Friday, April 18, 2014

Still Damaging and Disturbing: Australian Child Protection Data and the Need for National Adoption Targets

In December 2013, the Abbott government announced plans to make it easier for Australian parents to adopt children both locally and from overseas. Acknowledging the official ‘taboo’ on adoption in Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott ordered an inter-departmental committee to recommend ways to take adoption out of the ‘too-hard’ basket.

The chief barrier to raising the number of local adoptions is that state and territory child protection authorities almost never take legal action to free children for adoption, even for children who languish in Australia’s ever-expanding ‘out-of-home’ care (OOHC) system with little prospect of safely returning home.

One way the committee can help break the taboo and increase the number of adoptions is by debunking the fallacies that underpin the policy debate concerning the so-called causes and solutions for the demand problems and cost pressures in Australia’s child protection system.

The bottom line is that increasing numbers of children are still ending up in OOHC despite the additional funding Australian governments have poured into family support/preservation.

Australian child protection policy continues to resemble Einstein’s definition of madness—doing the same thing and expecting a different result. The inter-departmental committee needs to be aware that flawed family preservation policies and practices are the root cause of the systemic problems in the child protection system, lest it be misled by red herrings about the need for higher spending on family support services. Instead, it should recommend the Abbott government direct the states and territories to take more timely statutory action to permanently remove children from unsafe homes and provide them with safe and stable homes by adoption by suitable families.

The Abbott government can provide national leadership and take adoption out of the ‘too-hard’ basket by setting national child protection performance targets, including boosting the number of local adoptions from care to the equivalent of more adoption-friendly countries within the next 10 years.


Research investigations mounting for embattled University of New South Wales Professor Levon Khachigian

The drug DZ13 was invented by Khachigian.  Khachigian was born into the Lebanese Armenian community

Millions of dollars in research money for the University of New South Wales has been frozen as multiple investigations into alleged research misconduct are launched.

The National Health and Medical Research Centre is withholding almost $8.4 million in funding it had awarded Professor Levon Khachigian following an investigation into the veracity of research papers about a skin cancer drug called DZ13.

Two investigations are currently being run into that research, and the university is about to establish another two inquiries.

Last year, the ABC revealed that the human clinical trial using DZ13 on skin cancer patients was stopped due to concerns about the science leading up to the trial.

Research papers Professor Khachigian co-wrote about using DZ13 to treat skin cancer and heart disease are being examined by two panels of external experts.

Now the ABC has learned research he co-wrote using the compound to treat blindness is also being examined.

In this latest case, concerns have been raised about four scientific papers published in international journals and the "integrity of the data" used in the papers.

The third investigation by a panel of independent experts will review the four papers, one PhD thesis, and a poster presentation.

All include a number of co-authors from other prestigious universities and medical research bodies.

Professor Khachigian has maintained there has been no wrongdoing in all of the enquiries. His statement regarding the allegations over DZ13 and skin cancer can be read here.

Professor Khachigian remains on leave from the university, though it is not clear whether it is paid or unpaid leave.

A statement from the University of New South Wales says it has investigated or is currently in the process of investigating all allegations of research misconduct it has received relating to research involving Professor Khachigian.

"All investigations into alleged research misconduct must adhere to principles of natural justice and adhere to the procedures laid down by the university's enterprise agreement," it says.

"In accordance ... the university must maintain the confidentiality of such investigations to preserve the fairness and integrity of the process.

"Since the concerns were first raised in 2009, the university has on two separate occasions appointed independent expert panels to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into allegations with respect to publish results of the relevant research."

Academic Dr Sarah Gregson represents the National Tertiary Education Union at the University of New South Wales.

She says the process of organisations investigating themselves needs to be examined.

"I think it is very important for public confidence that the process is done fairly and openly and it remains to be seen whether that happens," she says.

Allegations of research misconduct are becoming more common according to Professor Brian Martin from the University of Wollongong.

He says the most common concerns relate to conflict-of-interest problems, which occur when a university gets funding from an organisation to do research.

He says the current system is not a good system, as it is based on complaints.

"An individual scientist can be damaged if they are falsely accused and those bringing accusations can be damaged as well," he says.


Mike Baird named new NSW Premier after Barry O'Farrell resignation

NSW Premier Mike Baird has promised to restore confidence in the State Government after being elected unopposed as Barry O'Farrell's successor today.

Mr Baird was elected as the state's 44th Premier by the Liberals' party room after Mr O'Farrell's shock resignation yesterday. He was sworn in on Thursday evening.

Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian was elected unopposed as the party's deputy leader, after Jillian Skinner announced she would step down.

Mr Baird said it was an honour to be elected the state's Liberal leader.  "I think what we have to say, and all of us will share this: we are shocked and saddened by the events in the last 48 hours," he said.

"As we reflected on it, I think there is one clear thing that comes through - Barry O'Farrell has done a great job. His legacy is positive and it's permanent."

Mr O'Farrell stepped down yesterday after misleading the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on Tuesday regarding a $3,000 bottle of wine.

Mr Baird said this afternoon that the NSW Government was one of "integrity" and he would address community concerns about the circumstances surrounding Mr O'Farrell's departure.  "The community has spoken. They do have concerns and we will, in coming days and weeks, have more to say about additional measures to bring that confidence back in government," he said.

Mr Baird said Mr O'Farrell has indicated that he wants to stay on as a local member.

He said that ministerial changes will be considered by himself and Ms Berejiklian over the weekend.

Ms Berejiklian said she was proud to stand alongside Mr Baird, and echoed the Premier's sentiments about Mr O'Farrell.  "Mike is the best person to lead the NSW Liberal Party and I am very proud to serve as his deputy leader," she said.

"I also want to say that Barry O'Farrell and Jillian Skinner have made an outstanding contribution to the party and to this state in their capacities as leaders of the party.

"In the last few days when it has been tough, they have been stoic and amazing."

Prime Minister Tony Abbott congratulated Mr Baird and Ms Berejiklian on their appointment.  "There is no greater honour than to serve the people you are elected to represent at the very highest level, and Mike will be a fine leader for NSW," Mr Abbott said in a statement.

Mike Baird's rise to power

The son of former federal government minister Bruce Baird, Mike Baird studied arts and economics at Sydney University and worked in the banking sector for 18 years before entering politics.
Star chamber takes down a premier

There are likely to be more ramifications for the NSW Liberal Party from ICAC than the resignation of Barry O'Farrell, writes Quentin Dempster on The Drum

He was first elected to the NSW parliament as the Member for Manly in 2007, and within a year he had been promoted to the shadow ministry, prompting speculation then about his leadership ambitions.

Although he is from the Left faction, Mr Baird's aggressive push to privatise the state's assets had been expected to boost his support amongst the party's Right faction.

But the NSW Greens have raised questions about Mr Baird's relationship with Nick Di Girolamo, the former Australian Water Holdings executive at the centre of the current ICAC hearings, whose gift of a 1959 bottle of Grange precipitated the chain of events which led to Mr O'Farrell's resignation.

Newly-elected deputy leader Ms Berejiklian had been touted as Mr O'Farrell's favoured successor, and was widely tipped as a major contender for the leadership.

But earlier today Mr Baird and Ms Berejiklian issued a joint statement saying they would run a joint ticket for the positions of leader and deputy leader respectively.

Ms Berejiklian is one of the key leaders of the party's Left faction, and holds the north shore electorate of Willoughby.

Before entering parliament, she was a Commonwealth Bank executive. She joined the Liberal Party in 1991 and held the position of president of the Young Liberals.


Melanoma vaccine giving cancer victims hope

An Adelaide research team says it has developed a vaccine to tackle melanoma, a disease which kills about 1,500 Australians annually.

About 12,000 new cases are being diagnosed each year.

Barry Foote was 50 when he was diagnosed with aggressive melanoma and given just a year to live.

"The doctor told me to get my house into order and I didn't think I'd live for 12 months, but 14 years later I'm still here," he said.

Mr Foote's surgeon cut out melanomas 24 times as they kept developing in different parts of his body.

"I even got to the stage where I could feel a tumour coming on," he said.

"I'd get a burning sensation and then I'd have to race to the doctor and he'd cut it out and we'd keep going until he just couldn't do it any longer."

Eventually Mr Foote was referred to oncologist Brendon Coventry.

The Associate Professor from Adelaide University and the Australian Melanoma Research Foundation had just started trials of a melanoma vaccine.

"I was a bit scared at first, but when I realised that these tumours were starting to disappear I was very pleased," Mr Foote said.

"Dr Coventry ... said 'if it's going to work you'll feel pain where the tumours are' and I certainly did feel a lot of pain and I was pretty happy with that because I knew it was working."

Vaccine trial has spanned 14 years

Mr Foote is among 54 patients with advanced melanoma who have been involved in the vaccine trial over the past 14 years.

At first, he was injected with the vaccine every fortnight then monthly and now he gets a shot twice per year.

Dr Coventry says the key is giving repetitive and prolonged doses of the vaccine.

"What it's shown is that the vaccine can successfully modulate or modify the immune system of the cancer patient to produce long-term survival with complete removal of all tumour in about 17 per cent of cases," he said.

"It's one of a handful of studies where complete responses or complete remissions have actually exceeded 15 per cent for advanced melanoma.

"A lot of other studies have used very complex regimens, and very toxic regimens. The vaccine has very little in terms of side-effects at all, there's sometimes a little redness but apart from that nothing else is experienced."

Dr Coventry says the trial is helping researchers understand how a patient's immune system can be manipulated to fight cancer.

He says the next step is to look at what happens to the immune system after the vaccine is given.

"The immune system works in ways that seems to be switching on and off constantly and now what we're trying to do is to see whether we can identify periods or phases in that cycle where we can target the vaccine more effectively and perhaps even increase the responses beyond the 17 per cent," he said.

Dr Coventry says success with the vaccine could see it used to treat other cancers.

