Tuesday, January 27, 2015


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG criticizes Leftist support for penalty rates (Higher pay for weekend and night vwork)

You can't makes whites out of blackfellas

Successive governments of all stripes have tried everything -- but nothing works

Australia's native people mostly call themselves "blackfellas".  Interesting that only the Latin term "Aborigines" is used below

ALMOST 1½ years into the initial term of Tony Abbott’s Coalition government and the latest drastic overhaul of indigenous affairs policies and programs, the great mystery overhanging remote ­Aboriginal Australia has only deepened.

It is the besetting question no one in the circles of administrative power wants to ask clearly, or answer squarely: Why aren’t the men and women of indigenous communities across the deserts and the north sending their children to school, seeking out jobs and training opportunities, engaging with the scores of programs under way in their midst? Why, given the vast social engineering efforts launched for their benefit, are the people of the remote bush townships and outstations failing to thrive? And what more, beyond the measures tried already in the past decade of large-scale interventions, can be done?

Among the architects of new policy initiatives, the standard assumption is that the legacy of passive welfare is to blame for this persistent failure of response in the target populations of the centre, the Kimberley, Cape York and the Top End. Simply design the right combination of constraints and incentives, they argue, and human nature being what it is, all will improve in time.

But the emerging picture of policy fiasco is disquietingly stark. Despite the blizzard of despairingly tweaked official statistics and assessments of progress, the “gap” persists; even though measures of indigenous wellbeing are routinely presented so as to blur the distinctions between the remote bush and the towns and more settled regions, the landscape is plain. Across the country, remote community schools are empty and ineffective, grog and drugs loom large, health is poor, preventable illnesses rampant, feud and family violence pervasive; even the make-work jobs for locals tend to go unfilled.

The dramatic change expected in the wake of the 2007 Northern Territory “Emergency Response” and allied programs around the remote bush has simply not materialised. For a range of expert observers, there is now a dark conclusion to be drawn. Remote Aboriginal Australia is more than merely indifferent or disengaged: it is pursuing a mingled strategy of noncompliance and resistance to outside authority — and from this diagnosis several consequences flow.

The way the commonwealth bureaucracy and successive governments have reached the present impasse is instructive. By 1999 the new native title system had been launched and bedded down. Attention turned to the worsening condition of the bush. Cape York reformer Noel Pearson put forward his argument that passive welfare was the chief factor behind remote community anomie, and that alcoholic drinking should be treated as a cause, rather than a symptom, of social collapse.

These views won converts in the government of prime minister John Howard, whose activist indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough based the Territory intervention on the three principles of enhanced child protection, alcohol bans and welfare income management. This was a stripped-down version of the reform recipe being tested in four Cape York communities in concert with the Queensland government, and it would be extended, retouched and widened in its geographic scope by Labor under minister Jenny Macklin between 2008 and 2013.

Pearson’s schema won the day not only because of its upscale presentation and strong media support but because it came with a prescription, a cluster of linked programs to change behaviour: if parents failed to send their children to school their welfare income would be quarantined after review by a local panel, the Family Responsibilities Commission. The logic was straightforward: welfare simply paid without reciprocal obligation was sapping the autonomy and judgment of remote communities. They needed the guidance of a penalty-and-incentive model.

This became the ruling paradigm, with bipartisan political support. Welfare quarantining and close surveillance were enshrined as the mainstays of remote community administration in the Territory: a network of outside overseers is still in place, backed by trainers, job skills instructors, community capacity builders and engagement officers. From Mount Isa to Kalgoorlie, public servants now report and assess all signs of community advancement. These are well advertised by governmental media: upbeat spin and announcements of transformative new schemes have become the order of the day.

So things stood when Abbott took the reins in September 2013. In his opposition years he had made a habit of sitting down with traditional leaders and working alongside community members, and all this was more than show, it was a statement of intent. The Prime Minister was also close to the Territory’s centrist chief minister Terry Mills, who had recently won office with the solid backing of Aboriginal bush voters and was just beginning a redesign of the Territory’s relations with its remote communities.

It felt like a new dawn in Canberra, at close to midnight. A good four decades had gone by since the welfare net came down on remote indigenous Australia, the “sit-down” money times began, the outback cattle industry was modernised and station life for Aborigines vanished in the dust; four decades since drinking in town camps first became entrenched. Two full generations, in indigenous life. The last chance had come to cut into welfare dependency while senior remote community members who remembered another system were still living.

Abbott had given undertakings that he would consult and listen to Aboriginal voices in crafting his approach. Of course, when the maelstrom of office hit he found he had no real time to give to such a marginal portfolio. How to proceed? He held one simple truth fast: education was the key. Bush children had no hope without schooling. Abbott selected as his minister Nigel Scullion, from the same party as his Territory ally, Mills. But within months Scullion’s faction had deposed the elected chief minister in Darwin, torn up his program of reforms and brought in a group keen to break the political power of the large Aboriginal land councils and gain easy access to indigenous land: it was a change of course felt in the bush as a shock betrayal.

As a check to Scullion, Abbott had singled out Alan Tudge, a former associate of Pearson. He also looked for some blue-sky thinking: philanthropist Andrew Forrest, abetted by Melbourne academic Marcia Langton, produced a report on training in the bush that recommended a steroid expansion of compulsory income management’s scope and the creation of a largely cashless remote area economy to fight the scourge of drink and drugs. Abbott brushed these draconian plans aside when they were first presented to him, but the bureau­cracy in Canberra smiles on them and is keen to implement some of Forrest’s recommendations.

It is clear enough, by now, what happened to the Prime Minister’s indigenous affairs dream. When he came to office he had no seriously developed or fine-grained blueprint for transforming the bush, despite his feeling for its plight and the length of his waiting time as leader of the opposition. He swiftly brought the entire indigenous affairs bureaucracy into his own department and charged Scullion with prosecuting his one big idea, the compulsory school attendance agenda. And he adopted the cause of the constitutional referendum on Aboriginal recognition as his grand symbolic issue.

Only now, halfway into his initial term, is Abbott poised to commit the government to a new set of practical reform measures. What course will he choose? Advice comes to Abbott from a tight circle, including favoured members of the indigenous political class, but he has no real access to community-based voices, and his impulse to involve bush leaders has evaporated. His counsellors all believe in the primacy of economic signals as the most effective agents of social change. As a result, the commonwealth is now on the verge of adopting an intensification of approach — more stringent management of welfare income, more reciprocal obligation to work for transfer payments, more controls on substance abuse, more concerted action on parental neglect and domestic violence.

A milder version of this policy set has been in place in remote north Queensland, the Territory, parts of desert South Australia and much of the outback west for seven years. As a result, the impact of such top-down controls has been much studied and the outcomes tabulated.

The school attendance project being run by Abbott’s department provides the latest example. It covers 30 target schools in the Territory and a handful elsewhere, and has enlisted and paid some 300 community members to get children to go to school, at a cost of more than $30 million. An increase of 15 per cent in attendance has been claimed by the program managers, but this is a fiction: numbers have actually fallen in many schools, the reporting method is flawed, the numbers are grotesquely padded.

The record of the north Queensland “direct instruction” schools in boosting attendance has been more promising, yet the broader impact of Pearson’s long-running Cape York reform project in its four trial communities is much more ambiguous. The landscape there is one of stabilisation, at best, rather than revolutionary behaviour change. But the most telling research has been carried out in the Territory’s swath of intervention communities.

The largest of these evaluation reports, examining all aspects of the intervention, was released late last month, after long delay and with much reluctance, by the Department of Social Services. The study had been run over four years by an expert team; the sample was large, the range of data broad. For those who had put their faith in controls as triggers for behaviour shifts, its conclusions were startling. It found that compulsory welfare income management had not promoted “independence and the building of skills and capabilities”, nor had it changed patterns of spending on food, tobacco or alcohol. Rather, it had increased a sense of dependency on welfare and removed the burden of personal management from community people.

The take-out was pretty clear: the intervention’s flagship measure had been a costly waste of time. But government ministers promptly seized on the review’s findings as evidence of the need for much stricter income management. They argued that if remote area Aborigines were not responding to the sanctions placed on them, they had too much welfare cash on hand, and therefore 60 or 70 per cent of the welfare payment should be restricted to the “basics card”, rather than the present 50 per cent.

The idea was simple: disempower to empower; limit economic freedom to set free people’s minds. The parliamentary secretary assisting Abbott in the indigenous field, former management consultant and Cape York expert Tudge, gave the strong version of this thesis in The Australian last month, citing a Mornington Island study showing half of all welfare payments were spent on drink: a level that would defeat the present setting of the basics card.

This study, carried out in the 1990s and published in 2002, was the pioneering work of the profound and humane anthropologist David McKnight, whose constant focus was the colonial encounter. He saw no simple solution to the alcohol plague. He traced the despair and social breakdown on Mornington to the coming in the 70s of the local government shire, which stripped autonomy from the local Lardil people and gave them in its stead the welfare benefits that tore apart traditional ways of life.

Can the sharp remedy now being proposed by Tudge, Forrest and the government’s coterie of advisers make inroads, and reverse the long decline and fall of the Aboriginal bush? The commonwealth is the last authority willing to engage. The state government in South Australia has given up on social remediation projects in the Pitjantjatjara communities, and wants to adopt full-scale welfare income control. The West Australian government has canvassed a sharp reduction in remote support funds that would see a number of smaller communities and outstations shut down. And the Territory’s priorities are clear: it has just opened a $500m jail and launched a mandatory rehab scheme that has already recorded its first death in care; a new courthouse and new police stations are under way; it has assembled a crack team of lawyers for its bid to have the Aboriginal land rights act watered down in the coming year.

