Thursday, August 31, 2006

A pretty good speech about the media and Israel from Australia's foreign minister

Excerpt from a speech given 28 August by Alexander Downer

From our own public diplomacy strategies, I now want to talk about how the media's own reporting of issues can affect Australia's interests and the responsibilities of the media. The first dimension to this issue is how Australians get their news about overseas events. On the whole, we get a good standard of writing on many of the key topics that shape our international relations, including developments in the US, UK and Europe and with our Asian neighbours. However, I have to say I have been disappointed with some of the recent reporting out of the Middle East, which I believe has brought discredit upon the Western media.

Let's not dwell on the shock-horror headlines surrounding the Australian Government's efforts to evacuate more than 5000 Australian nationals out of a war zone. I think it is widely accepted today that the early assertions that the Government and its diplomats were too slow to react were ill-founded, not to say grossly unfair, to many of my officials who worked under extremely arduous and gruelling conditions to get all Australians who wanted to leave out of Lebanon.

What concerns me greatly is the evidence of dishonesty in the reporting out of Lebanon. For example, a Reuters photographer was forced to resign after doctoring images to exaggerate the impact of Israeli air attacks. There were the widely-reported claims that Israel had bombed deliberately a Red Cross ambulance. In subsequent weeks, the world has discovered those allegations do not stand up to even the most rudimentary scrutiny. After closer study of the images of the damage to the ambulance, it is beyond serious dispute that this episode has all the makings of a hoax. Yet some of the world's most prestigious media outlets, including some of those represented here today, ran that story as fact - unchallenged, unquestioned.

Similarly, there has been the tendency to report every casualty on the Lebanese side of the conflict as if a civilian casualty, when it was indisputable that a great many of those injured or killed in Israeli offensives were armed Hezbollah combatants.

My point is this: in a grown-up society such as our own, the media cannot expect to get away with parading falsehoods as truths, or ignoring salient facts because they happen to be inconvenient to the line of argument - or narrative - that particular journalists, or media organisations, might choose to adopt on any given controversy or issue.

This is not just a politician complaining. The public is onto this. Your readers and viewers are not fools. They talk about these things in pubs and clubs. And I would venture to say that these lapses in accuracy, the distortion of images and the failure to report the straight facts, has made it that much harder a job for the Western media to restore its credibility in the public mind.

Sixty five per cent of the department's 10,000 annual media enquiries with the media relate to consular issues. And while I can understand the demands on journalists and editors to get the story, I also make no apology for the fact that my first responsibility is a consular responsibility for the Australians affected. We run a consular service, not a media service. And we have privacy concerns that must be respected. What we can do sometimes is help the process by working with the family to get a statement or a well-chosen photo that can be used in the press, while at the same time ensuring that they are afforded the decency and respect we all deserve in times of crisis.

Foreign policy is a complex area and it's important to Australia that the media get the story right, which is mostly the case. To help accuracy, senior Departmental staff last year gave more than 130 background briefings to individual journalists and 20 general media briefings. We can't always give a briefing when we're asked. For example, in the lead-up to sensitive negotiations we can't publicly reveal our hand. But where we can give a briefing, we will. We also make a big effort to ensure that the material on our website is comprehensive and up to date.

And for the sake of clarity, let me reinforce what I've said already, a free media, whatever its shortcomings, is as important to society as the executive, legislature or judiciary. But that freedom comes with responsibilities. Standards of decency and respect for others and self-restraint are clearly important elements for the media to consider. Freedom cannot be unqualified and cannot operate without regard to the effect on others. We see this in restrictions on reporting of matters before the courts, for example.

In my view, the Danish cartoons of last year crossed those boundaries. Now, I absolutely defend the right of publishers to print this material. But publishers also need to be mindful of the implications of their actions. In this case, I think it was unfortunate that the Danish newspaper published these offensive cartoons in the first place. I was glad to see that only one or two Australian papers re-published the cartoons. Of course I utterly condemn the violent reactions to the cartoons.


To conclude my remarks, I'd like to come back to my main point, that the values that underpin a free press also underpin our wider foreign policy. As a free press, you will claim the right to report it as you see it, unsentimentally, even when that might cause problems for the execution of our foreign policy, or for our image abroad. But we who have responsibilities in government also have the right to call it as we see it - and to point out that, even in the most free of societies, the first duty of a responsible media is to get the facts straight, and to get the story right, even when that story might not necessarily conform to your own opinions or prejudices.


Police chases forbidden by the Leftist State government of Queensland

Police have been ordered not to chase some suspected drink drivers under a trial that forbids police from using "gut feeling". The strategy, aimed at reducing dangerous high-speed chases, will also force police to abandon pursuits once they enter the trial districts of Redcliffe and Toowoomba. Under the 12-month trial from October 1, police will no longer be "justified" to chase a driver who fails to pull over for licence, vehicle or street checks; impromptu random breath tests (excluding RBT sites); suspicious or suspect behaviour "based on officer instinct alone"; and all simple offences.

The new safe driving policy, sparked after concerns raised by state coroner Michael Barnes and a report by the Crime and Misconduct Commission in 2003, has infuriated some traffic police, who believe the trial will put lives at risk. One unnamed veteran officer said once "grubs" worked out that police could not give chase they would drive straight to Toowoomba or Redcliffe. He argued many serious offenders had been arrested and charged from routine police checks sparked by gut feelings.

Although police will be able to pursue a driver "reasonably suspected" of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, the policy stipulates it must be to such a degree that the "suspected impairment has or will create circumstances that pose an imminent, significant risk to public safety". The trial could go statewide if successful.

Coalition police spokesman Vaughan Johnson accused the State Government of interfering in operational police duties and putting people's lives at risk. "This is the Government playing with the lives of ordinary Queenslanders by not allowing police to be police officers," Mr Johnson said. "Instead they are being ordered to be social workers by this current Labor administration. "This shows again how politicised the police service has become and that is certainly not what the equation of police and government is all about."

A police spokesman said all officers working within the two trial districts would be required to comply with the policy. "During the trial, however, if an officer in a non-trial area is engaged in a pursuit which moves into a trial area, they must also comply with the trial policy," the spokesman said. "The main objective of this trial is to find the right balance between ensuring that laws are upheld and public safety remains paramount." In 2003, a CMC report found that traffic/driving offences were the most common reasons for pursuits. Almost all of the pursued drivers were male, at least three-quarters were under 30 years old and a substantial proportion were unlicensed and had consumed alcohol or drugs.


Leftist Australian State governments are desperate to placate the Greens

When you see a pack of suits in the midday sun on Sydney's Bondi Beach it's safe to assume they are either real estate agents or politicians. Either way, they're selling something. And so it was when NSW Premier Morris Iemma and Victorian Deputy Premier John Thwaites were joined by South Australian Premier Mike Rann to launch a discussion paper on a state-based greenhouse gas emissions-trading scheme. In hindsight, they might have been better off parading their latest green credentials in the grungy inner-west of King Street, Newtown, or its parallel universe on Brunswick Street in Melbourne. Because their carefully weighted support for emissions trading is pitched squarely at the inner-city latte belt of Australia's two biggest cities, where the Greens are eating Labor alive.

Arresting and reversing this urban greenslide without causing collateral damage to their suburban heartland is a tricky but increasingly important objective for the Steve Bracks and Iemma governments as they head to the polls. As social commentator and author Bernard Salt observes, the social, economic and environmental aspirations of the suburban majority and the vocal minority of the progressive inner-city elites are diverging at such a rate that it is becoming impossible for any one political party to appeal to both. "By the next decade I think the divisions would have (become) too big," Salt says. "The weight of numbers over time will mean the two will make uncomfortable bedfellows, and that means there must be divorce. This can only augur well for the Greens."

This divide is no more apparent than on the landmark environmental issue of climate change. However you cut it, reducing greenhouse emissions will increase the cost of energy. Lower-emission energy sources and technologies are all more expensive than existing ones. If they were cheaper we would switch today. The discussion paper estimates the price of capping emissions to 1997 levels will result in higher domestic electricity bills of more than $100 a year. Beyond these household impacts, the national impact of emissions cuts is likely to be uneven: acute in industrial regions such as the La Trobe Valley and Geelong, the Hunter and Illawarra, and less noticeable in the inner cities.

Largely bereft of airconditioners and mostly detached from industrial Australia, the relatively affluent progressives from the inner city are demanding accelerated action on greenhouse gases, among other issues. They are venting at the ballot box and switching their allegiance from Labor to the Greens. As ABC election analyst Antony Green points out, the Greens are hurting Labor in a multitude of ways. Their primary vote in both states is tracking at nearly 10 per cent. In the mortgage belt it is in single digits, but in inner Melbourne and Sydney it is nearly 30 per cent. Labor candidates in these seats are fending off the Greens as their No.1 rival or dependent on Greens preferences to get over the line. Green said that as the Greens devour Labor's inner-city heartland, they are also siphoning active and educated Labor members and campaign workers while delivering a big chunk of the votes needed to establish themselves as a genuine force in each state's upper house.

Election analyst Malcolm Mackerras predicts the Greens will win three seats in the next Victorian Legislative Council and four in NSW. So while Bracks (almost certain) and Iemma (increasingly likely) appear set to be returned to power, both face the uneasy prospect of seeing the Greens holding the balance of power in their upper houses. Green says the Greens are likely to be increasingly prickly customers to deal with because their policy positions are simultaneously unfettered by having to govern and contrary by nature. "They are the party of permanent opposition," he says.

