Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Moderate Australian Muslims attack $1m Saudi gift to university

Up to $1 million will be pumped by Saudi Arabia into an Australian university, sparking fears the money will skew its research and create sympathy for an extremist Muslim ideology espoused by al-Qai'da. Muslim leaders and academics have attacked Queensland's Griffith University for accepting an initial $100,000 grant from the Saudi embassy, which they accused of having given cash in the past to educational institutions to improve the perception of Wahhabism - a hardline interpretation of Islam. The Australian understands the Griffith Islamic Research Unit will in coming years receive up to $1 million from Saudi Arabia, which has injected more than $120 million into Australia's Islamic community since the 1970s for mosques, schools, scholarships and clerical salaries.

A former member of John Howard's Muslim reference board, Mustapha Kara-Ali, accused the Saudis of using their financial power to transform the landscape of Australia's Islamic community and silence criticism of Wahhabism. "They want to silence criticism of the Wahhabi establishment and its link to global terrorism and national security issues," he said.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not keep tabs on money from Saudi Arabia to Australian universities, despite having mechanisms in place to monitor official funding from the kingdom to local mosques.

James Cook University's Mervyn Bendle, a senior lecturer in the history of communication and terrorism, said Saudi Arabia would not provide funds to any Islamic initiative without wanting to propagate its own agenda and version of Islam. "Historically, Saudi funding around the world has been used to promote Wahhabism," he said. "It would be naive to just accept on the surface that this is not the case as far as this money is concerned."

Griffith Islamic Research Unit will also receive a "collection of Islamic books and other materials", according to the university's website. But the director of Griffith's key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance, Ross Homel, defended the Saudi grant the university received on August 23, saying it came with "no strings" attached. He said the grant - which was not solicited by Griffith but followed "negotiations" between the university and the embassy - would help fund research scholarships at the Islamic centre, promote moderate Islam and supplement the salary of the body's director, Mohamad Abdalla.

Professor Homel said some of the research being conducted at the Islamic centre focused on domestic violence within the Islamic community and "the way Muslims are demonised". He said the Islamic books promised by the embassy were classic texts. "Saudis have indicated that they are prepared to provide substantially more (money)," said Professor Homel, whose department is responsible for the Islamic centre. "They are not controlling the money, the money is very much controlled by us through the university, so they have really no influence over the way we spend our money. "In fact, we wouldn't accept the money if it was for ... hardline (purposes) ... well, I'd like to believe we wouldn't."


Open-door "prison" for dangerous nuts

MENTAL health patients charged with crimes are walking out of Princess Alexandra Hospital due to a lack of secure beds, an ex-psychiatric nurse claims. The registered nurse said the hospital had recently opened 30 of its 36 secure beds, despite the concerns of doctors and staff. "About six months ago, management decided to open the ward on the basis it had been closed for too long," he said. "As a result, there have been fewer aggressive incidents. . . but that's because they're just letting themselves out when no one's looking," he said.

The nurse said those in the now open ward - known as the "west wing" - included forensic and classified patients in trouble with the law. The hospital's mental health division director of nursing, Janice Crawford, confirmed the ward - which houses both voluntary and involuntary psychiatric patients - was opened on March 19 after previously being "intermittently closed". "The open ward policy reflects the Queensland Mental Health Act's philosophy of least restrictive practice," she said in a written statement.

The nurse felt compelled to speak out after reading a report in The Courier-Mail about the problems facing police as a result of what they called a "revolving door" policy for mental health patients. Police complained that patients being arrested and taken to hospital were often back on the streets creating further disturbances the same day. "People are being put at risk but doctors and consultant psychiatrists are not having their concerns listened to," the nurse said.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said the Government had initiated the Mental Health Intervention Project to train police and ambulance officers to deal with mentally ill people. He said 3500 police had a training session but police yesterday said people with mental illness were also suffering as a result of the shortage of long-term care. A senior officer said a patient who had attempted suicide several times was taken to the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital psychiatric unit, only to be released shortly after. "A few days after being released, he threw himself in front of a train in Fortitude Valley," the officer said.

The Queensland Mental Health Alliance said such incidents highlighted the need for non-government community services for the mentally ill. "Currently patients are going from having everything done for them in hospital, to having to fend for themselves when they're released," spokesman Jeff Cheverton said. "If you're not sick enough to be in hospital, you get nothing," he said. He said less than 2 per cent of Queensland's mental health budget was going to non-government organisations that provided community-based mental health services. "We're not suggesting you need to reduce investment in hospitals, but there is a need to grow investment in community-based services," Mr Cheverton said.


Blitz on coastal dole pay

A fresh round of welfare reform will be unveiled by the Howard Government in an effort to break high levels of unemployment in coastal areas. As John Howard puts the promise of full employment at the centre of his re-election campaign, the Government is considering tightening welfare rules and forcing people to work for the dole earlier. The policy is part of the Government's attempt to construct a policy vision focused on the future after senior ministers acknowledged it had been concentrating on past achievements.

Workplace Relations Minister Joe Hockey said yesterday there were areas near beaches with "stubbornly high levels" of unemployment, and welfare rules had to be toughened to force people into jobs. "There's the capacity for targeted initiatives in high unemployment areas," Mr Hockey told The Australian. "There are pockets of unemployment. There is an unfortunate tendency for unemployment to be higher in warm coastal seats - it is still stubbornly high in southern areas of NSW, the south coast of NSW and around Wollongong."

