Tuesday, January 16, 2007

University prohibits funding of political clubs

(The clubs affected will be mostly far-Leftist ones. How odd that they cannot support themselves! Suckling on the taxpayer's teat is all they know. It's about time they got a lesson in non-parasitic politics)

Students at one of Australia's most politically active universities have been banned from using campus funds to finance political clubs. Victoria's La Trobe University is using the Howard Government's voluntary student unionism legislation to refuse financial support for any of the campus's political clubs and societies.

"Purely and simply it's discrimination and is the antithesis of what university is supposed to be about in terms of people bringing up ideas and debating," said the president of La Trobe's Student Representative Council, Sarah Cole. "Most people would consider that as a key part of university life and getting a degree."

The university confirmed the arrangement was part of a new funding agreement to support the student union and its affiliated non-political clubs and societies but would not comment further. It is estimated the legislation will cost universities and student organisations $160 million annually from the loss of the compulsory levies.

But the La Trobe Student Representative Council, which is refusing to sign the deal, says it will lose university funding worth $240,000 if it is found to be financially supporting any political groups. "We can't find any part of the (Government's VSU) legislation that necessitates this," Ms Cole said. "It seems like it's partially motivated by people within the university administration who just want to stop political clubs from being active on campus."

Following the introduction of the Government's VSU legislation, which came into force in July last year, student bodies in universities across the country held fears that political clubs would have their funding cut back. Michael Nguyen, president of peak student body the National Union of Students, said he was unaware of other campuses taking the VSU legislation to such extremes. "It hasn't been explicit but university administrations have been saying this kind of thing in funding negotiations," he said. "The general sentiment is that universities are wishing to implement the intent of the VSU legislation which is to restrict political activities."

La Trobe - which has a long tradition of left-wing student political activism - appears to be the first university to adopt a hardline approach to funding for political groups on campus. Political clubs are the only clubs to have been targeted with the funding agreement. Sporting clubs and societies are able to operate as usual.


Hilali like Hitler: Muslim leader

A prominent Muslim leader has likened Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali to Adolf Hitler, saying the outspoken mufti is doing as much damage to Islam in Australia as the German dictator did to Christianity. The Australian Federation of Islamic Council's legal adviser, Haset Sali, labelled the sheik's recent diatribe on Egyptian television against Western "liars and oppressors" as insane and said the comments had horrified thevast majority of Australian Muslims.

"He has been about as helpful to Islam in Australia as Adolf Hitler was to Christianity during the Second World War," Mr Salisaid. "Hilali increasingly chooses to rewrite what he thinks should be in the Holy Koran, and his sick and vile comments in his recent interviews are not only un-Islamic but also inhumane and highly disgraceful."

The sheik, who is still holidaying in Egypt in what was supposed to be a self-imposed exile, went back on Egyptian television at the weekend to apologise for his comments that immigrants had more right to live in Australia than "Anglo-Saxons who arrived ... in shackles".

The mufti said his comments had been taken out of context - the same claim he repeatedly made following the furore that erupted after he likened immodestly dressed women to uncovered meat. The sheik's musings on his adopted country, which aired in the Egyptian television interview last week, stretched to bizarre claims about Australia's "nudist streets" and beaches. "There are nude beaches in Australia, and if one goes there wearing clothes is fined (sic). And there are streets like that, too."

NSW Premier Morris Iemma dismissed Sheik Hilali's defence that he had been again taken out of context. "He is a man who, really, we should not attach too much credibility to, because he just doesn't have any," Mr Iemma told Southern Cross radio.

Sheik Hilali also said during the interview screened last week that the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks had influenced a judge who handed down a 55-year sentence to Lebanese Muslim gang rapist Bilal Skaf. He had claimed that prior to September 11 the "worst crime in Australia had received seven years' jail".

The sheik's spokesman in Australia, Keysar Trad, conceded yesterday that the comment was inaccurate. "The seven-year reference is a generalisation," Mr Trad said. "We know that that's not an accurate statement. He wasn't trying to be accurate. He was just making generalisations and nothing but generalisations to stress a point." Mr Trad said Mr Sali's comments were tainted by his involvement in the brawling over AFIC leadership. "I'm disappointed in him," Mr Trad said. "In the circumstances it's debatable whether hecan make a fair comment or not."

John Howard was nonplussed yesterday at being labelled "Mr Me Too" by Sheik Hilali because "he wait for any news from America to say, 'me too'." "The sheik's great problem is that he's becoming a standing embarrassment to his own community," said the Prime Minister. "He is hurting their reputation in the eyes of their fellow Australians and I ask them in their own interests to do something about it." But AFIC, which has the power to abolish the position of Mufti of Australia, is in receivership and fresh elections for a new executive board are not expected until next month.