The latest research findings have been published in the Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Death of manufacturing not yet

Ross Gittins

Few things about the economy are worrying people – particularly older people and those from Victoria and South Australia – more than the decline in manufacturing. But many of our worries are misplaced, or based on out-of-date information.

For instance, many worry that, at the rate it's declining, we'll pretty soon end up with no manufacturing at all. And everyone knows that, unlike other states, Victoria's economy is particularly dependent on manufacturing.

But Professor Jeff Borland, a labour economist at the University of Melbourne, has written a little paper that sheds much light on these concerns.

It's true that manufacturing's share of total employment in Australia is declining. But this is hardly a new phenomenon, which suggests the end may not be nigh. Half a century ago, manufacturing accounted for a quarter of all employment. Today it's 8 per cent.

And almost none of that dramatic decline is explained by a fall in our production of manufactured goods. The great majority of the fall in manufacturing's share is explained simply by the faster growth of other parts of the economy, particularly the service industries.

It's true, however, there's been a (much less dramatic) decline in employment in the industry over the years. Employment in manufacturing reached a peak of 1.35 million in the early 1970s. Today, it's about 950,000. Of the overall loss of 400,000 jobs, about 200,000 occurred during the '70s, about 100,000 in the recession of the early '90s and the rest since the global financial crisis in 2008.

Many people would explain this decline in terms of the removal of protection against imports in the '80s and the very high dollar since the start of the resources boom in 2003. But, in fact, the great majority of it is explained by nothing more than automation.

How do I know? Because if you look at the quantity (or real value) of manufactured goods we produce, it reached a peak as recently as 2008, and has since fallen by just 6 per cent.

Nowhere have the machines of the computer age replaced more men (and I do mean mainly men) than in manufacturing. Is this a bad thing? It would be a brave Luddite who said so.

The consequence is a change in the mix of occupations within manufacturing, the proportion of machine operators, drivers and labourers falling by 10 percentage points since 1984, with the proportion of managerial and professional workers increasing by about the same extent. The proportion of technicians and tradespeople is little changed.

But there's also been a change in the types of things we manufacture, with the share of total manufacturing employment accounted for by textiles, clothing and footwear falling from 11 per cent to 4 per cent since 1984, while the share accounted for by food products has risen from less than 15 per cent to more than 20 per cent.

The share of transport equipment (cars and car parts) is down, but the share of other machinery and equipment is up by much the same extent.

The next thing that's changed a lot since 1984 is the location of manufacturing in Australia. Then, almost 70 per cent of manufacturing employment was located in NSW and Victoria; today it's down to 58 per cent. Then, NSW had more manufacturing workers than Victoria; today they have 29 per cent each. (Bet you didn't know that.)

But if the big two states now have smaller shares, which states' shares have grown? The two we these days think of as "the mining states". Western Australia's share has risen to 10 per cent, while Queensland's share has almost doubled to 21 per cent. (Bet you didn't know that.)

So far, South Australia's share of national manufacturing employment has fallen only a little to 8 per cent.

This tendency for manufacturing's distribution between the states to become more even over time, plus the much faster growth of other industries, has made all states less dependent on manufacturing for employment, as well as narrowing the gap between the most dependent (SA on 10 per cent of its total employment) and the least (WA on 7 per cent).

Whereas in 1984 Victoria depended on manufacturing for 21 per cent of its jobs, today it's 9 per cent. (See what I mean about out-of-date information?)

Victoria's more dependent on the health industry (12 per cent) and retailing (11 per cent), with almost as many jobs in professional services as in manufacturing.

The wider conclusion is that, though the faster growth of other industries has made all states less dependent on manufacturing for jobs, this doesn't mean manufacturing's dying. Its actual output hasn't fallen much, though it's using a lot fewer workers to produce that output.

The unwritten story is there've been big changes in what Australia's manufacturers produce: less stuff that relies on protection against imports and more stuff that fits with Australia's comparative advantage.

You see that with food products – including things such as wine-making – now being the biggest category within manufacturing, employing 20 per cent of all manufacturing workers.

You see it also in the growth of manufacturing employment in the mining states – a spillover from the resources boom.

Manufacturing is undoubtedly suffering from the recent high dollar. But, apart from that, it's in good shape. It has shed some fat and is fitter and wirier than it has ever been, better able to survive in a harsh world. 


One voice on free speech

by Janet Albrechtsen

AS Australia debates the repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, let me introduce you to two Canadians.
One is a champion of progres­sive causes, the other is a staunch conservative. One played a critical role in setting up the first of the human rights commissions in Canada, the other was hauled ­before these same human rights commissions for writing things that caused offence to a few ­Muslims.

More important, though, is what unites them: a passionate and longstanding defence of free speech in a country that became increasingly comfortable with mothballing humanity’s most basic human right. Both men are firmly opposed to laws that allow those pursuing identity politics to leverage the power of the state to shut down views they don’t like.

Now in his 80s, Alan ­Borovoy, the  founder of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, helped push for the creation of human rights commissions in Canada in the 1960s and 70s in his then job at Canada’s Labor Committee for Human Rights. In ­recent years, Borovoy has also ­become a critic of how these commissions have overreached.

A Canadian-born writer on everything from theatre and music to politics and demog­raphy, Mark Steyn was the subject of complaints made to three human rights commissions in Canada for 18 articles he wrote about Islam in Maclean’s magazine between 2005 and 2007. Those actions against Maclean’s led the Canadian federal government to support a private member’s bill to repeal section 13, the hate laws provision, of the Canadian Human Rights Act.

If it sounds familiar, it is. In 2011, when the Australian federal court ruled Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt was prohibited from publishing a view that contravened section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, a similar push to defend free speech began here. In opposition, the Coalition promised to repeal section 18C. Now in government, keeping that promise is proving more difficult.

Debate in this country has ­become polarised between those on the Right who regard the individual right to free speech as more important than identity group rights and those on the cultural and political Left who cannot bring themselves to genuinely commit to free speech of opponents. And somewhere in the mushy middle, some Coalition members, especially in marginal seats, have gone wobbly about ­repealing section 18C. No matter where we sit, it’s worth noting what two very different men, who both supported the repeal of ­Canada’s section 13, have to say.

First, some background. Why did Canada, a country with a long history of political correctness ­cemented into its laws, repeal its federal hate law? Borovoy told The Australian that human rights commissions started falling into disrepute: “I don’t like quoting Karl Marx with such approval,” he laughs down the phone from Canada, “but the legislation (that set up the HRCs) contains the seeds of its own destruction.”

Whereas HRCs started out ­applying fairly well-defined prohibitions against certain types of discrimination, when hate laws became part of their ambit, and hurt feelings became the meas­urement of laws, it turned into a “very risky ball game”, says Borovoy. “You are running a terrible risk that someone’s thin skin could be the limit of someone else’s free speech.”

Sure enough, Borovoy says, human rights commissions overreached in very public cases. Steyn agrees: “No one minded this stuff when it was just being applied to some Holocaust denier sitting in his bedsit writing some unread screed that he was Xeroxing and sending out to his friends.

“But when those same laws are suddenly being applied to ­Maclean’s magazine — it’s mainstream, it’s big-selling, it’s the dentist’s waiting-room magazine; Maclean’s magazine is basically analogous to Andrew Bolt’s ­Herald Sun — then people here went ‘Wow, this is crazy stuff’.” Borovoy says that defining what is hate speech became an impos­sible task. While he would have taken a different position about laws that targeted incitement of imminent violence, “ ‘hatred’ was too fraught with ambiguity”.

And Borovoy warns that the same ambiguities arise from our legislation that uses words like ­“offend, insult, humiliate or ­intimidate”.

Drawing on Canada’s experience, Borovoy says: “You wind up losing a lot more than you’re trying to nail. That’s the guts of it.” Steyn agrees. And he warns that you can’t be a little bit pregnant on this. “You can’t say we are going to take out ‘offended’ (from section 18C) but keep ‘humiliated’ … You’ve got to say this kind of emotional lawmaking is not law — it’s phony law, it’s ersatz law, it’s pseudo law.” While Borovoy says the Left “didn’t surface very hard to try to rescue section 13”, Steyn says you have to distinguish between the cultural Left and the political Left.

Left-wing newspapers and novelists eventually became offended by the reach of the federal hate law when it started to impinge on their rights. Steyn recalls one of the complaints against him involved a book review he wrote where he discussed fictional characters in a novel. “The novelists didn’t like that,” he laughs.

But he is scathing of the political Left’s opposition to repealing section 13. He notes one exception, Liberal MP Keith Martin, who describes himself as the “brown guy”, meaning a person of colour. “Martin was the only member of the Liberal Party caucus who took a principled political stand in favour of freedom of ­expression.” Steyn says Martin was mocked and jeered: “Why are you — the so-called ‘brown guy’ — getting into bed with not only extremist right-wing nutters like Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant, but also a bunch of anti-Semites and white supremacists?”

Alas, the point of free speech is not that the brown guy and the white supremacist are on the same side. As Steyn says, “It’s that the brown guy recognises that the white supremacist is allowed to have his own side. Nobody needs freedom of speech for people we agree with.

“He (Martin) was the only ­Liberal member of the House of Commons to say this is crazy stuff, we shouldn’t live in a world where, if you disagree with a newspaper columnist, it becomes a court case,” Steyn says.

Steyn then makes a point aimed squarely at our debate in Australia: “You always need a couple of individuals like that to break the institutional position which says we need these laws, that without these laws there will be jackboots marching up and down the highway.”

That argument was made in Canada. It is also made in Australia, as critics of the Abbott government describe repealing section 18C as a fillip for bigots and a ­retrograde step for human rights.

But where are those brave ­individuals? Is there just one Labor MP with a genuine commitment to free speech? Where are the cultural warriors on the Left willing to defend Bolt’s right to free speech? Where is our own Borovoy, a man who understands that “freedom of expression is the grievance procedure of the democratic system”?

