effect on the economy. When the punters tire of seeing footage of people on roofs, you "take the story forward" by finding some expert who'll agree it also spells disaster for the economy.

The wise and much-loved econocrat Austin Holmes used to say that one of the most important skills an economist needed was "a sense of the relative magnitudes" - the ability to see whether something was big enough to be worth worrying about.

That sense has been absent from the comments of those business and academic economists on duty over the silly season, happily supplying the media's demand for comments confirming the immensity of the floods' economic and budgetary implications.

With the revelation last week of the econocrats' estimates of the likely magnitudes, it's clear the figures supplied by business economists were way too high. And the economists' furious debate over how the budgetary cost of the rebuilding effort should be financed is now revealed as utterly out of proportion to the modest sums involved.

Of course, you still wouldn't have twigged to this had you focused on the government's rhetoric rather than its figures. In Gillard's speech on the budgetary costs and Wayne Swan's speech on the economic impact both were busily exaggerating the size of the crisis, even while revealing how small it really was.

Gillard said it was "the most expensive disaster in Australia's history" and that the "cost to the economy is enormous". The government's task, she kept repeating, was to "rebuild Queensland".

Swan repeated that "this is likely to end up being the most costly disaster in Australian history", which was "going to cost Australia dearly" and involves a "massive reconstruction effort". The closest he got to the truth was his observation that "the economic questions pale into insignificance next to the human cost of what we've seen".

If this is the most expensive natural disaster in Australian history, all it proves is the cost of earlier disasters was negligible. If you can "rebuild Queensland" for just $5.6 billion, it must be a pretty tin-pot place.

If $5.6 billion seems a lot, consider some "relative magnitudes": the economy's annual production of goods and services (gross domestic product) totals $1400 billion, and the budget's annual revenue collections total $314 billion.

Note that, though no one's thought it worthy of mention, the $5.6 billion in spending will be spread over at least three financial years, making it that much easier to fund.

We know that more than a third of the $5.6 billion will be paid out in the present financial year with, presumably, most of the rest paid in 2011-12. So just how the flood reconstruction spending could threaten the budget's promised return to surplus in 2012-13 is something no one has explained.

And if $5.6 billion isn't all that significant in the scheme of things, how much less significant is the $1.8 billion to be raised from the tax levy? The fuss economists have been making about it tells us more about their hang-ups over taxation than their powers of economic analysis.

And how they can keep a straight face while claiming it could have a significant effect on consumer spending (well over $700 billion a year) is beyond me.

Turning from the budget to the economy, Treasury's estimate is that the floods will reduce gross domestic product by about 0.5 percentage points, with the effect concentrated in the March quarter.

Thereafter, however, the rebuilding effort - private as well as public - will add to GDP and probably largely offset the initial dip. So the floods will do more to change the profile of growth over the next year or two than to reduce the level it reaches.

Most of the temporary loss of production will be incurred by the Bowen Basin coal miners. But, though it won't show up directly in GDP, their revenue losses will be offset to some extent by the higher prices they'll be getting as a consequence of the global market's reaction to the disruption to supply.

And despite all the fuss the media have been making over higher fruit and vegetable prices, Treasury's best guess is that this will cause a spike of just 0.25 percentage points in the consumer price index for the March quarter, with prices falling back in subsequent quarters.

So the floods do precious little to change the previous reality that, with unemployment down to 5 per cent and a mining investment boom on the way, the economy is close to its capacity constraint and will soon need to be restrained by higher interest rates.


Floods levy may help rich and hurt poor

Gillard wants to help the most needy but her new tax is hardly foolproof.

ONE criticism made about the flood levy is that "taxation" is the wrong sort of instrument to provide disaster relief, that there is something unseemly about forcing people to give charity, especially when the recipients are our compatriots. "Mates," Tony Abbott tells us, "help each other; they don't tax each other."

In a world where we could rely on people freely dipping into their pockets to solve the world's problems, there might be something to this criticism. But people don't dip into their pockets nearly often - or deep - enough.

According to the Giving Australia report, published in October 2005, voluntary giving in Australia amounts to only 0.68 per cent of GDP (less than half of what Americans give). Of this, only about an eighth goes to people overseas.

This might explain why we resort to taxes to provide much of our foreign aid. But even the foreign aid we give through taxes - about 0.35 per cent of gross national income - is far from enough. When Haiti was rocked by an earthquake last year - a disaster far more costly in monetary and humanitarian terms - Australia provided only $15 million in aid (less than 1 per cent of the $1.8 billion that the government plans to raise through the flood levy).

This is not to criticise or belittle the provision of much-needed support to flood-affected areas. It is only right that we, as fellow citizens, should support those devastated by the recent floods. But do we do enough to help those in need when they are not our "mates"? Are fellow citizens really 100 times more deserving of our support than victims of overseas disasters? We go out of our way to help disaster victims in our own country but we incarcerate people fleeing disasters overseas.

There is nothing fundamentally unjust or unfair about the idea of using taxation to raise aid. The federal government has imposed similar levies before, often for less urgent needs. Nonetheless, the government must ensure that the levy does not exacerbate existing disadvantage.

The purpose of redistributing wealth through taxation should be to alleviate the hardship of those who are worse off, to improve the life chances of the disadvantaged so that it is not only the wealthy who have the opportunity to lead a flourishing life. Taxes that take from the worse off and give to the better off aggravate social disadvantage by increasing the inequality in life chances between the rich and the poor.

The government has rightly made the flood levy a progressive tax, charging people according to their ability to pay.

Much has also been made about those affected by the floods not being asked to pay the levy. This means that anyone who has received either a Disaster Recovery Payment or a Disaster Income Recovery Subsidy will be exempt. But these payments are not means tested. People who earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year are eligible for these payments. Anyone who was "stranded within their home or unable to gain access to their residence for at least 24 hours, or whose principal place of residence was without electricity, water, gas, sewerage or another essential service for at least 48 hours" is eligible for the payment, while anyone who can demonstrate a direct loss of income from the floods is eligible for the income subsidy.

Even if they don't need these payments, affluent households may still claim them simply to avoid the flood levy, and so many of those living in multimillion-dollar homes along the Brisbane River may well be exempt from paying.

But surely they have a much greater ability to contribute to the costs of rebuilding Queensland than families living on just $55,000 a year in non-flood-affected areas. Since some of the levy will be used to cover the costs of the Disaster Recovery Payment and Income Recovery Subsidy, the levy may well also end up diverting income from the poor to the rich.

There are, of course, a great many people who are very badly off as a result of the floods and in genuine need of assistance, particularly low-income households who thought they were insured against flood damage only to discover that they were not.

The federal government has yet to provide details as to whether part of the levy will be used to help those whose homes are uninsured against flood damage. If it does decide to do so, let us hope that it will distribute this money fairly between flood victims, that claims will be means tested, and that people will not be entitled to more compensation simply because their homes are more valuable.

In the Christchurch earthquake, homes that sustained little damage other than to antique furniture and artwork are nevertheless entitled to compensation (up to $20,000). The mechanics of New Zealand's earthquake fund are very different to the flood levy (it is paid for by pooled insurance premium contributions), but let us hope that no such claims for compensation will be entertained by either the state or federal governments: that aid will be directed to those most in need and that the levy will not penalise the poor to cover the losses of the rich.


The NSW political disaster

The retirement of Bob Carr has exposed how little talent there is in NSW Labor

THE first electoral test of the year will be on March 26 when NSW voters go to the polls. Kristina Keneally must know it is therefore only a matter of months before she is out of the state's top job, which is why some inside the Labor Party are canvassing the possibility of her switching to federal politics, moving into the seat of Kingsford Smith if Peter Garrett chooses to call it quits.

But the fact that Labor has been in office in NSW for 16 long years is not the only reason that it is lurching towards a sizeable defeat. Policy decision making (or sometimes a lack thereof) is at the heart of voter disillusionment with the NSW Labor government.

Just before Christmas that feeling was once again fuelled when Treasurer Eric Roozendaal authorised the sale of the state's electricity services. It was a fire sale, reaping just over $5 billion (but really only $3bn because one of the conditions of the sale was that the government purchase a $2bn coal mine).

Carr tried to sell electricity assets in 1997 for approximately $30bn but was overruled by Labor's state conference and Morris Iemma tried again in 2007 for half that amount but was also overruled (being toppled as leader as a consequence).

The cheap price tag of today is doubly galling for voters, especially considering the opposition is opposed to the sale and would have retained the assets at least until they were able to get a better price once elected.

Keneally is for all intents and purposes presiding over a caretaker administration. She had no business allowing such a controversial sale right before an election, certainly not considering that to make it happen the government had to replace nine directors from the boards of the public electricity companies because they refused to approve the plan, believing it was a dud sale.

Throw in the fact that the man most likely to take over the reins for Labor after the election is John Roberston, the former union official who scuttled Iemma's bid to sell electricity assets at a more reasonable price three years ago - and the political damage this issue has caused Labor may not end on polling day.

But electricity privatisation isn't the only controversial policy area in NSW. The release of land for development has been slow. The alternative policy of creating inner-city density has upset local communities who feel crowded out by too many home units in their suburbs. And the state's infrastructure has been allowed to run down, even with a late injection of funds courtesy of the federal government's Infrastructure Australia fund.

What we will find out when Barry O'Farrell becomes premier after the March election is whether the problems of Sydney are simply big-city issues that are unavoidable when urban sprawl reaches the level it has in Australia's largest city, or whether the problems can be addressed by good management and a rationalisation of government services.

If the former is the case the Labor Party just might recover quickly to become politically competitive in Labor's favourite state. If, however, the latter is the case and O'Farrell repairs Labor's mess, it could be a long wait in the political wilderness for the NSW Labor machine and that would also have federal implications.

Julia Gillard will be hoping that with NSW Labor out of power she will be able to rebuild Labor's brand in the commonwealth's largest state. But she might want to think again about that prospect, because with voter angst so strongly opposed to the NSW Labor brand, the federal party will need to be careful, given the number of names in its ranks who built careers in NSW Labor.


Aid goes in too many directions, says report

AUSTRALIA'S overseas aid is often fragmented, poorly directed and difficult to evaluate, according to an annual report on the effectiveness of the government's overseas development program.

The report, by AusAID's internal watchdog, the Office of Development Effectiveness, praised the aid program's "impressive reach … and effectiveness", but said there were significant structural problems.

"AusAID does not have an overarching strategy on implementing the aid effectiveness agenda and has not clarified how to report against aid effectiveness principles," the report says.

"It needs a strategy for reporting that sets out benchmarks and targets for country and regional programs in terms of aid effectiveness principles."

The report, covering 2009 but made public only recently, comes soon after the Foreign Affairs Minister, Kevin Rudd, ordered the first independent review of the aid program in 15 years.

A panel will assess whether Australia's $4.3 billion in annual aid is being spent efficiently and make recommendations to improve its structure and delivery.

Since his appointment as foreign minister after the election in August, Mr Rudd has emphasised that Australia's aid program must be defined by its effectiveness as much as the total spent.

In October the government announced the number of Australian aid advisers in East Timor would be cut by a third, saving an estimated $3 million, which will be redirected to new and existing projects. The cuts followed a similar overhaul of the aid program in Papua New Guinea.

The report says there is a tendency to funnel aid money through the recipient governments, ignoring grassroots organisations.

"Much of the aid program's knowledge of governance and the public sector is at the national level and there is little understanding of the complex system that determines whether services are actually delivered," it says.

It also says there is an increasing tendency for more, smaller projects, noting the number of bilateral aid projects tripled between 1996 and 2006, more than double the increase in aid.

"An increase in the number of small activities increases the burden on partner countries, which have to manage, co-ordinate and monitor aid contributions," it says.

"Australia and its partner countries have made commitments to address proliferation, however, the data suggest that to date there has been a lack of follow-through."


30 January, 2011

Tony Abbott says Julia Gillard's flood levy is to cover her overspending

OPPOSITION leader Tony Abbott is urging rural independent MPs to ditch their support for Prime Minister Julia Gillard, accusing her of using the floods to mask her government's spending addiction.

In a speech to the Young Liberals convention on the Gold Coast today, Mr Abbott ramped up his criticism of the federal government's flood levy to rebuild Queensland's infrastructure.

Also today, NSW Premier Kristina Keneally continued to push for changes to the national flood levy due to the high cost of living in Sydney, despite Ms Gillard ruling out any special treatment, and Treasurer Wayne Swan said he felt sickened Mr Abbott was putting his own political ambitions ahead of rebuilding the shattered lives of Queensland flood victims.

Ms Gillard, on Thursday, announced the government would impose a one-off, modest flood levy on taxpayers earning more than $50,000.

"A prime minister who's unconvincing when responding to a natural disaster is unlikely to solve the much more politically and administratively complex problems that she had previously set herself to fix," Mr Abbott told the audience. "Like the global financial crisis under Kevin Rudd, the government could use the floods as a justification for its spending addiction and as a licensed distraction from actually delivering on its promises.

"At some point, the independent MPs who returned the government to office could start to reconsider their decision."

Mr Abbott said Ms Gillard will face a voter backlash. "The Prime Minister is pitching it as a mateship tax even though mateship is about helping people, not taxing them," he said. "Mates choose to help; they're not coerced. Mateship comes from people, not from government. People resent being ordered to pay what they'd gladly give of their own volition especially by a government so reckless with taxpayers' money.

"Invoking a disaster to justify a tax, compounds the allegedly wooden demeanour that Julia Gillard showed during the floods with a tin ear afterwards."

He conceded the federal government will have to cover the lion's share of the repair bill for damaged infrastructure but said money could be found elsewhere.

"Flood victims simply can't be without the roads and the railways which are necessary for modern life," he said. "(The bill) will run into billions of dollars but that's no excuse for the flood tax ... there's about $2 billion uncommitted in various funds."

Mr Abbott urged Ms Gillard to drop the tax for the "spirit of national unity". "She apparently can't grasp the rip-off involved in taxing people in order to be generous to them," he said. "Two years ago, the government sent out $900 cheques to almost nine million people. Now, it's effectively taking the money back."

More here

Nanny-staters think that people read labels

The few who do are probably careful about what they eat and drink anyway. The New York experience shows that the sort of labelling advocated below will achieve nothing. Do the brainiacs below think Australians are more sophisticated than New Yorkers? Good luck with that assumption

FOOD police would enforce labels showing nutritional value on packaging and cigarette-style health warnings on alcohol under changes recommended for national laws.

A report released yesterday to improve food labelling laws in Australia and New Zealand contains 61 recommendations, including dropping mandatory "per serve" columns while explicitly stating the inclusion of trans-fats and salt content.

The report, Labelling Logic, was commissioned by the Australia and New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council in October 2009 and compiled by a panel of independent experts, led by former federal health minister Dr Neal Blewett.

Information about food safety would be of primary importance followed by preventative health, new technologies such as genetic modification and lastly consumer values like "free range".

"The crux of the review was to address the tensions between competing interests that drive food labelling policy and seek to resolve them," Dr Blewett said.

Some of the recommendations call for food manufacturers to voluntarily adopt proposals such as a traffic light front-of-pack labelling system before they are legislated.

Food manufacturers attacked the traffic light recommendation, arguing there was a lack of consensus on the best way to label food. "The industry rejects traffic light labelling on the basis that it's badly understood by consumers and the system has been rejected by countries around the world," Australian Food and Grocery Council CEO Kate Carnell said.

The Federal Government has until December to respond to the recommendations.

The State Government has welcomed the review, which recommends fast food chains and vending machines declare energy (kilojoule) content - a move introduced in New South Wales last November which takes effect from February 1.

Under the recommendations, country-of-origin labelling would be tightened along with mandatory identification of any food prepared or treated with new technologies.

Alcoholic beverages would have generic health warnings including specific messages about the risks of drinking while pregnant. Alcoholic drink labels would also have to reveal their energy content.


Get tough on Victoria's bad school teachers, say parents

VICTORIAN parents want bad teachers sacked and schools with poor results to be named and shamed. A national schools survey found most of the state's parents feared their children would fall victim to physical or cyber bullying and believed alcohol and drug abuse among students was getting worse.

Nearly 5000 Australians responded to the Sunday Herald Sun online survey, revealing parents wanted schools and teachers to be more accountable for their children's performance at school.

Responses from the 1646 Victorians surveyed showed parents and teachers were often at loggerheads about what was best for students. At the heart of the great divide was parents' demands for more information about their children's schools and for teachers who don't make the grade to be sacked.

Of 794 Victorian parents surveyed, 63 per cent believed the worst-performing teachers needed to be expelled from the education system. On the flip side, teachers achieving good academic results should be paid more than their colleagues, according to 79 per cent of parents.

Schools were also in the firing line, with 67 per cent of parents calling for a rating system for schools, and more than half saying under-performing schools should be publicly named and shamed.

Mordialloc mother Jenny Power, who has two school-age children, called on the Department of Education to provide more information on schools' academic performances. "Most parents are limited for choice when it comes to schools, but it would be nice to know how your own kid's school stacks up against the others," Ms Power said. "If teachers aren't achieving what they should in the classroom, they shouldn't be there, just like any other profession."

But Australian Education Union president Mary Bluett said ranking schools and sacking low-performing teachers was a simplistic approach to fixing a complex system. "Education does suffer from the fact that everyone has been to school and everyone thinks they are an expert," Ms Bluett said. "Certainly, nobody wants incompetent teachers, but having said that, I'm happy to say the overwhelming majority of teachers are very competent."

Ms Bluett said existing ways to measure schools' performances - including NAPLAN tests - didn't give an accurate picture of teaching standards.

Up to 76 per cent of teachers were against ranking schools and only 13 per cent supported naming and shaming schools that under-perform in numeracy and literacy.

More here

Victorian Labor government ignored flood advice

They probably believed Greenie prophecies of drought

THE Brumby government knew for three years that Victoria was ill-equipped to deal with flood disasters but ignored recommendations to introduce a warning system that had the backing of the state's top emergency services and weather experts.

A report prepared for the Brumby government in 2007 said the Google Maps-style, web-based system would reduce losses, damage and injury, and save $16.5 million from Victoria's average annual flood bill, estimated at $350 million.

The report, released by the Baillieu government yesterday as northern Victoria continued to battle a massive inland sea, said such a system would greatly improve the co-ordination and response of emergency services that were relying on "skeletal information" to predict how and when flood waters would hit communities.

The Baillieu government yesterday vowed to explore the sort of state-of-the-art flood management system Labor had ignored.

A government spokesman slammed the previous government, accusing it of neglectfully ignoring funding requests for a system that would allow the public, emergency services and the media to predict and analyse floodwaters more accurately.

In the October 2007 report, Labor was told by its public service that it could "vastly improve" flood management by investing in an $11 million system called FloodZoom, which would use weather forecasts, satellite observations, river gauges and hydraulic modelling to simulate the depth and spread of flood waters.

The system was backed at the time by the State Emergency Service, Melbourne Water, the Bureau of Meteorology, the State Flood Policy Committee and the then emergency services commissioner, Bruce Esplin, who saw the need for better communication and warning systems after the Gippsland floods of 2007.

Speaking to The Sunday Age yesterday, Mr Esplin, who recently resigned after a decade as the state's top emergency manager, said the system "would provide a way for the community and the media to understand what floodwaters are doing" and limit the need for people to call Triple 0 for information.

A Baillieu government spokesman said it was committed to implementing a better statewide flood warning and management system. "The Brumby government had ignored at least three years of strong recommendations to implement better flood management and warning systems in Victoria. The neglect … is appalling," the spokesman said.

But Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews said the Premier was playing cheap politics when he should be "spending all his time supporting flood victims". "While thousands of Victorians are still devastated by these floods, it is disgraceful that Ted Baillieu is playing politics with this issue," Mr Andrews said.

Labor sources said the bid for a better flood management system had been one of many proposals fighting for limited funds as part of the state innovation strategy. Also, they said, in 2007 Victoria was in drought, and the government would have been criticised for diverting money to flood management.

The Department of Innovation, Industry and Regional Development report warned:

* The state had "significant deficiency" in its emergency response to flood, and emergency workers had few tools to issue accurate flood warnings, leading to most major floods being "characterised by confusion and uncertainty".

* It was difficult to provide a clear depiction of the extent, severity and movement of a live flood situation or to answer questions about likely developments over hours and days under different weather conditions.

Residents in Wickliffe, in the state's west, called for a better warning system after they were forced to make hasty evacuations from floodwaters in the early hours of January 15. They said there had been no warnings that the town was at risk of flood.


29 January, 2011

Wrapped in the flag and loving it

Sally Neighbour makes observations below that are similar to the ones I made briefly on Australia day. Note that I was able to explain what she cannot

NOT usually one for patriotic musings, at lunchtime on Wednesday I nonetheless found myself pondering the meaning of Australia Day and how this once second-rate public holiday became the source of such riotous celebration across the land.

At the time I was floating on a giant inflatable plastic thong, clinging to a rope tethered between buoys beyond the breakers at Bondi Beach.

For the record, it wasn't my idea. But there we were, bobbing on the ocean, me and 2067 other patsies, all set to make a world record for the number of people gullible enough to queue for 45 minutes and - get this - pay $30 to promote a foreign brand of rubber thong. The marketing genius who thought that up surely deserves an Order of Australia for services to advertising.

As the hoary strains of Men At Work's Down Under drifted predictably across the sea, our mooring provided a novel vantage point of Bondi Beach, now crowded with tens of thousands of bodies, outnumbered only by Australian flags - on bikinis, board shorts, towels, hats, umbrellas, beach shelters, painted faces and fake tattoos.

I wondered: how had it come to this? How had I been roped into such a commercial stunt? (In short, because my in-principle objections sounded lame in the face of my 11-year-old's protestation: "but it'll be fun". And damn it, it was.) More to the point, when and why had Australians embraced with such gusto an event that, not long ago, was regarded as just an excuse for a day off?

In the 1970s and 80s, having a holiday to commemorate the arrival of the first boats of white settlers was widely regarded - at least among my generation - as passe, an anachronistic nod to a history we weren't sure whether to be proud of or not.

As for the Australian flag, it was seen by many as an irrelevant relic of our colonial past, doomed for the scrapheap come the republic.

We would no sooner have draped ourselves in such a frumpy ensign than donned our grandma's bowling whites and headed for the local green.

For some, a vague discomfort with Australia's national symbols was only sharpened in recent years by the spectre of Pauline Hanson wrapped in the flag and its use as a symbol of ugly jingoism at Cronulla in 2005. "The cloak of racism," one friend calls it.

But such reservations have little traction among generations X and Y. Ambivalence has given way to unabashed pride in all things Australian, not least the flag.

They turn up to the Big Day Out with it tattooed on their skin. The same young Australians flock to Gallipoli each year to mark Anzac Day, and trek in their thousands along the Kokoda Track.

Just why this is so is a question that intrigues social researcher Rebecca Huntley, director of the survey-based market research firm, Ipsos. She has commissioned a study beginning this year called "being Australian", which will examine, among other things, the patriotism of gens X and Y.

Ipsos research thus far shows the things people most typically associate with being Australian are time-honoured values such as the "great Australian dream" of owning their own home, the idea of having a "laid-back" lifestyle, which Huntley says is "a core part of being Australian", and the knowledge that people will pull together in a time of need such as the recent floods. The surging affinity with nationalistic symbols is a more recent trend, most markedly in the past three years.

Huntley is reluctant to jump to conclusions about why young Australians are clearly more comfortable with the flag than the generation before them.

Maybe the young revellers simply realise how fortunate they are. It's hard to know when all you can get out of them is, "Ozzie Ozzie Ozzie, Oi Oi Oi!" It was left to a jubilant newcomer at a citizenship ceremony in Sydney to articulate why being Australian was something to be immensely grateful for. "The opportunity to find jobs here is much better and it's much safer. I do think that Australians who haven't travelled and seen how the rest of the world lives take the freedom here for granted."


The chattering classes are out of step

Christopher Pearson

ANOTHER Australia Day means yet another opportunity to trash national institutions, most notably the constitution and the flag.

It comes as no surprise that the latest Australian of the Year, Simon McKeon, is as disdainful of both as 12 of his recent predecessors. What does continue to surprise is that ignorance about the constitution and eagerness to get rid of a very popular flag still pass for evidence of civic virtue in the mass media.

Even in the pages of The Weekend Australian Magazine, the Heart of the Nation page last Saturday was given over to jejune institution-bashing. It carried a photograph of the interior of the memorial hall at Cambooya, a town on the Darling Downs.

An elderly man is seen draping bunting decorated with the flag over a framed picture of the young Queen Elizabeth , which just happens to be hanging over the door to the men's toilet.

The accompanying text, by Ross Bilton, quotes Dawn Ruming, the secretary of the hall committee, as saying that Cambooya is a conservative sort of place and monarchist feelings run deep.

Would she and her committee stand still for the portrait having a permanent place over the gents, I wonder, or was this a set-up shot designed to parody rather than illustrate the values of rural communities?

Perhaps Bilton's story provides a few clues. His opening line is: "God bless the Queen. Even if you favour a republic, you've got to admit the old girl has been worth her weight in public holidays." As dopily dismissive remarks go, it's not really up there with Thomas Keneally's likening the queen to a colostomy bag on the body politic, but it's certainly callow.

No fair-minded observer could doubt that she has honoured her coronation oath of a life lived in service to her people, or that she has been a model of constitutional propriety. As well, for many she's an embodiment of social stability, the rule of law and Christian civilisation.

Even people who don't set nearly as much store in such values as the previous generation should recognise their utility in an era of tumultuous change.

Bilton tells us to disregard the portrait's placement and the fact that the image is 60 years out of date. "The point is that this satellite town of Toowoomba, with its hotel, post office, general store, school and garage, still feels part of her realm: the same realm that also takes in the frozen wastes of Canada, the beaches of Barbados and the jungles of Belize."

Patrick Hamilton, the photographer around whose picture the story is built, doesn't feel himself a member of this sophisticated supra-national commonwealth. Instead he's an old-school gumnut nationalist and, Bilton notes, "he's a republican. And Australia Day to him simply means barbecued lamb chops, wine and friends."

Forget about our country's contributions to defeating fascism in World War II, a more recent triumph in East Timor or battlefield valour in Afghanistan. It's as though, chez Hamilton, remembering them on the national holiday were somehow anachronistic, perhaps almost in bad taste.

As if, for Bilton, one self-congratulatory banality weren't enough to be going on with, he tells us that for Hamilton, the kindness of complete strangers to victims of the Brisbane floods "says far more to him about our national identity than the Queen, or the flag, ever will".

Far be it from me to underestimate the Good Samaritan instinct wherever it emerges, but I often wonder whether the notion that we're more richly endowed with it than other countries isn't self-serving mythology.


Labor MPs revolt over Julia Gillard's flood tax levy

A new tax is always "courageous", as Sir Humphrey would say

FURIOUS Labor MPs have turned on Prime Minister Julia Gillard over the controversial $1.8 billion flood tax, labelling it one of the "dumbest decisions" by a federal government.

Premier Kristina Keneally publicly criticised the levy, calling for western Sydney to be spared its full effects, reported The Daily Telegraph.

As Ms Gillard embarked on a publicity offensive to sell the $5.6 billion flood rescue package, senior Labor figures were shaking their heads at the lack of consultation with Cabinet. It is understood ministers only received a full briefing on the rescue package a few hours before they met in Canberra on Wednesday morning.

Adding to pressure on Ms Gillard, one of Australia's most powerful unions claimed scrapping the Green Car Innovation Fund would cost jobs. In a direct challenge to the PM, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union boss Dave Oliver said he would lobby key independent MPs and the Greens to retain the scheme.

Labor MPs said they were being "belted" by the public reaction to the levy. "This is one of the dumbest decisions I have ever seen - the feedback is we have made an atrocious decision," one Labor MP said.

The Government will exempt anyone earning less than $50,000 from paying the flood tax but this has done little to quell anger in caucus. "The Labor heartland feels it is being singled out in this levy," a Labor MP said.

Ms Keneally is understood to have consulted senior colleagues before deciding to go public with concerns that the flood tax will place further strain on Sydney families.

The flood tax will cost someone earning $100,000 an extra $5 a week but Ms Keneally believes Canberra should take account of higher living costs in Sydney. "Mortgages are higher in NSW on average and other costs of living are higher than other capital cities," she said.

Ministers were so angry Ms Gillard - who was monstered during several media appearances yesterday - treated Cabinet with "contempt" that some were drawing an unfavourable parallel with the behaviour of Kevin Rudd


Start the revolution with basics of English

QUIS MAGISTROS IPSOS DOCEBIT? (Who will teach the teachers?)

ACROSS Australia, schools are reopening for the start of the academic year. This year also heralds the start of the national curriculum, on a limited trial basis.

In May, students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 will take the fourth round of national literacy and numeracy testing, known as NAPLAN. When those results are released, parents and others will again make judgments about schools and teachers, reigniting the controversy that has marked this component of Labor's education revolution.

In fairness to the children who attempt the NAPLAN tests, whose schooling is directly affected by every change made by federal and state curriculum authorities, and who are dependent on the teachers appointed to work with them each day, it is important to consider this stage of the revolution from their point of view. What is needed to deliver the promised transparency in educational practices and the improvements in teacher quality?

The NAPLAN tests are designed to provide a snapshot of student progress to inform teaching practices and to evaluate the performance of schools. But at least one test, of language conventions (grammar, spelling and punctuation), is demonstrably inadequate for both purposes.

There are three reasons for this. First, the tests are poorly designed. Second, no national curriculum is in place to which the tests can be clearly linked. Third, and most importantly, the longstanding failure to train teachers in these aspects of English means that not only is there no consensus on how language conventions should be taught, teachers themselves are not confident about their professional competence.

The major drawback of the language tests is that they lack order and coherence. The range of questions does not adequately address the common errors that characterise students' written work, and are most detrimental to fluency. Some items appear to be testing multiple points simultaneously. Other questions are written in ways that rely on native speaker intuition, or common sense and logic, rather than a solid grasp of how English works. The language used to frame the questions is inconsistent, sometimes referring to a part of speech by its appropriate name, and at other times asking simply for the correct "word/s". If students are expected to learn and to use the metalanguage in other subjects such as mathematics, music and geography, why is this not the case in English?

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, which administers the tests, is developing a national curriculum that appears to place a strong emphasis on accurate written expression. ACARA's National Curriculum Framing Paper (English) states that: "Attention should be given to grammar across K-12, as part of the 'toolkit' that helps all students access the resources necessary to meet the demands of schooling and of their lives outside of school."

ACARA chairman Barry McGaw says: "We don't want to just nod in the direction of grammar and say it should be taught. We need to say what that means."

But as the Australian Association of Teachers of English points out, agreement is yet to be reached on how to teach grammar. The English Teachers Association of Western Australia claims "English teachers are concerned about their ability to teach grammar". The Queensland Department of Education concedes that: "Many of our teachers are young graduates with limited grammar, who realise that this deficit makes it difficult for them to discuss work with their students."

Students rely on their teachers to model best practice and to be able to identify and to explain all language errors. The sceptic will argue that language is dynamic and that those who insist on correct usage are pedants who place more emphasis on the mechanics than on the message. Our response is that students who master the mechanics of English gain the freedom to concentrate on the sophisticated expression of ideas.

As one teacher commented last year, "Every day we ask the students to produce pieces of written work -- narratives, reports, essays and so on -- and we say that they should edit and proofread their own work, but we don't give them the tools to actually do that, and so many of them just don't know where to start and they give up."

The Australian Primary Principals Association insists that "teaching about language is essential at all stages of schooling and is not confined to the primary school". In secondary schools, any focus on basic literacy skills is normally left to English teachers and literacy co-ordinators.

The sort of courses needed to enable teachers to teach correct English usage have been neglected in recent decades.

A language revolution is required. All teachers must develop the capacity to correct their students' work for language as well as subject content. This will create what the Australian Curriculum describes as "confident communicators who appreciate and use the English language creatively and critically in a range of contexts and for a range of purposes".

Australian educational jurisdictions face a significant, long-term dilemma. As is the case in every profession, there are those who resist change. Some are uncomfortable with the NAPLAN tests and the My School website. However, the new curriculum places a renewed focus on language as a foundation skill, and all teachers in all subjects are now official members of the revolution.


28 January, 2011

Flood levy blues

THOUSANDS of people, including high-income earners whose homes were not flooded, have a ready-made loophole to avoid paying the Federal Government's new flood levy.

And several Queensland projects designed to stop flooding on the Bruce Highway are likely to fall victim to federal spending cuts to help rebuild the state.

The flood levy will not apply to anyone who received the Australian Government Disaster Recovery Payment, which was not means tested. As of last Friday more than 250,000 Queenslanders - one in every eight - had collected the payment of $1000 for adults and $400 for children.

The eligibility criteria was broad and paid out even if residents simply could not access or leave their homes for 24 hours or lost electricity, water or gas for at least 48 hours.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the floods posed a massive challenge to build and manage economic capacity. "We're not just going to need money, we're going to need concrete and rubber and steel and more importantly, we're going to need carpenters and bricklayers and road gangs," she said.

However, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott yesterday continued his attack on the levy, calling it unfair, particularly on those who lost their businesses but whose homes remained unaffected. "They obviously face very great reconstruction costs that in many instances won't be covered by insurance and they will still be paying the flood tax under the scheme," he said.

The Government has gone all out to sweeten its levy, restricting its impact to people earning over $50,000 and promising it will not increase and will last just 12 months starting from July 1.

Those earning between $50,000 and $100,000 will pay 0.5 per cent in 2011-12 which rises to 1 per cent on taxable income above $100,000. According to the Government, 60 per cent of taxpayers will pay $1 a week or less and the tax hike only reaches $5 a week when income exceeds $100,000 a year.

But it came under fire for its planned $2.8 billion in spending cuts which hit several projects agreed with the Greens to help Labor form government after the last election.

The federal Independents are also expected to see cutbacks to the $10 billion in regional spending they secured in exchange for supporting Labor.

Queensland Independent Bob Katter has thrown his support behind the levy, saying the precedent was sure to one day benefit North Queensland.

The Greens accused the Government of turning its back on the cause of the disaster climate change. "But it does a disservice to all those tragically affected by these floods . . . to keep insisting that these are one-off events and ignore the role of climate change," Greens Senator Christine Milne said.

Independent Rob Oakeshott said he would examine the package and discuss possible amendments. "On the specific question of flood package impacts on the agreement reached to form Government, I expect that all aspects of the agreement both in writing and in spirit will be upheld," he said.

Agriculture Minister Joe Ludwig the Gillard Government's point man for the recovery told The Courier-Mail the work so far had focused on cleaning up after the floods and the effort would now shift to the bigger rebuilding task. "Queensland needs to be rebuilt and it will be rebuilt," he said.

State Premier Anna Bligh supported the package and thanked Australians for helping Queensland. "I understand that no one wants to pay more but the people of Queensland didn't want this disaster either," she said.


Julia Gillard cops heat from radio host over flood levy

JULIA Gillard has angrily dismissed suggestions her floods response is politically motivated as "complete nonsense".

In a sometimes heated 20-minute radio interview with 3AW host Neil Mitchell, Ms Gillard denied she was sticking to her 2013 return-to-surplus timetable to squirrel money away for the next election. “The motivation for bringing the budget back to surplus is an economic one, not a political one,” the Prime Minister said.

She accused Mitchell of patronising her after the high-rating Melbourne radio host warned the public would not tolerate rorts or wasted money under the floods package. “Neil you don't need to patronise me, thank you very much,” Ms Gillard said. “I understand Neil, thank you, the need for value for money.”

Mitchell hit back: “I am simply looking at history and I think that people are looking at history and saying `This government has a history of waste, please don't waste this new tax'.”

Ms Gillard denied her $1.8 billion levy was just another tax, saying the floods were the most expensive natural disaster Australia had experienced.

She rejected suggestions the levy was massively unpopular in the community. “I believe people are generous, they do want to contribute and people will make their minds up about it,” she said.


School chaplain scheme goes to court

A rare event: Australia's version of the U.S. First Amendment in play

A FATHER won the first round in his historic battle yesterday to have government-funded chaplains thrown out of the nation's public schools.

Ron Williams journeyed from Toowoomba to Sydney yesterday for a directions hearing in his challenge and was thrilled to hear that his case could be heard in the High Court over three days in May. "This is a very important moment," a jubilant Mr Williams said yesterday.

The father of six, who has four children attending Queensland public schools, said his main argument was that the funding for chaplains in schools breached Section 116 of the Australian Constitution, which states that the "Commonwealth not legislate in respect of religion". "This is not about getting chaplains out of schools, it's about the government funding them, which I believe is against the Constitution," he said.

If Mr Williams wins his challenge, government funding for chaplains would be removed.

The National School Chaplaincy Program was introduced in 2006 by former prime minister John Howard. The national program won support from Prime Minister Julia Gillard, an atheist who, just before the election last year, pledged $222 million to extend the program for four years.

More than 430 schools in NSW get up to $20,000 each a year for their chaplain services, totalling almost $12 million, and more than 2500 school across Australia now have chaplains at a cost of more than $151 million.

The chaplain program is run in Queensland by that state's branch of the Scripture Union. In NSW the program is run by the National School Chaplaincy Association which is based in Western Australia.

A spokesman for the association said yesterday it was not appropriate to comment.

NSW Greens MP John Kaye said yesterday's decision was good news for those who believed in separation of church and state. "The anger felt by many of us at the use of public money will now at least be tested in the court," he said. "There will now be an opportunity to hear in court why this program so deeply contradicts the integrity of the Australian Constitution."


Australia already has substantial school choice but that is being "reviewed" and is at risk of being scaled back

by Kevin Donnelly

Just ask Mark Latham about the impact of the hit list of so-called privileged schools he championed when he was leader of the ALP. No wonder that Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard, on taking over as leaders, rejected the politics of envy and argued in favour of school choice.

During the 2010 campaign, Prime Minister Gillard was so concerned about the issue that she promised to keep the existing socioeconomic status (SES) funding model for an additional year, until 2013.

Gillard also promised that Catholic and independent schools would not lose money as a result of the Gonski funding review currently underway – established by Gillard when she was Education Minister and due to report in 2011.

Unlike the Liberal Party, the ALP is a late convert to school choice. Such pragmatism is understandable. Across Australia, approximately 34% of students attend non-government schools and the figure rises to over 40% at years 11 and 12.

Parents, especially in marginal seats, are voting with their feet and over the years 1999-2009 enrolments on Catholic and independent schools grew by 21.3% while the growth figure for government schools flatlined at 1.2 per cent.

Given that non-government schools are increasingly popular and that school choice, especially for those parents committed to faith-based schools, is a fundamental human right, one might expect that all would agree that such schools should be properly funded.

One might also expect that the best response to government schools losing market share is to ask why state schools are no longer attractive to increasing numbers of parents and what can be done to strengthen such schools.

Logic and reason are not the hallmarks of the self-serving groups like the Australian Education Union and it should not surprise that the AEU, instead of addressing underlying causes, has mounted the barricades to argue that non-government schools should be starved of funding and subject to increased government regulation and intervention.

The AEU has mounted a campaign, including petitions, dedicated websites, surveys and fact sheets, arguing that non-government schools are over-funded, that such schools only serve the privileged and that Catholic and independent schools promote social instability and reinforce disadvantage.

The reality suggests otherwise. Instead of being over funded non-government schools receive significantly less funding when compared to government schools (the following figures are taken from the Commonwealth Parliamentary Library Background Note on school funding, dated 17 November 2010).

On average, and excluding capital expenditure, government school students receive $12,639 in funding from state and federal governments, the figure for non-government schools is $6,606. Every student that attends a non-government school saves government, and taxpayers, approximately $6,000.

In terms of total funding non-governments schools raise 43% of their income from private sources with state and federal governments providing the other 57%. Contrary to the impression created by the AEU it is also the case that federal funding is allocated to schools according to a school’s socioeconomic status (SES).

In the words of the Parliamentary Library paper, “Australian Government recurrent per student funding for non-government schools is based on a measure of need”. Wealthier non-government schools only receive 13.7% of the federal funding figure, known as the Average Government School Recurrent Costs (AGSRC), with less privileged schools receiving 70%.

The AEU also argues that non-government schools contribute to social inequality and educational disadvantage. Once again, the evidence suggests otherwise.

Research both here and overseas concludes that Australia has a high degree of social mobility and one of the main reasons is because we have an education system, based on an analysis of the 2007 PISA results, that is high quality/high equity.

In the words of the 2008 OECD report Growing Unequal?: Income Distribution and Poverty in OECD Countries, “Australia is one of the most socially mobile countries in the OECD” and “the educational attainment of parents affects the educational achievements of the child less than in most other countries”.

It’s also the case that while the ALP and the cultural-left condemn low SES students to educational failure, supposedly as disadvantage automatically leads to poor results, the example of non-government school proves otherwise.

Researchers at the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) after analysing Year 12 results conclude that non-government schools are more effective, compared to government schools, in getting low SES students to succeed.

In a 2002 ACER report analysing the factors that lead to success at Year 12, the researchers state, “Students who attended non-government schools outperformed students from government schools, even after taking into account socioeconomic background and achievement in literacy and numeracy”.

During the 2010 election campaign Julia Gillard nullified funding as an issue by maintaining the existing SES model until 2013 and promising that “no school will lose a dollar in funding”.

It’s significant that while the ALP’s rhetoric is supportive, the Gillard-led Government refuses to guarantee that funding will be maintained in real terms and that Catholic and independent schools will not suffer, either financially or in terms of their autonomy, as a result of the Gonski review.


27 January, 2011

Let’s get over our dam phobia

Bob Brown is ever the opportunist, even if his timing leaves a very bad taste in everyone’s mouths. His recent pronouncement that our coal industry is to blame for the devastation caused by the floods in Queensland, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania is both absurd and insensitive.

All the experts, whatever their views on climate change, agree that the increased rainfalls are driven by the long-established cycles of La Nina weather events, just as El Nino is associated with drought.

No-one in the Coalition is suggesting that additional dams would have prevented the tragic Queensland floods.

The onset of the floods did, however, prompt a renewed resolve from the Coalition to ignore political correctness and to put dams back on the agenda as part of the national water management debate.

Dams are by no means the answer in every instance, but nor should they be automatically excluded purely because of politics.

If you consider Brisbane’s Wivenhoe Dam, built after the 1974 floods, there is consensus that it reduced the peak flood level of the 2011 disaster by about two metres.

ANU dam expert Jamie Pittock says that a “two metre higher flood level would have been much more damaging in terms of Brisbane directly, but also Ipswich.”

While NSW Dam Safety Committee executive engineer Paul Henreichs says the Brisbane floods would have been much worse than 1974 had the dam not been there.

“Without extra dams we are still going to get bigger floods and therefore I think people will suffer more,” he says.

This is no consolation and means little to the thousands of unfortunate Queenslanders affected by this disaster, but it does highlight the point that strategically placed dams have a vital role to play.

Despite the obvious, dams have not seriously been in the mix for two or three decades, largely due to the opposition and influence of green groups.

This was again highlighted when the Coalition recently announced our intention to develop a dam and water management plan over the next 12 months.

What we saw was a predictable negative, knee-jerk reaction from Bob Brown and Julia Gillard, before our work had even started. The fact the Gillard government is beholden to the Greens is a real problem, with base politics guiding its agenda, not common sense and prudence.

The political correctness which has shaped the water management debate in this country in recent decades was starkly illustrated in Victoria under the Brumby government.

At the peak of the drought, Brumby avoided dams like the plague and instead pursued monumentally expensive and impractical solutions such as the Wonthaggi desalination plant and the North South Pipeline.

Desalination plants also require enormous amounts of power to operate and should be an option of last resort, certainly not first choice.

The floods have reemphasised that Australia doesn’t have a problem with the amount of water we have, but with the management of it.

