Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Barrier Reef extinct in 20 years: Stupid Greenie claim

Odd that coral reefs have survived all the past warming episodes in Earth's history! Odd that coral thrives most in the WARMER waters of Northern Australia! The reef is thousands of kilometres long and stretches from barely warm waters in the South to very warm waters in the North. So it clearly can handle large temperature variations. Coral is mainly tropical. It LIKES warmth! What barefaced lies Greenies tell!

The Great Barrier Reef will become functionally extinct in less than 20 years if global warming continues at its current pace, a draft international report warns. A confidential draft of the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), obtained by Melbourne's The Age newspaper, says that global warming will cause billions of dollars of damage to coastal areas, key ecosystems and the farming sector without massive greenhouse gas emission cuts.

In a chapter on Australia, the draft IPCC climate impacts report warns that coral bleaching in the Barrier Reef is likely to occur annually by 2030 because of warmer, more acidic seas. The reef is one of several iconic areas of Australia identified in the report as key hot spots for climate vulnerability. Others include the Kakadu National Park's wetlands, the Murray-Darling Basin and alpine zones in southern Australia.

Australian Conservation Foundation executive director Don Henry said the report was a big wake-up call. "They are saying our beloved Barrier Reef is at grave risk," Mr Henry told Sky News. "We've got a major economic and environmental problem unless we heed the call of these scientists. "I think the science is getting clearer about how just how serious and urgent it is."



A scientific theory is to be judged in an Australian court! The judgment is more likely to turn on prestige rather than science, however. Many well-informed people do question whether the HIV virus is the cause of AIDS. There are some murky episodes in the history of research on the question -- with the "discoverer", Gallo, being an undoubted crook driven by a huge ego.

Nonetheless, on the evidence I have seen so far, I am inclined to conclude that HIV does cause AIDS -- chronic skeptic though I am.

All AIDS is not the same however. The defence would do better to concentrate on the case of African AIDS only. They call anything AIDS there.

The Perth skeptics have a critical survey of the main scientific evidence here

Leading scientist Gustav Nossal has stepped into a courtroom showdown, labelling a group of self-styled experts who claim HIV does not exist as "a considerable scientific embarrassment". Sir Gustav, Australian of the Year in 2000 and an immunologist of global stature, will join upto six leading Australian HIV-AIDS scientists in Adelaide this week to give evidence in the appeal of an HIV-positive man convicted of endangering the lives of three women.

Andre Chad Parenzee, 35, was convicted in February last year on three counts of endangering life. South African-born Parenzee - who had unprotected sex with the women but failed to tell them he was HIV-positive - is in custody awaiting sentencing and faces up to 15 years in jail.

Sir Gustav and the eminent scientists will dispute Parenzee's two defence witnesses, Eleni Papadopulos-Eleopulos and Val Turner, who lead the Perth Group of HIV-AIDS sceptics. During two weeks of evidence at the appeal hearing late last year, the Perth Group witnesses presented scientific research and arguments claiming that HIV does not exist and was not responsible for the global scourge of HIV and AIDS. The defence hopes the hearings will lead to a retrial and acquittal.

HIV-AIDS specialists believe the case has the potential to set a dangerous precedent for public health campaigns and the criminal law. Sir Gustav yesterday called the HIV sceptics "a very considerable embarrassment" to Australian science. "HIV-AIDS is the most serious communicable disease ever - worse than the bubonic plague. It is a pretty serious thing to set yourselves up attacking the science behind it," he said.

South Australian prosecutors will today continue their cross-examination of Ms Papadopulos-Eleopulos, a medical physicist at the Royal Perth Hospital, and Dr Turner, who told the court last year he was an emergency medicine specialist. They believe HIV has never been isolated as an antivirus, since its discovery in the early 1980s, and that it does not cause the AIDS disease and cannot be transferred by sexual contact.

Up to seven prosecution witnesses will begin appearing from Thursday, when Emeritus Professor Peter McDonald of Flinders University will take the stand. He is an expert in infectious diseases. On Friday, the Royal Perth Hospital immunologist Martin French will take the stand. Next Monday, two HIV-AIDS researchers, including world-leading researcher associate professor Elizabeth Dax, will take the stand. Several of Professor Dax's papers have been quoted by the Perth Group and the prosecution has accused them of misrepresenting Professor Dax's findings. Professor John Kaldor of the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology is scheduled to appear next Tuesday, followed on Wednesday by professor David Cooper, director of the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research at the University of NSW.

Sir Gustav will appear next Wednesday if he chooses, otherwise he will send a written report to the court. From his office at the University of Melbourne yesterday, he rejected the claims made by the Perth Group. "The evidence of AIDS being due to a virus is as strong as any other infectious disease you care to name - from measles to polio," he said. "I was recently chairman in a meeting of the foundation that gave $300 million to finding an AIDS vaccine - I doubt Bill and Melinda Gates would be giving that money if AIDS was not caused by a virus."

