Thursday, November 30, 2006


Australian education has been substantially destroyed by Leftist State governments and the Feds are trying to undo at least some of the damage. Five current articles below:

Moral compass returning in postmodern schools

Kevin Donnelly believes the Left is losing the argument about school values

Education has traditionally been an electoral plus for the ALP, but not any more. As a recent Newspoll survey reveals, the Coalition Government has orchestrated an eight percentage point turnaround and is running neck and neck with Labor in terms of positive voter perception. Jenny Macklin, the federal Opposition education spokeswoman, argues the Howard Government's improvement is the result of cheap populism. She is wrong. As outlined in my book Why Our Schools are Failing, Australian parents are worried about significant issues such as falling standards, schools not being held accountable, the curriculum being awash with political correctness and, with government schools in particular, education failing to inculcate proper values.

That the Left has been wrong-footed in the education debate is clear to see. Remember the electoral impact of Mark Latham's hit list of non-government schools? More recently, take the Prime Minister's decision to finance religious counsellors in schools. When announced, the decision met with the usual mock outrage associated with the cultural Left. Andrew Gohl, president of the South Australian branch of the Australian Education Union, says: "It is totally inappropriate for the federal Government to try to impose ideology in public schools."

The Independent Education Union of Australia, an organisation not normally associated with the Left, reveals it has also been captured by the PC brigade when it suggests the federal Government is being divisive. "Australia is a multicultural, plural society; the strength of its values lies in the richness of its diversity," it says. "But John Howard and his Government consistently undermine this diversity with policies and commentary that divide the community and engender distrust." Even Bob Carr, a former politician usually guaranteed to be balanced and perceptive in his public comments, cannot resist hyperbole when he argues: "What if a poorly attended parent meeting chose a jihadist imam from a small Muslim prayer hall?"

Reality check: far from pushing a so-called conservative agenda, the Government is providing a resource that individual schools, government and non-government, can choose to take up or not. Quite rightly, while counsellors will not be restricted to any one religion or denomination, there will also be restrictions on who can be employed. That the AEU argues against the Government's initiative by describing it as ideological is also a bit rich. Consider how the union's curriculum policies have forced a politically correct, cultural-left agenda on schools, redefining the three Rs as the republic, refugees and reconciliation.

An uncritical promotion of multiculturalism and diversity, advocated by the IEU, also ignores that the overwhelming majority of Australians describe themselves as Christian and that our history, political and legal institutions have arisen out of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Instead of condemning the initiative to give students a clear and unambiguous moral compass to decide right from wrong and to identify a proper balance between rights and responsibilities, opponents of the scheme should be applauding it. For far too long, education has failed in its duty to address such issues. Beginning with the progressive education movement of the 1960s and '70s, the belief is that children should be left to their own devices and that adults should not impose a strong moral framework.

The self-esteem movement of the '80s and '90s, when education was reduced to therapy on the basis that nobody failed, compounded the problem as lessons focused on what was immediately entertaining and relevant to the world of the student. Classic myths, fables and legends such as The Arabian Nights, Aesop's Fables, The Iliad and The Odyssey gave way to popular magazines and social-realism stories about youth suicide and dysfunctional families. History as a subject disappeared, replaced by the study of the local community or figures such as Diana, princess of Wales.

Evident by debates about the nihilistic impact of theory, represented by postmodernism, the most recent example of our failure to give students a viable moral code is the belief that there is no right or wrong, as all values are relative and truth is simply a socio-cultural construct. As noted by John Paul II in his encyclical letter Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason): "A legitimate plurality of positions has yielded to an undifferentiated pluralism, based on the assumption that all positions are equally valid, which is one of today's most widespread symptoms of the lack of confidence in truth."

Historically, the education debate has focused on issues such as more money, smaller classes and more teachers, as shown by debates in these pages during the past 12 months. Equally important is the cultural significance of education, something the Prime Minister clearly understands.


War over school history

The Queensland Government is preparing for a stand-up brawl with Canberra over attempts to impose history as a compulsory subject for high school students. Queensland Education Minister Rod Welford will defy federal Education Minister Julie Bishop and refuse to mandate history as a compulsory, stand-alone subject for Years 9 and 10. "I am happy to mandate some essential knowledge of key components of Australian history into a subject," Mr Welford said. "But it simply does not make sense to mandate history as a stand-alone subject."

History is taught in Queensland public schools as part of Studies of Societies and Environment and is optional from Year 9. Canberra is also facing a showdown with South Australia, where history is available until Year 11 as part of SOSE. Western Australia, where history is called "Time, Continuity and Change" and mingled in a Society and Environment course, is believed to be considering Ms Bishop's proposal. NSW and Victoria offer history as a stand-alone subject. Other territories and states have not made their position clear.

Ms Bishop has refused to rule out withholding money from the next $40 billion education funding round from those states that resist her push for a stand-alone compulsory history subject. "In the last funding round the Government provided $33 billion to the states and territories to run their schools and I believe that the Australian taxpayers would expect us to make the states and territories accountable for that investment," she said last month. Yesterday Ms Bishop's office said: "The Minister hopes the state will agree with the proposal voluntarily."

The warning follows news that a report commissioned by federal and state education ministers found that more than three-quarters of Australian teenagers did not know the significance of Australia Day. Ms Bishop's push for compulsory history in schools has the strong backing of Prime Minister John Howard. On Australia Day, Mr Howard foreshadowed his desire to see history established as a compulsory subject on Australia Day. He has specifically attacked Mr Welford's proposal for blending history with other curriculums. "Too often, it is taught without any sense of structured narrative, replaced by a fragmented stew of themes and issues," Mr Howard said.

Mr Welford last night vowed to strongly support Queensland public schools which want to establish a separate history curriculum. But he believes the practicalities of many smaller Queensland high schools require history be incorporated into other areas such as social studies or environmental education. He warned Ms Bishop that Queensland would not be swayed by Canberra's "rigid inflexibility" on the issue


Teachers get a blast

Underperforming Australian teachers received a broadside yesterday from Prime Minister John Howard and Education Minister Julie Bishop. As the Federal Government presses on with plans to create a more centralised national curriculum, public school teachers are becoming fair game to a Government convinced they're on the nose in the electorate. In Parliament, Mr Howard used a Dorothy Dixer on claims that some Victorian teachers plan to join tomorrow's ACTU National Day of Action to launch a blistering attack on the profession.

"It is no secret to any member in this House that many Australian parents are voting with their feet against the government education system around the country," he said. "And they are not doing it because of funding. "It's this kind of behaviour by teachers that gives government schools a bad name." Instead of attending a "Jimmy Barnes concert" at the Melbourne Cricket Ground teachers should be in their classrooms, Mr Howard said. "As somebody who is rather proudly the product of a government education system, let me say that I worry about this kind of behaviour undermining the quality of government education in Victoria and around Australia," he said.

Ms Bishop told a gathering of National History Challenge finalists in Canberra that the teaching of Australian history had been denigrated in many of our schools. "And I believe that is a shame," she said. She found some comfort in the fact that finalists in the competition had produced sophisticated and intelligent work. But she reiterated her determination to make history a compulsory stand-alone subject for Years 9 to 10.


Teach the facts first: Without the basics, school history is just propaganda

An editorial from "The Australian" below

WHEN NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt said on Monday Australia Day commemorated the founding of our federation, instead of the arrival of the First Fleet, she did more than look like a dill. She demonstrated how she was betrayed by the people who designed the curriculum she was taught at school. As a woman in her early 40s, Ms Tebbutt went to school in an era when history, the study of the past on its own terms, not as a version of the present in fancy dress, was being trashed. Instead of the foundations of history - the facts and dates of events, who did what and why, and what were the consequences - history began to be a collection of stories based on the belief that whatever past winners said was invariably unfair to everybody else. The result is that the woman charged with running the largest school system in the country cannot distinguish between the founding of settler society in Australia and the creation of our commonwealth. But it is a fair bet that while she may not have any idea of the detail of how or why Australia came to be one of the most successful and enduring democracies, Ms Tebbutt was told at school how the settlers, or the founding fathers, probably both, dispossessed the indigenous Australians.

And just as Ms Tebbutt was betrayed then, so are children today. For a generation, our state education systems have emphasised ideology over information in history and literature, assuming the task of the teacher is to create a questioning culture among students, but one where fashion and feelings stand in the way of fact. We have now reached a point where it appears important for students to understand what people felt, rather than to know the facts that shaped their circumstances. As The Australian reports this morning, a simulation exercise used in a Sydney school presented conflict in the Middle East from a militant Palestinian perspective. As a way of inciting ill-informed anger among young people against one side in an immensely complex conflict, this is a winner. But as an exercise in education, it is hard to imagine anything worse. Before students can argue about the Middle East they need to learn the 20th-century history of the region. They need to be aware the British ran much of the region between the wars. They need to know the basic facts and dates of the way the Israelis fought for independence, the way the surrounding states sought to destroy Israel and the way ordinary Palestinians are now caught between Islamic terrorists and the Israeli forces. And they need to grasp that the Palestinian cause is now divided between people who want to make the best deal they can with Israel and fanatics who believe they are divinely directed to kill Jews.