On the ground, signs of positive behaviour change are increasingly hard to find. Broome is flooded by remote community dwellers from the Kimberley and desert who gather there in camps to drink; in Alice Springs, there are 15 thriving sly-grog sale outlets unknown to the police, who pride themselves on their effective bottle-shop controls. The towns to the south of Cape York are fringed by seasonal drinking humpies, all currently occupied.

What is the group psychology underlying this pattern? Can it be that the remote population is not susceptible to economic pressure, or that intervention is proving counterproductive? What if the control programs are now generating defiance and sabotage?

In all the long official debate on the bush communities and their condition, there has been a blanket reluctance to take the harsh politics of the frontier seriously, or consider the impact when two distinct worlds and their perspectives meet. But close, committed observers free from governmental ties and consultancies and keenly aware of the indigenous thought-world have come to a contrarian position: one that demands attention as policy lines are hardened for the years ahead.

The most prominent exponent of this viewpoint is the Territory’s leading public intellectual, Rolf Gerritsen, a professor at Charles Darwin University’s Northern Institute. He knows the Roper Gulf region closely; he also knows the political economy of the centre and the north. He was for four years director of social and economic policy in the Chief Minister’s Department. After his resignation in 2006 he blew the whistle on the Territory’s large-scale diversion of commonwealth funds earmarked for remote areas to its own metropolitan priorities. Gerritsen believes that remote settlement Aboriginal men and women have adopted a strategy of covert resistance to the intervention and its associated programs.

At the heart of his analysis is an awareness of the persisting difference between the values of “our” mainstream society and the traditional Aboriginal world, with its emphasis on reciprocal responsibility and its strong belief in individual autonomy. Thus “we” are inevitably seeking to re-engineer “them”. For Gerritsen, bush Aborigines are not merely Australian citizens: they are also a dispossessed people, conscious their world is occupied by outsiders. They collaborate with the occupiers, and acquiesce, and also resist, and the strain of resistance strengthens when their limited free agency in life is infringed. They have two quite separate modes of expression: one for when white people are around, one for themselves.

Hence the school attendance puzzle, and scores of others like it. When asked, or “consulted” in public, Aboriginal parents all say they want their children to go to school, but that commitment may be insincere, or may waver, or be countermanded by dislike of the school, or the teachers, or the actions of the government and its local figureheads. Constraint is still the chief weapon of the state: Aborigines are being asked to adapt — “we are requiring them to become like us” — and they object, and fail to comply. This is what social policy observers then tend to describe as “dysfunction”.

There are several ways this pattern manifests itself in the bush. The resistance can be overtly political. Black votes were responsible for removing NT Labor in the 2012 election; when the conservative regime broke its promises to the bush, voters swung and gave Labor a rare good result in the Territory regional seat at the 2013 federal poll.

Individuals also act this disobedience out. Young Aboriginal men between the ages of 15 and 35 are the “zealot” resisters who engage in substance abuse, drive unregistered vehicles unlicensed, are fined repeatedly and then go to jail, thus “confirming the significance of their rebellion”. Their behaviour becomes “a resistance to what the white society has in mind for them”. Illegal card gambling is a form of rebellion. So is littering in communities, and in towns. Drinking, which the authorities prohibit or seek to limit, is itself a weapon — a deliberate gesture of “rejection of the conqueror and all he stands for”.

The rebel withdraws from the victor’s realm: and it is very striking how many well-trained community men and women refuse to work. Trained teachers don’t teach, builders don’t build, while more than 30,000 young Aboriginal men from remote areas have forgone their benefits and refused to submit themselves to the job search discipline of Centrelink.

This analysis of conflict between two cultures leads to a dark concluding point: self-­neglect, poor health and social harm are also expressions of what Gerritsen sees as the veto Aborigines hold in their hands over Australian society and its representatives: “Governments think they have power over Aboriginal welfare recipients, but Aboriginal people, in their failure, in their covert resistance, can place pressure on government.”

This version of the remote community context is in diametrical opposition to the consensus position of the indigenous affairs establishment, which likes to present a map of constant slow progress in the bush as newer and more enlightened strategies are brought to bear on the hapless native population. The upturn in outcomes is always just ahead, or just beginning to be visible in the reports and statistics.

Can Gerritsen be right? The evidence is suggestive — and bush Aboriginal people tend to smile quietly when asked their view. Resistance shades into pure reserve, and into indifference. Damian McLean, president of the Ngaanyatjarra shire in the far western desert, places the weight in the seven ultra-remote communities he represents on withdrawal as much as on defiance. He has watched aghast over the past half-decade as official policy blow after blow has damaged the resilience and capacity of the indigenous bush: “Successive Australian governments have been increasingly dismissive of the collective and individual indigenous identity, and insistent on compliance with social norms: school attendance, transition to work, home ownership and economic participation.”

These norms coerce, but have little transformative impact. In fact the world of the far western desert is still very internal to itself, McLean contends: “Its people are aware that they have limited interest in the things that engage the white world and they know that the outside world would find the practices at the heart of desert life quite confronting. And the intimidating impact of welfare reform drives people further into their own world, and makes them less confident and safe to feel out the wider world.”

Such sketches of the attitudes in the remote bush fit precisely with the outcomes: it is hard to point to a single top-down social reform or employment or home ownership project in any part of the centre or the north that has taken off. This may well be because the intervention has never been “owned” by the communities it affects.

In the Cape, a mounting hostility towards the Family Responsibilities Commission is palpable in the four trial communities. Social and medical workers on the front line know that wellbeing in their host communities is on the decline and that agents of the outside world are increasingly viewed with suspicious eyes.

What might be done to change this picture, and enlist the support of remote Aboriginal Australia’s men and women in a journey towards a fuller, easier participation in the mainstream? An article in next week’s Inquirer will seek to outline a fresh approach.


ABC uses "Have you stopped beating your wife" question to imply that mining is allowed on the Barrier Reef

COMMUNICATIONS Minister Malcolm Turnbull says an ABC survey question about mining in waters near the Great Barrier Reef “does not appear to be accur­ate” but placed responsibility on the broadcaster’s board of directors.

The ABC was accused last week of “push polling” with a “mischievous” question in an online Queensland election survey, which asked voters how much mining activity they thought should be permitted in the waters around the reef.

The possible answers included “much more”, “somewhat more”, “about the same as now”, “somewhat less”, “much less” or “don’t know”.

The question was included in the broadcaster’s Vote Compass poll — an online venture with the University of Queensland and Canadian research firm Vox Pop Labs — which matches respondents’ policy leanings with the parties’ policies.

“The policy about mining on the Great Barrier Reef is quite clear and the way it was described or summarised in that question does not appear to be accurate to me,” Mr Turnbull said.  “But the responsibility for ensur­ing the ABC news and information is accurate and impartial is up to the board of directors.”

The Whitlam government ruled the 344,400sq km Great Barrier Reef Marine Park off-limits to mining in 1975.

Mr Turnbull said he did not want to give a “running commentary” on the ABC but told The Australian: “Their act is very, very clear. “Under Section 8, the responsi­bility of ensuring that the ABC’s news and information is accurate and impartial lies with the board of directors.

“The ABC is a government broadcaster, it belongs to government, but we don’t control the editorial line.”

Last week, Liberal National Party senator Matt Canavan demanded the “mischievous” question be removed and accused the ABC of “push polling” by using the survey to influence votes.  “That question-and-answer set indicates to any reasonable person that the Queensland government allows mining in the waters­ of the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.  “It’s a bit like asking a question on public urination. Should you do it somewhat less, somewhat more, much less, much more? The question is absurd.  “That behaviour is prohibited, the way mining in the GBR is ­prohibited.”

The ABC has declined to change the question, claiming “mining activity” includes more than actual mining.

Vox Pop Labs director Cliff van der Linden supported the ABC’s position, saying the LNP was sent the questions ahead of time to provide its answers and it was “implicit” the party could have challenged the wording of the questions.

In an opinion piece for the ABC’s The Drum, Mr van der Linden said the “fundamental shortcoming” with Senator Canavan’s argument was there was no acknowledgment of mining activity near the Great Barrier Reef that “extends well beyond drilling”.

“This includes but is not limited to shipping lanes through the reef for coal exports, demands by mines on the local water supply, and the recently scrapped proposal to dump dredge from coal port developments on the Great Barrier Reef,” he wrote.

“Asking Vote Compass users about how much mining activity should be permitted in the waters around the Great Barrier is thus a perfectly legitimate question.”


Education expert supports university deregulation

A FORMER key policy adviser to Labor has blasted both sides of politics for the stalemate on higher education, urging the party to abandon its opposition to fee deregulation and “get over its sentimental attachment to the Whitlam legacy of free educatio­n’’.

Professor Peter Noonan, one of the nation’s leading education policy experts, also wants the Abbott government to back down on its holy grail of full dereg­ulation by appointing an independent body to advise on the best model to prevent excessive tertiary student fee increases and rein in the risk of taxpayer-funded bad HECS debts.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne is working to lock in Senate crossbench backing for the government’s higher-education changes, including offering a compromise which could trade away $2 billion in budget savings to win support for dereg­ul­ating the tertiary sector.

The government has won praise from Universities Australia and vice-chancellors for being prepared to move on its proposal for a 20 per cent cut to university course funding in order to allow to institutions to set their fees.

Key independent senator John Madigan revealed last week his willingness to continue negotiating on the reforms, joining a number of his colleagues in declaring the current funding level “unsustainable’’.

But the government faces fierce opposition from Labor, the Greens and other crossbenchers, including the Palmer United Party.

Professor Noonan — who was on the Rudd government’s 2008 Bradley review, which uncapped student numbers, and served as a key policy adviser to former Labor education minister John Dawkins when fees and the Higher Education Contribution Scheme was introduced in 1989 — said Labor couldn’t afford to run a scare campaign on the reforms and had to be constructive.