Monash University professor Suzanne Crowe, head of the Burnet Institute's HIV Pathogenesis and Clinical Research Program and not a witness in the case, said that unless the prosecution wins the legal showdown, it would set a "dangerous precedent" in the global AIDS fight.



With debate building about nuclear energy as an alternative, greenhouse-friendly power source, Australia has a new nuclear reactor - and it's already up and running. The new OPAL reactor replaces the old HIFAR facility at Lucas Heights, south of Sydney, which will be officially decommissioned today. OPAL is loaded with uranium and will produce 20 megawatts of power - enough for a small town - when it's fully operational.

But it's not the power plant Prime Minister John Howard said he'd be happy to have in his backyard while recently arguing the merits of nuclear energy. The OPAL reactor will be used for medical, industrial and research purposes, rather than cooking your dinner or running your air-conditioner. Its cooling water just isn't hot enough to drive a steam turbine and generate electricity. "I suppose you could have a shower with it but that's about all," said Ron Cameron, director of operations at the Lucas Heights research station run by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO).

So if it isn't powering our cities, what's Australia getting from this $350 million reactor? Neutrons, according to ANSTO. Neutrons are the key to nuclear fission - when a uranium atom splits in two, it releases a load of energy and it also releases two neutrons. If these neutrons collide with another uranium atom, that atom splits as well, releasing another two neutrons, and so on, producing a chain reaction. In a nuclear power station, it's the energy that's harvested. But in a research reactor such as OPAL, it's the neutrons. "We have one of the most consistent neutron fluxes in the world. We have a very high reliability," Dr Cameron said. That reliability has given ANSTO about 15 per cent of the world market for processing the silicon chips that go inside electronic items from mobile phones to supercomputers.

But whether it's for research or power, critics question the risks of running a nuclear reactor in Sydney's backyard - such as a meltdown which potentially releases radioactive contamination into the environment. Dr Cameron said there was very little risk of that happening with OPAL because it operates at a low temperature, as opposed to power-producing reactors which run at higher temperatures, with a minimum of three people monitoring it at all times.

ANSTO is somewhat less keen to talk about the disadvantages of a nuclear reactor, but Dr Cameron admitted that over its 40-year life, OPAL will generate several cubic metres of high-level waste, which it intends to store in a remote location in the Northern Territory. Intermediate-level waste, produced in the manufacture and handling of radioisotopes, will be stored in a building the size of a small house. For many, the question remains whether that's an acceptable price to pay for the claimed medical, scientific and industrial benefits of a research reactor. A nuclear power station will produce hundreds of tonnes of waste.



But Australia's Leftists don't seem to know what is going on around them

In the campaign for the 1997 general election in Britain the then Labour Opposition leader Tony Blair famously declared that his three highest priorities were "education, education, education". In 1999 he unveiled a 10-year reform agenda. Blair said that previous governments had neglected education, and promised to significantly increase funding as a percentage of gross domestic product. He said investment in education was essential to ensure the workforce was highly skilled to boost productivity gains and promised an "education revolution". Sound familiar?

Australia's Labor Opposition Leader, Kevin Rudd, has promised an "education revolution" underpinned by funding increases to raise expenditure as a percentage of GDP to boost productivity gains. Blair's so-called "Third Way" has become a template for democratic socialist parties around the world. Given Rudd has unashamedly lifted Blair's education terms and rhetoric, it is instructive to examine the Blair "education revolution" for the likely directions Rudd will take.

At the heart of the British reforms has been a much stronger focus on accountability and measurement of school performance. League tables which rank school performance were introduced in 1992, but Blair has expanded them and used school performance data to apply pressure and target funding. He said there would be "no hiding place for schools that were not striving to improve". The tables now include an "improvement index" to show which schools have shown steady improvement, or decline. More recently, Blair has added "value added" tables which show the average progress pupils make while at individual schools. This type of performance reporting has been introduced into Australian schools but has been fiercely opposed by education unions as well as state Labor governments.

School report cards are one of the most important performance indicators. In response to complaints from parents that they could not decipher the jargon on school report cards, it is now a condition of federal government funding that parents be provided with report cards in plain English and with children rated on a five-point scale. Unions have fought this at every turn.

One controversial aspect of Blair's reforms has been the involvement and funding support of the private sector in some government schools, contributing about a fifth of the capital cost and having a say in how a school is run, with limited influence over curriculum. Blair is reported to be considering plans to provide government schools with much greater autonomy through "radical reforms" that would give "more power to parents". This would involve giving school communities greater control over the hiring and firing of teachers and school principals and allow greater flexibility to innovate. It would mean parents being given a fuller picture of the individual progress of their children.

The Howard Government has consistently called for parents to be given more information about the performance of schools, teachers and students. The funding agreement also requires state governments to provide greater discretion at the school level to hire teachers, and requires a range of school performance data to be provided to parents.

With universities, the Blair Government introduced a scheme closely modelled on the Higher Education Contribution Scheme (HECS) introduced by the ALP. It has since introduced variable fees and received a report that recommended students pay about a quarter of the cost of their studies, the same average rate as for HECS. In recent times, the Blair Government has urged universities to reduce their reliance on public funding.

