Monday, March 02, 2015


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG comments on ructions in the Liberal party

Fracking to go ahead in NT

THE Northern Territory lacks the proper regulatory environment to go ahead with fracking, a report has found, as the government moves forward to permit the practice.

THE Hydraulic Fracturing Inquiry report recommends laws to effectively manage environmental risks associated with the practice, which on Thursday was banned for a further five years in Tasmania. "There is no justification whatsoever for the imposition of a moratorium," the report read.

Mines and Energy Minister Dave Tollner said the government would "broadly" adopt all six recommendations in the report, which the NT government released on Thursday.

"Obviously there's been a lot of heat in community debate on the issue and the government is very keen to get the community on board," Mr Tollner told reporters.

The government is considering drawing up exclusion zones around regional centres to allay health concerns by residents.

Mr Tollner said it could take a year or longer to set up the right regulations; meanwhile, there are 24 wells in the works to be drilled this year.

While the regulations are being redrawn, operators will have to abide by a set of "guiding principles", and if they violate them they will be forced to stop work, Mr Tollner said.

But relying on operators to monitor themselves is "completely nonsensical", said David Morris, principal lawyer for the NT Environmental Defenders Office (EDO).

"If you've got a good operator things will probably be done in accordance with the guidelines, and if you've got a bad operator they won't," he told AAP.

Mr Morris said mining often occurred in remote parts of the NT, with the closest populations being indigenous communities who often didn't fully understand the science.

Mr Tollner said mining groups needed to communicate better with the community in explaining fracking processes.  "We expect them to be very upfront and transparent with the community and they have to explain exactly what they're doing," he said.

The report is "a victory for science over scaremongering," said Steven Gerhardy, NT director of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association.

He said the report offered a "sensible blueprint" for the shale gas industry, which could provide jobs, investment and improved infrastructure in remote and regional areas.


Are there any honest cops in NSW?

The former NSW Crime Commission chief Phillip Bradley has sensationally accused police commissioner Andrew Scipione and his predecessor Ken Moroney of giving "demonstrably wrong" evidence to a parliamentary inquiry examining a long-running bugging scandal.

In an explosive submission to the committee conducting the inquiry, whose final report is being tabled on Wednesday, Mr Bradley says the suggestion by the pair that the Crime Commission "obstructed" an internal investigation into the scandal is "demonstrably wrong and must be rejected".

But Mr Scipione has rejected Mr Bradley's claim in his own last-minute submission to the inquiry.

In it he quotes from an annexure to an official report by the Inspector of the Police Integrity Commission David Levine that says the Crime Commission had "refused to supply" key documents and other material to the internal investigation.

"I therefore do not accept the statement ... that the evidence provided by myself and Mr Moroney was 'demonstrably wrong and must be rejected'," Mr Scipione says.

The dispute opens a new front in the decades-old bugging scandal around an operation codenamed Mascot, which ran between 1999 and 2001.

Mascot - a joint operation between the Police Integrity Commission, the NSW Crime Commission and police internal affairs -  used a corrupt former policeman, code named M5, to target allegedly corrupt police with a listening device.

But it emerged there was insufficient or no evidence of wrongdoing by many of the more than 100 police and civilians whose names appeared on warrants issued by the Supreme Court.

The scandal has rocked the highest offices in the NSW Police as Deputy commissioner Catherine Burn was team leader of Mascot, which bugged her fellow deputy commissioner Nick Kaldas more than a decade ago.

Complaints about Mascot were initially investigated by an internal police inquiry, Strike Force Emblems.

But in their evidence to the inquiry Mr Scipione and Mr Moroney said Strikeforce Emblems had been impeded by the Crime Commission's reluctance to hand over key documents, citing secrecy provisions.

Mr Scipione said Mr Moroney had advised him that this meant nothing more could be done and this was one reason for him not pursuing the matter when he was appointed commissioner in 2007.

However, in a letter from his lawyer, Arthur Moses, SC, published by the committee on Tuesday Mr Bradley takes issue with this version of events.

It says that a document was tabled at a July 2004 meeting of the Crime Commission Management Committee which contained "specific references to attempts that had been made by the crime Commission and indeed the Management Committee itself to facilitate the dissemination of information relevant to the investigation".

The letter says the document also sets out the impediments to the handing over of the information and the reasons for the investigation being "ultimately discontinued by resolution of the management committee whose members at the time included Mr Moroney and then police minister John Watkins.

Mr Moses says Mr Bradley - who gave in-camera evidence to the inquiry - regards the document as "crucial because it refutes the allegation that has been repeated many times; to the effect that the Crime Commission obstructed the proper and timely grievance of police officers named in certain affidavits and warrants".

The letter says Mr Bradley believes the July 2004 document represents "a fair and proper understanding of the role of the NSW Crime Commission in this unfortunate matter".

But in response, Mr Scipione has written to the inquiry saying it was "most unfortunate" Mr Bradley's letter was not made available to him by the committee before he gave evidence if it was in its possession.

Mr Scipione says his evidence was based on findings of the Strike Force Emblems report which stated that "investigations could not be progressed as limited material was supplied by the NSW CC" and that the commission had not allowed officers to be interviewed.

He also cites the annexure to Mr Levine's report on the Emblems investigation that says the Crime Commission "refused to supply" material including affidavits underpinning applications for listening device warrants.

Mr Scipione says this led him to believe it was "more than open to conclude"  that the Crime Commission had refused access to material sought by Emblems investigators.

In fact, the July 2004 document was tabled by committee member David Shoebridge on January 29 this year.

In it, Mr Bradley outlines the Crime Commission's willingness to consider requests for information by Strike Force Emblems subject to legal and other considerations.

But he also says he has "concerns" about Strike Force Emblems - which he says were shared by then commissioner Ken Moroney - because confidential details about its work were being leaked to the media.

"Because of those concerns, I cannot provide highly confidential information to that Task Force," he wrote.

On Wednesday the inquiry's report recommended that the state government issue a formal apology to Mr Kaldas over being targeted by the operation.

It emerged during the inquiry that Mr Kaldas was named in 80 warrants for listening devices issued to Mascot.

It also recommends an apology be given to Channel Seven journalist Steve Barrett, who was named on 52 warrants.

It is critical of police commissioners over what it says is a lack of action to resolve complaints over the decade-old scandal.

The report also recommends the NSW government establish "a single, well resourced police oversight body that deals with complaints, quickly, fairly and independently".

In 2012 the government commissioned NSW Ombudsman Bruce Barbour to examine the issue. Concerns over the length of his inquiry sparked the parliamentary inquiry last last year.

Mr Barbour is now due to report by July.


The tyranny of health in Australia

It’s a funny old place, Australia. We have a peculiar love of rules and regulations that sets us apart from other liberal democracies. No other country in the free world imposes such stringent controls on individual behaviour – even when that behaviour puts no one else at risk.

Bicycle helmets are the obvious example. Australia and New Zealand, much to the bemusement of foreign visitors, are the only countries that force you to wear one. The strange thing is, we don’t even like cycling. Only 16 per cent of Australians ride a bicycle every week. In Denmark and the Netherlands that figure is above 40 per cent. The world champions of pedal power don’t see helmets as a necessity, but for some reason we in Australia do.

In 2011, the Australian government introduced one of the most radical anti-tobacco laws in modern history. Plain packaging was not designed to protect innocent bystanders from second-hand smoke, but rather to control individual decision-making. Australia was the first country to do this. And yet we already had some of the lowest smoking rates in the developed world. Of the 34 countries in the OECD, Australia consistently ranks in the bottom five for tobacco use.

Responding to an apparent alcohol crisis in 2014, we introduced the strictest licensing laws this side of Saudi Arabia. The crisis, meanwhile, is a complete myth. We drink far less per head than we did in the 1970s, and our consumption has fallen every year since 2007. Today, 14 countries in the OECD drink more than we do, and that’s not even counting the vodka-drenched lands of the former Soviet Union. You want to see an alcohol crisis? Book a flight to Belarus.

Something is clearly out of whack here. Our public health policies lack any sense of proportion or balance. You would expect the harshest laws to be reserved for the greatest crises, but in Australia the opposite is true. We apply draconian, heavy-handed treatment to what are comparatively minor issues. In doing so, we trample the right of adult individuals to make their own lifestyle choices.

Is Australia exceptional? Do we actually need all these crazy rules? Are we really so different from our cousins in Europe who get along just fine without them?

I don’t think Australians are that exceptional. I think the public-health lobby has sold us a great big lie. Our political debate has been hijacked by a gang of moral crusaders and neo-prohibitionists. They’ve convinced us that we can’t be trusted to act responsibly – that we need protection from ourselves.

So where does it end? Once we accept that the government can nullify our basic rights in the name of making us healthier, we set ourselves a very dangerous precedent. Imagine all the health problems that could be fixed if we simply stopped giving a shit about individual liberty.

Take skin cancer. Australia has the highest rates of melanoma in the world. So why not enforce the use of sunscreen, in the same way we enforce the use of bicycle helmets? It wouldn’t be hard to do. The police could set up RSTs (Random Sunscreen Tests) on our popular beaches.

Most of us don’t visit the GP as often as we should. That could be fixed with a compulsory check-up every six months, for every person in the country. Miss your appointment and you get a fine – just like when you fail to vote in an election. If we can force people into a polling booth, we can force them into a doctor’s office.

But why stop there? To tackle obesity, we could have mandatory exercise programs. Everyone is legally obliged to burn a minimum number of calories per week. A simple device like the Fitbit could record our workout sessions and report the data to the health authorities. If your calorie-count starts slipping, you can expect a letter in the mail.

Now this all sounds a bit far-fetched, I agree. And that’s precisely my point. A few decades ago, most of our current health-and-safety regulations would have seemed equally ridiculous.

Think about it. When Malcolm Fraser was Australian prime minister, who could have imagined a $150 fine for not wearing a bicycle helmet? Or a ban on children doing handstands and cartwheels and bringing birthday cakes to school? Today’s absurdity is tomorrow’s reality.