In this, as in every other area of study, it is the job of schools to teach the facts and interpretive skills students need to make up their own minds. It is not their job to indoctrinate young people in some sort of party line that suits the political style of the teacher union leaders, who still see the world through the prism of the counter-culture of the 1960s, which blamed the West for all that was wrong in the world. We are now at a stage where children are being taught an interpretation of the past as if it were fact - the very thing the education apparatchiks always argue they oppose. To portray the European settlers of Australia, or the Israelis for that matter, as invaders, as if the evidence was irrefutable, ensures school students will argue before they have all the evidence.


Hard-Left education chief self-destructs

West Australian Education Minister Ljiljanna Ravlich, close to tears yesterday as she battled an implication of lying from her former top bureaucrat, will today try to save her job before a state parliamentary inquiry. This follows damning evidence given to an upper house committee by former education director-general Paul Albert, who contradicted claims she made in parliament denying any knowledge of a Corruption and Crime Commission investigation into teacher sexual abuse of students.

Ms Ravlich, who has admitted seeking the help of disgraced former Labor premier Brian Burke to counter considerable media, community and teacher opposition to the controversial Outcomes Based Education (OBE), yesterday launched a scathing attack on her former top bureaucrat, claiming that Mr Albert had deliberately withheld information from her. Ms Ravlich has been clinging to her job after a series of blunders and scandals that have rocked the Carpenter Government, including the spectacular demise of police minister John D'Orazio and small business minister Norm Marlborough, who were both ensnared in CCC investigations.

Mr D'Orazio was kicked out of the Labor Party over an inappropriate and secretly taped meeting with a panel beater to discuss the minister's traffic infringements. Mr Marlborough may face criminal charges over evidence he gave to the CCC about his contact with Mr Burke, who was jailed twice in the 1990s and has since become a lobbyist.

Yesterday, Ms Ravlich flatly denied Mr Albert's evidence on Monday that he told her about the CCC investigation on three separate occasions. At times looking close to tears, Ms Ravlich said she had no recollection of the discussions outlined by Mr Albert, apart from a "passing" reference on one occasion. She described his actions as incomprehensible.

The discrepancy renewed the pressure on Premier Alan Carpenter, who yesterday came under fire in parliament as the Opposition demanded to know whom he believed: Ms Ravlich, or Mr Albert, whom the Premier appointed as director-general in 2001 when he was education minister. Giving very careful responses, Mr Carpenter suggested it was not unreasonable for people to have different recollections about passing comments, but he refused to answer questions on Ms Ravlich's immediate future.

The CCC spent almost a year investigating the Education Department's handling of allegations of sexual misconduct by teachers against children before releasing a damning report last month that accused the department of being more concerned with protecting staff than students. Mr Albert said that while he did not go into any detail with Ms Ravlich, he had raised the issue in general terms at meetings in May, July and August. He said that on one occasion in July he recalled telling the minister a draft report had been received from the CCC and it looked bad. Mr Albert was forced to resign over the issue last month.

Ms Ravlich said she was never told the CCC was looking into alleged sexual misconduct by teachers and that Mr Albert's failure to inform her was "totally unacceptable". "I met with the director-general every fortnight, on occasion on a weekly basis, and we would go through a whole range of issues. I would have called Mr Albert virtually on a daily basis," she said. "To be dropping breadcrumbs over the place for a minister to pick up and to, by way of passing, put forward any information in that manner, it's totally unacceptable."

Liberal leader Paul Omodei said the Premier had no option but to immediately remove Ms Ravlich from the education portfolio.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

"National identity" trumps "multiculturalism"

The term "multiculturalism" is out and "shared identity" is in under a new framework for Australian society. The Federal Government yesterday moved to redefine what it means to be a nation that accommodates people from many ethnic backgrounds and different parts of the world. In an address to the Australian National University, parliamentary secretary for immigration Andrew Robb said the term "multiculturalism" which had loosely defined Australia's ethnic policy for the past 30 years was vague and open to misinterpretation and abuse. "Some Australians worry that progressively the term multicultural has been transformed by some interest groups into a philosophy, a philosophy which puts allegiances to original culture ahead of national loyalty, a philosophy which fosters separate development, a federation of ethnic cultures, not one community," he said.

The Howard Government has long been a critic of so-called "mushy" multiculturalism. But this is the first time an alternative doctrine has been articulated. It is part of wider debate on Australian values and the failure of some Muslim immigrants to integrate, including a proposal by Opposition Leader Kim Beazley to make all new arrivals in Australia sign a values pledge. Fuelling the debate was the universally condemned statement last month by Australia's leading Muslim cleric, Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, comparing immodestly dressed women to uncovered meat.

Mr Robb said shared values - not a shared homeland - should be the "glue that binds" Australians. "A shared identity is not about imposing uniformity. It is about a strong identification with a set of core values, whilst permitting a large measure of personal freedom and 'give and take'." Mr Robb said said simply "co-habitating a space" was not a strong basis for a cohesive, trusting society. "A community of separate cultures fosters a rights mentality, rather than a responsibilities mentality. It is divisive. It works against quick and effective integration," he said. "Those who come here should unite behind a core set of values, a shared identity."

Labor's citizenship spokeswoman Annette Hurley said changing a word would not improve a sense of shared identity. "I think the public is looking for some action," she said.


Sex-offender doctor still allowed to practice

What government mismanagement of medical training leads to

A Tasmanian doctor who sexually assaulted female patients will be practising again by June next year after the Medical Complaints Tribunal factored the state's general practitioner shortage into his punishment. The tribunal last month found Dr Ulhas Lad guilty of professional misconduct over his dealings with two female patients between April 2003 and July 2004. Dr Lad, 61, from Blackmans Bay, was yesterday suspended from practising until June 2007 and ordered to see only male patients when he resumes.

Medical Complaints Tribunal chairman David Porter, QC, said one of the factors the tribunal considered was "the regrettable situation that exists in this state in relation to general practitioners". Should an order to deregister Dr Lad be made there would be no little difficulty in filling the void, Mr Porter said.

Dr Lad's suspension and restriction to male patients arose from a complaint by a woman identified by the tribunal as AB. Mr Porter said Dr Lad's professional misconduct when dealing with AB involved a serious breach of trust and a gross violation of the doctor-patient relationship. Dr Lad sexually assaulted the woman at his surgery on a number of occasions, Mr Porter said. He said Dr Lad fondled his patient's breasts and buttocks, and had her separate her buttocks while she was bent over.

Dr Lad also performed a sex act in front of her at his surgery one night when she went there for pain relief. Mr Porter said the sex act was outrageous behaviour and a serious affront to the patient's dignity. He said Dr Lad's sexual assault of another female patient known as YZ3 was seen by the tribunal as previous relevant conduct.

The tribunal had also taken into account the overwhelming level of support for Dr Lad from the general and professional community, Mr Porter said. Dr Lad's lawyer Ken Procter, SC, presented the tribunal with 32 character references for his client. "We note all that has been said on behalf of Dr Lad," Mr Porter said.

Dr Lad was also fined $1000 for his professional misconduct in relation to a separate complaint by a second female patient known as CD. The woman said Dr Lad required her to undress to be weighed and made inappropriate comments when she saw him for antibiotics for the flu. Mr Porter said Dr Lad's behaviour towards CD was thoroughly inappropriate and his remarks were offensive. The $1000 fine imposed by the tribunal was one-fifth of the maximum amount it could impose, he said.

During the hearing seven more former patients came forward to complain about Dr Lad after reading reports of the case in the Mercury. Dr Lad denied the allegations against him. But the tribunal found it preferred the evidence of patient AB to that of Dr Lad, whose evidence was deemed "not at all convincing".

Dr Lad refused to comment as he left the Federal Court in Davey St, Hobart, yesterday. But his daughter Aparna said her father was innocent. Patient numbers at the surgery operated by her father and mother Dr Geeta Lad had not dropped since the women's complaints were made public nor since the tribunal's guilty finding, she said. Dr Lad's son Anoop said his father could rest easy because he had a clear conscience. The family would be looking at appeal options, he said.


Students dumbed down and left out

No wonder our school students are culturally illiterate. If NSW Education Minister Carmel Tebbutt can't tell the difference between Australia Day - which marks the arrival of the First Fleet on January 26, 1788 - and Federation, which marks the federation of Australia as a nation on January 1, 1901, then it is hardly surprising three-quarters of Australian teenagers don't understand the significance of Australia Day, the responsibilities of the governor-general or the symbolism of the Union Jack in our flag.

Ms Tebbutt's embarrassing gaffe aside, the results of the civics and citizenship test, reported in The Australian yesterday, reveal extensive gaps in the knowledge of national history in our schoolchildren. Worse, the news is simply the most recent in a long line of incidents and stories demonstrating the parlous state of our education system. While state and territory education ministers describe their schools as "world's best" and argue that standards are on the rise, the opposite is the case.

Why has this been allowed to happen? The first thing to realise is that those responsible for our education system argue that there is no crisis. At two forums organised this year by the Australian Curriculum Studies Association, concerns about falling standards and the politically correct nature of the curriculum were dismissed as a conservative backlash and a media beat-up.