On January 7 Blair announced plans for tax relief for property owners if they donate their homes to their former universities, as part of efforts to create endowment funds for higher education. He also outlined plans for a scheme where cash donations to universities will be matched by government funds, to promote a culture of philanthropy. As the British Minister for Higher Education, Bill Rammell, said last year, "the UK Government is already a minority shareholder in universities" and "we should not worry if over time public funding continues to reduce as a proportion of the total funding the higher education sector is able to generate".

If Rudd is serious about a Blair-style education revolution, he will be disappointed to find that most of these reforms have been introduced by the Howard Government, and in some cases are further advanced than in Britain. These reforms have been resisted by state Labor governments and education unions. The key challenge for Rudd will be to deliver on the hype. No matter what form his education agenda takes, he will be confronted by staunch opposition from the all-powerful education unions and state Labor governments. Already the unions are threatening to withdraw election campaign funds from federal Labor. Rudd can steal the rhetorical clothing from Blair. He is yet to demonstrate he has the courage for the battle.


Radio station 'vilified' Lebanese people

Truth is no defence in the kangaroo courts ("Tribunals") that have sprung up in many countries to police political correctness:

"Leading Sydney broadcaster 2GB was guilty of vilifying Lebanese people when presenter Brian Wilshire said they were inbred and had very low IQs, according to an investigation by the media watchdog.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority found yesterday that a 2005 broadcast on the top talk station was a breach of the Commercial Radio Code of Practice. Wilshire made his remarks in a talkback segment late at night just days after the Cronulla riots.


For some facts on the Muslim inbreeding problem in Australia, see here. See also here on Muslim IQ.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007


Surgery by doctors who have had no sleep for days!! There's nothing like the government to look after you! Thankfully

A trainee surgeon has told how she feared she would kill a patient, after being forced to work four days straight without sleep. The surgical registrar, from a major southeast Queensland public hospital, said she routinely had to operate on patients when she was so tired she felt drunk. I haven't killed someone yet, but probably one day it's going to happen because of my lack of sleep," she told The Sunday Mail. "I'm regularly operating on people when I haven't had sleep for two days. I know I'm making mistakes, I am just fortunate they haven't been any huge errors. "I know some of my colleagues have made errors and they're also worried."

The medic said anyone who spoke out risked being kicked off the surgical training program. She said that over the Christmas long weekend, she worked from Friday to Monday without sleeping at all. Junior doctors - residents and interns - are also working excessive shifts on relatively low pay while they try to establish themselves. They say "mandatory" eight-hour breaks between shifts are non-existent.

"It feels a bit like when you were 16 and you had a really big binge-drinking session," said the surgeon. "Of most concern to me is, I think, your hand-eye co-ordination skills go after two days. Performing surgery in those conditions is poor." She said the most dangerous shifts were on weekends, when doctors were commonly "on call". The weekend shift involves staying at the hospital from 7am Friday until Monday afternoon, and sleeping no more than three hours at a time. "We just need our mandatory break. You need someone to cover you," she said.

The surgeon spoke out as Australian Salaried Medical Officers' Federation president Don Kane seeks an urgent meeting with Health Minister Stephen Robertson to try to combat dangerous work hours. "Queensland Health has sat on its hands and done nothing. It is all promises," Dr Kane said. The union has been keeping examples of "horror shifts" to expose the dangerous working hours. In some cases, doctors had reported working three weeks without a day off.

The shifts continue five years after an overworked junior doctor was involved in a young girl's death. Elise Neville, 10, died two days after being sent home by a junior doctor in charge of Caloundra Hospital's emergency ward in 2002. Dr. Doneman was 20 hours into a 24 hour shift. He did not admit the girl to hospital or perform tests that would have shown she had a serious head injury.

Judge Debbie Richards, from the Queensland Health Practitioners Tribunal, said in 2004: "If this tragedy leads to nothing else, it should lead to the abolition of such brutally long shift hours." Dr Kane said little had changed since.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said he was concerned by the doctor's comments but blamed long hours on a national shortage of doctors and said hospitals had always used on-call shifts. "That's been a feature of doctors' working hours for you would have to close hospitals, particularly in rural Queensland." He said the Government had been on a recruitment drive to increase the number of doctors in the state and decrease working hours. Rural Doctors Association president Christian Rowan said solo doctors in remote areas were routinely rostered to work 22 days on, then six days off. The Australian Medical Association's Alex Markwell said Queensland's public hospitals relied on junior medics working long hours. "If they go home because they're tired, there's not necessarily anyone else to do their work. People can die if there's no doctors around," Dr. Markwell said.

The above report by David Murray appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on January 28, 2007

New school curriculum proposals still far too vague

The latest approach to an Australian national curriculum is too vague to be useful, writes Kevin Donnelly

Arguments in favour of a national curriculum are not restricted to Australia. While the US is also a federal system and responsibility for education rests at the local level, groups such as the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation argue for a national approach to detailing what students should learn and the expected levels of achievement. In a recent paper published by the Fordham Foundation, "To Dream the impossible Dream", four approaches are put forward to achieve a national curriculum.