Which brings us to the final question. What will Australian society look like in 30 or 40 years? On current trends, we’ll be living under some kind of public-health dictatorship, where clean living is not a choice, but an obligation – a sacred national duty. You won’t even have to think about your own health and safety anymore, because Big Brother has already made the hard choices for you.

It’s time we had a serious conversation about where the public-health lobby is leading us.


Parents face childcare centre ban if immunisations are not up to date

PARENTS will be turned away from childcare centres next year if their child’s immunisations are not up to date and they refuse to be counselled by a doctor.

State health and education departments have begun drafting new laws so the Andrews Government can enforce its no jab, no play policy in 2016.

The Department of Health and Human Services is consulting with NSW officials about their scheme, which was introduced in January last year.

In NSW, parents who object to vaccinations must consult with a doctor about health risks, and get an exemption certificate if they fail to heed advice.

Childcare centres can be fined $4000 if they enrol a child who has not been vaccinated and who does not have an exemption certificate.

The Sunday Herald Sun understands the Victorian Government wants new laws in place by the start of school term 1 next year.

Health Minister Jill Hennessy said the aim was to ensure people who don’t vaccinate children “receive the best medical advice so that they are fully informed about the risks of their decision”.

“People are entitled to their opinions, but let’s be very clear: not vaccinating a child puts them and other children at risk of dangerous diseases and illnesses,” she said.

“The Department of Health and Human Services is consulting with its counterparts in NSW about their introduction of no jab, no play laws last year, to ensure we adopt best practice and benefit from their experience and the experiences of childcare and immunisation providers and families.”

A Sunday Herald Sun investigation this year found that immunisation rates in some council areas have dropped well below 90 per cent.  Victoria’s chief health officer is aiming to get immunisation rates above 95 per cent.

Virologist and vaccination campaigner Dr David Hawkes said Labor’s plan was a “fantastic idea”.  “It’s a really good way of ensuring that if people are busy, or if you missed a vaccination because you were overseas or sick, then you can get up to speed,” he said.

Tasha David, president of the Australian Vaccination-Skeptics Association, said the policy was unfair.


Sunday, March 01, 2015

Upping the heat on climate number-crunchers

CRICKET legend Donald Bradman is a useful metaphor for the escalating global row over claims the world’s leading climate agencies have been messing with the weather.

Imagine, for instance, if some bureau of sport were to revise the Don’s batting average in Test cricket down from 99.94 to 75 after adjusting for anomalies and deleting innings of 200 runs or more.

What if the bureau then claimed another batsman had exceeded the Don’s revamped record to become the greatest ever?

Critics could be told the adjustments “don’t matter” because they had not affected overall global batting averages. Just as many batsmen had been adjusted up as down. And complaints could easily be dismissed as the “cherrypicking” of a few, isolated batsmen.

David Stockwell, Australian Research Council grant recipient and adjunct researcher at Central Queensland University, raised the Bradman analogy in his submission to a newly formed independent panel that will oversee the operation of the Bureau of Meteorology’s national temperature dataset.

Stockwell was highlighting public concerns at the BoM’s use of homogenisation techniques to adjust historical temperature records to remove anomalies and produce a national dataset called ACORN-SAT (Australian Climate Observations Reference Network — Surface Air Temperature). The panel, or technical advisory forum, which will hold its first discussions with BoM staff on Monday, was formed in December after a series of questions were raised publicly about the treatment of historic temperature records that has resulted in temperature trends at some Australian sites being changed from long-term cooling to warming.

Liberal senator Simon Birmingham, former parliamentary secretary to Environment Minister Greg Hunt, instructed BoM to fast-track the appointment of the panel, which was recommended in 2011 in a peer review of ACORN-SAT’s establishment. The make-up of the panel was announced by Birmingham’s replacement as parliamentary secretary, Bob Baldwin, in January.

In the meantime, controversy about homogenisation of climate records has exploded into a global concern after similar trend changes to those raised in Australia were identified in Paraguay and in the Arctic. Accusations of “fraud” and “criminality” have been made against some of the world’s leading weather agencies. There is now the prospect of a US Senate inquiry.

Respected US climate scientist Judith Curry has facilitated a wideranging debate on the issue, saying more research was needed, but that it is probably not the “smoking gun” for climate science, as some had claimed.

There is a long history regarding complaints about how climate data has been handled by authorities and how poorly those making complaints have been treated.

The general trend is made clear in a 2007 email exchange, now known as Climategate, between a senior BoM official and scientists at East Anglia University in Britain. BoM’s David Jones said Australian sceptics could be easily dissuaded if deluged with data.

“Fortunately in Australia our sceptics are rather scientifically incompetent,” Jones wrote. “It is also easier for us in that we have a policy of providing any complainer with every single station observation when they question our data (this usually snows them)”, he said.

Even better, noted East Anglia University’s Phil Jones, was to give troublemakers a big package of data with key information missing, making it impossible to decipher.

But more than seven years on, as the world’s weather bureaus report more and more broken temperature records and further examples emerge of incongruous adjustments, the pressure is building for a transparent process to finally untangle the numbers.

In Australia, ACORN-SAT was created in 2009 to replace BoM’s so-called high-quality dataset after questions were raised about the quality and accuracy of that network.

ACORN-SAT, which the Senate was told this week is managed by a two-person team in BoM, uses information from a select range of weather stations and computer modelling to compile its national temperature record. The data is also used to help create the global temperature record.

The panel to oversee ACORN-SAT will be headed by CSIRO scientist Ron Sandland and includes a wide range of experts in statistics and mathematics.

Sandland tells Inquirer he will hold a teleconference with BoM on Monday to decide how the process would be run.

The panel was first recommended by a peer review in September 2011 headed by Ken Matthews. The peer review gave ACORN-SAT a glowing report, describing it as conforming to world’s best practice. But it also called for greater transparency, better communication and independent oversight.

Despite criticisms about transparency and the results of homogenisation at some sites by members of the public, BoM was slow to act on the peer review recommendation to establish a technical advisory forum.

BoM is one of Australia’s most widely trusted organisations. Millions of people use its online weather services and a Senate estimates hearing was told this week that more than 30,000 people followed BoM’s Twitter feed in the wake of cyclones Marcia and Lam, which landed simultaneously in Queensland and the Northern Territory this week.

However, as one of the government’s lead agencies on climate change, BoM has come under greater scrutiny. A vocal chorus has been claiming that there is a pattern of historic temperatures being reduced to make the warming trend of the late 21st century look more acute.

The questioners were quickly labelled “amateurs” by atmospheric scientist David Karoly, from the University of Melbourne, as he and other climate science academics rushed to support BoM’s work.

But the issue has exploded internationally following a declaration by US agencies NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that 2014 was the hottest year on record. As in Australia, regions were found where warming temperature trends had been created or increased through a process of homogenising records with neighbouring areas, some in other countries hundreds of kilometres away.

Published examples include Paraguay in South America and the Arctic, where a warm period in the 1930s and a well-documented period of intense cold around 1970 were erased from the record by homogenisation to give a steady rising temperature trend.

“How can we believe in ‘global warming’ when the temperature records providing the ‘evidence’ for that warming cannot be trusted?” asked British contrarian and climate change sceptic James Dellingpole.

“I’m not saying there has been no 20th-century global warming, I think there probably has been,” he said. “But I don’t honestly know. The worrying part … is that neither — it would appear — do the scientists.”

The website of Britain’s The Sunday Telegraph registered more than 30,000 comments under an article by columnist Christopher Booker saying the fiddling of temperature data has been “the biggest science scandal ever”. “What is now needed is a meticulous analysis of all the data, to establish just how far these adjustments have distorted the picture the world has been given,” Booker wrote.

The integrity of global temperature records after homogenisation is fiercely defended by global climate agencies, despite the fact that satellite measurements available from 1979 show a slightly different warming trend to surface-based records.

Australia’s BoM has issued two statements ahead of the Sandland review panel. In one it says temperature records are influenced by a range of factors such as changes to site surrounds, measurement methods and the relocation of ­stations.

“Such changes introduce biases into the climate record that need to be adjusted for, prior to analysis,’’ BoM says.

“Adjusting for these biases, a process known as homogenisation is carried out by meteorological authorities around the world as best practice, to ensure that climate data is consistent through time.”

BoM’s American counterpart, NOAA’s National Climatic Data Centre, says for global temperatures it is important to keep in mind that the largest adjustment in the global surface temperature record occurs over the oceans.

“All NOAA methodologies go through the peer-review process standard in scientific inquiry,” it says. Despite this, there remains enormous and heated debate about the issue.

Climate scientist Curry has opened an online debate that includes key scientists from the independent organisation Berkeley Earth, which compiles its own global temperature record, the results of which accord with those of other international agencies.

The Berkeley scientists conclude that Dellingpole and Booker’s claims of the “biggest fraud” of all time and a “criminal action” by climate scientists amount to nothing.

“Globally, the effect of adjustments is minor because on average the biases that require adjustments mostly cancel each other out,” they say.

But their web post generated heated discussion covering both the science of homogenisation and the standing of science.

European climate change economist Richard Tol, responding to Curry’s post, says the more important question raised by the debate over temperatures is perhaps why the public has lost so much trust in climate science that it prefers to believe columnists such as Booker over climate scientists at Berkeley. A Telegraph poll suggested that 90 per cent of 110,000 readers had sided with Booker.

“I would hypothesise that the constant stream of climate nonsense — we’re all gonna die, last chance to save the planet, climate change is coming to blow over your house and eat your dog — has made people rather suspicious of anything climate ‘scientists’ say,” according to Tol.

“If my hypothesis is correct, instead of arguing with Booker about the details of homogenisation, you should call out the alarmists.”

Curry tells Inquirer her main conclusions from the heated exchange in response to the Berkeley post are that “the stated uncertainties in global average temperatures are too small”.