Alan Reid, an Adelaide-based academic in favour of the much-condemned outcomes-based education model, argues: "We have a conservative backlash in the media which is really pushing us back to fixed syllabuses and a more didactic curriculum which conservative government forces are helping to promote."

At the second ACSA invitational conference, held in August and made up of the usual suspects, one of the educrats reportedly said: "It is all about politics and the influence of parents, lobby groups and media hype that sells papers."

Not only do state and territory curriculum bureaucrats argue there is no problem, the overwhelming majority also believe that process is more important than content and that teaching subjects such as history andliterature is secondary to developing generic competencies and skills, such as being futures oriented and valuing diversity.

While evidence of content-free education could be found at this year's history summit, where the argument was put that "you learn from doing history, not by being taught it" and the intention was to design a curriculum in terms of open-ended questions, it's important to understand that the curriculum has been under attack for years.

In 1975, the Whitlam government's Commonwealth Schools Commission sought to radically change the way teachers taught by arguing: "There is no reason to assume that the traditional subject fields, or high culture, are the only avenues through which thought might be developed or basic skills learned."

In opposition to the belief, as argued by US academic Jerome Bruner, that students must be taught the "structure of the discipline", the schools commission argued: "The skills of assembling evidence in logical argument may be developed through any content about which people care enough, or might be brought to care enough, to exert themselves to use them."

Never mind that skills and competencies do not arise intuitively or by accident and that they are best taught within the context of established disciplines such as English and mathematics. It is also true that not all content has the same value or complexity: Henry Lawson's The Drover's Wife is different from a mobile phone text message.

Since the early 1970s, the new age approach to teaching also has become embedded in teacher training. Georgina Tsolidis, an academic at Monash University, describes the role of teachers: "We were to go into classrooms to teach students, not subjects. We were to instil in our students feelings of self-worth premised on the value of what these students already knew and the value of what they wanted to learn, rather than the intrinsic worth of what we wanted to teach."

The most recent manifestation of education lite - in which, as argued in Shelley Gare's recent book The Triumph of the Airheads and the Retreat from Commonsense, "two generations of experimented-upon young Australians have emerged unable to read, write and think" - is Australia's adoption of outcomes-based education and the vague, generalised way the curriculum is written.

Instead of being given a clear, concise road map of what is to be taught, teachers are told that students, in the words of the West Australian curriculum, must be able to "describe and explain lasting and changing aspects of Australian society and environments", "construct a sequence of some major periods and events" and "categorise different types of historical change".

Memorising important facts, dates, events and the names of significant figures is also attacked as "drill and kill" and the argument is put that the curriculum must be open-ended, as teachers must be free to teach what their students are most interested in.

The flaws in such an approach are manifest. Not only are students disempowered as a result of leaving school culturally illiterate, thus disenfranchised in terms of the public debate, but the common ground on which democracy depends is left untilled.


Alternative cures under microscope

Alternative medicines, which are bought by up to 75 per cent of Australians, face their toughest scrutiny yet under an investigation commissioned by the Federal Government. Alternative or complementary medicines have been dismissed as a "great dupe" by a medical leader, although in some cases they have been found to be more effective than pharmaceuticals. They are believed to account for more than $1 billion in sales a year in Australia. The National Health and Medical Research Council will oversee a $5 million project to investigate the use and effectiveness of hundreds of pills, potions and therapies that mostly have little standing in conventional medicine, the Health Minister, Tony Abbott, has announced.

The funding follows an unprecedented meeting last week between the alternative therapy lobby and the council and has been welcomed by advocates and critics of alternative medicines. "There is no reason why any therapy offered to the public should not be evidence-based," the chief executive of the research council, Warwick Anderson, said. Professor Anderson said the targets of the research would depend on what projects won funding. There was increasing interest among medical researchers and the Australian move followed the development of a special research centre by the National Institutes of Health in the United States, he said. The project flows from the inquiry triggered by the Pan Pharmaceuticals crisis in which hundreds of products were withdrawn from sale because of manufacturing irregularities.

The executive director of the Complementary Healthcare Council, Tony Lewis, said he was not concerned by the possibility that research would undermine the claims for alternative medicine. "If a therapy does not work, let's get the results to show that. But I think most results will be quite positive." The shark fin extract, glucosamine, for instance, had been found in a US study to be more effective than Celebrex for the treatment of osteoarthritis. Among the biggest sellers in the complementary medicine range were multivitamins and multiminerals, fish oil for cardiovascular conditions and glucosamine, Dr Lewis said.

A former chairman of the Australian Divisions of General Practice, Rob Walters, described most alternative medicines as "a great dupe.. . they just don't work". While most did no harm, some did have harmful reactions when people were also taking other drugs, he said.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006


Despite the fact that global temperature has been stable since 1998. Correlation does not prove causation but lack of correlation does DISprove causation

Global efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions have had little impact with the rate of emissions more than doubling since the 1990s. CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research scientist, Mike Raupach, said that from 2000 to 2005, the growth rate of carbon dioxide emissions was more than 2.5 per cent per year. "In the 1990s it was less than one per cent per year." In 2005, 7.9 billion tonnes of carbon were emitted into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. This was near the high end of the fossil fuel use scenarios considered by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said Dr Raupach, who is also co-chair of the Global Carbon Project, an international scientific collaboration to study the carbon cycle. "On our current path, it will be difficult to reign in carbon emissions enough to stabilise the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration at 450 ppm," he said.

While China had the highest current growth rate in emissions, its emissions per person were still below the global average and its accumulated contribution since the start of the industrial revolution more than 200 years ago was only five per cent of the global total. By comparison, the US and Europe have each contributed more than 25 per cent of accumulated global emissions.

Paul Fraser, also from CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, said the findings were supported by measurements of carbon dioxide levels in the air, which grew by two parts per million in 2005. This was the fourth year in a row of above-average growth, Dr Fraser said. "To have four years in a row of above-average carbon dioxide growth is unprecedented." The two scientists presented their latest findings at a meeting at Tasmania's Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station, which is run by CSIRO and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology.

Dr Fraser said the 30-year record of air collected at Cape Grim, showed growth rates of carbon dioxide were slightly more than one part per million in the early 1980s, but in recent years carbon dioxide levels has increased at almost twice this rate. "The trend over recent years suggests the growth rate is accelerating, signifying that fossil fuels are having an impact on greenhouse gas concentrations in a way we haven't seen in the past."


Australian students ignorant of Australian history

More than three-quarters of Australian teenagers do not know that Australia Day commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet and the beginning of British settlement. A report commissioned by Federal, state and territory education ministers shows an overwhelming majority of schoolchildren are also ignorant of the reason for Anzac Day, or for the inclusion of the Union Jack on the Australian flag. About 77 per cent of Year 10 students and 93 per cent of Year 6 students across the nation cannot nominate the official responsibilities of the governor-general, and the great majority do not know the Queen is Australia's head of state.

The report, which is yet to be released but has been obtained by The Australian, reveals surprisingly high levels of ignorance about basic historical facts and Australia's system of government, and questions the effectiveness of the teaching of civics and citizenship. "The widespread ignorance of key information about national events and nationally representative symbols, which, it had generally been assumed, had been taught to death in Australian schools, was a surprise," the report says. "More targeted teaching is required if students are to learn about these things. Formal, consistent instruction has not been the experience of Australian students in civics and citizenship." The report says only high-performing students "demonstrated any precision in describing the symbolism of the Union Jack in the Australian flag".

Regarding the students' lack of understanding of the role of the governor-general, the report says: "One can only infer that students are not being taught about the role of the governor-general. "Many of the Year 10 students clearly did not have the knowledge outlined... as being designated for Year 6," the report says. "This was especially the case in relation to information about the constitutional structure of Australian democracy in Year 10."

The report was prepared for the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs by the Australian Council for Educational Research. It tested about 10,000 Year 10 students and 10,000 Year 6 students in every state and territory.

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said the ignorance of Australian students about their own country revealed in the report underlined the need for the Federal Government's push for Australian history to be taught as a compulsory, stand-alone subject in years 9 and 10. "It is disappointing that so few Australian students know the basic facts about our national events and icons such as Anzac Day and the Australian Flag," she said. "I am concerned that only a small minority of Year 10 students know the reason for the national public holiday on Australia Day. "Young Australians have the right to vote at 18 years of age and should have knowledge about our nation's history and traditions."

The Howard Government introduced a Discovering Democracy program in 1997, producing and placing curriculum materials on civics and citizenship in all primary and secondary schools in 1998. The program aimed to promote students' participation in democratic processes "by equipping them with the knowledge, skills, values and dispositions of active and informed citizenship". According to the Federal Education Department, "it entails knowledge and understanding of Australia's democratic heritage and traditions, its political and legal institutions and the shared values of freedom, tolerance, respect, responsibility and inclusion". In August, education ministers approved national Statements of Learning for Civics and Citizenship, setting out common knowledge all students should possess in years 3, 5, 7 and 9, ahead of national assessment tests from 2008.

The report says half of Year 6 students achieved a proficient standard in the test, while 39 per cent of Year 10 students reached the proficient standard. It says the level of ignorance will restrict students' involvement in democratic processes. "Ignorance of such fundamental information indicates a lack of knowledge of the history of our democratic tradition, and this ignorance will permeate and restrict the capacity of students to make sense of many other aspects of Australian democratic forms and processes," it says. "Without the basic understandings, they will be unable to engage in a meaningful way in many other levels of action or discourse."