An added concern is the optional preferential voting system in NSW which means that Green preferences do not automatically flow back to Labor, as they tend to in other states. Sustaining sufficient appeal to these dissatisfied Labor voters to hang on to their preferences will be an important part of Labor's election strategy. Former Labor national secretary Bob McMullan observed the best way of marginalising the rise of independents and minor parties was to maximise the difference between the major parties on defining issues, including climate change. "When people say there is no difference between Labor and Liberals then this is a good climate for independents and minor parties," McMullan says. "If the contrast between Labor and Liberal on global warming is so stark then being the third force becomes less relevant."

Which brings us back to Bondi. While implementing a state-based emissions-trading scheme would be complex, dependent on protracted negotiations over a number of years and not without considerable political and economic pain, talking about one is a lot easier. For Iemma and Thwaites, the elegant political theatre of Bondi was all about staging a noble defeat. Without the support of Canberra, implementing such a scheme at the state level would require the unanimous backing of every state government. Even one dissenter would be enough to ensure the discussion would be short. The blueprint of a state-based scheme took the National Emissions Trading Taskforce more than two years to develop, and the two resource-rich fast-growth states of Queensland and Western Australia less than four hours to kill.

Cue WA Premier Alan Carpenter. With the very first dorothy dixer in his parliament's question time that afternoon, he threw the switch. "If it is regarded as disadvantaging Western Australia, we will not be a part of it. I believe there is at least one other state that has the same view," he said. "I would want an assurance that any trading scheme would not negatively affect the state's capacity to rely on energy sources such as coal ... I have not seen that level of support indicated so far."

The other state was, of course, Queensland. Premier Peter Beattie, already a self-confessed troglodyte on the issue, said that afternoon that he supported emissions trading in principle, but only on the impossible proviso that clean coal technology was in place and would mitigate against electricity price increases and therefore job losses for Queenslanders. Beattie neatly sidestepped the practical reality that clean coal technology is still under development, with 2015 touted as its earliest commercial start date possible in Australia. He also carefully ignored the other fundamental about clean coal: that like all other lower-emission technologies, its use would still cost considerably more than Queensland's present electricity supply. As politely as he put it, that was still another no.

The Greens are causing headaches for Labor in the run-up to the September 9 Queensland election. On Sunday they announced they would deny preferences to Labor in key marginal seats because of their displeasure over some headline environmental issues. Optional preferential voting in Queensland means the Greens vote in these seats will not flow to Labor. In 1995, a similar tactic contributed to the defeat of the Wayne Goss government.

Of course, the states had already played their hand at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in July. To ensure the issue wasn't going to awkwardly bind any state government position, the original emissions-trading green paper owned by them had been downgraded to a more theoretical discussion paper owned by the taskforce. Timing was also key. Comments on the paper are due before Christmas, just after the Victorian poll in November and before the NSW election in March. Enough time to have a discussion but nowhere near enough time to make a decision.

The politicisation of emissions trading in Australia has elevated it to watershed status in the present environmental vernacular. Like the Kyoto Protocol before it, there is a perception that support or opposition casts protagonists on to either side of some apparent greenhouse policy divide. This is somewhat overstated. Placing a cap on emissions and trading the right to emit them is widely considered the most efficient and lowest cost method possible to achieve a specified national rate of emissions.

Prime Minister John Howard does not oppose emissions trading in principle. After presenting his energy plan at a Committee for Economic Development of Australia lunch in Sydney last month, he said what he was opposed to was Australia heading down this policy path without the rest of the world. This was echoed by the Allen Consulting Group report in March in its assessment of the impacts of deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions commissioned by the Business Roundtable on Climate Change. The report stated that "any large-scale unilateral action by Australia would constitute bad policy in that it would impose significant costs on the community while having a negligible impact on climate change".

As the European Union has discovered the hard way, getting political support for emissions trading is a snack compared to the operational difficulties of making it work. In 2000 the EU voted to start trading in January 2005. At least, that was the idea. It was hoped trading would help EU member states meet emissions targets, but while it is early days, its scheme has to date proved both expensive and ineffective. In the first three-year phase, national laws have been implemented piecemeal, while the complex regime of registries to track and monitor the emissions and trades are still, at best, partial. Several member countries arbitrarily increased the number of emissions permits to such a degree that allocations exceeded emissions in 2005.

The big loser was Britain, which was silly enough to set tough targets from the outset while its continental neighbours have been far more lenient. As a result, it is estimated Britain will need to spend pound stg. 1.5billion ($3.74billion) over three years to buy surplus permits from across the channel.

Compliance with the administrative and regulatory targets for the second phase, supposed to start in 2008, is also falling behind schedule. There have been further concerns about the high administrative cost of the scheme, particularly for smaller companies, and complaints from all sides about how the emissions permits have been allocated. Architects of the domestic states-based scheme claim they have had the benefit of learning from Europe's many mistakes in drafting their model. Importantly, both industry and environmental groups agree that whatever the political motives behind its release or its likelihood of success, the indigenous discussion paper has served to advance thinking about how Australia might manage its greenhouse gas emissions in the future.


Australia now educating lots of Brits

That their own government cannot afford to educate

For most British youngsters, Australia and New Zealand are unbeatable places to while away a gap year. But now increasing numbers are being lured Down Under to further their education. Since 2002 the number of British students seeking to study at under and postgraduate level there has risen by more than a third, with more than 6,250 studying there last year alone. This year, as 53,000 students look unlikely to gain places at British universities, five leading antipodean institutions are offering scholarships to encourage them to look farther afield.

Sports sciences, health sciences and Asian studies have attracted British students in the past, but now people who want to study medicine or veterinary science but have failed to gain a place at a university in Britain are considering the move, says Kathleen Devereux, from the Australian Trade Commission. "You'd think of the UK market as being a fairly mature market, but we have had 12 per cent year-on-year growth from 2002 to 2005, which is extraordinary," she said.

With Australian fees averaging between 4,800 and 10,000 pounds a year, payable each term, the courses are more expensive than those in England, which has 3,000 pound fees payable on graduation. Fees for degrees in medicine, dentistry and veterinary sciences are higher still. But with lower living costs, a strong pound, and thirteen Australian and three New Zealand universities in the world top 200 universities, according to the Times Higher Education Supplement, they are a big draw. "Tuition fees bring into parity the cost of going to a British or Australian university at undergraduate level. The fees in Australia are higher, but the living expenses are much less, so it's an attractive alternative," Ms Devereux said.

Of the 3,888 British students in Australia last year, more than half were undergraduates. By June this year 3,328 students had registered.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Politically correct Play School exploits kids

It's no exaggeration to say that generations of Australian children and young parents have grown up with the ABC's Play School. Whether it was Big Ted, Little Ted, Noni or Benita, Lorraine, John or Don, viewers of all ages found some character they could identify with over the 40 years of its existence. But the harmless happy-family content has fallen victim to the nauseating politically-correct agenda that drives so much of the ABC's news and current affairs programming on radio and television.

ABC Children's Television head Claire Henderson says Play School owes its success to the fact "we respect the child, we respect the audience. We don't patronise, we don't exploit them, we don't preach to them, we don't talk down to them. We will always have the nursery rhymes and things children know and love, but the program will always be a program for today."

Except it isn't. The show does patronise kids, it does exploit them, it does preach to them, it does talk down to them and it doesn't have the nursery rhymes the children know and love, it has bowdlerised humbug that the ABC's in-house ideologists know and love. Take Play School's recent treatment of the classic nursery rhyme Baa Baa Black Sheep, for example, as rendered by Christine Anu and an associate, which began:

"Ba Ba Woolly Sheep/Have you any wool?
Yes, O, Yes, O/Three bags full. One for the jumper/And one for the socks," etc, etc.

You get the drift. Black sheep are out, as probably are diminutive people of the male gender, but the reader who sent this in was so bemused by the attempt to scour any possibly offensive material from the nursery rhyme that she didn't pay attention to the rest of the verses. But if black sheep have been magically erased, it seems likely that words such as "master", "dame" and "sir" have also been banned for fear of upsetting the sensitivities of the ABC's young audience.

This sort of hamfisted attempt to induce culturally anodyne thinking into the minds of youngsters would be laughable were it not of a piece with the efforts of the trade union movement and the ALP to ensure that organised Labor's messages, too, are pushed upon malleable young minds. Having exposed Labor's "real life" cases campaign against the Howard Government's industrial reforms as bogus, The Daily Telegraph can also reveal that the union movement is asking teachers to assist it in wooing school students to its cause with a campaign based on xenophobia and outdated class war materials.

Just as parents should pay more heed to Play School's rewriting of the classics of nursery, it would also pay them to monitor the "factsheets", "case studies" and other resources provided for teachers on Labornet's UnionTeach website. With union membership rapidly eroding, the diehards are trying to staunch the flow and save their jobs by pandering to youthful insecurities with scenarios designed to create fear and insecurity. In a "case study" of "globalisation, redundancy and Australian workers", for example, "Ben", a network administrator in his 50s who has been in the telecommunications industry for the past 20 years is advised by a new manager that all jobs in his team's field are to be declared vacant and staff must reapply for their positions. At the same time there is also an announcement that about "300 jobs in the company are going to be performed from India". The discussion points suggested for the lesson include "What are the advantages and disadvantages of union membership in a call centre?" and "How could the union assist in dealing with workplace conflict?"