“More research needs to be done to understand the impacts of the adjustments and to make individual locations more consistent with the historical record,” she says.

She says much more data work is needed to clarify the temperatures in the Arctic, which is a big source of difference among the different datasets in the northern hemisphere.

“I suspect that all this won’t change the qualitative result from the dataset, that is that the Earth is warming,” Curry says.

The way in which the Australian review of the BoM ACORN-SAT data is conducted could go a long way towards answering some of the questions being asked worldwide.

A common criticism of climate authorities such as BoM is that ­justifications for temperature smoothing may sound reasonable in the broad, but are often poorly explained in the detail of individual adjustments.

It is the task of the high-powered review panel to satisfy itself that the integrity given to BoM’s dataset by the initial peer review has been maintained. Sitting on the panel with Sandland will be:

*  Bob Vincent, emeritus professor in the school of chemistry and physics at the University of Adelaide.

*  Phillip Gould, from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

*  John Henstridge, who founded Data Analysis Australia, now the largest private statistical organisation in Australia,

*  Susan Linacre, a former president of the International Association of Survey Statisticians.

*  Michael Martin, professor of statistics in the research school of finance, actuarial studies and applied statistics at Australian National University.

*  Patty Solomon, professor of statistical bioinformatics at the University of Adelaide.

*  Terry Speed, a former president of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics.

Declining an invitation for David Jones, BoM’s manager of climate change and prediction, to write for Inquirer, a BoM spokeswoman says establishment of the technical advisory forum will provide “an independent framework for quality assurance tests and analysis of the bureau’s climate dataset, and it would not be appropriate to pre-empt this process.”

But critics of BoM are already lining up to have their questions answered.

Research academic Jennifer Marohasy has accused BoM of using “creative accounting practices” in both the homogenisation of data to remodel individual series as well as the choice of stations and time periods when the individual series are combined to calculate a national average for each year.

Marohasy says BoM’s methodologies have turned a cycle of warming and cooling over the past century into one of continuous warming.

In a submission to the review group, Marohasy makes three recommendations to render the overall official national temperature trend for Australia “more consistent with history, and reasonable accounting practices”.

The first is to use the same locations when calculating average mean temperatures for different years.

Marohasy’s research shows that while the national average temperature is calculated from a set of just 104 weather stations, the same 104 stations are not used every year.

“In particular, hotter places are added later in the time series, which currently begins in 1910”, she says.  “For example, Wilcannia is a very hot town in western NSW.  “There is a long continuous maximum temperature record for Wilcannia that extends back to 1881, but the bureau only adds Wilcannia into the mix from 1957.

“Obviously, if the national average temperature is calculated from a mix of hotter locations in the 1990s than, say, in the 1920s, then it will appear that Australia was hotter in the 1990s, even if the temperatures at individual weather recording stations were the same during these two periods,” Marohasy says.

Her second recommendation is to start the official record from 1880, not 1910, thus including the hot years of the Federation drought in the official record.

Lastly, Marohasy says adjustments should not be made to temperature series unless an irregularity exists in the original series that was caused by a known, documented change in the equipment at that weather recording station and/or a known change in the siting of the equipment.

Her view is supported by retired certified practising accountant Merrick Thomson, who has told the panel there is a lack of transparency associated with the change in the mix of weather stations used to calculate the national average.

Thomson says when BoM transitioned to the new ACORN-SAT system in 2012 it removed 57 stations from its calculations, replacing them with 36 on average hotter stations.

“I calculate that this had the effect of increasing the recorded Australian average temperature by 0.42C, independently of any actual real change in temperature,” Thompson says.

“Of the 57 stations removed from the calculation of the national average temperature, only three have actually closed as weather stations,” he adds.

Thomson asks the panel: “Why was the mix of stations changed with the transition to ACORN-SAT, and why was this not explained and declared, particularly given that it has resulted in a large increase in the 2013 annual temperature for Australia, I calculate 0.56 degree Celsius?”

He asks what criteria were used to determine whether a station becomes part of the national network.

Stockwell says although many had rushed to defend the BoM, saying the adjustments “don’t matter” as they do not change the global temperature graphs appreciably, they clearly do matter to a lot of people.

In a submission to the panel, Stockwell highlights what he considered unsound practices by BoM in handling the national data.

“Every portrayal of historical data should be historically accurate,” he says, “else it becomes revisionism and strays out of the domain of science and into the domain of ideology and politics.”

Self-declared “citizen scientist” Ken Stewart has been more pointed. “The apparent lack of quality assurance means ACORN-SAT is not fit for the purpose of serious climate analysis including the calculation of annual temperature trends, identifying hottest or coldest days on record, analysing the intensity, duration and frequency of heatwaves, matching rainfall with temperature, calculating monthly means or medians, and calculating diurnal temperature range,” he says.

“In conclusion, ACORN-SAT is not reliable and should be scrapped.

“ACORN-SAT shows adjustments that distort the temperature record and do not follow the stated procedures in the bureau’s own technical papers, generating warming biases at a large number of sites, thus greatly increasing the network wide trends,” Stewart says in his submission.

“Furthermore, the bureau does not take account of uncertainty, and the data are generally riddled with errors indicating poor quality assurance.

“Finally, its authors have not followed up on most undertakings made more than three years ago to permit replication and improve transparency.

The obvious and widespread depth of feeling about BoM’s ­treatment of historical records ­underscores the wisdom of recommendations made by the 2011 ACORN-SAT peer review.

The review panel encouraged BoM to improve the public transparency of ACORN-SAT arrangements.

“This will not only build public confidence in the dataset but should assist the bureau in its continuous improvement efforts and its responsiveness to data users,” the peer review panel said.

“The panel also encourages the bureau to more systematically document the process used, and to be used, in the development and operations of ACORN-SAT.

“Some aspects of current arrangements for measurement, curation and analysis are non-transparent even internally, and are therefore subject to significant ‘key persons risk’, as well as inconsistency over time.”

Current criticism of BoM over the temperature series is obviously unfamiliar territory for what remains one of Australia’s most highly regarded public institutions.

This criticism is by no means an existential threat to BoM but a rigorous and transparent review of ACORN-SAT data, methodology and communication is clearly needed, and long overdue.


Bendigo councillor Elise Chapman tweets graphic female genital mutilation photos

Bendigo councillor Elise Chapman has been outspoken against Islam in her campaign to stop a $3 million mosque development approved by Bendigo City Council in June 2014.

A mosque supporter had sent a message to Chapman on Twitter saying she hoped the mosque would get built soon.

“It’s great to see someone who cares about all Bendigo residents and their religions,” the supporter tweeted.

Ms Chapman responded with the image showing five babies with bloody wounds.  “Oh, we could have this here too? Would you like your fanny sliced off,” she captioned the photo.

“Yes. I’m opposed to female genital mutilation, child brides, inequality, women beating, all part of Quran, read it.”

Ms Chapman was one of two councillors who voted against approving the mosque, which would include two prayer rooms, a shop and community sports centre.

The project has been the subject of vocal protests and a social media campaign from opponents, including 350 who submitted formal objections to the council.  About 40 letters of support were also received.

Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal hearings into the development are ongoing.


Abbott hurting union brand? Brothers are doing it themselves

AT the front of the room, ACTU secretary Dave Oliver was railing against the Abbott government, accusing it of trying to “damage the branding of our movement and besmirch our reputation”. Moments later, at the back of the room, one proud union man proved the movement didn’t need help from the Coalition or a royal commission to remind Australians that militancy and thuggery have not been eradicated from its ranks.

Addressing the Maritime Union of Australia state conference in Western Australia yesterday, Mr Oliver strongly endorsed the tactics of the militant union, praising controversial WA secretary and Labor Party powerbroker Chris Cain for “giving the bosses the shits” and “energising” his members who have secured big pay rises on the wharves.

But his staunch defence of the MUA came just minutes before one of the union’s members physically assaulted a journalist from The Australian, who had been invited to cover the conference in Fremantle.

The member — whom MUA leaders last night declined to identify — approached WA chief reporter Andrew Burrell during Mr Oliver’s speech and ordered him to leave the meeting, claiming the media were not allowed to be present. When Burrell said he had been invited to cover the event by the MUA, the man said: “I’m a f..king member here, mate. We can throw you out any time we want.”

He then knocked the journalist off his chair, pushed him to the ground and grabbed him as he lay on the floor, before being pulled away by fellow members.

Alerted to the incident, Mr Cain demanded The Australian’s photographer Colin Murty hand over the camera’s memory card, but Murty refused. Mr Cain then ordered the reporter and photographer to leave.

Last night, Labor Party elder Martin Ferguson, a former federal minister and ACTU president, called on Mr Oliver to ensure that a full investigation was carried out by the MUA, which he has previously described as a “rogue” union.

“I am calling on the secretary of the ACTU to disassociate himself from this public display of thuggery by a member of the MUA,” Mr Ferguson said.

“The ACTU should also request its affiliate fully co-operate in a full and proper investigation into the assault. This should be condemned at the highest possible levels of the union movement, including by Dave Oliver.”

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin, who also spoke at the conference, confirmed he had told the meeting the media would be allowed to stay for his speech and that of Mr Oliver.  He described the incident as “a complete cock-up”.

Mr Crumlin condemned the attack on Burrell, whom he phoned after the incident to apologise on behalf of the union. “I don’t know if this guy (the MUA member) has got anger-management problems ... I am very sorry,” he said.

Mr Crumlin characterised the attack as an aberration ­rather than a sign of a wider violent element within the union that needed to be dealt with.

Whether the MUA member who attacked Burrell ought to be expelled was a matter for the local branch, Mr Crumlin said.  “Workers need to be prot­ected on the job whether you are a journalist or a wharfie,” he said. “The branch will deal with it. I don’t even know who he was.”

Mr Crumlin said workplace safety was at the heart of what the MUA stood for. “You are in a troubled situation if you cannot guarantee a worker’s safety in a trade union room,” Mr Crumlin said.

