Monday, July 02, 2007

Costa of NSW: An influential Australian neocon Leftist

All he needs is hair. Of Greek origin (in a notably Italian government!) he is a former Trotskyist and a former union representative. The NSW branch of the Australian Labor Party has always been known as dominated by the "Right". Former NSW Premier Neville Wran (in power 1976-1987) is usually credited with introducing the Labor party to conservatism

LATE on Budget night, a journalist expressed disappointment to [NSW] Treasurer Michael Costa that arts funding had been cut by only $6 million. Costa could not hide his shame. "I'm sorry," he said. "But you should have seen it before Morris [Iemma -- the Premier] put all the money back."

Costa also blustered and baulked at his Cabinet colleagues when forced to provide funding for climate change in his budget - his compromise was that he would announce a "climate fund", thereby sparing him the pain of uttering the phrase "climate change". Kosta, you see, isn't a believer.

Those on the political Right often find themselves surprised by how far to the Left they seem by comparison to the Labor Treasurer. It's been a long journey for Costa, arguably the only genuine neocon (neoconservative) in the country. If there was any doubt, he has a portrait of Ronald Reagan on his office wall. While the left bandy the term around like an insult these days, it is from their own ranks that the neocons emerged. And Costa fits the bill to a tee. The relevance is that Costa is also the leading intellectual leader of the Iemma Government and is instrumental in shaping policy. His influence should not be underestimated.

Neoconservatism in its classical definition represents the political movement that emerged during the Cold War from the ranks of the liberal left. The neocons were a rejection of their lentil eating brothers of the counter-culturalists. Their mantra was the left no longer "knew what they were talking about". Costa as a neocon is complete. And he is the Government's financial puppeteer.

But the left are fighting back. The political dialectic is in full swing within the Iemma Government with the counter-revolution coming from the ranks of the new - young and ambitious - lefties in caucus. In numbers they may not match the might of the NSW right but in firepower they will be formidable. And two of them have already been made Ministers.


Diagnostic testing of children in trouble because Qld. government too mean to pay public hospital staff

A LEADING radiographer has revealed how severe staff shortages are putting public hospital patients at risk. Ben Kennedy resigned from the Royal Brisbane Children's Hospital last month because working for Queensland Health left him "burnt out" and unable to work safely. Speaking for the first time since resigning, the 35-year-old said patients were waiting too long for scans, and radiographers were suffering from working long hours with constant on-call commitments.

He said he was forced to work on-call for up to eight weeks at a time, sometimes finishing at 2am and starting again at 7am. "It's the equivalent of being drunk at work," said Mr Kennedy, who starts a new job tomorrow at a private radiology clinic. "You're dealing with critically ill patients, like babies with tumours, and if I had made a mistake because of tiredness, I would be the one who would be burned for it. "I had no choice but to work because there was no one else, but in the end I had to let my feet do the talking."

Mr Kennedy was one of two radiographers qualified to use the state's only pediatric MRI scanner. He set up the service two years ago, enabling thousands of children to receive diagnoses. His departure has left hospital bosses desperately trying to find a replacement. Mr Kennedy said Queensland Health had failed to provide other staff to undertake the three-month training program because of shortages. Queensland Health is suffering from a severe shortage of radiographers. At the Royal Brisbane Hospital there is a shortfall of about 17 staff. Radiographers warned more than a year ago they would walk out unless wages were increased by 40 per cent, in line with other states.

Mr Kennedy said more staff would follow him by the end of the year unless an agreement was met. "The work we do is taken for granted," he said. "Nothing in the hospital can happen without imaging, but the Government doesn't realise this. "A high percentage of children end up going for lifesaving surgery because of what our scans detect. Instead of recognising this, the Government goes around telling everyone we are just on a big money-grab, and if we blow the whistle and speak to the press then they can sack us."

Mr Kennedy started his career at Queensland Health in 1993, and has also worked at a public hospital in London. "In the UK, they went out on a limb to keep radiographers," he said. "They sent me on courses to further my education and did a great job trying to retain their staff. "Queensland Health does not adequately acknowledge the specialised skills that many radiographers have, or the years of postgraduate study required to do this work. "It is just all about crisis management and throwing a heap of money at something when it goes really wrong."