The report identifies two main concepts with which students struggle the most: "iconic knowledge" of Australia's heritage and the idea of the common good. Students had difficulty grasping the idea of a common good or strategies that refer to how individuals can influence systems for the benefit of society. "It is unclear whether students do not have such a concept at all, don't believe in the common good or do not see how individuals can act for the common good," the report says.


This guy has now been elected to the Upper House of the Victorian parliament

A millionaire Victorian businessman who has vowed unswerving loyalty to a Middle Eastern dictator is almost certain to take a Labor seat in Victoria's Parliament.

Syrian-Australian trucking boss Khalil Eideh has been chosen by Labor to run for one of its safest Upper House seats in November. But the Sunday Herald Sun has seen two letters from Mr Eideh to the Syrian Government warning of Zionist threats, reporting to the terror-sponsor regime on Australians and pledging "absolute loyalty" to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In an Arab newspaper in 2002, Mr Eideh wrote "Satan brigades are getting ready to enslave the Arab world", praising "Arab martyrs". While admitting to authorising the letters to Syria, Mr Eideh yesterday denied any extremist views and said he abhorred terrorism.

In an October, 2002 letter to President Assad -- a few months before the start of the war in Iraq -- the magnate highlighted threats of "Zionist and colonial attacks on the Arab nation". It concluded: "Loyalty, total loyalty to your wise and brave leadership, and we promise to remain faithful soldiers behind your victorious leadership."

In another letter, to the Syrian Government in June, 2001, Mr Eideh states: "The Syrian influence in Melbourne, Australia, is completely absent and doesn't play any role in the Australian political arena."

He also reported on members of the Syrian-Australian community, saying they attended a lunch hosted by friends of former senator Edward Obeid, who he said "harbour ill will towards the Syrian Arab republic".

ALP sources say Mr Eideh has Premier Steve Bracks's backing. Close friends include federal frontbencher Lindsay Tanner, senator Kim Carr and state MP Liz Beattie.


"Child Obesity" campaigns encourage child anorexia

Children as young as five are being diagnosed with anorexia as experts blame stress and a national obsession with obesity for a shocking rise in the number of NSW youth being treated for the illness. Pressures from family breakdowns, peers, school and the electronic media meant children were falling victim to the disease years earlier than they were last decade, adolescent health specialist Michael Kohn, from the Children's Hospital at Westmead, said. The typical age of onset is now between 12 and 14, compared to the average age of 16 as recently as five years ago.

Since 2001 there has been a 20 per cent rise in the number of children younger than 18 being admitted to the hospital with anorexia. About 45 new patients are admitted every year and a similar number of patients aged between 15 and 20 are treated in Westmead Hospital's psychiatric unit, which handles the majority of child eating disorder cases in NSW. Dr Kohn said the hospital was now treating children aged between 7 and 11. In children that young, anorexia is as common among boys as it is in girls although, after 12, females are at least 10 times more likely to develop the illness. "Young people are under increasing stress and stress comes from so many factors in their lives," Dr Kohn said. The physical impact of the disease is much greater on pre-pubescent children because the malnutrition coincides with the period of peak growth and development.

Television shows, cartoons, websites, games and toy figurines had promoted a "thin" ideal among children, Dr Kohn said. A focus on the obesity epidemic could also fuel eating disorders. Eating Disorders Foundation executive officer Greta Kretchmer said the focus on obesity and eating the right food had created a backlash. "When you have some people who have perfectionist tendencies, it leads to them trying to do it too well by cutting out all fats, all carbohydrates, all dairy," she said. The foundation has seen a quadrupling in the number of calls about eating disorders over the past five years, with many about children aged 8-13. The youngest was a five-year-old boy who had been diagnosed with anorexia. The child had been teased in preschool and was about to start kindergarten. "He got it into his mind that if he went to school he could not be fat because he would be teased worse, so he got terrified of becoming overweight," Ms Kretchmer said. "His poor mum was beside herself. How do you reason with a five-year-old?"

Sarah, 26, of West Pennant Hills, who did not want her surname published, overcame anorexia six years ago. She said wanting to be thin was only part of the problem. "It was other types of pressures, wanting to fit in to the world," Sarah said. Sarah now works as a psychologist and counsels other young people with eating disorders. "We are socialised to be very image-driven and you can see that more and more in younger and younger girls," she said. "Most of them now are wearing make-up before my generation would have been. I think it is pressure to do well at school and peer pressure, which comes from a social expectation that people will be slim and attractive."


Monday, November 27, 2006

Immovable medical bureaucracy

Jayant Patel, wanted in Queensland on manslaughter charges, was yesterday labelled a scapegoat by the investigator who first probed his work. Bundaberg Hospital Inquiry Commissioner Tony Morris QC said Dr Patel, allegedly responsible for patient deaths and hiding out in Portland in the USA, was never the problem.

The high-profile barrister, guest speaker at the Whistleblowers Australia conference in Brisbane, instead launched a blistering attack on Queensland Health. "In a strange sort of way he is almost a distraction," Mr Morris said. "Perhaps the enduring tragedy of Jayant Patel is . . . he has become a scapegoat for everything that is wrong in Queensland Health. Patel is not, and never was, the problem." Mr Morris, who was ousted as the inquiry's head after displaying "ostensible bias" against Bundaberg Hospital's managers, said bureaucratic over-administration was at the "heart of the problem". His comments yesterday were a departure from the interim inquiry report handed down in Parliament in June last year.

Yesterday he slammed Queensland Health for not implementing real reform since the Bundaberg crisis and "a bureaucracy which actively obstructs every attempt to do so". "In 2006, Queensland Health continues to recycle the self-same individuals whose apathy and dereliction produced the disaster which they are now still pretending to address."

Mr Morris singled out Bundaberg Hospital nurse Toni Hoffman for her blowing the whistle on Dr Patel. Ms Hoffman today will be presented with the Whistleblower of the Year Award jointly with Dr Con Aroney, who made disclosures about people dying on waiting lists.

Warrants for Dr Patel's arrest were issued in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Wednesday. Detectives provided affidavits on charges, including three counts of manslaughter, five counts of grievous bodily harm, four counts of negligent acts causing harm and eight counts of fraud. Queensland Director of Prosecutions Leanne Clare will now make a formal request for extradition through Federal Justice Minister Chris Ellison.


How amazing! Public hospital stays open longer!

The NSW government will try to cut hospital waiting lists by offering patients elective surgery over the Christmas break and recalling staff early from holidays. The period that public hospitals operate at reduced capacity will be trimmed from six to four weeks this year. Clinical staff typically take leave at this time, equipment undergoes maintenance and patients often defer surgery to avoid spending Christmas in hospital.

This year, however, patients who have been waiting a long time for elective surgery or who are overdue will be offered treatment during the holiday break, Health Minister John Hatzistergos says. Mr Hatzistergos said a new government policy would ensure patients requiring surgery within 30 days would be treated appropriately. Patients with less urgent conditions would be treated within 365 days and would not have to wait more than 12 months due to reduced hospital activity during the holiday season, he said. "We're making real progress in reducing waiting times and waiting lists but there's still more work to do," he said.


Prime Minister hoses down the fast food hatred

Parents have to take responsibility for Australia's child obesity crisis, Prime Minister John Howard says. Rejecting calls for "heavy-handed" bans on junk food ads, Mr Howard called for parents to show - and teach - some self-discipline. The reasons for Australia's soaring numbers of overweight and obese people were obvious - lack of exercise and bad diet. "Fundamentally, I believe that obesity . . . the response to it does lie very much in changing lifestyle," Mr Howard said in a speech to the Heart Research Institute.

A study released by Diabetes Australia this month revealed 3.2 million people are obese and predicted the numbers would more than double by 2025. "We appear to be struggling as a nation with the challenge of obesity, something that's come upon us with alarming speed and something that is affecting all age groups," said Mr Howard. "The Government can do a lot but I do hope the community doesn't see obesity as a problem that can simply be solved by government regulation. "I think that rather misses the point that a certain degree of individual responsibility and individual self-discipline (is needed) and, particularly, an assumption again of parental responsibility and parental surveillance of the activities of children - what they eat, how much exercise they get, the balance between playing sport and other physical activity and time spent in front of the television set and on computer games."

But Mr Howard said the Government did have a role in changing attitudes through hard-hitting public health campaigns like those which targeted smoking and HIV-Aids. "Because it's only been with us for a short period of time, if we tackle it in the right fashion, there's no reason why we can't overcome it within a relatively short period of time as well."


Sydney's artificial water crisis

Everyone agrees Sydney faces a water crisis, but the city seems incapable of significant action. Today I want to celebrate a Turramurra couple who have accepted responsibility for their water use. It's a story of triumph, but also of frustration in dealing with government. To understand this, you need to see why the State Government's management of water is so deeply dysfunctional.