Asked if he would take action as the WA branch head, Mr Cain said he did not know enough about what had happened to say whether the MUA would expel the member.  “It seemed like a little bit of a kerfuffle ... I’m not saying anything until I find out more,” he said. “I’m looking at it.”

Mr Cain, who has previously faced assault charges, has been accused of holding the resources sector to ransom through ­excessive claims for better pay and conditions.

Two years ago he told the MUA state conference that “laws need to be broken, you’re going to get locked up” in the fight for better conditions.

Asked about the assault in Canberra today, Labor leader Bill Shorten said: “I don’t know anything about that.  “But what I do say very clearly is that there is no time for any assault or violence full stop, if someone has broken the law then they deserve to get the full punishment that the law metes out. I have no time for any of that conduct.”

Employment Minister Eric Abetz today called on Mr Shorten to distance himself from the MUA and recalled the Labor leader had spoken at the same conference two years ago and said he wanted to bottle the spirit of the union.

“Bill Shorten must now distance himself from Australia’s most militant union following reports today that a journalist invited by the MUA to its Western Australia conference was assaulted during an address by ACTU Secretary Dave Oliver,” SEnator Abetz said.

“Bill Shorten addressed the same conference in 2013 as Workplace Relations Minister saying: “I wish we could bottle a bit of the spirit here and spread it on perhaps some of the members in the Labor caucus because nothing is gone until it’s over.”

“Bill Shorten must today tell the Australian people if he still want’s to ‘bottle the spirit’ of this union or if he will once and for all cut ties with the MUA and reject its future donations and votes at Labor conferences,” Employment Minister Senator Eric Abetz said today.

“This division of this union in particular is brazen about breaking laws and have even been found guilty, by courts of law, of harrassing and intimidating workers.”

“Mr Shorten should follow the example set by a true Labor leader former Minister and ACTU President Martin Ferguson who has condemned this attack and the culture of militancy that exists in some unions like the MUA.”

“Mr Shorten must decide – is he on the side of the honest worker or on the side of militant union bosses who condone law breaking and refuse to properly investigate or refer to authorities an assault at their own conference?”


Stakes are high in Mike Baird’s privatisation push

THE NSW state election next month is probably the most important poll for economic reform held in Australia since John Howard’s 1998 election victory on the GST-led tax package that saw Howard re-elected with a savage cut in his majority.

This is a pent-up conflict of ideas with vast consequences. Liberal Premier Mike Baird will test a relatively new concept of privatisation, called asset recycling, which means the long-term lease of 49 per cent of the NSW electricity network to fund a $20 billion infrastructure plan for the state. Baird’s strategy is privatisation not for debt reduction but to generate capital for projects pivotal to Sydney’s future. His purpose is to tackle crippling NSW bottlenecks by funding urban road projects, a second harbour rail crossing and regional and city investments. In theory this should vest privatisation, invariably unpopular, with a new selling point.

Baird, like Howard in 1998, seeks a public mandate for sweeping reform. Those drumbeaters damning Tony Abbott for refusing to put the hard decisions to the people at the 2013 election and then engaging in a breach of trust are conspicuously silent about Baird’s honesty and effort to maintain community faith.

Following the humiliating loss of the Newman government in Queensland, where privatisation was the main policy issue, Baird seeks a re-run with the NSW result having national ramifications.

Media focus on Abbott as a liability for Baird is inevitable but misses the bigger story. Defeat for Baird would constitute the most lethal blow for market-based economic reform for years. It would prove that even an appealing leader such as Baird, who had redefined the privatisation issue, enjoyed a large majority and faced a still discredited ALP, could not prevail on an agenda that, in essence, was rational and modest.

The NSW Labor Party under new leader Luke Foley is waging an aggressive negative campaign. Unions NSW with its deep pockets, has launched its campaign “NSW Not For Sale”, a powerful slogan.

The union campaign involves door-knocking, phone and digital, radio and television arms in a strategy that has helped the unions deliver the scalps of the ­Victorian and Queensland governments. Federal ALP leader, Bill Shorten, has committed to the anti-privatisation crusade.

Nothing better illustrates the policy and ideological gulf in Australian politics today. The message from Unions NSW secretary, Mark Lennon, is that Baird wants “to flog off the public’s vital assets to the private sector as quickly as possible”. Lennon said the “undeniable fact” was that the people of NSW rejected Baird’s agenda. The ALP-union position is that privatisation means higher power prices for consumers and, ultimately, this is its popular hook.

In fact, there is much evidence to the contrary. The election row over privatisation merely betrays the sad nature of our public policy debate and the decline of the ALP from the Hawke-Keating era.

In its 2013 report on Electricity Network Regulation the Productivity Commission said electricity prices had risen by 70 per cent in real terms over the previous five years with structural problems most apparent in NSW. Transmission and distribution in NSW, Tasmania and Queensland were state-owned but in private hands in Victoria and South Australia.

“The rationale for state-ownership of electricity network businesses no longer holds,” the report said. It found state governments imposed many constraints on corporations they owned — social, environmental and procurement obligations as well as worker benefits often incompatible with a business operation.

The Productivity Commission concluded: “There are strong arguments for privatisation of these businesses. There is no evidence that the productivity, reliability, quality or cost performance of private-sector electricity network businesses is worse than their public sector equivalents. To the contrary, the evidence in Australia and internationally suggests that such private sector enterprises are more efficient.”

This directly rebuts the ALP-union campaign. Referring to the experience in Victoria and South Australia, the report said there had been “few problems” in those states. It said that “privatisation is not a radical move”.

Nothing could be more removed from the doom being predicted for NSW.

An Ernst and Young report last year for the NSW Treasury found the states with government-owned businesses (NSW and Queensland) had substantially higher electricity price increases than states with privatised businesses where, over time, there had been decreases in network charges.

Foundation chairman of the NSW Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, Tom Parry, has said that “on almost all measures” costs in the NSW and Queensland system are “significantly higher” than in Victoria and South Australia. He said the “facts” were the government-owned systems had greater inefficiency, higher operating costs and higher levels of unwarranted capital spend.

Some Labor figures, such as shadow treasurer Chris Bowen, claim that privatising electricity should be rejected because it is a monopoly.

The Productivity Commission repudiates this view. It says privatisation is not deregulation. It argues a strong regulatory regime is the logical companion to any sell-off to ensure it delivers gains for consumers.

The issue is a profound insight into the modern ALP. How mad is it that the ALP as a party dedicated to improved living standards is reduced to hugging poles and wires? In their hearts many ALP figures know this is a fraud.

Former NSW premier Morris Iemma, staying out of this campaign, favours the sell-off. Iemma was destroyed by the unions and party when, as premier, he tried to sell the retailers and lease the generators. Who was backing Iemma? Paul Keating, of course.

In truth, this issue is a deal-breaker for the unions. Labor is trapped by its structural ties to the unions, the anti-privatisation culture of progressive politics and the desperate hope that populist hostility to privatisation will save its lowly fortunes at the ballot box.

The scare campaign will be ferocious. Conducted in the name of the people, the real purpose is to retain union privileges and de facto management control of state enterprise.

Labor today is a party of formidable election technique and obsolete policy prejudices. But the stakes for NSW and the nation are immense.


Friday, February 27, 2015

Global warming: Australian deserts to expand as tropical circulation changes

Just modelling, which has so far always been wrong

Australia's deserts will expand southward and dry periods will lengthen as global warming alters key tropical circulations, according to new research by US scientists.

The researchers studied how the Hadley Circulation – the movement of warm air and moisture away from the tropics – will be affected if carbon-dioxide emissions continue to rise at the rate of 1 per cent per year.

They found evidence of a so-called "deep-tropics squeeze", in which regions closest to the equator will experience increased convection as air rises faster.

Conversely, the drier sub-tropical regions characterised by descending air and resulting high-pressure systems will expand, according to the research published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Our results provide a physical basis for inferring that greenhouse warming is likey to contribute to the observed prolonged droughts worldwide in recent decades," the paper said.

Existing dry zones in Africa-Eurasia, south-west North America and much of Australia will face increased risk of drought, said William K.M. Lau, of the University of Maryland's Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Centre, and co-author of the paper.

"As inferred from the model projections, the global warming effect on expansion of deserts is likely to be already going on," Dr Lau told Fairfax Media.

The paper found that while some components of the Hadley Circulation will strengthen – resulting in increased rainfall in the deep tropics – ther elements will weaken. These findings will aid the understanding of the overall changes under way, he said.

"Detection of changes in the Hadley Circulation has been attempted by many previous authors, with no clear results whether it has strengthened, weakened or [had] no change," he said.

Steve Turton, a climatologist at James Cook University, said the PNAS paper adds to other research indicating the tropical belt is expanding, such as signs that the location of the maximum intensity of cyclone is shifting poleward.

An intensification of deep tropical rainfall would mean more rainfall for regions to the north of Australia, such as Indonesia, Professor Turton said.

A further expansion of the high-pressure belt, on the other hand, means more rainfall missing mainland Australia, and falling in the Southern Ocean instead. "It spells a pretty grim forecast for Australia," he said.

Rainfall is already on the decrease in southern Australia. Important winter rains over south-western WA have reduced by about a quarter since the 1970s, adding stresses to ecosystems and raising doubts about the prospects for wheat farming in the region, Professor Turton said.

Other regions reliant on monsoonal rains, such as the Indian sub-continent, will also likely see a disruption of rainfall patterns, he said.


Muslim Australia:  19-year-old man charged over 'wedding' to 15-year-old

A backyard Islamic marriage between an 18-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl was only discovered when the young bride took herself to a western Sydney hospital believing she had suffered a miscarriage, police allege.

Mustafa Abdel Ghany, 19, was charged on Wednesday with marrying a 15-year-old girl in the backyard of her father's Sydney home in November.