While we wait for intellectually honest members of the Left to emerge, Steyn says we must also relentlessly push back against the jackboot bigotry claims. “You have to say ‘You’re insulting Australians’, just as we said: ‘You’re ­insulting Canadians saying that.’ We’re not people who have a dark, fascist totalitarian past — Canada and Australia are two of the oldest, settled, constitutional societies on earth. They haven’t gone through third empires and fourth republics, and all the other stuff. People can be trusted to ­decide for themselves.”

A frequent visitor to Australia, and due here later this year, Steyn has watched with disappointment the debate over ­section 18C. He says that Canada’s cultural Left eventually supported the repeal of section 13 in a way he thought would be repeated here. “They said, ‘Well, obviously we find Steyn a totally disgusting and ­repulsive figure and we want to emphasise how much we dissociate ourselves from him BUT this is not compatible with a free society and Canadians should be able to decide for themselves on these matters’.

“I thought it would go that way with Andrew Bolt. That people would say, ‘Well, Bolt is a repellent creature BUT …’ Yet from my understanding from the debate in Australia no one on the Left has got to the BUT.” Sadly, Steyn is right that, for ever larger groups on the Left, identity group rights trump the rights of freedom of expression.

Once the campaign in Canada to repeal section 13 had won over the people, only then did politicians feel comfortable in following. Steyn says free speech is not something people demonstrate in the streets over. “It’s not one of those visceral issues. It can seem dry and abstract. The success we had was that by the end it didn’t seem dry and abstract. It seemed real and something with practical consequences.”

In Canada, the defenders of free speech also succeeded by turning the tables on the Left. Steyn praises Ezra Levant, ­another writer hauled before a human rights commission, for the strategy.

“The Left tried to de-normalise us, to marginalise us,” he recalls. Levant and others succeeded on putting those who supported the laws — who were, by and large, part of the establishment, people appointed to HRCs, people who wore Orders of Canada on their lapels — on the ­defensive. The ­debate was won by arguing the hate laws were not needed.

“The success we had in Canada was in putting those in favour of the law on the defensive — ­making them look like the ­weirdos and the control freaks and against genuine human rights.”

Steyn says that’s where the meter must move in Australia, too. “I might have to fly in and do it ­myself,” he says, pointing out the ridiculous irony in a group of establishment grievance mongers thinking they are vulnerable if contrarian columnists can say what they want about them. “The idea that they represent a state ideology that should be protected from criticism ought to be absolutely repulsive to people.”

So, has Canada become a haven for bigots without section 13? Of course not. Which makes the retreat by some Coalition MPs even more disappointing. While Steyn understands that Coalition MPs are worried about being depicted as anti-human rights, he, too, laments that “on the squishy Right there is a fear that identity group rights are more fashionable and you risk making yourself look like an old squaresville if you get hung up on free speech”.

And that’s the real danger in Australia. Between a Left that is utterly indifferent to free speech and an opportunist, unprincipled Right, there are not a lot of people willing to take a stand for free speech these days.


WA Senate: Labor Senator Louise Pratt attacks 'deeply homophobic' and 'disloyal' running mate Joe Bullock

West Australian Labor Senator Louise Pratt has conceded defeat in the Senate election, as she unleashed on her running mate Joe Bullock.

Senator Pratt said it was a devastating blow for Labor to be reduced to one Senator out of six at the election and described Mr Bullock as homophobic.

"It is a blow to progressive voters that I would be replaced in the Senate by someone who I have known for many years to be deeply homophobic, to be anti-choice, and has recently emerged disloyal to the very party he has been elected to represent," she said.

"I had pointed this out on many occasions that Labor was at risk of losing a second Senate seat here in WA, and I am ashamed that a factional power grab was privileged over principles, deeply held by an overwhelming number of party members and indeed Western Australians more broadly.  "It goes to the heart of the need for reform."

In the run-up to the election, Mr Bullock apologised for comments he made about Senator Pratt's sexuality and for describing her as a "poster child" for causes such as gay marriage.

Senator Pratt, who was speaking to the media in Perth, said the Senate result was also a "very difficult realisation" for her.

"While the count is continuing, it is increasingly clear that the ALP will not hold its second Senate seat here in Western Australia," she said.

"However, the prospective loss of Labor's second seat at this election is most difficult for those Australians who needed the assurance of a stronger Senate in order to hold back the Abbott Government."

Mr Bullock was parachuted into Labor's number one spot on the ticket for the re-run election.

Senator Pratt said she told the party's national secretary and the national executive that she did not believe Mr Bullock had the capacity to lead the ticket.

"I and others warned that placing him above me on the Senate ticket would reduce Labor's chances of holding two Senate positions and ultimately we know that these warnings were not heeded," she said.

"Over the last few years, we have faced situations in the party where factionalism and the power of factions has ridden roughshod over the party and the leadership's capacity to make the right decisions on pre-selections and, on occasion, on policy.

"The exertion of power by too few is eroding public trust in the ALP and in unions.

"This is especially the case here in WA where ordinary branch members represent just a fraction of the overall state executive in Lower House pre-elections and have no representation at all in Senate preselections."


Cane toad fight: Scientists teaching goannas to avoid eating toxic pest

Scientists are reporting early success from a study in Australia's far north designed to reduce the impact of cane toads on native wildlife.

The program aims to teach goannas, one of the species that has been hardest hit by the cane toad invasion, not to eat the toxic pests.

Over the past few months, scientists and Aboriginal rangers have fitted radio-tracking devices to over 40 goannas at Oombulgurri in the remote East Kimberley.

The team, led by Georgia Ward-Fear from Sydney University, has been monitoring the reptiles' movements and offering them small, less toxic cane toads to eat, which may make them sick but will not kill them.

"Basically we're trying to expose the goannas to non-lethal doses of toad toxin just before the front arrives and hopefully they'll learn that it's not a good thing to attack and eat," Ms Ward-Fear said.

"Ultimately, it's to buffer populations of goannas from the full impact of cane toads.

"As the toad front comes through, you get this really large mortality - bang - in a week or two weeks, there are goanna bodies everywhere as we've seen across the Top End."

The unusual approach, known as "Teacher Toads" is a joint project between Sydney University, the West Australian Department of Parks and Wildlife, and the Balanggarra Rangers.

"Clearly you need good scientific research to back up any management option you try and here we are really trying to explore that concept of taste-aversion learning," said the Department's Dr David Pearson.

Cane toads spreading across northern Australia

Cane toads crossed the border from the Northern Territory into Western Australia five years ago.

Volunteers have been trying to slow down their spread across the Kimberley, but the scale of the problem is massive.

Lee Scott-Virtue of the Kimberley Toad Busters, a Kununurra-based community group, estimated they have collected and euthanased close to 4 million toads.

"Each female can lay between 30,000 and 35,000 eggs twice a year," she said.

But, the group has had trouble convincing government to continue supporting their efforts.  Last year, the group's funding was not renewed, and Ms Scott-Virtue and her husband are now funding the effort on their own.

"The reality is if you can mitigate the impact of the first wave of toads by reducing their numbers, it gives the native wildlife an opportunity to become wary of the toads," she said.

The West Australian Government said it has invested $7.8 million in cane toad research and on-ground activities since 2008.

But, in a statement, it said it was now investing in areas where the biggest difference can be made, including the goanna radio-tracking program at Oombulgurri.

Millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on trying to find a biological control measure to stop the toads in their tracks, but so far the toads are winning.

They are now travelling five times faster than they used to, heading west across the Kimberley at about 50 kilometres a year.

"There's been quite a bit of work done by CSIRO looking for a suitable pathogen that would affect toads and not native frogs, and they were unable to find anything - so at the moment there is no light on the horizon in terms of biological control for toads," Dr Pearson said.

Researchers pleased with successful results

Ms Ward-Fear said many of the goannas in the program at Oombulgurri were already learning that cane toads do not agree with them.

"We are finding that goannas that have had a non-lethal dose of toad toxin are avoiding the baits in future trials, so it seems to be that we are eliciting a kind of taste-aversion response which is what we're looking for," she said.

The researchers hope to prove the concept works so it can eventually be rolled out on a bigger scale.

Dr Pearson from the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife acknowledged it would be challenging.

"It would be expensive. You'd have to breed toads which is an interesting thing in itself," he said.

"And, you'd need to come up with some means to distribute those toads in areas where the predators were.

"I'd like to see the situation where we can preserve pockets of those predators through the landscape so they have the ability to re-establish themselves after the toads have come through."


Wednesday, April 16, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is shocked at the resignation of the NSW Premier

Below is an extract of a letter from the Construction Manager at Nauru

Personal information has been deleted. He refers to the damage caused by the illegal boat people to the new facilities constructed for them last year.

"Sorry it has taken so long to get back to you. As you may have heard the camp we have been constructing over the past 8 months has been burned to the ground. The riot and subsequent fire  occurred on the evening of Friday the 19th

Since  then we have constructed a temporary camp (tent city) for the detainees that are not banged up in the Nauru jail.

The accommodation that was burned was of a very high standard and the dining facilities were second to none.

These bastards were being fed better than us worker bees and living in accommodation better than the locals.

Before I came here I was somewhat sympathetic toward refugees believing some were genuine. After the events of the 19th I am of the opinion that the group of male refugees here on Nauru are nothing more than violent arrogant criminals.

The Iranians are no better than the Tamils or any other of the ethnic groups that we have here - they are all the same.

These people are the scum of the earth and should under no circumstance be permitted to live in Australia.

I have attached a before and after snaps of the accommodation buildings only, the rest of the damage is out of the shot."

Via email

Tony Abbott confirms Badgerys Creek as site of second Sydney airport

At last, someone was game to make a decision

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has confirmed a second airport for Sydney, triggering tens of millions of dollars of infrastructure investment for Sydney's west.