I have a copy of the Sydney Water Board's 1991 water supply strategy review, and have confirmed with former senior staff that it represents informed opinion at the time. It pointed out that the city's population had doubled since 1960 but its water storage capacity had increased by only 2 per cent. It said: "If measures are not taken to provide Sydney with additional storage, early in the next century there will be a real risk of serious water restrictions being necessary." The reason for this did not involve apocalyptic events such as climate change or a one-in-a-thousand-year drought. It was mundane: you cannot increase a city's population without increasing its water supply. The prediction was accurate: no steps were taken to increase storage, and water restrictions were introduced in 2003.

The review recommended that a dam be built on the upper Shoalhaven River. This was accepted but Bob Carr cancelled it when he became premier. But don't think the Shoalhaven was saved. On October 24 Shelley Hancock, the Liberal member for South Coast, told State Parliament that enormous amounts of water were being pumped from the river anyway. "In August, 78 per cent of Sydney's water supply was pumped from the Shoalhaven," she said. "In the following week [it was] 82 per cent." This had produced an "alarming drop in the water levels in the river".

The review considered large-scale recycling, which Carr also rejected. Indeed, the Government spent almost $1.6 million on lawyers to try to stop a private company, Sydney Services, getting access to its waste water. It was finally forced by the National Competition Council to negotiate with Sydney Services. In response, last week it brought in a shabby piece of legislation called the Water Industry Competition Bill. This appoints as umpire for access disputes the Government's Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal, rather than the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which the industry wanted. The tribunal will ultimately determine the terms on which Sydney Water has to offer access to private companies. The industry does not believe the tribunal will be sufficiently independent.

Why is the Government so opposed to large-scale recycling, whether done by itself or private companies? Because Sydney Water pays a massive "dividend" each year to the Government, which it doesn't want to lose by recycling. (Recycled water costs more than dam water.) Last year the dividend was $193 million, an increase of $73 million over the previous year. To put this in some sort of perspective, the increase in Sydney Water's cash flow from normal operating activities over the year was only $26.7 million. Some of that dividend - many would say a lot of it - is money that ought to have been spent on serious recycling. But with the exception of the Rouse Hill recycling scheme, the Government has largely ignored, even discouraged, recycling, by companies and individuals.

In Turramurra, Alicia Campbell and Jason Young have taken matters into their own hands. Last year they moved into a standard two-storey house, which they had helped design. Under the Government's BASIX regulations they were required to have a 5000-litre rainwater tank. Says Alicia: "We thought, if we were going to do it, why not do it properly?" So they installed a 25,000-litre tank underground, "double-U" gutters to stop leaves getting in and first flush devices on the downpipes so when it rains the roof is washed clean before water goes into the tank. In the past year they have used 91,000 litres from the tank; the house is not connected to mains water.

Jason and Alicia, who have two small children, have also installed a system that allows them to recycle all their waste water, including sewage. This will produce about 100,000 litres of water a year. Ku-ring-gai Council has insisted they pay about $3000 for a series of tests before they can use this water for non-potable purposes, at which point they will disconnect from the sewer mains.

Michael Mobbs is the guru of Sydney's sustainability movement. He says 17,000 people have been through his sustainable house in Chippendale in the past eight years. An environmental lawyer, he advises people like Alicia and Jason, and has helped them deal with the regulatory thickets set up to discourage people from becoming self-sufficient. Mobbs says he knows of about 30 households in Sydney that have gone off the water grid. Sydney Water guesses 50 have disconnected from the sewer mains. As well as this, 27,500 residences, businesses and schools have received up to $800 from Sydney Water, for installing rain tanks with a capacity of more than 7000 litres that are connected to a toilet or washing machine.

These figures are modest in a city of so many residences. Expense is a big issue. Jason and Alicia paid about $25,000 for their independence, funded partly by savings elsewhere in the home (for example, concrete instead of wooden floors). The home builder AV Jennings has tried to sell houses with environmental features, but a company spokesman says few are prepared to pay the additional cost. Which makes Alicia and Jason's achievement all the more remarkable. She was the driving force, and at first he was concerned about costs. "But now we've done it," he says, "I'm overjoyed."


Sunday, November 26, 2006

PM using nukes to spike the Green/Left

Only very foolish people doubt John Howard's political instincts

John Howard has recast the political debate on nuclear power, with Ziggy Switkowski's report saying that if you take global warming seriously then nuclear must be assessed as part of the solution. Either Howard or Kim Beazley has made a blunder as they seize opposing positions in the energy debate. Beazley says Howard "is developing some of the characteristics of a fanatic" on nuclear power. He says there is a clear-cut distinction between Labor and Liberal, and that Howard must answer a simple question: Where will his 25 nuclear reactors be located?

The more Beazley fumes, the more moderate Howard sounds. "I think public opinion is shifting," Howard says. "I want to take the public with me. I'm not trying to force it down the throat of the public. We're talking about a debate that is going to go on for some time. We can't expect instant policy gratification." You bet. Howard has no intention of committing Australia to nuclear power before the next election. His real purpose is to redefine the politics of energy in Australia and to destroy the moral and practical superiority Labor has enjoyed for so long courtesy of the global warming debate.

While the issue was about belief or disbelief in global warming, Howard was the loser. Climate, science and popular sentiment united against him. Howard's answer is to declare himself a believer and begin a new debate about solutions. This is a debate about markets, costs and economics, where the key ideological factor is no longer Howard's scepticism about global warming but Labor's rejection of nuclear power.

As a politician, Howard specialises in eroding Labor's symbolic ideas. This term he has assaulted Labor's industrial orthodoxy with his Work Choices package and now assaults its anti-nuclear orthodoxy. Such positions are assumed to be highly unpopular. So why does Howard embrace them? Because he thinks the election winner will be the leader propounding positive ideas for the nation's future. "I think the public will listen to the debate," he says of the nuclear issue. "I don't think they have the prejudice about nuclear power that Mr Beazley and Senator Brown have. I mean, Senator Brown and Mr Beazley have a prejudice about nuclear power. I'm open-minded about nuclear power." This is Howard tying Labor into green ideology as opposed to his rationalism.

Switkowski's report is designed to make nuclear power respectable. But it cannot make the nuclear option financially viable. The report's key is the nexus between global warming and nuclear power. Switkowski spelt it out at the National Press Club: you only think nuclear if you believe in climate change. In Australia, nuclear power is hopelessly uncompetitive, about 20 per cent to 50 per cent costlier than coal and gas-based electricity on which Australia relies. So there is no investment appetite for nuclear power, as Australia enjoys the fourth cheapest electricity among the countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

While Switkowski finds that nuclear is a "practical option" for Australia, the assumptions underpinning this conclusion reveal the remoteness of the nuclear pathway. Consider the list. The report asserts at the start that Australia's best option is clean coal. Frankly, it is a no-brainer. This technology is a joint Howard-Beazley aspiration of deep import for Australia and the world economy. Beyond this, nuclear would only be viable if fossil fuels begin to pay for their emissions. A price of $15-$40 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent would be necessary to make nuclear electricity competitive.

But complications abound. The period for planning, building and commissioning Australia's first nuclear power plant would be 10 to 20 years. Australia lacks the expertise and skills in nuclear research. Nuclear engineering and nuclear physics are degraded and a national mobilisation would be required to generate such expertise. Australia has no regulatory framework for the industry and it would need to establish a single national regulator to cover all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle, drawing heavily on overseas expertise. The report says that if Australia is serious about nuclear power, it is essential that this regulatory framework be "established at an early stage".

Australia's existing laws ban the establishment of nuclear fuel cycle facilities, from power plants to enrichment plants. This inhibition, significantly, is on Howard's mind. "If we are to have a nuclear power industry in this country, we need to change the law, because the law doesn't permit it at the present time," he says. Such laws would need passage through the federal parliament. Might Howard contemplate this before the election as part of a showdown with Labor and the Greens over putting the nuclear option on a commercial evaluation basis? Australia is locked into an anti-nuclear power administrative and legislative system. Freeing up this system may become part of any genuine debate. Howard's message is that he wants the nuclear option decided on commercial factors. Yet Switkowski's report contains even more warnings on this score.

Overseas experience suggests "the first plants may need additional measures to kick-start the industry". Sure. The report says the US Government is providing a subsidy for the first six nuclear plants based on next-generation technology. Given this history, can you imagine commercial operators launching a nuclear industry in Australia without subsidies? And imagine further just how popular such subsidies would prove!

The test for Howard is whether he moves towards a carbon-pricing policy. If he does, he risks prejudicing Australia's comparative advantage in cheap electricity based on fossil fuels. Yet if he doesn't, he undermines the necessary condition Switkowski outlines that would make nuclear competitive, thereby compromising his nuclear initiative. Howard's view is that no single technology can meet Australia's future energy demands. He wants nuclear assessed as part of the mix and the report's philosophy is that all options should be examined on a market basis and all technologies should "compete on an equal footing". This may eventually rule out nuclear power for Australia. But Beazley is not interested in such evaluations.

Labor has an ideological objection to nuclear power and a political conviction that a scare campaign will be effective against Howard. It would be an advertising agency's delight: depicting Australia's cities as the next Chernobyl. The immediate response of Labor's premiers betrayed their faith in such a scare at state and local level. These premiers, most of whom have singularly failed to manage infrastructure and water policy properly, now purport to veto a comprehensive debate on Australia's energy future. They don't deserve to be taken seriously and few people will take them seriously. Having being routed before the High Court in their totally counterproductive challenge to Howard's industrial laws, the premiers have neither the power nor the authority to take this decision about the Australian nation.