Suggested activities include calling the ACTU for a call centre charter on workplace rights and responsibilities, designing a brochure promoting the role and benefits of a union in a call centre, developing a pamphlet or poster showing how to contact call centre unions, and watching a video titled Working it Out: ACTU. In the proposed group activity, the teacher role-plays with the students as the call-centre employer and changes the conditions of work by setting time-limits or quotas on simple tasks, "students complete tasks and teacher pressures them. Conflict is created."

There are laws designed to protect the young and impressionable from perverted adults who target them for sexual abuse. This campaign and the pap served up by the ABC's Play School would suggest that there should be laws protecting them from adults who want to rape them intellectually. The new workplace reforms contain specific protections for young workers, in addition to those which cover employees generally, and concerned parents can contact the Office of the Employment Advocate.

The ALP's media arm, the ABC, is well-known for its ducking and weaving whenever its core ideologies are challenged, from its recent biased Behind the News program on Hezbollah's attacks on Israel, to its four-year refusal to admit that the Palestinian groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah are terrorist organisations. ALP or ABC, it doesn't matter. The exploitation of young people is rife with misinformation, disinformation and blatant untruths and propagandising being foisted on unsuspecting minds. The young must be able to learn without having their minds mortgaged to politically-correct causes by their teachers and agenda-driven institutions.


The current education system is hard on teachers too

The quality of teaching has seriously deteriorated in the most critical areas of literacy and numeracy. As a school head I have seen for myself that teachers are not as literate as they used to be. I have given up as teachers continually make errors in written communications to students and parents, and in school newsletters. In speech, fuzzy thinking results from their confusion of subject and verb, illogical prepositions and no longer amusing malapropisms. Vocabularies bled and logic was wounded.

Now we have evidence I am not just a boring old pedant. Andrew Leigh and Chris Ryan's welcome research, which appeared in these pages yesterday, has done education a great service by providing an evidence base for what school heads and employers already know: the quality of teaching has seriously deteriorated in the most critical areas of literacy and numeracy, and therefore in primary education, science, technology and other subjects.

Let me defend teachers. They too are victims of deteriorating school systems. Only a handful remains whose school education predates the 1960s and '70s, when teaching was overcome by a fashion for coddling children. Don't correct errors: you might damage their little psyches and destroy their self-esteem. Don't tell them what to write about: it's undemocratic. Let them express themselves. We call their efforts creative.

The distinction between self-expression and communication was lost. Self-expression can take place without an audience. Communication requires compliance with the niceties of spelling, punctuation (including apostrophes) and diction that are also understood by the audience. The ability to structure a line of thought is gained through lots of writing practice to establish clear thinking: it requires knowledge about the subject. That is, communication requires discipline, academic and personal. Today's teachers cannot teach what they have not been taught.

Younger teachers also copped postmodernism. Before they had learned to read thoroughly and carefully and to love reading (whether fiction, history or science), they were taught to be sceptical of everything and wary of giving it value in their own lives. They were made to see literature, history and science through "frames" of feminism, Marxism, racism and who knows what else. The frame mattered but there was not much of a picture in it as syllabuses lost content and no longer required students to have substantial knowledge of facts, names, dates and events.

A young person's search for vicarious human experience and understanding was distorted by the views of others before they learned to follow story and character development effectively. The view was through adult frames rather than the framework of childhood or adolescence. Teachers cannot now teach what they do not know. Many complain of the difficulty of finding a "good secretary like we used to have". Teachers, like secretaries, are traditionally women. I celebrate that women now have the full range of career choices but one consequence is that we no longer can rely on a large enough supply of talented women to populate our teaching positions.

Leigh and Ryan have shown the impact of what is otherwise a welcome social change. And men? Men are a valuable but rare species in education; it takes courage to be a male teacher. A closed door can ruin a career. An adolescent girl might make allegations that will never wash away. Suspicion lurks. Can a male teacher comfort a crying child? How do you teach gymnastics or tennis without touching? It is difficult enough for women in this climate of lewd suspicion. Wouldn't you rather be an accountant?

Schools are no longer havens. Guns and knives are not common, but regrettably they are far from unknown in schools, whether brought by students or by invaders of the premises. Students who threaten teachers directly or by innuendo prevent effective teaching and obliterate the teacher's motivation. Almost any reaction from the teacher or school head will be wrong by the time it gets to the front page. Failure to break up a fight is a failure of duty of care. If a teacher physically separates two warring children, they might reap a charge of assault with the possibility of never working with children again. After victory in court, who will resurrect the career and reputation of the teacher? Wouldn't you rather be a lawyer?

Teachers are increasingly powerless and vulnerable. Some parents defend their children no matter what the allegation and the evidence. It is extraordinarily time-consuming, emotionally taxing and increasingly difficult to help children in trouble or investigate alleged misbehaviour. The school can't search lockers or school bags, can't question students without parents being present and can't separate presumed malefactors. By the time action is taken, the problem has blown out of all proportion and parents have called in lawyers. It is easier to avoid the challenge; behaviour in schools gets worse. Wouldn't you rather be a doctor?


Sugary drinks pulled out of schools

Soft drink manufacturers will remove sugared drinks from school canteens and stop advertising directly to children in a major overhaul of beverage marketing. The Australian Beverage Council today unveiled tough new guidelines in response to increasing pressure to alleviate childhood obesity. The policy was signed by almost all major bottlers of non-alcoholic carbonated, non-carbonated, juice and water-based drinks, and will be introduced over two years. Measures include the removal of all sugar-sweetened drinks from primary school canteens and supply to high schools only on request. The companies also propose to not advertise any such products directly to primary school-age children or in TV programs watched primarily by children. So-called diet drinks would not be included in the bans.

The companies also would relabel products to declare kilojoule content on the front and additional nutritional information on the back. Australian Beverages Council chief executive Tony Gentile said the changes were designed to help manage the complex public health issue of obesity. "With this document, the beverage industry is flagging to both consumers and Government that we see ourselves very much as part of the solution in assisting consumers in making informed choices," Mr Gentile said. "Through these policies, I believe that the Australian Beverages Industry is now clearly and unambiguously indicating to the community its commitment to both its customers and to the wider community."

The document, called Commitment Addressing Obesity and Other Health and Wellness Issues, includes nine major initiatives. Others include increasing the range of low calorie products, encouraging downsizing of portion size to avoid over-consumption and boosting educational programs. The companies also pledged to conduct independent research on consumer behaviour to encourage healthier lifestyles


Criminal doctors OK by the "regulators"

It was a brutal crime, committed by a drug addict with a long history of erratic behaviour. The accused had already lost several jobs as a result of his drug addiction, and he was allegedly becoming increasingly violent. On November 3, 2000, the Queensland man dragged a woman into a bedroom, bashing her as she screamed and attempted to escape. He forcibly removed her clothes and raped her. In 2002 he pleaded guilty to rape, deprivation of liberty and assault and was sentenced to five years' jail.

However, the case stands apart from other cases of sexual assault because the rapist is a doctor, and last month the Medical Board of Queensland renewed his registration. James Samuel Manwaring had previously been struck off the register in the mid-1990s after a psychiatric evaluation found "he constitutes a significant danger to any patient he may have to look after".

However, Manwaring is not the only doctor in Australia with a criminal conviction. Two weeks ago, another Queensland doctor had his registration cancelled after it was revealed he failed to disclose a previous rape conviction. In 1981 Eugene Sherry and two other doctors were convicted of raping a nurse in the US. Sherry was imprisoned for six months and moved to Australia in 1984, and worked in Sydney for 20 years. His 2004 application to work in Queensland was approved under a process that allows doctors to be mutually registered in other states. Sherry disclosed the conviction to the NSW Medical Board, but when he moved to Queensland the NSW board did not inform its Queensland counterpart, and nor did he.

The cases illustrate weaknesses in Australia's fragmented medical registration system and raise the question: should doctors convicted of sexual assault be allowed to practise? In many instances, medical boards allow doctors found guilty of sexual assault to continue to practise if they are closely supervised, or a "chaperone" is present during consultations.

The NSW Medical Board decided last year that a cosmetic surgeon charged with aggravated sexual assault on a patient could continue to practise as long as a nurse was present when he examined female patients. However, Joanna Flynn, president of the Australian Medical Council - which assesses overseas-trained doctors and accredits medical colleges - told The Australian that doctors who cannot be trusted to treat patients unsupervised should be struck off the register. Flynn, who also is president of the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria, says "if a determining body believes it is necessary to have a doctor chaperoned because they are not confident the patient would be safe, in my view that doctor should not be registered. "Patients must be able to trust their doctor. They may want to question the doctor on medical information, but they need to be able to trust they won't be mistreated by the doctor."

The Australian Medical Association's Queensland president Zelle Hodge says the idea of supervising doctors with a criminal past is fine in theory, but almost impossible to implement. She says medical boards and organisations that employ medical staff don't have the time to consistently monitor doctors. "The medical boards simply do not have the resources to go out and police these restrictions," Hodge says. "It's up to the doctor's employer to monitor the doctor's performance and make sure they are supervised, and sometimes that doesn't happen."

In a case currently before the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria, a GP is facing suspension for a second time over allegations he conducted a pap smear that was more "sexual than medical", while making sexually suggestive comments to the patient. The GP, Richard George Young, had his licence suspended for 15 months in 2001 after engaging in sexual relationships with two vulnerable female patients. His licence was renewed on the condition a chaperone be present when he examined female patients.

