Sunday, April 29, 2007

Islamic incitement to violence in Australia

A VIDEO posted on a hardline Islamic website to promote a soccer tournament in western Sydney has outraged Muslim leaders by featuring an Arabic song often used by al-Qaeda to promote jihad. The song calls on militants to "exterminate" non-believers and make them "hear the tunes of death". The video is used by the Global Islamic Youth Centre, headed by radical cleric Faiz Mohamad, who has praised jihadists and compared Jews to pigs.

It plays the jihad tune, which also says "we shall go to heaven fearing no death", to images of local and international soccer players displaying their skills. Bomb explosions and missiles launching form part of the music in the clip promoting the Liverpool Youth Cup. "With the swords we shall exterminate the infidels and death is the desire of the pure," one translated verse says. "With jihad the banners of the evident victory shall rise high. "We shall go to heaven fearing no death. We shall not waver ... we are the cubs of the victorious conquerors."

Senior Muslim leader Ameer Ali attacked the seemingly "hidden agenda" of the video, which was pulled down by GIYC yesterday afternoon following The Weekend Australian's inquiry. "I'm worried and I am concerned there is a hidden message behind this soccer tournament (promotion)," said the former chairman of John Howard's Muslim reference board. "This sort of message should be avoided. Why bring controversy into a sports match? Sport promotes co-operation, friendliness - that's what you expect from sport."

Prominent Sydney-based cleric Khalil Shami also condemned the video, saying it was wrong to conflate sporting images and "fighting". He attacked the fundamentalist GIYC for further damaging the Muslim community's standing in the eyes of mainstream Australia. "I don't know how they are driving this community - they drive it in a very, very bad way," said the imam at Penshurst mosque in Sydney's southwest. "It's not fair for the community. Why mix sport with the fighting? Why?"

GIYC's president, Zunaid Moosa, yesterday told The Weekend Australian that he was unaware of what the song meant because he didn't speak Arabic. He said Islamic songs were often chosen for video-clips based on their "catchy" tune, and denied having anything to do with the production of the clip. "Often a lot of anasheed (Islamic vocal music) we got no idea (about) because we are not Arabic-speaking people," he said. "It would just be more of a tempo of the beat and a catchy type tune, that's all."

A list of sponsors on the soccer clip includes charity group Human Appeal International and Krispy Kreme Donuts. A spokesman yesterday said HAI was not aware that GIYC had any political agendas when it agreed to sponsor the event. But a spokeswoman for Krispy Kreme denied the organisation had sponsored the soccer tournament and said she would take the matter up with GIYC.



By veteran Australian columnist Errol Simper -- "The Scribe"

One of the unfortunate things about the climate change debate is that to be a climate change sceptic is to become a dirty word. To be a climate change sceptic has become about the most unfashionable thing you could possibly become. Kevin Rudd all but sneers at John Howard for being a sceptic about the long-term weather forecasts. Howard, of course, vehemently rejects that he's a sceptic. Well, he would.

The word, as it relates to global warming and all the rest, has become code for fool, ignoramus, moron. This phenomenon is more than unfortunate. Many an ancient media practitioner may also find it a bit odd. You don't have to go back too many years to discover a time when scepticism was regarded as an admirable quality. For a journalist, for example, to be described as sceptical was - when the scribe started out in this caper many years ago - a compliment. To be sceptical was good. It meant you thought about things, delved below the surface, didn't rule out other possibilities. It certainly didn't mean you were uninformed, gormless or weak in the head.

Whether the media has been sceptical enough to date about climate change and concomitant alarmism is something the scribe has ruminated about since The Sydney Morning Herald appeared on green paper on Friday, March 30. The humble scribe isn't here trying to be droll at the expense of a rival journal. There's no obvious harm in a public-spirited newspaper sponsoring an "earth hour" and urging Sydneysiders to turn off their lights for 60 minutes the following day. Lots of us will have seen plenty of wanton waste and too conspicuous, greed-driven consumption. And there's nothing inherently wrong with green paper, perhaps excepting the fact you very probably have to expend extra energy to render it so.