The real difference is that Howard wants to open the door to a nuclear debate and Beazley wants to keep it shut. It is a division not between nuclear policies but between political positions. It repeats the patterm since 1996 of Howard as the agent of initiative and Labor as the agent of resistance.



Mocking comment from Harvard by Lubos Motl

Eastern Australia hasn't seen this November cold for 100+ years: it was the coldest November day in a century. Recall that "November" in Australian can be translated as "May" in the U.S. Nevertheless, they have had mushy snow in Canberra, a blast of Antarctic magic. A goosepimply, teeth-chattering Sydney has another reason to shake its collective head at the weather gods today.

Nevertheless, intelligent journalists immediately explain us that cooler weather and fewer hurricanes do not lessen global warming trends because weather is not climate, just like religion is not faith. The climate and the climate change are not only independent of the weather but they are independent of all other things that can be measured, too.

More precisely, weather is only climate when it's getting warmer and when the hurricane frequency increases. When the weather is getting cooler and the hurricane rate is decreasing, weather is no longer climate. It follows that the climate is always getting warmer - QED Amen. That's why Kofi Annan can tell us that we, the skeptics, are out of step, out of time, and out of arguments. He is out of tune, out of touch, and out of mind, trying to build the 1984-style global government.


When two students walked into their lecturer's study to mount a challenge about the mark one of them had received in a multiple choice exam, the academic smiled. The first student had scored 90 per cent; the second 10 per cent. All three people knew the real reason for the gripe was that the second student had copied the first. So why the discrepancies in the marks? Unruffled, the academic compared the disgruntled student's answers to the master copy, demonstrating that the fail mark was justified.

They had just been foiled by a well-worn sting within the biochemistry department at the University of Sydney. Frustrated by suspicions that students were cheating, the department creates four variations to each multiple choice exam it prepares. If students copy the letters circled by their neighbours, they will arrive at different results. The more they copy, the worse they will do.

"What our solution enables us to do is say natural justice has occurred," said Associate Professor Gareth Denyer, a senior lecturer. "This student has ended up with an incredibly low mark as a result of their cheating . There's a wonderfully sweet feeling . It's evil of me, I know. But they're trying to get one over you and you end up getting one over them."

The department has been improving the system over seven years, but despite its success being published within the university and externally, other academics have resisted adopting it. Some regard it as a form of entrapment. Others have their own systems. But Professor Denyer believes that many do not want to know if their students are cheating. "There's a very strong head-in-the-sand culture," he said.


Bundaberg nurse recognised with whistleblower award

The woman who alerted authorities to the Bundaberg Hospital crisis will be recognised at the annual Whistleblowers Australia conference this weekend. Bundaberg Base Hospital nurse Toni Hoffman will receive the Whistleblower of the Year award for uncovering the alleged criminal malpractice of overseas-trained surgeon Jayant Patel. Patel is allegedly linked with 17 patient deaths, and earlier this week a Brisbane Magistrate approved an arrest warrant for the 56-year-old doctor who fled to the US.

Ms Hoffman says she is thrilled to receive the award. "It's a great honour and I hope to be able to improve whistleblower protection through raising awareness," she said.

The national director for Whistleblowers Australia, Greg McMahon, says it was Ms Hoffman's concern for the community that earned her the award. "Toni Hoffman took the view that more was required of her because of her responsibility so that everybody needed to be protected," he said. Ms Hoffman will share the title with heart specialist Dr Con Aroney, who is being honoured for his role in revealing cutbacks at Brisbane's Prince Charles Hospital in 2004.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Australia still produces real men

An Australian pilot last night became the first to receive a British Distinguished Flying Cross since the Vietnam War. Major Scott Watkins was due to be presented with the medal by the Queen at Buckingham Palace. He earned the medal during 2004-05 while serving in Iraq on an exchange posting with the British Army's joint helicopter force.

Defence Minister Brendan Nelson said Major Watkins was a first-rate helicopter pilot who received the award for providing support to the 1st Black Watch Battlegroup. "He is the first Australian to receive the Distinguished Flying Cross since the Vietnam War and one of a number of Australians to have been presented with the UK award," Dr Nelson said.

Major Watkins was recognised for outstanding flying on a number of occasions. In one incident, he took control of the British Lynx helicopter after its pilot was injured by small-arms fire. He then piloted the helicopter to a nearby coalition base camp where the pilot was evacuated to hospital. "Despite a very real threat to his aircraft, he repeatedly placed himself in exposed positions in order to provide support to other aircraft and the ground forces they were supporting," Australian Army chief Lieutenant General Peter Leahy said. "In the opinion of his commanding officer, Major Watkins' actions undoubtedly saved the lives of a number of soldiers in the battlegroup," Australian Army chief Lieutenant General Peter Leahy said.

Dr Nelson said all Australians should feel proud of the courage showed by Major Watkins. "His courage highlights the importance of Australia's contribution to coalition efforts in Iraq. "In particular, it reinforces the high regard in which our soldiers are held, their courage, training and professionalism."


Sydney Christmas celebrations restored

Worries about "offending" Muslims seem to have been dumped

Asian tourists recognised the bearded man in the suit as the wheeled sleigh made its way down Sydney's George Street. "Santa" and "Merry Christmas" they called as they took photographs of the carriage drawn by two police on horses with antlers on. The sleigh had pulled out of Sydney Town Hall five minutes ahead of its scheduled 8pm departure, because Nita Lyon's 21-month-old daughter was screaming at the sight of the red-suited gent.

Ms Lyons, her daughter and son Kaylan sat facing the jolly bearded man who had one arm locked in a jovial embrace around Clover Moore, wearing a red silk top and black slacks. No one seemed to recognise her as Sydney's Lord Mayor. They thought Ms Moore, who has participated in many a Gay Mardi Gras and was the inspiration one year of a float, was most likely Mrs Claus.

But last night was her night of redemption in the hearts of more than 8000 of the city's children and their parents who turned out in Martin Place to see the lights of a 20 metre Christmas Tree brighten the city tower scape.

Last night Lord Mayor Moore, who two years ago was branded the "Grinch" for cutting back dramatically on the council's festive season bunting displays, showed there is no bah hum bug in her. Sydney City Council is spending $500,000 this year on public displays and decorations.

As the "sleigh" turned into Martin Place Ms Moore, Santa, and Ms Lyons and her children, from the Redfern community centre, were greeted by a happy ovation of "Santa, Santa, Santa" from thousands of beaming children's faces, many held aloft in their parents' arms.

Among the most chuffed was five year old Zachary Lewis of Parklea who won a Sun Herald coloring competition to help Ms Moore turn on the 19,000 lights of Sydney's Martin Place Christmas tree to the cheers of the crowd as sky rockets burst overhead. He just beamed with happiness and was lost for words as he clutched a special unopened present given to him by Ms Moore. "He's absolutely smitten with excitement, he got to meet Santa," his father Gordon, an IT specialist said.


Conservatives winning the education debate

Rednecks rescuing public education? Never. In fact, it's happening in pockets of North America. Accountability is back in fashion and it is a boon for public education. And it may just happen here in Australia. As education becomes a pivotal issue for the Howard Government, the Coalition may end up thanking the self-styled progressive teachers unions for that electoral gift. Each time their union leaders bang on about political issues, it's a reminder that they are less interested in what ought to be their core concern: educating Australian children. Far from working to destroy public education, as the teachers unions allege, the conservatives may just end up saving it. But more on that later.

First, to the shifting electoral sands. Education has long been regarded as Labor's stronghold, an issue that differentiated the ALP from the Coalition. In October 2003 a Newspoll survey revealed that Labor was ahead by 13 points when voters were asked who was best able to handle education. Similarly, Kim Beazley has been regarded, by and large, as more capable on education than John Howard. That appears to be changing. A Newspoll survey last week revealed that Howard is seen as just as capable as Beazley when it comes to education.

It's too early to talk of firm trends in favour of Howard on education, but the gap is closing. As a point of contrast, on the Coalition's traditional strength - handling the economy - it continues to significantly outscore Labor. The October survey had the Coalition ahead by 32 points on the economy front. As Newspoll chairman Sol Lebovic told The Australian: "You don't see that (differentiation) in Labor's strength on education." So education is well and truly up for grabs. Given that 75 per cent of Australian voters rate education as very important in determining who gets their vote, it's clear that Howard will use education as an electoral issue next year.

If it turns out to be a winner for Howard, the teachers unions will be the dunces who handed it to him. Last week The Daily Telegraph reported that the NSW Teachers Federation announced that teachers should not be compelled to include comments about students' performance in school reports. That's from the same union that is blocking any movement towards A to E grading of students of subjects apart from literacy and numeracy. As that newspaper's editorial asked, where does that leave the school report card? Looking rather blank?

The unions also opposed suggestions by federal Education Minister Julie Bishop that teachers be remunerated according to merit, not merely seniority. They scoffed at the idea that principals are best placed to determine the good teachers who deserve greater rewards. It happens in every workplace across Australia, but in schools? Forget about it.