He told The Australian parliament could endorse “fee variability” in a two-stage process, starting with parliament agreeing to establish a body that could recommend a model with the right market constraints within months. The model could then be voted on in parliament in time to meet the start date of the government’s higher-education reforms next year.

Professor Noonan said the government’s commitment to full fee deregulation was bad economics given the market was distorted by cheap student loans that blunted price signals, and it had no accountability on how universities spend fee money.

“To call that micro-economic reform would be heroic,” said Professor Noonan, a professorial fellow at the Mitchell Institute in Melbourne. “Anyone who thinks that a system that blunts price signals can simply underpin price deregulation doesn’t understand economics.”

He said the government’s plan to make universities use some of their premium fee revenue for scholarships risked inflating fees and would be used by universities as simply a marketing tool. Student disadvantage should be addressed by the welfare system.

He also attacked Labor, saying fee variability was logical, would make the system financially sustainable and would boost quality if done right. Professor Noonan said it was also unfinished business for Labor after it began deregulating student numbers in 2010: “Labor has to get over its sentimental attachment to the Whitlam legacy of free education.”

He warned that if Senate negotiations allowed full fee deregulation, any Labor government wouldn’t be able to afford to wind it back and the party therefore needed to be constructive to ensure the market design was right.

“There is no doubt there are risks for Labor in this and it would be seen as a backdown … but trying to pick up the pieces after it has happened will be a bigger problem,” he warned. “Labor can’t afford to run some scare campaign. They need to be constructive.”

Professor Noonan dismissed proposals for a full review of fee deregulation, saying there had been enough reviews, going back decades. He warned that if the process dragged on the opportunity for good policymaking could be lost in the noise of the next election.


Cairns to get new CQUniversity campus

Not quite sure of the rationale for this but it does look like an upgrade for my old home town

Mock-up of future new campus building

Cairns’ elevation to the status of a two-University city is being confirmed today (FRIDAY) following the major announcement of CQUniversity’s much-anticipated CBD campus, CQUniversity Cairns Square.

Located on the corner of Abbott and Shield Streets, the multi-million dollar campus will attract thousands of domestic and international students, create over 50 jobs, and generate an economic spin-off worth almost one-quarter of a billion dollars to the local economy.

The social, cultural and economic potential of Cairns is set to flourish with a wave of new course offerings, research facilities, international students, skilled graduates and competition brought about by the arrival of the CQUniversity CBD campus.

Vice-Chancellor Prof Scott Bowman said the time was right to expand into a multi-story, full-sized, face-to-face campus following the phenomenal growth of its Distance Education Support Centre in Florence Street.

“For a number of years we’ve been overwhelmed by the community’s response to our Study Centre, but we’ve always been limited by how much we could offer because of its size. We’ve been busting at the seams there for quite some time - it’s been incredibly popular with students,” Prof Bowman said. 

“A full-sized campus is the next logical step for us in Cairns.

“We run incredibly vibrant, multicultural CBD campuses in the heart of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne along a very similar model to what we will be building here. In many ways Cairns has an even stronger global brand than these cities, and certainly a more exciting future, so we know the model will work,” Prof Bowman said.

Today’s announcement is supported by a $1M commitment for engineering labs at CQUniversity Cairns Square earlier this week by the Queensland Premier and local MP Gavin King. This will allow the introduction of Cairns’ first four-year, on-campus engineering degree.

Fit-out of CQUniversity Cairns Square will begin in March, with the campus operational by Term Two 2015, and with a comprehensive roll-out of new courses ready for the 2016 student intake.

New campus facilities will include engineering labs; research facilities; high-tech classrooms, theatres and teaching spaces; meeting rooms; library; student recreational and social spaces; and staff offices


Monday, January 26, 2015

Childcare costs on the rise

The story below is from the SMH so you are not told that the ivory tower mandates driving these costs were put in place during the last ALP federal government.  There is great doubt that the mandates (more staff per child; Higher qualifications for staff) will deliver any tangible benefit

Families will have to pay up to 60 per cent more for childcare services, because of greater demand for staff and higher staff qualifications, Child Care NSW has warned.

Its president, Nesha O'Neil, said changes to government legislation have increased childcare prices significantly in the past decade, ultimately leaving families who require child care services significantly out of pocket.

But prices are set to again rise steeply in 2016, driven by increased staff numbers and higher costs, she said.

"Staffing costs make up about 80 per cent of operation costs, so even a slight increase will affect costs," Ms O'Neil said.

"By increasing the number of staff required to look after children, and the qualifications of those staff, the price to families increases."

Almost 257 000 families use approved childcare in NSW and Ms O'Neil said the increase in costs would force families to make alternative decisions such as relying on "back yard care" or quitting work and relying on welfare payments.

Principal research fellow at the University of Canberra Ben Phillips, said parents would remain short-changed despite government subsides, as childcare prices continued to climb.

"The trend we have seen over the past five or six years is a strong increase in childcare prices and there has been no requisite increase in the childcare benefits or childcare rebate and that affects everybody across the board it leaves plenty out-of-pocket costs for families."

The most recent Productivity Commission identified childcare as one of the greatest factors preventing women from participation in the workforce.

"It does mean a very difficult decision for the mother when considering whether to return to work or whether to increase her hours, given that the financial payoff is really quite slim," Mr Phillips said.

With the maximum amount of Child Care Rebate totalling $7500 per child per year, parents with children in Long Day Care often run out of government-assisted funding months before the end of the financial year with some childcare rates as high as $170 a day.

"It is pretty quick that families meet that cap so it tends to mean that after about three days of childcare a week you are paying for all of your childcare out of pocket and that's probably why a lot of woman don't work more than three days a week," Mr Phillips said. 

He said there wasno easy solution to making childcare more affordable but that he believed child care subsidies were the best option for mothers.

"Increasing childcare subsidies will be difficult in a tight budget for 2015-16, however, re-directing some of the proposed expanded paid parental leave scheme would be desirable."

"Child care subsidies are more effective in helping women return to work than a very expensive payment for leave."

Ms O'Neil said the cost increases directly impacts on affordability for families and their investment in early childhood education.

"Women want to work, parents want the best for their kids, and study after study shows that investment in early childhood education reaps rewards for years afterwards for society and the economy – so it is a mystery as to why the government would draw the purse strings tighter."


Pauline Hanson gets it only partly right

In the past Hanson has tapped into worries about Asian immigration and entitlements for indigenous Australians, and now she has identified Muslim Australians as her next bogeyman.

On the back of our recent freedom of speech debate, rebooted by the fallout from Paris’s Charlie Hebdo massacre, Hanson presents a challenge. Rather than attack her we should challenge her where she is wrong and welcome a debate about any real issues she identifies.

A touchstone for Hanson’s new crusade is Halal registration. She says it should be illegal for companies to pay for Halal certification of their food products.

“When I see 2.2 per cent of our population are Muslim in this country and yet the other 97.8 per cent are paying for this,” she rants. “I reject this.”

This is the reason for her “I will not buy Vegemite,” pledge.

If Hanson wants Muslim immigrants to assimilate you’d think she’d favour smoothing a Halal path to Vegemite on toast. Even aside from that silly paradox the anti-Halal campaign is ridiculous.

Perhaps these registrations can sometimes be a rort but if companies are prepared to pay the fee for Halal labelling there is no problem. It can help them market to Muslim customers at home and can be essential for exporting to Muslim nations.

The anti-Halal movement seems to be classically xenophobic and should be dismissed on logical grounds. Some of our supermarkets have kosher aisles and brands seek approval for all kinds of labels, from organic or gluten-free status to heart health and environmental ticks.

Halal certification ought to be welcomed as another marketing tool.

Hanson says Muslims “come here for a new life and I have no problem with that” but complains “we can’t sing Christmas carols because it offends others”.

She also is “totally opposed to the burka”, claiming many women are forced to wear it.

This is where her anti-Muslim rant comes up against the stifling effect of political correctness. We have seen attempts to downplay Christian references at Christmas but this is hardly the fault of Muslims — more likely it stems from the activism of bureaucratic secularists.

But while most Australians would not be as strident as Hanson on the burka there is little doubt many worry that the covering of Muslim women is an open form of oppression.

This is a legitimate issue for discussion, especially among feminists and Muslim communities, and Hanson shouldn’t be condemned simply for raising it.

It also goes to her core complaint about lack of assimilation or how Muslims “will not change their ways but want to change our ways”.

Again, most of us wouldn’t be so confrontational but a discussion about assimilation should not only be tolerated; it is desperately needed.

The radicalisation of young Muslim men, born in our suburbs and educated under our freedoms, who have then gone overseas as ­jihadist Islamic State recruits, is of grave concern, especially to the majority of Muslims who are politically moderate.

Shouting down Hanson, or demonising anyone who echoes her views, will not help. It will only confirm an unwillingness to confront the issues, and we have seen plenty of this national squeamishness lately.

The contortions performed by many to deny the Islamist extremist motivation behind the Martin Place siege were extraordinary.

This jihadist denialism suggests to the mainstream that the political class is incapable of handling obvious challenges — so it only fuels the fear Hanson aims to harness.

The best way to combat One Nation fearmongering is to inject more frankness into our public debates.

One person who did that this week was Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith in his compelling Australia Day address. He explained: “the freedoms and rights we’ve always fought for and won at great cost to our own are again under serious and continuing threat.”

Roberts-Smith, now working in business, explained how our military are in the frontline of a battle against the “lethal forces of terror” and that Martin Place showed we were “neither remote nor immune” as he matter-of-factly listed it with 9/11, Bali, Paris and other attacks.