It's fair to suggest that page 17, the opinion page, carried a particularly scintillating piece of journalism from Sydney's Lord Mayor Clover Moore. Moore began her missive with the jolly announcement: "Climate change is with us." Her article warned a few paragraphs later: "Climate change will spell the end of many familiar ways of doing things." She somehow contrived to make it sound like a wish fulfilment. What may have been missing from The Green Issue was, with respect, a dose of old-fashioned, agonising, doubt.

Maybe Moore's space should have gone to a hard-bitten sceptic. Such individuals do exist. One of the US's most experienced weather forecasters, William Gray - an emeritus professor of atmospheric science at the University of Colorado - said recently global warming during the past 30 years was due simply to fluctuations in key ocean currents. Gray, 77, believes the currents will alter course in the next decade or so and the planet will cool accordingly. Those scientists linking human activity to every bout of inclement weather are, Gray says, simply fishing for climate change study grants. He says doom-laden pronouncements are mere foolishness. And he says an inconvenient truth about Al Gore is that he's "an alarmist who doesn't know what he's talking about". For those of a sceptical nature the scribe should hasten to say he read all about Gray in a recent edition of Perth's The Sunday Times. So it must be true.

It is, of course, a debate that throws onerous responsibility on to the media. Science and environment specialists find themselves with the task of dissembling and editing copious information that may help decide the result of the forthcoming federal election and, at least according to some, the fate of our grandchildren.

The scribe might venture that few environment writers would be better credentialled for the job than this journal's Matthew Warren. Warren did a 1985 journalism cadetship at Adelaide's The News (no longer published), then switched to The Australian. He left in 1991 to study environmental economies at the University of Adelaide before undergoing a traineeship in Brussels with the European Union's environmental directorate. He became an environmental consultant, and worked for the Australian Food and Grocery Council and the mining industry before returning to journalism about six months ago. Warren, 42, is happy to be labelled a climate change sceptic. He doesn't mean he has no time for those who worry about global warming. He means it's his job "to challenge both sets of theories".

"Look, the science of this is complex, far more complex than many people seem to realise," Warren says. "There are those who'll tell you: 'The science is over and pointing unequivocally to human-induced global warming.' That's just uninformed. Science is a journey; it's always been a journey. I'm not sold on any one body of science. But I am respectful that a majority of responsible scientists is genuinely concerned. So, I suppose I'm sold on the risk. I believe when we look back on this debate in - say - 30 years' time, we'll either be incredibly grateful we had it or else we'll have to concede: 'We conned ourselves senseless."'

Another science writer with strong credentials is Peter Pockley. The founding director of the ABC's science unit, now a writer for Australasian Science magazine, Pockley finds himself sympathetic to those who are certain climate change is a reality but concedes the debate has become "polarised in a political way". He says: "Perhaps the most important thing we science journalists can do is to carefully assess the credibility and track record of those who speak out prominently on this matter. And it's not always an easy thing for us to do simply because we're not in that academic or professional swim."

The scribe? Well, the wisest among us usually keep an open mind about most things. On the other hand, the ancient scribe has seen lots of weather in his time. So he leans, just for the moment, towards the second of Warren's outcomes. We conned ourselves senseless.


Brave words, but Labor's policy offers no improvement to corrupted State education

A conservative facade hides destructive Leftism

THE exact moment it happened is hard to pinpoint, but the reality is that the Australian Labor Party, at both federal and state levels, has captured the education territory that was once the preserve of conservative governments and it now controls the debate. By scrapping former Opposition leader Mark Latham's hit list of so-called elite, private schools, endorsing parents' right to choose non-government schools, arguing for a collaborative approach to a national curriculum and, this week, placing subjects such as history and geography back on the school timetable, Kevin Rudd and the ALP have moved to the centre of the political spectrum.

As with British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his mantra of education, education, education, Rudd knows that to win the support of aspirational voters in marginal seats the party has to eradicate the vestiges of its socialist past and adopt education policies based on conservative values, such as strong academic standards, parental choice and holding schools accountable for performance.