The Coalition opposed the Traveston Crossing Dam for a variety of reasons which have been well documented, and we absolutely stand by that decision. The Bligh government, to its credit, was at least prepared to seriously canvas the option of a new dam, albeit one of unacceptable design and location.

In the right locations, however, dams are not only effective forms of water storage for general consumption, for food production and for environmental flows, but can also play a part in low-emission power generation and of course flood mitigation.

Other soil conservation measures, including large-scale river levees and more localised landscaping projects also have a proven role in reducing flood flows.

In terms of the Coalition’s work, the consideration of appropriate dams will include looking at all areas of water management, including new technologies and innovations and consulting widely with the scientific and engineering communities, land owners as well land management and environmental groups.

The CSIRO, for example, has done some outstanding work looking at the potential in underground water storage, which could have widespread application.

While naturally occurring underground aquifers can’t hold anywhere near the volume of conventional dams, they are cheaper and can be located closer to the water user.

There is also exciting technology available in the areas of computer-aided river management, irrigation and flood control which we’ll be having a close look at. The Murrumbidgee River project comes to mind.

Utilising this type of technology, in conjunction with dams, enables the more efficient use of water within a system. If you have a stand of red gums that need flooding just once every four years from an environmental perspective, you can do it every four years, preserving water for other purposes.

While Julia Gillard and Bob Brown will no doubt attempt to whip up a scare campaign against our work, we will not be deterred. It is time to put political correctness aside and to overcome our dam phobia.


Earth's climate crisis ain't necessarily so

Christopher Monckton

WHILE the Gillard government's climate-change parliamentary committee plots to wreck Australia's economy with a rigged market to make motoring and electricity unaffordable as soon as the new Greens-infected Senate starts work in July, thoughtful pollies are at last - privately, quietly - beginning to ask the Gershwin question.

What if it ain't necessarily so? Suppose there's no climate crisis?

The Romans used to farm out tax collection to "tax farmers" such as St Matthew. The cap-and-tax boondoggle is a tax-farming scam to impoverish the working man and enrich the new tax farmers: bankers, traders, ministers, officials and media moguls. None of them saints.

Cap-and-tax in Europe has been a wickedly costly fiasco. The rigged market has collapsed twice. Member states cheated by allowing themselves more rights to emit than their actual emissions, so the price of emission rights plummeted. Then the tax farmers simply invented 90 per cent of their carbon trades.

Result: electricity prices have doubled. In the name of preventing global warming, many Britons are dying because they cannot afford to heat their homes.

Cap and tax is as pointless as it is cruel. Australia accounts for 1.5 per cent of global carbon emissions. So if it cut its emissions, the warming forestalled would be infinitesimal.

It's worth explaining exactly why. Suppose the Australian committee's aim is to cut emissions by 20 per cent by 2050. Anything more ambitious would shut Australia down, especially while the Greens insist on not letting the country use its own zero-carbon-emitting uranium as fuel.

A 20 per cent cut by 2050 is an average 10 per cent cut from now until then. Carbon dioxide concentration by 2050 probably won't exceed 506 parts per million by volume, from which we deduct today's concentration of 390 ppmv. So humankind might add 116 ppmv from now until then.

The CO2 concentration increase forestalled by 40 years of cap-and-tax in Australia would be 10 per cent of 1.5 per cent of that 116 ppmv, or just 0.174 ppmv. So in 2050 CO2 concentration would be - tell it not in Gath and Ashkelon - 505.826 ppmv, not 506.

Thus what we maths wonks call the proportionate change in CO2 concentration if the committee got its way would be 505.826 divided by 506, or 0.9997. The UN says warming or cooling, in Celsius degrees, is 3.7 to 5.7 times the logarithm of the proportionate change.

It expects only 57 per cent of manmade warming to occur by 2100: the rest would happen slowly and harmlessly across 1000-3000 years.

To be charitable to the committee, let us take the UN's high-end estimate. The warming forestalled by cutting Australia's emissions would be very unlikely to exceed 57 per cent of 5.7 times the logarithm of 0.9997: that is - wait for it - a dizzying one-thousandth of a degree by 2050.

I have set out this calculation to show how certainly it is known that all attempts to cut CO2 emissions will expensively fail. Focused adaptation to any adverse consequences of such warming as may occur would be orders of magnitude more cost-effective. But do we need to cut CO2 at all? Some cold facts:

Satellite datasets show last year was not the warmest on record. It was not the least snow-covered year but the most snow-covered: a largely unreported gain in Antarctic sea ice since 1979 almost matches the widely reported loss of Arctic sea ice.

It was not the worst year for hurricanes, but the best year: the accumulated-cyclone-energy index shows less tropical-cyclone activity worldwide than for 30 years.

The forest fires in Russia and southern Australia, and the floods in Pakistan and eastern Australia, were far from the worst ever. Nor can they be attributed to human influence: the UN's climate panel has warned us against that.

They were caused by naturally occurring weather patterns called blocking highs. And global warming can scarcely be blamed after a decade without any.

Nor did 2010 see the second-highest level of natural catastrophes. Yes, 90 per cent of them were weather-related, but in most years that is true, and was true long before we could have influenced climate.

Nor is sea level rising fast. It has risen at the rate of just 0.3m a century since satellites measured it reliably in 1993, under a quarter of the average rate during the past 11,400 years. The Greens don't believe their own whining about sea level: their Hobart office is just metres from the "dangerously" rising ocean.

Nor do most scientists believe man-made global warming will be catastrophic. Most are not climate scientists and take no view, and only a few climatologists have published on the central question how much warming there will be.

Of these, the researchers using measurement and observation rather than modelling have shown that much of the radiation the models say should be warming the surface is escaping to space as before.

The upper air in the tropics that the models predict should warm at thrice the surface rate is warming only at the same rate; model-predicted surface evaporation in response to warming is a third of the observed rate.

The missing heat energy imagined by the models but not present as warming in the past decade is not lurking in the oceans; and the entire warming of the late 20th century can easily be explained without blaming man.

Just one of these fatal discrepancies between prediction and reality - and each points to very little future warming - would normally be enough to dismiss climate catastrophism.

As the Gershwins rightly concluded, "It ain't nessa, ain't nessa, ain't nessa, ain't nessa, ain't necessarily so."


Nuclear option our safest bet

JULIA Gillard's weakened leadership needs a power surge. No one knows this better than her Minister for Energy and Resources, Martin Ferguson.

Ferguson, an outspoken proponent of nuclear energy, is in Washington this week for talks with US Energy Secretary Steven Chu. A Nobel laureate in physics, Chu supports America's expanding nuclear program, saying it "is going to be an important part of our energy mix."

For Chu and many others, nuclear power is critical to a more sustainable energy and environmental future.

If our Prime Minister is to stay true to her promise and make 2011 the year of "delivery and decision", she needs to take the lead and initiate a comprehensive discussion about nuclear power, which happens to be the only carbon-neutral baseload energy source.

Failure to do so ignores the informed views of a long list of technical experts, environmentalists and many of Gillard's Labor colleagues.

So, why is it time for Australia to have the nuclear debate? And why is it, in the words of former prime minister Bob Hawke, "intellectually unsustainable to rule it out as a possibility"?

The answer is threefold. As a leading source of uranium, Australia has a competitive advantage; as a clean form of energy, nuclear power is better for the environment; and as the only advanced economy not embracing it as the answer, it is time we caught up.

The facts are compelling. Australia is home to 38 per cent of the world's known recoverable reserves of uranium, and we export uranium to more than 10 countries.

As I said in my first speech to parliament last year, Australia is in a curious moral, economic and environmental position where we are prepared to export uranium, but not use it.

Today, 31 countries host 440 nuclear reactors, providing two-thirds of the world's people with electricity. More than 55 new reactors are under construction, nearly half of them in China.

The European Union generates more than 30 per cent of its energy from nuclear power. The US figure is 20 per cent and rising. In each of these countries the decision to go nuclear was a practical one, cutting across the partisan divide.

In Britain, it was Labour prime minister Gordon Brown, not a Tory, who described nuclear power as "a fundamental pre-condition of preparing Britain for a new world".

In the US it is Barack Obama, a Democratic President, not his Republican predecessor, who has committed more than $8 billion in federal loan guarantees for the next generation reactors.

Only in Australia does entrenched ideological opposition prevail. Only in Australia is the Prime Minister looking back down the time tunnel.

But, looking to the future, if Australia is going to be serious about meeting its carbon emission reduction targets, we must contemplate the nuclear option.

It is a message the International Energy Agency's executive director Nobuo Tanaka recently carried to Canberra: "If you don't use nuclear, totally renewable energy is very, very expensive, and also it is fragile in terms of its productivity."

It is a message that has for a long time resonated in Tanaka's native Japan.

With a commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by an ambitious 80 per cent by 2050, Japan plans to build 9 new nuclear reactors by 2019 on top of the 55 already in place. For the leadership in Tokyo nuclear power is a proven winner and indispensable to a greener, cleaner future.

While Japan and many of our other regional neighbours including India, Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam and China have already embraced the nuclear concept, Australia can catch up.

The pre-eminent voice in the Australian debate, Ziggy Switkowski, chairman of the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, believes Australia can have its first reactor operating by 2020 and 50 in place by 2050, providing 90 per cent of the nation's energy needs.

Such a move would propel us a long way towards meeting our emissions targets by 2050.

Developments in reactor technology are also occurring so fast that the construction phase is likely to shrink from 60 to 30 months in coming years.

New generation reactors will also be considerably smaller, built underground, and with the potential to be gas cooled, so they would not need to be located close to large sources of water.

Incidentally, Australian companies like Worley Parsons are involved in the construction of new reactors as in Egypt, where they are gaining an international reputation for their project management expertise.

Huge strides are also being made to dramatically reduce the amount of nuclear waste. Fourth generation reactors will burn most of the fuel, with the surviving waste having a half life a fraction of that produced by today's reactors.

Today's reactors are also significantly safer than their predecessors. The explosions at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island were decades ago and since then there have been thousands of reactor hours without incident.

A comprehensive and informed debate about a nuclear power industry for Australia is long overdue.

It will require our Prime Minister to overcome the ideological bogies of the past and think of the benefits that will accrue to future generations.

If Gillard started to listen to Hawke and other senior voices on the Labor side, the pathway ahead for Australia would soon become abundantly clear.


Class warriors prepare to ambush private schools

Janet Albrechtsen

SO far it's just shots across the bow in what will be this year's political sleeper issue: the Gonski review into federal funding of schools.

Soon enough we will get a barrage of rapid fire from the teachers unions as they do what they always do when it comes to any talk about funding schools: cast aside inconvenient facts, ignore parental choice and wage a misleading war against private education.

Last Sunday, Fairfax's Sun-Herald joined the side of union leaders, trying to shock parents about fee increases at private schools, giving the last word to the Greens to complain about "ever greater amounts of government money flooding into wealthy private schools".

Flooding is extreme imagery at the moment. And quite deliberate. Submissions to the Gonski review are due by March. After that, the teachers unions' carefully orchestrated campaign of misinformation about the evils of funding private education and the virtues of funding public education will get into full swing.

That's a shame. Funding our schools raises important principles ripe for discussion, recommendation and determination.

As then education minister Julia Gillard said in April last year, when announcing a review of the complicated, hotchpotch approach to funding schools, funding principles "should be based on simplicity, flexibility, stability, equity, value for money, transparency and best practice".

All laudable principles that the review will consider over the course of this year. Alas, Gillard either forgot or deliberately ignored another principle that has long guided funding of schools in Australia. The principle of choice.

To be sure, the threshold issue of choice was settled long ago. Australia has a fine tradition that mixes public and private investment in education. Plenty of parents have followed P.J. O'Rourke's basic observation that when you spend your money on yourself, you spend it much more wisely than when the government spends your money on other people.

The real question, now critical to the Gonski review, is whether we encourage parents to spend their own money on their children's education, whether we merely tolerate it or whether we actively penalise it.

By failing to mention the principle of parental choice to privately educate their children in her discussion paper and draft terms of reference, Gillard seems to fall into the "tolerate choice but don't encourage it" camp.

That, too, is a shame. Logic would suggest that once the state has used taxpayers' money to provide acceptable minimum standards of education to every child, it should then actively encourage parents to lavish as much of their own money on their child's education as they can. But this most basic logic eludes the cheerleaders of public education entirely, most particularly the teachers unions. Many of them actually want to punish parents who spend their own money (over and above their taxes) on their child's education.

That's because unions don't really approve of allowing private choice when it comes to parents spending their money on their child's education. For the time being, their class warfare means they want a funding model that penalises parents who choose to educate their children privately.

And misinformation is at the heart of this campaign. Consider the Australian Education Union's submission to the Gonski review about its terms of reference, in which it demands a "comprehensive, evidence-based analysis of both the state and federal funding mechanisms for non-government schools". On its face, that seems appropriate. The entire funding pie for each sector is relevant to any meaningful review of funding. Except that when unions compare public schools with private schools, they invariably look only at federal funding. And the reason is simple. Although education is a state responsibility and the states and territories provide the largest slice of funding to public schools, the unions don't want you to recall this inconvenient fact.

Instead, critics of private education use misleading figures to suggest government-condoned inequity - the rich taking from the poor in our schools. Take Trevor Cobbold, convener of Save Our Schools, who likes to highlight average total expenditure. In government schools in 2007-08 it was $10,723 a student, compared with $15,147 in independent schools and $10,399 in Catholic schools. It's true that total expenditure in government schools is about $10,500 per student. But now add the relevant facts. State and territory governments provide about 88 per cent of funding to public schools, the federal government provides about 8 per cent and parents the remaining 4 per cent. Almost the reverse funding pie applies to independent schools. State and territory governments provide just 12 per cent of the funding per student, the federal government picks up the tab for 31 per cent and parents, and the school community provides 58 per cent of the funding per student.

In dollar amounts, if you compare state and federal funding to government and non-government schools, as any meaningful review of funding must, students at government schools receive about twice the government funding received by students at non-government schools.

Fair enough. Parents who choose to educate their children privately accept that the bulk of the funding is private: they choose to foot the largest part of the bill to educate their children, with estimated savings to governments of $3.1 billion each year.

Still, teachers unions are committed to first reducing, then obliterating, any public funding to private schools. Their message to parents: if you can pay anything at all towards a private education, you should pay for the lot.

Union leaders may talk about equality of opportunity but their aim is equality of outcome: each Australian student attending the same kind of school, receiving precisely the same kind of cookie-cutter education. Diversity, usually such a fashionable word in the teachers union world, is taboo when it comes to schools and choice. Being an advocate of public education is a fine vocation indeed, except when it means becoming a specialist in dishonest and illogical arguments aimed at bludgeoning the federal government into giving less and less to private schools. No strategem goes unused in their attempt to strangle private education.

Imagine how refreshing it might be to hear an advocate of public education talk about the importance, too, of private schools within our education system. Imagine if this public education advocate recognised the need to encourage - not just tolerate, and certainly not penalise - parents who can afford to privately educate their children, to do just that. Imagine if the Gonski review said just that. And just imagine if the Gillard government agreed.

After all, telling hardworking parents who sacrifice in order to fund their children's education that the more they invest, the more they will be punished by a withdrawal of federal funding is no way to build an education revolution.


26 January, 2011

Australia Day today

It commemorates the arrival of the first white settlers in Australia in 1788 and has become an increasingly popular celebration. As the Left-run schools have robbed Australians of their history, the few shreds that remain in people's consciousness are seized on eagerly. The same goes for Anzac Day, which goes from strength. My family on my mother's side have for many years celebrated the day in a good Aussie way -- with a family get-together over a BBQ lunch. I will be off to that as soon as I post this. I expect to see lots of cars with Australian flags on them -- something that is a phenomenon of recent years only

A pesky one for the Warmists

In their usual form, Warmists have been out in force blaming the recent Brisbane flood on global warming (e.g. here), quite ignoring the fact that Brisbane flooding has been happening since Brisbane was founded nearly 200 years ago.

They also allege that the world has warmed significantly in recent decades. That should mean that the recent flood was greater than previous floods. Since the previous flood, however, a conservative government built the huge "Wivenhoe" flood mitigation dam. So flood levels don't necessarily tell us much.

What DOES tell us something is the amount of rainfall. If global warming were the dark person in the woodpile, recent rains should have been a record high. They were not. The recent Brisbane rainfall was dwarfed by the amount of rain that fell during the previous flood 36 years ago

BRISBANE had more rainfall in the 1974 floods than it did in the latest episode, preliminary figures show. And rainfall during the 1893 floods may have dwarfed both the 1974 and 2011 events.

The weather bureau on Tuesday unveiled rainfall comparisons suggesting the city falls were relatively light compared with '74. But the inland falls that caused the flooding of the Brisbane River were extremely heavy. The bureau stressed all data was not yet complete.

But weather experts suggested "peak rainfalls from the 1974 event were substantially heavier than those in 2011". Brisbane's three-days and one-day totals were 600mm and 314mm in 1974, compared with 166mm and 110mm in 2011. "However, in 1974 the heaviest rains were closer to the coast whereas in 2011 heavy rains spread further inland," the bureau said.

Insufficient data exists for a comprehensive assessment of the 1893 floods. But what data the bureau has suggests 1893's rainfall was extreme. Crohamhurst in the Glass House Mountains, inland from the Sunshine Coast, received 907mm on February 3, 1893. That remains an Australian daily record.


Flood levy will hit already 'struggling' Australians as food prices rise, says Joe Hockey

A $5-a-week levy to pay for flood reconstruction is a "dumb idea" when Australians are already struggling with flood-related price rises, the Coalition says. Opposition treasury spokesman Joe Hockey said it was “absurd” for Julia Gillard to ask Australians to donate to Queensland Premier Anna Bligh's flood relief fund and then impose a $3.5 billion new tax. “What's even worse is that flood victims will have to pay this levy, they have been affected by the floods and then they are now going to have to pay the levy.”

The Prime Minister is expected to announce a 0.5 per cent increase in the 1.5 per cent Medicare levy at the National Press Club tomorrow. The move would cost average earners an estimated $5 a week, raising about $3.5 billion in 12 months to rebuild damaged infrastructure such as roads, bridges, rail lines and community amenities.

News Limited newspapers reported today that Ms Gillard met with Treasurer Wayne Swan, Finance Minister Penny Wong and Infrastructure Minster Anthony Albanese yesterday to sign off on the levy.

Mr Hockey promised the opposition would oppose the imposition of a new tax in parliament. “This is a dumb idea on the back of increases in fruit and vegetable prices, rising interest rates, a carbon tax and a mining tax, it will indirectly affect everyone because there will be less money and less spending in the community, whether people have to pay it or not,” he said. “This is going to hit people who are struggling.”

Mr Hockey said a Coalition government would not impose a reconstruction levy if it found itself in government soon. “We absolutely rule out a levy, from our perspective the rebuild can be paid for out of existing government budget,” he said. "They are sitting on billions of dollars in various funds that they are afraid to touch because they are slush funds for re-election.”

The Howard government imposed a series of levies when it was in office, including the $500 million gun buyback levy and the $286 million Ansett levy, imposed on airline tickets, to pay workers entitlements after the airline's collapse. It abandoned a plan to impose a levy to pay for the military engagement in East Timor after community resistance.


Another useless government hospital kills a kid

Parents watched son die before their eyes

No doctor, a student nurse, faulty equipment and a stricken father forced to start CPR on his dying son when medical staff failed to notice the boy's heart had stopped. This was the nightmare unfolding at Nambour Hospital's emergency department on August 25 after an ambulance arrived with critically ill Sunshine Coast four-year-old Tom Olive, who later died.

His Mooloolah parents Andrew and Trudy Olive have called for an investigation into their son's treatment and a review of procedures so that other families don't endure the same trauma.

The Courier-Mail in November revealed the tragic loss of Tom and fears his three-year-old sister Laura could be at risk from the mystery disease that caused a devastating breakdown of his muscle tissue. His parents said their initial goal had been to protect Laura and now they were confident about her future, they wanted answers about their emergency department ordeal.

They have sent two letters to Deputy Premier and Minister for Health Paul Lucas through their lawyer Peter Boyce. A reply said the circumstances surrounding their son's death would be addressed by the State Coroner.

"This could take years. There is only a small window of time to save a child when they get this critical," Mr Olive said. "The children of the Sunshine Coast deserve better. I will not sit back and wait any longer. Changes must be put in place now as more lives could be lost.

"What we encountered was madness. There was no doctor waiting for us. A uni student nurse was trying to take Tom's temperature with equipment she said had been 'playing up all morning'. "The paramedic also had to point out that the blood pressure reading would be inaccurate because of its placement and Tom had moved.

"Later, when we were moved to a resuscitation room, there were up to eight staff present and no one except us was watching Tom. I was the first to notice his heart had stopped and started CPR. "All hell broke loose. The only resuscitation mask was an adult one that didn't fit and people were running everywhere looking for a kid's one. It was only at this stage that a doctor became involved."

Mr Olive said despite the ambulance stopping to pick up an intensive care paramedic and the hospital being called before their arrival, there was no doctor on hand. "How serious does a little boy have to be before he gets to see a proper doctor? It's too late when he's dead," Mr Olive said. "I don't blame the student nurse in any way, she should not have been put it in this situation."

Sunshine Coast Health Service District chief executive Kevin Hegarty said the matter was subject to an ongoing coronial investigation. "I appreciate the grief and anxiety this young family must be experiencing," he said. "I assure them that we are doing everything possible to assist the coronial investigations."


More legal stupidity

Man fined for trying to paint over offensive graffito on road. He should have been thanked, not fined

A Brisbane bayside man who tried to cover "offensive graffiti" of a penis left by others by painting over it was fined $300 and ordered to pay for its partial clean-up.

Simon Corbett pleaded guilty in the Redcliffe Magistrates Court to one count of wilful damage at Scarborough, north of Brisbane, on October 29 last year.

Prosecutor Jodie Brennan said police interviewed Mr Corbett after neighbours saw him painting on a section of road that was later found to have graffiti featuring "indecent representations" of a phallus - an erect penis.

Senior Constable Brennan said Mr Corbett was originally charged with an added aggravating feature of the offence - meaning they believed he was responsible for the original offensive road artwork. However, Mr Corbett, who was self-represented, said he had simply tried to cover the offensive "phallus" by painting over it.

It was expected Mr Corbett would defend the charge during a summary trial, but entered a plea of guilty when police revealed they would not pursue the allegation he was responsible for the offensive graffiti. Constable Brennan said the prosecution accepted Mr Corbett had only tried to cover graffiti allegedly left by one or more other people. "He was trying to cover up (offensive) representations on the road," she said.

The court was told the clean-up bill to remove the graffiti was $770. Mr Corbett said he did not think it would be fair to lumber him with the whole cleaning bill. Magistrate Alec Chilcott agreed and ordered Mr Corbett pay only $100 restitution.

Mr Chilcott said under the circumstances it was appropriate to not record a conviction against Mr Corbett, but did impose a fine of $300.


25 January, 2011

A failed attempt to impose guilt on ordinary Australians

The intelligentsia claim to feel guilt about events in Australia's past and present as a way of making ordinary Australians feel guilty too. It has been an epic fail. It just makes the intelligentsia look as out-of-touch as they are. So the hatred for ordinary people behind the guilt crusade remains unsatisfied, rather pleasingly

At the Australia Day lunch in Sydney last Friday, Germaine Greer delivered a brief and dignified address. She spoke on behalf of the four prominent women honoured as recipients of Australia Post's Australian Legends awards - Greer, Eva Cox, Elizabeth Evatt and Anne Summers - and whose images appear on the 50¢ stamp.

Ever the thespian, Greer gave a polished performance. However, she felt compelled to make one broadly political comment when referring to "the guilt that hangs over this country".

The reference was clearly to the events of 1788 and after - when those sent from Britain (then one of the most developed societies on Earth) began to interact with indigenous Australians (then among the most traditional of cultures).

The concept of guilt is a phenomenon felt by many members of the Australian intelligentsia. But there is unlikely to be much evidence of guilt when the increasingly popular Australia Day celebrations take place tomorrow. Guilt for the deeds, or rather misdeeds, of others is essentially a condition embraced by intellectuals.

The novelist Tom Keneally has taken a stance between guilt and celebration. On The Late Show on SBS TV last week, he saw reason for Australians to commemorate the existence of a highly successful contemporary society while not forgetting that errors were made in the past.

It's just over five years since the Cronulla riots of late December 2005. The attacks by an intoxicated group of Australians of Anglo-Celtic background on Australians of Muslim Lebanese background were an unpleasant manifestation of tensions which exist within all democracies.

But, as the scholar James Jupp pointed out at the time, they were not the worst racially motivated incident since the Lambing Flat attack on the Chinese in 1860. He commented that "the Kalgoorlie riots of 1934, directed against southern Europeans, and the Battle of Brisbane during World War II, directed against US servicemen, were worse and lives were lost". There were no fatalities during or following the Cronulla riots.

December 2005 was a time for high theory from guilt-obsessed intellectuals. From London, Greer predicted riots and counter-riots from the Gold Coast to Perth. This "looks like being a bloody summer in Australia", she prophesied. It wasn't. From La Trobe University, Professor Marilyn Lake saw the events as evidence of Australian support for "racial exclusion in the name of the nation". In fact, nothing occurred at Cronulla in Australia's name during 2005.

Soon after, journalist academic Peter Manning depicted the occasion as a "seminal event" in Australian history which demonstrated "the true face of Australian fascism". Yet more hyperbole. The years after the Cronulla incident saw one of the largest, and most diverse, inflows of immigration in Australian history. This took place during the final period of John Howard's Coalition government and the early years of Kevin Rudd's Labor administration. What has been remarkable about Australia during the time of the global financial crisis has been the lack of ethnic tension.

Meanwhile, rates of inter-marriage between ethnic groups remain very high. In other words, the intelligentsia misread the times.

It was much the same with the dismissal by the governor-general Sir John Kerr of Gough Whitlam's Labor government, 35 years ago last year.

Monash University academic Max Teichmann put out a pamphlet in which he presented Australia in November 1975 as being in much the same pre-fascist condition as existed in Germany just before the Nazis came to power. Teichmann even predicted that the election of Malcolm Fraser's Coalition would lead to a dictatorship, since it was most unlikely that he "would merely surrender office" after losing an election. Fraser surrendered office in March 1983.

There were a few who rejected Teichmann's hyperbole at the time. Professors Hugo Wolfsohn and Rufus Davis, both of Jewish European background, wrote to The Age that "Australian democracy is not in crisis nor has it come to an end". They queried the "alarming statements" of many fellow academics and described the constitutional crisis of 1975 as a "temporary technical difficulty in the working of our parliamentary system". And so it turned out to be - Wolfsohn and Davis understood what real fascism was like.

It was much the same with the dismissal of the Lang Labor government in NSW in 1932 by governor Sir Philip Game. Despite the view of some historians, Australian democracy was not threatened at the time.

All too many members of the intelligentsia want to project their disillusionment - or sense of guilt - on to the society at large. But the success of Australia's continuing democracy suggests that this is an empirical society in which there is little room for high theory and scant feelings of collective guilt.


Australian cities to more than double in size under current immigration levels

AUSTRALIA'S capital cities will more than double in size within 50 years under current immigration rates, dramatically affecting quality of life and cutting food production.

Research for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship has found more than 430,000 hectares of land will have to be found for housing in both Sydney and Melbourne if net overall immigration remains above 260,000 a year. Even with zero migration, the capitals will grow in size by roughly 50 per cent, costing residents an extra $1000 a year due to added congestion within the next two decades.

Under current migration rates, each capital would become an estimated one and a half times bigger, with massive gridlock-induced costs.

Posted on the department's website before Christmas, the National Institute of Labour Studies research reveals the extent of the policy problems facing the Gillard government as it plans for a “sustainable Australia”.

“The magnitude of the impacts at all net overall migration levels suggests that unless substantial and timely actions are taken to address these impacts, some impacts have the potential to disrupt Australia's economy and society,” the paper warns.

Lead researcher Dr Jonathan Sobels, from Flinders University, said farms and public land would be consumed as bulging cities expanded. He said Sydney would lose about half of its productive land used for fresh fruit and vegetable production.

“Sydney and Melbourne will rise to something of the order of seven million people. We've got something in the order of half of that now,” he said. “Where are they all going to go? They're not going to all go into 50-storey apartment blocks. “Physically, the demand on land is going to be immense.”

Affluence is forecast to rise faster under higher immigration scenarios, driving up the use of space and resources. Per capita wealth would rise by about 2.3 times by mid-century with migration at the level of 260,000 a year. Without migration, per capita wealth would double over the same timeframe.

Consumption is forecast to rise with affluence, contributing to growing levels of waste, congestion and use of environmental resources.

Sydney would need an extra 2.5 landfills for every one required today under higher migration scenarios, with much of the extra waste resulting from demolition of old buildings.

The report suggests agricultural production would increase toward 2030, and then decline.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd was a supporter of a “Big Australia”, arguing for a population of 36 million-plus by 2050.

Julia Gillard modified the approach amid a growing suburban backlash, calling instead for a sustainable Australia.

Net overseas migration was running at almost 300,000 but is expected to fall when the latest figures become available in about six months, after changes to cut the number of overseas students staying in Australia following their studies.



Three current articles below

Another huge "Green" hit on the pocket of the taxpayer

SHORTLY before Christmas, federal Resources and Energy Minister Martin Ferguson announced seven proposals were being assessed for two spots in the first round of subsidies for large-scale solar power.

Though dwarfed by the waste demonstrated in the $42 billion Building the Education Revolution, the government's Solar Flagship program aims to provide $1.5bn to assist in the creation of intrinsically uneconomic large-scale solar electricity generation.

Infigen, created out of the carcass of Babcock & Brown, has received preliminary approval from the NSW government for a 100 megawatt capacity solar farm at Nyngan in the northwest of NSW, the cost of which is $300 million.

The simple arithmetic on the investment costs, assuming an 11 per cent return on capital, suggests the project would require its output to be sold at a price of more than $240 per megawatt hour if it were to be viable. But $240 per MWh is more than eightfold the average spot market price in the 2010-11 year to date. So how can the proposal be contemplated?

Well, first, it will receive a subsidy of about $80m from the financially beleaguered NSW government. In a triumph of hope over experience, the Keneally government hopes the project will "contribute to the development of the utility scale renewable energy industry in NSW". An ambitious Victorian solar scheme sponsored by the previous Labor government was to create a new industry and 10,000 jobs, but was mugged by reality and abandoned, with considerable loss to its commercial sponsor.

Second, the Nyngan proposal aims to get another $100m courtesy of the taxpayer from the commonwealth government. To earn an adequate return on the $120m of private capital invested would still require a wholesale market price for electricity of $100 per MWh, compared with the prevailing $30 to $40 price. To bridge the gap, there are further subsidies paid by the consumer as a result of government regulations.

The first of these is the renewable energy requirement, which compels energy retailers to incorporate a rising proportion of uneconomic renewable energy into our electricity supply. Under present legislation this proportion will be 20 per cent by 2020. To meet the commitment, the retailer has to buy Renewable Energy Certificates, which represent electricity supply that is not derived from any commercial supply source such as large-scale hydro. The REC price is presently low due to the overfulfilment of rooftop solar systems (another subsidised renewable scam), but if the REC price rises to $55 per MWh, large-scale solar power systems would start to look profitable if they could sell their electricity at $45 per MWh.

This is feasible since, as a result of the government-created risk of a carbon tax, there is precious little investment in new electricity generation from commercial sources. The upshot is that prices must inevitably rise for electricity as a whole. If they rise from the present (somewhat depressed) level of $30 per MWh to $60 per MWh, this would provide a cushion and allow a large-scale solar plant to turn a profit. Hence, to convert a $300m sow's ear that would produce electricity for a cost that is eightfold its value into a silk purse requires four waves of the governmental magic wand:

* A NSW government grant of $80m.

* A commonwealth Solar Flagship grant of $100m.

* The subsidy from the "20 per cent by 2020 renewable energy" requirement, which doubles the venture's returns.

* And, bringing home the proposal's bacon, the government-created risk of a carbon tax, which prevents new commercial supplies being built and is likely to increase the ex-generator national electricity price by about 50 per cent ($20 to $30 per MWh).

Government regulations and subsidies therefore leverage an investment with a market value of $30m to one that can be profitable at a cost of $300m. The Solar Flagships scheme may not be the most extravagant piece of government expenditure, but the "mere" $1.5bn it is budgeted to squander in taxpayer resources serves to illustrate just how inured we have all become to misused government spending. Moreover, combined with other government distortions of the marketplace, the Solar Flagships scheme is destabilising the commerciality of the electricity supply industry.

As such, it is undermining what was arguably the world's most efficient electricity supply industry, bringing adverse consequences directly to the consumer and to industry competitiveness.


An embarrassing $150 million "clean coal" flop

Two Bligh Government bureaucrats went on a $30,000 round-the-world trip to tell the world Queensland's $150 million clean coal dream was in tatters. In a final "sayonara" for the Japanese-backed ZeroGen project, Department of Economic Development associate director-general Dan Hunt and Queensland Treasury official Lloyd Taylor embarked on the 10-day business-class jaunt in late-October across Japan and the United States.

The move came only weeks before The Sunday Mail revealed in December the government would give ZeroGen to the coal industry and can its proposed $4.3 billion clean coal power plant in central Queensland after taxpayers pumped $150 million into the initiative.

However, there are conflicting claims for the purpose of the trip to Tokyo, New York and Washington DC. Mr Hunt yesterday said the $30,285 trip satisfied government guidelines and was designed to brief technology vendors, including representatives from ZeroGen backer Mitsubishi, personnel of other investors and government officials.

"(The briefings were about the) Government's future investment strategy in low-emission coal technologies and its implication for the ZeroGen and Wandoan Power projects," he said.

However, former premier Peter Beattie wrote in a newspaper column on October 23 the trip was held to try to sell ZeroGen. "The Queensland Government is now selling this project," Mr Beattie wrote. "Dan Hunt and a key Treasury officer have been dispatched this past week to Japan and US to begin negotiations for ZeroGen's sale."

However, this is contradicted by a departmental annual report released at the time which shows the government had already written off its portion of the $150 million investment as a loss.

ZeroGen sources have told The Sunday Mail the Tokyo leg of the trip was essentially to say sorry after it was thought damage had been done to the relationship with the state's key trading partner. "They went there to apologise to the Japanese," a source said. "The government was so rude to them by stuffing them around over the past year before finally abandoning the project."


Green scheme in the red

TAXPAYERS are spending millions of dollars to subsidise the electricity bills of Cate Blanchett's Sydney Theatre Company and replace in-room fridges with "green" Eskies on Heron Island.

Designed to demonstrate solar power and save water, the Gillard Government has spent $15 million on the Green Precinct program at just a dozen "high profile" demonstration projects.

They include a grant of $1.2 million towards the Sydney Theatre Company's Greening The Wharf project that will reduce energy costs by just $100,000 a year. The total program cost is $5 million.

The cost of reducing greenhouse gas emissions is sky high under the scheme compared to the Government's failed bid to introduce an emissions trading scheme with a carbon price of around $30 a tonne. Based on the projected savings under the scheme, the Opposition estimates the Green Precincts Fund comes with an estimated price tag of $2022 per tonne of carbon dioxide saved.

Coalition spokesman on Scrutiny of Government, Jamie Briggs said: "If there is a more expensive way of delivering a government program this Labor Government will find it." "While Australians are wrestling with increased power bills, Labor is finding new ways to burn money."

First announced in the 2008 Federal Budget, the projects are designed to save 142 megalitres of water and 9 million kilowatt hours of energy.

The scheme has proven a winner for lucky recipients including the Sydney Theatre Company, whose general manager Patrick McIntyre confirmed he hoped to slash the company's $140,000-a-year electricity bill by 70 per cent.

The Department of Sustainability disputed the Coalition's calculations on the cost of the scheme in terms of the cost of carbon abatement per tonne, but was unable to provide its own estimate. A spokeswoman said, for example, if the Sydney Theatre Company saved 555 tonnes per year over 20 years, the cost per tonne would be $108 per tonne, not $2162.


* Sydney Theatre Company: For solar power and rainwater harvesting: $1.2 million (Expected to save $98,000 a year on power bills during next decade . total investment of $5 million)

* Wide Bay Water Corporation of Heron Island: To generate solar power and 'replace in-room refrigeration with coolers' at the Heron Island resort: $1.29 million

* Blue Mountains Sustainable Precinct: For rainwater harvesting and rooftop rain gardens: $1.5 million

* Perth's Shire of Peppermint Grove's Library Project: Rainwater harvesting, climate-sensitive building design, including thermal maze and double glazing: $1.5 million

* Essendon Football Club: $1.5 million

* Australian National University: $1 million


24 January, 2011

We Australians can be proud to have among us such men

Corporal Benjamin Roberts-Smith VC with his wife Emma and twin five-month old daughters Eve and Elizabeth

As corporal Ben Roberts-Smith has tattooed across his chest the simple message: "I will not fail my brothers."

Early on June 11 last year, in the rugged north of Afghanistan's Kandahar Province, the special forces soldier lived up to his own promise.

In an early morning raid on a Taliban stronghold, Corporal Roberts-Smith and two other special forces soldiers were lying in a horribly exposed position just 20m in front of an insurgent machine-gun post.

From the sparse cover of a small pile of rubble, Corporal Roberts-Smith saw gunfire tearing up the ground around his friends and realised they'd soon be killed. He leapt to his feet and charged the machine-gun, killing the gunners at point-black range.

Yesterday, he was awarded the highest award for valour, the Victoria Cross of Australia. The medal was presented in front of Corporal Roberts-Smith's family and previous VC winners Mark Donaldson and Keith Payne.

Corporal Roberts-Smith's father, West Australian Corruption and Crime Commission chief Len Roberts-Smith, told The Australian last night he was not surprised by his son's courage. He said his son lived by the message he wore on his chest.

"To have a son that you know did that is just extraordinary. We are incredibly proud of him," said Mr Roberts-Smith, himself a former army major-general. "As a parent, of course I worry enormously. We know the circumstances he goes into and we know our son, so we know he's going to be at the forefront. But we're very proud of him."

Corporal Roberts-Smith comes from a high-achieving family. His brother Sam, 24, is an opera singer critically acclaimed for his role in Carmen, which is playing in Sydney at the moment

Yesterday, Corporal Roberts-Smith, the second member of Australia Special Air Service regiment to win the VC in Afghanistan, spoke of the fear felt by Australian soldiers in Afghanistan and said they all showed great courage under fire. "I saw a lot of brave men do a lot of brave things that day," the 32-year-old SAS soldier said yesterday after being honoured for his extreme gallantry.

Governor-General Quentin Bryce said she felt honoured just pinning the medal on his chest. "In these times of hardship for so many Australians, you bring our hearts to soar," she said. "Corporal, you are not invincible, you are human, extraordinarily and exceptionally so."

Julia Gillard said Corporal Roberts-Smith was reluctant to be at the centre of "so much fuss" but he was a true hero. She said the Victoria Cross was "an honour so high that even the chief of the Defence Force salutes those that hold it".

Defence Force chief Angus Houston, himself a decorated pilot, followed convention and, despite his vastly superior rank, saluted the corporal.

Air Chief Marshal Houston said Corporal Roberts-Smith had brought great credit to himself, the Australian Army, the Special Air Service Regiment and the Australian Defence Force. "Today, we in the military feel great admiration and respect for the extreme valour shown by Corporal Roberts-Smith and we are honoured to call him one of our own," Air Chief Marshal Houston said.

The SAS soldiers were pinned down in a battle with the Taliban in Afghanistan's Shah Wali Kot region when Corporal Roberts-Smith made his life-saving dash through a storm of gunfire. "Every single bloke in that troop was at some stage fighting for their lives, every person there showed gallantry," Corporal Roberts-Smith said. "The decisions that I saw made were heroic, just watching some of my mates who were wounded by frag just keep firing, just ignoring the fact that they were drawing fire to themselves."

Corporal Roberts-Smith said he was aware of bullets flying around him as he tackled the machine-gun posts, and anyone who said they didn't feel fear was "either crazy or not telling the truth". But he said his actions were instinctive. "I saw my mates getting ripped up so I just decided to move forward. I wasn't going to just sit there and do nothing. I thought I'd have a crack, I was not going to let my mates down," he said.

The father of twin five-month-old girls said Australia was achieving results in Afghanistan. "I believe that we are making a difference in stemming the flow of terrorism into Australia, and I want my children to be able to live as everyone does now without the fear of getting on to a bus and having it blow up," he said.


Some Australian criticism of the windmill craze at last

One of Australia's most successful company receivers is taking on the proponents of a $400 million wind farm development that plans to place turbines taller than the Sydney Harbour Bridge overlooking his rural getaway on the NSW southern tablelands.

"It started out as a NIMBY (not in my back yard) issue, but it is now much more than that," said Tony Hodgson, who co-founded the insolvency specialist Ferrier Hodgson, which has handled some of Australia's highest-profile corporate collapses, including One.Tel and Laurie Connell's Rothwells Ltd. Ferrier Hodgson also pursued Christopher Skase for his missing millions and more recently was the receiver for the failed logistics group Allco.

Mr Hodgson is no stranger to a protracted fight. He was chairman of the Melbourne Port Authority during the 1998 waterfront dispute between Patrick Ltd and the Maritime Union of Australia. "My position in life is I thought Genghis Khan was a bit of a piker so I am out there," Mr Hodgson said.

Hodgson bought his property in Collector, about 30km west of Goulburn, five years ago and said he learned of plans for a 160-megawatt, 80-tower wind farm in October.

He has launched a furious campaign against wind farm proponent Transfield Services, the state government and his absentee neighbour, a Double Bay cafe owner who has agreed to host some of the proposed wind towers in exchange for lease payments estimated at $1m a year for 20 years.

Since Mr Hodgson started his campaign, Transfield has been forced to disclose, belatedly, about $39,000 in political donations that it failed to report when it lodged its development application.

Mr Hodgson's lawyers have referred Transfield's non-disclosure to the Independent Commission Against Corruption after NSW Planning Minister Tony Kelly declined to do so. Mr Kelly said he was "satisfied" that Transfield's failure to disclose the donations with its project application on September 17 last year did not indicate "corrupt conduct". Transfield has rejected any suggestions of impropriety.

Mr Kelly has announced he will not consider the Transfield application -- as is his right under the special project status given to wind farms -- and will instead refer it to the Planning Assessment Commission for assessment. This has been claimed as a significant victory by those who object to the wind farm proposal.

Meanwhile, lawyers acting for Mr Hodgson have advised his neighbour that the businessman may sue him for loss of amenity and reduced property value if the wind farm goes ahead.

Mr Hodgson has formed a Friends of Collector group to lobby against the development. He has organised a community meeting this weekend at which Sarah Laurie, from the Waubra Foundation, will talk about her research into the health impacts of wind farms on nearby residents.

Opponents of the wind farm are planning to erect a giant billboard alongside the Federal Highway at Collector tomorrow that says "Transfield. Go stick your 80 turbines somewhere else. Try Sydney".

Mr Hodgson said he did not want the Collector wind farm to go ahead but, if it did, Transfield should be forced to make payments to the local community on a dollar-for-dollar basis on what it was paying landholders who had sold the right to host the turbines. He said the company should also be forced to lodge a bond of $200m to cover the cost of decommissioning the wind turbines at the end of their life.

Opponents want the state government to scrap the Part 3a provisions that give wind farms special project status, and exempt them from normal planning rules and land and environment court oversight.

They also want an inquiry into the environmental and economic value of wind farms and an inquiry into the health impacts of living near them. Transfield's preliminary environmental assessment says there would be a minimum 1km buffer between the wind towers and non-involved residences. The company said it was anticipated that only five non-involved residences would be within 2km of the nearest turbine.