After months of speculation, Badgerys Creek, 50 kilometres west of Sydney's CBD, was approved by cabinet on Tuesday as the location of the airport.

Construction of the airport is expected to begin in 2016 and will spur the creation of up to 4000 construction jobs at its peak.

Mr Abbott said the bulk of the investment for the airport would come from the private sector, with government to take the lead on building surrounding infrastructure, including roads.

The cost of building the airport is estimated at $2.5 billion.

Sydney Airport has first right of refusal to build and operate the airport.

"It's a long, overdue decision which, to be honest, has been shirked and squibbed by successive governments for far too long," Mr Abbott said.

"I also want to stress that the government's approach will be roads first, airport second, because we don't want the people of western Sydney to have an airport without having the decent transport infrastructure that western Sydney deserves."

Mr Abbott said the project would create 60,000 new jobs for western Sydney once the airport was fully operational.

The Prime Minister said details about how the infrastructure package will be funded will be made in the coming days.  It's understood the federal and NSW governments are close to finalising a deal on how much federal money will be on the table.  An initial figure of $200 million that had been floated was insufficient in the view of the NSW government.

"I think this is a good news story for western Sydney," Mr Abbott said.  "It's good news for jobs and, because of the importance of Sydney in our national economy, it's good news for Australia."

Mr Abbott played down concerns that airport noise would become an issue at the new flightpath in the way it has for residents around Sydney Airport.

"I don't believe this is going to be anything like the problem at Badgerys that it has been at Mascot," he said.  "For a couple of reasons - first, because, quite frankly, people don't want to travel in the middle of the night.  "And, second, because we are just dealing with far, far fewer people.

"If you look at the noise footprint, some 4000 people live within a Badgerys' noise footprint.  "The equivalent footprint at Sydney is 130,000. So I just don't think it's going to be anything like the issue that it is elsewhere."

Mr Abbott added: "We are certainly not saying there will be a curfew."

Qantas immediately welcomed the announcement on Tuesday, with chief executive Alan Joyce describing Badgerys Creek as the right site.  "After decades of debate, we applaud today's announcement by the Prime Minister," Mr Joyce said.

"The role of second airports has been well-established in several of the world's major capitals. Sydney is the key gateway for air traffic in and out of Australia and the benefits of having two major airports will be felt nationwide."

Western Sydney Airport Alliance spokesman David Borger said the decision to build at Badgerys Creek was long overdue.  He said residents would support the decision because it will create jobs and raise living standards.

However, western Sydney Labor MP Ed Husic said locals are being "blackmailed".  "They say 'If you want better infrastructure you have to support the airport and by virtue of blocking the airport you won't get better infrastructure'," he told ABC Radio.


How the wog sank the Irishman

A small note:  I use "wog" as a general term for a person of Mediterranean origin.  If I intended to be offensive, I would have said "wop"

BARRY O’Farrell has resigned as NSW Premier following his appearance at the Independent Commission against Corruption yesterday.

Mr O’Farrell denied receiving a $3000 bottle of wine from Australian Water Holdings boss Nick Di Girolamo yesterday but resigned today after it was revealed that he sent Mr Di Girolamo a card thanking him for the gift.

“I will be resigning the position and enabling a new Liberal leader to be elected, someone who will then become the Premier of New South Wales,” Mr O’Farrell said in a press conference today.
He insisted he did not “wilfully mislead” the watchdog yesterday, but said he accepted the consequences. He described the missing bottle of wine as a “significant memory fail on my part”.

After being recalled to ICAC today to give further evidence, Mr O’Farrell confirmed that the handwriting on a thankyou note presented to the commission was his.

He said that he gave his best recollection to ICAC yesterday but was “clearly mistaken”. He said he had no idea what happened to the 1959 bottle of Grange.

Mr O’Farrell said dealings with Australian Water Holdings were done appropriately, and a contract signed with Sydney Water was completed at arm’s length from the government.

Referring to the wine in his speech this morning, Mr O’Farrell said: “I can’t explain the arrival of a gift that I have no recollection of, or its absence, which I still can’t fathom.
“I accept the consequences in an orderly way.”

During his testimony yesterday, he categorically denied ever receiving the wine.  “If I had received a bottle of 1959 Penfolds Grange I would have known about it and, and I did not receive a bottle of Penfolds Grange,” he told the hearing.

His resignation will be effective from next week, as soon as a committee of parliamentarians can meet to appoint a new leader.


Childers child 'abduction': man charged

Chloe Campbell

Detectives have charged a man over the alleged abduction of a child from Childers.  The man was not the toddler's father, a police spokesman said.

The child was reported missing from her home, about 300 kilometres north of Brisbane, last Thursday morning.

Police, SES and community members launched a large search of the central Queensland town and the child was found in good health about 42 hours later.

Overnight police charged a 45-year-old from South Isis with abduction, one count of break and enter and one count of deprivation of liberty in relation to the incident.

He is due to appear in the Bundaberg Magistrates Court on Wednesday morning, and police are also expected to provide further details of their investigation.

Police investigating the child's disappearance collected DNA samples from more than 20 people, including family friends and “other people around town whose names have come up", Detective Inspector Bruce McNab said.

Earlier this week, Inspector McNab said police were following a number of leads and made inquiries as far south as Tweed Heads in New South Wales.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Taxpayer funding for a trip to the paradise of North Korea

DRIVEN by what she calls “capitalist despair” Sydney documentary maker Anna Broinowski took a taxpayer-funded trip to the North ­Korean workers’ paradise ­returning with a her new work Aim High in Creation!

“Every time I turned on the news I’d see oil tankers washing up on pristine reefs, or a McDonald’s being built in a hospital, the mining giants doing whatever they wanted, and a coal seam gas mine had just been approved 200m from my house. It felt like capitalism was on steroids,” she said in one of many publicity interviews for her film.

With that sort of attitude and a TV locked onto the ABC, it is little wonder that she was reading a book on film directing written by dictator Kim Jong-Il, the second supreme leader of risibly called Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, when she felt the urge to explore the North Korean propaganda production. Nor is it surprising that the North ­Korean masters welcomed to their studios Broinowski and producer Lizzette Atkins.

Funded by the Australian Government, the NSW ­Government, Screen NSW, the Victorian Government, Film Victoria Australia, the South Australian Government, Screen Australia and Unicorn Films, Broinowski was able to create her own anti-coal seam gas propaganda in the style of her North Korean hosts.

Though she claims awareness of North Korea’s horrific history of human rights ­abuses, it did not disabuse her of her goal, nor did it seem to interfere with her artistic drive.

“If you remove the brutality of the regime, which I didn’t see, it was serene and beautiful to be in a country with no ­internet, no advertising,” she told one interviewer.

“I’m not an apologist by any means. I know it’s an evil, ­repressive place as well, where 200,000 people are political prisoners and it’s brutal.

“However, I don’t think we’re getting the real story about the rest of North Korea. There was a purer, more innocent approach to fun than what we are used to in the jaded West.” Even the capital, Pyongyang “wasn’t the evil, diabolical place I had been led to expect,” she said.

Serendipitously, while Broinowski was honing her propaganda as a favourite of North Korea’s totalitarian regime, another Australian, former High Court Justice Michael Kirby, was putting the finishing touches on a UN report into human rights abuses in DPRK which recommended that its leadership be charged and referred to the International Criminal Court.

His commission found “an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as of the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association”.

Justice Kirby, who chaired the UN commission, doesn’t share Broinwoski’s admiration for the propaganda machine.

His report finds it is an “all-encompassing indoctrination machine that takes root from childhood to propagate an ­official personality cult and to manufacture absolute obedience to the Supreme Leader (Suryong), effectively to the exclusion of any thought independent of official ideology and State propaganda.

Propaganda, the report notes, is further used by the North Koreans to incite ­nationalistic hatred towards official enemies of the State, including Japan, the United States of America and the ­Republic of Korea, and their nationals. “Virtually all social activities undertaken by citizens of all ages are controlled by the Workers’ Party of Korea,” it says.

Those workers certainly know how to party, or at least, those favoured by the regime whom Broinowski was fraternising with do. She reports she drank copious quantities of Soju, local vodka, as she bonded with the cinematic crew.

As a foreigner and a woman, she was fortunate that her powerful friends were able to shield her from the sexual and gender-based violence endemic in the xenophobic state, where victims are afforded no protection from the State, any support services or recourse to justice.

According to the report, ­violations of the rights to food and to freedom of movement have resulted in women and girls becoming vulnerable to trafficking and increased ­engagement in transactional sex and prostitution.

One wonders what sort of small talk Broinowski engaged in as she tossed back the vodkas with her hosts.

Though hamburgers may seem scary to some Australian inner-urban dwellers, they don’t really compare with forced labour, executions, torture, rape and the denial of ­reproductive rights enforced through punishment, forced abortion and infanticide.

Perhaps there is a documentary to be made. If Broinowski is available, Justice Kirby has the script ready.


Speech laws: voters tell Brandis to back off

Voters have sent an unambiguous message to Tony Abbott and his Attorney General George Brandis: leave the race hate laws alone.

The latest Fairfax-Nielsen poll specifically asked voters if they believe it should it be lawful or unlawful to "offend, insult or humiliate" somebody based on their race.

The answer was a statistically conclusive 88 per cent - or nine out of 10 - in favour of the status quo - that is, that it should remain unlawful to discriminate.

The result is a slap in the face for Abbott and Brandis, who have been pursuing the removal of the provisions in section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, on grounds of free speech.

Urged on by acerbic conservative commentator, Andrew Bolt and the ultra-libertarian Institute of Public Affairs the government has argued that nobody has a right not to be offended and that, in normal political and public discourse, unpleasant and potentially offensive arguments can be necessary.

Yet the argument has fallen flat, failing to convince voters that the change is justified by any social or legal dysfunction.