NSW Medical Board chief executive Andrew Dix defended the use of chaperones to monitor doctors who had committed serious offences. But he admitted the system did not guarantee the doctor would not re-offend. "We have a comprehensive chaperoning protocol which requires the regular submission of the chaperone's reports to the board," he said. "But if doctors are determined to be dishonest, some will manage to get away with things." Dix says it's a balancing act to ensure the patient's right to the best possible care and the right of doctors to be given the opportunity to rehabilitate themselves. He says each case is assessed individually and there are no offences that automatically lead to a doctor being struck off the register. "There are doctors who have been struck off a long time ago who periodically apply for restoration who are denied. "But historically the system has been based on the idea that people are able to redeem their character. And there are no black and white rules about what constitutes good character."

However, some argue that while doctors may have the right to a second chance, the public has a right to know if their doctor has a criminal record, or restrictions placed on their registration. Merilyn Walton, an associate professor of ethical practice at the University of Sydney's school of medicine, says patients should be notified if their doctor has been disciplined by a medical board. "Doctors should be required to put a notice in their waiting room saying they are supposed to be supervised," she says. "If I was a patient of that doctor, I would want to know."

Flynn believes all the details of a doctor's registration should be easily assessable to the public. However, Australia does not have a national medical register. Rather, each state has its own slightly different system of assessing and registering medical staff. In April 2004 all the state health ministers announced that a nationally consistent medical registration system, called the Australian Index of Medical Practitioners, would be introduced. The ministers agreed the new model should provide greater public access to medical register information, including an online index of medical practitioners. Two years later the states still operate independently and there's been little progress in improving public access to medical board information. Currently only the medical boards in Queensland, South Australia and the ACT have websites that provide detailed information about doctors' registration.

Walton says most medical boards have failed to inform patients about the medical registration process. "The big challenge for medical boards is to improve the level of transparency of their processes so the community understands how and why they make decisions. The public need to be engaged in the discussion about what standards they want."

The failings of the state-by-state system were highlighted in March this year, when it was revealed that the Hunter New England Area Health Service in NSW waited almost 18 months before investigating an overseas-trained doctor banned elsewhere in the state for misdiagnosing 208 patients in 2004. Farid Zaer, a pathologist trained in India and the US, was banned by the Illawarra Area Health Service in April 2004 after a review of 6300 patient records found he had failed to correctly analyse tests for many diseases, including cancer. In late 2004 it notified the Hunter New England Area Health Service, where the doctor had worked between 1999 and 2001, that it was investigating him. The Hunter service did not begin to review the records of 7300 patients diagnosed by Zaer until March this year.

The doctor has since moved to Queensland, where he is registered to practise unsupervised as a GP and as a pathologist under strict supervision. The case again prompted calls for the establishment of an Australian index of medical practitioners that would record whether doctors have been disciplined by any of the state medical boards, or had any restrictions placed on their practice.

Walton believes the mutual recognition process allows doctors of questionable character or ability to move interstate and continue to practise. "We have mutual recognition, but it caters to the lowest common denominator," she says. "So if one state is weak around disciplinary matters, then that person can be registered in other states based on a weak disciplinary structure. There is also a lack of exchange between regulatory boards and the community. I can't believe we don't have a national registration system yet."

In July, the Council of Australian Governments meeting announced medical boards would be abolished and replaced with a single national registration scheme covering nine health professional groups. For the plan to proceed, each state and territory would have to introduce legislation. The proposal overrides the Australian Medical Council's plan to revamp the existing medical board registration system. The AMC had wanted to give every doctor an identifying number that would allow their details to be accessed through a national register.

Flynn says she is unclear about the details of the proposed specialist registers and what impact they would have on the AMC's plan. Whatever plan is eventually implemented, she is adamant that it must give patients better access to doctors' details. "The public has a right to know if there are conditions on a doctor's registration or if there have been serious disciplinary or criminal offences proven against the doctor," Flynn says. "It's long overdue."


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Australian teachers getting dumber

Teachers are not as smart as they were 20 years ago, an Australian-first study concludes in a finding that will reinforce concerns over declining classroom standards. An analysis of literacy and numeracy tests confirms the standard of student teachers has fallen substantially and that dwindling numbers of the nation's brightest students are choosing teaching as a career.

The academic calibre of teachers has been shown to have a direct effect on students' results, with US research finding that a shift to smarter teachers raises student performance. The Australian study by economists Andrew Leigh and Chris Ryan from the Australian National University finds the failure of teachers' pay to keep pace with other professions and the fact that teachers are not paid on merit are key factors in the decline of standards.

The biggest change has been in the number of smart women becoming teachers. The study says the academic achievement of women entering teaching has declined substantially. While 11 per cent of women who scored in the top 25 per cent of literacy and numeracy tests in 1983 chose to become a teacher, this had dropped to 6 per cent in 2003. The average woman entering teaching in 1983 was in the top 30 per cent of test results and this dropped to the top 49 per cent by 2003. Overall, in 1983 the average teaching student was drawn from the top 26 per cent of the nation's students but this had widened to the top 39 per cent by 2003.

Dr Leigh said using literacy and numeracy tests was the best proxy available for assessing teachers' academic abilities. "Academic results aren't everything in a teacher; we all know good teachers who aren't academic," Dr Leigh said. "But if all else is equal, you'd rather have the people standing at the front of the classroom being the ones who did well in literacy and numeracy tests. If they do very badly on these tests, it's hard to see how they can teach children the same things."

Dr Leigh said teaching had lost its status as one of the best paying careers for women. While 49 per cent of female university graduates became teachers in the 1960s, by the 1990s only 12 per cent chose it as a career. The rise in salaries of high-ability women in alternative occupations is believed to account for about one-quarter of the decline in teacher quality. The study says that over the 20-year period, the average starting salary of a teacher fell in real terms and compared to other professions. Teachers' pay fell 4 per cent for women and 13 per cent for men in real terms but relative to graduates entering other professions, starting teachers' pay fell 11 per cent for women and 17 per cent for men.

The study suggests that the solution lies in introducing merit-based pay for teachers, which would be more cost effective than across-the-board pay rises to make teaching a more attractive career. Dr Leigh said that the rest of the labour market paid according to ability and was further away from uniform pay schedules than ever before. "Governments have grasped that when it comes to paying senior public servants. They created SES (Senior Executive Service) because government had to compete with businesses for the best management talent and they understood what businesses were doing had an impact on government," he said. "We haven't grasped the same parallel with teaching."

National president of the Australian Education Union Pat Byrne said women had less scope for careers 20 or 25 years ago, when teaching was one of the best paid jobs open to women. Ms Byrne said the answer was to raise teachers salaries across the board rather than introduce merit-based pay.


Muslim fear of femininity again

A Melbourne Muslim girl condemned by Islamic leaders for entering a beauty pageant has defied protests to be shortlisted for the Victorian final. Ayten Ahmet, 16, advanced to the top 26 of Miss Teen Australia yesterday despite an outcry from Victoria's senior Muslims. The Year 11 student said she entered the pageant to fulfil her modelling ambition, and was surprised by the objections. Parents Salih and Sarah Ahmet said their daughter was a typical teenager, and her faith was irrelevant to the contest.

Miss Ahmet, from Craigieburn, beat hundreds of hopefuls at an open casting session at Federation Square. A spokesman for Melbourne cleric Sheik Mohammed Omran last week branded the competition, which involves swimsuit parades, as a "slur on Islam". And Victorian Islamic leader Yasser Soliman said the contest did not conform with the teachings of the Koran.

Ms Ahmet, who plans to combine modelling with an accounting degree, said the criticism was disappointing and unnecessary. "I thought it would be good experience and an opportunity to have a bit of fun," she said. "The cameras are something I love."

Sherene Hassan, executive committee member of the Islamic Council of Victoria, said Sheik Omran's comments were unfair. "He is entitled to his opinion, but people should be aware he does not represent the mainstream Muslim community," she said. Ms Hassan said she felt beauty contests were exploitative, but she supported Ms Ahmet's right to make her own choice. Ms Hassan said she never judged women by the clothes they wore.

Mr Ahmet said the family respected their religion, but his daughter was entitled to participate. "We are not flying any flags, we are Australians first and foremost," Mr Ahmet said. "We live in a democracy, we respect the religion as well, and they are good kids and come from a good upbringing."

Two girls from next month's Victorian final will go on to the national final. The winner will represent us at Miss Teen World. Miss Teen Australia Victorian manager Carley Downward said she was surprised by the uproar.


Now it's a radiology scandal in Queensland public hospitals

Peter Beattie's major health promise of the election campaign - a new $700 million children's hospital - has been marred by a fresh scandal affecting thousands of patients. Mr Beattie yesterday said a re-elected Labor Government would build a new 400-bed children's hospital next to the existing Mater Children's, with most of the services now offered by the Royal Children's Hospital to move to the new facility from 2011.

But the announcement has been overshadowed by news that a prominent doctor who starred in Government advertising on plans to fix Queensland's ailing health system has now turned whistleblower, exposing deep flaws in the state's radiology services. Royal Australian College of Radiologists president Liz Kenny has revealed thousands of X-rays, ultrasounds, MRI and CT scans ordered for public hospital patients are never seen or assessed by a radiologist. Dr Kenny, who works for Queensland Health, has told The Courier-Mail that critical radiology workforce shortages mean thousands of X-ray results are only seen by GPs, most of whom are untrained at assessing and diagnosing the results. The situation means patients are at risk of having conditions, such as cancers, tumours or fractures left undiagnosed.