“As Australians witness these things in the midst of our ordinary lives … reading about young people leaving the country to join a raging, borderless jihad,” he said, “the outlying world of Australian soldiers fighting Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Iraq seems to come within touching distance of domestic, civilian life.”

He is right and, unsurprisingly, brave.  Courage is not just needed on the frontline but in mustering the confidence to speak honestly against Islamist terrorism while simultaneously embedding our tradition of tolerance.


Charming multiculturalist going to jail at last

He is an Algerian Muslim.  Background on his obnoxious behaviour here

QUEENSLANDERS were outraged by footage of his racist attack on a train security guard but, after a series of second chances in the court system, Abdel-Kader Russell-Boumzar will finally see the inside of a jail cell.

The 17-year-old from Paddington was refused bail in the Brisbane Magistrates Court yesterday for his part in an allegedly violent bashing at a skate park in The Gap on Wednesday.

Russell-Boumzar was charged with two counts of assault occasioning bodily harm in company and for breaching the strict bail conditions granted to him in October after he was charged for a rant at train security guard Josphat Mkhwananzi, 56, that went viral on social media.

It’s not the first time Russell-Boumzar has appeared in court since October. He was fined $350 for breaching bail and being intoxicated in a public place during Schoolies at Surfers Paradise in November and charged with indecently dealing with a child after he allegedly dropped his pants in front of a 12-year-old at The Gap on December 4.

He was also ordered to do community service this month after pleading guilty to being a public nuisance and narrowly avoiding an assault charge for hitting a French backpacker.

Police prosecutor Sgt Matt Kahler said the teenager was a very high risk of committing further violent offences if granted bail.

He said Russell-Boumzar and two co-accused allegedly confronted other young men at the skate bowl in The Gap as he was returning from the police station to report as per his bail conditions.

The court was told the teenager allegedly pushed one of the two complainants in the throat during the exchange.

Lawyer Ed Whitton said his client had the support of his parents and grandparents and recently commenced treatment on a mental health plan.

He said Russell-Boumzar “strayed” into the skate park and denied pushing one of the alleged victims in the throat.

Magistrate Tina Previtera remanded Russell-Boumzar in custody to appear in court again on March 16. She added the charges against the teen were serious and that they were allegedly committed while he was subject to a strict bail regime.


‘We must have the freedom to offend anyone’

Australian cartoonist Bill Leak on satire, censorship and mocking Muhammad

Since the massacre of the Muhammad-mocking cartoonists, we’ve heard a lot about French satire, and about how it differs from other national satires. Apparently it’s rougher, cruder, more soixante-huitard in its scattergun spirit than, say, British satirists’ pops at the powerful. Where we’re all gentle prodding and occasionally garish caricatures of Cameron and Co, the French take a merde on anyone and everyone. But what about non-European professional piss-takers? What about those on the other side of the globe, say, in that land where women glow and men chunder, where, believe it or not, drawing Muhammad has also become a risky business of late?

‘It’s getting a lot easier to offend people because they actively seek out offence. The self-righteous these days like nothing more than taking affront.’ So says Bill Leak, Australia’s bawdiest, and ballsiest, cartoonist. Resident drawer at The Australian — Oz’s only national broadsheet, set up by Rupert Murdoch in 1964 — Leak has aimed his masterful pen at all sorts over the decades. He infuriated then Labor PM Kevin Rudd by turning him into Tintin (he also infuriated Herge’s estate), and he upped the cartoonish ante against Rudd’s successor Julia Gillard precisely when she started moaning about the Murdoch-owned media being too harsh on her (and, outrageously, like a female, flame-haired version of Charles I, set up a judge-led inquiry to ‘do something’ about what she saw as the biased, ie. Gillard-critical, press). But recently, Leak, like other cartoonists around the world, has found that those of a furiously Islamist bent ‘like to take affront’ more than most.

Three days after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, on 10 January, he drew a pic of Muhammad for The Australian. ‘I woke up the next morning and could feel a fatwa coming’, he says. His cartoon, which was reported on in news outlets around the world, many of them clearly startled that a cartoonist would rib the prophet so soon apres Charlie, showed Jesus having a go at Muhammad. Jesus is holding up the Koran and saying, ‘I’ve told you this needs a sequel!’, a reference to the fact that the Bible has both an Old and New Testament. Muhammad tells Jesus he can’t go back to Earth and sort out a sequel now because he’ll get ‘crucified’. It ended up being Leak who felt that a crucifying might be in the offing. Odd things, or rather odd people, started appearing around his home. The police were called. Leak drew them a brilliant cartoon of what one of the odd people looked like. Precautions were taken. But Leak has no regrets. ‘I think it’s worth the hassle because I’m one of those strange people who’s as optimistic as I am cynical, and I think a lot of good will eventually come of all this.’

But Leak didn’t only deride the religion whose adherents had taken such ostentatious offence at Charlie Hebdo. He also fired his ink at a newer religion: the ‘Je suis Charlie’ moment, when vast numbers of people, including politicians who can’t spell the word liberty, marched in solidarity with the French mag. The day after his depiction of the prophet, he produced a cartoon depicting ‘A right bunch of Charlies’, showing a crowd of people, including some of Oz’s illiberal leftish politicians, saying in unison: ‘Free speech! Free speech! Aslongasitdoesn’toffend!’ It’s not surprising Leak would lay into those who pay lip service to free speech yet who balk at, and try to muzzle, anything offensive; after all, his motto, as outlined in UnAustralian of the Year, his 2013 collection of drawings and thoughts, is: ‘Freedom of speech is the freedom to offend and that means the freedom to offend anyone.’

Leak is stinging on the ‘Je suis Charlie’ fashion. Of the million folks who marched in France he wonders about the thinking of the ‘970,000 of them who never bought [Charlie Hebdo] and wouldn’t be rushing out to buy copies now if they hadn’t suddenly turned into fashion accessories’. As for the politicians who marched for Charlie — ‘it wasn’t a demonstration in support of free speech, it was a celebration of freedom of hypocrisy’, he tells me. ‘They were delighted that sanctimony had survived the carnage unscathed. To have the courage of your convictions, you need two things: courage and convictions. If you don’t have any of either of them, go out and march in solidarity with someone who does and people will think you’ve got both.’

Born in 1956 and celebrated for his serious portraits as much as his contrarian cartoons — he’s painted Gough Whitlam, Robert Hughes, Barry Humphries as Sir Les Patterson — Leak is in a good position to make fun of both Islam’s offence-takers and the seemingly more secular, progressive policers of offence who pepper mainstream Western politics and activism. For he’s a possessor of what he calls the ‘larrikin streak in the Australian character’. Larrikin is an Australian-English word which first emerged in the nineteenth century to refer to ‘young urban roughs’ (of which there were many Down Under) but which is now used to describe those who fart in the general direction of political and moral convention. Given that Oz was once described by DH Lawrence as a place where ‘nobody is supposed to rule, and nobody does rule’, given that one of its national heroes is a thief and cop-killer (Ned Kelly), and given that much of this hot nation still remains so stubbornly un-PC that the poor Guardian has had to set up shop there just to teach the sunburnt natives a thing or two about their ‘poisonous political climate’, it’s not surprising that this massive country of very few people has produced more than its fair share of mickey-ripping cartoonists over the decades. And, to my mind, Leak is at the top of this estimable pile of pisstakers.

Leak’s larrikinism means he doesn’t restrict himself to puncturing the most obvious forms of authority, as many a Western cartoonist does — he also lampoons newer, more insidious forms of often progressive-painted authoritarianism. He describes some of the people he likes to rile — ‘those who refer to themselves as progressives [but] are united by their hatred of progress… Keyboard warriors who have names beginning with @ and don’t differentiate between emotions and ideas’. He recognises that it isn’t only angry men in beards and cloaks who want to shut down — or even shoot down — offensive material these days; so do implacably Western, university-educated purveyors of political correctness, which Leak tells me is ‘a means of imposing totalitarianism by stealth, perfectly suited to the cowardly’. He wonders how the architects of the Enlightenment itself might have fared if they, like us, had been surrounded by armies of shushers and censors saying ‘You can’t say that!’. He says: ‘The iconoclasts, rabble-rousers and ratbags who thrived in the milieu enlivened by satire and invective that gave birth to the Enlightenment were exactly the sort of people the purse-lipped prohibitionists of the green-left intelligentsia militate against today.’

Rudd, Gillard, Abbott, the leaders of Iran, the mad Islamic state, greens, the PC, the pseudo-progressive, even Mother bloody Teresa — no one is safe from Leak’s larrikinism. (One of my all-time favourite Leak cartoons was his tribute to Christopher Hitchens upon his death in 2011, which showed Hitch horrified to find himself in Hell and thus clearly wrong about there being no God. But he finds himself shovelling hot coals next to Mother Teresa. ‘Oh well, at least I was right about you…’, he says.) Leak regularly rips new ones for climate-change alarmists; what he calls ‘baby doomers’ (young-ish adults who think everything on the planet is going to shit); bossy new authoritarians; pretend progressives. Of that last category, he says they ‘consider themselves radical [but] are anything but’: ‘They love to label as conservatives and sneer at people who believe the world was a better place when their ancestors lived in neat bungalows and had standards while they themselves believe the world was a better place when their ancestors lived in slime and had gills.’ Yep, we have our fair share of those here, too, Bill.

Leak’s devotion to sticking one in the eye of convention extends beyond the pages of newspapers. A couple of years ago, he designed cardboard covers for cigarette packs so that smokers would have something nicer to look at than the gangrenous limbs and rotting hearts our contemptuous public-health overlords love to plaster fag boxes with. Leak’s covers celebrated the pleasant, post-coital and manly aspects of smoking. ‘Smokes for blokes’, one of them said. But he was advised to ditch the covers because he might have faced a legal challenge from the Aussie government, which was then forcing through its plain-packaging law. As a then Labor health minister said of Leak’s lark: ‘Everyone likes a laugh, but when so many people die from smoking, it doesn’t seem so funny anymore.’ See? It ain’t only Islamists who think some things mustn’t be made comedic.