The most aggressive approach is for the central government to enforce a national curriculum that replaces state-based models. The second approach is voluntary and states would be invited to opt into a national svstem designed by the federal government. A third approach is to allow states to continue to develop local curriculums, but to ensure that in each of the different syllabus or framework documents there is common content and skills. The final approach is to allow states to develop their own curriculum documents but for the central government to evaluate them against an agreed benchmark.

Given that both major Australian political parties, at the Commonwealth level, have signalled education as an election issue - in particular, concerns about standards, the quality of the curriculum and the possibility of a national curriculum - it is useful to relate the above four models to the Australian scene. In the same way that the Howard Government has mandated student report cards in plain English and with A to E gradings, the Commonwealth Government could try to force states and territories to adopt a national curriculum by threatening to withhold federal funding.

But Australia's Constitution makes such a course of action problematic and unlikely, as education is the preserve of the states, and the danger is that adopting a one-size-fits-all approach will enforce mediocrity if the model adopted is dumbed down and politically correct. Imagine Western Australia's outcomes-based education approach or Tasmania's Essential Learnings writ large across the nation.

During the early to mid-1990s, we attewmpted the second model, represented by the Keating government's national statements and profiles that detailed learning outcomes in various key learning areas and the expected levels of performance. Such was the substandard nature of the Keating national statements and profiles -- based, as they were, on the experimental and new-age OBE approach -- that the July, 1993, Perth meeting of education ministers refused to endorse the national curriculum.

Now, concerning Statements of Learning, the states and territories, in collaboration with the federal Government, are involved in implementing a variation of the third model. Statements of Learning are defined as "the key knowledge, skills, understandings and capacities that all students in Australia should have the opportunity to learn and develop in a domain, irrespective of the state or territory in which they live". Instead of coercing the states and territories or going to the expense of developing a comprehensive curriculum, a lighter approach is being adopted. The Statements of Learning do not cover a school's entire curriculum, restricted as they are to elements of core subjects such as English, mathematics, civics and citizenship, information and communications technologies and science. The statements relate only to years 3, 5, 7 and 9 and, while states and territories are being asked to integrate them into their own curriculum documents, there will still be a good deal of local variation as states and territories have the right to develop their own curriculums.

Given that the Australian education ministers endorsed the various Statements of Learning in August 2006 and states and territories have until January 2008 to implement the new curriculum approach, it is surprising that there has been no public debate about the usefulness and academic rigour of the statements. The first point to make about this third approach to developing a national curriculum is that it is low-risk and it plays safely into the hands of those responsible for the current parlous state of Australian education.

Whereas the practice in places such as South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and the US is to benchmark local curriculum internationally in order to ensure what is developed is of the highest international quality, the Statements of Learning are based on what exists within Australia. Instead of clearly defining essential knowledge, understanding and skills that all students are expected to learn, the statements are generalised and vague on the whole and in line with Australia's adoption of OBE.

The refusal to stipulate clearly what all students should learn, regardless of where they go to school, is based on the mistaken belief that schools and teachers must be given the freedom to relate what is taught to the special character of a student. As argued by those responsible for the Statements of Learning, the strength of the approach is that it "leaves systems, sectors and schools with flexibility and autonomy to integrate these statements into their own curriculums in a manner which suits the diversity of students' needs and types of schools across the country".

Again and again, research suggests that what teachers need are clear, concise and unambiguous syllabuses, or road maps, of what they are expected to teach. Instead of having to reinvent the wheel. teachers are thus freed to focus on improving classroom practice, mentoring one another and professional development. Neither the Keating government statements and profiles nor the Statements of Learning are syllabuses and, as such, are not of much practical use to teachers. If governments are serious about a national curriculum, year level-specific syllabuses in key subjects should be developed. Such syllabuses should be internationally benchmarked, academically sound, concise and teacher friendly and, if developed at the federal level, offered to schools on a voluntary basis.

Details about the "Statements of Learning" can be found here

The above article appeared in "The Australian" newspaper on January 27, 2007

Rubbery university standards

MORE than a third of overseas students are completing their degrees at Australian universities with English so poor that they should not have been admitted to tertiary study in the first place. The results of a study by the demographer Bob Birrell confirm widespread concerns expressed by academics over the past decade that the Federal Government's focus on drawing fee-paying students from overseas has led to a collapse in university academic standards. They have complained about the way fee-paying students - who now number 239,000, and who contribute 15 per cent of tertiary income - have brought pressure on universities to ensure pass levels, and an epidemic of plagiarism among some groups of foreign students.

The study showed that 34 per cent of graduating students who were offered permanent residence visas last year were unable to achieve a "competent" English standard in their test scores. Among Chinese students, who are driving much of the growth in export education, the figure was as high as 43.2 per cent. More than half of South Korean and Thai students could not meet required English levels.