Among Greens and Labor voters who took part in the 1400-strong nationwide telephone survey, the proportion against watering down the protections is 92 per cent and even among Coalition voters 84 per cent favour the law as it stands.

The government wants to replace the heads of the law, to wit: "offend, insult or humiliate" with a new one making it illegal to "intimidate or vilify", although, intimidate is already in the act.

On this question, the government can take comfort in the fact nine out of 10 voters want statutory provisions making it unlawful to intimidate and vilify based on race, but it is likely respondents want these provisions in addition to,rather than instead of, existing clauses as the government has proposed.

And, critics say, the prohibition on intimidation is too narrow, encompassing only physical intimidation, when in practice there are many ways a vulnerable person could be literally intimidated.

With the debate at fever pitch last month, Senator Brandis bravely told the Senate that people had the right to be bigots.

The statement was technically correct, in that citizens are free to think whatever they want, but it was a political own-goal, making the government appear to be defending dissemination of hate-speech and racial disunity.

Asked if they agreed with the statement, six out of 10 or 59 per cent of respondents said "no" compared to 34 per cent who  said "yes".

Even among Coalition voters, the government has failed to carry its constituency with 50 per cent disagreeing and 42 per cent agreeing.


Majority government restored for Country Liberals in NT

The CLP held the seat vacated by former Chief Minister Terry Mills with 53.2 per cent of two-party preferred vote to Labor’s 46.8 per cent.

The CLP polled 45.5 per cent of the primary vote to Labor’s 37.4 per cent.

That result was a 16.1 per cent swing against the Government, but it was Independent Matthew Cranitch, a vocal critic of the CLP in his role as Education Union NT President, who helped Mr Barrett to the victory with preferences.

Mr Barrett said it had “been a long six weeks”.  “It’s all a little surreal,” he said.  “Tonight was just people sitting around the computer and then ‘Oh, we won’.  “As the night progressed it set in. I’m just excited now to work with the electorate ... (and) begin implementing the programs we’ve been looking at.  “We can now get out and serve the electorate.”

Mr Cranitch polled 8.6 per cent of the primary vote, while Greens candidate Sue McKinnon polled 7.1 per cent and the CEC’s Peter Flynn 1.5 per cent.

Mr Bahnert told his party faithful that the people of Blain had voted to send Mr Giles a message.

“It’s not okay to burden our families with skyrocketing power prices, it’s not okay to sack our teachers,” he said.

A total of 68.2 per cent of registered voters turned up.

Mr Cranitch called the low turnout an “indictment on our current state of affairs”.


Daniel Andrews a CFMEU rep: Abetz

EMPLOYMENT Minister Eric Abetz has accused Victoria's opposition leader of being beholden to the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU).

In a speech at the Victorian Liberal Party conference, Mr Abetz on Saturday again condemned what he described as criminal elements within the CFMEU.

"A union which has a history of breaking businesses, of breaking court orders and, I understand, even breaking bones," he said.

"This very union finds itself being duchessed and supported by the Labor leader in this state."

He said Victorian Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews had "shepherded" the union into his party.

"I invited every man and woman in Victoria to judge the Labor leader by the company he not only keeps but actively sought out," Mr Abetz said.

"That of itself should disqualify the Labor leader from ever becoming Victoria's premier."

Mr Abetz said he dreaded the thought of Labor winning power at the November election.

"Ministerial council meetings on workplace relations would not be enhanced, to put it mildly, by a CFMEU representative posing as a Victorian government representative," he said.

An opposition spokesman described Mr Abetz's comments as "desperate" and "sad".

"With nothing to run on but an expensive dud tunnel and a federal government that is savagely cutting health and education, they have to resort to name calling," he told AAP.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Free speech in  the Australian public service?

Tim Wilson

Before anyone screams "free speech", they should actually know what they are talking about.

Earlier this week the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet released new social media protocols.  The protocols limit the capacity of public servants to make statements that are "harsh or extreme in their criticism of the government, government policies, a member of Parliament from another political party ... [and] a gratuitous personal attack that might reasonably be perceived to be connected with their employment", among others.

In response there have been cries that this code limits free speech. Yesterday Jenna Price wrote in Fairfax outlets that as "HenchCommissioner" I did not "leap in defence of our gentle, analytical and astute public servants".

Sigh. Since taking the office of Australian Human Rights Commissioner I have gleaned many new insights into the state of human rights in Australia. One of the most important insights is that many Australians seem to have no idea what human rights are, and many certainly do not understand what free speech is.

Price also said I "backed the reforms". This is factually inaccurate. It is not my place to endorse individual codes, but I have outlined that voluntary codes attached to employment conditions are not inconsistent with free speech.

Defending the universal human right of free speech is about the legal limits of speech. It is about when the law stops someone expressing their view. It is not about voluntary conditions we accept when we take employment. Conditions that are entered into through employment are not the same as the law.

All speech is legal, until it is made specifically illegal. But just because something is legal, it does not mean it is acceptable. For instance, it is legal to be homophobic, but it is not acceptable.

Codes of conduct play an enormously important role in filling the gap between what is technically legal, and civilising and normalising behaviour.

Voluntary codes associated with employment are one of the most important ways that we regulate the conduct of the individual without laws, and they are fundamentally a good thing.

Even the Australian Human Rights Commission, a body charged with defending free speech, has social media protocols for staff to preserve and protect the dignity of the institution.

Codes of conduct include requiring people to not act in a sexist, homophobic or racist way. If people do, and it is connected back to their employer, they can face disciplinary action, or be terminated.

At any time an individual no longer believes that they can abide by these standards they have the choice to terminate their employment.

Codes attached to employment in the private sector cannot limit free speech because they are voluntarily entered into as a requirement of employment.

Public service codes are not the same. They operate in a "grey space" because the government is the employer.

Excessive restrictions can fundamentally undermine a public servant's capacity to exercise their full democratic participation, but if they are too loose they can undermine the important perception of impartiality.

For instance, public servants are allowed to be members of a political party and participate in the democratic processes of the nation.

But they are not allowed to work for the Department of Health by day and moonlight as an anonymous journalist critical of the Department's work by night. Social media is fundamentally no different to any other platform. It is still public.

Similarly, it is not unreasonable that there is an expectation that public servants act in a respectful manner in the public domain if they want to remain employed. Even with the current protocols, public servants can make statements that are negative about government policy.

But there are justified limits to what an employer can reasonably accept when public comment crosses the line.

Imagine the justified outrage if a public servant was caught holding the "Ditch the Witch" sign at the Convoy of no Confidence protests, or "F--- Tony, F--- Democracy" at March in March.

Of course those individuals have every right to express those views, but it doesn't mean that the public service need continue to be associated with such vile conduct.

Some have argued that if the conduct is anonymous then it should be excluded from the code, but that is absurd. That is like arguing that the public service should not terminate someone's employment if they are involved in offences outside of work hours because they did it anonymously.

Voluntary codes of conduct attached to people's employment are consistent with free speech. They play a vital and important role in civilising public behaviour and establishing norms of respectful conduct.

They operate no differently in the public service, except they should be specific to an employee's area of work to ensure that they do not limit a public servant's capacity to engage in democratic processes.


Disquiet over loan to Rinehart by U.S. Ex-Im bank

Loan to set up new mine  -- now guaranteed to use U.S. mining machinery

Australian press is buzzing over the strange nexus between the country’s richest person and American taxpayers.  The headline in The Australian Financial Review even invokes the phrase “welfare queen.”

How Australia’s richest person, mining heiress Gina Rinehart, secured a $US694 million ($764 million) loan from American taxpayers is surely one of the great ironies of the capitalist system.

The case is the latest example of a flaw in the United States political economy: what some see as crony capitalism.

Rinehart’s mining group, Hancock Prospecting, last week signed off on a $US7.2 billion debt package for her highly anticipated Roy Hill iron ore project in Western Australia’s Pilbara region.

Why are American taxpayers subsidizing a financial transaction involving an Australian billionaire’s iron ore project? 

The Australian Financial Review explained “Government export credit agencies including the Ex-Im Bank in the US, as well as Japan and Korea, were crucial in helping the massive debt-funding deal over the line” because “Commercial banks and bond investors were reluctant to shoulder all the risk.”

When announcing the deal, U.S. Ex-Im Bank downplayed the risk, instead touting the “$694.4 million loan to Roy Hill Holdings of Australia [was] contingent upon the purchase of U.S. mining and rail equipment from Caterpillar Inc., GE, and Atlas Copco.”

So taxpayers have two plausible, though not mutually exclusive explanations for guaranteeing a $700 million financial deal with a woman reportedly worth $17.7 billion.

Commercial banks wouldn’t take the risk; or
U.S. companies worth hundreds of billions of dollars combined required taxpayer help.

The Australian Financial Review reminds us:

In 2008, an upstart senator named Barack Obama campaigning for president labelled the Ex-Im Bank “little more than a fund for corporate welfare”. Remarkably, the Obama administration now regards the agency as an important part of its drive to increase exports.


Sale of Medibank Private

The government has announced it will sell Medibank Private through an initial public offering in 2014-15. There is no case for its public ownership. This is a private business paying tax and providing private services that happen to be in the health industry. It operates in a competitive private market in which there are 34 players. Its public ownership is a quirk of the fallout from the abolition of Medibank (the national public insurer) in October 1976.

By selling Medibank Private the government will sacrifice a stream of dividends in exchange for a capital sum that will improve its fiscal position. In the 2012-13 financial year, as a wholly-owned government business, Medibank Private paid an ordinary dividend of $110.4 million and a special dividend of $339.9 million. It provides no public goods and makes no contribution towards public health.

Public goods are those from which everybody benefits but from which nobody can be excluded from using and therefore individually charged. A lighthouse is the classic example. Herd immunity, flowing from immunisation, is a case in point in health.