A sheikh allegedly officiated over the ceremony and the couple moved into a granny flat at Abdel Ghany's parents' home in south-west Sydney soon after.

Detectives from the Child Abuse Squad were alerted to the marriage when the 15-year-old attended Bankstown Hospital on January 20 believing she had suffered a miscarriage.

It is the first time the state's Child Abuse Squad has charged a man with marrying an underage girl.

Abdel Ghany was granted strict bail in Bankstown Local Court on Wednesday and ordered not to go near his wife, not to drink alcohol or take drugs and to abide by an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order taken out against him.

His 15-year-old wife, who cannot be identified, had stopped attending high school at the time of her marriage and was not working, police said in documents tendered to the court.

Her parents did not know where she had been living for the past four to five months and had had little contact with her when police spoke to them in January.

When her horrified mother found out about the union, she confronted the couple and was allegedly told by her new son-in-law that he would "finish" her.

"What's done is done. She's my wife. If you want to start a war, I'll finish it," he allegedly told the mother when she questioned why he married her daughter in such a manner.

Police allege that the bride's father, who was present when they married, told police they were simply engaged.

In early February, Abdel Ghany and his parents grew suspicious that his in-laws were speaking to the police.

An intercepted phone call allegedly revealed he planned to harm his bride's parents, police documents state.

In other phone calls, detectives also allegedly heard Abdel Ghany's parents telling him to move his wife's belonging out of the granny flat and into the main house to hide the relationship.

Just days ago, however, Abdel Ghany struck up a relationship with another woman while his young wife was visiting his family in Canberra, police documents state.

"Police allege the accused has stated that he is considering divorcing the victim," the documents state. "The victim is unaware of the extent of the [new] relationship and is hoping that she and the accused will continue to live as husband and wife."

Abdel Ghany, who was 18 at the time of the marriage, denied that the ceremony took place when interviewed by police on Wednesday and has denied having sex with the 15-year-old girl.

A recent report estimated there were around 250 child bride cases across Australia.

NSW police made their first child bride arrest last year.

A 26 year-old man was convicted of several sexual abuse matters after marrying a 12-year-old girl in a backyard ceremony. The imam who oversaw the marriage was also convicted.


Disability Support Pension under fire as bill to write welfare cheques hits $3 billion per year

MOTHERS, young people and women over 65 will be encouraged to get off welfare and into work under proposals being considered by the government.

On the same day he delivered a major report into welfare reform, Social Services Minister Scott Morrison outlined three areas he was keen to pursue in the May budget and beyond.

Parents, especially single mothers, should be encouraged to work by making child care more affordable and simpler, he said.

Minister for Social Services Scott Morrison addressing the National Press Club.

“Because it’s good for their families, it’s good for their income, it’s good for their support,” Mr Morrison told the National Press Club on Wednesday.

And young people should be either learning or earning and prevented from a life of welfare dependency through early intervention programs similar to those in New Zealand.

Mr Morrison said the system needed reform, but would not be drawn on whether he was likely to accept advice to reduce the number of welfare payments to just five.

That is a recommendation of the McClure welfare review which argues for a tiered working-age payment, supported living pension, child and youth payment, carer payment and the age pension.

The minister said long-term reform should not be rushed, but wanted to lay the groundwork for Australians to start thinking about necessary, but hard, changes.

“What we sew now in apathy will be reaped in a future harvest for generations who will not get the safety net provided by those who went before us,” Mr Morrison said.


Queensland moves to bring back homosexual civil unions

QUEENSLAND will reintroduce state-sanctioned civil union ceremonies for gay couples.

As The Australian reported during the recent election campaign, same-sex relationship registrations fell two-thirds in the three years since the Newman government watered down civil union laws by scrapping commitment ceremonies.

Today, Queensland’s newly minted Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath confirmed Labor would honour its election commitment to reverse the policy change.

“It’s something that I’m getting briefings on as we speak,” Ms D’Ath told Fairfax Radio.

“We have made it clear we will change it back. We’re putting in place (measures) to do that now.”

It’s not known when the Palaszczuk government will address this issue. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will visit Governor Paul De Jersey tomorrow to decide when the first parliamentary sittings will occur, and the rest of the year’s parliamentary schedule.

In 2012, when civil unions were rushed through parliament by the former Bligh Labor government, 466 couples affirmed their relationships.

Following the Newman government changes in mid-2012, another 138 homosexual couples formalised their relationships.

In 2013, 227 gay couples registered their relationship. Last year, that had dropped to 184. To January 13 this year, four relationships were registered.

Throughout the period, 4677 heterosexual couples have also registered their relationships.

During the campaign, Ms Palaszczuk also committed to maintaining laws on altruistic surrogacy and no euthanasia.

The LNP’s changes to Queensland’s civil-union laws meant the state is in line with NSW and Victoria in having no official ceremonial recognition. Couples in the ACT and Tasmania can opt for a ceremony.

The legislative changes followed lobbying from the Australian Family Association during the 2012 election campaign and a private meeting between Mr Newman and the Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, the day before the legislation was introduced.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Training dummies as teachers is not the way to get good teaching

I agree with Christopher Bantick below but he fails to ask WHY dummies are being accepted as teachers.  It's because most really capable people have a fair idea, if only from their own education, that teaching in many government schools is not a pleasant experience.  The low standards of discipline that are allowed to prevail these days can even be dangerous to teachers.  So a requirement for high standards in teachers would simply mean that not enough of them would be recruited.  "Child-centered" approaches sound wonderful but can result in bedlam in the classroom. 

I once taught in a "progressive" (no overt discipline) High School (Chiron College) so I saw what happens. The brighter half of the pupils did well enough -- mainly due to parental encouragement to learn, I gather -- and the less bright half learned nothing at all, though their skill at playing cards improved.  Like so many of its ilk, Chiron college is no longer in business.

I note that the "Summer Hill" school founded by A.S. Neill along "progressive" lines is still surviving -- but as a boarding school only.  So the parents would generally be affluent and like the parents of the students who did well at the school where I taught. So the big lesson is that "progressive" education is not suitable as a mass system but rather something that can work for the children of elite families with a strong interest in education. 

So there are two solutions to low standards in government schools:  Return to traditional standards of discipline and traditional ("chalk and talk") teaching methods.  Only then will the teaching experience once again be positive enough to attract brighter teachers.

In the meantime, there is a tried and proven but mightily resisted  strategy that does work:  Large classes.   There are SOME good teachers and large classes would allow them to spread the benefit of their talents more widely.  Small classes are the holy grail of teaching unions but the research shows that they are beneficial  only at the very earliest ages.  See  here and here  and here and here and here.  By contrast, many Australian Catholic schools in the past had class sizes as big as 60 and yet got results that would be envied today.

ANOTHER report into teaching and another missed opportunity. The report by the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group, tabled last week, repeats the well-worn mantra that teachers are not good enough. The way to improve teaching is to insist on high academic ability on entry. This is not one of the report’s recommendations.

Instead, you have the head of the review into teacher training, Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven, saying the problem is in the university training of teachers. This is disingenuous in the extreme.

Universities can only educate those they accept. If students are admitted with low Australian Tertiary Admission Rank scores to universities, then this is who they educate. Harsh as it may sound, academically, you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. You can’t make a great teacher out of someone who is not academically excellent.

Why teachers fail in the classroom is because they are not, bluntly, bright enough to cope with academic subjects and able students. To this end, the universities have not failed in their preparation of teachers, but they have failed spectacularly in permitting teachers to be trained with substandard ATAR scores.

Only NSW has set a benchmark for teacher entry of at least 70 per cent in three subjects including English before they can qualify for registration.

The Australian Education Union, the peak representative body of teachers nationally, has argued sensibly for a clear lifting of entry requirements. The AEU’s criticism of the review’s failure to recommend high ATAR scores is wholly correct.

“An ATAR score is not the only thing that makes a good teacher, but we need to recognise that a teacher’s academic ability is important and that we need some minimum requirements,” AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe says of the review’s shortcomings.

The AEU is not alone in sharing its disquiet. The Australian Primary Principals Association — a long-time critic of low reception academic standards for teachers — says in a submission to the review that the applications for education degrees need to be “in the top 20 per cent of the population” in terms of academic performance. In other words, a minimum ATAR of 80 before admission is considered.

Moreover, the Office of the Chief Scientist, in a submission to the TEMAG review, was explicit, saying — rightly — that “teaching was not an attractive option” for the “top school-leavers”.

The comparison is damning when teacher applicants with ATAR scores of more than 80 are compared to science and engineering. Teaching draws less than a fifth of Year 12 offers to top ATAR achievers. Science and engineering achieve upwards of 70 per cent.

If this was not enough evidence, an Australian Council for Education Research report found the top-performing systems internationally depend on the entry cohort: “All high-performing education systems recruit their teachers from the ablest students.”

It makes no sense that outstanding teachers can be produced if they are academically incompetent. It also makes no sense that the TEMAG review recommends new teachers “pass a national test placing them in the top 30 per cent of the country for literacy and numeracy”.

This is absurd. If ATAR scores were high, then clearly the students accepted into teacher training would already be adequately literate and numerate.

But what worries me as a teacher heading towards four decades in the classroom is the federal government’s persistence in blaming teachers for its own failings in handling teacher education.

Teachers are the easy beats of education policy. It is an emotive argument and a good one — if your main game is to divert attention away from issues such as funding and family breakdown, and a generation that has difficulty reading anything longer than a tweet.

No matter, the TEMAG review has put accountability squarely back at the universities’ door and has threatened closure of substandard courses. It is quite comfortable about substandard students applying.

Craven, palpably avoiding the critical issue of entrance requirements, says: “We are laying down a huge gauntlet here. There is no doubt that some courses are substandard and will have to improve to survive.”

Craven is chairman of the review and vice-chancellor of the ACU, which has one of the lowest entry requirements for teacher education in the country.

This in itself raises a significant concern. Teaching has become a milch cow for commentators and critics who have either never spent time in a school or whose experience of schools is outdated and ossified.