"It does raise serious questions about Australian university standards," said Professor Birrell, a Monash University academic and author of the report, published in today's People and Place journal. "How do they get in in the first place? The next [question] is, how do they get through university exams with poor English?"

The Department of Immigration will only issue higher education visas to students who reach band six - a "competent" standard - in the International English Language Testing System. But other types of visas only require students to reach band five. Many students arrive on these visas and use them as a back door to universities.

"We've got mountains of anecdotal data from individual lecturers complaining and people expressing concern [about standards], but this is the first time that confirms those concerns are correct," Professor Birrell said. Professor Peter Abelson, a visiting scholar at the University of Sydney, said universities often turned a blind eye to plagiarism and ineptitude among international students because they relied on their income. "[These figures] are a very stunning result, but not entirely surprising to people who are in tertiary education," he said. Students with poor English were able to pass through university because so much of their assessment work was not done under examination conditions, he said.

But universities said the data did not necessarily prove standards were softening. Professor Gerard Sutton, the president of the Australian Vice-Chancellors Committee, said it was possible the foreign students who had failed to reach a score of six on the International English Language Testing System had scored poorly in the speaking component of the test, which may not have been a critical skill in the course they were taking. "I don't accept that there's a problem in universities in terms of soft marking of international students," Professor Sutton said. [How much evidence does he need?]

Professor Birrell said the results were an indictment on the professional associations that accredited students and allowed them to proceed with residency visas. The report said the Australian Nursing Council would not accredit graduates unless they scored seven in the language test. Dennis Furini, the chief executive of the Australian Computer Society, said his members had not complained about English standards. "In IT, it's more important to know the programming language than the English language."



A HERCULEAN effort is on to save Victoria's koalas, among the creatures hardest hit by wildfires. Dozens of people, companies and organisations have pitched in to help thousands of koalas devastated by fire around Warrnambool, known as the state's koala capital. Locals liken the community spirit to that seen after Ash Wednesday. Children are gathering gumleaves to feed injured koalas and motel owners have provided towels and blankets to wrap them in.

Melbourne stuntwoman Sue Anderson is climbing trees to rescue injured koalas and arborists are using their cherry-pickers to pluck others from burnt trees to safety. An anonymous woman has signed a blank cheque for Koolix Kafe to cater to volunteers rescuing koalas and the cafe owners are providing cheap meals. Harvey Norman staff have donated a $300 evaporative cooler to keep burnt koalas cool and Bunnings has handed over timber to make temporary enclosures. Speedee Laundry Services owner Alan Walder has turned his washing machines over to clean dirty and bloodied blankets and towels.

A makeshift koala hospital has been set up in the nearby Purnim public hall, where children sit patiently feeding parched koalas drip by drip. Kindergarten assistant Cheryl McKinnon opens the hall each day and places gum leaves collected by children in fresh buckets of water. Her hat stand from home is at the triage treatment centre to hold the drip tubes to supply medicines and fluids. When not in the hall, she is home washing dozens of towels and blankets used to wrap koalas...

Koalas not killed by fire are being found by the dozen, too injured to climb down from their burnt trees. Lucky survivors who have escaped injury face cruel starvation because of the devastation to their habitat. Dr Ong has spent every weekend with her vet husband Chris Barton co-ordinating dozens of local vets and vet nurses as they treat injured koalas brought in.....

More here

Monday, January 29, 2007


Why must non-Muslims be barred from them?

A row has erupted over Muslim-only washrooms at La Trobe University that can be accessed only with a secret push-button code. Muslim students have exclusive access to male and female washrooms on campus, sparking claims of bias and discrimination. The university and Islamic leaders have defended the washrooms as vital to Muslim students' prayer rituals.

A university student, who did not want to be identified, raised the issue with the Sunday Herald Sun this week. Australian Family Council spokesman Bill Muehlenberg said concerns over the exclusive facilities were valid. "Do we have a Christian washroom or an atheist washroom?" he said. "The whole thing is madness." Mr Muehlenberg said the separate facilities were divisive. "If Muslims are saying 'we are good Australians and want to integrate', why are they insisting on separate washrooms?" he said.

Victorian Muslim community leader Yasser Soliman said the washrooms were necessary. He said the separate facilities were also due to concerns from non-Muslim students. "Muslims need to wash their feet before prayer and in the past there have been complaints about them washing their feet in sinks, so this is a happy medium," he said. Mr Soliman said most universities provided Muslim-only prayer and washrooms for students.

A La Trobe University spokesman said the washrooms were established with the advice of senior Muslim religious leaders. He said the university also had a Christian chapel with a meeting room and four chaplains from major denominations had offices. La Trobe University Christian Union vice-president Richard Thamm backed the washrooms. "It's part of their religion, they need to wash in a special way before they pray," he said.


Senior Australian conservative politician targets Left for stance on Iraq

Labor's exit strategy for Iraq is the product of entrenched pessimism in the political Left and a flawed pursuit of soft options, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says. Mr Downer yesterday launched a broad defence of Australia's involvement in the US-led war on terrorism as the Howard Government faces increasing pressure to end its military commitment in Iraq. He laments the "self-loathing" of the Left, saying it will only embolden extremists bent on imposing Islamic rule on the world.