Bloviating against reform on the dubious basis that teachers unions know best, they also opposed moves to inject a greater focus on phonetic instruction into literacy. The knee-jerk rejection by the most powerful teachers union of education reforms suggested by the Howard Government highlights the politicised nature of the unions' agenda. That and the fact union leaders regularly spill the political beans in the most colourful way. It's worth repeating the political outbursts for the simple reason that they may explain why more voters are looking to Howard for leadership on education. Recall NSW English Teachers Association president Wayne Sawyer blaming the re-election of the Howard Government in 2004 on the failure of teachers to create a "critical generation". Then came Australian Education Union president Pat Byrne declaring that teachers needed to be on the progressive side of politics. In her prepared speech to the Queensland Teachers Union conference last year, Byrne complained that "it was not a good time to be progressive in Australia" but assured her union constituency that"the conservatives have a lot of work to do to undo the progressive curriculum".

It's a neat reminder to parents of who to blame for curriculum woes. The Coalition is inching forward in the polls on education for one simple reason: the so-called progressive agenda thrust on schools has not worked. Every time a unionist calls for more of the same, it may just translate into another point in the polls for the Coalition on education. Alas, some of our education union leaders are not smart enough to work that out. Who can forget Byrne attacking the Coalition for casting the education debate in terms of conservative values. "It has framed the debate in terms of choice, excellence, quality, values, discipline," she said. Crikey. You can almost hear parents saying: "If progressives are opposed to choice, excellence, quality, values and discipline, it's time to give the conservatives a go." Next week, teachers will desert the classroom to march in the National Day of Union and Community Action, railing against the Government's Work Choices legislation. Expect a wry smile from the Howard Government, as parents and students are once again relegated behind union politics.

Union rhetoric that says conservatives want to trash public education does not match what's happening in the real world. In Alberta, Canada, long derided as home to dumb rednecks riding high on the proceeds of oil and natural gas, there has been a dramatic turnaround in the inexorable decline in public education. In Edmonton, the province's capital, recently retired schools chief Angus McBeath says: "The litmus test is that the rich send their kids to public schools, not the private schools." Just read that again. Rich folk are sending their children to public schools. Compare the exodus of Australian students from public to private schools, with parents often working two jobs to pay for private school fees. What's behind Alberta's counter-intuitive trend, in which 80per cent of parents express satisfaction with public education? Put it down to the dreaded conservatives, who have reigned since 1971, and their values. It's simple stuff like reforming the curriculum to focus on core subjects such as maths, English and science, improving teacher training, setting real performance goals for students and tracking student performance in province-wide tests.

As The Economist recently pointed out, Alberta has spent the past three decades building one of the best education systems in the country. And it's turning out clever students who rank higher than their Canadian peers. In Australia, there appears to be a similar yearning for genuine accountability in education. Increasingly, parents are turning away from Labor as being best able to deliver on that front. It's not an unreasonable response, given that reform is unlikely to come while the political bruvvers in the union movement rule in our schools.


OK to mock Catholics?

The same tribunal previously held that it was illegal to mock Islam

Is telling Federal Health Minister Tony Abbott to keep his rosaries off a women's ovaries freedom of speech or religious vilification? A member of the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal will judge when he either allows or strikes out a claim by Right-to-Lifer Babette Francis, who wants controversial T-shirts sporting the slogan banned. Mrs Francis claims T-shirts bearing the words "Mr Abbott, keep your rosaries off my ovaries" vilify Catholics and incite violence.

The YWCA, which makes the T-shirts, fought yesterday to have her legal action struck out, arguing it fails to meet the strict parameters of the Racial and Religious Vilification Act. Barrister for the YWCA, Melanie Young, said the words were a metaphorical expression used during robust debate and did not incite hatred, severe ridicule or serious contempt. The T-shirts sparked widespread outrage when one was worn into Parliament by Greens senator Kerry Nettle during heated debate over who should control the abortion drug RU486.

Representing herself in her VCAT claim, Mrs Francis said yesterday the words offended her, vilified Catholics and stirred anti-Catholic bigotry. "For a Christian organisation like the YWCA to stir up that type of bigotry is outrageous," she told the hearing yesterday. Mrs Francis argued that some people would interpret the slogan literally, believing Catholics would literally place their hands on a woman's ovaries. She said some people who didn't accept Catholicism might find certain church practices, such as the sprinkling of holy water, as "weird". Mrs Francis wants the YWCA to stop making the T-shirts and make a $10 donation to Helpers of God's Precious Infants.

But Ms Young said some people would find the slogan witty, others would say it was an astute metaphor and some would say it was offensive. VCAT senior member Rohan Walker will hand down his decision on whether or not to strike out Mrs Francis's claim at a later date.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Australia's own Royal visitor

Probably the most popular person in Australia

Crown Princess Mary of Denmark flew into her home town of Hobart with her son yesterday for a long-anticipated private family visit. And the first item on the holiday agenda, after meeting her husband Crown Prince Frederik at the airport, was lunch with Mary's family and a much-needed rest to recover from the jetlag.

The pregnant Mary and her son, Prince Christian, arrived in Hobart at 10am aboard a Qantas flight from Melbourne, which they shared with other excited passengers. Princess Mary, wearing jeans, a navy jumper and camel-coloured jacket, was met on the tarmac by Prince Frederik, the couple sharing a kiss and an embrace before they were picked up by a black Audi four-wheel-drive and whisked away.

Prince Frederik is believed to have arrived in Hobart on Tuesday night, as he flies separately from his 13-month-old son, who is next in line to the Danish throne. While details of their arrival were secret, the royals were still welcomed by a small group waving Danish flags as well as local and Danish media.

More here


It couldn't be that pesky old sun that causes the warming and cooling all by itself, could it? Some interesting data from Australia

It is amazing to me, that there is very limited analysis into temperatures at certain times of the day. Even the IPCC Climate Change 2001 report only looks at maximum and minimum temperatures. We concluded here that minimum temperatures have increased significantly from about the 1980's, but have stayed around the same level since then. The increase in Australia has been 0.3 degrees since 1980. We also concluded also that there has recently, especially in the last 5 years been an increase in Australia's maximum temperature, however the increase is statistically insignificant. The graph on this link clearly shows an increase in maximum temperatures since around 1960, but not quite to the level that they were in the 19th century.

So what is happening in these last few years of increase in maximum temperatures? It is strange that research has not decided to look into this, and has generally just accepted the fact that we are warming up.

The graph shows the deviations from the norm at certain times of the day with reference to last 5 years, 15, 30, 60 and 100 years. Data for the last 100 years was only available for 9am, 3pm and 9pm.

Lets look at the last 5 years to start off with. At the heat of the day, at around 3pm, we see that temperatures in the last 5 years have increased by on average almost 0.6 degrees. But interestingly, at other times of the day, the decrease is less. In fact at 3am and 6am, when the sun does not shine, there is no increase at all in temperature. As the earth spins further away from the sun, the temperature deviation from the norm decreases. Between 1992 and 2001 we had less than normal temperatures with the exception of 3pm. The previous 15 years before that showed an increase in temperatures at around the 6pm to 9pm mark, and from 1947 to 1976, where it is well known that maximum temperatures were on the decrease, this graph shows this. With temperatures at what would normally be at the peak, 3pm, being around 0.2 degrees below the norm. Interestingly here, that when the sun is on the other side of the world, the temperature difference is minimal.

So why is it that in most recent times, we are heating up during the heat of the day and not at other times? Admittedly it is only a small sample size of 5 years, but it might well be worth some debate. This data clearly proves, that Australia is not uniformly heating up at all times, but only when the sun is at its peak. Hence the reason why we get increased maximum temperatures more recently.

It is interesting, that the increased maximum temperatures of late only occur because of an increasing temperature around 3pm (the heat of the day) and not at other times. Likewise the decreased maximum temperature from around 1947 to 1976 only occurred because of a decrease in temperatures around 3pm (the heat of the day) and largely not at other times.

If CO2 were the primary causer of increased temperatures in Australia, then wouldn't we get a more consistent temperature increase throughout the day and night? Analysis at certain times of the year, and when there is/isn't cloud cover might well be the key here. Keep in mind however, that the increase in temperature over the past 5 years is not significant, but is still worth a look into, as it seems this is rarely done in the literature.


Follow-up comment:

Recently we showed that when Australian maximum temperatures increased, the actual temperature only increased when the sun was out. Likwise, from 1947 to 1970 when temperatures decreased, the decrease only occured when the sun was out. Hence, when maximum temperatures are up or down, we are not seeing an increase/decrease throughout the day of temperatures but only at the heat of the day (around 3pm) when the sun is at it's hottest.

Maybe the sun has something to do with the discrepancies in maximum temperatures perhaps? Well Scafetta and West's (2006) research seems that it could agree with us saying that:

The sun might have contributed approximately 50% of the observed global warming since 1900

50% Wow! That's like....half. Maybe there is something in this. Which would you bet causes more warming....CO2 levels or the sun? Hmmm....


Victoria: Hatred of Christian political party

A hate campaign has emerged in the eastern suburbs as vandals link the Family First party to the American white supremacist group the Ku Klux Klan. Mitcham candidate Miriam Rawson was this week shocked to find KKK had been scrawled on her Blackburn North billboard and a white hood painted over her face. It was the third time the billboard had been vandalised, and four other signs have been stolen.