As always, though, the devil is in the detail and no amount of rhetoric can disguise the fact the ALP is beholden to key players such as the Australian Education Union, which regularly supports Labor by donating thousands of dollars during elections and organising campaigns in marginal seats in opposition to Liberal governments. If a Rudd government is elected this year, there is a danger that Australian education will continue to suffer from a dumbed down, politically correct curriculum and provider capture, where the education system, instead of meeting the needs of parents and students, is run for the benefit of the teachers unions and bureaucrats.

Take Labor's plan to develop a national curriculum. Arguing for higher standards and placing academic disciplines centre stage are beyond reproach. On reading Labor's policy paper more closely, though, it is clear the party intends to give the job of developing a national curriculum to the Curriculum Corporation and the Australian Council for Educational Research, two organisations responsible for Australia's adoption of outcomes-based education and the present parlous state of the school curriculum.

Based on Rudd's performance as a key bureaucrat during the years of the Goss government in Queensland and his first speech to parliament as Opposition Leader, it is clear that while he mouths platitudes about the importance of choice and accountability in education, he is still Comrade Rudd. Under Wayne Goss, Queensland earned a reputation for being a bastion of a new-age, cultural-left approach to curriculum. Indeed, as publicly stated by academic Ken Wiltshire, under the Goss-Rudd partnership education in the state was dumbed down, with a curriculum characterised as "weak and insipid".

In his first parliamentary speech as Opposition Leader, Rudd entered the "battle of ideas for Australia's future" by outlining his vision for the nation and the role of government and society. Once again, although the rhetoric is soothing - nobody can disagree with values such as equity, sustainability and compassion - a close reading shows that Rudd is an unreconstructed statist of the old order. Recognising the importance of a strong economy and of families as a social institution, Rudd argues that education is a public good - the same expression used by Pat Byrne, president of the Australian Education Union - and that families must be protected from the market, but commits himself to the present centralised, bureaucratic approach to education.

There is an alternative. If Labor is serious about raising standards, supporting parental choice in education and ensuring that schools are accountable, then why not embrace, as Blair has done in Britain and George W. Bush has done in the US, what are termed charter schools and vouchers? As argued by Blair, when opening schools to increased competition, there is a need "to escape the straitjacket of the traditional comprehensive school and embrace the idea of genuinely independent non-fee paying state schools. It (the British white paper's goal) is to break down the barriers to new providers, to schools associating with outside sponsors, to the ability to start and expand schools; and to give parental choice its proper place." Instead of being centrally controlled and managed, charter schools, within broad guidelines, have the freedom to hire, fire and reward better performing teachers. Control rests at the local level, in the hands of the school community or the principal, and charter schools are free to enact their own curriculum.

Vouchers represent a second way to open schools to market forces by giving more parents the financial means to choose between government and non-government schools. Unlike the present situation, where state schools are funded by government via a top-down centralised system, with vouchers, parents receive the money directly and they are free to spend it where they will.

Vouchers, especially those directed at students from under-performing schools or students who are educationally at risk because of their socio-economic background, have existed for years in countries such as the US and Chile, and the benefits are many. Research suggests that increased parental choice and competition between schools leads to higher standards, as there are strong incentives for schools to succeed in what they do. Put simply, the money follows the child and failing schools lose market share while successful schools attract more students. As parents are best placed to make decisions about their children's education, giving more parents the ability to choose between government and non-government schools is an inherent social good, and overseas research shows that vouchers and charter schools lead to increased social stability and cohesion.

On the level of rhetoric, Rudd and Opposition education spokesman Stephen Smith argue that teachers should be made more accountable, that parental choice must be supported and that the days of the Australian Education Union controlling what happens in schools are long gone. If they are true to their word, the ALP would also embrace innovations such as vouchers and charter schools. Now that would, indeed, represent an education revolution.