Mr Hodgson said the size of the towers and blades -- at 150m, taller than the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from the water level -- meant the visual impact was far-reaching. "My view is there should also be a register of easement that shows up on all the adjoining land," Mr Hodgson said. "My position would be if I knew there was going to be a wind farm here I would not have bought it five years ago. I could have gone anywhere."

The Collector protests reflect widespread concern in rural communities where wind farms are being proposed.

The wind industry has dismissed concerns it is being self-interested and has research that shows 80 per cent of residents in areas where wind farms have been proposed support the developments. However, a survey of Collector residents who claim they will be immediately affected by the wind towers has produced the opposite result.

Community opposition to wind farms is a global issue. At a future energy conference in Abu Dhabi this week, Morten Albaek, senior vice-president of Denmark-based wind turbine maker Vestas, said the industry had underestimated the NIMBY syndrome. "The not-in-my-backyard syndrome is strong and driving the political decision-making," Mr Albaek said.

He said he believed the wind industry must provide more information to communities. "There are too many rumours and conspiracy theories about wind power plants and we as an industry are doing too little to fight them," he said.


Judges too lenient on sentencing, say police

WA Police have little faith in the state's judiciary, with a landmark survey revealing an overwhelming 96 per cent of officers believe the sentences handed down by magistrates and judges are not tough enough.

And almost nine in 10 officers who responded to the survey claim the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is under pressure and does not have adequate resources to secure convictions from evidence provided by police.

The findings are based on the responses of 625 WA police officers who took part in a comprehensive online questionnaire, organised by The Sunday Times and and supported by Channel 9, which canvassed the state's 5500 sworn police officers in December.

WA Police Union president Russell Armstrong said many officers felt disillusioned at the justice system, particularly with what they believed were lenient sentences handed out by the courts.

"The community of WA is sick and tired of people who are paid extremely well, handing out lenient sentences. The job of the judiciary is to hand out the penalties that are appropriate to the crime. In most cases they are very soft and very lenient," Mr Armstrong said.

He agreed the DPP needed to be better resourced. "There needs to be a lot more money put in to the DPP to retain and attract professional lawyers," he said. "Police officers are sick and tired of putting a case up and then dealing with offenders getting off on technicalities. "In a lot of cases, the DPP has outsourced to other lawyers because they don't have the resources within their own department to continue on."

Opposition police spokeswoman Margaret Quirk said: "It has been apparent for some time that prosecutions are suffering because of dysfunctional relationships between police and prosecutors". "Police feel frustrated when all their hard work counts for nothing when cases in court are lost on technicalities."

Director of Public Prosecutions Joe McGrath declined to comment on the findings. Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan and Police Minister Rob Johnson also refused to comment on the survey results.


As the left sides with Muslims, Christians search for support

Martin Place is the symbolic centre, the point zero, of Australia's existence as a sophisticated economy. Last Wednesday it looked medieval. A forest of crucifixes sprouted among a sea of earnest faces that would look comfortable on ancient coins. The talk was of murder and persecution. The threat was real. Hyperbole was unnecessary.

As Martin Place, between Pitt and Castlereagh streets, became crammed with people, many of them young, real politics was made, and real news. Observing this rally, in oppressive humidity and under a dark sky that occasionally showered the crowd, was to observe another example of grassroots support for the ALP falling away.

Not long ago this crowd, drawn from a broader Middle Eastern Christian diaspora, would have voted like the rest of Australia. Demographics would have been the key driver. Labor would have got its share. Not any more.

When Julia Gillard's name was mentioned, it was greeted by a stony silence from the crowd of between 1000 and 2000 people. When the name of Tony Abbott was mentioned, there was a burst of spontaneous applause. Abbott had sent a personal emissary from his shadow ministry, Senator Connie Fierravanti-Wells, who would deliver some telling news.

Most at the rally were Coptic Orthodox Christians, the Egyptian branch of Christianity. They increasingly find common purpose with the expatriate communities of Assyrian Christians from Iraq and Maronite Christians from Lebanon. All three groups, who collectively number about 200,000, are heavily represented in western Sydney. All three are feeling the pressure of the religious cleansing of Christians in the Middle East.

These communities are tilting away from Labor, perceiving it as the party of appeasement of Muslim belligerence, and the party which has turned Australia's refugee program into a Muslim immigration program, while Christian communities are bludgeoned in Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon. These countries have seen a Christian exodus. The American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 proved to be a disaster for the estimated two million Assyrian Christians. Roughly half have fled the country.

The trigger for the rally at Martin Place was a cascade of events which began late last year when a list was circulated via an extremist Islamic website pledging attacks against 64 specific Coptic Orthodox churches. Four of the churches are in Sydney, where the majority of Australia's 80,000 Copts live.

At the top of the hit list was the Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt. On New Year's Eve, as Christians left a midnight prayer service at the Saints Church, a car bomb exploded. Twenty-three Copts died and at least 95 others were wounded in the attack. Hours before, Muslim fundamentalists had gathered outside a major mosque in Alexandria chanting threats against the Coptic church. After the attack, men ran around the city shouting "Allah Akbah!", the battle cry of jihad.

Violent attacks against the more than 10 million Coptic Christians in Egypt have been continuing for almost 40 years. The violence coincided with the rise of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the prototype of modern Islamic fascism. Violent incidents continue. On January 12, an off-duty police officer shot six Copts on a train in Egypt after identifying them as Christians.

Australia's most contentious mainstream Muslim cleric, Sheikh Taj el-Din al Hilaly, the former grand mufti of Australia, is an import from Egypt. He was installed as a permanent resident by the Keating Labor government, over the objections of the security service. His Labor connections are well known and self-advertised.

The Labor Party, locked into a political alliance with Muslim leaders in western Sydney, has said little of consequence about the problem of religious cleansing of Christians by Muslims. It has done even less.

On January 1, the acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, Martin Ferguson, issued a six-line reaction to the Alexandria bombing, stating "the Australian government utterly condemns the attack". Condemnations were issued by President Barack Obama, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, among other leaders.

No statement was issued by Julia Gillard. Nor has there been any policy change in Labor's policy of indifference to Coptic refugees from Egypt. The Australian embassy in Cairo has long been a point of contention. It is difficult for Egyptian Copts to immigrate to Australia or seek refugee status. The blocking agents include the Egyptian government, which discriminates against Christians as official policy, and the local embassy, which acts as a de facto extension of state discrimination against non-Muslims.

At the rally in Martin Place, Senator Fierravanti-Wells announced that a Coalition government would reintroduce a program for Coptic refugees from religious persecution in Egypt, a program discarded by the Rudd government.

She was one of three Liberal MPs who spoke, while Labor was entirely absent until the last minute, when a Labor member of the NSW upper house, Greg Donnelly, was dropped in to represent the Premier, Kristina Keneally. Such is the desperation of NSW Labor that Donnelly could not resist noting: "There are no representatives from the Greens today, which is interesting."

The absence of the Greens was not interesting. It was predictable. Throughout Western Europe and Australia, the left has consistently made common cause with political Islam, an embrace of reactionary intolerance made without a shred of irony. Also absent was the broadcast arm of the Greens, the ABC, whose two 24-hour news networks could see no value in attending.

Meanwhile, outside the world of the public sector unions, while religious intolerance remains endemic across the Muslim world and Australia's refugee and asylum-seeker process remains a debacle, support for Labor is showing signs of disintegrating among Australians who take discrimination against Christians seriously.


23 January, 2011

More obnoxious behaviour from the Queensland Health bureaucracy

Heartless Queensland Health bureaucrats demanded staff explain why they were not at work during Brisbane's devastating floods and to provide photos proving they were victims. While Premier Anna Bligh was calling on businesses to show compassion, Queensland Health was ordering staff to justify their absence.

The directive was the latest kick in the teeth for thousands of hard-working Queensland Health staff, many of whom were underpaid during the bungled pay system rollout last year.

Health Minister Paul Lucas yesterday said the memo was an insult, and the bureaucrat who issued it had been disciplined. "This is one of the most insensitive and stupid emails to be sent to staff that I have seen in my ministerial career," he said. "It is just so offensive to Queensland Health staff who go above and beyond the call."

The memo, sent on January 10, reminded workers to provide firm evidence - including photos - to substantiate "flood leave". "What attempts were made to use any other route to work, what attempts were made for the staff member to work at another Government location (as per the policy). "If a photo can be supplied this will help to simplify the approval process."

Thousands of Queensland Health employees could have been forced to submit paperwork for paid leave while they were trying to save themselves and their homes. The memo remained in place while residents were being warned to prepare for a flood "bigger than 1974" and while the community rallied to help victims.

On January 14, Premier Anna Bligh urged the community to work together and insurers to have a heart. "I'd call on all of our insurance companies to act with compassion in the face of this event," she said. "It is not in the interest of any of our community, including those companies, for us to stall and delay the recovery and a bit of flexibility and compassion would be a very useful contribution to this event by those companies."

When contacted by The Sunday Mail, Queensland Health's deputy director-general of human resource services, John Cairns, admitted the memo went too far. "The memo referred to was not appropriate, and was retracted by its author on direction of the acting DCEO earlier this week," he said. "Unfortunately, the memo had been sent despite being contrary to the position taken by the director-general and district management.

"QH would like to thank its hardworking staff - those who were personally directly affected by the flood, as well as those staff members who have gone above the call of duty serving Queenslanders in their time of greatest need."

While many employees were reluctant to speak out openly about their individual situations in fear of retribution, highly-placed sources said Queensland Health had set ridiculous standards for staff affected by the flood.

However, The Sunday Mail understands Queensland Health management has been disappointed by the attitude of some staff who were on holidays and had demanded their leave be credited because some other employees rostered on did not have to go to work.


NSW electorate to punish Labor party

An exclusive Galaxy poll for The Sunday Telegraph reveals that not only are voters fed up with NSW Labor, they are preparing to punish the party in devastating fashion on March 26.And if the Galaxy poll result is replicated on election day, Labor would lose 37 seats and be left with just 13 MPs in the 93-seat NSW parliament.

The poll - taken just two months out from election day - shows Labor's primary vote has plummeted to just 20 per cent, compared to 51 per cent for the Coalition.

Once preferences have been allocated, the two-party preferred breakdown has Labor on just 34 per cent and the Coalition on 66 per cent.

Although Kristina Keneally is viewed as considerably more "likeable" than Barry O'Farrell, voters overwhelmingly believe - by 54 per cent to 32 per cent - the Liberal leader will make a better premier than Ms Keneally. This is a complete reversal of the result a year ago.

Although 83 per cent of voters are demanding that Mr O'Farrell do more to explain his policies, it is a powerful endorsement of the Liberal leader. Mr O'Farrell is seen as more trustworthy and a stronger leader with a vision for NSW.

His satisfaction rating has improved markedly to 53 per cent - compared with 30 per cent for Ms Keneally, whose dissatisfaction rating now stands at 62 per cent. Short of a miracle for Labor on March 26, the 51-year-old Victorian-born former party official from Sydney's northern suburbs will become the first Liberal premier in 16 years, commanding a massive majority in parliament.

The result shows that the first 12 months of Ms Keneally's leadership have been personally devastating. Just after she was installed as leader, 53 per cent of voters were satisfied with Ms Keneally. That figure now stands at 30 per cent, and 62 per cent of voters are dissatisfied.


A refuge from NSW government schools getting ever more expensive

The state's richest schools are more out of reach than ever to ordinary families. In the 10 years since the Howard government introduced a funding system to make private schools more affordable, the most expensive schools' fees have risen by about 100 per cent - against inflation of 37 per cent.

At Trinity Grammar, a private school for boys in primary and high school, year 12 fees have increased from $10,020 in 2001 to $25,330 this year - a rise of 153 per cent.

Scots College, at Bellevue Hill, will charge as much as $28,296 for year 12 day students this year. Scots' headmaster Ian Lambert said this was all-inclusive, unlike schools that charged for additional expenses.

The Howard government made assurances that its socio-economic status funding model, introduced in 2001, would keep a lid on fee rises. The model aims to allocate funding to schools based on the socio-economic status of the families of their students. But it uses census data to measure the average wealth of families in the areas where they live.

This has drawn criticism of the funding for schools such as Kings, which draws some of its students from wealthy farming families, even if they live in relatively poor areas.

Under its "no losers" policy, the Howard government refused to cut funding to schools, even if they were entitled to less under the new funding arrangement. This has meant that more than half the schools funded under the system have received more than their strict entitlement.

The Rudd and Gillard governments have maintained the $27 billion four-year funding arrangement, despite a federal Department of Education review finding it delivered $2.7 billion in overpayments. The inflated payments will grow to at least $3 billion by the end of 2016 if the current system continues.

The Gillard government has commissioned a panel of eminent Australians, headed by Sydney businessman David Gonski, to review schools funding. Mr Gonski told a recent meeting of the Australian Education Union that the charge for his panel was to address disadvantage. He said a direct measure of parents' income or occupation might be a more effective measure for funding needs than census data.

"The panel believes that the focus on equity should be ensuring that differences in educational outcomes are not the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possession," he said. The funding system should be "transparent, fair, equitable and financially sustainable".

Of NSW's 20 most expensive schools, the 17 that provided full details lifted fees by an average of 102 per cent between 2001 and 2011. Cranbrook, at Bellevue Hill, managed a surplus $8.4 million while receiving a Commonwealth subsidy of $3.5 million. Malek Fahd Islamic school, at Greenacre, got one of the biggest subsidies - $15.46 million.

The Sydney Anglican Schools Corporation, which oversees 16 schools including Roseville College, received $88 million in government revenue in 2009, when it also posted a $20.7 million surplus. In 2004 the corporation received $45.4 million and posted a $13.95 million surplus. Laurie Scandrett, chief executive of the corporation, said enrolments had increased by 28 per cent between 2004 to 2009.

Funding for independent schools is tied to the average recurrent cost of funding government secondary schools, which rose by 24 per cent between 2004 and 2009. "Multiply these together and that will explain the increase in the government revenue," Dr Scandrett said.

In 2009, he said, parents had paid $85 million in addition to the $88 million in government subsidies.

Some of the "accounting surplus" included capital grants, such as those awarded under the Building the Education Revolution. Of the $20.7 million surplus, $12 million was used to pay loans on school land and buildings; the rest went to capital works. "Any surplus earnings, after day-to-day operating expenses are deducted, are retained for SASC's self-preservation, expansion and future plans," he said.

The chief executive of the Association of Independent Schools NSW, Geoff Newcombe, said education costs had increased by about 8 per cent last year and on average about 6 per cent a year since 2001.

"Independent school fees have to take into account both recurrent and capital costs, so it is not surprising that fees have had to increase at or above these average figures over the years," Dr Newcombe said.

Trevor Cobold, from Save Our Schools, a public school advocacy group, said the wealthiest schools had become more exclusive. "The fee increase is more than double the cost increases in private schools. The wage price index for private education and training increased by only 44 per cent between 2001 and 2010 …

The school funding review has to put a stop to this appalling waste of taxpayer funds."

A Greens NSW MP John Kaye said: "There are grave concerns that Julia Gillard's schools funding review panel will not understand the frustration felt by public sector teachers and parents after 11 years of watching ever greater amounts of government money flooding into wealthy private schools."


Fad food policy 'will hurt beef industry'

Coles has defended its "no added hormones" beef campaign, which critics say could damage Australia's $7.6 billion beef industry and add to the environmental damage caused by meat production.

Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), which represents 47,000 cattle, sheep and goat producers, accused Coles of shocking consumers into thinking beef from cattle raised on growth-promoting hormones was unsafe, despite years of scientific testing showing the meat posed no risk to humans.

The group said it was too early to tell if the Coles policy, introduced on January 1, had convinced shoppers to abandon other retailers. "It is crucial that consumers maintain their trust in the product - that the safety of Australian beef is not brought into doubt unnecessarily," MLA said.

Human growth promotants are used widely in beef production but were banned in Europe in 1988 over concerns about links to diseases including cancer. The World Health Organisation and the federal Department of Health, however, found no scientific evidence to support the ban.

Woolworths said the Coles campaign, which features celebrity chef Curtis Stone, was a "gimmick that will be bad for the environment and bad for Australian farmers". Woolworths stocks hormone-free meat in its organic range but has no plans to extend the policy.

"Removing technology means you need more cattle, eating more food, on more land, producing more methane over more time to produce the same beef," spokesman Simon Berger said. "Someone will pay for that - either farmers or customers, as well as the environment."

Coles spokesman Jim Cooper said that Coles was not saying beef raised with hormones was unsafe, but that hormone-free beef was of a higher quality. The initiative would cost the company millions because Coles would have to pay its suppliers more to farm a greater number of animals to produce the same amount of meat.

MLA said increasing the cattle herd would raise water and feed costs, placing greater strain on farmers.


22 January, 2011

Aussie expat suing UK employer over 'racist' comments

I can well imagine that the comments would be tiresome but any reaction beyond that seems excessive. He must be unaware that the English are bigoted towards one-another too. Just ask a Yorkshire man about Lancastrians if you doubt that. I would tend to hit back with derogatory remarks like: "Well at least I haven't got a working-class accent". That would cause ire but would also stop the aspersions. The English are deeply embarrassed by any mention of social class and would not risk further mention of it

An AUSTRALIAN working in the UK is suing his employer over his colleagues' allegedly racist comments mocking his nationality, the Daily Mail reported.

Geoff Stephens, a community warden, has lived in Britain for 26 years, yet the 48-year-old claimed his colleagues regularly make jokes about kangaroos, greet him with “G’day, sport” and ask, “Is your girlfriend called Sheila?”

The Adelaide native said he has been taking a “cocktail of antidepressants” to deal with the constant abuse from his coworkers in Dymchurch, a Kent County village about 112 km southeast of London.

“I’ve only been able to sleep for three hours a night since August, and the physical and mental exhaustion will eventually kill me,” he said, according to the Daily Mail.

“I feel like my life has been ripped apart. I loved my job with a passion and I did a lot of good work in Dymchurch,” he added. Wardens work closely with police in the UK, alerting them of anti-social behavior, littering and graffiti as well as helping them organize community outreach programs.

Dymchurch locals said they were aware of the teasing, but did not realize how upset Stephens was.

“He’s got an Australian accent and people rib him about it, but nobody knew quite how much it was affecting him,” one resident reportedly said, asking not to be named.

“I think he doesn’t mind the kids having a laugh about ‘putting another shrimp on the barbie’ or saying ‘G’day, sport,’ but it’s the constant references to Australia from his colleagues that is obviously getting him down.”

Stephens is suing the Kent County Council, which refused to comment on personnel issues.


More asinine "justice"

SENTENCING reformers say they are stunned a convicted drug dealer danced his way free from court today, after being released on a bond. The student drug dealer who imported and sold a large quantity of the deadly party drug 'meow meow' literally danced from court today after a judge released him on a bond.

Malich Coory [Khouri?], 20, laughed, joked and clowned around with his arm around a friend as he walked from the County Court and posed for waiting media cameras.

In her sentence Judge Jane Patrick said that in a report to the court a psychologist said Coory was suffering from depression and deeply regretted his drug dependence and involvement in importing the drug.

"I accept the seriousness of the offence has been brought home to you and this has served as a wake up call," Judge Patrick said.

Coory showed little sign of his depression as he fooled around with his mates and lit up a cigarette.

But People Against Lenient Sentencing spokesman Steve Medcraft said he would be seeking an immediate appeal, describing the decision as “an insult to law-abiding citizens".

He also believed the sentence sent the wrong message, with the dangers of “meow meow” becoming increasingly known. “This bloke is peddling misery and gets a sympathetic hearing from a judge. He said Coory had demonstrated that many criminals viewed the court as "a circus and a game".

“The thing that is wearing very thin … how many barristers have found that post-traumatic syndrome and depression are the greatest assets to use in a defence trial.

“A lot of people have depression, but they don’t deal in drugs. They don’t deal drugs to get over their depression. “He’s obviously played the game. "Claim depression and you can still deal in death and misery.”

“I think the average person on the street would have to be shaking their heads. “It’s given a green light to drug dealers,” Mr Medcraft said.

Mr Medcraft called on Premier Ted Baillieu to take a stand on the issue, given his stated policy to toughen sentencing laws before the election. “I can’t wait for Parliament to resume, because this is exactly the legacy of the last eleven years, in which judges are either being hoodwinked or believe in the tooth fairy.

“I know Ted Ballieu and them said they are going to review it (sentencing), but I would certainly hope they pull that forward. “I think the State of Victoria or the prosecutor should appeal that sentence. That is manifestly inadequate.

The judge sentenced Coory to 22 months in custody but released him immediately on a recognisance release order of $500, effectively a bond, and he was ordered to be of good behaviour for 22 months.

Coory of Greenvale, had previously pleaded guilty to single counts of importing 753 grams and possessing 1.57 kilograms of 'meow meow' or 4-MMC. The drug also known as 'bubbles', 'drone' and 'meth' has been linked to 25 deaths, including suicides, in the UK and in one reported case a teenager ripped off his scrotum because he believed centipedes were crawling over his body.

Judge Patrick said 4-MMC had a similarity to ecstasy and because it only emerged in 2007 in France in was not listed in the Victorian Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act.

She said it is believed that Coory is the first person in Victoria to be prosecuted for importation and possession of 4-MMC under Commonwealth law. "Young people should be very wary of taking this drug for health and legal reasons," the judge said.


Both sides of the climate controversy recently heard on Australia's public broadcaster

And was the Warmist a picture of illogic! All he could point to was the undisputed rise in CO2, as if that proved his case. Since the rise in CO2 was, by his own admission, accompanied by FLAT temperatures (1998, 2005 and 2010 all the same), it does the exact opposite. He assumed what he had to prove (that CO2 causes warming) and then failed to see that the evidence contradicted his assumption!

And the guy is a big cheese among Warmists too. Being a "secretary-general" sure sounds like hot sh*t

TONY EASTLEY: The United Nations weather organisation has confirmed that 2010 was one of the three hottest years on record.

The World Meteorological Organization says that last year was as hot as 2005 and 1998 and that Arctic Sea ice cover was the lowest in recorded history.

The Organisation says last year was also marked by extreme weather events in Europe, Russia, Asia and South America.

Meredith Griffiths reports.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: After a wet and cool few months in parts of Australia and those paralysing snowstorms in the northern hemisphere, this news may come as a surprise to some.

MICHEL JARRAUD: We can indeed report that 2010 is now going to rank as the warmest year on record, at the same level as 2005 and 1998.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Michel Jarraud is the secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization.

It says those three years recorded the highest temperatures since 1850, about half a degree warmer than average.

MICHEL JARRAUD: The latest decade is the warmest on record. So year after year this trend is confirmed, actually it's being strengthened year after year.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Last year also saw Arctic Sea ice recede to its lowest level.

Mr Jarraud says these new statistics should silence those who don't believe that greenhouse gases are changing the world's climate.

MICHEL JARRAUD: The sceptical position, it's untenable. You cannot escape the fact the concentration of greenhouse gases have reached record levels and this is not hypothesis these are facts, they can be measured with great accuracy.

The laws of physics are also very solid, greenhouse gases cannot contribute to cool the atmosphere, more greenhouse gases can only do one thing: warm.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: He also noted that last year was characterised by a number of extreme weather events like the heatwave in Russia and the floods in Pakistan.

MICHEL JARRAUD: With the global warming, some of these events will become more frequent, or more intense. So let me take for example, the Russian heat wave. You cannot say uniquely it's due to global warming, but what you can say is that what is right now totally exceptional will happen more frequently in the future.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Geologist Bob Carter from James Cook University says Mr Jerraud has no evidence for that.

BOB CARTER: Lots of scientists have been looking for that evidence but to date there is nothing in the scientific literature which says we have more climatic emergency events at the moment than in the past or that these are more frequent or more dangerous. There is no scientific evidence for that.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Professor Carter says it's not surprising that last year was one of the warmest, but says that doesn't mean greenhouse gases are the blame.

BOB CARTER: The question is not whether it causes warming, the question is how much warming? Since 1998 we've had three warm years - 1998, 2005 and 2010 - and each of those years is associated with an El Nino event which causes or is related to the warming. Okay, but there's no trend, 2010 is not significantly warmer in any way than 1998.

So we have a warm period over a period of 12 years. Over those same 12 years we have a five per cent increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The carbon dioxide is supposed to cause more warming. Well this data that we've just discussed tells you that human carbon dioxide emissions are not causing dangerous global warming, indeed they're not causing any warming at all at the moment.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Professor Carter says the last 150 years have been among the coolest in the past 10,000 years of the Earth's history.

TONY EASTLEY: Meredith Griffiths reporting.

Two leading US agencies, NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, recently reported too that 2010 was also the wettest year on record.


Gillard repeating indigenous policy errors

Freely available welfare payments corrupt people

Gary Johns

KEATING government minister Gary Johns has castigated the Gillard government for relying on old policies that stop indigenous Australians from being part of the mainstream economy in its draft Aboriginal economic development strategy.

Professor Johns, who is associate professor of public policy at the Australian Catholic University's Public Policy Institute, has submitted a paper to the government's review of its indigenous economic strategy in which he argues that the government should not be delivering goods and services to indigenous people where they presently live. "Too much of the old paradigm remains in the paper," Professor Johns writes.

"These legacies of former ineffective policies will continue to inhibit transition of indigenous Australians to the real economy."

Professor Johns argues that having indigenous people waiting for opportunities to be delivered to their door is not what they need.

"This has been occurring, especially in northern Australia, without success or benefit for the last 40 years," he writes.

Professor Johns says any policy that seeks to artificially create an economy without skills and habits of work or genuine local economic activity being present, will fail.

"And yet the government has decided, through its National Partnership on Remote Indigenous Housing, to develop 26 communities. The two salient characteristics of these communities are that they were former mission stations and, with some minor exceptions, have no economic base."

Professor Johns argues the government still struggles to apply to indigenous Australians the rules it applies to others. He argues the biggest problem in employment services is the weakened jobseeker compliance system.

"Centrelink rarely upholds a participation report for non-compliance in remote areas," he writes. "This is leading to a passive welfare environment."

He also disagrees with the government's statement that indigenous people have extensive knowledge of land management, arguing it is "certainly not of the kind that would be useful in a modern economy".

"Perpetuation of these myths is harmful," Professor Johns says. "They direct indigenous people to place-based activity; the experience of the last 40 years demonstrates that it is doomed to failure".

He attacks the government's evidence to argue that Aborigines are going to university in greater numbers. "People now being recruited to university as indigenous are frankly embarrassing," he writes. "Many of these students would not have suffered any prejudice whatsoever and are generations apart from traditional society. "They are heralded as part of the success of a 'program' purely to keep up the numbers. The harm this sort of activity does is to undermine the work of those who actually have to change people's behaviour, not simply recruit those who would have made it regardless. The net impact of such programs is near zero."

Professor Johns calls for all arms of government policy to work in tandem to change the culture. "Governments must stop pretending they have the answers," he says.


21 January, 2011

Gillard digs in her heels over NBN boondoggle despite flood costs

In good Leftist style, she wants a new tax instead of reduced spending

TONY Abbott says the federal budget could be "easily" reined in to pay for the Queensland floods recovery, as the political brawl over a possible disaster levy intensifies.

The Opposition Leader went on the attack this morning after Julia Gillard admitted last night that a one-off flood levy could be imposed to fund the multi-billion dollar reconstruction effort. “I'm opposed to unnecessary new taxes and that's what this is,” Mr Abbott told ABC radio.

“There will have to be very substantial commonwealth government spending as part of the recovery and reconstruction phase, but there's a right way and a wrong way to find that money.”

The Prime Minister has refused to deviate from the government's 2013 return-to-surplus deadline, warning of tough choices ahead as it works out how to pay for the recovery. “There will be spending cutbacks and there might also be a levy,” she told the ABC's 7.30 Report last night. “We are obviously working on those decisions now, as we work with our Queensland colleagues to clarify the bill for infrastructure rebuilding.”

The Howard government imposed a series of one-off levies to pay for a gun buyback scheme, to pay out former Ansett staff and to restructure the sugar and dairy industries.

But Mr Abbott ruled out opposition support for a similar approach on floods reconstruction. “The Howard government ran a tight budget and a strong economy in a way that this government never will,” he said. “Second, you don't need a levy here because there is out-of-control government spending which can easily be reined back and reprioritised.”

Mr Abbott wants the $37 billion National Broadband Network to be abandoned to help fund the recovery.

And opposition finance spokesman Andrew Robb wants Medibank Private to be sold, saying it would raise up to $4.5 billion and free up $660 million in recurrent budget spending over a four-year period.

Ms Gillard said the timetable for the NBN rollout would not be altered.

Estimates of the flood recovery bill range from $6 billion to $20 billion. A cautious Queensland Premier Anna Bligh said she wants to see more detail on a possible flood levy before she decides whether to support it. “But I think when we have major events like this that disrupt not just one state, but we're seeing it Victoria as well, and we're seeing that disrupt the entire national economy,” she told ABC radio. “I think we do have to ask ourselves whether there is a better way of doing it, so I'm certainly interested in seeing more details.”


Greens starting to show true political colours

Says an old-time Labor Party man

SLOWLY but surely the Australian Greens' carefully cultivated facade is crumbling. On Monday, Greens leader Bob Brown was roundly condemned for his demand that coal mining companies be forced to pay a super profits style tax in order to fund the Queensland floods recovery effort.

According to Brown, coal barons were responsible for the climate change-induced natural disaster and soon-to-materialise "severe and more frequent floods, droughts and bushfires in coming decades". Presumably Gaia herself will collect the new levy.

One day we might discover that climate change indeed played a role, but Brown's ill-advised attempt to extract political capital out of a still-unfolding disaster is signal evidence that the Greens are simply another political party scoring cheap partisan points for electoral gain.

Of course, all parliamentary parties are born into original sin: compromise, pragmatism and sometimes sheer opportunism inexorably result as a party, whether Left or Right, is cast out of its ideological Garden of Eden.

The only real surprise is how long the Greens have managed to portray themselves as non-political, and thus above criticism, all the while playing politics with a ruthlessness to make the most battle-hardened Laborite or Liberal blush.

And yet Brown's cynical rhetorical overreach should come as no surprise. During the previous parliamentary term the Greens, whose raison d'etre is to tackle anthropogenically caused environmental damage, refused to support Labor's ETS legislation; thus preventing Australia taking necessary, prudent action to tackle climate change.

Greens opposition ostensibly arose because of Labor's allegedly meagre carbon reduction target. However, a more cynical motivation could be discerned: stealing votes from Labor's left wing at the next election.

Further alarm bells ought to have rung when in the election's immediate aftermath, where they indeed won over many disaffected Labor supporters, senator Sarah Hanson-Young unsuccessfully challenged Christine Milne for the party's deputy leadership.

Hanson-Young should be applauded: ambition is the defining feature of any politician worth their salt. But the secrecy surrounding the vote suggested a party desperate to peddle the myth that it wasn't really a political party.

If further evidence were required to prove the Greens are themselves capable of political bastardry, then witness billionaire Wotif founder Graeme Wood's $1.6 million donation to party coffers, the largest single political donation by an individual in Australian history, despite Brown's previous denunciations of such largesse.

Perhaps these events might finally shatter the mythology surrounding the Greens' Pocahontas brand of politics and force progressive Australians to examine their policy prescriptions more seriously.

Particular attention should be directed towards the NSW Greens. At its December State Delegates Council, the party decided to officially support the anti-Israel boycott, sanctions and divestment movement. The Greens-controlled Marrickville council, in Sydney's inner west, quickly moved to implement party policy by officially backing the counterproductive and potentially anti-Semitic boycott in its entirety.

The good burghers of the inner west are now compelled to boycott Israel. Will the homes of Marrickville Jews be searched for illegal products? We shall await with bated breath the council's replacement of Israeli-designed Google search engines, Intel processors and other technology. Perhaps carbon-neutral homing pigeons will be recruited to fill the communications void.

The behaviour of the adjoining Greens-run Leichhardt Council also verges on the absurd. For instance, a proposal to build a Thomas Dux outlet (a scaled-down Woolworths supermarket) in Annandale was recently rejected, no matter that the venture would have created hundreds of jobs and produced an environmentally friendly option for residents who typically drive to Broadway or Leichhardt shops.

Even more farcically, late last year the council shut down a community sausage sizzle ($1 from each sale was being donated to local schools) run by an Annandale delicatessen because smoke was allegedly drifting into nearby shops. The council then graciously allowed the sizzle to continue on a six-month trial basis providing the meat was pre-cooked on an electric barbecue inside the delicatessen.

The man responsible for this policy adventurism is Greens mayor Jamie Parker. Using his mayoral credentials, he has also intervened in the Barangaroo development controversy despite Leichhardt bearing no geographic proximity to the area in question. Parker is the Greens candidate for the seat of Balmain at the March NSW state election and has faced allegations that his council spent $50,000 on a slush fund to pay for "major issues"; code for advertising Greens-friendly protest meetings.

The actions of the NSW Greens are of course hardly unique. Indeed, to this observer of Labor politics there are strong historical parallels with Bill Hartley's Victorian ALP of the pre-1970s. At times "Baghdad" Hartley's extremist grouping resembled more a Trotsky-ite cult than a mainstream political party, favouring militantly leftist policies, including a rabid anti-Israel strategy of forging close links with Arab dictatorships.

Not only did the Hartleyites make state Labor unelectable, their actions repeatedly cruelled federal Labor's electoral hopes. Following a close-run 1969 poll, ultimately lost because of a poor Victorian showing, Gough Whitlam finally convinced the ALP national executive to move against the recalcitrant branch, clearing the way for his famous 1972 triumph.

The Greens are unlikely to govern in their own right any time soon, yet political crunch time is looming. It is one thing for the party to secure the ballots of a narrow band of far-leftist anti-Israelis, Newtown vegans and Julian Assange supporters but the mainstream centre-left electorate is not likely to warm to such an extremist message.

For all its imperfections, the forbidden fruits of social democratic Laborism are likely to remain a continued source of temptation.


Remarkable Australian retailers

Woolworths and Wesfarmers [Coles, Target, Bunnings] have made the grade in a list of the 25 top global retailers, putting them in a similar league to US giants Wal-Mart and Costco.

The Aussie supermarket powerhouses are the only local retailers to make Deloitte's Global Powers of Retailing 2011 Top 25, which measures international sales performance for the year ending June 31, 2010.

Woolworths' $US44 billion group sales put it in 20th place, up from 26 in 2010, and Wesfarmers moved up five spots from to 23rd position with sales of $US40 billion.

Wal-Mart was the list's big hitter after posting a massive $US400 billion in sales last year, followed by Carrefour in France and Germany's Metro.

Deloitte's Andrew Griffiths said the Australian representation was particularly impressive given the difference in populations compared with the US, France, Japan and Germany.

"The other companies in the top 25 originate mainly from heavily populated countries such as the United States, Germany, UK, Japan and France," Mr Griffiths said. "If you add the fact that most of those also operate in multiple countries, unlike Woolworths and Wesfarmers, you get a far better appreciation of the relative strengths of Australian retailers."

The Australian companies might not be in the same financial stratosphere as some of their bigger European and US rivals but they strutted their stuff with flair in the Asia-Pacific region where they came in third and fourth behind 7- Eleven's Japanese owner, Seven & I Holdings.


Melbourne water users slapped with 'desal tax' despite recent floods

The Herald Sun revealed this morning the $100 tax had been slapped on Melbourne water users to pay for the plant despite recent floods guaranteeing city supplies for at least five years.

Mr Kennett told the Herald Sun Melburnians had a right to be angry about the tax. "I would make sure that for the length of the project that that tax is represented on our water bill and it is called either the Brumby tax or the Labor tax so everyone is reminded every year that this is a charge that we are paying because of the incompetence of a former Government,’’ Mr Kennett said.

"It's just unfortunate that Mr Baillieu and his Government will have to impose it to honour the contract that, I suspect, is watertight and therefore the money will have to be paid."

With dams approaching 54 per cent and rising, Melbourne has enough water to last more than five years - even if there were a drought. Some experts say it could be 30 years before a drop is needed from Wonthaggi's $5.7 billion desalination plant.

The Baillieu Government is searching the contract to find its full cost, and also loopholes that may minimise the annual $570 million payments it has inherited.

The Essential Services Commission has approved water price rises of up to 64 per cent to pay for major projects, including the desalination plant, in the four years to 2012-13. Industry sources believe about a quarter of the price rise imposed on 1.5 million City West, South East and Yarra Valley residential water customers is financing the plant's building costs. Barwon and Western Water households are also feeling the pain.

A Baillieu Government spokesman said last night there were fears the Government had been locked into an "unprecedented burden on every family".

University of Melbourne water expert Prof Hector Malano urged the Government to do all it could to walk away from the project. The maximum 150GL it could produce each year would be cheaply delivered by diverting 10 per cent of the irrigation water from northern Victoria through the north-south pipeline. "I really believe we could go 20-30 years without resorting to a desalination plant. And by then we may have better options anyway," he said.

Once it was switched on, the plant would have to continue operating to remain viable, whether water was needed or not. Because of this, the Brumby government made a deal with the AquaSure consortium building the plant to pay $570 million a year for 30 years.

The director of Monash University's Institute for Sustainable Water Resources, Assoc Prof Tim Fletcher, criticised the size and cost of the project. "If they had built a plant a third of the size it would have been sufficient to mitigate that risk," he said.

Consumer Utilities Advocacy Centre chief Jo Benvenuti said many customers were struggling to pay water bills. "We are paying a lot more despite using a lot less - that's what's perverse about it," she said.

Prof Tony Wong, director of Monash University's Centre for Water Sensitive Cities, said water supplies would last about five years if the drought returned. It was an important insurance plan but should be used only to buy time while water recycling technology and acceptance improve.


20 January, 2011

A rather surprising victory for free speech

If conspiracy theories were to be used as grounds to discriminate against someone, the 50 million (or thereabouts) Americans who believe that the 9/11/2001 attacks were a hoax could also be discriminated against. And making someone's political opinions grounds for an adverse psychiatric diagnosis would be to go the way of the old Soviet union. And Christians -- who believe in an invisible entity -- would be at risk too. So kudos to the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal

A man declared a white supremacist by police and ruled a possible risk to public safety by a psychiatrist has been granted the right to possess a handgun.

Darryl Potts, who believes there is a Jewish conspiracy to destroy other races, had his AB firearms and probationary pistol licences revoked by police after he expressed "white supremacy views" to officers during an incident involving domestic violence.

But, in a landmark case, the Administrative Decisions Tribunal has ruled that, even though Mr Potts might hold extreme and offensive views, that does not mean he is mentally impaired and he is legally entitled to a firearm licence. The decision was at odds with the opinion of police, the Firearms Registry and a psychiatrist's clinical assessment that Mr Potts had the potential "to put public safety at risk".

Mr Potts, an elevator technician at Federal Parliament, pursued the case because he believed having a revoked firearm licence could affect his security clearance to work in government buildings. He said he wanted to take a stand against the trend of removing people's firearms.

Both during the case and in extensive interviews with The Daily Telegraph, Mr Potts made a series of bizarre claims about Jewish people. He told the tribunal he did not believe six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. "I say the six million is a load of hogwash," he said.

After having his licences reinstated, he said he believed Jews were plotting to dilute other races by encouraging mixed-race children and he had unwittingly played into their hands by having children with his Korean-born wife - from whom he has separated. "If I had've known this information I would not have participated in mixed-race marriage," he said.

He also said Jewish spies, posing as "Israeli art peddlers" were visiting his house because he was "a person of interest" to them.

After the 2009 domestic dispute at his estranged wife's house, the Firearms Registry referred Mr Potts to a psychiatrist on the basis that he "has expressed white supremacy [sic] ... views that have raised concerns regarding his mental health".

After Mr Potts stated, "I am a very angry man", the psychiatrist diagnosed him as having a personality disorder.

ADT member Peter Molony rejected the psychiatrist's opinion and ruled, "Mr Potts is an intelligent, manipulative and calculating man".

"The fact that he holds political and religious views and opinions that are offensive is not, in my opinion, sufficient to find that the public interest requires that he no longer hold a firearms licence," Mr Molony found. "To do so would be to embark on a slippery slope ... to totalitarianism."


Some things never change: Welfare money meant for blacks pours into the pockets of white bureaucrats

And the bit that gets to blacks is useless to them anyway. The bureaucracy is clueless as well as being a leech. Giving Aborigines one-bedroom brick houses is a towering absurdity if you know anything about Aborigines: A total lack of cultural sensitivity. Aborigines in remote areas live communally. Leftists talk the talk about cultural sensitivity but they don't walk the walk

Half the funds set aside to construct and renovate houses in the remote Aboriginal community of Wadeye are going towards administration and company costs. A leaked draft budget, prepared by the company contracted under the federal government's Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Program to perform the work at Wadeye, allocates $20.642 million for administrative and establishment costs.

According to the government's published budget for SIHIP, the Wadeye package, which consists of 105 new dwellings, 167 refurbishments and 28 rebuilds, will cost $65.375m, putting the administration and establishment costs at 31.6 per cent of the total budget.

The Coalition's indigenous affairs spokesman, Nigel Scullion, said this was before the guaranteed profit for the company of up to 20 per cent that was written into the contract and the project management fees of 8 per cent were deducted from the program budget.

New Future Alliance was awarded the contract to perform the work at Wadeye. It is doing the refurbishments and rebuilds but has subcontracted most of the work on the new houses to Thamarrurr Development Corporation. Ninety out of the 105 houses planned for Wadeye are either completed or under construction.

The budget obtained by The Australian is a New Future Alliance budget. It details the appointment of 14 supervisors and managers including one salary of $894,700 for less than two years' work. There is provision for a vacation student to be paid $25,500 for three months' work experience.

"SIHIP is intended to build or renovate houses for Aboriginal people and not to provide high-paid jobs and work experience for construction companies," Senator Scullion said. "When you include the budget allocation of $18,000 for tea and coffee for the managers and supervisors it is no longer a mystery as to why only one-bedroom houses and limited maintenance is all that can be delivered to the residents of Wadeye."

A spokeswoman for Acting Indigenous Affairs Minister Mark Arbib said the government disputed the interpretation of the costings.

"The budget for Wadeye includes costs which are an essential part of building houses," the spokeswoman said. "You cannot build a house without proper planning, or a workforce to deliver the project. This includes essentials such as project design and scoping, site cleaning and waste disposal, site management, compliance with building and planning regulations, transitional accommodation for residents whose houses are being replaced or refurbished, and the costs of establishing and operating camps for the workforce."

The spokeswoman said the site manager and other positions carried a high level of responsibility for managing a major construction project in a very remote location. "Alliances are competing with the mining industry and other major construction projects to attract the right people to these jobs," she said.

"The employee costs include provision for annual leave, long-service leave, public holidays, payroll tax, workers compensation, superannuation and training. They are not simply the salary an employee receives. As with other employers, the total cost of the employee is greater than the salary in the wage packet."

SIHIP was announced in April 2008, but became bogged down soon after amid claims of poor administration and wastage.

After The Australian revealed the difficulties, Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin ordered a review that led to administrative changes. SIHIP is one element of the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing, which is delivering $5.5 billion over 10 years to tackle the housing backlog in remote Australia.


Grantham flood survivor threatened with arrest

Disturbing authoritarianism designed to protect the politicians from bad publicity, it seems. Also disturbing that this was reported on far-Leftist sites only. It seems that the media are in the pocket of Gillard and Bligh

Queensland police threatened Grantham service station owner Martin Warburton, 41, with arrest on Thursday if he attempted to speak with Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Queensland Premier Anna Bligh about the failure of their governments to provide timely and adequate assistance to the flood-ravage community. Warburton, who is chairman of the Grantham relief committee and a former councillor, was told by the local police sergeant he could be arrested and charged for "inciting fear and anger in the community".