The revelations about the state of the hospital system threatens to derail Labor's so-far trouble-free election campaign. Coalition health spokesman Bruce Flegg said the situation was putting lives at risk. "With these sorts of numbers going through you are going to miss things that cost people their lives," he said.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said there was an international shortage of specialists, especially radiologists. "But through the $1 billion worth of salary improvements, Queensland is now competitive in the recruitment market for radiologists and Queensland Health is working to fill vacant positions," he said.

Dr Kenny said about 500,000 scans were "unreported" at any one time and the extent of those never seen by radiologists only became evident in the past three months. "The magnitude of what is unreported is staggering." Dr Kenny said patients whose scans are not seen by a radiologist did not benefit from their expertise. "It leaves a substantial hole in the management of the patients," she said. Official hospital figures obtained by the Coalition reveal the problem is widespread in both urban and regional areas.

Toowoomba Hospital is the worst in the state with 80 per cent of x-rays and other scans never reported on by a radiologist. Other hospitals which have significant numbers of unreported scans include Gold Coast (56 per cent), Hervey Bay (66 per cent), Royal Brisbane Womans Hospital (49 per cent), Townsville (35 per cent) and Warwick (50 per cent).

A recent survey of 270 Queensland Health radiographers also found 63 per cent plan to resign within six months, a move likely to cause a blowout in waiting times for routine X-rays by Christmas. "With the staffing levels already under pressure, this reduction in professional numbers will result in significant cutbacks in all services, such as x-rays, breast screening and diagnostic imaging for cancer at the majority of Queensland public hospitals," he said. One radiographer said: "We just don't have the people to help all those trapped on the waiting lists."


Hate speech trial now underway in Australia

Is it hate speech to quote what the Koran says? The State of Victoria seems to think it is

It is impossible to vilify Islam without also vilifying Muslims, because the two are indistinguishable, the Victorian Court of Appeal was told yesterday. "If one vilifies Islam, one is by necessary consequence vilifying people who hold that religious belief," Brind Woinarski, QC, told the court. Mr Woinarski was appearing for the Islamic Council of Victoria in the appeal by Christian group Catch the Fire Ministries and pastors Danny Nalliah and Daniel Scot against a finding under Victoria's religious hatred law that they vilified Muslims in 2002. The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act defines vilification as inciting hatred, serious contempt, revulsion or severe ridicule against a person or class of persons.

Cameron Macaulay, for the pastors, argued that the act explicitly confined the prohibition to vilifying persons, not the religion - otherwise it could operate as a law against blasphemy. Instead, it recognised one could hate the idea without hating the person.

Justice Geoffrey Nettle asked Mr Woinarski: "There must be intellectually a distinction between the ideas and those who hold them?" "We don't agree with that," Mr Woinarski said. "But in this case it's an irrelevant distinction, because Muslims and Islam were mishmashed up together." Justice Nettle: "Are you saying it's impossible to incite hatred against a religion without also inciting hatred against people who hold it?" Mr Woinarski: "Yes."

Mr Macaulay said orders by Judge Michael Higgins against the pastors to take out a newspaper advertisement apologising and not to repeat certain teachings were too wide, and beyond his powers under the act. He said it was surprising that the pastors could hold the beliefs but not express them. "They are restrained by law from suggesting or implying a number of things about what in their view the Koran teaches: that it preaches violence and killing, that women are of little value, that the God of Islam, Allah, is not merciful, that there is a practice of 'silent jihad' for spreading Islam, or that the Koran says Allah will remit the sins of martyrs. "Contentious or otherwise, these are opinions about Islam's doctrines and teaching. Statements of this kind are likely to offend and insult Muslims but their feelings are not relevant under the act." Mr Macaulay said the act burdened free speech, contravened international treaties Australia had signed and breached the Australian constitution.

The act, amended in May, has been controversial. Opponents rallied against it outside Parliament earlier this month, and some Christians vowed to make it an issue at the state election. This case has been monitored by Christian and Muslim groups overseas, and at one point Judge Higgins had to assure the Foreign Affairs Department he was not considering jailing the pastors after a flood of emails from America.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Cosmetic surgery ban: More Leftist paternalism from the government of New South Wales

Teenager will be banned from having Botox or collagen injections under sweeping changes aimed at reining in the burgeoning cosmetic surgery industry. The Sunday Telegraph can reveal the State Government is planning to introduce regulations making it more difficult for people under 18 to undergo purely cosmetic procedures.

The changes have been personally driven by Premier Morris Iemma, who was disturbed when Big Brother contestant Krystal Forscutt, 20, promoted her breast-enhancement surgery. His intervention follows instances of teenagers as young as 15 turning up in cosmetic-surgery clinics across Sydney, requesting "Jessica Simpson" noses, breast implants, liposuction and Botox and collagen injections. Under the proposed changes, teenagers will be required to obtain a referral from a GP before seeing a plastic surgeon - and to undergo counselling. Surgeons will require the consent of the teenager's parents and will be forced to offer a minimum one-month cooling-off period before a procedure can be undertaken.

Mr Iemma said serious debate was needed about whether cosmetic surgery was appropriate for teenagers. "As a parent of a young daughter, I have become increasingly concerned that society's obsession with the perfect female body is influencing too many, too young," he said. "We need to send a strong message that young women will be valued for who they are, not what they look like. It used to be the case that the biggest question parents faced was whether to give their children permission to have their ears pierced. "Then it was tattoos. But, increasingly, parents are being asked to fund breast implants or a nose job as birthday or graduation gifts."

No figures on procedures are kept in Australia, but surgeons say the trend is on the rise.According to the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, 326,000 cosmetic procedures in 2004 were on teenagers. They included 13,000 ear pinnings (otoplasty), almost 52,000 nose reshapings (rhinoplasty), nearly 4000 breast implants and 3000 liposuction procedures. In NSW, teenagers pay as much as $10,000 for breast implants and from $4000 to $7000 for nose jobs. Surgeons contacted by The Sunday Telegraph were concerned at the trend, which they said had been driven by "airbrushed" teenagers in magazines and reality shows. One surgeon said schoolgirls often arrived at his clinic clutching magazine clippings of celebrities such as Jennifer Lopez. Some teenagers viewed cosmetic surgery as an answer to low self-esteem and schoolyard bullying, he said.

The surgeons, all members of the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons, said most reputable doctors would not perform cosmetic surgery, other than otoplasty and rhinoplasty, on teenagers. But they conceded there were "cowboys" in the industry. Sydney plastic surgeon Tim Papadopoulos said the number of teenagers booked in for consultations for cosmetic surgery procedures had risen from one a month five years ago to one a week. Double Bay cosmetic surgeon Kourosh Tavakoli has received e-mails from girls as young as 13 pleading to have surgery. He said more parents today tended to encourage surgery. "I've also had a 15-year-old wanting breast augmentation. I won't do it on anyone still at school, but there are doctors who will."

Former Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons president Norm Olbourne said most of the teenagers who visited his Chatswood clinic wanted breast reductions and nose reshapings. "There are girls wanting breast enlargements, although I've never seen a girl under 18 wanting one who didn't come in holding her mother's hand," Dr Olbourne said.

Krystal Forscutt, who was 19 when she appeared on Big Brother, said she supported Mr Iemma's proposal for counselling under-18s. "I get young girls asking about my boob job. Some of them want me to recommend a doctor," she told The Sunday Telegraph. "But what I say to them is you can't get self-confidence from an operation. It comes from within." Ms Forscutt said she did not want to be seen as a poster girl for plastic surgery, despite having had a breast enhancement at 19. "It's a minute part of who I am. I'm more than just a pair of fake tits," the 20-year-old said. "It's major surgery, and there are side-effects. Because I got mine done so young, this isn't the end of it for me. I'll have three or four more operations as I get older."

People going overseas for cheap plastic surgery have been issued with a warning by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Australian embassies have reported a rise in calls from patients who suffered infections or complications after procedures.


Australian men are the good guys with women

They're obsessed with footy, love a beer and enjoy hanging out with their mates, but Aussie blokes are also among the most faithful in the world. An international survey of 40,000 men has revealed 60 per cent of Australian men have never strayed, ranking just behind the Germans and Poles at 62 per cent. The poll, for Men's Health magazine found Britons spent the most time on foreplay, but flopped when it came to endurance, with Mexicans coming first for stamina in the bedroom. South Korean men are having sex more times a week than anyone else in the world, while hot-blooded Brazilian men are at it with a wider range of women.

On average, South Koreans said they were having sex at least four times a week, while Filipinos were world-beaters at masturbation, doing it almost six times a week. Brazilians topped two categories, with 19 per cent saying they had had a threesome, which might help account for them having clocked up the most lovers, the internationally published fitness magazine said. British men spend or claim to spend an average of 17.44 minutes on foreplay per sex session, longer than Australians (17.2 mins), Germans (16.92 mins) and Mexicans (16.91 mins). But British men last only 18.64 minutes from foreplay to climax, far behind the Mexicans (23.17 minutes) and the Dutch (22.42 minutes).

Women might want to keep an eye out for an Italian lover 60 per cent of Italian men said they made their partner climax every time.