But Leak thinks that even in Oz, birthplace of larrikinism, once renowned for its innate, maybe convicts-derived disrespect for authority, the satirical edge is being blunted. ‘You’d think the last people to succumb to the contagion of PC would be our cartoonists, but the fact is most of them have positively embraced it, while revelling in the popularity they’ve been afforded as a result’, he opines. ‘Most of them are now so PC your average Islamist fascist wouldn’t regard them as offensive enough to shoot.’ It’s a similar story here in Blighty. I had to laugh when, after Charlie Hebdo, the Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson stood up for the right to offend and listed some of the people he has offended: Zionists, Republican Americans, Catholics, Russians, Serbs. It was like a roll-call of the British political elite’s own pet-hate foreigners! You’ve offended Zionists? How brave! And Serbs? Those people the armies of the West demonised and bombed for 20 years? What were you, cartoonist-in-chief of Western imperialism? As is the case with so many modern cartoonists, even the grotesqueness of Rowson’s drawings cannot disguise the fact that they embody the dinner-party prejudices of the most influential sections of society. Too much satire today strokes received wisdoms and flatters easy political stances rather than really lighting the fire of ridicule under the arse of authority. Even Charlie Hebdo mainly went for relatively easy targets: right-wing and racist politicians loved by few, and, of course, the Catholic Church, bete noire of the right-minded everywhere.

Leak is different: he rails against those who want to ban racist words as much as he does against racists, against killjoy greens as well as hypocritical politicians, against nutty Islamists as much as our own leaders who kill off liberty in the fight against nutty Islamists. (A recent cartoon showed a ‘Radical Without A Cause’, a spotty youth in an ISIS t-shirt telling his mum and dad he was off to ‘join his brothers in the war on Western freedoms’. ‘No need for that, son — they’re giving them away’, reply the parents.) And he thinks we need to recover the old stab of satire, its once glinting, unforgiving edge. ‘Most people adopt ideologies in preference to thinking for themselves because it takes courage, as well as a certain level of audacity, to express views of your own that run contrary to popular opinion’, he says. ‘And no one wants to be unpopular these days — except for weirdos like me.’


Sunday, January 25, 2015

"Peaceful" rally from which 14 people were removed for breaching the peace

Logic flies out the window where Muslims are concerned

Hundreds of people have gathered at a rally in Sydney's west in protest over negative coverage of Islam and treatment of the prophet Mohammad.

While police said more than a dozen people were moved on from the rally for breaching the peace, the event was peaceful.

Among the 800-strong crowd in the Muslim enclave of Lakemba, placards were held up with the slogan: "Je Suis Muslim" or "I am Muslim", evoking the same sentiment that became a touchstone for many in the wake of attacks in Paris.

Organisers of the Our Prophet, Our Honour rally said it was intended to be "a peaceful and respectful event" to counter negative coverage of Islam and the lampooning of the Prophet by French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Speaking at the rally, outside the Lakemba train station, local Muslim leader Sufyan Badar told the crowd it was also in response to the waves of protests in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack.

Mr Badar said the protests in the name of free speech had nothing to do with freedom. "We also gather to place the politics of the events in France in the correct context," he said.

"Freedom is the smokescreen with which Western politicians and media conceal the underlying issues.  "In reality free speech is one of the many political tools that are used to maintain dominance over the Muslims."

Earlier, Prime Minister Tony Abbott warned against the rally being used to incite terrorism, saying he hoped few people would attend.

Mr Abbott said called on more Muslim leaders to distance themselves from "evil things that are done in the name of Islam".

Hamzah Qureshi, a spokesman for the controversial group Hizb ut-Tahrir, which helped organise the event, questioned the prime minister's comments and the suggestion the event could incite violence.

"No one should be asked to apologise for or distance themselves from something they are not responsible for," Mr Qureshi said.

"I would, however, mention that it's interesting that the question of whether a Muslim event will be peaceful or violent consistently seems to come up."

Police later said in a statement that the event had been concluded peacefully, although 14 people were removed for breaching the peace. No charges were laid.


Suppressed evidence got aggressive South Australian cop off the hook

The case was largely one man's word against another so the credibility of the cop was central.  We appear to have evidence, however, that he perjured himself.  Subsequent to his acquittal, he obtained a legal order to suppress the report below of that evidence -- so he himself knows how crucial the extra evidence is.  The case should go to appeal

JURORS in the Norman Hoy trial were never told that, in the moments after Yasser Shahin drove away, the police constable was recorded calling the millionaire businessman "a dick" who "made it big".

The Advertiser can now reveal prosecutors unsuccessfully tried to have another section of Const Hoy's audio recording played to the jury, saying it ran contrary to the evidence he gave under oath.

The legal stoush over the recording - parts of which were listened to by more than 27,000 people on advertiser.com.au - can be reported following Const Hoy's acquittal yesterday.

In his evidence, Const Hoy said he did not know who Mr Shahin was during their abrasive September 2010 encounter, and the businessman's identity only "sunk in" 15 minutes later.

That testimony, on January 19, prompted prosecutor Nick Healy to ask the jury be sent out of court so he could raise an issue with Judge Paul Rice.

He said his concern centred on the extended version of the audio recording Const Hoy had made of the alleged incident, which had been played for the jury numerous times.

"As Your Honour may or may not be aware, the audio that was recorded by Const Hoy was considerably longer," he said after jurors left court.  "There is a considerable amount of audio there and, indeed, a conversation with his sergeant that appears to be at the scene immediately after Mr Shahin leaves.

"It's actually Const Hoy who advises his sergeant `it's the Shahin family', the sergeant says `who are they?' and Const Hoy says `they made it big on Smokemart and all this'.

"Then there is considerable conversation talking about `they've got all these houses in Burnside and they want to build a mansion up there'."

Mr Healy asked the jury be played the section but Marie Shaw, QC, for Const Hoy, objected. She said counsel had agreed, prior to the trial, that only the section recounting the incident itself would be played.

Mr Healy said the situation had changed.  "That evidence was not to be led on the basis this witness would not get in the box and start denying, if you like, any contemporaneous knowledge of who Mr Shahin is," he said.

"There's a fair bit of evidence to the contrary, and a subsequent conversation with his sergeant includes when Const Hoy says Mr Shahin was `being a dick'."

Ms Shaw insisted that conversation occurred 15 minutes after Mr Shahin left the scene, which Mr Healy said was "news to me". Ms Shaw accused the prosecution of "ambushing" her client.

"What is the Crown seeking to do with this evidence? Pluck out bits and pieces of this conversation to attack Const Hoy on the way he discussed it with his sergeant?" she asked.

Judge Rice upheld Ms Shaw's objection, saying he did not "think it was proper" the additional section of the recording be played to jurors.

Original report here

Will Annastacia Palaszczuk be an Anna Bligh Mark II?

Comment on the upcoming Queensland State election.  Bligh was the previous ALP Premier. Palaszczuk is the aspiring one.  There is no doubt Bligh was out of her depth

The blunt reality is that Bligh’s government was one of the worst in Queensland history. Neither the Premier Bligh nor her government was up to the job. Its defeat last election was primarily because of its incompetence. It is little wonder that eight key members of the Bligh team, including six former Ministers, retired at the state election. They simply gave up on Bligh and Queensland Labor.

The theft of $16 million of public funds under Labor’s noses by a Queensland Health employee was the last straw in a history of incompetence that ranges from the health payroll debacle to poor financial mismanagement that led to the loss of Queensland’s cherished AAA credit rating. There was 16 million reasons for Queenslanders to vote against Bligh.

Many senior Labor figures found the Bligh government so embarrassing that they distanced themselves from it at an alarming rate.

When former premier Peter Beattie handed over to his deputy, Bligh, in September 2007, the popular Labor government enjoyed a two-party preferred vote of 59 per cent and a primary vote of 50 per cent. The transition followed years of Beattie promoting Bligh over other ministers into tough portfolios to enhance her experience.

At the time it was regarded as an ideal transition. Bligh enjoyed strong public support until her policies and performance showed a rapid decline. It was a serious error of judgment on Beattie’s part to promote Bligh when there were more talented choices available, including John Mickel and Rod Welford. It seemed Beattie was more interested in putting Queensland’s first female premier into office than promoting the best candidate.

State Labor’s problems started when Bligh became more focused on image than on performance. Her promotion of inexperienced supporters like Kate Jones into cabinet at the expense of senior colleagues (such as Mickel, who is now Speaker; former police minister Judy Spence; former attorney-general Kerry Shine; and former ministers Lindy Nelson-Carr, Robert Schwarten and Margaret Keech) was designed to make her government look good but took its toll in poor administration in transport, health, infrastructure delivery and water, and in the cost of electricity.

Bligh’s failure to sack former health minister and close friend Paul Lucas over the health department’s payroll fiasco showed personal loyalty had precedence over performance.

There also was not enough focus on detail. Instead, Bligh concentrated on managing the latest political disaster. The damage from this crisis management soon became irreparable. Also, many members of Bligh’s cabinet were bone lazy. Government ministers were rarely seen at business events in Brisbane or in key regional centres and LNP frontbenchers were being openly courted as future ministers.

The Bligh government lost the links with business vigorously developed by Wayne Goss and Beattie. It was a pale imitation of past Labor governments. The fat bureaucratic structure of super departments was so cumbersome that one director-general was responsible to several ministers, making the public service process-driven rather than outcome-focused.