The threat was issued a day before Gillard and Bligh were scheduled to visit a local evacuation centre and followed warnings to the media by Queensland Flood Recovery Taskforce head, Major-General Mick Slater, that any reportage of community "divisiveness" would hamper the "success" of the recovery operation. These developments further highlight the political reality that the principal concerns of the Flood Recovery Taskforce is not the plight of ordinary people but protecting the state and federal governments and corporate interests.

Grantham, a small town of 370 people in the Lockyer Valley about 100 kilometres west of Brisbane, is regarded as the "epicentre" of flash-flooding that hit Toowoomba and Lockyer Valley communities in south-east Queensland.

The town was devastated by a massive wall of water that swept through the town on January 10, destroying all in its path-houses, cars and small businesses. More than 30 people have been killed in the Queensland floods. Eighteen of those are from the Lockyer Valley and Toowoomba areas, with 10 people still listed as missing, feared dead. Residents were given no official warnings of the impending disaster but fought heroically to save those caught in the raging torrent.

Martin Warburton spoke with the World Socialist Web Site yesterday about the police threat and the physical and psychological impact of the flood on the small community. He said Grantham residents were outraged by lack of flood warnings, inadequate support and lack of night-time security in the town following the disaster.

Martin Warburton: I spent a whole day in Gatton [a nearby town] trying to get answers or an ear that would listen to our concerns after the flood wiped us off the map. Admittedly I wasn't dressed for the occasion-I had my old clothes on and was ready to go back home and begin cleaning up-but a mongrel dog in a pound would have been treated better. By sundown that afternoon I realised I wasn't getting anywhere.

We'd been locked out of the town, which is now classified as a crime scene, and told there had to be a complete search and recovery through the whole area. We agreed with that but wanted our town secured at night.

People in Grantham have been through the worst experience of their life and the last thing they should be worrying about is whether their possessions would be there when they returned. I'd guarantee if this happened in Anna Bligh's or the prime minister's neighbourhoods there'd be round the clock security.

But it didn't matter what we said they wouldn't listen and the authorities kept falsely accusing us of wanting people taken off search and rescue. I finally reached the mayor and we went to the media. I told the press we'd been diplomatic but we were getting nowhere and they should listen to what we had to say about the lack of support from our governments.

Prime Minister Gillard and Anna Bligh were coming out here on Friday but instead of being able to raise these issues I was told in no uncertain terms by the local police sergeant that if I approached either of them, or made a scene in front of the media, I'd taken away and charged with inciting fear and anger in the community. I have witnesses-the local mayor Steve Jones heard it.

Richard Phillips: What was your reaction?

MW: I was shocked and tried explaining the situation to the local sergeant. You'd think there'd be a bit of compassion or sensitivity, but he wasn't interested. I don't know whether he was being directed or where his orders came from but he made it quite clear that they-the politicians-didn't want any bad press.

In the last few days things have changed and the government and private individuals have started to give us some real assistance, which we really appreciate. But why did it take five days, including two days of smacking our heads up against the wall, before someone started to listen to us. None of this would have happened if we hadn't raised our voices.

I can understand some things take time but why so long? There are children that saw their own family members and neighbours die. Why did the government wait five days to get counsellors to those kids? It's wrong. And the evacuation centres in this area-they were set up by ordinary people, not the government. Without this community spirit we would have had nothing.

RP: Could anything have been done to prevent the flash-flooding?

WM: I don't think so, but we should have been alerted. The Toowoomba flooding happened an hour before it hit us and yet we weren't warned. Why not, don't the powers that be know that water flows down hill?

I started getting phone calls from friends and relatives about the wall of water and to get out of town. They told me about water levels at bridges that didn't seem possible but I knew they wouldn't lie to me and so I had time to run down the street telling people to get out.

The wall of water didn't come along the creek but rushed down the main road and it was at least six metres high. If we'd been warned much earlier the death toll wouldn't have been anywhere near as bad as it is.

RP: Has there been any discussion about rebuilding?

MW: We don't know where we are with that yet because some people don't even know whether their homes are still standing, and some say they won't be coming back.

Our concerns were not directed against the foot soldiers on the ground or the two police officers at each end of the town but against those higher up, the bureaucrats and powers-that-be who left us for dead.

We're determined to get our community back on its feet again, but why did it take two days of us banging our heads against the wall and being threatened with arrest by the authorities for things to finally start happen?

RP: And the psychological impact of the disaster?

MW: This has scarred me for life. There's no doubt in my mind that once things settle down I'm going to need an awful lot of help to deal with the things I've seen. I'm not blowing wind up my own skirt but I'm a pretty tough sort of fellow and this is something I'll never forget. Hopefully I'll learn to manage these issues.

I know people living on the hill in Grantham who are going to need counselling and other assistance. Their homes weren't directly affected by the water but they saw all the devastation unfold. Many of them were on the railway bridge trying to save people from the roofs of their cars and then unfortunately saw them being swept away, never to be seen again.


A racist Greenie

But Greenies don't like anyone much so a bit of xenophobia should be no surprise

With the fires still underway and the death toll rising, Senator Bob Brown commented at the time that the extent and ferocity of the fires was a pointer to the reality of global warming. Maybe so - not being a scientist I couldn't say - but the more pressing issue was one of time and place. On both counts, Bob Brown failed the taste test, and quite spectacularly.

With the flood crisis now turning to Victoria, and the death toll expected to increase in Queensland as the recovery continues, Senator Brown has now decided to use this latest national tragedy to launch an attack on the coal industry. Unlike the bushfires, it's difficult to identify any precise link between burning coal and the re-occurrence of a flood pattern which has been with Australia since well before white settlement, but the Greens Leader clearly didn't want to let the opportunity pass him by. As Queensland Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce pointed out in a moment of lucidity, in 1893 the Brisbane River flood gauge reached 8.35m. "Was the coal industry responsible for that as well?" Joyce asked.

Brown's overstatements are such that they test the patience of those of us who believe in climate change. Global warming aside, there was one aspect to his comments about the coal industry which exposed the strange jingoism which underpins his world view and that of many on his flank of politics. It's the kind of sentiment which has been heard most commonly from supporters of Pauline Hanson's old One Nation Party, and it exposes how on both the far left and far right of politics there's this quaint "Stop the world I want to get off" nonsense which sees globalisation as the root cause of all known social evil.

When such views are expressed by Hansonites they'll face accusations of racism, which is something which you would think Bob Brown abhors, but this is what he had to say anyway:

"Burning coal is a major cause of global warming. This industry, which is 75 per cent owned outside Australia, should help pay the cost of the predicted more severe and more frequent floods, droughts and bushfires in the coming decades. It is unfair that the cost is put on all taxpayers, not the culprits."

Setting aside the fact that this flood is less severe than others which have occurred in the past in terms of its size, Brown's comments could so easily have emanated from the mouth of someone such as Hanson. The fact that we are now living in a global economy is presented not as the basis of our increased national prosperity, but the source of our apparent ruination.

This is a recurring theme in public life in Australia. Groups and individuals often cloak their arguments in this absurdly retro dinki-di rhetoric to capitalise on a misplaced sense of national sentiment.

Dick Smith built a company out of it, the big retailers tried it on last month when they attacked our right to shop online, ignoring the fact that it's their own pricing policies, and their support for protectionist racketeering such as parallel import restrictions which artificially inflates the cost of products such as books. Those factors play as big a part as the fluctuation of the dollar in encouraging consumers to buy offshore, but it doesn't sit with the Buy Aussie sentiment they're using to bolster their self-interested arguments.

One of the best expos‚s of this protectionist nonsense came on the floor of the NSW Labor State Conference in 2007 when the rambunctious former treasurer Michael Costa took on the labour movement and the parliamentary left over electricity privatisation.

The unions and their backers in Caucus had done a very passable impersonation of Hanson by peddling the line that if NSW sold its power industry it could end up being bought by the Chinese. No evidence for that, but invoking the prospect of those inscrutable Orientals buying Energy Australia was too good a PR opportunity to ignore. In a passionate and ranting speech at the conference, which was so abusive that it probably helped ensure the failure of the power sale, Costa pointed out that the bright yellow protest T-shirts being worn by the anti-privatisation delegates had themselves been made in China.

Surely if the delegates were consistent and pure they would have paid five times as much to get them from a local manufacturer.

The simple economic reality is that for everything we now import there are plenty of locally grown or locally made products and services which are now able to enter markets overseas which have also reduced protections as world trade becomes freer.

The irony with Brown's attack on the coal industry is exposed by the estimated damages bill from the floods themselves. Canberra is putting the cost at between $5 billion and $8 billion but the Reserve Bank believes it could top $15 billion. Much of the cost would come from the fact that large sections of the coal industry have been shut down by the floods, or the roads which are used to transport coal are now inoperable. Which means fewer exports to China. Which means less money to Treasury.

Which means less money for public schools, bike lanes and community arts grants, all the things which people such as Bob Brown apparently adore.


Floating restaurant rescued -- with a lot of help from its friends

Along with The Islander, Riverwalk, and the `Little tug that could’, Drift was probably one of the most talked about river events, in the Brisbane City floods, as it’s pontoon ripped away and floated down stream, while the rest of it sank below the waters. Owner David Moore was devastated to have to make the decision to smash the floor to ceiling windows and let the place sink, so it wouldn’t be a dangerous floating missile in the river. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to have to do that.

We all thought that was the end of Drift- but it seems the river is not to have her. She has been refloated, retrieved from the sticky black mud at the bottom of the river.

I went down there yesterday, to unbelievable scenes. Wires poked out from studds where walls once were; workers were up in the ceiling, shovelling mud into plastic bags which were then dropped through the manhole. The kitchen was gutted and a grand piano sat sadly on it’s side. There were hundreds of plates, cups, baking dishes and cutlery that had to have the sticky blackness removed before they could be professionally cleaned and put into storage.

Volunteers of all ages squatted beside buckets, cleaning off hundreds of bottles of wine and beer. The stench was terrible- mud and rotting food, but the amazing volunteers didn’t shirk at doing anything and the huge pile of unsalvageable material grew on the riverside walk.

I saw a lot of faces I recognised from hospitality- Marilyn Domenech of Baguette sitting on a bucket washing plates. Others I recognised as wait-staff from other restaurants but didn’t know their names. Then there were just the regular people, people who popped in and out giving help where they could, whether an hour or all day. Fantastic to see so many young people too-obviously genYers get a bad rap sometimes; they were all so incredibly selfless.

David had no flood insurance, as he wasn’t able to get any-being on the river has it’s disadvantages, but he seems optimistic that Drift will live again. I hate to see people’s dreams washed away like that but looking at the damage, I just can’t imagine how it can happen without a massive amount of money.


19 January, 2011

Herod to investigate deaths of first-born

If you don't understand the heading, read Matthew chap. 2 -- JR

A report on the flood disaster and climate change will be undertaken by an expert on the federal government's multi-party committee which is investigating ways to price carbon. Professor Will Steffen, a member of the climate change committee set up by the Gillard government in September last year, told AAP he was working on a report covering the floods.

This is the man who already believes that "climate change" made the floods worse. Just the man to do a nice, impartial report.


Sculptor Sergio Redegalli defies 'bullies' and refuses to take down anti-burka mural

A SYDNEY artist whose anti-burka mural has infuriated left-wing and Islamic activists is vowing that the provocative artwork will stay in place despite death threats, abuse, a string of vandalism attacks, a violent weekend protest and a police request to remove it.

Newtown glass sculptor Sergio Redegalli has this week restored the mural painted outside his studio for more than the 40th time after dozens of graffiti and paint-bomb attacks by protesters who say it is racist and inflammatory.

In the latest incident last Sunday, a crowd of 50 activists hurled paint at the mural and then turned on police who had to call in reinforcements to restore order.

Seven men were arrested and charged with offences including resisting police, assaulting police and destroying or damaging property.

The charges will be heard in Newtown Local Court next month. Redegalli blames local left-wing groups, rather than Muslim activists, for the incident.

The sculptor, who is a well-known figure in inner-suburban Newtown, says he has since been visited by local police who asked him to take down the mural after learning of a threat to fire-bomb it.

He refuses to do so in the interests of free speech and public debate. "I'm not going to let the bullies win," Redegalli told The Australian yesterday. "I'm not doing it for pride (but because) I don't believe bullies have the right to stand over people and deny us our freedoms."

Redegalli painted the mural and slogan "Say no to burqas" on an exterior wall of his glassworks last September, after a local fashion designer received death threats over a plan to feature models wearing the traditional Islamic garment in a fashion parade.

The artist says his objective is to promote debate about the Islamic face veil, which he sees as a symbol of repression and violent extremism.


Now we know what NSW Premier Keneally wanted to hide

TAXPAYERS could reap less than $1 billion from the power sale despite being promised an electricity sell-off worth $25 billion a decade ago.

In sensational evidence before the power sale inquiry yesterday, Treasury secretary Michael Schur revealed $1.2 billion of the $5.3 billion the Government claimed it would reap for the sale would go on debt alone to bail out two privatised power companies, Delta and Eraring.

He told the parliamentary inquiry, which Premier Kristina Keneally tried for weeks to shut down, that taxpayers would also be forced to spend $1.5 billion on a coal mine.

The Government will use the Cobbora mine near Dubbo in the state's Central West to supply cheap coal.

Another $600 million will be wiped from the state's coffers over the next four years in lost dividends and tax equivalents, Mr Schur told the inquiry. And the state's top Treasury official said taxpayers would also be liable to pay compensation to the private operators and hundreds of millions would be spent on project costs - wiping off another $300 million and leaving just $1.7 billion.

The Opposition Treasury spokesman Mike Baird claimed the Government could end up with as little as $400 million once all subsidies and costs were taken into account.

And there will be little relief from painful power bills. Professor Hugh Outhred of the University of NSW told the inquiry the sale would "at best put a minor downward pressure on prices."

Mr Shur had recommended a sell-off of the entire industry, not just the retailers, Energy Australia, Integral and Country Energy and the gentraders Eraring and Delta.

"The gentrader option is the next-best option available to the state for exactly the reason that we are having this discussion ... it does leave the state with residual risks," he told the inquiry.

Mr Schur said Treasury had envisaged Cobbora would be run by the private sector but he said their coal prices were too high. Without the Government agreeing to mine the coal more cheaply, the sale would have fallen short of the $5.3 billion it received.

"The high cost of coal would have a significant impact on the value," he said.

The mine would turn a profit and would eventually be sold, he said. Treasurer Eric Roozendaal's office was unable to say how much profit would be generated from the coal, which is of such inferior quality it can't be exported.

Mr Baird said it had become clear why eight Labor-aligned directors on the Eraring and Delta boards had walked out before the midnight sale, adding: "It is very clear ... that the deal is so bad that it is no wonder the directors resigned. We feared it was a charity give away but it is much, much worse."

Documents on the sale would be sought from Treasury. The Premier prorogued Parliament two months early and it was unclear if Treasury would be forced to supply documents. The inquiry will summons those directors who resigned to appear on Monday and call those still on boards of former state-owned power companies to appear on Friday.

Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell and Mr Baird will give evidence on Monday.

Mr Roozendaal last night defended the sale, saying by retiring debt and escaping future costs of new power plants the state was better off.


Save or spill conflict for Wivenhoe Dam bosses

The dam expert who will help preside over the judicial inquiry into the southeast Queensland flood disaster has warned of a potential conflict of interest in the operator of Wivenhoe Dam's dual objectives of maintaining a water supply and releasing water in times of flood.

Phil Cummins told The Australian that the newly appointed commission would investigate whether SEQWater, operator of the dam, was compromised by its joint responsibility for water supply and flood mitigation.

Mr Cummins, one of the inquiry's two deputy commissioners who will assist judge Cate Holmes, said "every aspect" of the operation of the dam would be examined closely over the next couple of months. "I will keep an open mind about whether this is a good way to do it," he said of SEQWater's dual objectives. "I suspect it will be one of the inquiries that we will make."

His comments came as The Australian uncovered a 2004 report to the organisation Mr Cummins formerly headed, the Australian National Committee on Large Dams, warning that Wivenhoe Dam did not satisfy safety guidelines and had to be upgraded, with the addition of a new spillway on the dam wall.

However, SEQWater opted for a phased approach to the work. This meant that the first of two spillways was constructed in 2006 at a cost of $70 million and the remainder of the work postponed for "15 to 20 years".

The report said this was partly due to cost. "The staged upgrading allows flexibility to cater for increases to the flood estimates or freeboard requirements and cost savings to SEQWater over a single upgrade option," it said.

Questions have been raised about whether SEQWater held on to water for too long in the flood compartment of Wivenhoe Dam instead of releasing it prior to last week's flooding of Brisbane.

More than 80 per cent of the flood in the Brisbane River at its peak last Thursday was the direct result of a massive release of water from Wivenhoe on Tuesday at a peak rate of 645,000 megalitres a day, according to official data obtained by The Australian. The data shows that, without the unprecedented release, the flooding in Brisbane would have been minimal.

One of the most critical tasks for the commission will be to examine whether the operators at Wivenhoe retained water in the dam's flood compartment for too long, forcing the drastic release last Tuesday.

Wivenhoe Dam - built 80km out of the city after the 1974 floods - has a storage capacity of 1.165 million megalitres for drinking water, with space for a further two million megalitres for temporary floodwater storage.

Mr Cummins said it was "normal" for dams to have dual purposes of water storage and flood mitigation as this was the case in many locations around the world.

SEQWater was told in 2000 that the dam needed to increase its capacity in the face of dramatically revised rainfall predictions and heightened flood risk in the region.

According to the 2004 report to ANCOLD, completed by dam engineers including those still working at SEQWater, a completed two-stage upgrade would have reduced the possibility of flood by "five times the existing risk".

"Further investigations lead to the conclusion that it would be cost effective for SEQWater to adopt a two-stage upgrade to achieve full PMF (probable maximum flood) capacity," the report said.

The revelation will fuel concern about the management of the huge dam ahead of the disaster that has claimed 20 lives in southeast Queensland and caused massive destruction.

The political truce in Queensland over the response to the ongoing emergency shattered yesterday when the state opposition demanded that Premier Anna Bligh widen the terms of the judicial inquiry.

State Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek called on Ms Bligh to adopt the "catch-all" terms of reference of the royal commission into the 2009 Victorian bushfires, to allow the flood inquiry to pursue all possible lines.

Mr Langbroek, reversing the praise he had heaped on Ms Bligh only 24 hours earlier for keeping the public up to date about the flooding and relief efforts, said the Liberal National Party could no longer support the Premier because she had snubbed the opposition when framing the terms of reference to the inquiry.

Writing in The Australian today, Andrew Dragun, adjunct professor of economics at the Australian Rivers Institute of Griffith University, says the management of Wivenhoe ahead of the flooding in Brisbane was "dangerously inadequate".

The incomplete, two-stage upgrade of the Wivenhoe Dam is expected to be among the issues canvassed in the commission of inquiry. The upgrade was first mooted in 2000 and then again in 2003 after reports showed that, in a worst-case scenario, Wivenhoe could get twice the volume of water from its catchment than its existing spillway could handle. Modelling showed it could cause the dam wall to collapse under the pressure.

The first stage of the project, involving the construction of a $70m, 165m-wide spillway, was finished in 2006.

It was predicted to be able to manage a one-in-100,000-year flood, with the second stage increasing capacity even further and bringing the dam in line with Australian safety standards. The report said the staged upgrade would also allow for flexibility for increases to flood estimates and "cost savings to SEQWater over a single upgrade option".

"The two-staged upgrading will provide a significant reduction in flood risk (a reduction of five times the existing risk)," the report said.

As construction began on the first stage of the project, SEQWater said that once the new spillway was completed, further study would begin on when to start the second stage of the upgrade. It has yet to begin.


Labour laws can hurt the weak

ONE of Julia Gillard's most substantial achievements under the Rudd Labor government was a significant re-regulation of the Australian labour market.

The anti-Work Choices campaign made much of the vulnerability of individual workers to unreasonable work demands by their employers. A perceived imbalance of power between employer and employee lay at the heart of the campaign. The answer has been to re-regulate workplaces so that strengthened representatives of workers (unions, in practice) and independent work tribunals can ensure that workers are treated fairly under amended workplace and industrial relations laws.

It is clearly true that individual workers are relatively powerless at work compared with their employers and that this can lead to exploitation and unfair treatment. But in the large majority of cases, this imbalance of power does not lead to bad outcomes for workers. The reason is that employers have a stake in their employees liking their conditions of work. Liked conditions lead to reduced turnover, easier recruitment, higher returns from the provision of training, greater willingness to be flexible in meeting variations in work needs, higher productivity and lower costs.

Since all workplaces differ from each other to some extent by virtue of the different people involved (as well as differences in technology, customers, suppliers, location and so on), imposing uniform standards is bound to reduce the capacity of each employer to tailor their work conditions in ways that best meets the needs of their businesses, including the needs of their employees.

Imposing uniform workplace rules reduces the scope for each enterprise to work out more effective arrangements for all the people involved.

Regulation is bound, through time, to reduce the productivity and competitiveness of businesses and their capacity to produce output, pay wages, earn profits, invest and expand, creating more job opportunities in the process.

A classic example of an outcome of socially regulated workplaces used to occur under the socialist system of worker-owned enterprises in former Yugoslavia. An unintended consequence of worker ownership and control was that existing staff were reluctant to set aside profits to expand their enterprise and employ more people, because their immediate wages would be less and they feared their future wages might be less if the expansion plans were unsuccessful. Laws had to be passed to compel enterprises to employ extra people from time to time.

A similar incentive arises under Australia's unfair dismissal laws. The more costly it is to dismiss an employee, the greater will be the costs that an employer will pay to vet the quality of people before they are hired, the fewer the people that will be hired (as well as being let go, of course), and the lower will be the pay that is affordable by the business if labour costs are to remain as before.

The members of the population who are particularly disadvantaged by unfair dismissal laws are those with the least qualifications, least skills and least work experience. These include school-leavers, women returning to work after a spell of child rearing, the long-term unemployed, refugees, and migrants who enter Australia without a firm offer of employment.

In western Europe, the degree of job protection enjoyed by long-established employees in an enterprise is so great that new entrants to the labour force (young people and migrants, in particular) and the unemployed face long periods of precarious, temporary employment at very low rates of pay before they can enter (or re-enter) reasonable career paths. European-style job protection leads to low rates of economic and employment growth, high unemployment rates, and very high youth and migrant unemployment rates. Fairness for insiders (the large majority of workers in long-term employment attachments with their particular employer) is promoted at the expense of the minority of outsiders seeking to gain such jobs.

Has the labour market really become fairer overall as a result?

The ageing of the Australian population in future decades is likely to be associated with substantial increases in dependency in the society (too many retirees and not enough workers to support them). An important contribution to solving this problem can be made if older people are willing to continue in work, at least part time.

A reasonable income can now be received by a retiree who works fewer hours but also receives a part pension. A business able to construct packages for older workers that reduce the business's labour costs, on the one hand, but that are also attractive to retirees, will prosper, helping society to solve what may otherwise be a substantial problem.

Is it fair if a business pays retirees at a lower hourly rate of pay (matching the lower productivity that results from their old age) if this benefits the firm, the retirees and the community as a whole?

The truth is fairness is a very difficult concept to apply to regulating the labour market without resulting in bad unintended consequences. The alternative to regulation is to rely on the fact that businesses have to pay the market rate to their workers if they are to stay in business.

Further, because people compare the net advantages of different sorts of jobs, a sensible business will try to tailor its conditions of work to suit the preferences of the people it wishes to employ. A sensible business will wish to remove conditions of work that are costly to it and on which the people it wishes to hire place little value. By doing so, it will be able to pay higher wages, if warranted.

Regulations to protect individual workers from unfair treatment may have adverse unintended consequences for working Australians more broadly. A balance must be struck that does not cost the broader community heavily. Excessive labour market regulation has cost Australians heavily in the past.

As Gary Banks, chairman of the Productivity Commission, recently said: "If we are to secure Australia's productivity potential into the future, the regulation of labour markets cannot remain a no-go area for evidence-based policy making".


18 January, 2011

Wivenhoe Dam operator in sights of Qld. flood inquiry

Premier Anna Bligh yesterday bowed to pressure to set up an inquiry with the powers of a royal commission, as the death toll from the flooding hit 20.

Fresh claims that 80 per cent of the Brisbane River flood, at its peak, was a direct result of the forced release of a huge volume of water from the city's main dam will be investigated by the judicial inquiry into the disaster in southeast Queensland.

The federal government has also refused to rule out any options for funding the multi-billion-dollar cost of reconstruction, including a national levy.

To be headed by veteran judge Cate Holmes, the inquiry will investigate whether enough was done to prevent the loss of life and massive property damage in Brisbane and communities to its west.

Central to the inquiry will be questions, raised by The Australian, of whether Wivenhoe Dam was mismanaged in the lead-up to the emergency that erupted last week with deadly flash flooding in Toowoomba and the Lockyer Valley, and led to the worst flooding on record in Brisbane and neighbouring Ipswich.

More than 80 per cent of the flood in the Brisbane River at its peak last Thursday was the direct result of the release from Wivenhoe, the city's flood shield, of up to 30 per cent of its capacity, according to official data obtained by The Australian. The data shows that, without the unprecedented and massive release at a peak rate of 645,000 megalitres a day from the dam on Tuesday, January 11, the flooding in Brisbane would have been minimal.

The inquiry's terms of reference, released yesterday by Ms Bligh, call for scrutiny of the water release strategy for Wivenhoe and Somerset Dam further upriver, and their suitability for "flood mitigation and dam safety".

Data from Wivenhoe's registered owner and operator, the Queensland government-owned SEQWater, shows that the peak flow in the Brisbane River in the early hours of the flood last Thursday was about 9000 cubic metres per second. It takes about 36 hours for a release from the dam to reach the city gauge in Brisbane.

Hydrology and engineering experts said a release of a peak rate of 645,000 megalitres a day would produce a flow of almost 7500 cubic metres per second, although a number of factors, including river contours and the time it takes water to travel from the dam to the city gauge in Brisbane, mean the extrapolation is not precise.

However, they said it was clear that the flooding occurred because of the release from the dam.

The flooding Bremer River, which cuts through Ipswich and meets the Brisbane River to the west of the state's capital, was not nearly enough on its own to cause the devastating flooding of thousands of homes in Brisbane.

One of the most critical tasks for the commission will be to examine whether the operators at Wivenhoe Dam retained water in the dam's flood compartment for too long, forcing a drastic release that compounded the flood instead of mitigating it.

The commission of inquiry will also pore over the emergency response and the performance of private insurers after the flooding, and hand down interim findings on flood preparedness in August.

Mr Bligh has ordered Justice Holmes to deliver her final report by January 17 next year. If her government runs full term, as the Premier has promised, this will be in the lead-up to the state election, due by March next year.

In interviews yesterday, Ms Bligh stopped short of commending the operation of Wivenhoe ahead of the Brisbane flooding that inundated more than 17,000 homes and 65 suburbs, the CBD and central parts of Ipswich. "I want to know that our dams work as they're supposed to and are operated as well as they technically can be," Ms Bligh said.

"I want to reassure the people of Brisbane that I want - just as much as they do - to know the answer to these questions. And I think they are very technical questions and that we need to get expertise from around Australia to really have a look at what happened, what could have been done differently so that we are well prepared should we ever see that sort of water coming into that catchment again. So these are very legitimate questions and I'm not going to shy away from them. I want to know the answers just as much as anybody else." ....

Announcing the inquiry, Ms Bligh said Justice Holmes had been empowered to comb over all aspects of the preparation and planning for the floods. "This commission of inquiry . . . is absolutely critical to us understanding firstly the community preparedness and the emergency response," she said. "We need to learn the lessons of this event so that we can protect ourselves better in the future. We need to honour those who have tragically lost their lives in this catastrophe and we need to do that by learning the lessons of the event."

Justice Holmes, a Supreme Court and Appeals Court judge of 10 years experience, who once represented mass killer Ivan Milat in private law practice, will be assisted by post-Fitzgerald inquiry Queensland police commissioner Jim O'Sullivan, and Phil Cummins, the chair of the international council on large dams.

The Australian yesterday revealed expert concerns that water releases held back in the week prior to the Toowoomba and Lockyer Valley deluge kept Wivenhoe Dam at dangerously high levels and worsened flooding in Brisbane. "In the aftermath of this event, people have legitimate questions and those questions, in my view, require a comprehensive and rigorous examination of all of the factors surrounding these events," Ms Bligh said. "In relation to the Wivenhoe Dam, it is legitimate to ask questions about the operation of that dam. Like so many other people in this city, I live here with my family, I have the same questions and want to make sure that we are getting absolutely thoroughly tested information in answering that question."

She said the assessment would also investigate whether other dams in the region could help mitigate floods in the future.

The Local Government Association of Queensland raised concerns last week that an inquiry could divert essential resources from the clean-up effort, but Ms Bligh said she had requested the commission to structure the hearings to allow vital work for small and medium councils to continue unimpeded.


More secrecy from Gillard as she tries to cover up a boondoggle

JULIA Gillard is standing by an exemption from freedom of information laws for NBN Co - the publicly-owned company building Australia's biggest infrastructure project. As an incorporated company, NBN Co will avoid FOI scrutiny, unlike Australia Post, the ABC, SBS and Telstra before it was privatised.

The Prime Minister today confirmed the public would not get access to information held by the company rolling out the $36 billion National Broadband Network. “My understanding is that this is the ordinary operation of the Freedom of Information Act; that a body like NBN Co would not be subject to it,” Ms Gillard said. “I think with freedom of information laws, we have the system, the system is there, the system is one where something like NBN Co is not covered by them so it's just ordinary business.”

The federal opposition has vowed to pursue the matter in parliament, saying it is an issue of principle. “This is not a private company that the government has taken an investment in, this is a company that has been established for the sole purpose of fulfilling a government policy,” communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull told ABC radio.

Greens communication spokesman Scott Ludlam said it was unacceptable that a public company investing $27.5 billion of public money would be exempt from scrutiny.

Two new parliamentary inquiries into the network are pending, and both the opposition and the Greens have fought for months for greater transparency for the project.

The much-delayed business case for the network was only released by Communications Minister Stephen Conroy late last year after pressure from crossbench senators.


Thousands of Afghan "asylum seekers" face deportation from Australia

AUSTRALIA has the green light to deport thousands of Afghan asylum seekers after reaching a historic agreement with the Afghan government.

The Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Afghan Refugee Minister, Jamaher Anwary, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Sydney yesterday. It enables the forced return of Afghans whose bids for asylum fail. The move is alarming security experts and refugee advocates.

Mr Bowen said it would deter Afghans considering travelling to Australia. "Never, all through the Howard years, never before today, has there been an involuntary return from Australia to Afghanistan," he said. "To dissuade people from risking their lives by joining people-smuggling ventures, it is important that Afghans found not to be owed protection by Australia are returned to Afghanistan."

About 2600 Afghans are in Australia's detention centres. Of those, 49 must win court appeals to avoid imminent deportation.

The opposition was sceptical about the agreement, saying it was only as good as the government's will to enforce it. "The minister is unable to say when anyone is going to be returned," said its immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison. "It's not clear to me the government has the resolve to implement this."

In three years, only three asylum seekers have been returned to Afghanistan - all last year after volunteering to go. In 2008 and 2009, 126 people were returned to their countries of origin.

The director of the Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy at the Australian National University, William Maley, warned that ethnic Hazaras, in particular, should not be deported without extreme caution. "The security situation in Afghanistan is extremely unsettling," he said.

He cast doubt on the security expertise of Australian officials making refugee assessments. The decapitation of 11 Hazaras in Oruzgan province in June contradicted a cable from the Kabul embassy proclaiming a "golden age" for Hazaras, he said.

The Refugee Council of Australia was concerned by the lack of safeguards the memorandum provided for returned asylum seekers. "In Afghanistan, people are not so much under threat from actions by government but the actions of people who the government cannot, or chooses not to, control," said the chief executive, Paul Power.

The Australian government has promised money to help Afghanistan improve its passport system and accommodation for returned asylum seekers. The UN has agreed to ad hoc monitoring.


The Queensland floods are not related to anthropogenic global warming

By Cliff Ollier (Emeritus Professor Cliff Ollier is a geologist and geomorphologist)

The Queensland floods are a disaster that demands our sympathy and earnest attempts to prevent similar damage in future. But to do this properly we need to see the floods in the perspective of time, and see the history of flooding. This is best done by concentrating on the Brisbane region simply because it has the longest historical record.

This record has been admirably collated by the Bureau of Meteorology, and the details can be seen at this site, which gives a blow-by-blow summary of the floods.

Below are shown the records for Brisbane and the Bremer River at Ipswich. The variation between the two is itself of interest, showing how different records can be at relatively close locations. This history is a necessary background to the following discussion.

One of the sidelines of disasters like the Queensland floods is that the leaders of the Anthropogenic Global Warming Campaign will try to relate the disaster to Global Warming, caused by increasing man-made carbon dioxide. This has been done for the Queensland floods by, for example, David Karoly who for some reason gets a lot of coverage in the press and Television in Australia (though he has no expertise in this area), and Michael Steketee, the resident AGW specialist in The Australian.

There are at least three arguments against relating the Queensland floods to Anthropogenic Global Warming.

1. Even other people in the Global Warming game realize there is no relationship between broad disasters and carbon dioxide. The leading AGW institution is the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).

Christopher Monckton wrote of an article in The Australian in January 2011:

“Mr. Steketee’s short article makes two dozen questionable assertions, [I refer only to point 18] which either require heavy qualification or are downright false. His assertions will be printed in bold face: the truth will appear in Roman face.


Cautious scientists say no such thing. Even the excitable and exaggeration-prone IPCC has repeatedly stated that individual extreme-weather events cannot be attributed to manmade “global warming; it would be particularly incautious of any scientist to blame the blocking highs that caused nearly all of the weather-related damage in 2010 on us when these are long-established, naturally-occurring phenomena.”

2. The second problem is that this is not an isolated event. There was another flood of about the same dimensions in 1974. There was no peak of CO2 at that time. It was not an especially warm year, so Global Warming cannot be invoked (1998 was a hotter year, but no flood).

But there were even greater floods in 1841 and 1893. This is well before any possible Anthropogenic Global Warming, which began, according to its adherents, in 1945.

And there were many other floods of lower magnitude, long before the supposed advent of Anthropogenic Global Warming as shown in the BoM graphs.

3. A third problem is that just a few years ago, global warming was blamed for causing droughts. This opinion was extolled during the last drought especially by Tim Flannery, another non-expert.

In 2003 Professor Karoly published, under the auspices of the World Wildlife Fund, a report that claimed that elevated air temperatures, due to CO2, exacerbated the drought.

“...the higher temperatures caused a marked increase in evaporation rates, which sped up the loss of soil moisture and the drying of vegetation and watercourses. This is the first drought in Australia where the impact of human-induced global warming can be clearly observed...”


“This drought has had a more severe impact than any other drought since at least 1950.... This is the first drought in Australia where the impact of human-induced global warming can be clearly observed.”

So Anthropogenic Global Warming can apparently be used to explain any current disaster. Any hypothesis (like AGW) that uses the same mechanism to explain opposite effects is untestable, and therefore not science. Its models are totally useless for prediction.

In brief, there is no reason whatever to associate the Queensland floods with global warming (if it is occurring at all). It is even more ridiculous to blame it on a trivial increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Unfortunately the floods will come again. You might like to look at the data on the BoM website and try to determine the return interval for yourself. It is really a bit of a guess.

But the citizens of Queensland would be well advised to implement adaptation policies that have a more realistic impact than trying to reduce CO2 production in the vain hope that it will, like repeating some magic spell, make the nasty problem go away.


Eco doomsayers: blind to history, unreliable tipsters

Senator Bob Brown is old enough to know better. Literally. At the weekend, the Greens' leader blamed the coal industry for the floods currently devastating large parts of Australia. In the media release headed "Coal barons should help pay for the catastrophes", he argued for an increased tax on the coal industry to "help pay the cost of the predicted more severe and more frequent floods, droughts and bushfires in coming decades".

The Greens leader, who was trained in medicine, is a very effective politician. It's a pity, however, that he does not spend more time reading history. Born in December 1944, Brown was almost 30 when, in January 1974, the area around Brisbane was inundated with water - in a flood which killed 14 people.

If Brown studied history he would know that there were numerous floods in Brisbane in the 1890s - in 1890, 1893, 1896 and 1898. Eighteen ninety-three was the worst year, with the height of the flood measured at more than nine metres. The history of the time is documented in Ronald Lawson's book Brisbane in the 1890s, which was published a year before the 1974 flood.

Lawson had this to say about the two floods that afflicted Brisbane in 1893: "Railway lines were temporarily cut, the river blocked, the bridges destroyed, warehouses inundated, and stock ruined. Furthermore, since most workers' homes were in low-lying areas, the floods exacerbated the plight of many of the unemployed."

In 1893 the working class tended to live in the low-lying areas, close to the river. By 2011, these areas were very much the preserve of the more affluent, who were encouraged by the Brisbane City Council, especially during Jim Soorley's time as lord mayor (1991-2003), to embrace the Brisbane River.

During the past week, the Premier, Anna Bligh, has been praised widely for handling the flood crisis in Queensland. She deserves this. Campbell Newman, Brisbane's Liberal lord mayor, has also put in a sterling performance. Newman's military background has equipped him well for crisis management. But there is more to it than this.

Newman approaches the crisis with considerable authority. He has been one of the few senior Queensland politicians who have told it as it is. Newman's message is blunt. Brisbane was built on a flood plain. This explains why there has been so much flooding of Brisbane - in the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries. Put simply, Brisbane has flooded in the past and, sadly, it will flood again.

When Brisbane flooded in 1893 and 1974, at levels higher than last week, no one blamed global warming in general or the chief executives of coal companies in particular.

In his statement at the weekend, Brown overlooked the fact that the reason the flood peak was higher in 1974 than 2011 turned on the construction of the Wivenhoe Dam, which was opposed by environmentalists of the day.

What has been particularly valuable about the extensive media coverage, particularly on ABC News 24 and Sky News, has been the focus on older Australians in Brisbane and in numerous towns on various rivers. They remember past floods in Queensland, NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia, just as older Victorians, who experienced the bushfires of Black Saturday 2009, remembered Black Friday of 1939.

Writing in The Age last Friday, Ellen Sandell declared that "these floods should be a deafening wake-up call". She is national director of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. Sandell wrote: "As a young person who will inherit the world being created now, I want us to start talking about what needs to happen to prevent this kind of tragedy from occurring again and again. I don't want to live in the kind of world we are previewing right now."

Sandell is a true-believing environmentalist. Pity she does not know more history. There has always been droughts and bushfires and floods in Australia, before and after European settlement. There always will be. If Sandell does not want to live in this kind of world, then the only solution is personal emigration. The problem is that most countries, over the ages, have experienced weather disasters. It's called nature.

The problem with so many environmentalists turns on their capacity to exaggerate, which is exacerbated by a lack of historical awareness. There is much of the eco-catastrophist in lawyer/politician Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, film and book. Yet he remains a hero of the green movement.

It's much the same with the American academic Paul Ehrlich. The thesis of his 1968 book The Population Bomb was that "the battle to feed all of humanity is over". Ehrlich predicted that "in the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions will starve to death". He even prophesied that Australia would close its borders in 1974 to prevent a fever pandemic.

None of this happened. Yet Ehrlich is still making predictions of doom. He was interviewed on the Radio National Late Night Live program a year ago, but no one spoke about false prophecy. It's much the same with Brown. Eco-catastrophist seers are rarely held to account for unfulfilled predictions or historical amnesia.

In recent years, there has been much public funding of environmental causes. Brown's ahistorical approach to weather disasters indicates Australia should put more resources into history courses. Let's start with the Brisbane floods of 1893, 1974 and 2011.


17 January, 2011

Brisbane River flooding 'avoidable'

Confirmation of an earlier posting (on 15th.) here. The bureaucracy replies that although what they did was hugely damaging, it "was in accordance with the operating manual"! Brains not required, apparently

THE Brisbane River flooding would have been largely avoided if dam operators had raised their releases of water on the weekend before last Monday's deluge, an engineer claims.

Engineer Michael O'Brien told The Australian the river flood and the devastation of thousands of homes was inevitable after a decision to release relatively low volumes of water from the Wivenhoe Dam on Friday, January 7, and over the ensuing weekend.

He said over that weekend the dam's operators released a total of about 200,000 megalitres. Scrutiny of official water-release and dam volume data shows the flood would have been moderate at worst in Brisbane had there been larger releases in the days before the deluge, he said.

Mr O'Brien, whose written review is based on publicly available data released by the Queensland government-owned dam's operators, SEQWater, said full disclosure is vital to reassure people that the dam was operated responsibly.

However, SEQWater Grid chief executive Barry Dennien has insisted that although the January 8-9 releases were relatively low compared with what occurred in the days afterwards, this was in accordance with the operating manual to mitigate flooding. He said that nobody had foreseen the extreme rainfall that ensued.


Coal miners to blame for Queensland floods, says Australian Greens leader Bob Brown

Far-fetched as it is, what Brown says is consistent with his Warmist assumptions. It is the assumptions that are far-fetched. As Senator Joyce said, it was absurd for Senator Brown to blame the coal industry for floods, which had been a reality in Queensland throughout its history. “In 1893, the flood gauge on the Brisbane River reached 8.35m, so was the coal industry responsible for that as well?” he asked.

GREENS leader Bob Brown says the coal mining industry should foot the bill for the Queensland floods because it helped cause them.

The floods are Queensland's worst for nearly 40 years, with more than 26,000 homes affected and at least 16 people killed.

Senator Brown said the Federal Government should impose the original version of the Resources Super Profits Tax, and use the funds to pay for the clean-up.

"It's the single biggest cause - burning coal - for climate change and it must take its major share of responsibility for the weather events we are seeing unfolding now," he said in Hobart today.

"We know that the oceans around Australia are at record high temperatures, and that's causing the moisture in the air which is leading to these catastrophic floods.

"It is costing billions of dollars, besides the pain, the anguish, the loss of life, the destruction and it should not be left to ordinary taxpayers to bear the full brunt of that."


RACQ Insurance talks tough as Queensland flood claims soar

WILD weather in Queensland has triggered almost 6000 claims for RACQ Insurance, which argued yesterday it would have to take a tough line with flood claims so the insurer could remain in business.

Claims lifted from the 2000 indicated on Thursday and would increase, RACQI said. The figures revealed the fast-rising scale of disaster.

The tally comes as it is thought RACQI, owned by the motoring body, is heavily buffered from single large catastrophes by its own "re-insurance" protection triggering at $10 million.

The series of wild weather disasters ranging from pre-Christmas hail storms to the Toowoomba flash flood and last week's flooding in Brisbane has triggered hundreds of millions of dollars in claims for insurers.

The Insurance Council of Australia said flooding outside the southeast alone had chalked up $365 million in claims.

But flooding has sparked anger from people about policy wording, given victims might not be covered for water slowly rising out of a river as opposed to storm water quickly entering through the roof.

A RACQI spokesman said hydrologists were yet to determine how to classify the latest disasters.

Some politicians, including Treasurer Wayne Swan, have asked for "compassion" from insurers, but not sought a blanket payout for victims outside of their insurance policy wording.

RACQI chief executive Bradley Heath said while his organisation "includes flash flood coverage in our standard household policies, RACQ Insurance has never offered flood cover as standard". "Unless policy holders have purchased the optional flood coverage, RACQ Insurance will not be able to pay flood claims," Mr Heath said. "We have to ensure that we are here today, tomorrow and in the years ahead for all two million of our policy holders."

Other insurers will face a similar dilemma about making extraordinary payouts. Neither Suncorp's AAMI brand, nor IAG's NRMA standard policies would cover a slow-river flood.

Insurers face a dilemma because their own "reinsurance" protection may not cover any special payouts. Insurers take their own protection via reinsurance companies to offer a buffer on an insurer's payout in a large-scale disaster. But reinsurance industry sources have told The Courier-Mail they offer protection based on an insurer's policies with customers.