Mr Sali, who was once close to the sheik but has become a fierce critic, said Australian Muslims needed a head Mufti as much as they needed a "crocodile in the back garden" and described Sheik Hilali was like "a bull in a china shop. "In reality, Sheik Hilali is no longer the Mufti for Australia," Mr Sali said. "Although when it suits him he likes to call himself the Mufti of Australia."


Conservatives target Rudd's 'radicals'

A new front has been opened in the assault on Kevin Rudd's restyled Labor, with an attempt to create the perception of a party dominated by left-wing radicals hiding behind a conservative leader. The attack, by Liberal frontbencher Christopher Pyne, highlights an effort to drive a wedge in the minds of voters between the federal Labor leader and his parliamentary team. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing said Mr Rudd's image as deeply conservative was absurd, given that the people who delivered him his leadership were left-wingers.

Mr Pyne's attack on Mr Rudd's team reflects a belief that the new Labor leader is a serious threat to the Government. In the lead-up to this year's election, Mr Pyne said he would urge voters to look beyond Mr Rudd when considering a Labor government. "I'm concerned that the public knows that when they are buying the Labor Party they are buying a lot more - they are buying a leftist agenda," he said. "The cast of characters behind Kevin Rudd would make the Adams family blush." He will set out his election assault in a speech at a Young Liberals conference this month.

The Coalition attacked Mr Rudd within an hour of his appointment on December 4, launching a website with a disparaging animation. The rapid response is consistent with Liberal polling showing voters are attracted to Mr Rudd. "Kevin Rudd is presenting himself as a conservative Labor leader, but behind Kevin Rudd are the same old people who have always been there, nothing has changed," Mr Pyne said. "People like Julia Gillard and Kim Carr in the Left and the union movement, these people's views haven't changed. On the fundamentals - private health insurance, private and public schooling, foreign policy issues and the US alliance - these people's views are extreme and unwelcome."

He said that even on Middle East issues, the people behind Mr Rudd had opinions that needed to be exposed. "The people behind Kevin Rudd have views that are diametrically opposed to the views of the majority of Australians," he said. "Kevin Rudd can pretend to be one thing and not the other to the Australian people but the views of his supporters are on the record and the public needs to know those." Mr Pyne said Australians would be shocked if such people took power. "The settled views of the public on the economy, private and public education and health would be put in danger by many of the people who back Kevin Rudd," he said. "Many of the people who he owes the leadership to are the ones that would have control."

Liberal frontbencher Greg Hunt warned that Mr Rudd would replicate the economies of France and Germany under a "social democratic" model and be governed by the ideas of leftists such as Noam Chomsky.


Australia's other drug war

The scourge of drugs in our schools is one of the big fears facing all parents as their children grow up. But increasingly concern is turning to the cocktail of mind-altering substances being fed to youngsters before they leave home in the mornings. Tens of thousands of children are being prescribed drugs for a series of mood and behaviour disorders ranging from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to depression. "There is a medical civil war going on and the victims caught in the crossfire are the kids who have no say in it," says Dr George Halasz, a Melbourne-based psychiatrist.

Lined up on one side are the GPs, child psychiatrists and other specialists who believe medication is a safe, simple and effective way of relieving the suffering of children and adolescents, and controlling symptoms that cause them to struggle at school and socially.

On the other side are colleagues who criticise what they see as massive over-diagnosis and unnecessary use of potentially dangerous drugs that have a largely unknown long-term effect on developing brains. No anti-depressant has been approved in Australia for the treatment of depression in anyone aged under 19, but they are still prescribed.

Federal figures for 2003 show 250,000 prescriptions for Prozac and similar drugs - selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) - were issued to children and adolescents. That was 30,000 more than the previous year. Three-quarters of them went to people aged 15 to 18, with about 15,000 going to children under 10. The figures do not indicate how young the children on anti-depressants are, but a 2004 study that tracked more than 5000 mothers and their children found that "it is common for children as young as five to be perceived to manifest a variety of symptoms of depression and/or anxiety".

Black Dog Institute chief Professor Gordon Parker has prescribed Prozac to an eight-year-old boy, reluctantly and only after consulting with two other child psychiatrists. "His mother, who also had a very bad depression, had several children and they were all happy except this one boy who would come home from school and say, 'I want to be dead.' " After about three weeks on Prozac, the boy was "wonderful". Several attempts were made to take him off the medication but within three or four weeks his condition deteriorated each time. The use of anti-depressant drugs for children under 12 "should be done rarely and by specialists and with great care", cautions Prof Parker.