Everyone has a view, but few have actual present classroom experience.

Independent schools, the system where I work, have always looked for the best teachers academically. It is no accident that independent schools dominate university entrance in courses such as law and medicine.

It is an indictment on Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s competence to handle his troubled portfolio that he has endorsed the review’s recommendations and simply ignored the pressing and obvious need for higher ATAR scores for teachers who enter universities.

It beggars belief that Pyne, at the Australian Council for Educational Leaders’ inaugural Hedley Beare Memorial Lecture, said he is demanding “more rigorous selection” to teaching courses but this does not include minimum academic standards. So misguided is the Minister for Education in his ideas on teacher education that he has sullied Hedley Beare’s place in educational thinking, saying standards are “just not good enough” and that some teaching courses “lag way behind in quality”.

The central issue for both the review under the misguided chairmanship of Craven and the recommendations parroted by Pyne is just how they are going to produce not just good teachers but truly great teachers who are dumb bottom feeders on ATAR scores.


No voters prosecuted despite 7000-plus cases of suspected voting fraud in the 2013 federal election

Not a single person will be prosecuted for multiple voting at the 2013 federal election – even those who admitted to casting more than one ballot paper.

Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said he was "disturbed" that of the nearly 8000 cases of suspected voting fraud passed to the Australian Federal Police, not a single case has been forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Of the 7743 suspect cases referred to the AFP, just 65 were investigated and not one will progress to conviction.

Mr Rogers told a Senate estimates committee that the file passed to the AFP included voters who had actually admitted to voting at more than one polling station and cases where the offence had been denied but there was supporting evidence that they had.

Mr Rogers told senators at a hearing on Tuesday night that the legislation enabling the prosecution of voting cheats needed to be overhauled to protect the "perception of integrity" of Australia's voting system.

"I'm the commissioner and I'm disturbed by the numbers I'm telling you this evening," he said.

"I'm uncomfortable with the current situation."

He said the AFP had advised the commission that it would require greater evidence, such as closed circuit surveillance cameras in polling places, to secure prosecutions.

"The main inhibitors are the lack of corroborative evidence available … I've done about as much as I can do with the issue of multiple voting. We've referred more multiple voters to the AFP than, I think, ever before in the history of the AEC," Mr Rogers said.

"There is clearly an issue with the process and it does concern me."

He said it would cost an extra $60 million per federal election to introduce electronic technology that flags when someone has already voted elsewhere, trialled in the 2014 Griffith byelection.

Senator Dean Smith said the integrity of the voting system was of paramount importance and referred to the "raw anger" among his Liberal Party colleagues when a bungle by the commission forced a fresh Senate vote in Western Australia following the 2013 federal election.

The stuff-up ended the career of Mr Rogers' predecessor, Ed Killesteyn. The WA vote resulted in the return of Greens' senator Scott Ludlam and a third Palmer United Party senator, Zhenya 'Dio' Wang.

Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson said the Electoral Commission had briefed him on the problems with prosecuting multiple voters and the matter will form the subject of a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.


Islamic State: Australia poised to send additional troops to Iraq for joint training mission with New Zealand soldiers

A commitment of additional Australian troops to Iraq, likely to number in the hundreds, is imminent, sources have told the ABC.

Australia already has 200 special forces personnel in Iraq and it is understood the extra troops will be part of a joint mission with New Zealand to train Iraqi soldiers.

New Zealand prime minister John Key announced on Tuesday the deployment of 143 personnel to Iraq.

This morning, the Chief of the Australian Defence Force Air Chief Marshall Mark Binskin said Australia had not yet decided the nature of a further commitment.

"I and my New Zealand counterpart have worked very closely on developing options that were put to both governments," he told a Senate committee.

"The Government of Australia is yet to make a final decision."

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said there had been talks about an additional contribution from Australia.

"It's been well known for some time that we have been talking to our allies, we've been talking to the Iraqis about what more we could do to assist the Iraqis to reclaim their own country," he said.

"We are talking to our friends and allies.

"Obviously that includes the New Zealanders about what more we can do to help the Iraqi security forces and I'll have more to say in the next day or so."

In an address yesterday to the New Zealand parliament, Mr Key told his countrymen the deployment would be alongside Australian soldiers.

"This is likely to be a joint training mission with Australia, although it won't be badged an ANZAC force," he said.

We are looking at this very closely, it is under review by our National Security Committee but I won't pre-empt any announcement.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop
Officially, the Australian Government has remained tight lipped.

However, Mr Key's announcement of extra troops would not have come as any surprise to the Government or Defence officials.

My Key's speech to Parliament was widely flagged as long as two weeks ago, and the New Zealand defence minister has been in Australia in recent days.

The ABC understands Mr Key phoned Mr Abbott on Monday night ahead of his announcement.

Defence Minister Kevin Andrews welcomed the New Zealand decision during Tuesday's Question Time.

Asked by the ABC if it would mean sending additional Australian troops, a spokesman for Mr Andrews said that Australia's commitment was "always under active consideration".

"Australia continues to talk to Iraq, the US and our other partners about what we can do to support the Iraqi government," the spokesman said.

"No decisions have been taken by the Government to deploy additional personnel."

But the cat may have been out of the bag long before New Zealand's announcement.

In early February, after visiting Australia for the Australia-UK ministerial talks, British foreign secretary Phillip Hammond flew on to New Zealand.

Asked there by reporters about whether the Kiwis should send troops, the New Zealand Herald reported that Mr Hammond said Australia was keen to have New Zealanders join a training mission.

"They are looking at now engaging a training mission – which they are committed to do – which would need another 400 people," he reportedly said.

"They are desperately keen that a contribution to that 400 is coming from New Zealand."

The United States welcomed New Zealand's decision to send troops to Iraq.

"As one of our partners in the coalition, New Zealand has already provided substantial humanitarian assistance to Iraq and Syria," state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"We value the contributions and efforts of all partners in the mission as we work together on a multifaceted and long-term strategy to degrade and defeat ISIL."

Mr Key's announcement makes for awkward political timing for Mr Abbott.

Mr Abbott is due to make his first visit to New Zealand as Prime Minister on Friday.

It would be highly unusual for the Prime Minister to commit to sending troops abroad while himself on foreign soil.

If, like Mr Key, he is to make an announcement in Parliament, he has two sitting days remaining.


Anger as Bill Shorten claims ‘injustice’ for David Hicks

DAVID Hicks trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and described Osama bin Laden as a brother — and yet Opposition Leader Bill Shorten labelled what he did as “foolish” and said he suffered an “injustice”.

With the terror alert at its highest level, Mr Shorten leapt to the defence of the man who former PM John Howard yesterday declared “revelled in jihad”.

Mr Shorten’s comments were also slammed by Liberal MP Andrew Nikolic, who served as a brigadier in the Australian Army in Afghanistan.  “I am appalled by Mr Hicks’ ­actions,’’ he said. “I am also troubled by the failure of the Leader of the ­Opposition to call him out on it.”

Mr Shorten said yesterday: “David Hicks was probably foolish to get caught up in that Afghanistan ­conflict, but clearly there has been an ­injustice done to him.”

Mr Nikolic, who served as a ­brigadier in the army, said: “By his own admission, David Hicks trained and fought with Islamic terrorists such as al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.  “Why is Bill Shorten giving ­succour to David Hicks as someone who he says was merely ‘foolish’ to get ‘caught up’, as if he was some ­wide-eyed innocent abroad rather than a trained terrorist?”

Mr Shorten’s comments came after a US military court quashed a ­terrorism conviction against Mr Hicks on a technicality because his ­actions were not a crime under US or Australian law at the time.

When asked if Mr Hicks was due an apology, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he would not apologise for doing “what was needed”. He said Mr Hicks “was up to no good on his own admission”.

Attorney-General George Brandis said Mr Hick’s actions would today “fall within the scope” of terror laws.

Mr Hicks was detained in US ­detention camp Guantánamo Bay in Cuba from 2001 until 2007 and was convicted of supporting terrorism.

Liberal backbenchers pounced on Mr Shorten’s comments, prompting him to clarify his view late yesterday.

“There’s no doubt Mr Hicks was associating with known terrorists, and that’s absolutely deplorable,’’ he said.

Mr Howard, prime minister at the time Mr Hicks was held in Guantánamo Bay, said the US decision to quash the conviction did not alter the fact Mr Hicks was involved with al-Qaeda.

“The US verdict is about the legal process in that country,’’ a spokesman for Mr Howard said in a statement. “Nothing alters the fact that by his own admission, Hicks trained with ­al-Qaeda, met Osama bin Laden on ­several occasions describing him as a brother. He revelled in jihad. He is not owed an apology by any ­Australian government.’’

Asked yesterday why he was in ­Afghanistan Mr Hicks replied: ­“Having a holiday.”


Lies about wind turbine safety from Leftist public broadcaster

ACOUSTIC expert Steven Cooper is considering launching legal action against the ABC’s Media Watch program for its portrayal of him and his research on the effect of the Pacific Hydro wind turbines on local residents.

On the February 16 edition of Media Watch host Paul Barry dished out a stinging criticism of Mr Cooper’s seven-month study conducted at Cape Bridgewater in southwest Victoria — and the ­reporting of it by The Australian’s environment editor Graham Lloyd and Network Seven’s Today Tonight.

However, in damning the report, the Media Watch team hand- picked a group of pro-turbine ­“experts” — with no real expertise in the field — ignored submissions from genuine acoustic experts, misrepresented Mr Cooper, ­selectively and incorrectly quoted the National Health and Medical Research Council, ignored balancing quotes in the newspaper ­reports and made a number of factual mistakes.

Following his utter disbelief at Media Watch’s misrepresentation, as well as pending legal action, Mr Cooper has also sent a letter to the ABC demanding a retraction.

“Media Watch should be investigating themselves because in that very article they presented so much information that was incorrect and not factual,” Mr Cooper told The Australian.