Mr Hockey said he was appalled to find that in coastal areas, business owners were desperate to find workers while unemployment stood at staggeringly high levels. "I got very frustrated going to Lismore recently where small businesses were complaining they couldn't get workers. And the unemployment rate is still reasonably high there," he said. "I'm talking about where unemployment remains stubbornly high - I think there's more that can be done there."

The Prime Minister yesterday ramped up his full-employment campaign, arguing that it took more than good intentions to get unemployment down. "You can't just wave a magic wand or give off a few nice-sounding grabs for the cameras and wait for it to happen," he said, attacking Kevin Rudd. "Unemployment is 4.3 per cent. A few years ago, some would have classed this as full employment. People have been weaned off welfare and into work ... These are not accidental outcomes."

Mr Howard said in his weekly column that "we are not resting" and would embrace further policies that created even lower rates of unemployment. "We believe that we can forge a full-employment society. We don't just mean a job for everyone, we don't only mean a job that people can do, but a job that people will want to do," he said.

Mr Hockey said there was room to have more targeted individualised welfare and he wanted an increased emphasis on "mutual obligation". He said options included forcing people to full-time work-for-the-dole sooner. "It breaks the cultural barrier to job readiness," he said. Under the Howard Government, he said, long-term unemployment had been slashed by 66.3 per cent. It was now at 66,700, close to a 21-year low. This was 79.8 per cent lower than the peak of 329,800 recorded in May 1993, when Labor was in office, he said.

Significantly, female long-term unemployment declined by 5600 (or 15.3 per cent) in August to stand at 31,200, the lowest level since the inception of the series in April 1986.

The Government yesterday promised no further industrial relations upheaval if it won the coming election, admitting employees had a poor understanding of its sweeping workplace reforms. Mr Hockey ruled out any major changes to the laws, which took unfair-dismissal protection away from millions of workers and allowed employees to bargain away penalty rates and other award conditions in return for more pay or flexible hours. "We are committed absolutely to the fundamentals of our workplace relations laws," he told the Ten Network. "We're not going to change them. Obviously, it has been a challenge, in the face of the fear campaign, to bed them down. "I have no desire to undertake further structural reform to the workplace relations system for the next three years."

Peter Costello said the Government had the balance right between fairness to workers and what was good for business. He warned that Australia would spiral into another recession if Labor were elected. "I think with the fairness test, we've got the balance right for employees and they're entitled to fairness," the Treasurer told the Nine Network


Oz beats the Poms -- again

The Brits invented most of the world's most popular sports so it is rather a puzzle that they are so bad at all of them. Some understanding of the mysteries of cricket may be required to comprehend fully the report below. I will not try to elucidate them here. The report below -- from "The Times" of London -- is notably good humoured and cricket is in general more good humoured than most major sports -- though you must NEVER mention to a New Zealander the words "underarm bowling"

There have doubtless been stranger cricket matches – but not many. It took place in 43C (110F) heat in the desert of southern Iraq, within sight of the ancient Ziggurat of Ur and birthplace of Abraham, beneath a fluttering Stars and Stripes. The pitch was a strip of concrete in the scorching sand. The visiting team flew in by helicopter, but arrived an hour late because of a rocket attack. Nobody was too worried: the game had already been postponed for a week by lack of beer.

The “Ashes in the Desert” pitted the British Army’s 1 Mechanised Brigade against the Overwatch Battlegroup West 3 from Darwin, Australia. The venue was the US Air Force base at Tallil. And it was played with the same intense rivalry that characterises any sporting encounter between teams of Poms and Aussies – and with the same inevitable result.

The British team flew up from Basra brimming with confidence. They arrived wearing an England one-day cricket strip donated by the English Cricket Board, but with a feature seldom seen at Lord’s – SA80 rifles slung over their shoulders. They had new bats and pads and the same cheery optimism that invariably precedes an English rout. “We’re up for this, and expect to tonk you boys back into the Stone Age,” Lieutenant Tim Moore, the match organiser, rashly informed the hosts. The Australians were entirely unfazed. They had secured the support of a large and vociferous crowd by giving most of their 550-strong contingent the afternoon off and relaxing the rules to allow them two tinnies [cans of beer] each.

England won the toss. Their captain, Major Giles Malec, was bowled first ball and after that it was downhill all the way. There was nobody standing on top of the ziggurat. But if there had been they would have heard constant cries of “Howzat” followed by raucous cheers echoing off its 4,000-year-old walls.

As England’s wickets tumbled Captain Elizabeth McGovney, 26, from Houston, Texas, watched bemused. “We’re trying to figure it out,” she said. “Six pitches make an over and out, is that what it’s called?” The appearance of two streakers delayed another England collapse, but only briefly. The visitors were skittled for 93 runs in 15 overs, and there was no chance of them being saved by rain.

As England’s fielders turned crimson beneath the blazing sun Australia rattled off the runs for the loss of just two wickets. “An Australian battlegroup has smashed a British brigade,” Lieutenant-Colonel Jake Ellwood, the Australian commander, crowed at the prize-giving ceremony. “The cricket today was clearly a disaster,” Brigadier-General James Bashall, the British commander, ruefully conceded. But actually everyone was a winner. The game raised $14,000 for wounded soldiers, and generated a commodity all too rare in today’s Iraq: fun.


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