A study by Professor Jon Jureidini of the Adelaide Women's and Children's Hospital concluded children and adolescents should not be placed on anti-depressants. "The drugs do not work and there is a possibility they may be dangerous for a small group," he says.

In 2004, the UK banned the use of all SSRI anti-depressants except Prozac for young people and the US Federal Drugs Agency asked manufacturers to include warning labels after experts found a link between anti-depressants and increased risk of suicide in children and teenagers. The danger was said to be greatest at the start of treatment, when there was a change in dosage or if it was suddenly withdrawn. Australia's Therapeutic Goods Administration gave a similar warning and reiterated that the drug companies advise against the use of the medications to treat people under 18 for depression.

The Australian Adverse Drug Reactions Advisory Committee recommended that where anti-depressants were prescribed for children and adolescents it should be carefully monitored and done only as a part of "comprehensive" patient management, preferably with cognitive behaviour therapy. ADRAC documents show that since close monitoring of prescriptions to children began in 2005, more than 1600 adverse reactions had been notified. Of these, 827 related to children aged under 10 and the drugs had been linked to two suicides and a death from heart failure. Another 833 adverse reactions were logged for youths aged 10 to 19, including links to three deaths.

Dr Brett McDermott, director of the Mater Child and Youth Mental Health Service in Brisbane and spokesman for the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, says: "I think Australia has got it right. There are very safe anti-depressants and we are not prescribing them lightly. "Depression is a severe condition and I don't think you can withhold treatment because a small amount have side effects." Dr McDermott said GPs were competent to prescribe to adolescents but the younger the child, the more important it was they saw a child psychiatrist. "I would be very reluctant to prescribe anti-depressants to kids in primary school," he said.

Dr Halasz and others fear the use of drugs to treat depression could follow the explosion in ADHD medication. "The US, Canada and Australia are the world gold, silver and bronze medal-holders in terms of prescribing drugs to children," he said. Prescriptions in Australia for the most common medication - dex-amphetamines- rose from 96,000 a year to 232,000 between 1994 and 2004. In August 2005, the other popular ADHD drug Ritalin was added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, reducing the cost from $49 to as little as $4.70 for concession card-holders. Over the next six months, the number of Ritalin scripts issued soared from 523 a month to more than 5800, with no apparent decrease in other medications. Queensland prescription numbers have grown at a rate second only to that in Western Australia.

A world authority on ADHD, Professor David Hay from Curtin University in Perth, says one possible reason for the high number of cases is that GPs are allowed to diagnose ADHD in those two states. Elsewhere, it can be done only by child psychologists or psychiatrists. ADHD is "extraordinarily complex", with a high risk of mis-diagnosis, says Prof Hay. "We have to make sure we are measuring a problem in the child and not the parent's perceptions. I don't think it's done well enough."

A Federal Government study found 11 per cent of parents reported their children had symptoms consistent with ADHD. Dr Halasz says the true figure is more like 1 per cent and that many are being wrongly diagnosed. "Parents are between a rock and a hard place. They always want to do the best for their children," he said.

In the US, it is not uncommon for schools to insist parents medicate their children to modify their behaviour as a condition of remaining at the school. Youth Affairs Network of Queensland director Siyavash Doostkhah says it also happens regularly here - even though it is illegal. Denise, a Brisbane northside mother, says that happened to her son John who was branded a "bad" child all through pre-school. "This came to a head when he had only been in Grade 1 for approximately four months when the principal came to me and told me I either put my son on medication or he would be expelled."

Queensland University of Technology education PhD student Linda Graham recently completed a study of school responses and concluded that children who do not fit the "norm" are made scapegoats. "Parents of children who can be described as 'hyperactive' or 'distractable' are under pressure to medicate their children so they can fit into an overwrought, under-funded public education system," she said. "The load is lessened when difficult kids are diagnosed with something that qualifies for support funding or when parents oblige the school by shifting the problem to their local pediatrician."

She backed claims by child psychiatrists to The Sunday Mail of parents being pressured by schools to get diagnoses of conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder. Students with ASD qualify for teacher-aide support funding while those with ADHD do not. Proponents of ADHD medication point to the fact that it has helped thousands of children to control their impulsive or hyperactive behaviour, to focus and concentrate better, to improve their school performance and to increase their social skills.

Dr Halasz agrees it would be unethical to withhold the drugs from the very small group of children who really require them but argues that just because a child functions better after taking them is not proof that the child was ever "ill". And he warns there have not yet been any long-term follow-up studies of the effects. "There could be a sleeper effect. In 20 years we could have a whole generation acting differently."


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