Queensland Health is in wage negotiations with unions representing radiographers. A Government spokesman denied radiographers were overworked or that there was a staff shortage. "Radiography staffing levels are determined on the basis of patient demand and the need to deliver safe, timely services," he said.


Global warming as a hook you can hang anything on

The global warming craze is a bonanza for scientists. If you can find some connection to global warming for what you want to research, your chances of getting funding are much increased. The story below is an example of that in action. The justification for the research in terms of global warming is however deeply flawed -- but flawed in a way that few non-scientists would recognize. Even assuming that global warming will continue, see if you can see at least two flaws in the proposal below. Answers at the foot of the article.

Australians could soon be eating the seeds of native grass as scientists search for crops with greater resistance to the effects of global warming. Researchers from Southern Cross University in NSW say dozens of native grasses could provide a good alternative to traditional plants such as wheat, rice and sorghum.

And Queensland's farmers could be the big winners as predicted increases in drought conditions across the southern states push crop cultivation further north. "There have been pest and climate issues in the past with growing cereal crops in northern Australia and that's where native crops may fare better," said Professor Robert Henry. "They should be better suited to our climate and soils. "If we can produce successful domestic crops, we can also look at exporting crops in the same way we have been importing them."

Prof Henry, director of the university's centre for plant conservation genetics, is heading the $1 million initiative run in partnership with Victorian-based Native Seeds Pty Ltd. "It's a great project. We are quite optimistic we are going to make some real progress." The aim is to have the first varieties available for small to moderate-scale planting in about two years, near the end of a three-year program which is also being supported with a $403,000 grant from the Australian Research Council.

About 10 per cent of the world's 10,000 grass species are native to Australia. The team is focusing on a few dozen which are closely related to species such as rice and sorghum. One of the main criteria is that they have large seeds which do not fall off easily in wind so they can be harvested and used for flour, cereals and other foods.

"We would expect that all of these species will allow production with less water than conventional crops and that will be an enormous advantage for the environment," said Prof Henry. "There is also a potential that these crops could be grown in areas in Australia where you can't grow traditional crops." He said while other countries had domesticated crops such as barley thousands of years ago, the cultivation of native grasses was "quite radical" for Australia. "We only need to get one species over the line to have a great outcome," Prof Henry said.

The above story by DARYL PASSMORE appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on July 1, 2007. Two major flaws in it:

1). The major grain crop in the Western world is wheat and wheat is already a dry-climate crop. It can be grown in many places but it grows best in areas of low rainfall. In some parts of Australia it is grown commercially with less than 10 inches of rain per year -- semi-desert, in other words. So reduced rainfall should EXPAND the area suitable for growing it. There is no need to invent new dry-climate grain crops.

2). Global warming would warm the oceans, thus causing them to give off more water vapour -- which then comes down as precipitation (rain or snow). So, OVERALL, global warming should increase rainfall, not reduce it. But more rainfall will EXPAND production of most crops -- including many grain crops -- such as rice. So there is no need for new types of grain crop under those circumstances either

Australia: Doing immigration the right way (mostly)

Australia chooses its immigrants. Still too many troublesome refugees accepted though

As Australia celebrates the population meter ticking over to 21 million, a record immigration figure for a financial year is expected to escalate the population boom. A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said the projected target of up to 148,000 new immigrants for 2006-07 would be met once the figures were tallied.

It represents one of the greatest immigration influxes in decades. Aided by a rising number of births, Australia is experiencing a rise in population numbers not seen since the two most significant boom periods, after World War II and in the 1980s. The secretary of the Department of Immigration, Andrew Metcalfe, had already hailed the previous year's growth as a record. In the department's annual report, he commended the outcome for 2005-06 of 143,000 new migrants as "the largest migration program for several decades".

This year's intake and projections for coming years suggest the increase will continue. The Government is aiming to accept 152,800 new migrants in 2007-08, a far cry from the low immigration stance it adopted on coming to power in 1996. After huge immigration numbers during Bob Hawke's years as prime minister in the 1980s, his successor Paul Keating slashed immigration in his first year as prime minister.

The rapid increase in immigration has been fuelled by a growing skills shortage. The Government has altered the mix of the immigration program to focus on attracting more skilled migrants. Two-thirds of those expected to settle permanently this year and next will fall under the skilled migration category.


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