Everybody benefits from herd immunity. One person's consumption of this gain does not detract from the benefit available to others. People who fail to immunise become 'free riders.' Hence the case for government intervention through immunisation programs for which everybody pays though taxation. Medibank Private clearly does not fall into this category.

In 2012-13 Medibank Private made an after tax profit of $232.7 million, a return equivalent to about 7% on assets and 17% on equity. Medibank Private could hence be described a reasonably profitable company with an acceptable debt to equity ratio (1.21) that may prove attractive to private investors, depending on its issue price.

It is not as profitable as NIB, the only other publicly listed private health fund, now trading on a relatively high price earnings multiple of 19.8. On this criterion Medibank Private could realise in excess of $4 billion. The market nevertheless appears to attach a premium to NIB (its share price exceeds its earnings per share). The government may therefore need to be less ambitious about what it can expect from selling Medibank Private.

Medibank Private is the largest health fund in Australia with 3.8 million contributors. It has been suggested that privatisation will adversely affect competition and precipitate an overall increase in contributions charged to customers. This is a vestigial argument about government ownership as a competitive 'pacesetter.' It used to justify public ownership of the likes of Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank.

Australia now has a competition policy. Health insurers typically pay out 84% of their contributions. Pricing of contribution rates in any case is highly regulated - in most cases largely a product of claims experience plus administrative expenses. The efficiency of Medibank Private and the welfare of its contributors will be in safe hands in private ownership.



Re-moralising the pension

The old age pension used to be about the morality of self-reliance. But the contemporary culture of entitlement means that the pension today is about the immorality of encouraging dependence on government hand-outs and permitting the elderly to help themselves to younger people's income.

Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson issued another warning this week about the fiscal burden that ageing-related spending will impose on the budget in coming years.

Parkinson repeated the central message of the Intergenerational Reports: unless government spending is contained, future generations face higher taxes and lower living standards than enjoyed by current generations.

It is therefore timely to recall the original purpose of the pension and contrast how far we have strayed from this.

When introduced in 1908, the pension was designed to operate as a safety net payment for those who were too improvident to provide for their own retirement.

Until the 1970s, the pension carried the stigma of 'charity.' Recipients were reluctant to publically admit they were on the pension because this was considered to be not quite respectable. This started to change when the Whitlam government abolished the means test for the pension for those aged over 70 in 1973.

Whitlam planted the corrosive and pervasive ideas of a 'right' to welfare in the Australian psyche, and initiated the perpetual political contest for the support of the increasingly important 'grey vote.' This has led both sides of politics to seek to buy the votes of the elderly by doling out increasingly valuable entitlements to the aged.

The current pension arrangements encourage retirees to blow their superannuation on overseas holidays, and/or gift their children large home deposits, and/or purchase an expensive means-test exempt family home in order to get on the pension. Financial planners market investment schemes yielding income streams that will beat the means-test and qualify for a part-pension and associated pensioner concessions including the valuable Seniors Health Card.

Ordinary taxpayers - including the archetypal 'battlers' and 'working families' - are being forced to subsidise the lifestyles of wealthy retirees and the inheritances of their children.

If we want to contain ageing-related government spending we need to put the morality back into the pension by implementing the TARGET30 campaign pension tips.

Alternative policies include using superannuation to purchase an annuity to pay for retirement living expenses. And the family home - the principal asset most Australians use to save over the course of their lives - could also be included in the pension means test.


Sunday, April 13, 2014

More ALP crookedness

ON the Northern Territory electoral roll, Labor's candidate for the Blain by-election is listed as living at a property in the electorate, but his purchase of the property was only finalised this week.

Police officer Geoff Bahnert lives at a Bellamack address in Palmerston, within the Blain electorate, according to the NT electoral roll, but real estate agents told AAP the sale was only finalised on Wednesday.

Enrolments for Saturday's election closed on March 26, and under the Commonwealth Electoral Act, a person can only be enrolled to vote in a division if they have "a real place of living in the division".

In order to enrol to vote, voters must have lived at their address for at least one month.

For Mr Bahnert to be eligible to vote in Blain, he would have had to have lived at the Bellamack address since February 27 at the latest.

But the property was listed for sale in the Saturday editions of the NT News on March 1, 8, and 15, and listed as being under contract on March 22, before the sale was settled on April 9.

"I think you'll find (the by-election) caught everyone by surprise so I moved into the electorate from the time that the polls were called, so we're ready to go, we've moved in," Mr Bahnert told the Nine Network on Friday.

The April 12 election date was announced on March 8, which was still too late for Mr Bahnert to enrol as a Blain resident, according to the Act's one-month residence stipulation.

A Labor Party spokesman would not respond when asked by AAP where in Blain Mr Bahnert had been living, or for how long.

AAP was not permitted to speak directly with Mr Bahnert; however, the spokesman said any allegation that Mr Bahnert had acted improperly was wrong, and said the ALP had consulted a barrister.


Some more of that wonderful Muslim multiculturalism in Australia

Bendigo is a beautiful Victorian town steeped in Aussie gold-rush history and treasured as an inland jewel by its inhabitants, well by most of them.

Unfortunately a minority of Islamic guests of this iconic town believe it’s quite acceptable to repeatedly rape a young mother of two because it’s quite legal to do that back home.

And back home the poor mother may well have been stoned to death for the lack of four witnesses.

Three Islamic youths denied the charges of rape, attempted rape and indecent assault, forcing the case to a contested hearing requiring the young mother to re-live the nightmare.

A Children's Court heard that none was remorseful and one even believes he is innocent.

Each of the teenagers received the maximum penalty available of three years in a “youth detention centre” and will probably be free and searching for their next victim within a year.

Three other youths involved in the attack, Mohammed Elnour, 19, Akoak Manon, 19, and Mohammed Zaoli, 22, (apologies if the names sound unfairly middle-eastern) all appeared in the Bendigo Magistrates Court charged with a long list of sex offences stemming from the vicious gang rape.

Evidence in footage retrieved from Zaoli’s phone recorded a woman’s voice yelling “no” and “stop”.

But Islam showed its more gentle side when the six youths allowed the mother to check on her two sleeping children before they resumed raping her.

In court the family of the 21 year old woman became emotional as the charges were read out, trying to hold back tears as they sat in the gallery.

In front of them sat the accused about to enjoy re-living the graphic evidence.

Judge Maidment found two of the teenagers, one aged 14 at the time, guilty of four counts of rape and one count of false imprisonment. The other was found guilty of one count of indecent assault.

The judge said the two teenagers had been the instigators of the gang rape and had shown a callous disregard for the emotional and physical welfare of the victim.

He said the attack had involved "serious acts of gang violence" which had caused substantial on-going harm to the mental well-being of the victim and her husband.

The teenagers had shown no remorse.

"It is likely both of you would take more care to avoid detection if engaged in similar conduct again," he said.

Incredibly, a jury found Mohammed Saeed Elnour and Mohammed Hussain Zaoli (the germ who filmed the entire rape) had no case to answer and prosecutors have decided not to appeal the decision.

I guess the jury and prosecutors all have accounts at the Bendigo Bank which is promoting the planned Bendigo mosque.


Qld govt strikes deal with Microsoft

Gullible.  Wait until records are lost in the "cloud"

THE Queensland government has struck a $26.5 million computer deal with Microsoft.

Under the three-year agreement, 149,000 public servants will use Microsoft's Office 365 software for messaging and email, and the enterprise social network Yammer.

"This new contract means that for the first time all government departments will have access to the same technologies," Information Technology Minister Ian Walker said in a statement on Thursday.

The whole-of-government contract provides the flexibility to move between computer and cloud-based software and is expected to save taxpayers $13.7 million.


Australia still breeds real warriors

A Victoria Cross awarded posthumously to Corporal Cameron Baird is on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

The 32-year-old Special Forces commando was killed in action in Afghanistan in June last year.

He was shot during an assault on an insurgent-held compound in the village of Ghawchak.

During the battle he repeatedly drew fire on himself to give his fellow soldiers the chance to gain ground.

In February he became the 100th recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award presented for bravery during wartime.
Corporal Cameron Stewart Baird. Photo: Corporal Cameron Baird is Australia's 100th Victoria Cross recipient. (Australian Defence Force)

Corporal Baird's family decided to loan the medal to the Australian War Memorial to be displayed in the Hall of Valour alongside the three other Victoria Cross medals awarded for service in the Afghanistan conflict.

His father, Doug Baird, says it is an honour.

"To be viewed by the general population rather than be kept away in a dark little area I think probably it's a continuation of the story," he said.

The M4 rifle Corporal Baird used during his final battle has also been handed over to the memorial.

Colonel Craig Shortt says the weapon and Corporal Baird's full medal set tell part of his story.

"It was about offensive spirit, the mental toughness and physical fortitude to persevere and overcome in the face of adversity. Mission first," he said.

"He was a humble man, he didn't seek glory but through his actions it was thrust upon him.

"He was adaptive. Cam was equally at ease training the Afghan security forces, or indeed sipping chai tea in an Afghan surah.

"It was about honour. A commando first, a commando for life, and then ultimately the selfless sacrifice that he made."

Colonel Shortt said the M4 carbine is symbolic of Corporal Baird's commitment to his team and the mission.

"Within his locker, he had a number of different quotes. One of those was 'The bar should never stagnate, it should always be rising'," he said.

"He was outcomes focused and he led his team from the front to achieve those outcomes."


Friday, April 11, 2014

Old-style Laborite under fire

Joe Bullock, the controversial Labor Senate candidate at the centre of a row about his political future, has defied calls to stand aside and says it is not his current intention to go anywhere.

The left-wing union which helped parachute Mr Bullock into Labor's number one spot on the West Australian Senate ticket is now calling on the controversial union leader to quit, saying he is unfit to represent the party.

United Voice says it regrets helping to get Mr Bullock onto the ballot, after details emerged of a speech he gave in November last year.

Mr Bullock has since apologised for the address, in which he praised Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott, criticised some Labor members as "mad", and took aim at some of the party’s more progressive policies.