Besides, the quality of directors-general slipped as Bligh appointed favourites or ideological fellow travellers over quality candidates. This resulted in a failure to properly oversee projects such as the desalination plant on the Gold Coast and the water grid; cost overruns on infrastructure; the protection of farmland from the expansion of the gas industry until it was too late; failure to build cyclone-proof infrastructure along the coast before last summer’s cyclone season; and accepting without question the recommended electricity price hikes from the regulator.

The government also blindly followed Treasury’s line to abolish the fuel subsidy, which means Queenslanders now pay more for fuel.

The Bligh government ran away from tough decisions on matters such as the 10 per cent mandatory level of ethanol in fuel; taking the fight to Kevin Rudd’s federal government over the building of the Traveston dam; and the use of recycled water.

Crucially, it caved in to union demands for budget-breaking enterprise bargaining deals that helped drive the state over the financial brink. This was the underlying reason for the state’s loss of its AAA credit rating.

The only tough decision the Bligh government made was on the sale of government assets such as railways to fund the budget shortfall. But even here Bligh made a hash of its implementation by not putting the issue to the people in the 2009 state election, thus costing her valuable credibility. The deal also meant Bligh sold off Queensland’s most profitable parts of Queensland Rail and kept the unprofitable parts.

On last election night, Labor seats fell to the LNP throughout the regions because of how the QR sale was handled. The Bligh government was guilty of 4 1/2 years of dysfunctional administration and Queenslanders knew it. Deputies were often promoted beyond their abilities into the top job.

Bligh was such a deputy and state Labor paid the price and would do so again as they are not ready to govern in Queensland just yet.


Massive review into workplace laws to examine penalty rates and the minimum wage

Penalty rates, the minimum wage and the workplace flexibility of 11.5 million Australian workers will come under the microscope in a sweeping review of the industrial relations system.

In an interview to mark the launch of five issues papers that set out the key areas the inquiry will put under the microscope, Productivity Commission chief Peter Harris has promised the review of Australia's workplace laws will "bust myths" in the broadest review of IR laws in a generation.

The long-awaited review of Australia's workplace laws will examine the effect of the minimum wage on employment, how penalty rates are set and what economic effect the loadings have on business and employees.

The issues papers were accidentally published online on Thursday ahead of the embargo being lifted.

The review was meant to be published on the Commission's website at midnight but went live on the homepage on Thursday morning and was seized on by at least two Labor MPs who tweeted a link to it, breaking the embargo.

Enterprise bargaining, individual agreements between employers and employees, unfair dismissal, anti-bullying laws and public sector employment issues will all be examined too.

Mr Harris stressed the "human dimension" of the labour market would be considered by the economically dry Commission and that "no nation aspires to be a low wage economy. This is not a review aimed at cutting wages or removing conditions".

"When we look at the minimum wage for example, we won't be looking at the minimum wage in isolation, we will be asking questions, what can we demonstrate in Australia about its impact on employment?"      

"Whether or not there is an impact from the minimum wage on employment  - we will try and prove up that, or determine it is a myth."

Mr Harris predicted lots of submissions from employer groups calling for more flexibility in the workplace but cautioned "it's worth bearing in mind that employers also want certainty" and that the "flexibility to do what" was something that needed to be better defined.

"We'll be considering this from the perspective that almost all of us have a stake in this system, those of us aged between 15 and 64, roughly speaking, either want to participate in the system and are training to do so or are participating in the system."

The findings of the review, which are due in November 2015, are expected to help frame the Coalition's second term IR policy. The review, a pre-election promise from Prime Minister Tony Abbott, is launched against a backdrop of a push from the backbench and business groups for cuts to penalty rates and greater workplace flexibility.

The paper states that the inquiry is not "intended to maximise the benefits to any particular group" and that the Commission will consider the social and economic aspects of the workplace system.

The paper also notes there is "little consensus on the effects of modern changes in minimum wages on employment and equity," and promises to attempt to "unravel this contested area of economics".

It notes Australia has a high minimum wage rate relative to median earnings when compared to other OECD countries  – though this is declining – and points out significant variations from state to state in the minimum wage relative to average weekly wages.

The current minimum wage in Australia is about $33,000 a year, or $16.87 an hour.

On penalty rates, the paper notes that 116 of 122 modern awards specify penalty rates, albeit at different levels and that "while there are relatively few contentions about additional payments for overtime and shift work, there are polarised views about the appropriateness of weekend penalty rates in some sectors".

Submissions are invited on how penalty rates are determined, what changes could be made to the system and on whether wages would fall if penalty rates were deregulated.

The situation in the UK, New Zealand and the US, where penalty rates are generally not required on the weekend, are also to be taken into account by the review.

The National Employment Standards, which govern entitlements such as long service leave – the conditions of which vary from state to state – will also be examined.

The release of the issues paper will help frame a political fight between the Coalition, business, the opposition and unions over workplace policy.

Labor employment spokesman Brendan O'Connor called on the government to "immediately rule out attacking Australian workers' penalty rates, allowances, the minimum wage and other working conditions".

"Earlier this year I said WorkChoices was merely sedated, not cremated as the Prime Minister had promised. Well, the sedative has worn off," he said.

"The last 'review' that examined workplace laws was the Abbott government's Commission of Audit and that recommended a reduction of the minimum wage by 1 per cent a year for a decade in real terms."

But Employment Minister Eric Abetz has repeatedly stressed the government has no plans to make changes to penalty rates, which are set by the Fair Work Commission.

The focus of the issues papers accords with the draft terms of reference for the review, leaked to Fairfax last year, which made clear pay and conditions and penalty rates would be examined.

In September last year, Senator Abetz told Fairfax Media he had neutralised a potential political campaign from Labor and the union movement over a possible return to WorkChoices – an assertion that is contested by organised labour.


Friday, January 23, 2015

Is a $500,000 private school education really worth it?

A point overlooked below is that in choosing your son's school, you are choosing his friends for life.  Except for the army, men rarely make new friends far into adulthood, and even if they do, their old school friends will still usually predominate in their friendship circle.  So choosing a school is choosing a lot for a son.  What sort of friends do you want  your son to have?  He will tend to have smarter and more socially competent friends if you send him to a private school.  And if you send him to a sink school ....

All parents know that having children is like firing up a backyard bonfire but you substitute wads of cash for kindling and wood, but this week's study about the cost of private schooling would give anyone pause.

The Australian Scholarship's Group's research showed that a baby born in 2015 would cost over half a million dollars to be educated in Sydney's private schools.

Forget the six-million-dollar man, we have the half-million dollar kid – and we two of them!

But you are only going to get sticker shock if you insist on putting your kids into a private school and I don't plan on doing that. There are a number of factors at play here, not least the cost of the schooling and my inability to pay for it.

One problem is that "private schools" often seem to come under an umbrella brand that brings with it a belief of quality when, just like public schools or even hospitals or restaurants, quality varies quite significantly. For some private schools you may be getting top quality, out-of-the-box education, but at others you are just paying a lot more for a fairly standard education.

Many people send their kids to private school in the belief it comes with more advantages than the quality of teaching, that it can help one muscle in on the old boys' network.

There is little doubt that this network can be of some assistance. As an inexperienced twentysomething my friend, a former Geelong Grammarian, got us a face-to-face meeting with a member of the Fairfax family to discuss our fledgling men's magazine and there was little doubt that his school contacts were instrumental in getting that meeting. It certainly wasn't our business plan for the magazine, because we didn't have one.

But it is not the shortcut to nepotism many in the Comments section of school news stories like to believe, our would-be patron was polite but firm about our need to go and get our shit together before bothering to sit down with him or anyone else again (and quite rightly so).

There is also a fairly irrational fear of public schools. Just like the private equivalent these vary greatly and you need to do your research but we are lucky in Australia to not have to worry about our kids having to pass through metal detectors.

After spending the past two years in Singapore, paying a private school fee for a public school level of schooling I am readily embracing the amazing offering that is a virtually free education in this country and more of us should do the same. If more of the families that wanted their kids well educated put their efforts into the public system it would surely improve. Perhaps this huge hike in private schools fees is actually a boost to the public system, making their elite nature even clearer and sending the upper middles back into the arms of the state.

Other downsides for me include the fact many private school kids have to travel further to get to school (we know one mum with a nearly two hour school run between two far-flung male and female private schools) and the fact that you often have to select these school so far in advance that you can't know they are a good fit for your kids.

The question of what school to go to is more than a Naplan score or a natty blazer, it is the people, the community, the proximity to friends and after-school play. There are so many variables that you can't be sure you will achieve the desired result you had pictured when they were an infant – no matter how much you pay.

And what about the opportunity cost to a $500k education? Few of us will be able to pay such bills without forgoing certain things, things like the mind-opening world of international travel. I would not trade my kids Cambodian road trip for private schooling, if you can have both knock yourself out but at these projected rates that will not be a large slice of the population.

Far too many assumptions are made about schooling choices. We recently met a family from the US on a trip through Indonesia. When they said their kids – four of them 17 through to 11 – were home schooled our first instinct was to inch slowly away from them on our tiny boat. But spending a few days with these caring, erudite kids was a great reminder or our inbuilt prejudice as they were some of the most calm, well-rounded young people we had ever come across.

Now home schooling is not for us. And it's not the cost that is putting us off, it's the fact that we might have to reintroduce the cane for it to work. But private school is something I know is not the right fit for us either. I want my kids to have diverse range of fellow pupils, of races, of backgrounds. I do not want the common unifying factor to be the almighty dollar.

This is a very emotive debate but it is often framed in the reductive cry of wanting "the best" for our kids. We all want to give our kids a great start and, with some budgetary axing and a second job, I could probably send my kids through the private school system, but like a lot of things – as a not-particularly wealthy parent – it comes down to value for money.