The narrative of the Left, he said, had always been "either post-revolutionary heaven on Earth, or this year's version of catastrophe". Its avoidance of confrontation and tough decisions played into terrorists' hands. "In the West, the political Left often exhibits a kind of self-loathing that argues we have brought this battle with terrorism upon ourselves," Mr Downer said in a speech to the Young Liberals' national convention in Melbourne last night. "That the terrorists can trigger this predictable self-loathing within the Left, that it runs prominently in the media, that it saps the public's appetite for the struggle, that it places pressure on politicians -- none of this is an accident. The terrorists' attacks and propaganda are designed to produce these debilitating debates in the West."

As Labor pushes for phased withdrawal from Iraq, polling last week showed 62 per cent of Australians opposed the Government's handling of the war, including 41 per cent of Coalition voters. A pre-Christmas poll found more than 70 per cent believed the war was not worth fighting.

Prime Minister John Howard has shrugged off the figures, again insisting that withdrawing from Iraq would hand victory to terrorists. Mr Downer said while Britain's Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair had recognised terrorism could not be defeated without diplomacy and military might, the ALP was a "world away from Blair's clear and assertive view".


Where the Greenies are heading us

Today I present a straightforward solution to ending the water crisis. Starting immediately, we must ban beer and Coke and stop eating beef. The production of all three is sucking the world dry. And let's face it: we'd be healthier without them.

The evidence is compelling. Did you know it takes nearly four litres of water to make one litre of XXXX [beer]? And did you know it takes 55,000 litres of water to produce a kilogram of beef? That is more water than in my backyard pool for goodness sake.

"Yes, those numbers are valid," CSIRO water expert Wayne Meyer says. Professor Meyer says the amounts of water required to raise cattle could be as high as 100,000 litres in some places where evaporation is highest. The figure includes the amount of water required to grow fodder to feed the animals. Then there is the water the cattle drink and the vast quantities used in abattoirs to slaughter them. Brisbane's Cannon Hill abattoir, for instance, uses more than 580 million litres of water a year.

By now I know vegetarians will be cheering and cattlemen fuming under their Akubras. Drought and government neglect has created a water nightmare for business, especially for food producers. More than half of our top 20 commercial water users are in the food or beverage business. Professor Meyer says city folk have no idea of the volumes of water required to put food on the table. It takes 500 litres of water to produce a kilogram of spuds. It is thirsty work for a planet that will have to double the rate of food production by 2050 to meet soaring population growth, says Professor Meyer.


Government concealment of childcare breaches

Nearly 50 Queensland childcare centres failed to meet strict safety standards last year, but State Government laws prevent them being named. More than 73 compliance notices were issued to 48 childcare centres during spot checks in 2006, instructing them to either fix unsafe buildings and equipment, employ extra staff or improve their recordkeeping, cleaning and maintenance. But parents will never be told of the breaches, and the Communities Department will reveal only the regions where the centres were located.

Two centres - one in Brisbane and one in the Wide Bay area - had their licences revoked last year, but the department said confidentiality provisions in the Child Care Act also prevented those centres being publicly named. Communities Minister Warren Pitt said the number of centres issued with compliance notices represented only a fraction of the facilities operating in Queensland, and indicated that most were for minor problems.

Mr Pitt said the safety of children was "paramount" and the department had conducted more monitoring visits last year. "As there were 2212 licensed childcare centres in Queensland by the end of last year, the compliance figures show that only about 2 per cent of licensed childcare centres received notices during 2006," Mr Pitt said. "These figures show that the sector, as a whole, is operating well."

The figures come a week after the department revealed Wilbur Rhino Child Care Centre in Townsville, which cared for up to 75 children, had its licence suspended because of concerns over its management. The department again would not detail the concerns, but said they did not relate to child abuse. It was unclear why that centre was publicly named, but the two other centres which had their licences revoked last year were not.

Under the current system, departmental officers visit childcare centres and alert the licensees if there are any problems. If they fail to rectify the problems, they can be fined or, in serious cases, have their licences suspended and revoked. During 2006, the Wide Bay-Burnett area recorded the highest number of breaches at 25, following by the Mackay-Whitsunday region and far north Queensland. These ranged from problems with the buildings and equipment, inadequate staffing or qualifications to bad record-keeping, health and hygiene.


Global cooling?: "Summer rains and a cold snap had Victorians retrieving their winter woollies yesterday - the coldest January day in seven years. The city [Melbourne] reached a cool top of 18.9C as yesterday's welcome rain dumped an average of 7mm on the city. The state's lowest minimum on Friday night - zero degrees - was recorded at Mt Baw Baw. Mt Buller and Mt Hotham recorded maximums of 7C. But the Department of Sustainability and Environment said the light showers failed to help firefighters in the state's northeast. "The rain neither helped nor hindered," duty officer Richard Alder said."