It is understood RACQI has its own reinsurance triggered at $10 million for a large catastrophe. That is a far bigger buffer than the likes of Suncorp, which is triggered at $200 million or IAG, triggered at $150 million.


More public hospital negligence

A TEENAGER whose white-tail spider bite was twice misdiagnosed was forced to undergo major surgery to halt the spread of flesh-eating infection.

Micaela Monaco, 15, was told by two doctors she had a mosquito bite, but she said it looked nothing like one, and the pain became so intense she wanted to cut her arm off.

Paula Monaco said her daughter woke up with a bite on her arm, and two days later she visited a Greenvale GP where she was told it was a mosquito bite and was sent home with Panadol and antibiotics.

But the pain intensified and Ms Monaco took Micaela to Epping's Northern Hospital that night, where a triage nurse, again, said it was a mosquito bite, and after waiting for hours, a doctor repeated this diagnosis.

"I had mozzie bites on my shoulder, and it didn't look anything like them, it was big, it was red and swollen and it had like a black head," Micaela said. "The pain was really bad, it got to the stage where I wanted to cut my arm off."

Ms Monaco said Micaela was sent home from Northern Hospital on Friday with painkillers and antihistamines.

By Monday her condition had deteriorated further and Ms Monaco took Micaela to Sunshine Hospital, where she was treated immediately. Doctors told her she had been bitten by a white-tail spider and were concerned the infection would hit the bone and eat away at her flesh, Ms Monaco said. The Westmeadows teen had surgery last Tuesday to have the infection cut and cleaned, and went home on Wednesday.

Ms Monaco was angry that her daughter's spider bite was misdiagnosed, and allowed to reach the point where Micaela had to undergo surgery. "I'm really annoyed because there was no need for her to go through all of this pain ... and I was very worried that the infection might go through her body."

A Northern Hospital spokesperson said a complaint had not yet been received from the family, and until then the matter could not be investigated. [Really??]

Victorian Poisons Information Centre manager Jeff Robinson said white-tail spider bites were common, but they only rarely caused ulcers or flesh-eating infections. "It's just a rare complication that can happen with any sort of spider bite," Mr Robinson said.

White-tail spider bites could be painful, red, itchy and with a lump, which could remain for up to two weeks, he said. Those bitten should apply an ice pack, and take Panadol and an antihistamine if it becomes itchy or swollen, and if infection develops visit a doctor.


16 January, 2011

'It's hard to believe we can't do better than this', says Qld. Premier

You CAN do better, Anna. Build more dams and thus prevent the problems in the first place. There should be a weir across every flood-prone river in Qld. Stop spending money on Greenie fads and spend it on something useful.

For those who are unaware of it, a weir is a low-cost but very efficient water regulation system. It's just a big lump of concrete across a river with a fixed outlet pipe at the bottom of the weir which is wide enough to let normal flows through only. So when floods hit, water levels rise and when a drought hits, water levels fall. The result is a steady flow in the river which is good for both the creatures in the river and the people who use it for water

Premier Anna Bligh says she would like to see a better system developed so Australians have more comprehensive insurance protection against flood disasters.

Last week both Ms Bligh and Prime Minister Julia Gillard urged insurance companies to be flexible when processing the thousands of claims being lodged for flood damage. But the Insurance Council of Australia noted that not all insurance policies would cover policyholders for the type of flood event that has ravaged vast areas of Queensland.

Ms Bligh said today that Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser would speak to the federal government about the situation. "It's hard to believe that Australia can't do better than this. When you see the scale of this and understand the havoc and heartache this has brought, it is hard to believe we can't find a better system," she told Channel Seven's Weekend Sunrise program. "There are some big policy questions out of this. Now we've got the immediate response dealt with we can start to look at those big issues."

Ms Bligh said many people had paid their insurance premiums believing they were covered for floods and "now they find this is the wrong kind of flood".

This morning, Ms Bligh and Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan announced a further $20 million had been donated to the official Queensland flood relief fund, $10 million each from the state and federal governments. Donations to the fund have so far reached about $64 million, Ms Bligh said.

"But this disaster has now grown into something absolutely unprecedented in our state and the situation we are facing has more than tripled in size since the appeal began," she added. The money is being used to rebuild homes, replace property and get Queenslanders back on their feet.

At least 28,000 properties have been affected by the flooding.


Wrecking Disguised as Compassion

In the usual Leftist way

Wayne Swan and Bill Shorten met with representatives of insurance companies yesterday to encourage them to show compassion to flood victims ‘as anger grows over the companies’ “no policy, no payout” stance.‘ Labor wants the insurance companies to give payments to people who don’t have flood insurance. Julia Gillard suggests that not paying out people who didn’t have policies is ‘playing hardball.’

What’s next? The government demanding that shops give goods to people who haven’t paid for them, and claiming supermarkets which don’t comply are playing hardball? But then, why would anyone pay for groceries?

Some people who live in flood prone areas chose not to ensure against flood. They saved some money. And they are not insured against flood. That was their choice. So why are they angry?

The insurance companies have no obligation to pay people who don’t have insurance. The government might as well ask makers of haemorrhoid creams or jet skis to cough up. That would make as much sense.

This is typical of leftist governments. We have to be nice. Preferably with someone else’s money. In this case, with money that belongs to policy holders (in other words, people who did think ahead) and to shareholders in insurance companies (primarily superannuation funds, ie, other people who are thinking ahead).

It is sad that some people whose homes were damaged, or who lost property in the recent floods chose not to insure against those risks. Especially when all of them live in areas which have flooded before.

Australia is a community. The suffering of one affects us all. It is great that the community rallies around to provide emergency help.

But the reason the community can rally around to provide emergency help is that most Australians still take responsibility for themselves, and put a little aside for hard times. The Commonwealth and states have reserves we can draw on in hard times. Those reserves are accumulated through hard work over time.

If the government succeeds in forcing insurance companies to pay people who did not have policies, what incentive is there for people to take responsibility in the future? Why would anyone pay extra for flood insurance if the government can be relied on to pressure insurance companies to pay everyone anyway?

As a nation we used to be self-reliant, hard working, prudent. We knew we lived in a physically harsh country, where extremes of heat and flood were common. And we took care to be prepared.

Now there seems to be an attitude that we don’t need to prepare, because whatever happens, it is someone else’s job to fix it. If something unpleasant happens to me, well, I didn’t want it to happen, so someone else should pay for it.

This is now the standard way of thinking in relation to health. If I need to see a doctor, need to go to hospital, need an ambulance, or need medicine, someone else should pay. The gubmint.

But gubmint money belongs to the taxpayers. You want someone else (the taxpayer) to pay for the treatment you need if you break your leg, and to subsidise your income if you can’t work?

But how do you feel about your tax money paying for Mrs McGinty’s third set of dental work this year, when she has never cleaned her teeth in her life? Or paying for treatment for the Harris kids’ constant eczema and worm infections?

But then, why should Mrs McGinty clean her teeth? Someone else will take care of it. Why should the Harrises wash their hands and keep their animals off the kitchen benches? Someone else will pay. It will be OK.

But it won’t be OK. Because if the government constantly acts in ways that are a disincentive to taking responsibility, eventually there will be no one left to take responsibility. There will be no reserves, and no one left who can pay.

* Ah, but universal health care is compassionate. No it’s not.

* Well, paying out people who don’t have flood insurance is compassionate. No it’s not.

* At least, it’s compassionate to let asylum seekers who arrive here into the community and help them become citizens. No it’s not.

* It is compassionate to give home loans to people who can’t really afford them. No it’s not.

* It’s compassionate to lower academic standards because it is too hard for students to learn and their self-esteem will be impacted if they fail. No it’s not.

All of these are laziness, or worse, the deliberate fostering of dependence, and the discouraging of honesty and responsibility, disguised as compassion.

Those who perpetrate and perpetuate these things may feel good about themselves and their niceness. But the end results are always the same. More resentment. More entitlement. More suffering.


Everything Peter says above is correct but I suspect Gillard, Shorten and Swan are just grandstanding. They know perfectly well that the insurance companies will be hard hit by payouts for legitimate claimants and any further pressure would send them broke. And millions of people suddenly finding themselves uninsured would be politically disastrous

NSW bureaucracy hurting kids

SENIOR NSW Government officials have admitted "red tape" is stopping caseworkers from undertaking urgent face-to-face visits to neglected children in troubled homes. Community Services chief executive Annette Gallard told staff in a leaked memo obtained by The Sunday Telegraph the department was battling to overcome red tape and hold-ups in court so workers could "help reach more cases".

The comments came as the Ombudsman also ordered a fresh investigation into the handling of child protection.

Ms Gallard sent the note to staff after the revelations in The Sunday Telegraph last week that fewer children at risk were getting direct help. She told workers another 239 new caseworkers would be hired in the next six months.

After The Sunday Telegraph report last week, Ombudsman Bruce Barbour has also demanded answers. Angry at the neglect exposed in confidential documents, Mr Barbour said he would investigate why children at risk of harm were not getting face-to-face help.

Changes introduced last year after the Wood inquiry into DoCS were supposed to improve the care of children in troubled homes.

"I've put the Government and Community Services on notice," Mr Barbour told The Sunday Telegraph. "We will be looking very closely this year at how well Community Services is responding to matters they remain responsible for following the Wood inquiry and how successfully they're interacting with families and direct assessments of children at risk.

"We want to see if the systems in place since the Wood inquiry are actually making an improvement on the ground. "High risk should equal a home visit and it doesn't look as though it is. That's what we'll be looking at this year."

Mr Barbour also said he knew to be true a report in The Sunday Telegraph last week that red tape and paperwork were stopping caseworkers from seeing children face-to-face. He said it was an issue he had also come across in reviewing deaths of children known to Community Services. "Time and time again in reviewing a death, the paperwork is fine, but no one has made an assessment on the ground and, if the caseworker is not sighting the child, they can't get a proper sense of what's going on," he said.

The Wood inquiry introduced a raft of changes and an injection of $750 million to prevent a repeat of horrific child deaths that Community Services could have prevented. Reforms introduced in its wake were intended to increase face-to-face contact with at-risk children, but a report leaked to The Sunday Telegraph revealed a 13 per cent drop in direct interventions and assessments of children at most risk of harm.

"The statistics in that report would never have been released. Why aren't these statistics reported quarterly so we can see what they are doing?" Dr Sammut said.

Minister for Community Services Linda Burney confirmed the drop in completed assessments of the highest risk children and blamed caseworkers having to adjust to new systems despite a halving of reports to the Helpline after the threshold of harm was raised to 'significant harm' to cull re-reporting of the same children.

"We already knew who the most vulnerable children were because they made up half of the calls and the re-reports were being made time and time again because nothing was being done, DoCS were not acting so there is no excuse for what is happening now," Dr Sammut said. He said the Wood Inquiry changes had wasted $750 million.


Pithouse the shithouse to be investigated at last

Another report about Pithouse here

WRONG-WAY magistrate Richard Pithouse is likely to be the first subject to come under the scrutiny of a new independent panel set up to investigate the judiciary.

The move could see the magistrate investigated and potentially removed from office after several complaints about his courtroom behaviour and judgments.

Attorney-General Robert Clark, who in opposition urged for an urgent inquiry into Mr Pithouse, last week met a sexual assault victim, "Emma", who attempted suicide after Mr Pithouse rejected her victim-impact statement when he arrived late to court because he went to Ararat instead of Ballarat.

Mr Clark hinted Mr Pithouse could be investigated by a new body that looks into magistrates and judges. "The Baillieu Government is committed to establishing a Judicial Complaints Commission so that, in future, complaints such as those about Magistrate Pithouse could be made to a body that would thoroughly and independently investigate them," Mr Clark said. "I am very concerned about the distress that Emma suffered. It shows the importance of changing the law."

Lawyer Lisa Treeby, of Arnold Thomas & Becker, said Mr Clark had "lent a sympathetic ear to (Emma's) plight". "He seemed particularly concerned ... regarding her victim impact statement, which was ignored by Magistrate Pithouse in sentencing the perpetrators who had subjected her to months of sexual assault," she said.


15 January, 2011


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks Gillard's response to the Qld. flood contrasted bady with the Queensland Premier's response.

Bureaucratic bungling behind the Brisbane flood?

How SEQ Water failed “Flood Mitigation 101”. Brisbane's huge flood mitigation dam (Wivenhoe) appears to have been negligently operated

by Ian Mott

On the morning of 12th January, the day before the flood peak that inundated the Brisbane CBD and much of Ipswich, Brian Williams of Brisbane’s Courier Mail, in a masterpiece of misreporting by omission, reported that releases from Wivenhoe Dam were to be reduced from an overnight peak of 645,000 megalitres/day to 205,000 ML/day with the stated aim of “allowing the Bremer River and Lockyer River to subside, thereby easing floods on Brisbane downstream.”

“Wivenhoe Dam levels had dropped just 1 per cent from the previous night, reflecting the massive volumes of water flowing into the storage from its 7020 km2 catchment.” That 1% drop was from a dam capacity of 191% and is an oblique way of saying that the massive flood surge buffer had been pushed close to its limits and they now had no choice but to dump the same amount of water that was flowing into the dam.

What wasn’t mentioned was the fact that for more than a week prior to this large release, only 170,000 ML/day was being released as the storage capacity was allowed to rise to 191% from two weeks of heavy rains. And this meant the carefully designed flood buffer, having been taken to its limits, could no longer function as a buffer. The city was entirely at the mercy of the elements and it would only have taken another 37mm of rain in the catchment to hit the limits.

And as it takes 36 hours for water to flow from Wivenhoe to the CBD then it is absolutely clear that the flood peak of Wednesday night and Thursday morning was a direct result of the previous night’s forced release of the total inflow from the catchment. And this was only necessary because SEQ Water had spent two weeks releasing much less water than was being captured, into a river that was still well below minor flood level.

The article went on to report that releases would go back up to 301,000 ML/day in a few days to reduce the flood buffer volume and that this level of release was, “unlikely to cause a second significant rise in the river.”

What wasn’t mentioned in relation to the reduction from the overnight peak of 645,000 megalitres/day to 205,000 ML/day, with the stated aim of “allowing the Bremer River and Lockyer River to subside, thereby easing floods on Brisbane downstream,” was the fact that the earlier large forced release did the direct opposite. It prevented the Bremer and Lockyer Rivers from subsiding and exacerbated the flooding of Brisbane downstream.

By reducing releases to only 205,000 ML/Day after the peak discharge, SEQ Water is essentially admitting that the peak discharge impaired the flow from the Bremer and Lockyer Rivers by about 100,000 ML/day over that 36 hour period, which they then had to remedy with a lower Wivenhoe release.

At this point you might ask, “so why didn’t they release 300,000ML/day before the buffer was fully extended?” If they had done so there would not have been any need for a larger forced release at all.

Limited Wivenhoe releases on Monday and Tuesday were justified because the flash flooding in the Bremmer and Lockyer Valleys needed somewhere to go. But that doesn’t explain the low releases right through the previous week to Sunday the 9th January. Larger pre-releases in the order of 300,000 ML/day would have maintained sufficient buffer to ensure that no flood peak occurred at all. The river would have kept on flowing at minor flooding level right through this period.

What sort of people, in Queensland of all places, in a strong La Nina wet season, would not start serious dam releases when they were already at capacity, with saturated catchments, in the first week of December? Surely, pre-releases would be more prudent than post-releases in such circumstances?

We need a full inquiry into why this dam managed by SEQ Water, and others managed by Sunwater, were managed in a way that actually produced the kind of flood it was designed to prevent.


Australia and New Zealand on top – but for how long?

Greg Lindsay

Australians and Kiwis have become used to it over the last few years. Each January, the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal publish their Index of Economic Freedom and each year, Australia comes third after Hong Kong and Singapore. And each year, New Zealand is not far behind, this time in fourth place, although New Zealand has been ahead of Australia in the past.

Something happening with clockwork-like repetitiveness is usually not very newsworthy. However, in this case it is well worth a thought or two.

There are of course different ways of measuring this, but it is worth celebrating that Australia and New Zealand once again lead the world’s non-city states in economic freedom. This is often consistent across various such Indexes. Though improvements are certainly conceivable, in practical terms our two countries are as good as it gets.

There is a problem though. Our consistently good scores in the Index are threatened by complacency. The more often we hear how well we have weathered the global economic crisis of the past years, the less we believe there is anything left to do to secure our future prosperity.

Sure, governments still revert to the language of ‘reform.’ But where a generation ago ‘reform’ meant tough institutional changes, the word has now become a synonym, and sometimes an excuse, for government increasing its activities. In truth, there is nothing ‘reformatory’ about digging trenches for fibre optic cables, to just name one example.

The link between a nation’s economic success and its economic freedom is firmly established. If we want to stay at the top of the list, we need to reclaim the language of reform.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 14 January, 2011. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

A letter to the Warmists from flood-hit Queensland

I am sitting here in my home in South East Queensland, watching the news come in about the flooding everywhere. Entire suburbs around Brisbane and several smaller towns are either isolated by flood-waters or have been evacuated. Highways are cut everywhere.

People have been dying. So far about 20 people have died in the past week – nine just this morning when a deluge went through the Lockyer Valley. Most of them children. Another 70 are missing. One could put it all down to “just” weather.

Except EXACTLY the same floods occurred in EXACTLY the same places back in 1974, with much the same tragic loss of life and destruction of property.

Back then we weren’t nearly as clever and learned as you think yourselves to be today. Back then we had this silly notion that climate was cyclical, and if we didn’t prepare for it, we would have a repeat of the same tragedies to deal with in “about thirty years”. That was the thinking of the scientists back then – that climate went in roughly thirty year cycles.

Flood mitigation programs were planned. A series of levee banks and diversionary dams would be built. Brisbane and SE QLD would NEVER suffer such devastation again. After all, we had thirty years to plan and build and improve.

And that’s what we did – or at least started. Wivenhoe Dam got built as the first step, but by the time it was finished clever people like you lot who “knew” that such things were never going to happen again had taken over. CO2 AGW madness had already taken hold.

Instead we had “post modern” minds like Tim Flannery “advising” the government that because of Anthropogenic Global Warming, SE QLD would be perpetually in drought from then on. “Forget dams and flood mitigation programs”, intoned the wise Dr Tim – “build desalination plants instead”.

So that’s what our government did. And that is why thirty five years later, we are once again suffering exactly the SAME tragic loss of life and destruction of property, pretty-much exactly where, and when, and how, those stupid scientists who foolishly believed climate was cyclical had predicted.

Meanwhile our billion dollar desalination plant is quietly being mothballed, and emergency crews are frantically trying to work out how they might be able to save nineteen thousand homes from destruction in the next couple of days, as the Lockyer deluge hits Brisbane. Wise Dr Tim Flannery has been made ‘Australian of the Year” for his contributions.

I google on the internet for climate extremes and climate-related disasters in the 1972 – 1979 period – the period of the last transition in the natural weather cycle, and I find that it wasn’t a good period in many places around the world. Record and near record high – and low temperatures, record and near-record precipitation, and so on. Floods and droughts pretty-much mimicking what is happening now, and in pretty-much the same places.

I also noted that the indicators of the “silly” theory of the cyclical nature , ocean and atmospheric, are pretty much exactly as they are now.

I have to admit it could all get a bit depressing. But then I remember that the world is in the capable hands of much cleverer people than those silly scientists back in the Seventies who believed climate was cyclical. Now the decisions are being made by clever people like Dr Tim Flannery

– and you.

That is when I weep for my fellow Man.


Very few working-class votes in gay marriage

Christopher Pearson

ONE of the more startling facts about contemporary politics is the way the ALP is being steadily cannibalised.

On one hand, it is bleeding a growing share of inner-city professionals to the Greens. On the other, it seems determined to vacate the field in the outer suburbs to Tony Abbott's brand of mild social conservatism.

Where once Labor's Right provided most of the party's ballast and intellectual leadership there is now almost a vacuum, the political culture that enabled the rise of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

No one now in federal cabinet seems able to project a view of the ALP's abiding values that would have been recognisable to the people who first elected the Hawke government. Labor has become, almost by default, the aggressively secularist party Lindsay Tanner wanted it to be.

The gap between the party's elected representatives and its traditional support base has been emerging as a given since the Keating era. Accordingly, Labor hardheads such as Gary Johns, Keating's special minister of state, and The Australian's editor-at-large, Paul Kelly, have often waxed eloquent about the electoral prospects of seemingly entrenched mainstream parties that stray too far from their origins.

Dennis Glover, a speechwriter for Labor leaders from Kim Beazley to Mark Latham, has a more optimistic take on matters. Writing in Thursday's edition of The Australian, he said: "In a world in which public administration has become complex and global, requiring ever higher levels of education, technical command and cultural sophistication, there is an inevitable tendency for politicians to become distanced from working-class voters.

"There is a reason why train drivers no longer become prime ministers and it's not just because Labor has supposedly been hijacked by 'the dregs of the middle class', as some of Labor's false friends often put it. Professionalism affects all parties."

It's worth noting in passing that the author of the line about Labor's capture by the dregs of the middle class was Kim Beazley Sr, who as a long-serving MHR was well-placed to make such a judgment. It also seems to me that what Glover calls professionalism could more aptly be described as the triumph of the apparatchiks.

A clear majority of ALP candidates were previously union operatives or political staffers. The same is true of a small percentage of Liberals, but on the whole the people who occupy the Coalition benches come from a much more diverse range of occupations.

Is it true, as Glover claims, that politicians with more education and sophistication will inevitably tend to become distanced from working-class voters?

It may be increasingly the case with senators elected on a party list, but for MHRs I suspect the answer is not necessarily, unless they have safe seats and can delegate most of their constituency work to staffers. The holders of marginal seats normally have a fair idea of popular sentiment in their own neck of the woods.

Again Glover takes a sunny-side-up approach, blaming the caution of parties of the Left on timidity and being misled by focus groups and talkback radio. "Too many progressive politicians have internalised the idea that the working class is a bastion of political, social, economic, cultural and environmental reaction." To put it another way: "Social-democrat parties almost invariably discount the progressiveness of their electoral base, especially their working-class base."

Why is he so confident? It turns out that Glover has been conducting a focus group of his own. "At a series of recent extended family get-togethers and school reunions I made a point of asking people's opinions about the one issue we are forever being told lies at the heart of the supposedly unbridgeable cultural divide between the conservative working class and the permissive inner-city 'elites': gay marriage."

He concedes some problems with the sample. "I'm prepared to admit they comprise a statistically meaningless collection of a little more than two dozen individuals between the ages of 40 and 75, gathered mostly from the outer suburbs of Melbourne."

However, he argues: "Because I know these people, their families, the schools they went to and the influences that formed them, I know also that they represent the heart of post-war working-class Australia."

In the unlikely event that nervous members in marginal seats are carried away by this sort of rhetoric, let me sound a note of caution. As a homosexual member of the baby-boomer generation with a working-class father and a middle-class mother, I've out of necessity made a lifetime's study of Australian attitudes on this and related questions.

In my experience, prior to the late 1970s men of all classes were markedly more inclined to adopt a live and let live attitude than women, especially if they'd served in the war or done national service. What would at the time have been called respectable working-class people of both sexes were generally more disposed to stern judgment than their middle-class counterparts until well into the 90s. An at-least-notionally relaxed attitude was a marker of upward mobility from the mid-60s and a default position for most university graduates from the 80s.

As I see it, what lie at the heart of post-war working-class Australia are extended family and tribal bonds of attachment. Anything that's likely to impinge adversely on family life, in the way coming out openly as a homosexual so often does, is apt to be perceived as a threat.

Then there are all the households of every social class where religion plays even a residual part. I doubt that Glover or most of the self-styled progressives could imagine what the sacrament of marriage means to them and the strength of their opposition to same-sex weddings.

It is worth spelling out that none of the mainstream churches sanctions homophobic behaviour - not even the Sydney Anglicans - these days. That doesn't mean that they don't or shouldn't take a hard line on homosexual activity. They mostly do.

Only one of Glover's focus group of 25 said he was opposed to gay marriage and that it wouldn't influence his vote because "he had bigger concerns".

Glover says the rest of his friends, and especially the women, "instinctively grasped that gay marriage is about justice . . . This shouldn't surprise us, because people such as Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres and Elton John have made gay equality a given."

I give working-class Australians far more credit than that. They didn't need foreign television stars and singers to teach them about equality in the first place and most of them will rely on far more discerning judges when the pros and cons of gay marriage are debated.


14 January, 2011


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG imagines a minor tragedy in the Queensland floods. For overseas readers I maybe should mention that Queensland's best known beer is identified as: XXXX (Fourex)

Governments subsidize folly

With sometimes fatal results

WITH memories of the Victorian bushfires still fresh, the Queensland floods are yet another grim reminder of how cruel the Australian environment can be. The scale of the disaster, with its terrible loss of life, requires us to consider whether present policies properly manage the risks that environment creates.

The simple answer is that they do not. Rather, successive governments have allowed development in high-risk areas without requiring that development, and more generally those areas' populations, to face a price signal that properly reflects the costs those risks create. This has attracted additional activity to risk-prone areas, compounding the pain when catastrophes occur.

At the heart of the problem is the fact that each time disaster strikes, governments cover a large share of the losses borne by homeowners and businesses. This amounts to providing insurance at no charge, subsidising activity in high-risk areas at the expense of the areas where risks are lower.

Moreover, the willingness of governments to underwrite these risks at no charge has increased steadily since the Menzies government expanded drought relief in the 1960s, with ever fewer disciplines being imposed on public disaster assistance.

The unsurprising side-effect has been to reduce the take-up of private insurance, with the result that developers, homeowners and businesses are not exposed to the premiums that could force them to recognise the risk locating in disaster-prone areas involves.

That reduction in demand for private disaster insurance is then compounded by other distortions. High taxes on insurance are the most perverse of these, as they both discourage insurance take-up by low-income consumers and shift what demand there is to policies with high deductibles.

As well as suppressing demand, state and local governments reduce the supply of private insurance, particularly against floods. They do this by not providing adequately detailed maps of flood proneness. Deprived of that information, insurers cannot align premiums with risks, forcing them to charge high prices so as to reduce the losses to which they might otherwise be exposed.

This effect is substantial, with international studies suggesting that where reliable evidence on risk-proneness is unavailable, premiums are 25 per cent higher than need be. And in addition to responding by increasing premiums, insurers expand the range of exclusions, making insurance cover even less attractive.

The overall impact, cumulated over many years, is threefold. First, excused from the need to pay risk-reflective premiums, activity in disaster-prone areas expands beyond the point where its benefits exceed its costs, with the shortfall being foisted on to taxpayers who finance the "free" insurance governments provide. As property values rise, the quantum of the shortfall increases, compounding the distortion.

Second, absent an explicit price on risk, there are too few incentives for risk mitigation. Homeowners, for example, have less to gain from local government initiatives to reduce risk exposure, weakening the pressure for those initiatives to be undertaken. And for the same reason, there is less opposition to developments that increase risk than there should be.

Third, a vicious spiral is created, in which the increased scale of the population affected and the losses incurred, combined with low levels of insurance coverage, make it inevitable governments will step in with generous disaster relief.

This then merely confirms that taking out proper insurance coverage is individually irrational, reducing coverage ever further below adequate levels and accentuating pressures for future bail-outs.

A forthcoming paper by Anthony Bergin from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute canvasses options for breaking out of this morass. It is, in my view, impossible to do so without making disaster insurance coverage mandatory, offsetting the otherwise strong incentives for free-riding.

This is not to ignore the difficult issues mandatory coverage would raise. Nor is it to claim that insurance, with its risk-reflective price signal, would be a panacea. Rather, such a price signal will never be sufficiently granular, nor sufficiently responsive to individual mitigation efforts, to provide all the incentives for efficient investment in risk reduction.

There will therefore be a continuing role for building codes and other land use controls in managing the risks of catastrophic loss. But a price signal would reduce the load that has to be placed on those command and control regulations, with all the imperfections they inevitably entail.

But this does not exhaust the distortions that need to be addressed. Rather, it is also apparent that governments have underinvested in collective goods that could reduce catastrophic risks. Simply put, in cost-benefit evaluations of projects such as extending dams and building new ones, and of burning-off in high bushfire risk areas, too low a value has been put on avoiding outcomes with a very small probability of occurring but that result in massive costs if they do eventuate.

Environmentalists rightly stress the importance of taking these low probability-high consequence risks into account in the context of climate change. But they ignore those risks when it comes to decisions they dislike. And state and federal governments have been far too willing to bend project evaluation processes to pander to the greenies' demands. The result is to increase the likelihood of devastating loss.

We will never be able to completely avoid those losses, nor would it be sensible to try. The Australian environment has always been, and will always be, harsh and unforgiving, and the costs it imposes are inevitably high. But it is inexcusable for governments to make those costs greater than they need to be.

Now is a time to be generous. But as Queensland rebuilds, we owe the victims of this disaster a serious, considered reassessment of policies that have failed time after time, and that left as they are, will only fail again.


Greenie Boycott of Israel is beyond the pale

Anthony Albanese

AS part of Leonard Cohen's successful world comeback tour in 2009 he included a concert at Ramat Gan stadium near Tel Aviv in his itinerary.

For that he was condemned by some activists for promoting a cultural exchange in Israel. Never mind the fact that proceeds from this concert were directed to the Fund for Reconciliation, Tolerance and Peace. Groups which directly benefited included the Parents Circle, made up of both Palestinian and Israeli parents who have lost children in the Middle East conflict with the aim of promoting peace and reconciliation. Cohen described the concert as "representing a triumph over the inclination of the heart to despair, revenge and hatred".

The decision of the Greens Party-controlled Marrickville Council to "boycott all goods made in Israel and any sporting, academic, government or cultural exchanges", is unfortunate and misguided at best.

The council goes even further and suggests that any organisation or company with links to Israel should be boycotted also. It is not clear how much of ratepayer funds will be expended on this research.

It is doubtful how fair dinkum [genuine] the Greens Party councillors are, given that the resolution carried a month ago included a third point, that they would write to local parliamentary representatives "seeking their support at the state and federal level" and Greens mayor Fiona Byrne has not actually sent the correspondence.

It's not as if there are no policy challenges or local issues facing the mayor of Marrickville. The council is in the process of laying off staff, the mayor votes to close down Marrickville West Public School's childcare centre which provides vital support to disadvantaged families and the Greens have opposed a series of modest affordable housing proposals.

This ill thought-out attempt to challenge the state of Israel through a single local council in the inner west of Sydney is clumsy and counterproductive. I believe that engagement between peoples promotes understanding and tolerance and is worthwhile whether it be between national leaders or student exchanges.

Progressives have long argued for multilateral solutions to foreign policy issues and have therefore emphasised the role of the UN and other institutions. The Marrickville Council resolution contradicts this with its unilateral declaration that sanctions will be imposed and funded by ratepayers.

As Local Government Minister during Labor's first term I saw many examples of how local government has moved beyond rates, roads and rubbish, particularly in service delivery and community engagement.

International engagement through the development of sister cities programs is, in my view, positive as it promotes understanding and tolerance across geographic distances and cultural divides.

As a strong advocate of justice for Palestinians I, along with Joe Hockey, established the parliamentary Friends of Palestine group and was its founding secretary. Any lasting resolution to the Middle East conflict cannot be at the expense of either Palestinians or Israelis. Surely contact and engagement between Palestinians and Israelis is a precondition for a peaceful settlement.

If simplistic slogans were enough to resolve this issue it would have become a historical footnote of the last century.

Australians are making a contribution to global tolerance by the way that we have developed as a multicultural society. The inner west of Sydney is a microcosm of what is desirable in the international community, a place where neighbours live in harmony regardless of religion or race.

As it stands all those who attended the recent concerts of Leonard Cohen are in violation of the decree from the Marrickville mayor made on their behalf; lucky Cohen didn't try to perform at the Enmore Theatre!


Greens responsible for inadequate dams

There should be a weir across every flood-prone river in Queensland. A Leftist critic below points out why it has not happened

NO new dams of significant size have been built in Australia for more than two decades. During the recent long drought, the dam question arose again but the response from experts and governments was along the lines of: "Why build a dam if the climate has permanently changed in a way that means there will be less rain in future?

Opposition to dams has been a key success in the development of the green movement and the Greens party since the early 1980s. But the term opposition understates the situation: it is really demonisation of dams. In the Green quasi-religion, dams are evil, akin to a Satanic force. Thus, there must never be any big new dams built. Not ever. The Green policy is expressed at their website as a principle: "There should be no new large-scale dams on Australian rivers."

Had the Greens been as influential in the second half of the 1970s as they have been since the mid-80s, it is unlikely that the Wivenhoe Dam, on the Brisbane River, 80km from Brisbane, would have been constructed. (After years of planning and building, it was opened in 1984.)

The Wivenhoe was designed, following massive floods in 1974, with a flood mitigation function alongside the usual water supply role. Like all dams, it is an example of human beings changing the natural world, by unnatural means, into something very useful and necessary to us in terms of our needs, standard of living and future progress.

To the Green mentality and ethos, changing nature is destroying nature, dams are an assault on the "delicate balance" in nature, an example of human arrogance going too far.

In this regard, the Green outlook is a remapping of traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs and myths about the Garden of Eden and fall from grace as a result of humans eating from the tree of knowledge. We polluted the garden with our progress and Judgment Day is coming for us all, but we may seek salvation through 'sustainability'.

It is indicative of our strange times that opposition to dams, as a matter of principle, can be seen as left-wing. What is the traditional practice of left-wing parties in power on this question? What is the left-wing theoretical foundation for a policy on dams?

In practice, revolutionary left-wing parties in power - such as the communists in Russia/Soviet Union in the 20s and 30s and China in the 50s and 60s - were gung-ho in the building of dams. They did so because making a revolution is about changing things for the better, raising the standards of living and opportunities for liberation from wage slavery. To borrow from Karl Marx, it's about "unleashing the productive forces" - not forcing them into a sustainable relationship with nature.

It's about an attitude based on "You ain't seen nothin' yet!", not "tread gently - nature's resources are finite". But this is red politics, not green.

In chapter one of The Communist Manifesto, Marx expressed his enthusiasm for the revolutionary consequences of the rise of the new bourgeoisie in transforming nature and extending human horizons. He said: "It has been the first to show what man's activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades."

It is unlikely that he would not have been as awe-inspired by the wonders of large-scale dam construction and the range of benefits on such a vast scale arising from dams: the capture and storage of safe and reliable water supply, generation of hydro-electricity, irrigation, flood mitigation and recreational uses (all on a scale unimaginable in Marx's time).

The Wivenhoe Dam on the Brisbane River worked effectively in mitigating bad floods around Brisbane in 1999 but, alas, despite its 1.4 million megalitre flood mitigation capacity (on top of its water supply capacity of 1.1 million megalitres) it could not stop the extensive damage that occurred during the current floods.

There needs to be debate about all this. To what extent did the Wivenhoe mitigate the flooding of Brisbane? How much worse would it have been without that mitigation capacity?

And, while rejecting dogmatic opposition to dams, let's look to the future: geo-engineering and its possible roles in controlling rainfall.

It always strikes me, when these issues arise, how backward the social system of capitalism really is. Human lives and billions of dollars are lost, yet only a pittance is invested in geo-engineering research and development, let alone dams, and even that is contested by the reactionaries.


NSW: Aboriginal land council accused of theft and fraud

Among Aborigines, obligations to relatives far outweigh obedience to whitefella's law. So results like the one alluded to below are routine

Authorities are investigating allegations of theft and fraud at the Wellington Local Aboriginal Land Council. The Aboriginal Affairs Minister, Paul Lynch, has appointed an administrator to take over the organisation for the second time in two years.

Wagga based administrator, Andrew Bowcher, appointed a new board and Chief Executive in 2009. However he says in the past year the organisation has deteriorated.

"The Wellington Aboriginal Land Council unfortunately has for a period of months not been functioning," he said. "They haven't had their doors open, they haven't been able to have regular meetings and get the land council sort of moving. "There's been some allegations of some theft and fraud which we've got to work through as well."

Mr Bowcher says a meeting will be held with members next week to consider the council's financial position and the whereabouts of books and records. "It does seem like there are accounts owing and I'd encourage any creditor or anyone who is owed money by the land council to contact us," he said. "It is important that we get a good position of what is outstanding out there and the quantum of that as well."


13 January, 2011

Contempt for Australians from Australia's Federal government

Gillard pledges $500M to Indonesia for Islamic schools

Gillard promises $160M to Vietnam for new bridge

Gillard offers $45M to aid Indonesia for climate change

So how much did she donate to Queensland flood victims?

Wait for it ....

A token $1M.

After pressure on her some increase will no doubt flow through but her initial reaction shows her priorities -- and it's not Australians. Getting Kevvy a United Nations seat is another matter, however: No expense spared to buy that.

Government is part of the problem with flood insurance

AUSTRALIA is subjected to increasingly frequent and severe weather-related events, particularly flooding.

Yet the tragedy in Queensland and the resultant economic devastation for so many individuals and communities will inevitably happen again if changes are not implemented promptly.

Weather-related disasters cost Australia billions of dollars each year. The economic costs are escalating, with a great proportion of these costs directly attributable to flooding. Yet despite this trend our insurance system is grossly inadequate to deal with widespread flood-related devastation.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that many living in areas traditionally prone to flooding are effectively denied access to insurance. The legal regulatory system dealing with insurance allows for the private insurance market to be selective about risk and to decline insurance in areas where flooding may occur.

Even where flood insurance is available, the cost is so high that only the very rich have access to a service that should be available to all members of the public.

This cost is partially attributable to profiteering of the commercial players, but is equally the responsibility of state governments. Where profiteering occurs, it is the result of a systematic failure to ensure that there is adequate transparency and accountability within the legal regulatory regime controlling insurance.

One hidden aspect of insurance is that the cost is substantially increased by an inefficient state tax regime which creates a double tax burden. As a result, these products are taxed at the same level as luxuries such as alcohol and tobacco. Creating such costs is a disincentive and falsely suggests insurance is a luxury rather than a necessity.

In Queensland, insurance is subject to GST and stamp duty on top of the base premium. In other states, such as Victoria and NSW, there is a third layer of taxation, the fire services levy. These taxes inflate insurance without filling government coffers. For example, if insurers charged the Insurance Council of Australia's recommended rates for this levy in Victoria between 1999 and 2003, they would have collected $46.85 million , supposedly for the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, and $3.68m purportedly for the Country Fire Authority. Yet this amount, which exceeded the taxes they actually had to pay, did not need to be given to the government, the fire authorities or returned to policy holders, and hence was kept by insurers. This inefficiency in the tax system has led to a situation where some Australian states are notorious for taxing insurance policies at the highest rate in the world.

The problem with the way insurance is taxed has been earmarked for change, yet nothing has been done. As early as 2003, with the collapse of the insurance giant HIH, calls were made to reform state taxation of insurance.

Last year there were two further calls for change to the state taxation of insurance products. In May, the Henry tax review suggested state transactional taxes should be abolished. In July, when the final report of the 2009 Victorian bushfires royal commission was handed down, state governments were reprimanded for the inefficiency with which insurance products are taxed and the resultant financial ruin for those without adequate levels of insurance.

Essentially, these recommendations have been ignored.

It makes no sense to preclude access to insurance and leave vulnerable individuals to suffer the outcome of inadequate insurance regimes. The market failure is obvious. If the risk is too high, private insurers will simply decline insurance products.

Yet the government has shied away from providing such insurance. Individuals are left emotionally drained by the events and unable to recover financially. The heartache is even greater for those who tried to obtain insurance and were rejected.

At the same time, the inefficiency within the existing insurance regime creates a huge burden for the government, exposing it to potential liability of $53.3 billion in uninsured property and $48.4bn in uninsured household contents. An event of the magnitude of the floods in Queensland has national ramifications. Enabling access to affordable insurance would alleviate the burden for all: individuals, the community and governments.

Essentially the government's failure to acknowledge the problem and create workable solutions is increasing the levels of poverty in society. Having no insurance or inadequate insurance is a huge sociological problem that simply cannot be ignored.

Ultimately, these people are forced, in the absence of access to insurance, to rely on government handouts and public benevolence. For many people, this is not a situation they want to be placed in. Our leaders must wake up: how many more floods need to occur? How many more lives have to be devastated before the government will realise flood insurance should be a priority? The government has the power and the resources to remedy the potential economic consequences of weather-related disasters.

Australia should learn from the international experience. In the US, many lenders will not finance a mortgage unless the borrower has insurance, discouraging people from buying properties in high-risk areas. Where the insurance market declined the risk of insuring people in flood-prone areas, the government has worked with communities to develop flood plans to foster resilience should a flood occur, as well as subsidising insurance products.

The lesson to be learned from the US example is that the system facilitates choice so that individuals can have access to insurance to protect their financial interests.

Australian governments should also be more proactive about not allowing areas to be zoned for development if there is a likelihood that it may be subject to extreme weather-related disasters, whether flooding or bushfire. The government should not, however, change the residential zoning of areas where people already reside, as this could lead to financial ruin for property owners in the area. Rather, given that the government has allowed residential properties in areas that are subject to flooding, it should make sure these people at least have the option to insure.

Much money is spent in the aftermath of a catastrophic event. More funding needs to be allocated to resilience and education. People must know of the risks and the methods that can be adopted to mitigate any losses they may suffer. More significantly, however, insurance should be available at an affordable rate where catastrophe strikes.


Academic paints a picture of arts as a priority in classrooms

The recommendations below seem overblown but there is no doubt that our cultural heritage should be taught: Poetry, drama, literature generally. Yet precisely that has been largely erased from school curricula in recent decades. I doubt that all children should be taught specialized skills such as painting, potting, sculpture and dance, however. I think that can safely be left to specialized courses for those with a particular inclination in that direction

The arts should be embedded in the teaching of all subjects as a way of cultivating creativity and imagination in schoolchildren, according to a paper published yesterday by the Australian Council for Educational Research.

The paper, by the University of Sydney academic Robyn Ewing, highlights international research that shows students who are exposed to the arts achieve better academic results, are more engaged at school and less likely to leave early, and have better self-esteem than students who do not have access to the arts.

Professor Ewing said integrating the arts with other disciplines had the potential to engage students who were unmotivated by traditional forms of learning, lifting their performance in other subjects, such as science and maths.

She expressed concern that the publication of results from national literacy and numeracy tests was contributing to a neglect of other kinds of learning.

"If we don't empower kids to think creatively and to be imaginative and also to see things from a range of different perspectives, which is what the arts do, we're selling them short in a world in which actual knowledge is changing so rapidly," she said.

The review of hundreds of Australian and international research studies comes as the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority develops a national curriculum for the arts.

Under the proposed curriculum, due to be published next year, the arts, including dance, drama, media arts, music and visual arts, would be mandated for every student from the first year of school to year 8 for a minimum of two hours a week.

Professor Ewing said policymakers needed to change the way they thought about the arts, and treat it as a priority rather than an add-on.

She said governments had not matched their rhetorical commitment to the arts with resources for arts education and teacher professional development.

"In lots of schools the arts is on the fringe, but it could be so powerful if it was embedded."

She said children from affluent families were more likely to be touched by the arts through visits to museums and art galleries, and through theatre and concert performances, and their parents were more often able to pay for art and music lessons. Yet children living in poverty or who were vulnerable or at risk often stood to benefit the most from the arts.


Medical training in critical condition

By Professor Bruce Robinson, dean of the Medical School at the University of Sydney. He fears a shortage of internship places similar to what has been seen in Britain and elsewhere. He offers some solutions

In my office recently I saw a patient with a large pituitary tumour. It was causing multiple symptoms, including partial blindness. The patient didn't require surgery; his condition can be managed with medication and he will be cared for entirely as an outpatient.

Consequently, although young doctors in training - interns, residents and specialists-in-training - could have learnt much from this person and his condition, it is unlikely they will cross paths with him.