And, at a half-million-dollar price tag, I do not see the clear and overwhelming benefits of a private school education.


'Strong welfare cop': Scott Morrison's new self-proclaimed title

He stopped the boats, now he's going to stop the rorts. New Social Services Minister Scott Morrison has issued a warning to would-be dole bludgers, Disability Support Pension rorters and terrorists who want to wage war while on government benefits: a tough new welfare cop is on the beat.

In one of his first broadcast interviews in his new portfolio, the former immigration minister told Sky News' Graham Richardson that Australians "generally are quite happy to have a system that helps people who are genuinely in need and deserve our support".

"But what they won't cop, just like they won't cop people coming on boats, is they're not going to cop people who are going to rort that system," he said. "So there does need to be strong welfare cop on the beat...I will be doing that because I want to make sure this system helps the people who most need it."

It's a marked change of tone from his predecessor Kevin Andrews, who always seemed happier handing out relationship counselling vouchers than cracking down on welfare recipients.

Cutting back on welfare spending, Morrison explained, is needed to pay for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. "I see achieving the NDIS as one of the worthy goals of going through the hard tasks of reforming the welfare system to make sure we can accommodate this," he said.

Labor announced the scheme, which is all well and good, Morrison said. Now the Coalition must deliver and fund it.

While Richardson ostensibly hails from the opposite side of politics (he's a former Labor social security minister, no less), this was not blowtorch-on-the-belly stuff. For anyone fed up with the adversarial style of interviewing served up on 7.30, Lateline or even Today, Richo's your guy.

"You're the tough guy of the place, you also know which way is up, I think you know the electorate pretty well, I don't think you live in some on-high castle, I think you've been pretty good at what you do," purred Richo.

Morrison's face beamed brighter than the MCG floodlights.  It was just the beginning.

"You and Julie Bishop have been the standout successes of a government that hasn't gone all that well in its first 15 months, 16 months," Richo continued. "Whether you want to admit that or not everyone knows it ... that's a fact."

Morrison responded in turn, prefacing his answers with "you make a good point" and "that's a good question".

A rare and welcome ray of bipartisanship in these politically polarised times.


Why private health insurance is getting so expensive, and what can be done about it

For private health insurance customers who cannot understand why their premiums are set to rise at triple the rate of inflation, the experience of CUA Health may shed some light.

The fast-growing health fund just paid out its biggest claim ever. A patient receiving end of life care in an intensive care unit just cost the fund $270,000 over a few months. "That was unique," chief executive Philip Fraser told Fairfax Media. "But utilisation across the board is rising."

In line with other insurers CUA Health, which has 50,000 members and premium revenue of about $118 million, is facing a rise in the cost it pays hospitals and healthcare providers of "about 6.5 to 7 per cent", he said.

"Australians are living longer and they're using their health funds more."

Fairfax Media has revealed that insurance bosses expect new Health Minister Sussan Ley to approve an average industry premium rise of between 6 and 7 per cent, which is triple the rate of inflation.

The reason for the hefty rise, which is scheduled to come in on April 1, is because of rising use of health services, increasing care costs and more expensive medical technology, the executives said. This results in what the industry describes as high claims inflation.

The rise will come after an average boost to premiums of 6.2 per cent was approved by former Health Minister Peter Dutton in 2014, and rises of between 5.1 and 5.8 per cent in the four prior years were approved by Labor ministers.

Executives have mixed views on how the rising cost of cover will impact the $19 billion industry, with some, but not all, warning affordability is becoming an issue.

But they all agree that left alone claims inflation will continue to rise. So what is the answer?

The chief executive of listed fund nib, Mark Fitzgibbon, proposed three solutions to ease the pain: encouraging greater take-up of insurance by young people; increasing collaboration between insurers and healthcare providers; and reconsidering risk equalisation - the policy that shares the costs of the industry's most expensive customers among all funds.

Mr Fitzgibbon said because young policyholders do not require the same level or frequency of care, they can reduce costs on a per policy basis. "The younger the insured population the lower the rate of [claims] growth," he said. "[Insurance] depends on having a lot of good risk to support the poorer risk."

Healthcare collaboration

Health insurers want to play a greater role in determining where and how their members are treated, as well as in preventative care. Mr Fitzgibbon said greater collaboration between insurers and health professionals is needed to "avoid unnecessary hospitalisations".

The holy grail for insurers - and a subject which they lobby heavily on - is to collaborate with general practitioners, but by law they are prohibited from playing a role in primary health care. Mr Dutton made comments about potentially reviewing these rules, but it is unclear what path Ms Ley will take.

Risk equalisation

This scheme partially compensates health funds for the hospital costs of high risk patients. It supports "community rating", which means funds can't price their policies based on risks such as age and pre-existing conditions. Equalisation shares a proportion of costs for members aged 55 years and older on a sliding scale with the industry. Funds pay a share based on the size of their membership.

However Mr Fitzgibbon argued it drives up prices, discourages young people from signing up and creates little incentive for funds with an older population to behave in a way that improves their members' health and reduces the need for care.


Amusing: Foreign backpackers recoil after trying new Vegemite crust pizza... but Australians love it so much they'd 'have it for breakfast'

I'm a bit surprised the Poms didn't like it as their Marmite has a similar taste.  But Marmite doesn't have the big following in Britain that Vegemite has in Australia

They say there's a fine line between genius and insanity and Pizza Hut will have the country divided on which category their new Vegemite crust pizza falls in to.

Just in time for the Australia Day weekend, Pizza Hut has launched the quintessential Aussie pizza, combining two of the country's most loved foods - cheese and Vegemite.

In a promo for the new pizza, the fast-food chain took to Noah's Backpackers at Bondi Beach to carry out a taste test on non Australians, in a quest to prove the pizza is 'Made for Australians'.

Not surprisingly, travellers from Spain, The Netherlands, France and Chile were appalled at Pizza Hut's latest crust-stuffer, with some describing it as 'disgusting' and 'horrible'.

The 'Mitey Stuffed Crust Pizza' takes a regular cheese-filled crust of molten mozzarella and fills it with Australia's favourite breakfast spread, but judging by this video, the Vegemite pizza craze won't be going any further than our shores.

The video, which has been viewed over 82,000 times since it was uploaded on Monday, begins with a booming didgeridoo playing in the background, as the Vegemite spread is squeezed onto the pizza crust.

The taste testers seem genuinely pleased that they are about to receive free pizza until they see the black crust.

'Is that a Yorkshire pudding?' a girl from the UK asks, insisting that the pizza doesn't smell that bad. 'What's the black thing' a girl from Germany asks, later questioning the cameraman on whether or not there's 'sh**' in the pizza crust.

A range of wild guesses are thrown around as the astounded backpackers try to distinguish exactly what they've eaten.   'Medicine? Petrol? Fish jam?' the men of the group say as they appear to be resisting the urge to vomit.

Two men from Chile are persistent that the Vegemite is fish jam, claiming that the substance is 'horrible'.

One man looks defeated as he realises that this is one of the most-loved foods in Australia. 'But if females in Australia like this I don't know, they're very crazy people,' he says as he relaxes with a beer.

Cementing the fact that this pizza has been created solely for Australians, two Aussie men take to the couch a the end of the promo, and devour the controversial treat.

'That's nice, I'd have it for breakfast I reckon,' one of the men says. 'Yep, full of Vegemite keeping Aussies strong' the man in the blue hoodie says.

Pizza Hut has more than 14,000 restaurants around the world but the Vegemite crust is only available in Australia. It will cost $3 extra to add to any pizza.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

An Open letter to Anthony Chisholm, State Secretary  of the Qld. ALP

Dear Anthony,

I’m writing with respect to the ALP advertisements on privatisation currently running on TV, which can be viewed by clicking on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wptJMNV_qsY and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWfWaUWqpfs.

These advertisements contain a number of untruths.

As the Australian Institute for Progress stated at the beginning of this campaign, “Repetition of untrue slogans on the basis that the more frequently and loudly they are repeated the more likely voters are to believe them to be true is not a democratic practice, and we call on the political parties to avoid it”.

Our institute favours full privatisation of the assets that the government is leasing and we are happy to have that argument in the context of an election, and to support all parties that support that position. However the argument should be had on a factual basis.

The untrue assertions in these advertisements are:

That the government is proposing to sell these assets for 99 years
That electricity prices will be higher as proven by privatisation of electricity assets in Victoria

The government is not proposing to sell these assets, and that is plain from the Strong Choices Final Plan. They are leasing rather than selling the assets. On this point the ads also imply that the arrangement is for 99 years, when it is for 50 years with an option for a further 49 years. A lease is not a sale, neither economically nor legally.

Furthermore the facts do not bear out the assertions in the first ad that when they have “sold” the assets “[j]ust like they did in Victoria” that electricity bills will increase because “…electricity bills in Victoria have skyrocketed”. Or the assertion in the second ad that “The only reason someone buys an asset is to make money from it, so you’ll pay more.”

The most recent study into electricity pricing, by Ernst Young, clearly shows that not to be true, as per the table below. Electricity bills in Victoria are lower than in Queensland, and have increased less since privatisation occurred some 19 years ago.

I have enjoyed our chats about campaigning in the past, but this is no way to run an election in a modern democracy.

I look forward to your response and the ALP withdrawing these ads and entering into some serious debate about the merits, or otherwise, of the issues.

Graham Young
Executive Director
Australian Institute for Progress


As former Vic. Premier Jeff Kennett sees it

IT’S an inescapable fact that the past seven years have been the most abysmal and wasteful period of federal leadership since World War II.