Media Watch opened its attack on the first paragraph of Lloyd’s January 21 front-page story which states: “People living near wind farms face a greater risk of suffering health complaints caused by the low-frequency noise generated by turbines, a groundbreaking study has found.”

Barry said: “Well, not according to several eminent scientists we talked to and, remarkably, not according to Steven Cooper, the study’s author, who told Media Watch: ‘No, it’s not correct ... You can’t say that noise affects health from this study’.”

Media Watch’s blatant misrepresentation of Mr Cooper is one of the key reasons for his letter ­demanding a retraction and ­pending legal action.

Media Watch selectively quoted the Cape Bridgewater report author to give the impression he rejected certain things in both the Today Tonight report and The Australian’s article when in fact he does not.

Mr Cooper told The Australian his comments were completely taken out of context by Media Watch.

Mr Cooper said by giving his answer in isolation and not explaining the broader context, Media Watch had deliberately misrepresented the facts.

He said that when you looked at all the evidence — not just his report — Lloyd was completely right in his opening.

What the Cooper study found was that sensations, including sleep disturbance, were occurring with specific wind conditions leading to acoustic results.

So despite Media Watch’s nicely edited and manufactured contradiction between the pair, Mr Cooper actually believes Lloyd “is the best journalist writing about wind turbines in Australia”.

In a written response to The Australian, prior to the Media Watch episode, Mr Cooper said: “The study does shows a link between the operation of the wind farm and the disturbances reported by the residents. There is a trend not a correlation (because there is not enough data and that wasn’t the brief). However, one can take the reports of the residents who form the view there is a link to their health impacts.”

Media Watch next marched out it’s so called experts to the tune of, “So how come The Australian and Today Tonight got it so wrong?”

Today Tonight wasn’t given much of a chance to defend itself against that allegation as it was not contacted for comment by the show. Today Tonight Adelaide producer Graham Archer told The Australian he was disgusted at the way Media Watch conducted itself and the way it misled the public.

“They didn’t contact us and I would have thought that was the very minimum of journalistic ethics to call somebody to at least give them a chance to respond to whatever the allegations were, I thought that was pretty shoddy,’’ he said.

“Media Watch were taking a particular point of view that went beyond a critique of the media and they were actually pushing a particular barrow and I’m not sure that’s their role.”

Media Watch’s first “expert” was the head of medicine at Adelaide University, Professor Gary Wittert, who said: “The way The Australian reported this study was really the antithesis of good science reporting. I think a newspaper like The Australian should know better.”

Mr Cooper, and other properly qualified acoustics experts, have said The Australian’s reporting of the study was correct in every ­respect.

What Media Watch failed to report was that Professor Wittert has repeatedly given expert evidence to court cases stating that the ­nocebo effect rather than infrasound and low-frequency noise are directly causing the reported symptoms but Mr Cooper’s data from his acoustic investigation suggests Professor Wittert’s ­expert opinion is wrong.

Other experts lined up to slam the report included the Australian National University’s Jacqui Hoepner and Will Grant, who wrote about it for The Conversation. Grant has a PhD in politics and Hoepner is a journalist and neither has either acoustic or medical training.

Then came the most damning of them all, Sydney University’s professor of public health, Simon Chapman. Professor Chapman is also neither an acoustician nor a medical practitioner.

Professor Chapman has declined to ever directly investigate or visit people immediately affected by wind turbines and, despite this, is happy to refer to them very publicly on Twitter as “anti-wind farm wing nuts”.

He is, in fact, an expert on cigarette advertising, a sociologist and a vocal advocate for the wind ­industry.

And this is the supposedly unbiased “expert” Media Watch lined up to say: “Scientifically, it’s an absolutely atrocious piece of research and is entirely unpublishable other than on the front page of The Australian.”

When The Australian’s Gerard Henderson wrote to Media Watch to ask why it had chosen Professor Chapman in support of the view that “scientifically” there was no proven causal link between wind farms and illness, Media Watch producer Timothy Latham replied: “I am comfortable quoting a professor of public health on the matter, who has previously written on wind farms and health concerns and has, according to his CV, a PhD in medicine.”

Chapman is not a medical practitioner. He has previous told people his PhD is in sociology. It was on the topic of “Cigarette Advertising As Myth: A Re-Evaluation Of The Relationship Of Advertising To Smoking”.

When Henderson pointed this out to Latham he replied: “I outlined in my previous email as to why I believe Simon Chapman is qualified to talk about health and wind farms. Therefore no correction or clarification is required.”

The opinion of Media Watch’s “experts” is in stark contrast to those actually trained in the field who understand the significance of what the Cooper study found.

The Cooper study has been reviewed by some of the world’s most highly qualified acoustic experts who were quoted by The ­Australian.

Dr Bob Thorne, a psycho-acoustician who is qualified to assess health impacts from noise and is considered an expert witness in court, said in a written statement that the Cooper report was “groundbreaking” and had made a “unique contribution to science”.

US acoustics expert Robert Rand, the principal of US-based Rand Acoustics, said in a peer review of the Cooper study: “The correlation of sensation level to wind turbine signature tone level in the infrasonic and audible bands brings wind turbine acoustics right to the door of medical science.’’

And after the broadcast, in a line-by-line appraisal of The Australian story, Ray Tumney, principal acoustics engineer with RCA Acoustics, told Media Watch every aspect of it was “true and ­accurate”.

This is some of what he said: “None of the above in the Lloyd article is misleading or inaccurate nor is it overly emotive by ­comparison with current media practice.

“So the only reason for Media Watch to take this on is if Media Watch is simply unable to accept the outcomes of the (Cooper) study and presumably believes that the study is flawed and Mr Cooper is incompetent. This was certainly the impression given by the MW presentation.

“I submit that MW is not qualified to make such a judgment in such a complex technical area and has gotten carried away with itself in this instance because of its own paradigms and beliefs. My view is that for whatever reason MW has lost its objectivity in this case.”

But what is particularly alarming about the program was that Media Watch researcher Flint Duxfield deliberately ignored the large pool of positive reviews about Mr Cooper’s study.

The Australian has written evidence Duxfield was made aware of the significance of the Cooper report in direct interviews with Mr Rand, but did not make that information available to Media Watch viewers.

In an email to colleagues following the Media Watch program, Mr Rand said he had told Media Watch that after the Cooper findings: “It would be unethical of me as a member of Institute of Noise Control Engineering to wait for the years required for such careful medical research work to be ­completed. I have sufficient correlation already from the neighbours’ reports and affidavits and the measurements done thus far to inform others for designing properly to be good acoustic neighbours.” Media Watch did not disclose this information.

Media Watch ’s attempt to discredit the study — and prove why it should not have been headline news — was also riddled with ­errors.

Barry attacked the tiny sample — three households and six ­respondents. But in his peer review of the Cooper research, Dr Paul Schomer, director of acoustics standards and chairman of the American delegation to the International Standards Committee, said: “It only takes one example to prove that a broad assertion (that there are no impacts) is not true, and that is the case here.

“One person affected is a lot more than none; the existence of just one cause-and-effect pathway is a lot more than none. The important point here is that something is coming from the wind turbines to affect these people and that something increases or decreases as the power output of the turbine increases or decreases.”

Barry didn’t bother reporting Dr Schomer’s comments or professional qualifications but said there was what scientists call selection bias, because all those people already had health problems which they blamed on Pacific Hydro’s wind farm at Victoria’s Cape Bridgewater, 1.6km or less from their homes.

But the The Australian has written advice from a professor of epidemiology that selection bias was irrelevant when the study design is identical to a prospective case series with a crossover component, where people are their own controls, and what varies is their exposure to operating wind turbines.

Media Watch was advised of this but did not disclose it on air.

Barry said all those involved in the study knew if the wind farm was operating because they could see the blades. Here again he is wrong. Mr Cooper said the subjects could not see the blades — especially when they were inside their homes, in their beds, and woken up from a sleep.

This is at best a pointer to Barry and his team not reading the research and at worse false reporting to make a point. Duxfield has admitted to Mr Cooper he “skimmed” the report.

If misrepresentation, hand-picking evidence, dodgy reporting and industry-invested “experts” with no qualifications were not enough, the less than 10 minute segment was littered the errors.

Media Watch blankly asserted that Mr Cooper’s theories were dismissed by a Senate inquiry into wind farm noise in 2011.

Wrong — Mr Cooper didn’t give evidence in the 2011 inquiry.

He did give evidence to the 2012 inquiry chaired by Doug Cameron which had two dissenting reports.

Media Watch pointed out that Today Tonight and The Australian “also omitted to tell us that, as Professor Chapman puts it, there are 24 high-quality reviews about wind farms and health, and overwhelmingly they have been found to be safe”. Again any thorough research would find this is not true. Many of the reviews Professor Chapman cites state there is not a lot of scientific evidence.

The National Health and Medical Research Council recently reviewed 4000 pieces of literature and found only 13 were suitable for evaluation and said none could be considered high quality. As a result it said the impact of wind turbines on health remained an open scientific question and that it would call for targeted, high quality research. A priority area is low frequency and infrasound.

But to bend the facts even further to its cause, Media Watch then selectively quoted the NHMRC to give wind turbines a clean bill of health.

The program failed to tell viewers the NHMRC position is that the quality of existing research is poor and that it will fund more high-quality research.

The show chose only to say the NHMRC had declared: “There is no consistent evidence that noise from wind turbines ... is associated with self-reported human health effects.” In fact what the NHMRC statement said was “there is currently no consistent evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects in humans”.

It is a subtle but very important difference and the NHMRC went on to conclude: “Given the poor quality of current evidence and the concern expressed by some members of the community, there is a need for high-quality research into possible health effects of wind farms, particularly within 1500 metres.”

NHMRC chief executive Warwick Anderson, in a conference call with journalists, said: “It is important to say no consistent evidence does not necessarily mean no effect on human health.