The speech was made public on the Friday before the re-run election, the same day he emailed members to say sorry for commenting on his running mate Senator Louise Pratt’s sexuality and her advocacy of same sex-marriage.

"If we had had the information we have know, if we'd known the comments and his views on party members, if we'd known the sort of comments he'd made about Louise Pratt, we would not have supported him," the union's Carolyn Smith said.
Audio: United Voice has called on Joe Bullock to stand aside days after he was elected to the Senate (PM)

"I don't want people to believe that just because United Voice endorsed Joe Bullock in the Senate election that we endorse the comments he made, I think they are inexcusable.

Mr Bullock is likely to be the only Senator elected for Labor out of Saturday's re-run election, and has told the ABC he plans to "continue serving the working people of Western Australia".

"It's not my current intention to go anywhere," Mr Bullock told ABC News Online.

"I have been and will continue to be a good representative for the working people of Western Australia, it's my intention to continue doing that in another venue."

Mr Bullock says he is still hopeful that Senator Pratt will also be elected when the final votes and preferences are counted and allocated.

A spokesperson for Opposition Leader Bill Shorten backed Mr Bullock.

"Joe Bullock was pre-selected by the WA branch and was voted into the Senate by Western Australians on 5 April," the spokesperson said in a statement.

"Joe Bullock has spent the last 30 years of his life standing up for low paid workers and he’ll stand up for them and Western Australian as a Senator."


Abbott now in China -- building ties

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has declared "Team Australia" is in China to "help build the Asian century" in his address to the Boao Forum.

The gathering, on the island of Hainan, rivals Europe's Davos forum in showcasing the Asia-Pacific region.

Mr Abbott told the gathering he was being accompanied on his trip to China by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, Trade Minister Andrew Robb, five of Australia's state premiers, and 30 of the country's senior business executives.

"It's one of the most important delegations ever to leave Australia," the Prime Minister said.

He said Australia's resources had played a part in lifting Chinese living standards.  "The rest of the world is rightly in awe of the way these countries have lifted hundreds of millions of people into the middle class in just a generation," he said.  "This is the greatest and the quickest advance in human welfare of all time.

"It's happened because governments have allowed individuals and families to take more control of their own futures.

"I am proud that Australian coal, iron ore, gas and services exports have helped to drive this prosperity."

Mr Abbott said Australia's size meant it had the potential to be a "valuable" partner to China but "not a dominant one".

He highlighted the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which Australia was leading, as an example of what the countries of the region could achieve when they worked together rather than apart.

Mr Abbott is hopeful of progressing Australian-Chinese talks on a free trade agreement, after signing one in South Korea and negotiating one with Japan this week.

But he said Australia was motivated by more than just dollars.

"Australia is not in China to do a deal, but to be a friend," he said. "We don't just visit because we need to, but because we want to."


Surprise unemployment drop as 18,000 jobs added in March

Unemployment has surprisingly fallen from 6.1 per cent to 5.8 per cent, as an estimated 18,100 jobs were added last month.

The move caught most economists off guard, as the average prediction was for unemployment to be at 6.1 per cent in March.

In further good news, the amount of hours Australians work also rose by 0.5 per cent last month to 1.62 billion.

That has caused the Australian dollar to jump through 94 US cents on expectations that interest rate rises might soon be on the agenda - it was fetching 94.35 US cents at 11:35am (AEST).

However, the figures were not as good as they looked at first glance, with all the jobs added being part-time - estimated at 40,200 - while an estimated 22,100 full-time jobs were lost.

The proportion of people in work or looking for it - the participation rate - also fell from 64.9 to 64.7 per cent in another sign of continued labour market weakness.

The more stable trend unemployment rate, smoothing out the monthly volatility, also continued to grind slightly higher to 6 per cent.

CommSec economist Savanth Sebastian has gone out on a limb and is among the first economists to say that unemployment may have reached its zenith at 6.1 per cent in February.

He points out that, if the estimates were accurate, 88,000 jobs have been created since the start of the year.

"The job market is showing signs of stabilising with unemployment having peaked or pretty close to it," Mr Sebastian wrote in his note on the data.

"The labour market is the lagging indicator in the economy and it is now showing signs of reflecting the recent solid lift in economic activity."


Labor MPs accuse Bob Carr of narcissism, self-indulgence and bigotry after memoir release

Carr has always been an oddball but he did lots of good as NSW Premier  -- on tort reform, for instance.  He seems to have been overcome by hubris, however

Labor MPs are rounding on Bob Carr, accusing the former foreign minister of "narcissism", "immaturity", "self-indulgence", and even "bigotry" following the publication of his memoirs.

The former Labor senator has launched his book Diary of a Foreign Minister, which details his life as Australia's top diplomat between 2012 and 2013.

Mr Carr says his account is a glimpse into how public policy is formed and details text exchanges between him and the former prime minister Julia Gillard as well as a Cabinet discussion on granting Palestine observer status at the United Nations.

Mr Carr supported the vote but Ms Gillard opposed it. She was rolled by her Cabinet on the decision and it was used against her by Labor MPs agitating for the return of Kevin Rudd.

Mr Carr also details his complaints about having to fly business instead of first class, airline food, and, in one instance, the lack of English subtitles on a German opera being screened during a flight.

He says it is all in the public interest and all the profits will go to charity.  "I make no apologies for providing people with a darn good story about how Australian foreign policy is made, about the pressures on a foreign minister," he told reporters in Sydney.  "I think the Australian people deserve to know these things."

But Labor MP Anthony Byrne says Mr Carr's book is a symbol of the worst of the Rudd-Gillard era.  "If you ever wanted an example of the narcissism, self indulgence and immaturity that ran through the Labor party during its six years in government, Bob Carr is it," he said.

Victorian Jewish Labor MP Michael Danby says Mr Carr's comments claiming the pro-Israel lobby enjoyed a disproportionate influence on foreign policy through the former prime minister’s office are "bigoted".  "No lobby in Australia I understand has that kind of influence. It’s laughable," Mr Danby told AM.  "But I suppose in the current climate, as George Brandis says, it's okay to be a bigot."

Mr Carr says the suggestion that he is a bigot is "appalling".  "I've got an open door to the Israel lobby anytime... but I did resent them using influence with the then prime minister’s office to tell me that even expressing concern about Israeli settlements could not be permitted," he said.

Labor MP David Feeney says it is "unfortunate" that Mr Carr has decided to publish his 500-page diary.  "I have a view that the memoirs of politicians can often be an indulgence and I think on this occasion it probably falls into that category," Mr Feeney told the ABC's Capital Hill.

"I think Cabinet documents should remain confidential. I think that's the protocol. Bob has said that in his view there is a public interest issue here, that's obviously a view that he holds. I suppose I don't share it."

Ms Gillard chose Mr Carr to fill the Senate vacancy left by Mark Arbib when he retired from politics in 2012.

Mr Danby says the memoirs are a poor way for the former New South Wales premier to repay the Labor Party.  "Here's a bloke plucked from obscurity who was not working as a current politician, a former provincial premier, who dumps on Gillard and the former Labor government," he said.  "The Labor Party supported him all of his political life. How about a bit of decency? It’s a bit of ingratitude in my view."

He says it was a mistake to recruit Mr Carr back into politics, but Mr Feeney says he does not think it was Ms Gillard's "biggest mistake".  "I certainly wouldn't say it was her biggest mistake, no," he said.

But he says Mr Carr entered the federal parliament with expectations.  "Bob Carr was a person who came into this parliament with enormous momentum and we were all very very optimistic about what he would bring to us," he said.

When asked if Mr Carr lived up to expectations during his time as foreign minister, Mr Feeney said there had been "disappointment in some quarters".

Mr Carr's complaints about flying business and his boast of having more energy than "16 gladiators" have prompted newspaper headlines calling him a "wanker and a tosser".

He says he wears the labels as a "badge of honour" and takes them in good humour.

"And if it adds to sales of a splendid book, tells Australians how government works and raises money for my favourite charity, then I'll wear that as a badge of honour," he said.

"You're not going to get into any position of political leadership if you're a shy person, and I was amazed by what I could do, travelling the world with so little sleep."

Liberal MP Josh Frydenberg says Mr Carr is a "dilettante" who has become the "laughing stock" of the Labor Party and risks damaging Australia’s relationships abroad.


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mock Christians, get laughs, mock Muslims, get bullets

A young man mocks Christians on stage on national television he gets laughs. Another young man mocks Muslims on YouTube, he gets bullets through his home's window.  Is this the future of religious debate in Australia?

While I won't attempt to edify the erratic rantings of Nathan Abela, a "leader" in the anti-Islamic Australian Defence League who had up to eight bullets fired into his Sydney home last week, it made me ponder the reaction if the same thing had happened to comedian Joel Creasey.

Abela's raison d'etre seems to be to spur a reaction from Muslims, yet his taunts sit in the same ballpark as that of Creasey, who asked the audience during an episode of SBS's Stand Up @ Bella Union last month if anyone was from the Hillsong Christian congregation.

"No-one hoping to have their Guy Sebastian album signed after the gig?" said Creasey, "no, why would you? You guys are great, you guys are awesome, you're out of the house, you're seeing comedy, it's night time. If you were super-religious you'd probably be at home right now, maniacally fisting yourself to Antiques Roadshow."

Funny? I guess it depends on your sense of humour but, the fact Creasey is able to mock Christianity so openly, on a government-funded television station, delights and reassures me I'm living in free, rational society.

Granted, Creasey is telling a gag and Abela's joined the Australian version of the English Defence League - a far-right organisation of violence-prone, Islamophobe hooligans. Yet, he's broken no laws.

Every time I write a column critical of Christianity, a perverse religious solidarity infects some of the more hostile commentors who "dare" me to "say the same things about Islam" - like it's their hot-tempered little brother up the back of the bus.