Do-gooder idiocy

Childcare workers have been instructed not to use the words "no" and "don't" because it is feared they will stunt a child's development. The terms "good boy" and "good girl" are also frowned on as they are considered sexist. The rules -- taught to childcare students -- have angered Australian Family Association campaigners, who say it's another example of out-of-control political correctness. And some childcare workers fear the guidelines are not allowing "children to be children" and refuse to obey them.

The controversial rules are part of the nationally-accredited TAFE Certificate III in Children's Services. A Gold Coast childcare worker, who did not want to be named, said staff were told to use alternatives like "stop" to discipline a child so "we don't stunt a child's mental growth". "We also say 'good work' or 'congratulations' when a child has done well to avoid discriminating between sexes," she said. "I think it's absolutely ludicrous, and a lot of childcare workers are secretly refusing to follow the rules."

Australian Family Association state secretary Angelique Barr said: "I think people are always looking for new rules to bring in to justify their jobs. My son's first words were 'no' and 'don't', and he's a well-adjusted child. "I don't think it hurts a child at all to be told 'no', particularly if you explain to him or her why they shouldn't do something."

A childcare worker in Brisbane said: "Every childcare worker in Australia knows that you can't say certain words to a child, because that's what they teach us as part of our work ethics. It's just one of the many things that has been taken over by political correctness, and sadly it means that children are not really allowed to be children any more."

Brisbane mum-of-three Kath Terry, 37, said the rules were ridiculous. "I say 'good girl' and 'good boy' to my children all the time -- sexual discrimination just doesn't come into it."

A spokesman for Employment and Training Minister Tom Barton said TAFE Queensland taught childcare workers to use positive instructions, instead of the words "no" or "don't". "Instead of saying 'don't run' they would say 'remember, walking inside'," he said. However, "no" or "don't" were appropriate for extreme behaviour, such as biting. Instead of "good boy" and "good girl", specific behaviour was praised to reinforce it and let children know why they were being praised.

However, childcare workers said the rules were the latest in a long line of changes forced on the industry including an "obsessive" new hand-washing policy and anti-discrimination classes for toddlers.


Underqualified nurses recruited by a desperate government hospital

Hundreds of British nurses due to start work in Queensland hospitals as soon as October may be not be up to scratch by standards here.

In a massive recruitment drive, executives from Cairns Base Hospital are scouring Britain for nurses, offering thousands of dollars in relocation assistance. And they say they'll take on anyone who applies. "There's no way I'll be turning anyone away," Cairns Base Hospital nursing director Glynda Summers said.

However, a former Cairns Base nurse who now works in the UK said British nursing standards were not a patch on those practised in Australian hospitals. She said many of the British nurses would not have had the same basic training. Skills such as intravenous drug administration, catheterisation and the use of cardiographs were standard requirements for Australian nurses, but in Britain they were considered extra qualifications. "Most of them won't have that training. Basically, skill levels are much lower," she said.

The nurse said she believed many of the workers entering Queensland hospitals would be those deemed not good enough for the British National Health Service. "Many new recruits may fall short of the proficiency mark," said the nurse, 40, who did not wish to be named. "The British National Health Service has drastically reduced the number of nursing positions, but it would be fair to say any good practitioner who wanted to remain working in the UK wouldn't have a problem. "There will be a few who want a lifestyle change, but what about the others?"

After placing advertisements in the UK press, Ms Summers leaves for Britain tomorrow with nurse manager Denise Wilds and intensive care nurse Carol Martheze on a three-week recruitment campaign. "We'll take them all. The opportunities are limitless because we're recruiting for the state," Ms Summers said. A Cairns Base Hospital statement said more than 180 applications had already been received. The hospital has 51 nursing vacancies and a further 90 nursing jobs expected to open up soon. Telephone interviews have been conducted and new recruits had been enticed with packages including $3000 toward relocation costs, visa application expenses, salaries of up to $53,000 and free medical cover.

Admitting she was capitalising on widespread nursing job losses throughout Britain, Ms Summers said: "Why not?" "It's good for us and it's good for the nurses who don't have jobs." A Queensland Health spokesperson said all checks and procedures would be followed before applicants could register with the Queensland Nursing Council.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

An Italian crook was running the West Australia police

West Australian Premier Alan Carpenter has sacked his former police minister John D'Orazio from the ALP, citing "serious misconduct" and "grossly inappropriate behaviour". The sacking came after Mr D'Orazio was exposed through phone taps and video surveillance discussing traffic infringement problems with Perth panel beater Pasquale Minniti. Mr Minniti is at the centre of a Corruption and Crime Commission probe into alleged abuses by police and others accused of having traffic infringements withdrawn.

Three months ago, Mr D'Orazio, the Labor member for the inner-city seat of Ballajura, was stripped of his police portfolio after crashing his ministerial car while driving without a licence. He became disability minister for a day but was forced to resign from the ministry amid a public outcry.

Mr D'Orazio said last night he would continue to serve the people of Ballajura as an independent MP. "The Premier has made a call and I have agreed to go along with that call," he said.

Mr Carpenter - who once labelled Mr D'Orazio a "rising star" and an "outstanding minister" - said his position was untenable. "Mr D'Orazio showed appalling judgment by agreeing to meet Mr Minniti and discuss his traffic problems, no matter what the outcome of those discussions," the Premier said. "Mr D'Orazio's subsequent phone call to a police officer referred to him by Mr Minniti was also grossly inappropriate. "His actions left him exposed and showed a complete disregard for the Government, the Labor Party and his colleagues." The Premier said Mr D'Orazio - still a minister at the time - should have rejected outright any approach from Mr Minniti.

Mr Carpenter was forced to defend his own judgment in backing Mr D'Orazio during his initial controversies, which included failing to pay superannuation to some employees at a pharmacy he owned. He said he had called Mr D'Orazio to his office late yesterday and asked him to resign from the Labor Party. He said there was a 15- to 20-minute discussion before Mr D'Orazio agreed.

Opposition Leader Paul Omodei said Mr D'Orazio should have departed long ago. He also called on the Premier to sack his former community development minister Sheila McHale for her refusal to act "while dozens of children died under her watch" - a reference to the scandal over the deaths of children in the care of Western Australia's Community Development Department.

At yesterday's Corruption and Crime Commission hearing, a clearly annoyed Mr D'Orazio described Mr Minniti as "one of those people that never leaves you alone". He said Mr Minniti, the husband of a long-time family friend, was a name-dropper who talked incessantly about his proposal to allow citizens to become "special constables". He liked to be called "Inspector Minniti". Mr D'Orazio said he agreed to meet Mr Minniti the day after he lost his police portfolio "because he was so insistent", not because Mr Minniti had told him: "Trust me, I've got something good up my sleeve, very good." Mr D'Orazio sighed and told the commission: "That Pasquale, he's always got something good."

In one phone call Mr Minniti made to Mr D'Orazio on May 10, the former police minister urged Mr Minniti not to interfere in his licensing woes. "Don't do anything," he told Mr Minniti. But when Mr Minniti claimed earlier in the conversation that he had asked a contact within the licensing section of the Department of Planning and Infrastructure to search for a missing document that could exonerate him, Mr D'Orazio expressed gratitude. "The thought that Pasquale could help me was stupid," he said. "I was trying to be nice."

According to a transcript of the taped conversation, Mr Minniti told Mr D'Orazio he had spoken to someone "high up in the licensing department and he's going to start looking for me so he can find it" to which Mr D'Orazio replied; "Okay, excellent." Mr D'Orazio told the inquiry he had no explanation for why he telephoned a senior sergeant Mr Minniti knew, except that he did so at Mr Minniti's request. "I remember making the phone call and thinking 'Why am I ringing this guy?'," Mr D'Orazio said. Counsel assisting the inquiry, Brett Tooker, said that Mr D'Orazio had been "sucked into the inquiry with all the collateral damage that that brings with it".


Child welfare department negligence left little Wade to die

Almost four years ago, an unassuming but increasingly desperate Perth grandmother wrote to then West Australian premier Geoff Gallop, pleading for his help to protect her two grandchildren. Margaret Jakins told him the children were in danger. In the letter - dated November 20, 2002 - she said she was writing to him only after exhausting all other avenues. "I hope my fears for the two little ones are only that and that it does not end in tragedy," she wrote.

Ms Jakins's letter rang alarm bells about the safety of Wade Michael Scale and questioned the Department for Community Development's plan to return Wade's brother into the custody of the boys' drug-addicted mother, Angela Jakins, and her de facto husband, Kriston Scale, a known drug user and convicted child-basher.

On December 2, 2002, the former premier replied to Jakins with a three-sentence note thanking her for bringing her concerns to his attention, and adding that he would pass them on to the minister responsible, Sheila McHale. Two weeks later, McHale sent a five-paragraph letter advising Jakins that the department "has been focusing on reunification for some time" and suggesting Jakins contact a case worker with her concerns.

The full extent of the horrors that faced baby Wade and his brother became known to the public only three weeks ago, when state Coroner Alastair Hope released a 24-page report on Wade's death, a chilling summary of the events that continue to defy explanation. On July 30, 2003, at 4.44pm, aged 11 months and 10 days, Wade was pronounced dead after frantic but futile efforts by ambulance officers and later hospital staff to revive him. He had drowned in a bath left filled from the previous evening. His body contained the adult prescription drug diazepam. Angela Jakins and Kriston Scale denied any knowledge of how he came to ingest it.