We have experienced a political famine in which personality politics, a failure of vision, a lack of preparedness by incoming governments and a total absence of consistent messages have left the public confused and lacking trust in our federal leaders.

If there were to be a federal election tomorrow, I dare say the Coalition would be defeated easily, as it should be — not only has opportunity been wasted but there has been no consistency in domestic policy.

Tony Abbott said last year he was going to clean the barnacles off the hull of the ship of state. But the change in health policy over the doctors co-payment fee suggests the barnacles are very quickly devouring the ship itself.

Last week was a public relations disaster for a Government without direction. And if it is true, as it was reported, that the Prime Minister rejected advice from Treasurer Joe Hockey and then health minister Peter Dutton over the co-payment, you have to wonder who the PM is listening to.

If they are junior staff, they should be sacked as they are clearly living on another planet. If the PM made the decision himself then he is leader in name only and out of touch with the community.

That is not to say those who can afford to be paying more for our healthcare shouldn’t be doing so. I do not mind a payment being levied to reduce bad practices and unnecessary demand. But the groundwork hasn’t been done for any price adjustment.

We all wear increases in cigarette prices, petrol taxes, council rates and utility charges. Surely being able to better fund a health service is more important. Yes, we know costs have gone up and, yes, we know the Medicare charge is now covering less than 50 per cent of the cost of health services. We know we are going to have to pay more to maintain our excellent health service.

So explain the situation better and hold the line. Keep it simple, stupid.

So there’s not much support for the Government.

The Opposition? No support there either. Most of us know they created the financial mess the Government is trying, but failing, to address. Yet Labor under Bill Shorten simply opposes every measure put up by the Government to tackle the situation.

The Greens? Mere opportunists without any economic credibility. They promise the world knowing they will never be held to account as a government. They have no sense of what is in the Australian interest and use their numbers in the Senate irresponsibly.

But given the loss of confidence in the two major parties, the fairies at the bottom of the hill would probably maintain their vote if an election were held today.

The Palmer United Party? I think it is always a problem when a person names something after himself. It’s an example of another great opportunity missed. Commercial core principles have been bypassed for short-term popularity. The PUPs have popped and will never be any stronger than they are today.

The independents are many, but of varying talent and experience. One I know and respect is Senator Nick Xenophon. But he has announced he is going to stand candidates at the next election, threatening his strength and independence. The Xenophon United Party? XUP?

Nick must not be distracted from using his influence to make things happen in Canberra.

Australia’s future must belong to the brave and the bold. Unless those in Canberra break the mould that has existed for the past seven years, I suspect an election in two years would result in more independents standing and winning seats, simply because the public are disillusioned by the federal class — because no one will actually lead.

The states have a much better leadership. NSW’s Mike Baird is showing strength and boldness of policy, consistency and compassion.

Campbell Newman in Queensland has had the toughest gig in town having inherited an $80 billion debt. An election there in 10 days will decide whether Queenslanders have the balls to see the job through, or will risk the gains made to date.

Victoria, of course, has a new Government under Daniel Andrews. Let’s hope Labor does a good job for all our sakes.

In South Australia, Jay Weatherill played a deft hand to win the last election. Time will tell whether his policies are changing to reflect the new challenges in his state.

WA’s Colin Barnett is being buffeted by the downturn in mining revenue and a lowering of investment in new developments but is an experienced set of hands.

In Tasmania, a new Government under Will Hodgman has started well, but needs to pedal hard and fast to rebuild Tasmania’s economy. But Tassie is a place of opportunities and could yet surprise us all.

So the states are better led than is the country, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some standout performers in Canberra.

Andrew Robb in Trade is securing opportunities for Australia that are generational. Julie Bishop is doing a great job in Foreign Affairs. But it’s a pity their good work is being lost in a sea of mediocrity.

Yet, there is always hope. And I live for tomorrow.

So I challenge our federal politicians to prove me wrong. In a year I shall revisit this subject and it would be gratifying to be able to report substantial improvement. It is in your hands.

Have a good day.


Qld. Labor very vague about the economy

Some vague assertions about TAFE seems to be all she can think of.  So what will they spend and how will they fund it?

OPPOSITION Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk insists she is offering Queenslanders a viable alternative economic plan.

"Absolutely,"Ms Palaszczuk said.

"When I talk about jobs I am talking about growing the ecomony. You talk to anyone walking down the street. The measure of how the economy is going is whether or not you have a job.

"I outlined our plans to grow the economy and get people into jobs, and it starts with TAFE.

"Our Advance Queensland policy is about growing innovation and getting the best and brightest minds here in Queensland and attracting them from overseas. "That will then flow on to create jobs."

Ms Palaszczuk also denied she was devoting too much time talking about Premier Campbell Newman plan and not enough time outlining hers.

"Campbell Newman’s track record is not jobs. "He has cut frontline services. When you cut frontline services and you rip 24,000 jobs out of the economy, it slows the economy right down. We are passionate about jobs.  "I will continue to talk about jobs because jobs are good for the economy."

She also rejected suggestions she had not done enough to differentiate herself from the previous Bligh Government.

Earlier, The Courier-Mail reported Annastacia Palaszczuk has continued her policy-lite approach during the election, skipping the key issue of the economy to attack Campbell Newman during Labor’s official campaign launch.

Speaking to a packed audience of party faithful in Ipswich, the Labor leader yesterday accused Premier Campbell Newman of "arrogance", "mismanagement" and "twisted priorities".

Ms Palaszczuk claimed the LNP had brought back the corrupt "brown paper bag" era, prompting criticism from Mr Newman that Labor was resorting to the same "personal attacks" as the 2012 election.

"We have seen the LNP open the door again to those carrying brown paper bags,’’ she said. "We also see the undermining of the state’s corruption watchdog and the trashing of Fitzgerald inquiry recommendations."

Mr Newman said Ms Palaszczuk was using the same tactic as her predecessor Anna Bligh because she was out of ideas.  "We saw this from Anna Bligh last time," he said.

"Last time, they ran a campaign about negativity and personality politics.

"This time, they’re doing the same thing. Why? Because they have no plan for Queensland. They don’t have the leadership, they don’t have the ticker to sort out the financial problems that we inherited. They certainly don’t know how to create jobs and so they engage in this sort of thing."


God needs to start smiting these idiots
Piers Akerman

ABOUT now, God must surely be considering sacking his senior management and public ­relations people and wondering how to get his business back to basics.

Globally, the major religions seem to have been placed in the hands of consultants – the usual practice of managements which don’t have a clue – with predictably regrettable results.
Management of the Muslim brand has gone to the dogs with every other certifiable idiot calling himself an imam or an ayatollah and issuing fatwahs that make the mark a mockery in the modern world.

Just last week a prominent religious scholar in Saudi ­Arabia issued a fatwa against building snowmen in the ­kingdom, stating the practice was not acceptable to Islam. According to a Gulf News ­report, which has so far been unchallenged, Mohammad Saleh Al Minjed said people must not build any snowmen or snow models of animals.

As snow fell across the desert, the scholar set out guidelines for children and others who wanted to play outdoors. Making snow models of lifeless things, such as ships, fruit and buildings, was apparently acceptable in Islam, he said, but “it is not permitted to make a statue out of snow, even by way of play and fun”.

Clearly, this is one member of Team Islam who poses a threat to the brand and should lose his franchise. But his chuckleheaded humbug currently falls at the lower end of the lunatic ladder.

Sitting a few rungs up are the hashtag heroes who have abandoned Australia at the urging of some fairly adept manipulators who appeal to their teenage fantasies with offers of slave girls, virgin brides and the opportunity to use the sort of firearms they might normally only drool over when playing video games.

Unfortunately, they are also eroding the Muslim brand they claim to be defending because as everyone has been told ­repeatedly, Islam is the religion of peace. God clearly has his work cut out bringing these barbaric oafs to heel.

Christianity can’t escape criticism either, and God must wonder how so many of his followers of that faith permitted various strands to be intellectually hollowed out to the point of meaninglessness.

It was a lot simpler in the old days when God spoke ­directly to franchisees and gave instructions carved in stone. Now messages are workshopped by a racially and sexually diverse committee of guitar-strummers and delivered in a gender-neutral tone.

At least we can be grateful that He has not descended into the utterly ridiculous realm of ­ineffectual hashtaggery, bumper bar or button protestations and ribbon waving as a substitute for action.

US President Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron held their joint press conference on Friday at which Mr Obama announced that the US, UK and its allies were “working seamlessly to prevent attacks and defeat these terrorist networks”.

It was impossible not to ­recall Michelle Obama’s press conference last May at which she lambasted the truly evil ­Islamist Boko Haram terrorists who had kidnapped 276 girls from a secondary school in north-eastern Nigeria weeks earlier. Mrs Obama brandished a hand-written placard which read #Bring Back Our Girls. The girls, all Christian, haven’t been brought back.

In its most recent atrocity, Boko Haram’s Islamist butchers murdered as many as 2000 in brutal attacks earlier this month.   Another rogue action by a recalcitrant franchisee but at least Mr Cameron acknowledged the difficulties faced when he told the joint press conference that the world faced “a poisonous and fanatical ideology”.

But whether he or Mr Obama can actually “confront it wherever it appears” is a very open question.

Mr Obama has shown himself to be dangerously weak in the war against terrorism and US foreign policy is in free fall.

Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard was ­remarkably prescient when he warned eight years ago that an Obama presidency would be a boon to terrorists.

God must have his hands so full at the moment with wannabe martyrs queuing up for their suicide suits that it seems selfish to contemplate sending a prayer in His direction. Maybe an email, in the cyber Cloud, to be opened at leisure, perhaps?

Realistically though, I’d rather He concentrated on sorting out the assorted franchisees who have brought the whole religion business into such disfavour.