Islam's sensitivity to criticism is well documented.

American author, philosopher and neuroscientist, Sam Harris, puts it well in his 2010 book The Moral Landscape when he writes: "The peculiar concerns of Islam have created communities in almost every society on earth that grow so unhinged in the face of criticism that they will reliably riot, burn embassies, and seek to kill peaceful people, over cartoons."

"This is something they will not do, incidentally, in protest over the continuous atrocities committed against them by their fellow Muslims. The reasons why such a terrifying inversion of priorities does not tend to maximise human happiness are susceptible to many levels of analysis - ranging from biochemistry to economics.

"But do we need further information in this case? It seems to me that we already know enough about the human condition to know that killing cartoonists for blasphemy does not lead anywhere worth going on the moral landscape," writes Harris.

Neither, would I suggest, does shooting at people if they happen to mock your faith on YouTube.

There is plenty to dislike about all religion - and I've not been shy about my thoughts on the hypocrisies of Christianity. However, to jeer conservative Islam and, as Harris describes, its "demonising homosexuals, stoning adulterers, veiling women, soliciting the murder of artists and intellectuals, and celebrating the exploits of suicide bombers"?


The lefties invade the National Party

What has happened to the National Party in NSW?  At a time when the bush in Australia has some real issues and needs strong, loud, and authentic voices, what the hell are they doing?

The once 'party for the country' seems to have solidly abandoned its conservative country roots and risks gradually becoming a ship of convenience for left leaning inner city trendies.

It was only a handful of years ago that the Nats largely saved Australia from an early Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).

Remember that?  Late 2009 and Malcolm Turnbull was Opposition Leader. Fools in the Coalition were on the verge of teaming up with Kevin07 to support a quick start ETS.

Turnbull was rolled after Nationals like Barnaby Joyce and Fiona Nash inspired Liberals to wake up and grow a spine.  Within weeks, Tony Abbott was Opposition Leader and here we are today.

Typically, you've always been able to count on people from the bush to truly read the mood of the country.

But something is wrong.  On Friday afternoon the Nats in NSW showed they had lost their way. They pre-selected a city based, lefty ex-Liberal, who doesn't have a drivers licence and is a political gamer to lead the party's Upper House ticket for the NSW election next year.

Ben Franklin is his name. Currently their state director but he could easily be at home in the Liberals or Labor. He is known around the NSW parliament as a classic political animal. The National Party is just where he is today.

He lives at Kirribilli in lower North Shore Sydney and figured out 'doing the numbers' when he was President of the Young Liberals.

Franklin is thought of as a 'wet' or a lefty. Certainly not the kind of bloke who'd really know much about the plight of people on the land.

So what are they doing giving him top pre-selection?

Franklin knocked out of the way a real-deal kind of bloke called John Williams who lives in Broken Hill.  Williams has run a business in a country town and has represented one of the largest electorates in the country from The Murray to the Queensland border. He is known to fly a light plane to get around his electorate.

Another MP, Melinda Pavey was also knocked out of the way. She's an ex-family business operator who has a young family living on the North Coast. She oversees Rural Health for the NSW Government.

Franklin's rise to the top is exactly not what the National Party leadership in NSW wanted. It goes against the wishes of Deputy Premier Andrew Stoner.

I appreciate that internal party politics is not everyone's cup of tea - but it strikes me as sad that even the National Party has become just another way for ambitious young city types to get into parliament.


Antidemocratic Greens

 It was called the March in March.  This time it was Abbott who was pilloried in abusive placards and righteous speeches, as the green left railed against Abbott's odious platform.

This week, Christine Milne praised that sentiment when she fronted the National Press Club. To be fair, it was a more sophisticated entreaty to voters to ‘‘make the WA election the turning of the tide; make it the defining moment where Tony Abbott’s radical, extreme agenda is stopped. Make it the moment, as [Greens senator] Scott Ludlam said, 'when we take our country back'.’’

While Milne’s call for action via the ballot box was perfectly defensible, stripped back, it asserted that the Greens speak for the majority and that Tony Abbott lacks legitimacy.

But where is the evidence given that this government has not even served out a single year of its three-year term nor handed down one budget?

It is not as if the government has done anything, excluding imperial titles, that can even be said to be outside its explicit mandate. Like it or not, Abbott's authority to repeal the carbon and mining taxes, rebalance the budget, and to stop the boats, could not have been clearer.

The March rallies so lauded by the Greens were presented as a protest against the Abbott government. But surely the real beef is with the Australian people who just six months prior had installed Abbott with a thumping 30-odd seat majority.

Such arguments fail to register it seems on both ends of the spectrum.

If ever there was an admission to having no empirical basis for a claim, it was Milne's evoking of the classic Australian movie, The Castle.

"The vibe of the nation right now is something you can't quite put your finger on but it's there, it's real, it's powerful, and it's building," she claimed.

It is beyond obvious to point out that the hapless lawyer in the movie had only resorted to "the vibe" because he lacked a real argument.

Yet some vibes are real. Such as the vibe of genuine concern, bordering on insurrection running through the Greens right now.

Unlike the former example, this one is based on empirical evidence including that the Green vote is on the wane, and that as a result, so too is Milne's grip on the leadership.

One need only look at the recent evidence such as the humiliating reversal suffered in her home state of Tasmania in the March state poll where it collapsed by almost 8 per cent statewide.

It followed a nation-wide drop of 3.3 per cent in the September federal poll.

The loss of another senator on Saturday could see a move on Milne within weeks with the two Victorians, Adam Bandt and Richard Di Natale, likely to step forward.

But even if Ludlam survives, as the late mail suggests he will, the word from inside the camp is that the Greens are actively weighing their options, with one figure noting that Bob Brown surrendered the leadership precisely because he could not guarantee serving out another six-year term as leader.

Milne's current term expires at the next election and her colleagues are already discussing succession. If Milne is looking for a vibe around the place, she might consider tuning into that one.


Old tribal customs no excuse for crimes

WITH increasing regularity, Australian courts are accepting “cultural differences” as ­exculpatory or mitigating factors for more lenient sentencing or even to excuse the most abhorrent crimes.

Surely this is not the multi-culturalism that even the most avowed flag-waving, sandal-shod, inner-urban, Green-Labor voting wearers of tie-dyed rainbow garments believe in?

Though the Left has worked strenuously to denigrate the very notion that Australia has any culture whatsoever, ­attacking Anzac Day, sneering at the national enthusiasm for sport, attempting to airbrush all references from the education curriculum to our Anglo heritage which is the bedrock of our law and language and disparaging our debt to ­Judaeo-Christian values, it is patently obvious our culture and the economic opportunity it provides, is a beacon in an ­increasingly chaotic world. In the politically correct non-judgemental world of the kumbaya crowd, all cultures are equal and must be respected.

In 2013, Victorian Court of Appeal Justice Robert Redlich granted Esmatullah Sharifi, 31, who had pleaded guilty to the rape of an 18-year-old girl and a 25-year-old woman in the same week in December, 2008, the right to appeal against the cumulative 14-year-jail term he is serving.

When he was sentenced, Judge Mark Dean said Sharifi had gone hunting for vulnerable, drunken women to rape.

Judge Dean pointedly noted that his flight from the Taliban was no excuse.  “The offence committed by you was an extremely serious act of violence, and in my opinion you well knew the victim was not consenting,” he said.

Sharifi found the teen near a Frankston nightclub and ­offered to drive her to meet friends at a Mornington hotel. But instead he drove her to a dark street and raped her. “Your brutal conduct must be denounced by this court,” Judge Dean said.

In granting leave, Judge Redlich found Sharifi’s lack of insight into his offence and the fact that he had no appreciation that his conduct was wrong adequate reasons to support his appeal.

Sharifi succeeded in his ­appeal with the Full Court knocking one year and six months off his total sentence.

Even more strange was the decision of Magistrate Ron Saines to drop an attempted child-stealing charge against Ali Jaffari, 35, in the Geelong Magistrates’ Court saying he would have reasonable doubt about his guilt, citing “cultural differences” as one mitigating factor.

The case related to the ­alleged attempt by Jaffari in January, 2013, to lead a four-year-old girl away from a sports oval while her father and brother played cricket.

Police Prosecutor, Sergeant Brooke Shears said that while the child’s father was throwing the ball to his son in the nets, the little girl was playing with her own bat at the net opening.

She said Jaffari was walking around the oval, when he ­approached the child, removed the bat from her hand and ­rested it against a bollard.

“He then grabbed the child’s hand and began to lead her away before she looked up, saw it wasn’t her father, started crying and pulled her hand away,” she said.

“The victim’s father turned, saw what was happening and yelled at Jaffari, ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ The victim ran crying to her father and he comforted her while Jaffari walked off around the oval.”

After being awarded a permanent protection visa in early 2012 by the Gillard government upon arriving by boat, Jaffari was convicted of ­indecent assault on two boys aged 12 and 13.

The prosecutor said that, when interviewed, Jaffari told police: “For us is not an issue.”

Magistrate Saines said the prosecution case fell short of criminality and cited cultural differences as a possible mitigating factor.

But Sgt Shears insisted that the offending had nothing to do with cultural differences. After being awarded a permanent protection visa in early 2012 by the Gillard government upon arriving by boat, Jaffari was convicted of ­indecent assault on two boys aged 12 and 13.

Witnesses said he started grabbing and rubbing himself against them, cuddling and kissing them on the neck and telling one of the boys he was “sexy”. One of the victims said he followed them to the showers, cornered them and asked if he “wanted company”.

He received a two-year community corrections order with 300 hours unpaid community work and was listed on a sex offenders’ register.

Curiously, sex crimes, usually against women and not boys, attract far harsher penalties under Afghan law than they do here, yet it is one cultural difference our judges and lawyers don’t seem to embrace.

Playing to the minorities is a losing game as nations across Europe find to their cost.