The coroner said the only explanation was that he was deliberately given it or was able to access it at a location within crawling distance, although a worrying feature of this was that both parents claimed not to have noticed any behavioural change in Wade over the preceding 24 hours. Angela Jakins denied leaving Wade alone for more than "a matter of minutes". The coroner found he had lain immersed in the water for at least 20 to 30 minutes. While these facts of Wade's death are sad and sordid, equally scandalous are the events that led up to his death.

The coroner's report reveals how Wade's grandmother and other relatives repeatedly tried to get help for Wade and his brother, contacting the department, the minister, the then premier, their local MP - anyone they could think of - in the months leading up to the tragedy, all to no avail. The coroner refers to evidence from Kriston Scale's brother, Glenn, about used syringes and baby bottles full of congealed milk in a cot left behind by Jakins and Scale when they moved house.

Glenn Scale and his wife, Clementina, were among the very small group of people the coroner praised. Following the tragedy, they now have custody of Wade's brother, who cannot be identified for legal reasons. There is absolutely no doubt the Department for Community Development knew the danger Wade and his brother were in. It was warned repeatedly by extended family members.The department knew Kriston Scale had an appalling history of violence. He was convicted and jailed in 1999 for three separate assaults on toddlers. Two of the victims were Wade's sisters. All were hospitalised with extensive bruising to the face and head. In one case, the child's eyes were so swollen he was unable to see. The department knew this, yet allowed Wade and his toddler brother to live with Kriston Scale. The department knew both parents were drug users. Urinalysis tests before and after Wade's birth tested positive for amphetamines and opiates.

A few months before his death, Wade was briefly removed from his parents but was quickly returned. The only explanation the public has received is a stumbling comment by Premier Alan Carpenter this week that Wade was returned "because the environment was, um ... err ... conducive to his return to his parents".

The report by Mr Hope shows that the department conducted its last home visit by a case worker three months before Wade died.

It arranged for Wesley Mission's family counselling arm, Wesley Hearth, to have continuing contact with the family but Angela Jakins often did not attend the planned sessions. The department was informed of each non-attendance. The evidence indicates that on July 22, after Jakins missed a session with Wesley Hearth, the department's team leader directed a case worker to undertake a home visit as a matter of urgency. The visit did not occur. This was followed up and the case worker was told to drop her other cases and do the visit. Again, it did not happen.

On July 23, Jakins missed another planned session with Wesley Hearth. The same day, Margaret Jakins wrote to the department again expressing her concerns that Angela Jakins was using drugs. "Unfortunately, this letter did not prompt a home visit or other positive action to protect the deceased," Mr Hope said. From July 24 to July 26, Jakins apparently went missing, with only Scale at the house caring for the children. On July 27, Glenn Scale's wife, Clementina, rang the department, adding her concerns about Jakins's drug use to the growing clamour raining down on the department. She was told it would be followed up. Nothing happened. On July 30, Wade died.

The coroner said the case highlighted worrying failures by the department to protect Wade and his brother. "The family history clearly indicated that drug abuse in the past had resulted in neglect and serious physical abuse to children," Mr Hope said. He said there was evidence the local branch office of the department was in crisis, seriously understaffed and lacking experience. He also said it was clear Wade's family was misled by the department, directly and indirectly, about the extent of supervision being provided. "Family members were given false comfort and led to believe there were management practices in place which were secure and intensive, whereas in fact the supervision was very limited," he said.

And in a final kick, he recommended the department review its practices to ensure future advice to the minister and correspondence provided in response to family concerns was reliable and accurate. The almost unbelievable display of incompetence, blunders, negligence and disregard that preceded Wade's death has snared two premiers, one minister, backbenchers, bureaucrats and an entire department. Mr Hope's report not only reveals the department's disastrous failings, it also exposes the then minister, Sheila McHale, who has since moved to the Indigenous Affairs portfolio, as a minister who was at best badly advised.

Margaret Jakins, the grandmother who tried so hard to save Wade, told The Weekend Australian "a hundred different people were at fault, it was never one. I would have welcomed any help but that's not what happened". She now just wants to be left alone to care for Wade's two sisters.


Incitement to terrorism ignored

NSW Premier Morris Iemma has urged Islamic extremists behind Sydney pamphlets calling for a holy war to destroy Israel to leave that sort of hatred overseas. A radical group with alleged links to the London bombings is reportedly distributing pamphlets through suburban Sydney calling for a holy war. The leaflets, from the extremist group Hizb ut-Tahir, call for a jihad to destroy Israel and use key dates in the Muslim calendar to signal the coming destruction of the Jewish state, News Limited newspapers report.

Mr Iemma said legitimate debate, free speech and opinions were welcome in Australia. "However, the sort of inflammatory language about conflicts in wars overseas, leave them behind. "Leave the conflicts, the old wars and the hatred behind."

The group is banned in Germany and British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called for Hizb ut-Tahir, which has alleged links to last year's London terrorist attacks, to be outlawed in the UK. But it remains legal in Australia despite calls for it to be banned. Security agencies here are "very aware" of the pamphlets, a spokesman for Attorney-General Philip Ruddock's office said.


Another incompetent foreign doctor in a government hospital

Up to six people might have died because a pathologist in northern New South Wales misdiagnosed their tests, the state government said today. NSW Health Minister John Hatzistergos and the chief executive of Hunter New England Health, Terry Clout, today announced the results of a review of 7350 anatomical pathology tests taken by Dr Farid Zaer. The review was conducted in March this year after concerns that Dr Zaer, who worked at Tamworth Hospital from 1999 to 2001, may have failed to correctly analyse tests for diseases, including cancer.

Mr Clout said that of the 7432 tests re-examined, 38 cases had significant variations which would have a serious impact on patient care. Of these, he said, five or six people had since died. "It may or it may not have been the case (that the misdiagnosis caused death) and because we don't have a parallel universe we will never know," Mr Clout said.

Mr Hatzistergos said he would willingingly refer the matter to further authorities if the families of the deceased wanted him to. "Obviously this is a dreadful thing to have happened," Mr Hatzistergos said. "I am very concerned by the results that have been revealed."

Three independent pathology laboratories conducted the review and advised the government that 97 per cent of Dr Zaer's tests were accurate. Of 217 people who were found to have had variations, Mr Clout said all but four had been contacted. "Those doctors have confirmed that in 179 of those cases there was no impact on the care provided to the patients," he said. "But that does regrettably leave some 38 patients where the significant variation in the test has meant that there was a less than desirable treatment provided." As a result of the misdiagnosis, the patients had either been over-treated or under-treated, including a small number who underwent unnecessary surgery. "We have undertaken a few operations that were not necessary, I have been quite clear about that," Mr Clout said. "Regrettably there have been cases where there appears to have been an error in the original diagnosis, (that) if known at the time, might have meant the patient received different care." But he refused to say if patients had lost arms, legs or breasts as part of the procedures, saying he did not want to identify people in a small rural community who "have already gone through anxiety in relation to this issue".

Dr Zaer, who was trained in India, has been banned from practising as a pathologist in NSW. Mr Hatzistergos said Dr Zaer was no longer working in that field, but was believed to be working in Queensland, possibly as a general practitioner.

Mr Clout said there was no way of knowing if the five or six people who had died in the past seven years had done so because they had been "significantly misdiagnosed". "We can't draw conclusions from that," he said. "Just because two things happen in the same window of time does not mean that one is a causal link to the other." But Mr Hatzistergos said he would refer the matter to the coroner for further investigation. "I am happy to refer anything to any further authority if required to," he said. Asked if he anticipated action by distressed family members, he replied: "We neither expect nor rule it out, it's obviously a matter for the families to make a decision in relation to that."

Concerns about the quality of Dr Zaer's work first surfaced in 2004 while he was working at the Illawarra Health Service. Despite this, thousands of patients were not tested until this year. Mr Hatzistergos said he was disappointed it had taken so long to get the results. "The only thing I do regret is that it has taken as long as it has," he said.


Saturday, August 26, 2006


Two current articles below

Government dentist HIV positive

Up to 500 people are to be tested for HIV after a female dentist working for Queensland Health tested positive for the virus. Clinics at Bowen and Collinsville hospitals will be open from today to test people treated by the dentist since December 15. The dentist, employed by Queensland Health last year, was the only public dentist employed in the region. She worked in clinics in both hospitals and also treated a small number of patients at school dental clinics in the region and a small number of patients at Ayr hospital.

Queensland chief health officer Dr Jeannette Young said the HIV test being offered would give people a response within 48 hours. Dr Young last night reassured patients that the risk of contracting HIV from the dentist was "very very low". She said there was no known case of transmission of HIV in Australia between a dentist and patient.

Queensland Health last night revealed few details of the dentist who started work for Queensland Health "some time last year". Dr Young said it was believed she contracted the disease in late December and ruled out that it was caught from one of her patients. Queensland Health yesterday began going through all medical records to trace former patients who will be contacted and offered a HIV test. A 1800 hotline has been established and more information is available on the Queensland Health website.

Dr Young said Queensland Health required all staff who undertook exposure-prone procedures to be aware of their HIV, Hep C and B status. "Dentists put their hands into people's mouths . . . They could potentially cut themselves and there is a risk blood could go into a patient's mouth."

Dr Young said Queensland Health protocols required dentists to wear gloves and a mask when treating patients and all medical equipment was sterilised after use.