But Ms Rawson, 28, a teacher and first-time candidate, believes it was not a personal attack but a vicious campaign against the party's values. "Everybody knows that we need to rebuild our schools, but when you start to touch on issues such as looking to reduce the number of abortions in Victoria . . . that starts to push a few buttons," she said. "Obviously there's something that's made them react to what Family First is about so violently they've felt they've had to express themselves that way."

Ms Rawson, who has filed a complaint with Nunawading police, challenged the "cowards" to come forward. "I'd be quite happy to face them in an open debate in public," she said. "Let them have their say and I can respond in a mature, non-criminal way. "When I first saw it I thought, 'Why are you doing this to me?' "But something inside me went, 'I'm going to campaign even harder,' and I have been. It's been almost like a blessing in disguise."


A great speech about Israel from Australia's Foreign Minister

Well Rabbis, ladies and gentlemen I just want to say what a great honour it is and an unusual honour for me to come along here this afternoon and spend some time with you and participate in the opening of this synagogue. I feel it is a great honour for a lot of reasons - some of them are very modern, some of them are not so modern

I'm not Jewish, as you probably know I'm a Christian. But I went to university in England and when I was at university in England I got in with as they say, a whole lot of Jewish people, for no particular reason. I just came across them and became friendly with them to the extent that one of them a girl called Judy and I and a couple of others I hasten to add shared a house in our last year (It was a platonic relationship.). We still keep in touch with her to this very day.

Judy had a cousin in Israel as many Jewish people do and her cousin came to stay with us from Israel. It's rather exciting having an Israeli come to stay with us in our student house, eating our modest maybe I could say even disgusting food of baked beans and toast and other nasty things that students in those days ate when they were away from home.

Only this was 1973 and while this friend, this cousin of Judy's was staying with us as the Yom Kippur war broke out. And you can imagine the absolute agony of this for these young people who I was living with at the time. The cousin had a brother who was in the Israeli Defence Forces at the time. And the worry, the agony, I think is the right way to put it, that Judy and her fiend in particular felt as they listened to the reports on the BBC coming from the battlefield..

Well it had an enormous impact on me. And it helped I suppose to put into perspective for me as a Christian the appalling history of the Jewish people, in the sense that they have been targeted, they have been discriminated against, they have been ridiculed, they've been murdered, and yet despite all the horrors that they have put up with, they have continued and they have shown courage and they have a record of simply extraordinary achievement.

I am just enormously proud that in this country of Australia, and you know this was true to some extent of Britain, but in this country, Jewish people have been a fundamental part of the writing of the modern Australian story. It's nice that we have had two Jewish Governors General and it is wonderful to see Sir Zelman and Lady Cowen here tonight. It's a particular honour to be with them. Sir Zelman succeeded Sir John Kerr as the Governor General and it was of course a tumultuous period in Australian history - tonight's not the night to relive that. He used a phrase when he became the Governor General and that phrase that he used was that he would like to bring a touch of healing to the job. He very much did do that. He did a wonderful job as our Governor General. Sir Isaac Isaacs was our first Australian-born Governor General and he was Jewish.

I come from South Australia. I think I am right in saying South Australia is the only state that's ever had a Jewish Premier in the form of Premier Solomon back in the 19th century. I think one of the most important figures in Australian history has been none other than General Sir John Monash who was also Jewish - a great general, not just a great Australian general, but a great allied general, a great general on the Western Front during the First World War. So Jewish people in Australia have prospered yet they have been monstrously persecuted over and over again through history for the most intolerant, irrational and unacceptable of reasons.

And it is just wonderful as a country that we have crafted for ourselves a place in the world where we have stood up for the equal value of all people regardless of their religions or even lack of religions, of their colour, of their race, even of their ideology. I often say the only people we don't tolerate in Australia are the intolerant. You should never tolerate the intolerant but you should tolerate everyone else. It's a truly great thing about this country and as I travel around the world I can't help but be proud of it. The second thing I wanted to say is that I think as a country we have shown that we are prepared to stand up for our values and sometimes even to die for our values.

I didn't realize as I came here this evening that this was the anniversary of kristallnacht, the 68th anniversary. This was a truly dark time in the history of the world. The 30s was the ugly decade, really the decade where National Socialism, Nazism, fascism increasingly gained a grip on Europe and on the centres of power in the world. And good people did so little about it. Good people did not confront it until very nearly it was too late. Many good people thought, well, it's going on in Germany. I suppose, they've had a tough time the Germans - they couldn't face another war after the horrors of the First World War. And there emerged the policy of appeasement. The price of appeasement was not just the lives of the six million Jews who died at the hands of the Nazis but of the 60 or so million people that died through the Second World War.

So why is this relevant to us today? It's relevant to us today because I think as a country and I think as a global community we have to have the courage to confront evil when we find it and deal with it and not find excuses to walk on the other side of the road and do nothing about it. Because if we do nothing about it, it will grow in its intensity and the consequences will become increasingly ghastly.

I think back over the last few years, you know, 1994 in Rwanda Nearly a million people were murdered before the international community thought it was right to do something about it and even that was controversial. People were murdered in vast numbers in the Balkans, in Kosovo as well, until the international community decided do to anything about it and even that was very controversial.

What do we confront this very day? We confront - and I think Israel obviously particularly has to contend with this - we confront the ideological scourge of extremist Islamist terrorism. It's ideological because what these people want to do is eliminate all other points of view and stamp upon the world their extremist Islamic interpretation - a completely ideological interpretation encapsulated by the work of the Taliban. Under the Taliban no girls were allowed to go to school or women to go to work, nobody was allowed a television or a radio or a CD player. Society was plunged back into the 7th Century and if you didn't agree with them philosophically or ideologically or theologically you were put to death. This is the ideology that these terrorists are trying to impose.

When it comes to Israel, I don't think the world should forget that these people want to eliminate Israel. It's not as though they never say they do, it's not as though they keep it a secret. It's that the world seems to show such a lack of understanding of the Israeli's determination that this doesn't happen. I often say to people how would you feel?

And you have just heard the testimonies about the mothers who were in the holocaust, the children of these people and the descendants in other forms of these people. They live in Israel. They have their own country and surrounding them are people - not of course all people - I'm not saying all the Arabs hold this view - but the terrorists, the Hezbollah terrorists, the Hamas terrorists, the Al Qaeda terrorists, so the list goes on. These are people who are committed to yet again the destruction of the Jewish people and in particular the destruction of their state. And the IDF can be a bit aggressive in defence of Israel. Well that shouldn't come as a surprise to anybody who has a bit of sensitivity and a bit of understanding of what the Israeli people and the Jewish people are up against in Israel and it's particularly important to keep a historical perspective of that.

Does it matter to Israel and to the Jewish people that these terrorists could win in Afghanistan or in Iraq? It matters enormously. These are life or death issues in terms of dealing with this ideology and defeating this ideology. And I think as an international community it's enormously difficult to keep the public on side and to encourage the public to support our policies or any country's policies of confronting and defeating these people.

There are all sorts of different ways I know of defeating them. Interfaith dialogues . very useful . very successful by the way in South East Asia. It's been possible to defeat them by harnessing the ideology of modern Muslims, again more successful in South East Asia than in the Middle East.

Sometimes they have to be defeated them in the battlefield. But in the end we, as what I might broadly describe as a Western society, can decide whether we will defeat these people or whether we won't. We can make that decision. They can never destroy our society even though they want to. They can never destroy our tolerance and our decency and our humanity even though they want to destroy that and impose their extremist ideology and their intolerance on us all. Only we can allow them to make progress, gain ground by sending a message to them that we can be defeated by showing a lack of will, by showing a lack of determination. I think this is an incredibly difficult, a very difficult time.

I find and I've been doing this today as we cast our votes in the United Nations against some of what I call the extreme Palestinian resolutions. I mention this today because at Melbourne airport I was signing off on how we would vote on a number of these resolutions that are coming up over the next couple days. These resolutions are deeply anti-Israeli, deeply anti-Israeli, and big majorities always carry them. And we are always being told, the best thing for diplomacy is to: all right minister, you don't like the resolution, but in the interests of diplomacy why don't you abstain? And I say, let's vote against it because it is wrong. And the more we and other countries stand up to this sort of behaviour, the more we stand a chance of success. the more we try to appease, the more we will encourage. And it is enormously important to remember that.

So I spent more than my five minutes talking to you but it's just an opportunity to say that right from those days when I was a student and I was so enthusiastically befriended by the Jewish people I met at university to the extent that I shared a house with one of them for 18 months, a couple of years, and made so many friends in England through her and other of her friends in the British Jewish community and of course in Australia as well and the kindness that has been shown to me by Jewish people and the tolerance they show towards me. and I appreciate that. some of them are, dare I say the word, Labour.

But they are still quite tolerant and the decency of them and the energy and the hard work and the long record of achievement in the Jewish community in Australia - I think it's fantastic So it is with the greatest of pleasure that I come here this afternoon and participate in this ceremony to open a synagogue and to see so many of you here and thank you very much for tolerating me here in your presence