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Idiotic political posturing

We have been down this road before with the Ord river boondoggle in Western Australia: Lots of water was flowing out to sea in a remote area so huge dams were built at great expense to conserve the water for irrigation. Problem: There was almost nothing you could grow there that was commercially viable. Nobody seemed to notice then that the world is chronically plagued by unsellable food surpluses (owing to equally idiotic interventions by other governments) and nothing has changed since. Growing stuff does not mean you can sell it at a sustainable price. Government efforts to pick business winners are almost invariably laughable and this is no exception. If dams are to be built they should be built where there is already a demand for them. I live in a large Australian population centre that is allegedly drought stricken yet it rains here several times a week. There is NO shortage of water -- just a failure to dam it.

North Queensland could become the "food bowl of the world" under a proposal to catch thousands of gigalitres of water and irrigate vast tracts of the desolate Gulf of Carpentaria and Cape York. Prime Minister John Howard yesterday appointed Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan to head a taskforce to investigate water and agriculture development in the north as part of his $10 billion national water plan. The vision is to turn the region into a garden of Eden by harnessing some of the estimated 88,000 gigalitres of water lost in run-off in north Australia each year.

With one gigalitre equal to 1000 megalitres the options are immense, Senator Heffernan told The Courier-Mail yesterday. He said the inquiry would look at harnessing the 60 per cent of Australia's total run-off that flowed through three major catchments. "This is. . . about opening up new opportunity," he said.

Peter Kenny, president of the nation's peak farmers group AgForce, said the north had the potential to become the "food bowl of the world". "There is assumption by climatologists that most of the rainfall in the future will be in the northern part of Australia," Mr Kenny said. Wilderness Society spokeswoman Larissa Cordner said: "Moving irrigated agricultural development into northern Australia will be an unmitigated disaster both for the environment and economically."


PM uses Greenie language to support Federal takeover of big river systems

Prime Minister John Howard yesterday labelled himself a "climate change realist", saying Australians could never return to a relaxed attitude towards water. "I regard myself as a climate change realist," he said while announcing his $10 billion water plan. "That means looking at the evidence as it emerges and responding with policies."

Mr Howard said the evidence pointed to a contraction in weather systems that traditionally brought southern Australia winter and spring rains. "Our rainfall has always been highly variable," he said. "The deviation around average rainfall is enormous and it seems to be getting bigger."

However, Mr Howard said the Australian continent was by its very nature a dry place. Australian water management systems had to be resilient and sustainable regardless of the truth or otherwise of climate change. "They must be geared not to a world of steady averages that rarely materialise but to the variability that has been part of Australia's climate since time immemorial," Mr Howard said.

He said Australians could never return to the days "when you could hose down the car". "We need to make every drop count - on our farms, in our factories and in our homes," Mr Howard said.


Phonics still being ignored by teacher-training colleges

Education faculties will have to abandon their unscientific ideology of reading if children across the nation are to be guaranteed basic literacy. This claim is made by Max Coltheart, a leading member of the group of 26 academics, mostly psychologists, whose open letter to former education minister Brendan Nelson inspired a national inquiry into how reading is taught. In his first assessment of the outcome of the inquiry, which reported in 2005, Professor Coltheart of Macquarie University has warned that unless Dr Nelson's successor, Julie Bishop, takes on the education academics he holds ultimately responsible for poor literacy, the inquiry will have been wasted.

Professor Coltheart, an advocate of the phonics method of teaching reading, said as far as he could tell not a single education faculty had shown any sign of heeding the reformist recommendations of the inquiry. The faculties were wedded to the failed whole-language method, he said. "They're so defensive, they won't do it unless they're compelled to," he told the HES. "Most of them are of a very unscientific frame of mind. They hate the idea that you can even measure reading. Is (Ms Bishop) going to compel them to (reform) or is she going to shelve (the report)?"

Ms Bishop said the commonwealth did not have the power to force education faculties to adopt the report's recommendations. But she pointed to the requirement that states submit from May next year to annual national literacy and numeracy testing for students in years three, five, seven and nine as a condition of the federal funding agreement. "This testing will place significant pressure on university education faculties to produce teachers with the skills to more effectively teach reading, grammar, mathematics and other key skills," she said. It was up to the states, as employers of most teachers, to insist that education faculties turn out graduates with the right skills to teach literacy.

Terry Lovat, from the Australian Council of Deans of Education, disputed Professor Coltheart's image of education academics as captive to the whole-language method and hostile to phonics and the Nelson inquiry. "I think that if the whole-language approach ever dominated, it has not done so for 15 years: it's a straw man," Professor Lovat said. He said the inquiry, on which he sat, had been influenced by the education deans in finding that classrooms needed a balance between direct instruction phonics and indirect "literacy saturation". Education faculties, including his own at the University of Newcastle, were well aware of the report's recommendations and were taking them into account in regular internal reviews.

The debate about teacher training is expected to reach a new pitch this year. A federal parliamentary inquiry into teacher education is expected to report before March. Labor's education spokesman Stephen Smith has unsettled teacher unions by endorsing "a rigorous assessment" of teacher performance in the classroom.