This is not an isolated case. During my 30 years of practice, hospitals have become places where only acutely sick people and those requiring elective surgery are admitted. This represents a small fraction of the work of clinicians in 2011, much of which deals with chronic illness.

Clinical training programs for young doctors, though, have changed little in the past three decades. While opportunities have increased for students and young doctors to undertake some of their training in general practices, they rarely spend time in specialist rooms. Nor in private hospitals or health centres, such as Aboriginal Medical Services. Nor do they benefit from the brilliant training opportunities available internationally, particularly in Asia and the Pacific.

Postgraduate medical training in Australia generally consists of a one-year internship and one or two years of residency. Graduates cannot be registered to practise without completing an internship. To become a specialist generally requires between five and seven years' further training either in a hospital or in general practice, depending on the specialty.

The theme that has underpinned most of the clinical training of young Australian doctors is "only public hospitals and only in Australia". The result: not only are we unnecessarily placing additional pressures on the already struggling public hospital system, but trainee medical staff are missing many important lessons in patient care. This is to our detriment.

The Herald recently reported on the predicament of international medical students in the invidious position of being able to complete their medical degrees but unable to secure internships. Training certainly does not stop after internship; further training is required for all young doctors to become proficient, and there are inadequate places to accommodate future requirements.

So far the state has fortunately been able to provide intern positions for all who require them. All graduates from last year were offered places and in NSW we understand there will be sufficient positions for those who complete their studies this year.

But if it ever comes to the point where medical graduates are denied the opportunity to work as doctors because governments have not provided sufficient training places, it would be both a disaster for the individuals and a poor reflection on the state and federal governments who fund and manage health workforce training.

We have a critical shortage of medical practitioners. Australia spends millions advertising internationally for doctors. Denying work opportunities to smart, well trained and motivated medical graduates from our own universities when we need doctors defies reasonable sense.

Governments and their agencies responsible for ensuring adequate numbers of health professionals need to improve their performance.

A shortage of internship places looms and new positions must be provided. Unless the number of specialist training positions increases significantly, a similar shortage is inevitable. But it is not simply a question of numbers.

Broadening the training opportunities for young clinicians will, ultimately, improve the quality of our medical workforce. We know the solutions. Instead of relying on big city hospitals, we could have more specialty training positions in country hospitals. We could have more young doctors learning in specialist rooms, and we could place these doctors overseas where they would be exposed to different ways of preventing and managing illness and allocating resources. All these non-traditional settings - that is, non-Australian public hospitals - offer rich opportunities for gaining one ingredient that contributes to becoming a good doctor: experience.


12 January, 2011

Gimme dat ol' time religion

Fundamentalist Pastor says Kevin Rudd to blame for floods

A Christian pastor has blamed Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd for the floods devastating Queensland.

That's because Mr Rudd "spoke against Israel" in December 2010, Daniel Nalliah from the Catch the Fire Ministries has written on his website. "It is very interesting that Kevin Rudd is from Queensland. Is God trying to get our attention? I believe so," he said.

Mr Rudd, during a visit to Israel in December, called on the Jewish state to allow international inspectors into its nuclear facilities. He also called for a halt to the construction of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Mr Nalliah said every time America went against Israel there was "disaster in the land." He sees the Queensland floods as a parallel.

In 2008, Mr Nalliah caused controversy when he said bushfires that killed scores of people in Victoria were a result of that state's decriminalisation of abortion.


Some skepticism about religious education

We are all so concerned about nabbing the hearts and minds of our littlies.

Childhood is seen as critical in the battle for the brain. Is it because children are seen as malleable meat for the proselytisers and propagandists? Or is it because this is a stage of life where compulsion is often mandated, so you have them trapped. Either way, both godless and godly are battling for educational air space.

There is a national debate surreptitiously raging about what godly or ungodly stuff should cleanse or pollute their tiny developing minds. Nationally, the Labor government has poured hundreds of millions into the Howard-created National School Chaplaincy Program, which may face a challenge as unconstitutional in the High Court. So God promotion is now bipartisan. But it always was.

Wayne Goss’s Labor government in Queensland created the chaplaincy program in that state in the early 1990s, and Labor’s premier Peter Beattie upped the ante in 2006, pledging $3 million for the program after five Liberal MPs started baying for Jesus. In Melbourne, during the state election campaign, then education minister Bronwyn Pike refused to allow the Humanist Society of Victoria to teach in religious education time as it is not a religion. That spat is headed for the courts and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. The new Baillieu government has not yet made its view known on this matter. In NSW, the St James Ethical Centre conducted a successful trial on a secular ethics course, and the NSW Labor government has had to introduce legislation to ensure the Coalition can't dump the classes if it gets into government (given how on the nose NSW Labor is, this is a prudent move).

I suppose you expect me to rail against those politicians, scared of the Christian backlash, cravenly court the God vote. And part of me does want to throw that predictable tantrum. But before I do, let me opine on the question of how just how impressionable is the malleable meat of childhood. The orthodoxy is that the teaching of the parents’ incumbent faith moulds the brain forever. This is reflected in the Jesuit motto ‘‘Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man’’, allegedly based on a gender-specific observation of St Francis Xavier. But that phrase was crafted in an age where one could monopolise the data input into your children’s brains and what is more, emphasise it with terrifying corporal punishment. Tragically, we live in a different world where kids have power and access.

Modernity might alter the Jesuit orthodoxy. I just wonder how influential all this godly and godless peddling might be in the future. Certainly the mullahs of Iran, kept in power by a violent military dictatorship, abhor and are powerless before the liberation of the young offered by the internet. The young mind is now free to roam the world in search of inspiration and education. Some tedious teacher sermonising on God in any land seems lame to the power 10.

Let me give a trite but emblematic illustration. One weekend, I am travelling down St Kilda Road in Melbourne with my 21-year-old daughter and I pass a building that has loomed large in my life. The Melbourne Synagogue is extraordinary. It stands out like a beacon with the incandescent green verdigris of its massive faux-Byzantine dome. It was the place of my bar mitzvah and endless days of compulsory worship. I must have spoken of it endlessly. And yet my daughter, who was compelled to study secular Judaism for her humanist bat mitzvah for a couple of years, insouciantly asks, ‘‘What’s that building?’’ I was horrified. How could she not know the building that played such a massive role in my life, our neighbourhood and our conversations?

Well the point is that the values of her upbringing count for not much when competing with all of the other intellectual sources of data in her life. She, like most engineering students, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of alcoholic beverages; a dazzling dexterity on Facebook; an exhaustive knowledge of contemporary musicians and, being slight of stature, an expertise is surfing mosh pits.

And so I have a somewhat jaundiced view of the competing battles to proselytise the young. The propaganda can be self-defeating. Adults have an endless moral panic about the young. We have some justifiable fears that they will kill themselves sticking junk up their arms or drink down their gullets. But we take those justifiable (although sometimes exaggerated) fears and extend them to other areas such as their cultural ignorance and moral turpitude.

I lament the fact that my kids don’t know the King James Bible and are religiously illiterate. But there is nothing I can do about it. And I think there is not much that the educational bovver boys of faith and the supine politicians they have snared can do either. I reckon the Chaplaincy Program is pouring an immoral amount of money down the educational toilet. There is nothing more boring and alienating than RE teachers. They are the unwittingly the assault pioneers of unbelief.


Donation cap limits speech, warns academic

LIMITS on political donations will limit free speech, an academic expert on campaign finance has warned.

The Greens have been accused of "moral bankruptcy" by Liberal Senate leader Eric Abetz for accepting $1.6 million from Graeme Wood, the founder of online travel giant Wotif -- the largest individual donation in Australian political history -- while pressing for a ban on gifts from individuals worth more than $1000.

Centre for Independent Studies fellow Andrew Norton said the donation demonstrated the altruistic nature of most campaign contributions.

"It's a transparent case of a purely ideologically motivated donation," he said yesterday. Mr Norton said there was normally no way to judge what motivated donations, but warned: "If you try to ban donations to buy influence on a particular party, you also ban all other donations."

He said the donation showed the Greens and minor parties could prosper within the existing campaign finance framework, which was "not inherently rigged". He warned that the cap on donations demanded by the Greens would dampen debate.

"What it does is restrict successful campaigning to groups that already have existing large constituencies in the community, either parties that have existing support bases or causes people are in favour of," he said.

Overseas political donations have already been banned under the accord struck between Labor and the Greens last August, yet the Greens received significant support from overseas donors.

Mr Norton pointed to an unintended consequence of NSW laws capping political donations and campaign expenditure. "Candidates can still spend their own money," he said. "It will be similar to the US, where people who are rich, incumbent and celebrities have an advantage as they already have the money or the profile or both."


Australia pressured to speed up skilled migrant applications

More than 140,000 skilled workers hoping to migrate to Australia are caught up in a departmental backlog going back over two years.

Immigration minister Chris Bowen was informed of the backlog in a secret briefing with Australia's Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) late last year, but the details of the briefing have only just been made public.

The backlog has been widely criticised by businessmen who believe that the number of skilled migrants in Australia needs to be swiftly increased in order to help the country ride out the economic crisis.

Australia's rapid recovery from the worldwide economic problems of the past few years has led to what business leaders say is a shortage of workers in many sectors, including engineering, construction and health care, and a consequent risk of inflated wages.

Graham Kraehe, director of the Reserve Bank of Australia, told The Australian: ”I think skills shortages are a major problem and if we don’t increase the amount of skilled migration then we are going to have some real pressure on wages.

“Two things are critical: one is some measures to improve productivity, which has been very poor in the last three or four years and declining; and the second is to increase the skilled immigration quotas so we can address what is already a shortage and something that is putting pressure on project costs and more broadly will put pressure on wages costs in the community.”

A spokesman for the DIAC justified the backlog by saying that the government prioritised the order in which skilled migration applications were processed. “Priority goes to those applicants determined to bring the most benefit to Australia, not simply to those who applied first. For this reason, waiting times range from a few months, for those sponsored by employers, to a few years, for those who don’t have a sponsor or skills in need in Australia.

The issue is that many more people were applying for skilled migration than there were places in the programme, so the pipeline of applicants awaiting a decision continued to grow.”

Over the past 40 years, Austalia's population has grown at an average of 1.4 per cent per annum, bringing its total population in 2011 to around 22 million.

In the briefing, Mr Bowen was told that in order to keep the country economically powerful and fight the problems of an ageing population, Australia would need to have a population of 36 million by 2050 - the same figure which was enthusiastically embraced by ex-prime minister Kevin Rudd in 2009, when he spoke of his hopes for a “Big Australia.”

Since Julia Gillard came to power in June 2010 however, the government's emphasis on a “Big Australia” has switched to the idea of a "Sustainable Australia", with migration intake decreased from around 300,000 to 180,000 a year, and a stronger emphasis placed on making sure migrants' skills are needed.

In an interview on ABC programme PM, Mr Bowen said that he wanted to see the waiting figure reduced, but insisted that the “vast majority” of those people on the list were people “who the Department of Immigration have determined are people who are unlikely to have the skills necessary that the Australian economy needs at this point in time".

The spokesman for the DIAC said that waiting times had already begun to fall as a consequence of recent reforms. "The result is a programme that is driven by Australia’s labour market demand, rather than by the supply of people seeking skilled migration," he added.


11 January, 2011

Corrupt Victoria again

A MAJOR inquiry has been launched into the Office of Public Prosecutions and its embattled head over events that have split the state's most powerful prosecutors.

Attorney-General Robert Clark will today announce the inquiry into the functioning of the office of Director of Public Prosecutions, Jeremy Rapke, to be undertaken by former Supreme Court judge Frank Vincent.

This follows months of public allegations of an inappropriate relationship between Mr Rapke and young lawyer Diana Karamicov, one of three solicitors he promoted to the post of assistant crown prosecutor last July.

Mr Rapke and his deputy, Gavin Silbert, have been involved in a public spat for months and, although the two issued a statement vowing to work together in October, the inquiry has been launched to determine if the matters are effecting the administration of justice in Victoria.

Despite the fact his staff may be called to give evidence -- and could make allegations about his personal relationships -- Mr Rapke will remain in charge of the office, at least until Mr Vincent reports to the Government in March. Former attorney-general and current Deputy Opposition Leader Rob Hulls may also be asked to give evidence.

Mr Clark said the high-level inquiry was imperative so Victorians could be assured justice was not being undermined.

"It is vital that this office is operating at the highest possible standards of effectiveness in conducting prosecutions and appeals, and in securing appropriate sentences for convicted offenders," he said.

But the investigation has already been criticised because it will not require anyone to give evidence under oath -- meaning those invited to speak out will have no immunity to protect their jobs or guard against litigation for any statements made concerning some of the state's best lawyers.

"There's a big difference between people being asked to come forward and being subpoenaed to give evidence on oath," said one OPP lawyer yesterday. "It is difficult to put your job on the line." Another source inside the OPP said employees would be running for legal advice: "The worry is they'll probably be told not to talk."

At least 10 current and former lawyers from the office have indicated they would give evidence against Mr Rapke if the probe was given the power to take evidence under oath. Instead, their only protection may be if Mr Vincent decides to accept evidence and withhold their names from his final report, which he is entitled to do.

Mr Clark said the standing of a retired Supreme Court judge, acting independently at the request of the Government, should be more than enough assurance for anyone wanting to provide evidence.

Mr Rapke issued a statement saying he had been informed of the inquiry late yesterday afternoon but would not comment until he had a chance to consider its terms of reference.

Shadow attorney-general Martin Pakula said the operation and independence of the DPP must not be undermined by the inquiry. "When the Coalition were last in government they hounded the DPP from office," he said. "In line with their commitment to be open and transparent, the Attorney-General should commit to release the full report publicly."


Tasmania's legal opium trade

The legitimate opium trade is now one of Tasmania's most profitable businesses

WHILE governments around the world struggle to contain the illegal opium trade, hundreds of farmers in Tasmania are preparing to cash in on a multimillion dollar trade in legal opium.

The poppy is Tasmania's biggest export crop, and the industry regularly brings in millions of dollars for Tasmania.

While the trade is entirely legitimate, it is also tightly regulated, and farmers must undergo annual police checks if they want to have their licences renewed. "If we have a drug offence or anything else to our name, you will not get a license to grow", grower Mike Badcock told Sky News.

Poppy is a key component in pharmaceutical painkillers such as opium, morphine, and heroin, and the tiny island currently supplies almost half of the world's medicinal opiates.

Tasmania has a climate that is particularly conducive to poppy cultivation, and the poppy plants are harvested and processed on the island.


Anti-harassment laws considered

STUDENTS could be formally protected from cyber sexual harassment as the Federal Government this year examines ways to strengthen discrimination laws.

Breastfeeding women and people meeting family responsibilities may also be better protected.

The Independent Education Union of Australia said communications technologies including mobile phones, Facebook and emails play an important role in youths' social lives. "Yet too often these technologies are used to sexually harass and bully others," the union said. "The extent of cyber bullying is not currently contained by conventional notions of boundaries such as 'the workplace'."

The comments are contained in a submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, examining sex and age discrimination legislation with a view to strengthening laws.

In its submission the IEUA noted present laws did not protect students or staff at educational facilities from harassment by persons at other facilities.

The IEUA supported proposed amendments which would cover sexual harassment at inter-school activities, such as sporting carnivals or joint theatrical productions.

It also called for specific laws to deal with internet harassment and bullying. "IEUA believes it is imperative for legislation to provide strong protection by specifically making references to cyber harassment."

The IEUA also supported amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act to better protect people from discrimination on the grounds of family responsibility. "Discrimination because of family responsibility is one of the major issues facing both men and women in the workforce. There must be clear and direct protection from it in all forms," the submission said.

Breastfeeding women both at work and in other areas of public life also needed better protection, the union said.

The Australian Family Association supported proposed amendments broadening legal provisions regarding family responsibility. "Both men and women need to be protected in areas of their employment in caring for their children and relatives," it said.

The Family Association said sexual harassment was unacceptable and in the past had led to suicides and physical and mental illnesses.


Futile fight against fat

On New Year’s Day, as the Victorian and Northern Territory governments followed NSW, WA and the ACT by implementing laws preventing cigarettes from being put on display to the public, the Australian Medical Association (AMA) called for a $25 million TV and newspaper advertising campaign showing “damaged vital organs or people drinking liquefied body fat” to shock Australians into giving up junk food and sugary soft drinks.

The good doctors based their call upon a belief that the fear-based advertising campaigns used by the TAC (in Victoria) and Quit have been effective in changing behaviour around driving and smoking. The mistake that they are making is that there is much more to the change of behaviour in relation to driving and smoking than the shock advertisements that have formed part of these long social marketing campaigns.

The advertisements that the AMA are suggesting are based on similar advertisements launched by the New York Health Department in October, 2010, highlighting how much sugar is in a bottle of soft drink. A video that was released as part of the "Pouring on the Pounds" campaign aimed to “educate New Yorkers about the potentially serious health effects of consuming sugary drinks.”

One of the videos in the campaign showed a man drinking fat poured from a soft drink can with the tag saying, “drinking one can of soda a day, can make you 10 pounds fatter a year,” while another showed a man consuming sixteen packets of sugar to demonstrate the amount of sugar in an average-sized soft drink.

And at the far end of the obesity shock spectrum, a viral execution called “Break the Habit” developed as a community service by The Precinct Studio in October, 2010, featured a mother preparing to inject her son with heroin before the scene changed to show him eating a hamburger. The end tag read, “You wouldn’t inject your children with junk, so why are you feeding it to them?”

At face value, and amongst those who think that consumers are rational, thoughtful creatures that just need to be reminded of their vices to persuade them to change their behaviour, this seems like a reasonable approach.

Frighten the masses. Give 'em the facts. Change their behaviour.

But shock advertising, on its own, is unlikely to have the desired effect of getting people to stop eating junk food and eating more healthily. Research in marketing and consumer behaviour suggests that some forms of shock advertising can have the opposite effect of increasing attitudinal loyalty to the brand or the product category, particularly amongst regular users. One explanation is related to the need for the ego to protect itself against any attacks on previous decision-making, thus avoiding or combating feelings of guilt. Advocacy groups need to recognise that shock for its own sake does not change behaviour. An emotional creative execution is useful, because it helps the brain to form memory connections when our emotions are heightened, but we need to be careful not to activate the “reject” or flight response.

In a paper published in April 2010 in the Journal of Marketing Research, Nidhi Agrawal and Adam Duhachek found ads that were designed to trigger guilt amongst the target market actually triggered a defensive processing mechanism. This mechanism, they argued, was explained by the notion that people tend to think things will go much better for them than for the average person. In other words, we think our own personal greatness buffers us from all potential negative consequence, whether it’s driving, smoking, or eating junk food


10 January, 2011

British "elf n safety" paranoia comes to Australia

Father and pint-sized son get the festival cold shoulder

At not quite two years old, Hugh Price is a bit shy of 85 centimetres tall. So at the balmy early evening opening to the Sydney Festival on Saturday, Hugh's father hoisted him on to his shoulders for a better view of the six-piece Chinese folk band Hanggai.

Through the crowd of families at Martin Place, a security guard noted the move and approached Hugh's father, Sean. The child had to come down. He was in danger. Mr Price, of Newtown, thanked her and assured her Hugh was safe. Moments later, a male security guard gave the same instructions. Four more joined him and "surrounded" Mr Price, his wife, Meg Quinlisk, and Hugh.

"They said that I was putting my son in danger because someone could come running through the crowd and it would knock me and him to the ground," Mr Price said. "There was no danger. I had made an assessment as a parent does in that situation. It was early in the evening. There were just families around."

Feeling intimidated, they left. "I wasn't going to enjoy the performance. I felt like they were questioning my ability to parent," he said.

Festival organisers distanced themselves from the dispute. A spokeswoman said the guards were not acting on the instructions of organisers. "The instructions that security had from the festival were they should approach people who were obstructing sight line," she said. But that was not the case with Mr Price and Hugh. "The security guards went with their own reason," she said.

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties said the guards' behaviour was "completely inappropriate" and could be setting a serious legal precedent. "I've got an almost-two-year-old myself and she rides around on my shoulders all the time and she loves it," said the secretary, Stephen Blanks.

"It's giving the wrong message that security people are there for personal safety as opposed to crowd safety and there's a real difference," he said. "Once they start doing this … they're throwing up a legal nightmare for themselves."

The security company responsible for the area on Saturday, ACES, did not return the Herald's call yesterday.


NSW family says repeated surgery postponements caused more agony

Having an elderly loved one in hospital for more than four weeks, with a hip operation continually postponed, was too much for a Macquarie Fields family who lashed out yesterday at Campbelltown Hospital, calling on the Premier, Kristina Keneally, and the Minister for Health, Carmel Tebbutt, to intervene.

Alan Dwight, 67, a retired storeman, had a fall at his home on December 9 and was admitted to Campbelltown Hospital's emergency department that day. His wife, Irene, told the Herald that because of the continual postponements, other complications had set in.

Mr Dwight had surgery for bowel and bladder cancer 16 years ago. He has a colostomy bag and had trouble with his bowel, unable to, for a time, keep down his food. He had developed mild pneumonia and because of the repeated pre-operative fasts, had lost weight he could ill-afford to lose.

Mrs Dwight, 55, who has been married to Mr Dwight 33 years and has had four daughters, said that if the surgery had been done promptly, he would have been out of hospital, being cared for by his family.

"Week after week I have been promised and promised and promised," she said. "They told me they could not do the operation on weekends because they had no staff."

Barry Anderson, a friend of the family, said: "We got given some pretty poor excuses, like 'not enough nursing staff' and, 'It's busy because it's school holidays.' And even with that, for the first week he was in there, it wasn't school holidays.

"At around 4am on Christmas morning Alan couldn't breathe. He reached for the buzzer to call a nurse, but there wasn't one. He managed to get attention by smashing the tubes coming out of his arm on the bed rail repeatedly to make a clanging noise. We very nearly lost him …

"The hospital and his doctors had agreed to contact his wife Irene and or his daughters if anything happened and to keep us up to date but we didn't hear anything about this."

A spokesperson for the South-Western Area Health Service, which covers Campbelltown Hospital, said the hospital understood the distress of having a loved one in hospital at this time of year. Until now the patient was assessed as not well enough for surgery and that this would be performed when it is clinically appropriate.


Consumer group slams "nutrient" drinks

CHOICE is stepping up the campaign against vitamin water drinks, describing them as "expensive lolly waters" with hyperventilated health claims". Some contain a third of a woman's recommended daily sugar intake in one 500ml bottle.

The consumer advocate CHOICE first complained to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in 2008 that Coca Cola Amatil's Glaceau Vitamin Water made a mockery of food labeling laws, but the complaint was rejected. Since that time the market has been flooded with similar products such as Nutrient Water and Smart Water.

CHOICE spokeswoman Ingrid Just said Nutrient Water claimed its Cranberry Grapefruit Multi-Vitamin Water drink offered the same benefits as eight hours sleep, a bowl of steamed greens and pre-dawn power walks.

She said it was time to "get tough on potentially misleading promotions and labelling", such as 'nature approved ingredients' and 'natural flavours', "which mean nothing". "This type of labelling creates the impression that the drinks can be used as a safety net for a poor lifestyle when grabbing an apple and a glass of water will provide you with far more nutrients for a fraction of the cost," she said.

A spokesman for the ACCC would "neither confirm nor deny whether any investigations are underway". However recent actions include labeling changes for Sanitarium breakfast cereals and National Foods juices.

The ACCC was concerned that Berri Australian Fresh "Daily Juice" packaging suggested that it only contained juice that was recently squeezed, when in fact the products within this range may contain either fresh juice or a blend of fresh juice and aseptically stored juice. Sanitarium packaging suggested certain breakfast cereals contained more fruit than was actually the case.

CHOICE has called for the ACCC to take another look at the way vitamin waters are marketed. "These drinks are leading consumers up an imaginary garden path to health and vitality," Ms Just said. "Treat them like any other sugary or artificial drink; enjoy occasionally, not as a means to any kind of wellbeing whatever the label or pretty pictures might suggest."


Some vintage Bob Ellis

Julia Gillard is "not well informed" and is part of a Melbourne-based gang called The Mouse Pack, while Tony Abbott has "good manners", is "formidable" and possessed of a "first-class mind". So says Bob Ellis, party historian and speechwriter for, among others, Kim Beazley and Bob Carr.

Ellis has forged a political career out of telling it, brutally, as he sees it. Now he has a new book that's bound to ruffle a few feathers.

Even though Liberal leader Abbott (along with his wife and Tanya and Peter Costello) sued Ellis successfully for $277,000 for defamation, might there be the stirrings of curious bromance (despite it being a neologism that would surely make Ellis himself shudder) between the writer and the opposition leader?

"The person he most resembles, I've just decided, is Scott Fitzgerald," Ellis wrote in a review of Abbott's book. "The classic good looks, big flashing smile, easy Irish eloquence, angelic writing style, self-doubt, Catholic guilt, hot temper, Gatsby-like yearnings for past relationships long gone and luminous in remembrance, fondness for football and self-flagellation and his need for a son, all bespeak a literary genius drawn by life and lesser pursuits into spiritual shallows and drunken remorse like Scott, poor Scott."

He appears largely to have forgiven Abbott for the catastrophic lawsuit ("he was dragged into it by Costello") and has even discovered Abbott's socialist tendencies. "He is no more a Liberal than I am," Ellis says. "Liberal is the name of the suit he is wearing. He is actually a Catholic socialist. He's DLP [Democratic Labor Party] and always has been."

But Ellis draws the line at defending Abbott on the war in Afghanistan and the treatment of boat people. "It's odd isn't it," he muses. "So unf---ing Catholic."

This is vintage Ellis. He has always taken great glee, in his own lugubrious fashion, in being the wilful contrarian, writing and saying whatever he damn well pleases to the point where he can seem possessed with a kind of intellectual Tourette's. It's a compulsion that has, inevitably, stirred up much conflict along the way.

There was that defamation action, which resulted in the first run of his book Goodbye Jerusalem being pulped, and numerous public spats with his enemies on the left and right. Then there was the tawdry episode in 1999 that remains lodged in the public consciousness; accused of having an affair with scriptwriter Alexandra Long that left her pregnant, Ellis read a statement on ABC radio revealing excruciating details of the pair's encounter in a Sydney hotel room. The upshot of Ellis's defence was that a "not unprecedented bout of impotence" meant he could not be the father (a claim subsequently disproved by a DNA test).

Nothing it appears - not even his own humiliation - will stop Ellis telling it how he thinks it is. His marriage to scriptwriter and novelist Anne Brooksbank, whom he met in 1966, survived the episode and he has continued hurling incendiary devices from the sidelines of Australian politics in books and essays ever since.

This year's federal election has proved particularly fertile ground for Ellis's writing, forming the backdrop of his latest book Suddenly, Last Winter, a diarised account of events, starting with the hasty ascension of Julia Gillard to the leadership. And it is for Gillard, who is "sudden, firm and wrong" in everything she does, that Ellis reserves some of his most acidic barbs.

"She's not well-informed," he says. "She hasn't, I think, read a novel or seen a film with subtitles and I doubt if she has read Encounter or the New Statesman or Vanity Fair or Harper's or the London Review of Books or The New York Review of Books and therefore she doesn't have hinterland. She has not much except a kindergarten sandpit response to things: 'Nyah, nyah you're just jealous because I'm prime minister and you're not.'

"It's perfectly all right for some reason if you are deputy prime minister to do that but when you are prime minister, you have to speak for the nation and I don't think she has discovered what that is.

"One thing is sure - there will be no Gillard era. This is not a 20-year stretch. Civilised people's hands are already over their faces every time she speaks. That cannot last. She has no power, no influence, no friends, no learning. There's not much there."

So is there no way back for her? Ellis pauses for a while and then pronounces: "She needs a Falklands war. She modelled herself a great deal on Thatcher but lacking, alas, the husband or twin children that would have made that kind of act respectable."

Gillard is part of a Melbourne-based gang Ellis dubs the "Mouse Pack", which includes Simon Crean and Martin Ferguson. "They twitch their whiskers and come out in favour of the Afghan war without studying the problem or noting that an army intelligence officer [independent MP Andrew Wilkie] holds the balance of power," Ellis says. "This is not so much dumb stuff as stuff that comes from people who have been in the same small room for too long, stroking each other's fur."

And in Ellis's political taxonomy, the timid rodents in Victoria can be contrasted unfavourably with the minor parties and independents. "I love the independents," he says. "I love the small revolution those independents effected in those 17 days. They were just wonderful. Suddenly, instead of talking about the deficit versus the surplus in 2013, people were talking about things that matter - they were talking about where the water goes, how the country towns survive and why farmers are suiciding and whether gays should marry."

And of those independents, Ellis singles out Bob Katter, "my favourite human being". At one point, Ellis writes that Katter "in his huge white hat ... resembles 15 simultaneous Johnny Cash songs bayed from the back of a speeding truck in monsoon rain".

This sort of stuff seems effortless for Ellis who, while occasionally falling prey to his own bombast, generally writes quite beautifully. He claims to sleep five times a day (it's like living with a wombat, says his wife) and writes best immediately on waking.

The hours between 3am and 6am are also particularly productive and will often see him seated at the sloping desk in his northern beaches home filling up his notebooks with meticulous longhand. "You don't actually know what the end of the sentence is when you start it," he says. "If you write slowly in longhand then you may well discover it. People who start off with dot points and use word processors are just f---ing fools. "The fountain pen should never have been superseded. Some argue that the feather should never have been superseded - more great works have been written with a feather than a word processor."

Later, when Ellis is posing uncomfortably for our photographer, his notes and papers bag at his feet, he remarks that he doesn't know how he continues to "get away" with saying what he does about Gillard and others.

And perhaps in that casual comment there is a deeper truth - that for someone like Ellis there could be nothing worse than the prospect of being dismissed as irrelevant by the targets of his attacks. But one has the feeling that if his enemies think ignoring him will make him go away then they are sadly mistaken.


9 January, 2011

Politically correct confusion over male nurses

Commonsense seems to have been lost on all sides. Of course male nurses (the straight ones anyway) are better equipped to handle aggressive patients

QUEENSLAND'S mental health hospitals are at the centre of a sex discrimination row after bureaucrats ordered male nurses to handle dangerous patients instead of their female colleagues.

A leaked memo reveals Queensland Health has been attempting to stop the practice becoming the norm at two of its main mental health facilities out of fears the department is breaching anti-discrimination laws.

The move comes after a male nurse complained to management that he was being discriminated against and prompted the department to seek legal advice on the matter.

But female nurses who account for most of the workforce, and some of whom have been bashed so badly one had to eat through a straw fear they will be harmed as patient shackles and door locks often don't work properly. Some managers demand they muscle up and do their job.

In a December 13 memo obtained by The Sunday Mail, Darling Downs-West Moreton Health Services District mental health executive director Shirley Wigan told staff at Toowoomba's Baillie Henderson Hospital and The Park, west of Brisbane, to follow the Anti-Discrimination Act.

"There may be instances of directions being provided around managing . . . aggressive behaviour which suggest that some managers prefer male nurses over female nurses," Ms Wigan wrote. "There should not be a standing order in any facility that female nurses should not respond to aggressive patient situations. This must be assessed on a case-by-case basis."

But a second complaint lodged by a female staff member claims the memo was dangerous because it was clearly common sense to make it normal practice for males to handle violent patients. The complaint argues that the Anti-Discrimination Act allowed an exemption to keep staff safe under workplace health and safety. "The number of vicious assaults has increased due to the negligence of management and senior medical staff to provide a safe working environment," the complaint reads.

Queensland Health acting district chief Peter Bristow yesterday noted the workplace health and safety clause, saying the matter was up for discussion among staff. "This is designed to give staff an opportunity to express their views, and seek a way forward which is acceptable to staff, and in keeping with the law," he said.

Queensland Nurses Union state secretary Beth Mohle said no one should be put in an unsafe situation but that rostering meant this would be inevitable for females.

In Sydney last week, a male nurse died after allegedly being stabbed by a mental patient, and his young female offsider was also stabbed.


Cardinal Pell upsets a few applecarts

His Eminence is a doughty warrior for his faith. No watered-down Gospel for him -- to the consternation of the Left

PREMIER Kristina Keneally has lashed out at the head of her church in Australia, saying she was "saddened" by Cardinal George Pell for denouncing Catholic politicians who do not follow the church's teachings. In an exclusive interview, Ms Keneally said Cardinal Pell risked being "interpreted as condemnatory and threatening" by urging MPs to stick to their religious convictions when making policy decisions on contentious social issues such as same-sex marriage.

Ms Keneally, a deeply committed Catholic with a Masters degree in religious studies, said: "I read those comments from the Archbishop and, if anything, they saddened me. "Almost every Catholic politician I know takes their responsibility as an elected representative and their faith very seriously. Many have really struggled, as have I, when moral issues require us to vote - and particularly when it is a conscience vote."

Cardinal Pell told The Sunday Telegraph last week that Catholic politicians couldn't have it both ways on sensitive moral issues such as gay marriage and euthanasia, saying it was "incongruous for somebody to be a Captain Catholic one minute, saying they're as good a Catholic as the Pope, then voting against the established Christian traditions".

His remarks caused a split among Catholic MPs who have been grappling with contentious issues such as same-sex marriage, gay adoptions and euthanasia.

Liberal NSW Upper House MP David Clarke agreed with the Cardinal. "You can't just use your religion when you want to," he said.

Member for Lakemba Tony Stewart said: "I found those comments from Pell bizarre and straight from the 1950s. "Trying to get politicians to vote in accordance to the Catholic Church is really to the detriment of what parliamentary representation is all about in Australia."

In a swipe at Cardinal Pell, suggesting he could be more helpful, Ms Keneally said: "Politicians of faith often would like to turn to religious leaders for pastoral advice and guidance, and sometimes that's not available."

She said she disagreed with the Catholic church on some points and with some of its social teachings, including the church's views on abortion.


Australia is served very well by stereotypes

Greg Sheridan

THE splendid film The King's Speech is the most brilliant advertisement for Brand Australia. It features Geoffrey Rush as Lionel Logue, the Australian speech therapist who cured George VI, who became king in 1936, of his stammer. At a time when wireless had become ubiquitous, and given the controversy over his brother's abdication, the severe stammer may even have prevented his becoming king.

Logue is almost the perfect Aussie. He is resolutely egalitarian, insisting on addressing the king as Bertie in his treatment rooms. He is irreverent, but with no chip on his shoulder, pragmatic, just a touch earthy, though also an intellectual in his own right, devoted to Shakespeare. Above all he offers unaffected friendship and counsel to the king. In making Logue irreverent but not hostile, crucially not giving him a chip on his shoulder, Rush embodies the perfect Australian attitude.

The two big parts of the national stereotype Logue does not embody are soldier or sportsman. Every nation is trapped in its stereotypes. Even if those become outdated and inaccurate, popular entertainment, Hollywood especially, will almost always broadcast the stereotype rather than the nuance of any new reality.

Australia's main international stereotypes are that we are good at sport, our soldiers are magnificent, we are socially egalitarian, sometimes rough in our manners, have great beaches and a lot of space, are rich and lucky as a country, are close to Asia, a former British colony and now allies of the Americans. And we have a racist past. The relative strengths of these stereotypes differ in different countries, depending on their experience of us. The real significance of these stereotypes, beyond tourism, can be elusive. Often international popular opinion matters very little. But these deep stereotypes do play into the decisions governments across the world make about Australia.

I recall interviewing Ehud Barak, now Israel's Defence Minister, just before the military intervention in Iraq in 2003. Australia would make an important contribution, he told me, because there was a big shortage of special forces in the Western coalition and everyone knew our special forces were equal to the best in the world.

In this case Barak was right. The stereotype matched the reality. Our special forces are as good as any. They are in fact the one part of our defence force we keep up to world's best practice, and they have done the bulk of our work in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I have recently spent a couple of weeks in Israel and Morocco as part of the Australia Israel Leadership Forum. This forum deserves a word in its own right. It is inspired by the Australian American Leadership Dialogue and it achieves the same purpose, of forcing leaders from both countries to focus serious intellectual attention on the relationship. This has a consequence in itself, but it also reveals something of other countries' policy considerations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netnyahu met our group and remarked that "Australia is a long way away but it is a very close friend". The President of Israel, Shimon Peres, was even more effusive. He said: "Australia is a beloved country in Israel by everybody. Love is the diplomacy we have towards Australia."

Peres is a renowned nice guy, but that strikes me as the strongest endorsement you could ever get from a foreign head of state.

Danny Ayalon, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister, told me: "Australia and Israel are like-minded countries, sharing values and interests and facing common threats".

Of course, Israel's affection for Australia follows decades of strong support for Jerusalem from Canberra. But it has deeper historical roots. Australian forces were important in driving the Ottomans out of the land of Israel in World War I, and important too in World War II in ensuring that Adolf Hitler's anti-Semitic genocide never reached the Jews of Palestine.

But the way the Australian troops conducted themselves there, the easygoing informality and friendliness of the diggers, is a legend that survives in Israel still, and it often leads to a comparison between Israeli and Australian informality and social egalitarianism. Of course, shrewder Israelis are also aware that Israel survived the global financial crisis because of its IT creativity, while Australia did because of its mineral wealth.

A sophisticated and contemporary riff on the common egalitarian theme comes from Avishay Braverman, a Labour Party Minister for Minority Affairs in Netanyahu's coalition government. He wants Labour to rediscover its social-democratic roots and also make a big push on the peace process. He is a former president of Ben-Gurion University. Here is his social-democrat take on Australia: "I think Australia will have a great future. Australia was lucky to be far [from the GFC], it didn't get damaged. The greed of US-style capitalism didn't affect Canada or Australia. They have different cultures, they have dynamic capitalism but still retain social solidarity. Australia also has great proximity to the growth engines of China and India."

In Ramallah, Nabil Shaath of the Palestinian Authority said he appreciated Australia's interest in Palestine, and its substantial and reliable aid, but he thought Australia had been too close to George W. Bush. This is not only a representative Palestinian response but a fairly typical Arab response to Australia.

Unless we completely change our whole orientation, we will always be seen as close to America, a friend of Israel and, in general, part of the Western camp. And this, of course, is no obstacle to doing business, including political business, in the Arab world.

In Morocco I asked an official why Rabat bothered to have an embassy in Canberra when Canberra couldn't be bothered to have an embassy in Rabat. He replied: "We have more than a hundred diplomatic missions abroad. Australia is a great country. The question is: why wouldn't we have an embassy in Australia?"

The nearly insane underfunding of the Australian diplomatic corps makes private initiatives such as the Australia Israel Leadership Forum all the more important. In the absence of diplomats, only the stereotypes speak for Australia. Throughout my time in Israel, I was struck by the Australian stories that got into the Israeli media. A local interview with Kevin Rudd was front page news, but every single day the fortunes of Australian cricket figured in the papers.

Sometimes I suspect the world actually knows us pretty well.


Cash for clunkers -- an idea that should not go ahead in Australia

By Victor Dial, chairman and general manager of Ford France from 1973 to 1980, and vice-president of sales and marketing for Automobiles Peugeot from 1981 to 1991

MANY countries in Europe are reporting improved car sales in December, thanks to a last-minute rush by consumers to take advantage of another "cash for clunkers" program of the kind adopted by Barack Obama and promised by Julia Gillard.

So look for poor January sales. European governments and car makers have run many such programs over the past 20 years, and they have grown addicted to them.

Cash for clunkers originated in Europe in the mid-1980s. I was in charge of sales and marketing for Peugeot at the time, and the government incentive was co-developed by my company, Renault and the French government.

The idea was twofold: get high-polluting and fuel-guzzling "clunkers" off the road and thus stimulate new car sales. It was called Prime a la Casse.

Consumers would be offered a one-off rebate for a limited time for their trade-in against the purchase of a new car if it was more than 10 years old, regardless of its market value. The rebate was worth about $1000 and was shared between manufacturers and the government.

Customers flocked to our showrooms, some with virtually worthless cars. I heard stories about people buying cars from scrap yards and hauling them to the nearest dealer. The program was considered a huge success and ran for several months. When it ended, pressure rose for the program to be repeated. And it was, again and again for two decades.

Over the years, European governments with large national production (Germany, Italy, Spain, Britain) implemented similar programs, and even states with little if any production joined in.

In my years in the industry, I never heard serious debate about the wisdom of the program, much less condemnation. In France, close co-operation between industry and government draws little comment. There was no outcry from other industries asking for similar handouts.

The car industry, the labour unions and the environmentalists: all were winners. The losers were French taxpayers.

Similar programs are still in place across Europe, although a number of governments are attempting to end them. In France it is estimated that 1.2 million new vehicles were sold under its program in 2009 and 2010, out of total sales of some four million.

I suppose the idea for cash for clunkers in the US came from an adviser to the new administration who knew of its "success" in Europe. When the program started in 2009, I admit I was surprised at the almost immediate outcry from economists, pundits and, yes, citizens, denouncing it as wasteful.

They were, of course, right: It pulls forward new car sales, but it also scraps perfectly good, serviceable vehicles, lowering supply and driving up used-car prices.

In the US, the predicted volume was underestimated, the budget was woefully inadequate, and the government was unable to process payments in a timely manner. Cash for clunkers quickly became a synonym for government overreach and incompetence.

In a program on government stimulus schemes such as cash for clunkers that aired last month, John Stossel of Fox News pointed out that if destroying perfectly good products creates wealth and jobs, then why stop with cars? Why not take a hammer to TVs, computers and durable goods?

Or how about this: There are millions of old, environmentally inefficient houses in the US and many unemployed house builders. Why not hire them to tear old houses down and build new ones with solar panels for roofs? And while we're at it, why not scrap noisy, fuel-guzzling planes? And washing machines. The possibilities are as endless as they are ridiculous.


8 January, 2011

Labour scarcity in Australia

America eat your heart out

WAGE costs have trumped taxes as the chief constraint on business investment in Australia, a survey indicates. The shift indicates that employees are seizing on labour scarcity to demand fatter pay packets.

For the first time in the 12-year history of the Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry's Survey of Investor Confidence, wage costs have topped the list of investment constraints. The perennial gripe of taxes and other government charges was relegated to second place on the table.

ACCI chief executive Peter Anderson said rising labour costs along with increasing finance costs, were constraining the ability to "employ, invest and expand". "Unfunded wage increases (not matched by productivity improvements) during 2011 will simply compress margins closer to breaking point and dampen investment," he said.

More than 500 businesses from various sectors take part in the survey. The December survey found that businesses continue to harbour fears about the strength the economy as interest rates rise while the strong dollar weakens the competitive position of manufacturers.

Concerns about skills shortages also intensified, with businesses ranking the issue among the five biggest constraints on investment.

Mr Anderson said that while businesses remained guarded about trading conditions this year, the poll highlighted that "general business conditions and sentiment slowly improved" last quarter.
Most businesses expected profitability to improve over the next three months.

Separately, the Performance of Services Index published yesterday by Australian Industry Group and Commonwealth Bank indicated that activity in the services sector again contracted last month.


Negligent West Australian public hospital

Private hospital to the rescue

DANNY GREEN claims he was "horrifically misdiagnosed" by a doctor who turned him away from Busselton Hospital with severe stomach pain, labelling her "negligent and ignorant".

A gaunt and pale Green looked unrecognisable from the ferocious boxer he is inside the ring as he spoke of his nightmare week that culminated in him having his appendix and an abscess removed in an emergency operation, PerthNow reports.

Speaking quietly from a wheelchair at St John of God Hospital in Murdoch, the 37-year-old said the pain he had endured in the past week was more severe than anything he had experienced in his life. "This has been by far the worst case. I've had it ongoing for about seven years and hopefully this is the end of it," he said. "It was a pretty harrowing experience for five or six days of my life."