“From a scientific perspective I see the question as still open.’’

Media Watch admitted an error with its reporting of the NHMRC statement but “stands by it’s story and the expertise on those quotes”.

The program said the Pacific Hydro Cape Bridgewater wind farm acoustic study was just that, an acoustic study.

In its presentation Media Watch failed to make available relevant and available information that would have allowed viewers to arrive at a conclusion other than one predetermined by it.

It misquoted authorities, bent facts, wheeled out pro-industry experts and hand-picked evidence in a report full of mistakes.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Newspoll: Abbott Government primary vote rises; Bill Shorten’s personal approval rating drops to new low

UPDATE: PRIME Minister Tony Abbott says he feels young and vigorous and at the height of his powers after the latest Newspoll showed support for the Coalition has risen to a four-month high, while Bill Shorten has crashed to his lowest ever personal approval rating.

Newspoll taken for The Australian shows the Coalition’s primary vote rose three points in the past fortnight to 38 per cent, while Labor’s fell three points, also sitting at 38 per cent.

On a two-party-preferred basis, Labor still leads but the Coalition has closed the gap.

Two weeks ago the Coalition trailed 43-57; today’s Newspoll show a tightening to 47-53 per cent.

Mr Abbott was asked by the Nine Network’s Today host Karl Stefanovic if it felt good to be alive this morning.

“Well, look, Karl you know what it is like to be young and vigorous and at the height of your powers, and that’s exactly how I feel,” he said.  “There are some mornings we don’t feel like that but that is certainly how I feel this morning.”

The percentage of people who were satisfied with Mr Abbott’s performance as Prime Minister rose slightly to 25 per cent, while his high dissatisfaction rating was unchanged at 68 per cent.

But Mr Shorten took a big personal hit, with the percentage of people satisfied with the way he was doing his job as Opposition Leader falling to a record low of 35 per cent, down from 42 per cent.

Those dissatisfied rose to 49 per cent.

The poll was taken over the weekend, when Mr Abbott was in the news talking about his response to terrorists.

It comes two weeks after a vote in the partyroom to spill Mr Abbott’s leadership was defeated 39-61.


Rogue cop admits unlawful assault, dangerous driving and making a false report

But prosecutors want only a slap on the wrist for him

A ROGUE police officer who slammed his patrol car into a motorist, roughed him up, falsely imprisoned him and then lied about it in official reports should only be fined, according to the OPP.

The Melbourne Magistrates’ Court today heard award-winning police officer Kieran John Atkin, 32, had a “brain snap” when he rammed his patrol car into the car of Hillside motorist Anthony Vittori in August 2013.

Former senior constable Atkin — who joined Victoria Police in 2003 — was initially charged with perjury, perverting the course of justice and assault, but today pleaded guilty to reduced charges of unlawful assault, dangerous driving and making a false report.

Atkin and his partner Brennan Roberts began following Mr Vittori when they noticed him driving an unregistered vehicle and followed him home.

Vittori accidentally backed into the patrol car outside of his home, then tried to drive in to his driveway when Atkin drove the patrol car into the right rear side of the car, spinning it around and destroying a post box.

Vittori was then roughed up and falsely arrested for conduct endangering life, spending about five hours in the police lockup.

“Atkin’s false version of events has resulted in the man’s false imprisonment for a number of hours,” said magistrate Charlie Rozencwajg.

The incident was filmed on Atkin’s own dash-cam, and the footage was seized after internal affairs investigators raided his office.

Atkin — who was awarded the Tynan Eyre Medal for highest achievement at the Police Academy, resigned from the force last November and has since been stacking supermarket shelves.

He plans to move to Byron Bay.

Mr Rozencwajg said he was “extremely surprised” the Office of Public Prosecutions was seeking only a fine and conviction given the serious nature of the offending.

Mr Rozencwajg also criticised police for taking so long to lay charges.

Atkin will be sentenced next week.


Why parents should stop helping their kids with homework

I am not sure about the "research" reported below but there do seem to be some sensible suggestions

Homework is the cause of many suburban screaming matches and thousands of grey hairs. Many parents feel like they’re going through school a second time around as they sit down with their children each night and help with their homework.

The average Australian 15-year-old spends six hours a week doing their homework, according to the OECD. And a recent Australian Childhood Foundation survey found that 71 per cent of Australian parents feel like they don’t spend enough quality time with their children, because they spend too much time running the household or helping with homework.

Now several education experts are urging parents to stop helping. They say it will give their kids more independence, give parents back their free time and help reduce the number of homework-related arguments at home.


There is extensive research proving that homework has little academic benefit, says associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Sydney and author of Reforming Homework, Richard Walker.

“There isn’t much academic benefit in homework for primary school children. There are some benefits for junior school students and around 50 per cent of senior high school students show some benefit when it comes to academic achievement. But not for primary school kids,” he said.

Psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg agrees: “Homework provides absolutely no academic benefit for younger students.

“And parents are demanding it in larger and larger doses, despite the fact that it does nothing. It’s a completely different ballgame in secondary school, but not in primary school.”

But research does show that doing homework helps kids develop “self-directed learning skills” — in other words — initiative, independence and confidence.

Also, homework helps to solidify a sense of belonging and autonomy. It gives kids a sense of control over their lives.

Homework has minimal academic benefits for primary school children.

Homework has minimal academic benefits for primary school children. Source: Getty Images


Associate professor Walker says this sense of autonomy is taken away when parents get too involved in homework help.

“If parents are over controlling and interfering then that really has a negative effect,” he said.

“Some involvement is good for self-directed learning, but if they get too involved and the kid loses their autonomy then it becomes a problem. I think parents have to pull back.”

He says many parents are exerting too much of what he calls “emotional labour”.

“Parents are often tired after a long day at work and having to put in the emotional labour to assist their kids with homework can be quite a burden.”


Education expert from, Ciaran Smyth, says parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.

“You don’t have to be the ultimate expert in everything. Children need to put their hands up for help and parents also need to ask for help. There’s no reason to be stuck. Use your resources — teachers, tutors — just ask.”

Online tutoring services such as — where students can seek help from accredited teachers in a live typed chat from 3pm after school — can help take the pressure off parents.

“I’ve seen so many arguments between parents and children about homework. By removing the burden of having to be the homework help the whole time, parents can reduce the number of arguments, the tension and the bad feelings that come from having to hound your kid all the time.”

If someone else is doing the hard yards helping out with homework, that leaves parents free to do other things and spend more quality (read: argument-free) time with their children, Mr Smyth said.

Parents who get too involved in their child’s homework are doing more harm than good.

Parents who get too involved in their child’s homework are doing more harm than good. Source: Getty Images


Given the lack of evidence to support the academic benefits of homework in primary school, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says primary schools should stop giving kids traditional homework exercises and instead equip them with important life skills.

Some schools are already getting on board.

St Michael’s Grammar in Melbourne asks students to play board games such as Scrabble with an adult and photograph the board as proof.

“Or they choose and cook a recipe for dinner and photograph the results — all of which helps with literacy and important life skills,” Dr Carr-Gregg said.

“These are much more pleasant family interactions than homework. Childhood is hard enough as it is without putting the stress of homework on them.”

Dr Carr-Gregg urges parents to “rise up against the tyranny of primary school homework”

“I’m frustrated that schools aren’t responding to the research. I would be putting it on the parents to educate the schools about what is the current thinking around homework. Homework is not being set correctly at the moment. It’s very poorly coordinated.

“If the school is consistently not receptive to the idea, I would write over my kid’s homework, ‘Sleep was more important, I gave them permission to do this’. I really do want parents to act as their kids’ advocates.”


Monday's 'pension increase' a side show to the real reform needed

 Age pensioners woke on Monday morning to the news that 770,000 of them would be getting a pension increase. Scott Morrison, Minister for Social Services, was on ABC Radio National claiming "...part-pensioners will receive an average increase in their payments of $3.20 a fortnight, $83.20 a year".

While one would have thought that a modest pension increase would be welcome news to the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), Executive Director Cassandra Goldie, said "It is extremely disappointing that...the government appears to be prioritising people with investment assets".

The truth is that the $200 million pension increase to begin later in March is neither middle class welfare nor part of the Abbott government's "...plan to support pensioners deal with rising costs of living...", it is nothing more than the routine operation of the pension means test.

It is not the dividends and coupon payments earned from financial assets such as shares and bonds that are means tested. Since 1996 these assets are 'deemed' to earn a rate of return and it is this 'deemed income' that is included in the income test -- regardless of the amount that was actually earned.

The advantage of deeming is that it provides pensioners with some certainty regarding their pension payments rather than leaving them exposed to short-term fluctuations in market returns. By treating all financial investments in the same way, pensioners are encouraged to choose investments on merit rather than on their implications for their pension entitlement.

Under current deeming policy, a single person's financial assets of less than $48,000 are deemed to earn 2%, while assets over this amount are deemed to earn 3.5%. For couples, the rates are the same but the threshold is $79,600.

As of March 20, both deeming rates will be lowered by 0.25%. Lower deemed income means higher pension payments for part-pensioners.

While the deeming threshold is indexed to the Consumer Price Index the rates are set at the discretion of the Minister of the day, on advice from the Department of Social Services, and "reflect rates of return available on a range of financial products".

Since the last revision of the deeming rates in November 2013, the yield on 10-year Commonwealth bonds has fallen by just under 1.5% and, despite recent growth, the All Ordinaries has been trending sideways for much of this time.

It is therefore difficult to argue that Monday's announcement was aimed at "prioritising people with investment assets" though Goldie's assertion that "Those affected are by and large better of...than those relying on the full pension" is correct -- in as far as 'better off' refers to those with greater (assessable) assets.

With the Age Pension projected to account for 12 per cent of the growth in total spending over the medium term there can be no doubt that there is need for pension reform. Unfortunately, Monday's events have shown how the least controversial aspects of pension policy are so easily politicised.