More downpours but still a "drought"

Australia's rainfall has always been irregular but Australian governments used to plan for that by building dams in advance of demand -- until they started to be terrorized by the "stop everything" Greens. The only drought is a drought of forethought

It may not be the end of the worst drought on record [The worst drought on record was in fact the Federation drought of over 100 years ago] but, for wide tracts of inland Australia, it was a start. A large weather system in the Indian Ocean has produced substantial rain in four southern mainland states [Australia has only six States] in the past week, raising the spirits of embattled farming communities. Although significantly short of the deluge needed to declare the drought over, areas of southern and western NSW received up to 25mm of rain in 24 hours yesterday, with similar falls in northwestern Victoria. South Australia recorded falls of up to 60mm in some areas, while a light sprinkling of moisture across southern Queensland failed to ease the escalating water crisis. The West Australian wheatbelt remained largely dry, as did the Northern Territory as it entered normal winter conditions.

The latest rain - coming just days after John Howard threatened to turn off irrigators' taps in the Murray-Darling Basin if decent falls were not recorded in the next two months - is expected to ease today. But more is predicted over southern Australia next week as a second frontal system moves over Western Australia and on into Victoria. National climate forecasters say the rain could mark the start of a predicted return to average weather conditions over southern Australia in the next three months and beyond. This could herald a $6 billion recovery in the agricultural industry, which has suffered five years of poor rainfall. "The key factor of El Nino has ended," said Blair Trewin, of the National Climate Centre at the Bureau of Meteorology, referring to the drought-causing weather phenomenon. "It could be that in six months' time, we identify late April as the beginning of the end of the drought."

Small businessman David Whitcher, near Stawell in Victoria, said yesterday's downpour was the area's first substantial rain this year. "At Christmas time, we got some good rain and everything greened up nicely for a few weeks," Mr Whitcher said. "After that, it went backwards and everything has been looking very sad and dry. Until today, we've only had about 5mm all year. But today has been great, I reckon we've had about 20mm."

The encouraging rains in South Australia and the western parts of Victoria and NSW came as the $10billion federal takeover of the Murray-Darling Basin appeared to move closer, with key concessions from the Howard Government and Victoria. Federal Environment and Water Resources Minister Malcolm Turnbull abandoned his quest to seize all powers from the states and has agreed to specify exactly what the commonwealth wants to control.

Victorian Premier Steve Bracks told The Weekend Australian yesterday that if Mr Turnbull confined his demands to the power to fix irrigation over-entitlements and deciding the overall cap on water use, Victoria could support the plan. The concessions from both sides, and productive talks between the Prime Minister and the previously hostile Victorian Farmers Federation yesterday, have substantially boosted the prospects of agreement over control of the nation's main river system.

Mr Howard said last week all water allocations for Murray-Darling irrigators would be cut to zero, in an effort to stop cities and towns running dry, without "substantial" rain in the next six to eight weeks.

Based on the weather bureau's predictions for May, June and July, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics is forecasting a 20 per cent improvement in total farm production next financial year, from $33.8 billion to $40.1billion. The timing of the current rains is crucial, offering the prospect of late growth in lower-altitude grazing country and a successful winter grains crop.

If the bureau's forecasts come true and the rains are sustained in coming weeks, they could also improve storage levels in the Murray-Darling river system, though it would take many months of heavy rainfall to return it to normal levels.

Col Thomson, a citrus grower from Mildura, on the NSW-Victoria border, said the 24mm of rain that fell on the town yesterday had come at just the right time for the community's drought-stricken farmers. "We just hope it continues. I hope this is the beginning of the break in the drought," he said. Meteorologists cautioned that the rains of this weekend would not alone break the drought. Don White, from the private consultancy Weatherwatch, said the rain would give growers optimism. But to fill dams and rivers, falls of 150mm to 200mm were needed over a month. The bureau predicts this is a likely outcome. "The odds are leaning slightly towards above normal rainfall," Mr Trewin said. "For Victoria, South Australia and NSW, we are forecasting a 50 to 55 per cent chance of above average rainfall. "In northern NSW and southern Queensland, we are predicting a 60 to 65 per cent chance above."


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