The International Boxing Organisation cruiserweight world champion had been troubled by the previously undiagnosed problem for most of his professional career. This is the 10th time he has been admitted to hospital with stomach issues.

Green says the doctor turned him away last week after he experienced severe stomach pain while on holiday in Yallingup. "I just got turned away from Busselton Hospital with severe abdominal cramps. Unfortunately she misdiagnosed someone in there horrifically, so I hope she realises she made a massive mistake, a massive mistake and I hope she doesn't make it again for some other patients because it could have been life-threatening.

His family were so concerned about his condition that they raced him on New Year's Eve to a medical centre 30 minutes away. After being given morphine, Green was driven by his father Mal and brother Brendan to Hollywood Private Hospital in Perth, where tests revealed he had an abscess "the size of a softball". "The car ride was hell," said Green, who has lost about 5kg since the ordeal.

Green has shelved plans to fight again in April and is unsure when he will be able to return to the ring. "I'll have to wait and see how I recover and what happens," he said. "This body's been through a hell of a lot; it's been hammered for the last six days."


Another millionaire backer for the Greens

There is a lot of this in America. Elitists stick together

A MULTIMILLIONAIRE internet entrepreneur worried about climate change bankrolled the Greens' federal election surge last year by making the largest single political donation in Australian history.

Wotif founder Graeme Wood, whose wealth is estimated at $372 million, gave $1.6 million to fund the Greens' television advertising campaign, helping to significantly increase votes for the party in key states. The Greens will hold the balance of power in the Senate from mid-year.

Mr Wood's benevolence helped the Greens, led by Senator Bob Brown, boost their national profile. They captured their first lower house seat and, with key rural independents, gained increased leverage over government policy.

His donation easily surpasses the previous record for a single private political gift - $1 million handed to the Liberals at the 2004 election by conservative British politician Lord Michael Ashcroft.

Mr Wood's money enabled the Greens to run ads on high rotation on TV for the first time. Independent market research after the August election found the ads contributed to significantly higher swings to the Greens in the states where ads ran most heavily.

The donation will be revealed early next month when the Australian Electoral Commission releases the annual return lodged by the Australian Greens. Most major parties will not reveal big donations for the federal election until February 2012, when they disclose funding for 2010-11. But the Greens will effectively disclose their donations a year earlier under an internal three-month rule.

Mr Wood has emerged as one of Australia's leading philanthropists in recent years, having given $8 million to the University of Queensland, where he graduated, and another $15 million to establish the university's Global Change Institute.

His private Graeme Wood Foundation holds about $20 million in assets and gives away about $1 million a year to a range of arts, youth and environmental causes, including helping to buy 27,000 hectares of Tasmanian native forest from timber company Gunns last year.

Four years ago, Mr Wood stepped back from executive duties at wotif, the online travel company he founded in 1999, but he remains a director and retains a 23 per cent stake, valued at $222 million based on yesterday's share price of $4.63.

Speaking exclusively to The Age, Mr Wood said his donation was motivated by disappointment with Labor and Coalition policies on climate change and the environment. "I didn't think either of those parties were being effective," he said. "They were being driven by people with vested interests."

Helping the Greens to secure the balance of the power in the Senate was a "critical step," he said.

The Greens' vote tended to drop away in the final weeks of an election campaign as the bigger parties outspent them on advertising, and in May Mr Wood approached Senator Brown to propose that he help fund a "proper" Greens advertising campaign. In the end, Mr Wood provided the vast bulk of the campaign funding himself.

Mr Wood denied either he or wotif had anything to gain from his donation. "There's nothing in it for me financially," he said. "I'm not looking for any favours."

Senator Brown told The Age he would be "forever grateful" for Mr Wood's donation, which he said was selfless and hazardous. "There's nothing that Graeme could possibly gain personally out of this," he said, including influence over policy. "Not ever has Graeme said, 'I'd like you to do such and such'."

It was a historic election result for the Greens, transforming them from a minor party to the third party in Australian politics. In both houses of Parliament, the Greens secured the highest vote ever achieved by a third party in postwar political history, including the Democrats' best results, in 1990, and the DLP decades earlier.

The Greens' vote in the Senate rose much more in the states where the ads played in higher rotation - particularly South Australia (6.8 per cent), Queensland (5.5 per cent), Western Australia (4.7 per cent) and Victoria (4.3 per cent) - than in the states where there was less investment, particularly New South Wales, where the swing to the Greens was under 2 per cent because there was not enough money to cover the state.


Refugees win access to courts

THE Gillard government is bracing for a wave of asylum claims to swamp the legal system. This comes after the government accepted the results of a High Court ruling that raises serious questions about the value of offshore processing.

Responding for the first time to the High Court's ruling on the rights of asylum-seekers to challenge procedural aspects of their cases in the courts, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen yesterday announced the government would appoint two new federal magistrates specifically to deal with the expected deluge in new cases.

Changes to the refugee review process will also greatly extend the appeal options available to asylum-seekers.

But, in a move likely to put the government on a collision course with the Greens and the Coalition, Mr Bowen said the government was already considering laws to limit access to the courts. He said one option was eliminating the jurisdiction of the Federal Court, something legal experts said could be done with an act of parliament.

The changes announced by the government yesterday, which were based on legal advice from the Solicitor-General, provoked fresh questions about the value of retaining Christmas Island as a processing hub for refugees.

The island, along with other parts of Australia's territory, was excised from the migration zone by the Howard government in 2001, a move that denied asylum-seekers access to the courts.

University of Sydney law professor and refugee law expert Mary Crock said that logic no longer applied. She said there was now virtually no legal difference between a protection application lodged at Christmas Island from one lodged on the Australian mainland. "But practically the gulf is enormous," Professor Crock added. "You are treated much more fairly onshore than offshore."

Professor Crock said there was no longer any point to offshore processing, which, according to the incoming government brief supplied to Mr Bowen by his department, was budgeted to cost $471.18 million. That compared with onshore detention costs of $93.76m.

The High Court unanimously ruled in November that two Tamil asylum-seekers were denied procedural fairness and failed to have their claims processed in accordance with the Migration Act.

The court rejected the government's use of the Migration Act to detain asylum-seekers on Christmas Island while claiming the assessment process was "non-statutory" - occurring outside of Australian law.

Mr Bowen, citing advice from the Solicitor-General, said yesterday that, as a result of the decision, failed asylum-seekers would now have access to the Federal Magistrates Court, the Federal Court and, finally, the High Court.

In an effort to streamline what is sure to be a longer, more expensive process, Mr Bowen said immigration officials would "triage" new asylum claims. As of March 1, when the regime takes effect, asylum-seekers with obviously weak or problematic claims would be sent straight to a newly established "independent protection assessment" reviewer. The protection assessment replaces the old independent merits reviewer who audited failed claims, and whose decisions were the subject of the High Court ruling. From there, they could appeal through the courts if unsuccessful.

The announcement greatly extends the appeal options available to asylum-seekers processed offshore, who prior to the court's ruling only had access to a single non-statutory reviewer appointed by the government.

The government's response was dismissed by Tony Abbott as "bureaucratic hand-wringing". He said as long as asylum-seeker boats kept coming, problems would remain. "Look, there's really only one way to address this and that is to stop the boats, and nothing in today's announcement by the government will actually stop the boats," the Opposition Leader said.

The Coalition's acting border protection spokesman, Michael Keenan, said the High Court decision had undermined the concept of Christmas Island, underlining the need for the government to process illegal arrivals in a third country.

"If the government is serious about streamlining the process, they should acknowledge their never-never East Timor solution is a complete farce and pick up the phone to call the President of Nauru," Mr Keenan said.

More here

7 January, 2011

Remote area housing is standing empty

We see an arguably racist refusal by the bureaucracy to accept the customary Aboriginal lifestyle. Aborigines are very social people and usually live in large groups. A smaller number of large, semi-open houses is what was needed. The small houses actually built are just not wanted by those for whom they were allegedly built. Building a suburban Melbourne house for Aboriginal communities in the tropics is mind-bogglingly stupid. Consultation must have been totally absent

MORE than 40 houses built under the Labor government's indigenous housing program are standing empty in Northern Territory communities. The government has confirmed that only 132 houses have been handed over to tenants, leaving 42 empty.

The news follows The Australian's report that 64 of the 174 new houses now built have two bedrooms - a planning decision condemned as a disgrace by Northern Territory independent indigenous MP Alison Anderson.

A Territory Housing spokeswoman defended the program, saying all 174 houses were connected to services and ready for tenants. "Territory Housing is currently working with tenants to hand over the remaining 42 properties over the coming weeks as tenancy agreements are finalised," she said. "Territory Housing staff work with each tenant to ensure they understand the tenancy agreement before they sign it, and their rights and responsibilities as the tenant."

Ms Anderson said the situation was a disgrace. "Nothing is being done properly and this money is being wasted. The Territory government and the federal government should be absolutely ashamed of themselves," she said.

"If this was happening in Sydney or Adelaide, there would be a royal commission. (The houses are) just too small and you are going to end up having 14 people living in them. A two-bedroom house is not a design for Aboriginal people.

"They are not consulting properly with people. It's their expectations of how Aboriginal people should live. "If you have a look at a two-bedroom house that now houses 14 to 20 people living in it, within a couple of months you will have a problem with the sewerage and bathroom facilities in them.

The 174 new dwellings - a mix of stand-alone and duplex houses - include 106 three-bedroom houses and four of four bedrooms. The new houses have been built at Nguiu on the Tiwi Islands, Maningrida, Alice Springs town camps, Wadeye, Angurugu, Uumbakumba, Milyakburra, Gunbalanya and Galiwinku.

The average cost of a new house under the scheme is $450,000; the average cost of rebuilding is $200,000; and the average cost of a refurbishment is $75,000.

Last night, the government denied opposition claims the program was running over budget, arguing that it was on track and would meet its targets of 750 new houses, 230 rebuilds and 2500 refurbishments within the $672 million budget. An independent assessment of the scheme early last year found the program was on track to achieve its targets.

The government said refurbishments, also criticised by the opposition for failing to substantially fix homes, focused on the parts of a house that had the greatest impact on tenants: safety faults, bathrooms, kitchens and laundries.

Coalition indigenous affairs spokesman Nigel Scullion said a house could not be defined as completed until it was handed over and tenanted, and the government's numbers had been deceptive.

"SIHIP (the Strategic Indigenous Housing and Infrastructure Project) was implemented to address chronic overcrowding and poor housing standards in Aboriginal communities. It is now being manipulated in an attempt to meet minister (Jenny) Macklin's promises. Some of the houses would be as small as one bedroom to ensure the target was met."


Tony Abbott's dam solution for flooded rivers

TONY Abbott will develop a plan to build a series of dams around the nation, as part of the Coalition's policy platform for the next election. The policy is aimed at reducing the impact of floods and boosting food security.

The Opposition Leader yesterday told The Australian he would announce a taskforce of senior Coalition frontbenchers charged with preparing a dam plan within 12 months. The plan would include potential locations for new dams and would build on the $500 million the Coalition promised at the last election to make water more available. "I just think it's a bit odd in a country with as many water issues that we've got that there have been virtually no dams built in the last two decades," Mr Abbott said yesterday.

His foray into water policy came as the feud over the future of the Murray-Darling deepened, with Julia Gillard yesterday rejecting calls from farmers for more time to be taken over the basin's controversial rescue plan in the wake of the recent floods.

The worst of the flooding in eastern Queensland may not be over, as heavy rainfall and thunderstorms yesterday returned to the region, hindering clean-up efforts. The rain is predicted to continue for two days. However, the floodwaters heading inland down the Balonne River, which are expected to peak in St George on Sunday or Monday, may be slightly lower than predicted, giving the town a reprieve.

On Wednesday, National Farmers Federation president Jock Laurie said six months of strong flows into the river system "buys the government time to sit back and make sure they can get this right".

The Prime Minister said yesterday: "I think we've got to keep on time and we've got to deal with the water reforms we need for the Murray-Darling." Ms Gillard said that, although there were floods around the country now, the nation also regularly experienced drought. "So rather than just wait till the next drought hits the Murray-Darling, now is the time to get it right for the future, so we will continue in 2011 to pursue our reforms through the Murray-Darling Basin Authority," she said.

Mr Abbott said the NFF was "absolutely right" to call for a pause and signalled the Coalition would block any Murray-Darling rescue it considered poor policy. "Our general policy is that we support good policy, we oppose bad policy - and the current plan is not a good plan," he said.

Victorian Liberal Premier Ted Baillieu disagreed with Mr Abbott, saying the floods were no reason to delay the Murray-Darling process. He said there was still a way to go in the COAG process on the issue but the floods should not get in the way. "I don't think we should be diverted in a sense, by obviously what's a disaster in Queensland," Mr Baillieu said. "We shouldn't be diverted from getting the right solution. I am not going to let the floods get in the way of that."

Mr Abbott said he wanted to put dams back on the agenda and his taskforce would engage experts and take advice from communities as required.

No major new dams have been completed in Australia in recent years, with proposals often sunk by opposition from affected residents or environmental concerns. Instead, NSW, Western Australia and Queensland have built expensive desalination plants for their capital cities, Victoria and South Australia are following suit, and ACT authorities are increasing the capacity of an existing dam.

Mr Abbott's comments came as his water spokesman, Barnaby Joyce, urged the state and federal governments to consider building three dams on the Fitzroy River at Rookwood, Nathan and Eden Bann, near the waterlogged city of Rockhampton. To mitigate floods around his home town of St George, he suggested a new dam be built on the Balonne River at Barrackdale, south of Surat.

Mr Abbott said dams offered more than just water storage. "They're flood-mitigation devices; they're a potential source of emissions-free baseload electricity; they're an important adjunct to food security; they're a source of environmental flows in dry times," Mr Abbott said. "Dams are a lot of important benefits to our community and for the last two decades, largely thanks to the Greens, we've had this dam phobia. It's time we shook it off and I think the floods are an illustration of the sorts of issues that we can use dams to help."

Mr Abbott said the Wivenhoe dam north of Brisbane was built partially as a flood-mitigation measure, "and it's been largely effective in that". "It was prompted by the disastrous 1974 floods," he said. "These floods ought, likewise, get us thinking about how dams are important in flood mitigation as well as all the others areas."

Asked how the Coalition would cope with local community opposition to proposed dams, Mr Abbott said: "I think a lot of people in Rockhampton might actually like a dam in their backyard, because it might help prevent the kind of problem that they are just going through."

He said fresh water three times the volume of Sydney Harbour was flowing past Rockhampton every day. "Now there are lots of good uses to which that water could be put," he said.

Senator Joyce said it was not necessary for dams to stop all of the water flowing downstream, "just enough to shave off a few centimetres". "If you can keep the water level down by just a few centimetres, that's millions of dollars worth of difference," said Senator Joyce. He said conservationists would have to support the dams, if they supported the towns' rights to exist.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor warned it was shortsighted to link the shortage of dams to the scale of the Queensland disaster. "There's no information I've received that would suggest this disaster could be mitigated or avoided by constructing new dams," Mr O'Connor said.

Queensland Deputy Premier Paul Lucas, who criticised Senator Joyce for opposing the Traveston Dam, which was blocked by the Rudd government, said the Labor government would consider building more dams when the flooding emergency was over.


Floods undermine Greenie panic

Warren Truss

AS I sit surrounded by flooding, I wonder what difference the present weather will make to Australia's water policy.

During the years of drought, climate change zealots have been declaring every hot day proof of global warming and a catastrophic future. These extreme statements were always nonsense; just as it would be foolish to claim that recent cooler temperatures and widespread flooding is proof the climate is not changing.

Nature has delivered in a few days what a thousand years of international climate change conferences, carbon pollution reduction schemes, carbon taxes and Murray-Darling water plans will never achieve.

What December's record rainfall through much of inland eastern Australia and now Queensland's widespread flooding shows beyond doubt is that the Murray-Darling Basin food bowl is not going to become an ecological disaster area anytime soon. With imaginative management and wise use of the available water, the Murray-Darling Basin can indefinitely maintain its rich biodiversity while continuing to support productive agriculture and vibrant communities.

There is a better way than spending billions of dollars buying water licences and laying waste to richly productive irrigation farms. There is no need to close the food processing industry and to depopulate basin towns.

There will be more droughts and they will be followed by more flood events, just as has happened though the centuries. The past few weeks prove there is enough water; we just need to use it better.

The recent flood events strengthen the arguments of those who say more water storage can relieve the pressures of the next dry phase. The strategy of harvesting water only in flood times, such as at Cubbie Station, looks increasingly credible. On the other hand, the routine watering of wetlands in drought is seen to be futile.

The science underpinning the Murray-Darling Basin draft plan is left looking despairingly threadbare. The scientific base for the plan resembled the Greens' doomsday view that the basin would never see flooding again on the scale we see today, and that base was peer-reviewed by students of the same school.

Radical conservationists and the Greens will always demand more. The Regional Forest Agreements were supposed to settle for all time the areas of native forests that could be sustainably logged and those that were to be preserved in their present state. But before the ink was dry on the new RFAs, the Greens were demanding more and more. Today most of the native timber industry is gone and Australia is importing from countries where conservation practices are not so demanding.

The same is true of our fishing industry as key fishing areas are progressively closed, often as a result of Labor-Greens preference deals.

The environmental flow requirements of the Murray-Darling Basin are next in line. I was chairman of the Murray-Darling Basin Ministerial Council when the Living Murray initiative was agreed. The Living Murray initiative showed that with proper management of water for the environment, big environmental benefits could be delivered without the need to buy water from irrigators.

At that time the scientists told us that 1500 gigalitres was required to water the basin's key environmental sites. The draft Murray-Darling Basin plan now says the required figure is at least 3000GL. The Australian Conservation Council and the Greens support an upper end figure of 7600GL, three-quarters of all the water used for irrigation. No wonder farmers say the Greens will never be satisfied while there is one person left producing food in the Murray-Darling Basin.

But the present rains must give everyone of goodwill confidence that a permanent and genuine solution to water sharing in the basin is within grasp. The former Coalition government left Labor a $5.8 billion program to re-plumb and re-engineer the basin, which included new efficient water management, reducing seepage and evaporation. This delivers the ultimate win-win, with farmers retaining water otherwise lost and the rivers prospering with increased flows. The Environment Minister has been asked twice in parliament how much of this money has been spent, but he has been unable to answer. But the budget papers say the figure is only $320 million, which is appallingly slow progress.

Better management of environmental flows alone can probably save the entire 3000GL required in the Murray-Darling Basin draft plan. One project identified by the National Irrigators Council and the Victorian Department of Sustainability and the Environment showed how spending just $43m could save 1100GL of water at the Lindsay Island wetlands downstream from Mildura. Better management of the Menindee Lakes and the Narran Lakes will also generate huge water savings and avoid the need for wasteful buybacks.

The granting in 1887 of inalienable rights to water to the Chaffey brothers around Mildura was an early decision that helped build the Riverland and the nation. Irrigators know times have changed and they have borne considerable pain in recent years as their allocations have been wound back.

But, sadly, the Gillard government has lost control of this issue, extinguishing much of the goodwill that had been excruciatingly built up through many years of often tortuous consultation.

Labor should have known all along that the entire scope of the basin's needs had to be taken into account when the Guide to the Proposed Basin Plan was released on October 8 last year. It initially dismissed regional concerns and resorted to political posturing and baseless attacks on the Coalition. At last the Gillard government has acknowledged that there is something wrong; but it seems unwilling to set to and fix the problem.

The rain and flooding give us the time to get the process back on track, and hopefully in a less emotionally charged atmosphere. We can and must get the balance right.


Piggyback rides banned in Catholic schools

This seems excessive

Catholic clergy have been banned from giving children piggyback rides under child protection policies introduced by an outer Melbourne parish. The new policies, aimed at preventing abuse, include bans on inappropriate embracing, or contacting children through Facebook or SMS. They are being introduced at parishes in Lilydale and Healesville this year.

Guidelines will apply to all priests, parish workers, staff and volunteers representing the church, including those at associated schools St Patrick's and St Brigid's Catholic primary schools. The policies, believed to be the first in Melbourne, were put into place after two allegedly abusive priests served in the district.

Conduct deemed acceptable includes "high fives", pats on the shoulder or back, holding hands with small children, handshakes, and verbal praise.

The rules say any emails sent to minors should have parents or guardians copied in, and any phone calls should be made to the family home. Social networking is not considered an appropriate way for an adult to socialise with a child.

Inappropriate embraces, kisses on the lips, wrestling, holding minors over four on the lap, giving or receiving any type of massage, and tickling minors are all on the banned list.

Father Julian Langridge, who led the formation of the policies, based them on Catholic protocols followed Australia-wide, said Bishop Les Tomlinson, Vicar-General of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. "It is taking an ultra-cautious approach, but it is partly about rebuilding confidence by making clear exactly what boundaries in which the clergy will function," Bishop Tomlinson said.

He said Fr Langridge decided the guidelines would be a positive thing for his parish. "And I agree with that," he said.


6 January, 2011

Slack police work leads to man's death

A manifestly inadequate police response to a serious complaint left the complainants with the feeling that they had to seek justice themselves

A grandmnother allegedly orchestrated the murder of her friend and neighbour because she believed he had molested her grandchildren. Police will allege that 10 days after Adrian Trevett was cleared of indecently assaulting two children, aged one and two, his 46-year-old friend Karen Dawson conspired to murder him.

Officers found Mr Trevett's body at Sandy Hill in the Girard State Forest on Saturday, two months after he was reported missing.
The 62-year-old avid cyclist, who was believed to have been strangled, was covered with sticks and bushes.

New England detectives flew to Brisbane last week to arrest Dawson. She was charged with murder and made a brief appearance at the Armidale Local Court, where bail was refused.

Police arrested five other people, including Dawson's son and father of the grandchildren, Matthew Aquilina, yesterday morning after raids at Casino and Grafton. Three men and two women were being interviewed by investigators last night.

Deborah Grant, 32, made a brief appearance at Lismore Bail Court yesterday charged with being an accessory after the fact and concealing a serious indictable offence. Aquilina, 25, was charged with murder and will appear today.

Police will allege that Dawson, who had befriended Mr Trevett, drove to Rangers Hut on the Gwydir Highway at Glen Innes to pick him up on October 29 about 8.30am. The day before, Mr Trevett had completed an 80km bike ride from Glen Innes to the top of the Gibraltar Range in northern NSW.

Mr Trevett was allegedly driven to bushland, 30km from Tenterfield, where he was killed.

On October 19, police received a complaint alleging Trevett, described as a loner, had molested Dawson's two infant grandchildren. Police will allege Dawson, her son and his 29-year-old friend believed Mr Trevett was a pedophile despite being told by police he had been cleared of indecently assaulting the children.

Mr Trevett was never interviewed by police about the alleged indecent assaults.

His brother Valentine described Mr Trevett as a "quiet man". The brothers grew up in Glen Innes and regularly spoke. "He never had a wife or any kids. He always kept to himself," he said. "He was a simple man. He loved his cycling and the seasonal work he did with his travelling fruit truck."


NSW Labor party coverup finally implodes

A great tribute to the determination of Rev. Fred Nile

NSW Premier Kristina Keneally last night bowed to political pressure surrounding the $5.3 billion sale of the state's electricity assets.

She has agreed to appear before a parliamentary inquiry into the rushed sale.

After declaring for the past fortnight that the upper house inquiry was unconstitutional, Ms Keneally issued a statement saying she and Treasurer Eric Roozendaal, who oversaw the sale, and key members of the electricity bid project team would answer the inquiry's questions.

"I have taken this decision based on my commitment to transparency and openness," the statement said.

In a bid to escape scrutiny over the sale, Ms Keneally prorogued - or closed - parliament on December 22. She defended the move as standard procedure before an election, but it was considered about two months earlier than necessary for the March 26 poll.

Ms Keneally has spent the past two weeks defending that decision, relying on advice provided by the NSW Crown Solicitor in 1994 that a parliamentary committee cannot sit if that parliament no longer exists.

Crown Solicitor Ian Knight, who updated his advice this week, said the inquiry would not hold the special powers usually available to parliamentary committees, including compelling witnesses to appear and conferring privilege over their evidence.

Ms Keneally was previously accused of banning public servants from appearing to give answers, but her position on this issue also shifted, and public servants will now be able to appear if they wish. However, she said their evidence could leave them open to being sued.

Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell said last night's decision was "the ultimate act of hypocrisy".

"Kristina Keneally has banned public servants from attending, intimidated witnesses and tried to stop this inquiry at every turn," he said.

Ms Keneally has been under pressure from within her party as well as publicly over the government's handling of the sale, which Mr Roozendaal rushed through just before midnight on December 14 before leaving for New York on an official trip.

He was forced to appoint members of his own sales team to the boards of the state-owned power companies after eight of the 13 directors of Delta Electricity and Eraring Energy quit over the deal, claiming it undervalued the assets.


A "conservative" 2011?

Futurists are predicting a "new conservatism" will sweep the nation this year as households rein in spending in the face of escalating living costs. Rising interest rates, soaring utility bills and the lingering spectre of the global financial crisis will ring in a simpler, more frugal lifestyle for most Aussies.

At the same time, the blistering march of technology will evoke a sense of longing for the past in many people.

Pearls and twin set chic, patriotism, home cooking and quiet nights at home are hot. But paying full price, worrying about water, expensive restaurants and spending too much time on Facebook are not hot.

Social researcher David Chalke said the rising cost of living would be a key issue. "People will be more prudent due to a combination of uncertainty about the future and certainty that prices - particularly utilities, government charges and so forth - are going up," he said. "Even though we're comfortably off and unemployment will probably slow down, we're going to save our cash."

Futurist Tim Longhurst said that people wanted to get back to basics. "The key word here is nostalgia, although it's nostalgia for a time that may or may not have existed," he said. "We don't really want to go and live in a cabin - the truth is we like our plugged-in, hi-tech way of life but we want to temper it a bit."

People would incorporate old fashioned things into their busy modern existences rather than opting for a complete life overhaul. "We're not about to quit our jobs to do this," he said. "We like the idea of the vegetable patch in the back yard, so we're starting to see people creating businesses around coming in and looking after it for us."


Unionism fading

In 1990 just over 40 per cent of employees were members of a trade union. That number now is less than 20 per cent. For a Prime Minister who was elected president of the Australian Union of Students and was a partner at labour law firm Slater and Gordon, Julia Gillard must feel as though her base is slipping.

Labor and the trade unions are generations removed from the ethos and numbers of the maritime and shearers' strikes of 1890. They are generations removed from the first meeting of the Australian Labor Party, held under the Tree of Knowledge in Barcaldine, and the NSW Trades and Labor Council sponsored Labor Electoral League in Balmain in 1891. These are proud traditions, but about as relevant to today's politics as the Queen's speech.

And there is more bad news to come on the union front. The bastion of trade unionism for some decades has been the public sector. The sale of public assets and the outsourcing of various service and IT functions means the prospects for organising in the public sector are declining.

In 1990, an astonishingly high 67 per cent of public sector workers were members of a trade union. That figure today is less than 45 per cent. In the same period, little more than 30 per cent of private sector workers were members of a trade union. Now, the proportion is less than 14 per cent.

Indeed, the proportion of public sector workers among trade union members has declined somewhat. In 1990, the proportion of public sector trade unionists to all trade unionists was 45 per cent. Now, the proportion of public sector trade unionists to all trade unionists is 43 per cent. This change in the proportion of trade unionists is driven by the relative decline in the size of the public sector workforce.

In 1990, the public sector workforce was 27 per cent of the total workforce. Now, the public sector workforce is less than 18 per cent of the workforce.

The sale of public assets by Labor and Coalition governments, the big one being the sale of Queensland Rail by a Labor government, will drive public sector union numbers down further.

Union numbers will not be enhanced by the recent announcement by Prime Minister Gillard of her desire to see principal teacher selection in state schools. Although not as radical as the headlines suggest, it has the potential to change the culture of unionism in the state schools' sector to reflect that of the independent sector.

In 1990, for example, fewer than 60 per cent of "educational professionals" were trade unionists. Now, fewer than 50 per cent are trade unionists. It is highly likely that this decline in trade unionism among educational professionals is driven by the rise of private schools.

In the Queensland state school system, 96 per cent of all eligible teachers are members of the union (only the police and the fire brigade can boast similar numbers). The numbers drop away in the independent schools sector. Beginning with the Catholic schools, fewer than 65 per cent of teachers are unionised, but in the independent non-Catholic schools, particularly the more fundamental Christian schools, fewer than 20 per cent of teachers are unionised. Incidentally, non-Catholic independent schools are the fastest-growing sector of independent schools.

More recently, and setting aside the merits of the complaint by large retailers, competition from internet sales is likely to slow growth in store based retail sales and employment.

The consequence is to drive union numbers down even further. Union penetration among sales workers in 1990 was a little less than 25 per cent. Union penetration now is not quite 15 per cent. There were 150,000 union members among the sales workforce in 1990, but now there are just over 100,000.

The implication for one of the larger, and in my mind most respected, unions, the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employee's Union is dire. A greater surprise is that in a growing workforce the number of sales workers has been relatively stagnant for the past 20 years.

State Labor governments rely heavily on the votes of public sector unionists. This generally holds true for federal Labor governments. Intriguing then that the Prime Minister is toying with the idea of principal selection of schoolteachers.

The concept may not stretch so far as to have the principal and the local parents act as employer - state education departments will probably remain the employer - but nevertheless, teacher unions may find the shift to local selection a more difficult environment in which to recruit members.

Implications for Labor in the long term could be severe. It may be left with emergency workers - police and fireys - at the heart of the trade union movement.


5 January, 2011

Dangerous reliance on flawed computer databases

Dumb cops treat them as an oracle when they should be treated as being no more reliable than any other kind of evidence

We humans have a persistent fear that the machines we endow with artificial intelligence will one day turn against us. Of course, deep down we know such concerns are irrational. Life is much easier if we accept that even though it might have burnt the bread, the toaster is basically on our side and doing its best.

Our natural instincts dulled, we let our guard down. And so, if you truly fear technology, expect to be dismissed as a Luddite or worse. I know all this, and yet I truly fear technology. Specifically, I fear how we rely on it; how we outsource our duty of care to computers that in fact rely on us to do their work properly.

When police and other law enforcement agencies, which have the power to deprive us of our liberty, place absolute trust in imperfect systems, the resulting injustice can be terrible and very difficult to remedy.

The Herald recently reported that a long-running glitch in the NSW government computer system is causing young people to be arrested and detained for breaching non-existent or expired bail conditions. Often these people must wait until they are brought before a court before they are released.

For more than three years, the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, the Public Interest Law Clearing House and Legal Aid NSW have been trying to resolve this. But still the cases have mounted up, leading to the repeated injustice of wrongful detention and a government compensation bill that runs into millions of dollars.

Even when a detained youth has tried to explain the true situation - in one case, his mother offered to fax to the police court documents containing the correct information - the authorities have doggedly relied on the police IT system. By presuming their technology to be infallible, these errors have caused a significant injustice.

An IT system relies on people to input the data. But from time to time, we fallible humans enter the information wrongly; sometimes it doesn't go in at all. While it's convenient to assume the computer is always right, that assumption should never prevail over clear evidence to the contrary.

There is also another, more subtle problem with IT systems. Their design constrains our actions - often more effectively than any law ever could. This principle does not just apply to IT, but to other forms of design as well. Take, for example, road safety. If the government wants to limit drivers' speed on a suburban road to 40km/h, the conventional method would be to impose a speed limit. If policed rigorously, this will probably improve compliance, but many people would continue to speed.

A far more effective (and cheaper) solution is to change the design of the road: to build speed humps, roundabouts and so on. This can create total compliance because you physically can't drive over the speed limit.

The same is true in IT systems. This can be a good thing: a well-designed system will ensure that important considerations are not forgotten by public servants who are often busy and under pressure.

However, it also means your options can be limited by the choices made by the government's computer programmer. You can be prevented from doing something, not because the law prohibits it, but because there is no such option in the drop-down menu.

The tragic case of David Iredale, the young bushwalker who died in the Blue Mountains in 2006, is a case in point. When he realised he was lost and in trouble, David called the ambulance service from his mobile phone and was repeatedly asked by the operator to provide a street address. Being in the middle of the bush, he could not. Nevertheless, the operator stuck to the system as designed.

The inquest into David's death disclosed that the ambulance service's call-response system required a street address. The absurdity of requiring such information in all circumstances is manifest. Such situations are more common when we rely on rigid IT systems that do not allow for situations outside of those predicted by the original computer programmers.

Of course, the solution to these problems is not to abandon technology. Instead, we need to be more realistic about the strengths and limitations of the systems we rely on, and to ensure that they are carefully monitored so as not to induce injustice.


Chaotic NSW government hospitals again

Hospital beds could be closed for up to three months and surgery cut as the war between angry nurses and the State Government intensifies. The first salvo was fired yesterday with the closure of 30 Wollongong Hospital beds. More beds are expected to be closed as RPA and Westmead in Sydney follow.

Nurses are refusing to back down from their demand for better staffing, with hundreds of beds expected to be closed in coming weeks and one in four surgeries cancelled.

As the first closures were rolled out, Health Minister Carmel Tebbutt said she was unwilling to bow to demands.

Patients will be caught up in the confrontation. Those with less urgent problems now face delays for treatment.

And in a move aimed to hurt the Government at the March poll, the Nurses Association said it would no longer support the Labor Party.

Emergency departments, intensive care units, oncology and maternity will not be affected by the bed closures.

Nurses want ratios increased to one nurse to every four patients - but the Government said that would mean an extra 6000 nurses.


The Queensland ambulance service finally gets its act together

Now for Victoria

Better, faster ambulance crews helped Queensland achieve its lowest road toll last year since accurate records began in 1952.

Authorities late last week encouraged the state to go even lower this year than the 247 road deaths recorded in 2010.

The latest ambulance service figures reveal paramedics went to more than 14,000 crashes last year. And they reveal paramedics got to half of all jobs within 8.1min and to 90 per cent of all jobs within 16.5min.

"They're good figures," Queensland Ambulance Service commissioner David Melville said. "We're getting quicker, and people are clinically more able than they were in the past. And it's a great thing we went to 4.24 per cent less crashes in the first 11 months of last year."

Police last week lauded the work of paramedics on the roadside as one of several reasons for keeping the toll to 247 – 84 fewer than in 2009.

And while the ambulance chief yesterday praised police for their major role in preventing more tragedies, he said QAS decisions to improve paramedic training and allow drugs like ketamine to be used on the roadside, were bearing fruit. "There's been a very very strong effort to improve the skills of our paramedics through training," he said.

On average, an ambulance is called out every 42 seconds in Queensland. Last year, about 1000 active ambulances responded to 750,000 jobs.

Flooded communities and stranded motorists have kept paramedics busy the past two weeks. Many Brisbane crews have had to fly to isolated parts of the state and help local crews in recovery efforts. Some based in regional centres have been hit by the floods themselves.


Detention centres for illegals busting out all over Australia

CHRISTMAS Island is fast becoming the alternative place of detention for boatpeople. The number of boatpeople on the mainland now easily outnumbers those on the Indian Ocean island excised in 2002 for the purpose of processing asylum-seekers.

There are 3469 boatpeople or "irregular maritime arrivals" in immigration detention on the Australian mainland compared with 2811 on Christmas Island, according to Immigration Department figures compiled on the evening of December 30.

Labor moved to overturn the Howard government practice of offshore processing in September 2009, when then immigration minister Chris Evans authorised the transfer of 10 Afghan youths from Christmas Island to the Melbourne Immigration Detention Centre.

An Immigration spokesman said at the time the decision to allow the boys to travel to the mainland with their paid carers would give them access to a range of classes and recreational activities. "This move will enable the department to finalise their cases and ensure support to this particularly vulnerable group," he said.

Within months, large numbers of asylum-seekers were being transferred to mainland detention because crowding on Christmas Island was becoming unmanageable. Initially, men were sent to high-security detention centres at Villawood, in Sydney's western suburbs, and in Darwin.

In June last year, families were sent to a refurbished miners' camp in the West Australian town of Leonora, where the shire and local business owners welcomed the economic boost.

There are now detention centres or facilities for boatpeople in every mainland state, including at the air bases at Curtin in the far north Kimberley of Western Australia and in Scherger near Weipa in Queensland's far north.

So far, the decision has done little to ease crowding on Christmas Island, where tents -- supposed to be a temporary measure -- are still in use.

Residents on Christmas Island have long complained of rising rents and food prices caused by crowding outside the detention centre. The influx of government workers and contractors who work on a fly-in, fly-out basis has been good for businesses but difficult for residents on relatively modest incomes.

Christmas Island shire president Gordon Thomson lobbied Labor for extra infrastructure to cope with the crowding. As a result, the island's sewerage and water systems are being upgraded and extra housing is planned. Residents hope pressure will ease when the federal government moves about 1500 men from Christmas Island to an old army barracks in the West Australian wheatbelt town of Northam.


4 January, 2011

Expert aghast to find mother was declared mentally ill while reporting child abuse

Another crooked bureaucracy -- all too common in "child protection" agencies

CHILD protection expert Freda Briggs believes authorities are having mothers declared mentally ill when they complain their children are the subject of sexual abuse, because they are struggling to cope with an increasing number of victims.

The UniSA Emeritus Professor and child protection expert, Freda Briggs, has asked Families Minister Jennifer Rankine to launch an inquiry into one case in which a woman's complaint was dismissed after an assessor found her two then-pre-school-aged children were "psychic" and had read the mother's mind when she thought about the father abusing them.

Professor Briggs said the treatment of the mother - a social worker trained in reporting abuse and who by law must report it as part of her profession - was increasingly common.

She said she asked for an inquiry into Families SA's handling of the ongoing matter, which dates back to 2008, because of inconsistencies in the case involving the social worker mother, who cannot be identified. Other alleged inconsistencies include:

CCTV footage showing the children's claims against the father and highly sexualised behaviour of the older child.

FOUR psychiatrists contradicted a Families SA finding the mother is mentally ill.

AN unqualified assessor found the mother was mentally ill, which was accepted by Families SA.

LINKS between the father's family and court officials.

FAILURE by Families SA to have the children's injuries assessed because it would be too stressful for them.

AN unqualified police officer decided injuries to the older child were caused by constipation.

Professor Briggs said the trend began when under the Howard government court rules were changed to give fathers greater custody of children, criticised by some children's advocates who argue some were delivered into the hands of their abusers. "This case is typical of what I'm getting when the mother reports child sex abuse, they say she has imagined abuse and convinces the child that s/he is abused when s/he isn't," Professor Briggs said.

The Advertiser's request for a response was rejected by a Families SA spokeswoman, who said its procedures were cleared by the Health and Community Services Complaints Commissioner.


Another pathetic Muslim

If they can't adopt civilized values, they should be sent back whence they come.

A MUSLIM girl caught between her religion, her parents and wanting to be a typical Aussie teenager is at the centre of an apprehended violence order against her father after he found she had a boyfriend.

Police were called to the family home after the man threatened to kill himself and the 14-year-old girl when he discovered the boy in a room of their home, Parramatta Bail Court heard yesterday.

The man, who cannot be named, allegedly told police the relationship was disrespectful to Muslim culture and brought shame on his family in the Afghan community.

The court heard he tried to detain the boy in the early hours of New Year's Day at the house in Blacktown. The family called police because they were scared the father would kill the boy.

After police arrived, the man became enraged because they would not arrest the boy, who had been invited into the house by his daughter.

He said the boyfriend would be killed if the incident happened in Afghanistan, the country he and his wife had emigrated from in 1998.

"The accused then stated, as the boyfriend would not be going to jail, the only thing left to do was kill his daughter and himself," police said.

"The complainant is stuck between her religion, strict parents and wanting to be a typical Australian teenager."

Officers claimed that on October 27 the daughter ran away from home. Her father said he would kill himself if she did not return by sundown. When she did not return, the father attempted to hang himself but was stopped by his wife and son.

"The daughter said she fears that her father will kill her because of her actions and that if he doesn't, she will be locked in the house unable to leave, unless he kills himself," police said.

Police took out an apprehended domestic violence order against the father on behalf of the girl. He was charged with stalking, intimidation with intent to cause fear of physical or mental harm.

The father, who is a qualified surgeon in Afghanistan but employed as a taxi driver in Sydney, was refused bail because of his threats against the girl and self-harm history.


The Leftist VCAT again

Drug dealing and violent crime is OK -- but laughing at the Koran is not

A drug dealer peddling heroin at a public housing estate has kept his taxpayer-subsidised flat after an eviction order was overturned.

With more than 41,000 Victorian families waiting for help to put a roof over their heads, the decision has disappointed welfare groups.

The dealer, whose identity is being protected by the courts, was ordered to move out after he admitted selling drugs at the Flemington estate where he lives. But the man remains in his high-rise unit after the Director of Housing's application for possession of the flat was quashed on a legal technicality in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

The decision comes after the unemployed man - identified in court documents only as TK - was caught three times selling heroin to a police operative at the estate.

TK's lawyers argued the eviction was a breach of his rights under Victoria's controversial Human Rights Charter.

VCAT deputy President Heather Lambrick ruled that while there was no interference with TK's human rights, the Director of Housing had failed to prove TK used his flat for illegal purposes, even though one deal was carried out in his unit doorway and a police raid found drug money in his flat.

Ms Lambrick said her decision would have been "quite different" if provisions of the Residential Tenancies Act dealing with illegal activity extended to common areas of estates. "It was clear from the evidence that the tenant was indeed using the Ministry of Housing Estate to traffick in heroin," she said.

Responding to the revelations, the State Government vowed to review tenancy laws to try and close the loophole. Housing Minister Wendy Lovell said she would seek advice from her department on what changes were required
to plug the gap.

"A Baillieu Government will not tolerate drugs in public housing estates or any other illegal activity," she said. "Victorian taxpayers have every right to feel this is an unacceptable situation."

Council of Social Service chief executive Cath Smith backed a wide-ranging review, saying basic health and safety standards for public and private tenants were outdated.

Ms Smith said it was important courts protect people's right to a home, but this decision would be questioned by the 41,200 people waiting for public housing and went against recent improvements in security for the more than 62,000 families living in public housing, including the eviction of several other drug dealers.

"It puts the Office of Housing in a very difficult position when you have tens of thousands of people needing somewhere to live but without the means to move on those who break the law in order to free up a home for someone who really needs one," she said.

"It's a real shame to see the positive effort to try and have safe and secure housing for people in our public housing estates contradicted."

TK was the target of a covert police operation in July and August, 2009 during which he was caught selling heroin from his flat.

During one deal TK opened the screen door of his flat to take $180 from the covert officer before handing out a silver foil of heroin. Another deal occurred in a stairwell outside his flat.

Police also seized $470 and a mobile phone during a search of the unit and TK admitted trafficking heroin to support his own addiction.

In February he pleaded guilty to four counts of trafficking, and possessing the proceeds of crime and was placed on an 18 month community based order.

TK was then served an eviction notice and the Office of Housing applied to VCAT for possession, alleging TK had used his flat for the illegal purpose of trafficking heroin.

TK's lawyers argued the eviction was a breach of his right to a home under the Charter of Human Rights and that it could not be proved he was using the flat to traffick heroin.

Ms Lambrick found a landlord's need to ensure premises are not used for illegal purposes was an important limitation of the Charter's right to a home. However, she also found the Director of Housing had not proven TK used his flat for an illegal purpose. [????]

Ms Lambrick found it was not enough that a premises be the scene of a crime, saying it must be deliberately used for an illegal purpose. "There must be some real connection between the use of the rented premises and the illegal activity alleged. It is not sufficient that there be a passing connection," she said.


Cardinal Pell challenges hate speech emanating from homosexual marriage campaigners

AUSTRALIA'S most senior Catholic cleric, Cardinal George Pell, has tentatively agreed to a meeting with gay marriage campaigners. That is if they first declare that not all opposition to same-sex marriage is homophobic and discriminatory.