Australian Dental Association Queensland president Dr Robert McCray last night said former patients of the dentist should not be alarmed as the risk of infection was "almost zero". "Dentistry within Queensland is performed under a set of guidelines," Dr McCray said. "The likelihood of transmission from patient to dentist or dentist to patient is very low in the extreme unless standard operating procedures were not followed. There has been no known case in Australia. "The public should have total confidence that the likelihood of transmission from dentist to patient is virtually zero."


Truth penalized by corrupt government

A health whistleblower who was demoted after exposing the "Jayant Patel" of dentistry is demanding his job back, claiming he has been vindicated. Former Gold Coast Health Service District principal dentist Dan Naidoo was disciplined last year after speaking out about the alleged rogue dentist and the poor state of public dental services on the tourist strip. The dentist he exposed - accused of botching procedures and "torturing" patients to the point of tears - had strict conditions placed on his practice by the Dental Board of Queensland and has since been sacked. One female patient was left with a hole in her jaw and needed nasal reconstruction after a procedure in what she described as the dentist's "torture chamber".

But after suspending the dentist and alerting the media, Dr Naidoo was demoted and sent to a suburban dental clinic in what former health inquiry commissioner Tony Morris described as a classic case of Queensland Health's "shoot the messenger" culture. Now working for NSW Health, Dr Naidoo says he has been vindicated and wants his senior Gold Coast job back. "I just feel cheated and I feel a great sense of injustice," he said yesterday. "I stopped this dentist from torturing patients and yet I was punished and demoted."

An internal Queensland Health email obtained by The Courier-Mail reveals a decision was made in April last year to remove the dentist from clinical work "in the interests of patient safety". But Dr Naidoo said the dentist was allowed to continue operating despite complaints from patients and staff. He later suspended the dentist after hearing one of his patients "screaming in pain".

Surfers Paradise Liberal MP John-Paul Langbroek, himself a dentist, has raised Dr Naidoo's plight in State Parliament and said he should have had whistleblower protection. "He was trying to protect patients and he was cast adrift by Queensland Health," Mr Langbroek said.

But in a letter to Mr Langbroek, Premier Peter Beattie said Dr Naidoo was disciplined for making "inflammatory and untrue" statements which had "undermined public confidence" in Gold Coast dental services. Mr Beattie said Dr Naidoo had been warned that he could be disciplined for speaking out, and was given an opportunity to defend himself. Dr Naidoo had not appealed against the decision or sought legislative protection afforded to "true whistleblowers", Mr Beattie said.


Science education in Australia

Some works of literature have titles so powerful that it seems unnecessary to read the work itself. E.M. Forster's Two Cheers for Democracy is like that for me. Democracy may be a poor system of government, but it is the best we've got. It is always struggling and its results are not always inspiring. One of the deeper purposes of education in a democratic country must be to help merit the third cheer. A democracy has millions of decision-makers, some wise and well informed, many who think they are, and some who don't even try, but all vote. One of the outcomes of education is that children are indoctrinated in their social and political heritage.

Anyone who knows schools knows this indoctrination will happen by default; it is better if it is controlled. It should be intentional, purposeful, and should develop Forster's two cheers: critical minds and a variety of thinking. Sound education can also earn democracy my third cheer: for good decision-making, the sine qua non of a strong and ethical government.

This was a big week in Canberra for education and good decision-making. First, speaking as the Minister for Science, Julie Bishop, who is also Minister for Education, made the important statement that intelligent design should not be taught in science classes. Pointing out that ID does not belong in the science curriculum at all, she has taken a firm stand and given leadership that will strengthen our science teaching.

On Monday and Tuesday, the Australian Council for Educational Research held its 11th national research conference, this year focusing on science teaching and learning. On Thursday was the history summit, attended by the Education Minister, former "history premier" Bob Carr and an impressive list of historians and history teachers. The two conferences were tied together by themes: Science for Citizenship in one and History for Citizenship in the other. I see the two coming together in a wonderfully productive symbiotic relationship.

Science for Citizenship is a research focus of Jonathan Osborne, a professor at King's College, London, who gave the first keynote address. He sees the early specialisation of science teaching to cater for potential career scientists as deadening to the majority, who have needs as future citizens but will not study science after secondary school.

What plagues democracy is that pesky tradition of involving everyone in decision-making. As Osborne told the science conference: "Society is confronted with a dilemma that the majority of people lack the knowledge to make an informed choice."

Having strongly suggested that science is the greatest cultural achievement of Western society, he argues that science must attempt to communicate "not only what is worth knowing, but also how such knowledge relates to other events, why it is important, and how this particular view of the world came to be".

It does not take much science to understand the water cycle and that H2O is H2O, yet the good people of Toowoomba recently decided they could not drink purified used water. It is worth knowing what water is and the role it played for millennia before it came into our brief lives. This is just one example of how good science teaching can make people better voters and citizens.

It is important to understand science that explains the case as it is, not as we might prefer it to be. Gravity is inconvenient to a child falling out of a tree, just as global warming is to all of us today. Scientific research and political decision-making share the need for rational, evidence-based argument. The science classroom is one place where these higher-order thinking skills can - indeed, must - be effectively taught to young citizens of our democracy. To be effective, we must start with the young. Our primary schools, almost without exception, miss the boat completely.

Science might be in the primary curriculum, but what is taught is usually warm, fuzzy and concentrates more on what is cute than on developing disciplined thought. This is not surprising as almost no Australian primary teachers have studied science as part of their university degree and not many have been interested enough to have studied it in the last two years of secondary school. They are monumentally unprepared to teach facts (or understand what a fact is in science - think of phlogiston (more later) - and even less prepared to help young minds develop sound scientific thinking. A survey of how many primary teachers go to a homoeopath or care what their star sign is gives a quick indication of the parlous state of science teaching in our primary schools.

Yet young children observe the world very closely and ask questions. They poke and probe and experiment: scientific behaviour that is often mistaken for naughtiness. They love to count and take surveys. They are young scientists. As they see patterns emerging in the world around them, they discover where they fit. Science makes sense. We urgently need full-time specialist science teachers who are given time, rooms and resources to teach our children from kindergarten to Year 6. After such an introduction, science might be able to compete in high school with "fun" courses such as design and technology or drama, which are fun because they teach children how to explore aspects of life hands-on, just as science does.

Back to phlogiston. Joseph Priestley, one of the best late 18th-century scientists, discovered phlogiston and knew that it assisted combustion and respiration better than air. Dephlogisticated air, known to us as carbon dioxide, suffocates fire. The phlogiston theory was the best theory going until Lavoisier offered oxygen and started a battle with Priestley and a revolution in chemistry. Against the backdrop of the French Revolution, whereby Lavoisier ended up on the guillotine, what story could offer more: excitement, science, revolution in chemistry and politics, and impact on our lives today?

The phlogiston story is one among many that demonstrate how science searches for evidence-based explanations and can change its mind when evidence is compelling. The competition for glory, the sharing of ideas, the influence of one person's work on another, the impact of events outside the science laboratory: all are common themes in the history of ideas that shaped our world.

Is the phlogiston story science or is it history? Of course it is both, but open to study through the prism of each discipline in a somewhat different mode. History and science are not so far from each other; both require a chronological framework, knowledge of facts and development of skills for their full power to be appreciated and the importance to our lives to be convincing. Recent television programs on the history of science, for example on Darwin's The Origin of Species, penicillin or the introduction of sewers in London, show vividly the human drama that accompanies great developments in science. Knowing such stories, the science behind them and its impact on our daily lives leads to citizens better prepared to use their judgment.

Osborne called for "the study of the history of ideas and the evidence on which they are founded" to be the core of the curriculum. In such a curriculum we develop critical thinking and evidence-based decision-making. We can earn the third cheer for democracy.


Shameful inaction: Children must be rescued from wicked parental neglect

And to hell with the politically correct social-worker doctrine that children must stay with their parents

The tragic death of 11-month-old Wade Michael Scale in Western Australia is another sad reminder that not all parents have the best interests of their children at heart. Equally shocking, but not unexpected, is the state Government's response, to hide the full extent of its own incompetence.

Baby Wade was found drowned in a bathtub with the adult prescription sedative diazepam in his blood. West Australian Coroner Alastair Hope could not tell if the drug-addicted parents had given Wade the drug to keep him quiet. But the Coroner heard enough to criticise state welfare for failing to offer protection in light of repeated warnings of parental neglect from the child's grandmother.

Wade's death appears to be the tip of a nightmarish iceberg. But we do not known how big because the West Australian Government has suppressed details of an investigation into other children who died while being monitored by the Department of Community Development. Wade's case has echo's of the death of a three-year-old boy in NSW who was raped and then electrocuted by a pedophile his mother had met at a train station. In that case, complaints of abuse by the boy, and his six-year-old sister, were ignored. As were repeated warnings of neglect despite the mother's documented history of handing her children to predators.

This issue clearly haunts all state governments. In Queensland, after campaigning in the 2004 state election to fix its appalling record on child welfare, the Government admitted that 4544 of the 11,896 child abuse reports received last year had not been passed on for investigation. In NSW, dozens of children, many known to be at high risk, die each year because authorities are too willing to accept promises by mothers that things will improve.

In Western Australia, the evidence is that wicked acts have thrived on inaction. A common theme remains the wrong-headed policy of keeping children with their natural parents at any cost. The rights of the parent must give way to the safety of the child and state governments must be accountable for the terrible things that happen because of their inaction. Public exposure is the first, necessary, step.