As both sides of the debate continue their public campaigns, Cardinal Pell has written a letter in response to a request from gay marriage campaigners for a formal meeting to discuss the issues polarising the community.

The official gay marriage campaign, Australian Marriage Equality, wrote to the Archbishop of Sydney on December 20 to discuss their concerns about a campaign by the Australian Catholic Church against same-sex marriage.

Cardinal Pell surprised gay marriage supporters with a reply on December 22 saying a meeting might be possible. But he wanted a guarantee first that the church's position would not be depicted as hateful. "It would help me in considering your request for a meeting to receive an assurance that you . . . do not regard opposition to same-sex marriage in itself as a form of prejudice and discrimination, and that you are prepared to say this publicly.

"I am grateful for your request for a meeting to discuss these matters and am open to considering such a meeting," he wrote. "I can offer you no assistance on the second reason you have asked for this meeting (to prevent Catholic clergy from actively campaigning against same-sex marriage), and on most of the substantive matters I expect we will have to agree to disagree. "But it is always good to talk whenever this might be helpful."

Cardinal Pell said he was prepared to meet a same-sex couple who have been civilly married in another jurisdiction if a Catholic married couple could also be present "so that they can explain their concerns about same-sex marriage and what it might mean for the sort of commitment they have made".

In his letter in reply, Peter Furness, acting national convenor of the gay marriage campaign, said he would be happy for Cardinal Pell to be accompanied by a Catholic married couple.

A spokesman for the gay marriage campaign, Rodney Croome, told The Australian he was willing to concede that the Catholic Church did not intend to discriminate, meeting part of Cardinal Pell's demand for a meeting.


Another expensive Greenie bungle

THE State Government may suspend the installation of electricity smart meters while it reviews the embattled major project. Energy Minister Michael O'Brien will this month seek details on the cost and legal implications of delaying the rollout ahead of an audit of the $2 billion system.

A full review of potential improvements and whether it is worth dumping the scheme for an alternative will be commissioned amid concerns that consumer benefits have been overstated.

Every household and small business is paying to replace old meters with the digital technology, even before their installation. Mr O'Brien estimates families will be charged $900 each for meter hardware over the next 15 to 20 years. Outer suburban residents, including Broadmeadows, Sunbury and Craigieburn, will pay the highest charge, $109.68, this year.

Regulators have approved the lowest annual fee of $57.70 to be spread across quarterly bills, for outer north and eastern Victoria. So far, about 300,000 meters, which monitor consumption every half hour, have been fitted.

Mr O'Brien told the Herald Sun the new Government would press ahead with its election pledge for an unbiased audit of the program, which has been plagued with cost blowouts and allegations of mismanagement. "If there are skeletons in the closet, I want them on the table," Mr O'Brien said.

He assured householders they would not be forced on to "time of use" prices with high penalties for using peak power during the day and in summer and discounts for using electricity late at night.

The industry is likely to vigorously oppose a rollout suspension, arguing that changing contract arrangements will cost tens of millions of dollars.

The cost-benefit review, to take three to six months, will be the fourth since smart meters were mooted. "Like myki, so much money has already been invested in this program, the difficulties in going back to square one would be enormous," Mr O'Brien said.

The Department of Primary Industries said the meters would eventually reduce supply costs by removing manual reads, managing demand, restoring power faster after faults and blackouts and helping consumers control consumption and bills. "After the upgrade, Victorians will benefit from a better, more efficient system, which will keep the cost to supply electricity lower than it otherwise would have been," the DPI website reads.


3 January, 2011

Cast adrift from reality, the slick spruikers of 'our' shame

The water in Sydney Harbour over the New Year weekend was clear, the sky was bright blue and endless, and the new fashion on the beach was bikini-clad women wearing pork-pie hats. A great look. There can be no city in the world where so many people, millions, have easy access to so much natural beauty and a comfortable life. Nowhere else on this scale.

Millions of people would want to come here if they could. I don't blame them. There are roughly 60 million refugees or displaced people in the world, and we would like to scoop them all up and save them. But in the real world it can take a powerful amount of work to even save one's own children from harm. If Australia decided, by an act of democratic will, to become the most generous nation in history, and open its borders to all who sought a better life here, in time this would have dire consequences for the society that has evolved here, and the environment we have already degraded so much.

In this context, I would like to hand out medals for the most dubious contributions to Australian public life in 2010. I don't question the sincerity or good intentions of those I am about to disabuse, I question their grasp on reality.

The gold medal goes to Graeme Innes, the Human Right Commission's disability discrimination commissioner and race discrimination commissioner, who has spent his entire 33-year career as a human rights lawyer. In August, Innes flew to Geneva, at taxpayers' expense, to address the committee of the United Nations International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

Innes managed to cram his speech with six major points that I regard as self-serving or untrue or both:

(1) He said there was "a strong need for a domestic implementation mechanism for CERD in Australia".

(2) He claimed, "We have a clear sense of what the Australian community wanted … an enshrined bill of rights …".

(3) He called for changes to the Australian constitution to give greater effect to anti-racism laws.

(4) He wants "a national multicultural policy".

(5) He complained that there was "no national data on the prevalence of migrants as victims of crime".

(6) He called for a "federal law to criminalise race hate".

This is a proscriptive paradise for human rights lawyers, as if Australia were not already excessively regulated and litigious and footing the bill for a human rights industry scrambling for clients and relevance.

The silver medal goes to another lawyer, a District Court judge, Stephen Norrish, who believes Aboriginal criminals should have prison terms of less than 12 months automatically suspended or converted to community service. He wants culture and disadvantage to be considered in mitigation during sentencing. He wants special "Koori courts". "Unless acts of affirmative action are formally recognised," he said, "not only will the disproportionate number of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system continue, but it will increase, to this nation's greater shame."

What about some collective remorse and self-criticism from the Aboriginal community? What about the gangs of young Aboriginal men who roam the streets of Sydney and country towns stealing and belting white kids, a problem my extended family has experienced first-hand multiple times? What about an apology from the Aboriginal people (a concept which itself is a white fiction) for the endemic child abuse inside Aboriginal families and communities?

I don't believe most Australians feel "shame" that Aborigines are 15-times over-represented in the criminal justice system. I believe they feel anger, as the victims of crime. Australians are sick of the chasm between rhetoric and reality, and the idea that the only acceptable public narratives for Aboriginal people are that of victim or artist or noble custodian. The percentage of incarcerated Aboriginals would be even higher if so many were not given a free pass by the justice system, which in turn has led to a self-perpetuating culture of violence.

The human rights industry, and lawyers from the High Court down, have created a system of moral and legal apartheid in this country in which Aboriginal communities are guaranteed to fail. And they want more of the same failed policies.

Judge Norrish does not treat Aborigines as human beings. Instead they are to be treated as something outside Australian law and culture, as victims, mendicants, piccaninnies, avatars of white guilt, incapable of knowing right from wrong. His comments are profoundly insulting to the majority of Aboriginal and part-Aboriginal people who function well within the norms of society.

At least he does not extend his "shame", like Commissioner Innes, who returned to Australia and complained about the "race to the bottom" by the major political parties in their policies for the handling of illegal boat arrivals. This is a deeply contemptuous phrase. It strips all principle from the debate for those who support strong border protection. It supports the false premise that the relatively small number of people who arrive by illegal boats makes this a minor matter than can be dealt with by compassion, not hysteria, exaggeration or xenophobia.

But this argument is about principle. Not numbers. The principle applies whether there are two boats or two hundred. The heart of the current debacle is a failure of law, an absence of legal certainty. If an election were to be fought today over whether those who arrive by illegal means, or without proper papers, should be guaranteed of failure, Julia Gillard and her government would be gone.


A humane policy would be one that stopped the boats coming

ALL Australians very much lament the tragic loss of life that occurred on December 15, 2010, just off Christmas Island. Latest reports are that 48 people have died, and that the death toll could rise.

We owe it to the heroic efforts of our navy and Customs officers, who risked their own lives in the heavy seas, that more did not perish. Parents have lost children; children have lost parents. I express my deepest sympathy to the families of those killed and injured. Many others seeking to enter Australia by boat die far out to sea, out of sight.

Sadly, the latest tragedy was a realisation of our worst fears and in all likelihood will be repeated if Labor's policies do not change.

The Coalition had a humane policy that stopped the boats from taking the dangerous journeys that horrifically killed so many men, women and children just off Christmas Island. Our policy was targeted at making it tougher for people-smugglers to prey on desperate asylum-seekers. While both sides of politics recognise that co-operation with our regional neighbours and international partners is necessary, it can never be a one-way street.

While we are looking at what Indonesia may be able to do to assist, it is important to remember that they see this outcome as an own goal by Australia. Indonesian spokesmen have repeatedly referred to the need for Australia to "take the sugar off the table".

What is the sugar? It is the incentives that Australian policies give to people to seek to access Australia through Indonesia. Indonesia is just as anxious as us that this should stop.

The Howard government's so-called Pacific solution, excision of islands from the migration zone, returning boats in safety and temporary protection visas stopped the boats. We recognised that a suite of measures was necessary to give people-smugglers the message that Australia was not open for their business.

The issue of temporary protection visas rather than permanent visas meant that when conditions in source countries improved, those who could go back without fear of persecution did so, rather than stay in Australia indefinitely. Temporary protection visas are in accord with Australia's obligations under international humanitarian law.

The abolition of temporary protection visas helps people-smugglers sell Australia to prospective asylum-seekers as a place you can migrate to permanently rather than temporarily.

People-smugglers knew that when the Labor government abandoned the Pacific solution and temporary protection visas, this meant they once again had a product to sell and their cruel trade recommenced. The Australian ("Ruddock slams asylum policy") reported on November 24, 2010, that Department of Immigration and Citizenship officials warned then immigration minister Chris Evans on February 25, 2008, to "expect an upswing in boat arrivals after the Nauru detention centre was abandoned that month".

Also, while mandatory detention has ostensibly been maintained, there has certainly been a softening and the government markets its new regime as more humane, of shorter duration and less punitive. Given that more than 700 children remain detained, figures far higher than seen during the Howard government years, it is hard to see how Labor's policies have been more humane.

Nevertheless it has created an impression in the region that we are a softer touch for asylum-seekers.

Labor has failed to stop the boats. The Coalition government stopped the boats. This is not a slogan but an outcome of policy. When the Labor government came to power in November 2007, there had been an average of three boats a year under the Howard government's last six years in office and only four illegal boat arrivals in detention. There are now on average three boats a week under Labor and more than 6500 illegal boat arrivals in detention.

When we look at the growing protests, riots, self-harm, hunger strikes and breakouts in a detention network that is expanded well beyond its capacity, we can see that Labor's policies on boatpeople have simply failed.

Australia has a long and proud record of resettling refugees and those in need of protection.This is something that the Coalition wants to continue. During the election we committed to increasing our intake through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees by 1500 places to 7500 and also to introduce a private sponsorship program to bring in potentially another 1500 UNHCR-mandated refugees.

But at the same time we have the right and responsibility to enact laws that protect our borders and are consistent with our international obligations to protect refugees. This is a delicate balance that the Howard government was able to achieve. It achieved this by recognising that a package of measures was necessary, and that to remove any one of those measures put at risk the very effectiveness of the package.

The Coalition remains serious about stopping the boats. Offshore entry persons, those who arrive by boat, should be treated differently to discourage boat arrivals. We must put a stop to the tragedies from these awfully dangerous sea journeys.


Refusal to release cabinet files casts NSW as 'state of secrecy'

THE state government is refusing to release cabinet documents despite passing a 10-year publication embargo because they reveal personal opinions of ministers at the time.

The refusal raises questions about the Keneally government's commitment to its new freedom-of-information regime and the promise to make publicly available large amounts of previously secret information.

Under the Government Information (Public Access) Act, cabinet documents cease to be exempt from public requests for access if 10 years have passed since the calendar year in which the papers were written.

In May the Premier, Kristina Keneally, directed all ministers and heads of department to "comply with both the letter and the spirit" of the new legislation, which replaced the complex and widely criticised Freedom of Information Act.

However, the Department of Premier and Cabinet has refused for almost 12 months to grant the Herald access to documents produced in 1999 by the cabinet relating to the Olympics.

The department's general counsel, Paul Miller, said he had determined that there is "an overriding public interest against disclosure" because the documents reveal the "views and positions of individual ministers in cabinet".

Mr Miller said releasing the minutes could prejudice the concept of collective ministerial responsibility, which holds that all ministers must publicly support the decisions taken in cabinet, even if they do not agree with them.

It is argued that ministers will be able to speak more freely during cabinet deliberations if they know the details will not be released in 10 years.

The Greens MP John Kaye said the decision "casts NSW back into the state of secrecy that the new public information act was supposed to overcome".

"The excuse is entirely feeble as it could be applied to almost any decision being made by cabinet and in effect creates an embargo in perpetuity on all documents," he said.

Mr Miller also cited the personal, business and financial information contained in the minutes as reason for refusal, but there was no mention of national security concerns.

Furthermore, the special exemption for Olympics-related documents in the old FOI legislation has not been carried over in the new law.

A spokeswoman said the Premier "has no role in overturning any decision to withhold information or in fact any role in determining what information to release".

The spokeswoman said a recommendation by the NSW Ombudsman in February 2009 that the Premier identify cabinet material which can be proactively released on a regular basis "will be considered by cabinet in due course".

The Herald has attempted to see the minutes prepared by the minister for the Olympics, Michael Knight, for consideration of the full cabinet or the standing committee on the Olympics, as well as the submissions to cabinet by the Olympic Co-ordination Authority.

The department allowed the Herald to view a selection of cabinet decisions, which documented the consensus view of cabinet, however one document, on the project agreement for a hotel at Homebush Bay, could not be found.


We will in future need that floodwater that we are now wasting

Barnaby Joyce

Water, water, everywhere, and treated you could drink it, or untreated use it for agriculture or drive turbines for power. From my front window I have twice in the last year seen the Balonne River in flood, surging to some 330,000 megalitres a day. About 500,000 megalitres fills Sydney Harbour.

Floods are flowing into houses when they should be flowing into weirs and dams for later, more beneficial use. In a couple of years there will be another drought and the response will be to blame everything, in the belief that the world has changed permanently and we poor souls are helpless and hopeless. The reality is that we were imprudent and did not do the hard work to build the appropriate infrastructure to mitigate against drought and reduce flood damage.

Julia Gillard's initial response to the floods was to send $1 million for relief. She spent in excess of 16,000 times as much to build school halls. Houses to live in and dams for our future should take precedence.

Our water policy must have the foresight to build infrastructure to store and move water. Australia is only too happy to build the infrastructure to take water out of the Murray-Darling Basin in order to send it to Melbourne, Adelaide and Broken Hill. How about instead we start building infrastructure to put water into the basin, or at least to store the part that does the damage to people's houses and lives?

The Coalition's water policy will come in four major parts, on top of the $10 billion the Howard government provided for the upgrade of infrastructure and water purchases to deal with over-allocation in the Murray-Darling Basin.

First, it will allocate $500 million in seed capital. This will go to areas as diverse as water infrastructure and research into plant genetics, with the aim of delivering or storing more water without reducing the present average volume at the mouth of the Murray. In its natural condition, drought leads to dry sand at the bottom of the river and not many fish breathe air, so the environment might be pristine but barren. During the middle of the last drought, water was still on the river floor due to the weirs and dams upstream.

Second, a key part of the Coalition policy is the Infrastructure Partnership Scheme. This is based partially on the municipal bonds system in the US, and allows for a 10 per cent reduction on the relevant tax paid on profits in these ventures.

If a superannuation fund built a dam and sold the water to industry, homes and farms, then these profits would be taxed only 5 per cent. Such a dam would not necessarily have to be built in the Murray-Darling Basin. If it has the potential to be a nation-building project, it could be built anywhere. There is about $1.4 trillion in superannuation savings; water infrastructure may well attract some of these dollars, thus reinvesting our savings in our nation.

Third, I recently made an announcement on the Murrumbidgee near Griffith that the Coalition would ask a panel of engineers to determine the most appropriate and cost-effective sites to construct dams. These decisions will be based not on political considerations but solely on an engineering basis. We know full well that a decision is never easy when dealing with water.

Lastly, both the Coalition and Labor have promised that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan would deliver a bottom-line outcome of social, economic and environmental equivalence. However, it appears that the Water Act is drafted in such a way that it precludes this. For example, section 44 (5) of the act prevents the minister from asking for changes to give greater protection to regional economies in the basin.

That there are problems in the Water Act is not just my view, but the view of George Williams of the faculty of law at the University of NSW, the economist and ex-University of Melbourne professor Judith Sloan, and the Sydney barrister Josephine Kelly. Most importantly, the former head of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Mike Taylor, is said to have given up his job because of this dilemma.

There must not be any sacred cow legislation; if the Water Act has unforeseen detrimental effects, then we must amend the act. It would not be the first act since Federation to be amended.

I asked for an investigation into ambiguities in the Water Act but Labor, the Greens and an independent voted against it. I sent a letter to Tony Windsor to see if his committee would investigate it, and have had no reply.

Fresh water is the source of renewable wealth, affordable food, green lawns and clean cars. Let us make water as accessible and affordable as possible, and move on from the present naive water policy of building nothing new, shutting down towns or taxing it. Build dams to store water, then move it and use it wisely. I reckon we're a clever enough country to do that.


2 January, 2011

"Green" police cars are too small

QUEENSLAND Police have been left red-faced over its choice of new "green" patrol cars. The service boasts it is going green, taking delivery of 100 hybrid Toyota Camrys. Shame no one checked the boot size. Frontline officers say the boots of the new patrol cars are too small to carry all their essential equipment, including flak jackets and emergency equipment.

They can't put it on the back seats - that's where the criminals go - leaving them little option but to ditch it, or keep it under their feet in the front.

And the front seats are already a tight squeeze for officers wearing accoutrement belts and cargo pants.

The police union said the decision showed how far removed top brass were from the frontline that they could approve cars that aren't big enough to be useful.

The Queensland Police Service (QPS) boasts about its green car choice in this year's annual report, saying its "smarter vehicle purchases" meant it had "the most operationally suitable vehicles". It goes on to say "green technology continues to be introduced" with "noteworthy development" the Toyota Camry Hybrid being used as a general duties patrol vehicle.

"As part of the Government's policy, the QPS is also required to reduce its production of carbon dioxide by 10 per cent by 2010, 25 per cent by 2012, and 50 per cent by 2017. "Fleet Management Branch is actively pursuing this through smarter vehicle purchases and the QPS has already achieved the 2010 target," the report said.

In June, the police fleet numbered 2316 vehicles, including 97 motorcycles.

The green car debacle comes after a January audit ordered by senior officers and obtained by The Sunday Mail found 294 police vehicles were doing less than 50km a day. Vehicles uncovered in the audit included a Holden Commodore sedan on general duties that had done only 7833km in two years, a Ford Falcon sedan with just 18,663km since 2006, and a Mitsubishi Lancer averaging 17km a day.


Soorley's 'jihad' on town planners

FORMER Brisbane lord mayor Jim Soorley has stunned a meeting of town planners by declaring a "jihad" on their profession for causing delays to development projects.

Mr Soorley, chairman of the Sunshine Coast-Moreton Bay water utility Unitywater and lobbyist for several major developers, made the controversial speech at the state branch of the Planning Institute of Australia's conference at Coolum in November.

The institute's state president Greg Tupicoff said the "jihad" comment caused "a fair bit of anxiety, indignation and despondency" but he believed that Mr Soorley had a point to make. "He was sort of saying we had put too many roadblocks in the way (of development)," Mr Tupicoff said.

The controversy comes as the Queensland branch of the Urban Development Institute of Australia charges up its own attack on red tape.

It partly blames this for blowing out the delivery timeframe for major development projects in Queensland, such as large housing estates, from two years to more than six years in a decade. "That is the surest possible sign there are profound problems in what should be a relatively straightforward process," UDIA state chief executive Brian Stewart said.

"That extended production lifecycle means that there is so much more uncertainty about whether projects will be built and how much more they cost, particularly because of fees and charges.

"Mr Soorley's comments are very clearly evidence of the level of frustration in a number of expert consultants around the area that things are too complicated, therefore they won't happen and the whole community really suffers."

The UDIA has blamed a combination of government indecisiveness, complex planning schemes and questionable development fees for creating delays.

Mr Stewart claimed some councils were charging unlawful developer application fees, citing a State Government alert to councils last month that councils should not be charging fees for some types of applications.

But the Local Government Association of Queensland's own legal advice is at odds with the State Government, finding councils may fix a cost-recovery fee. LGAQ executive director Greg Hallam denied there had been a time blowout in approvals, saying State Government figures showed development application processing times had improved.


Victoria's appalling VCAT again

Violent crime is OK but if he had mocked Islam there would have been no mercy for him. Ask Danny Nalliah about that

A CONVICTED criminal who was so drunk he cannot remember king-hitting a barman and putting him in hospital will be allowed to work with children despite a government department's opposition. Even the tribunal that overturned the department's ban was shocked by the violence and described it as "grave".

The man, a country Victorian football volunteer coach who deals with juniors at the club and who works with apprentices, was jailed for eight months, with six months suspended.

The man was drunk when he entered a hotel and had an argument with his wife, including some pushing and shoving, but the barman who intervened was the one who took the worst blow in the 2009 assault.

The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, raised both fists then clubbed the barman on both sides of his head, according to a recent Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal judgment. The man, known as TGN, punched him in the face, knocking him to the floor, then struck him a further three times, tribunal deputy president Bernadette Steele said. The victim who was at least 14 years younger than the then 34-year-old had surgery to insert two titanium plates permanently in his broken jaw, Ms Steele said.

"I was inclined to consider the offence was so violent and unprovoked that (they) could not be a suitable person to work with children."

But Ms Steele said witnesses had testified TGN was good with children and he regarded himself as a role model at the football club. "He said he considered that nothing could justify his actions that night, that he had let down his community," she said. "He wanted to continue with his work with the club as a way of repaying the community. "(The father of two is) a mature and hard-working person anxious to provide leadership in his community."

Ms Steele ordered the Department of Justice to overturn its refusal to grant TGN a certificate to work with children.


Queensland scientist closes in on world breakthrough to beat killer disease

This is very hopeful news. Dengue is like a very severe flu

A QUEENSLAND scientist is on the brink of eliminating the deadly global disease threat of dengue fever after more than 15 years of painstaking research. The University of Queensland's Professor Scott O'Neill will start his world-first field trials to wipe out the mosquito-borne disease in far north Queensland this week.

The project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Global Health Program, hopes to control dengue by introducing a bacteria to mosquitoes that stops them passing on the virus to humans. The bacteria, known as Wolbachia, has a powerful ability to invade natural populations of insects and alter their reproduction and lifespan.

"I was always interested in science but I wanted to do science with a practical outcome," Prof O'Neill, 48, said. "This is very exciting for me and my team - we can provide a real solution to the global burden of disease."

Dengue is a significant disease that has no effective controls or vaccine - it affects billions world-wide and costs millions of dollars to treat. It is carried by an urban-dwelling mosquito that, once established in cities, is almost impossible to eradicate.

Dengue hot spot Brazil spends $US800 million a year on pesticides to control mosquitoes and still has one of the highest cases of infections in the world.

"The scary thing is dengue is getting worse, with a broadening geographic distribution and outbreaks becoming more severe," Prof O'Neill said. "We can see that in our own experience in Australia." There were more than 1000 cases of dengue in Queensland in 2009 - the worst outbreak in 50 years.

But discovering the effect Wolbachia has on the dengue-carrying Aedes aegypti mosquito did not happen in a "lightbulb moment" - it has taken decades.

"When you are doing scientific work more experiments fail than succeed, so you keep chipping away to find ways around the problem," Prof O'Neill said. "I think it's a sickness that a lot of scientists have - they are very obsessive people and that's what makes them so tenacious about their projects."

One member of the Eliminate Dengue team was once required to manually inject 10,000 mosquito embryos with the bacteria to test their survival.

Prof O'Neill was first alerted to Wolbachia by former UQ professor Hugh Patterson when he was Patterson's student in the 1980s. Scientists had been thinking about the bacteria as a way of controlling insect populations but Prof O'Neill wanted to test its ability to prevent disease transmission.

Leaving Brisbane for the US, he kept up his investigations as a junior professor at Yale University for 10 years. Returning to UQ as head of the School of Biological Sciences, his team was the first to apply molecular biology to the bacteria sequencing the Wolbachia genome.

"Dengue is spread by old mosquitoes (12 days old)," he said. "I thought if we could shorten their lifespan we could stop transmission of the disease. "It not only shortened their lifespan but it interfered with the virus's ability to grow in the insect. "That was quite an amazing discovery and it means this approach can be much more effective."

This week Prof O'Neill's team will begin releasing Wolbachia-infected mosquitoes into the wild population.

The CSIRO has done a nine-month risk analysis on releasing Wolbachia mosquitoes into the general population to breed. Prof O'Neill said this type of science was heavily regulated in Australia and they were being extremely careful because they did not want to create another biological problem like the cane toad.

"The cane toad was a foreign organism introduced into a new environment but Wolbachia already occurs naturally in up to 60 per cent of the insect population," he said.

In September the Australia Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority gave the project approval to proceed to field trials at Yorkeys Knob and Gordonvale near Cairns.

Over the past 15 years, the international collaboration has involved more than 14 institutions and 50 scientists from Australia, Vietnam, Thailand, the US and Brazil.


1 January, 2011

Up north, there's another boatpeople issue

Like many Australians who know Melanesians, I have some sympathy for these people. They usually adapt well to Australian life, are good humoured and are not afraid of hard work. PNG is so dysfunctional, however, that we would have millions of low-skilled and poorly educated people flooding in if they were allowed

For the welfare of the people, PNG should have continued under Australian administration. There was no indigenous push for independence but a big-noting Labor government led by Gough Whitlam pushed independence on them

FROM his dingy, overcrowded cell in Port Moresby's Boroko prison, Jonathan Baure is already plotting his next assault on Australia's border.

It has been 10 days since he stood on the shore of Daru Island, along the southeastern tip of Papua New Guinea, to see off 16 dinghies, carrying 119 PNG nationals - including 13 children - headed across the Torres Strait to reclaim their "birth right" of Australian citizenship. Baure, a former tile salesman, had planned and openly promoted the voyage for weeks.

There was no shortage of willing passengers. Despite November's cholera outbreak on Daru, which killed 32 people, more than 400 supporters from all over the country flooded the island, paying Baure to join the unwieldy flotilla of banana boats.

Leader of an emerging group of "Australian Papuans", Baure has for a decade waged a losing battle with Canberra to recognise that people from the former Australian territory of Papua were not given the choice to remain Australian when PNG gained independence in 1975.

Two High Court cases have been lost in Australia over the issue, and Baure unsuccessfully launched his own case in PNG, which was thrown out in 2009.

Several months ago, Baure and his group, which claims to have 700 registered members, decided to take the fight to the Australian mainland. "I was born in Papua in 1967, before independence, and like many others, my birth certificate is stamped 'Australian'," Baure tells The Weekend Australian after his arrest on fraud and immigration charges this week. "Nobody has listened to us, so our plan was to go to Australia, get arrested, raise awareness of the issue and have our cases heard in the courts like the asylum-seekers. We knew they couldn't stop us."

He was right. On December 22, as the boats were about to leave, Australian and PNG customs and immigration officials rushed to Daru, alerted by the influx of people who had emptied the local shops of diesel and other supplies.

One Australian official from the high commission in Port Moresby pleaded with Baure and his supporters, warning they would be flown back to Daru without seeing the inside of a courtroom and the boats - the source of income for scores of families - confiscated.

Undeterred, Baure, who stayed behind to "handle the media", and the authorities then watched as the packed boats disappeared over the horizon. Within hours, the vulnerability of Australia's northern borders was exposed again.

Last year, Torres Strait councils told a Senate inquiry PNG nationals were pouring onto the islands to live, flouting immigration laws, running drugs and overwhelming health services in the region.

Despite a customs helicopter and patrol boat shadowing and then intercepting Baure's flotilla, one of the boats seemingly landed undetected on the tip of Cape York. At one stage, the customs vessel came alongside the lead boat, with the commander inviting Baure's offsider Laura Rea onboard to take a phone call from one of Immigration's most senior officials. "It was somewhere near Zagai Island (about 100km south of Daru), and the man on the telephone said we had no claim, that our case had already been lost in the High Court years ago," Rea tells The Weekend Australian. "He said that unless we turned back, we would lose our boats and be sent back immediately, but everyone wanted to go on."

Darkness started to fall and the boats were tied up to the Customs vessel, with the children brought aboard as the rest of the party slept on the dinghies. The next day, they were led to Horn Island, off the northern tip of Cape York, where they were detained before being flown back to Daru last weekend on a chartered plane.

Australian Immigration spokesman Sandi Logan said the incident could end up costing taxpayers $500,000. Logan says many of the passengers were not born before 1975, and could not qualify under even the criteria of the group's claims to citizenship.

"Customs, Queensland police, doctors and immigration were all involved when many of them were preparing for the floods and they had to deal with this prank, this protest."

The voyage has also come at a great cost to the passengers. Rea says the boat owners are devastated their vessels have been confiscated despite being warned before they left that it would happen.

She claims Immigration officials later assured the group on Horn Island their boats would be returned. "But Australia has confiscated their banana boats, and that is devastating to them and the families they support," she said.

Baure is facing up to three years' in jail, after being arrested in Daru as the passengers were being flown back. PNG police allege the 400 people who travelled to Daru had paid a minimum 200 kina ($77) to Baure for membership of his group and a document that purported to prove each of their claims for Australian citizenship.

Baure has been charged under section 96 of PNG's criminal code, relating to "false assumption of authority", as well as offences under the Migration Act.

He denies duping anybody into believing they were guaranteed citizenship with the documents. "The documents that the police are calling a fake visa was actually just a pass so that the boat owners knew who was legitimately entitled to be on the boat," he says. "I wanted to raise money for the group but also make sure that drug runners and other people didn't slip onto the boats."

Baure says his arrest is an attempt to destroy his group and put an end to the simmering issue. "We are already making plans, there will be other boats.

"There are many people still on Daru wanting to make the voyage. They can confiscate our dinghies but we will come back with canoes and if they take them we will make more and return. This is a fight about our civil rights being denied, not all of us want to move to Australia and people shouldn't think there are going to be hordes of Papuans arriving to live off welfare. "I have the information that will win the case. Why is Australia so fearful of facing a bunch of uneducated Papuans in court?"


They did something

NEW national consumer protection laws and paid parental leave are among the Gillard Government reforms that will come into effect today.

In what the Government has hailed as "one of the most significant reforms in the history of consumer protection" the Australian Consumer Law will today take the place of about 20 Commonwealth, state and territory consumer protection laws, The Weekend Australian said.

The ACL - which the Productivity Commission estimates will provide up to $4.5 billion in benefits to the economy - will include terms to cover standard form contracts, a national law guaranteeing consumer rights when buying goods and services, national product safety rules and unified penalties and enforcement powers.

From today, parents will be able to claim 18 weeks government-funded paid parental leave, at the national minimum wage of $570 a week before tax, The Weekend Australian said.

But Julia Gillard is yet to respond to the concerns of unions and business groups, who are urging the Government to address a loophole that leaves some parents eligible for the payments but not for leave under the Fair Work Act.

New government-funded mental health services will also come online today, with a $21million boost to internet-based mental health services and extra training for frontline community workers.

Trade apprentices in areas where there are known skills shortages will get an extra $1700 over the course of their training to cover the cost of tools and other work expenses.

The age of independence to qualify for Youth Allowance and Abstudy payments will drop from 24 years to 23 years. More generous Youth Allowance eligibility criteria will also apply to "outer regional" and "remote" students but the government is now under pressure to extend those arrangements to inner regional students.

In other changes, workers whose employers go into liquidation will get extra protection. Cabinet records will become available after 20 years instead of the current 30 years.

Publicly listed companies will come under more pressure to redress gender inequalities at a board level, with the introduction of the ASX Corporate Governance Council's Corporate Governance Principles and Recommendations.

In NSW, pioneering political campaign finance reforms become state law, with limits on both donations and campaign spending ahead of the March 26 state election. Individuals and organisations are permitted to donate a maximum of $5000 to any political party in any year. During elections the parties are now limited to spending $100,000 in any electorate. Payroll tax relief for businesses comes into effect, while there will be more leniency on driving infractions, with motorists able to accrue 13 demerit points, instead of the current 12.

In Victoria, cigarette displays are now banned except in specialist tobacconists. The "Underbelly" state is also making it illegal to sell a minor a controlled weapon, including knives, and will introduce new bail arrangements, which give the courts more responsibility for setting bail.

In Queensland, mining companies now have to comply with new energy efficiency standards and prepare an environmental impact statement for any new project undertaken.

South Australian householders will be slugged with electricity price rises after the state's energy regulator allowed a 12 per cent increase in the amount AGL can charge its customers. The average householder will pay an extra $140 on power bills this year as a result.

In Western Australia, the Chicken Meat Industry Act 1977 expires. The act was established to promote stability in the struggling chicken industry as it rapidly expanded.

In Tasmania, midwives will be able to prescribe stronger pain relief for their patients, under new laws.


Climate policy still hottest topic for government

Climate change policy has already played a critical role in the demise of four political leaders.

John Howard's failure to ratify the Kyoto protocol was used to characterise him as yesterday's man. Brendan Nelson's instinct to tighten the rein on climate policy was a pivotal reason the Liberals switched to Malcolm Turnbull. Paradoxically, little more than a year later, the same party room narrowly toppled Turnbull to overturn his climate policy.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd lost his confidence when Copenhagen failed, and then lost the confidence of the public and finally his party when he abandoned his emissions trading crusade.

It is clear climate change looms large, it's a known unknown, and it's on track to claim a fifth Australian political scalp. But whose?

For Gillard the issue offers an opportunity to salvage her almost stillborn government. On the other hand, it could deliver Tony Abbott the keys to the lodge.

At one level there is more policy common ground here than either side of politics likes to pretend.

Both main parties are committed to the same 10-year target they took to the election, reaffirmed recently at Cancun; a reduction of 5 per cent on 2001 emissions levels by 2020. What differs is how they'll get there, and the rhetoric and emphasis employed along the way.

It suits Labor to argue it is crusading to save the planet and protect the economy while the conservatives are sitting on their hands and jeopardising our children's future.

It suits the Liberals to argue that Labor is rushing headlong with the tide of political fashion, imposing a heavy cost on the economy when the science is, at best, uncertain.

Neither of these rhetorical lines sits very well with the fact that both sides have plausible plans to reduce emissions by the same amount over the next decade.

Business, especially big business, craves certainty and leans towards an emissions trading system, mainly because it considers a market mechanism inevitable. In short it has been saying we might as well get the system in place so investment decisions can be made.

The Liberals' direct-action alternative might be immediately attractive to industry except that it would worry a change of government or a breakthrough in international talks could suddenly see a market mechanism re-emerge.

Yet Labor no longer has any certainty about what it proposes. Its carbon pollution reduction scheme remains on the shelf; a trading scheme endorsed for a week by the Turnbull Coalition and rejected, in the end, by the Greens for not going far enough.

Gillard must be tempted to dust it off and run it by the parliament again, invite a Liberal or two to cross the floor, and dare the Greens to reject progress on a carbon price agenda for a second time. Surely this would call Brown's bluff.

But Gillard has now outsourced her climate policy, at least to some degree, to a multi-sided (Labor, Greens, independents) parliamentary committee, a Productivity Commission inquiry, a new Ross Garnaut review and two non-government round tables.

Imagine if Labor were confronted with research or recommendations that bolster Abbott's argument that a direct-action approach is advisable in the short term before international commitments become clearer.

Nonetheless, Labor is committed to deliver some kind of price on carbon and it must. To retreat again on climate change would be suicide. This won't be easy. Labor's scheme will be shaped in a tug'o'war between the lower house independents and the Greens. Anything could happen, up to a parliamentary stand-off that would be fatal for Gillard.

But from this distance out, let's assume the stakes are so high that Gillard can carry the day and get her carbon price in place.

She could then claim a victory of sorts and, importantly, show Labor has made good on a pledge that has been pivotal to its agenda for at least five years.

But where the climate alarmists from Al Gore to Tim Flannery once had an unchallenged run, there is now a more realistic and multi-faceted debate. Labor's crusade to save the planet is no longer the political sure bet. The situation is much more nuanced.

Polls tell us most Australians are worried about climate change and believe human activity is a contributing factor. But when asked if they are prepared to pay for a solution through a tax or trading scheme, opinion is more divided.

There is a greater awareness of the international developments that put our actions in the shade. For instance, Chinese coal-fired generation will double in the next decade. Increasingly, the public is also aware of other ways to skin the cat, such as the Coalition's abatement purchasing plan.

For all the debates about models, schemes and costs, the public messages are pretty clear. Labor is promising fervent, enthusiastic and passionate action, while the Coalition is promising prudent, reluctant and cautious action. This is a fascinating contrast when they are both committed to the same target.

In fact one of the greatest ironies in all of this has been pointed out by the Liberals' climate spokesman Greg Hunt. He says if the Coalition had won government, it would already be negotiating with large polluters to purchase carbon abatement. Abbott can also attack Labor's carbon price as a step too far, a case of ideological overreach imperilling the economy, especially given the lack of carbon price progress in the US, China and Japan.

He will, however, be presented with a difficult dilemma himself. Will he go to the next election pledging to repeal whatever scheme Labor puts in place?

Clearly Labor will make life difficult for the Coalition if it can establish a scheme and have it operational before the election. If business leaders accept the new regime and argue for it to remain in place in the interests of certainty, Abbott will rankle them by campaigning to repeal it.

But if he has characterised it as a dangerous and unnecessary "great big new tax", he will have no option. Make no mistake. This decision will create some consternation inside the Liberal Party.

All sides of politics have trying times ahead. Gillard is caught between the need to shield voters from higher costs and the extreme demands of the Greens, all fuelled by the high expectations Labor has set itself on climate change action.

Abbott is torn between the election campaign gift of running against a new tax and the challenge of pledging to overturn a scheme agreed to by business to tackle a problem worrying most Australians.

Gillard has the much tougher challenge. Cobbling a carbon price together will go close to tearing her rainbow coalition apart. The country independents will be asked to turn their back on rural abatement schemes that would be lucrative for their constituents and endorse higher power prices at the same time. The Greens will be asked to climb down from their extreme targets and agree to a pragmatic compromise that is perhaps inferior, in their eyes, to the scheme they rejected last year.

If the Gillard can pass through the eye of that needle, she'll have to sell a deliberate cost-of-living increase to all Australians. For Abbott, running a campaign against that shouldn't be too taxing.


Don't get ill in Victoria

Victoria's ambulance crisis set to worsen

The state's ambulance crisis is set to worsen with Ambulance Victoria slashing its graduate program. The 10 per cent graduate recruitment cut means 25 fewer paramedics on our roads - caused by a lack of money.

It comes after a horror year for the service plagued by vehicle shortages, a shortage of paramedics and fatal delays caused by increasingly poor response times.

In November, the Herald Sun revealed emergency ambulances had been unable to respond to thousands of calls during the year, because Ambulance Victoria could not find staff to crew them.

Despite the desperate shortage, only 201 graduates were recruited by the organisation last year compared with 226 in 2009 and 274 in 2008. Ambulance Victoria has also wound back its undergraduate program in which second-year university students completed their studies part-time while gaining on-road experience. While 90 students took part in the program last year, students were told this week the program had been withdrawn.

Ambulance Employees Association spokesman Steve McGhie said it was a blow. "The ambulance service is desperately short of staff, and instead of hiring people, it's knocking them back," he said.

Ambulance Victoria's acting manager of regional services, Garry Cook, said the organisation didn't have the money to take on more graduates. "We are recruiting as many paramedics as we can manage and need to meet our service demands," Mr Cook said.

Shadow health spokesman Gavin Jennings savaged the cuts. "Ted Baillieu was good at criticising our ambulance service, but it's time he explains to Victorians how he will improve the system. He has no excuses, he must deliver his ambulance commitments in full and on time," Mr Jennings said.

A spokesman for Health Minister David Davis said yesterday the Government was committed to its $151 million pledge to deliver 340 new paramedics. "The minister is seeking an urgent briefing from Ambulance Victoria on the impact of the previous government's policies on Ambulance Victoria's recruitment and graduate program," he said.


Postings from Brisbane, Australia by John Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.) -- former member of the Australia-Soviet Friendship Society, former anarcho-capitalist and former member of the British Conservative party.

For overseas readers: The "ALP" is the Australian Labor Party -- Australia's major Leftist party. The "Liberal" party is Australia's major conservative political party.

Again for overseas readers: Like the USA, Germany and India, Australia has State governments as well as the Federal government. So it may be useful to know the usual abbreviations for the Australian States: QLD (Queensland), NSW (New South Wales), WA (Western Australia), VIC (Victoria), TAS (Tasmania), SA (South Australia).

For American readers: A "pensioner" is a retired person living on Social Security

Two of my ancestors were convicts so my family has been in Australia for a long time. As well as that, all four of my grandparents were born in the State where I was born and still live: Queensland. And I am even a member of the world's second-most condemned minority: WASPs (the most condemned is of course the Jews -- which may be why I tend to like Jews). So I think I am as Australian as you can get. I certainly feel that way. I like all things that are iconically Australian: meat pies, Vegemite, Henry Lawson etc. I particularly pride myself on my familiarity with the great Australian slanguage. I draw the line at Iced Vo-Vos and betting on the neddies, however. So if I cannot comment insightfully on Australian affairs, who could?

On all my blogs, I express my view of what is important primarily by the readings that I select for posting. I do however on occasions add personal comments in italicized form at the beginning of an article.

I am rather pleased to report that I am a lifelong conservative. Out of intellectual curiosity, I did in my youth join organizations from right across the political spectrum so I am certainly not closed-minded and am very familiar with the full spectrum of political thinking. Nonetheless, I did not have to undergo the lurch from Left to Right that so many people undergo. At age 13 I used my pocket-money to subscribe to the "Reader's Digest" -- the main conservative organ available in small town Australia of the 1950s. I have learnt much since but am pleased and amused to note that history has since confirmed most of what I thought at that early age.

I imagine that the the RD is still sending mailouts to my 1950s address!

I am an army man. Although my service in the Australian army was chiefly noted for its un-notability, I DID join voluntarily in the Vietnam era, I DID reach the rank of Sergeant, and I DID volunteer for a posting in Vietnam. So I think I may be forgiven for saying something that most army men think but which most don't say because they think it is too obvious: The profession of arms is the noblest profession of all because it is the only profession where you offer to lay down your life in performing your duties. Our men fought so that people could say and think what they like but I myself always treat military men with great respect -- respect which in my view is simply their due.

The kneejerk response of the Green/Left to people who challenge them is to say that the challenger is in the pay of "Big Oil", "Big Business", "Big Pharma", "Exxon-Mobil", "The Pioneer Fund" or some other entity that they see, in their childish way, as a boogeyman. So I think it might be useful for me to point out that I have NEVER received one cent from anybody by way of support for what I write. As a retired person, I live entirely on my own investments. I do not work for anybody and I am not beholden to anybody. And I have NO investments in oil companies, mining companies or "Big Pharma"

UPDATE: Despite my (statistical) aversion to mining stocks, I have recently bought a few shares in BHP -- the world's biggest miner, I gather. I run the grave risk of becoming a speaker of famous last words for saying this but I suspect that BHP is now so big as to be largely immune from the risks that plague most mining companies. I also know of no issue affecting BHP where my writings would have any relevance. The Left seem to have a visceral hatred of miners. I have never quite figured out why.

Although I have been an atheist for all my adult life, I have no hesitation in saying that the single book which has influenced me most is the New Testament. And my Scripture blog will show that I know whereof I speak.