Professor Coltheart said the public debate about reading tended to assign blame to teachers but they themselves were victims of the unscientific culture of education faculties. "Somebody's got to be blamed for (poor literacy) and it looks to me it's the faculties, and if Julie Bishop does nothing she can be blamed, too," he said. He said surveys suggested that up to 20 per cent of children and adolescents emerged with very poor literacy.

With Melbourne University's Margot Prior, Professor Coltheart has written a 5000-word analysis of the Nelson inquiry and its aftermath. It is expected to be published soon by the Australian Academy of the Social Sciences. "(The inquiry found that) the whole-language approach to the teaching of reading, currently the most widely used approach to the teaching of reading in Australian schools ... is not in the best interests of students, especially those students who are having difficulty learning to read," they write.

They say this method disapproves of direct instruction in rules for translating letters of the alphabet into sounds. They say the method holds that children learn to read and interact with texts to create meaning for themselves, just as they learn to talk without any explicit teaching. They say that any successful reading program has to begin with so-called synthetic phonics, in which children are taught to read by matching letters with sounds and putting them together into syllables. They say a thorough overhaul of teacher training is necessary. "(But) we know of no plans for the universities to improve the training of teachers in the science of reading, and in evidence-based methods for teaching reading and assisting children with difficulties in learning to read. "This is despite the fact, noted in the Nelson report, that it is currently possible for Australia's future teachers to complete a bachelor of education course with less than 2 per cent of total credit points devoted to instruction in the teaching of reading."


Abbott [Catholic] to tackle Rudd [Leftist alleged Christian] on political faith

Australia's involvement in the Iraq war and the Howard Government's WorkChoices industrial relations laws can be justified by Christians, according to Health Minister Tony Abbott. And Mr Abbott, a staunch Catholic, also believes it is far-fetched to claim a drive for social justice should be a necessary starting point for Christians. He will advance his arguments in a speech to the Young Liberal national conference in Melbourne today as he seeks to broaden the debate about the place of religion in politics.

In his speech, he will savage Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd, who has accused the right wing of the Howard Government of attempting to hijack religion for political purposes and to demonise Labor as somehow godless. According to notes prepared for his speech and obtained by The Weekend Australian, Mr Abbott will accuse Mr Rudd of seeking to commandeer God and demand he cease attempting to "shame" Christians into voting Labor. The former student priest will argue Christians are called upon to seek good in all people but not to ignore human weakness or assume evil has ceased to exist.

"That's why there is no single, authoritative Christian position on the Iraq war, climate change or border protection," he will say. "On these issues, what mostly matters is what's likely to work out for the best in an imperfect world. Reluctantly perhaps, a Christian could conclude that sending extra troops to Iraq, for instance, might make more sense than leaving the sectarians to their own murderous devices."

While Mr Abbott does not argue that the war should be seen as a clash between Christianity and Islam, he uses the example to demonstrate his point that both sides of politics can illustrate their political arguments in line with religion. He also rejects Mr Rudd's view that Christian tenets of social justice accord with Labor philosophies such as fairness in the workplace. "I respect Rudd's faith," he says in the speech notes. "I just wish he would stop feeding the myth of the Christian right without some evidence. "Governments, unlike individuals, cannot act on the basis of faith, only reason. The difference between the Government and many of its critics is that its senior members think that the values of the Ten Commandments are as much common sense as religious dogma."

Mr Abbott will also respond to challenges from Mr Rudd that he justify, in Christian terms, the WorkChoices laws, which encourage greater use of workplace contracts. "From a Christian perspective, indeed, from a commonsense one, the test of fairness should not be whether workplace conditions are set by unions, industrial commissions or contract, but whether they produce more jobs, higher pay and fewer strikes," the speech notes say. "Some employers' hard bargains threaten people's income growth, but some unions' hard bargains threaten their jobs."

He will call on Mr Rudd to deliver policies, not rhetoric, to show he is interested in the values of Christians, not just their votes. "The depth of a politician's convictions is usually measured by how far he's prepared to take them when they work against his immediate political advantage."


Saturday, January 27, 2007

Protected cop in trouble after all

[Above: Hurley and the political appointee who tried to protect him from prosecution]

Palm Island policeman Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley will be prosecuted over the death-in-custody of Palm Island man Mulrunji Doomadgee. Former NSW Chief Justice Laurence Street has handed in his review of the circumstances of Mulrunji's death and is understood to have said there is sufficient evidence to prosecute Snr Sgt Hurley over the death. Attorney-General Kerry Shine this morning confirmed he had received Sir Laurence Street's legal opinion in relation to possible charges resulting from the death of Mulrunji on Palm Island in 2004. Mr Shine said Sir Laurence had recommended Snr Sgt Hurley be charged with manslaughter and he had asked the Crown Solicitor to initiate a prosecution as soon as possible. He said Sir Laurence Street's report would not be released until after any trial took place in fairness to Snr Sgt Hurley.

Mr Shine said Sir Laurence, a former New South Wales Chief Justice, had considered the brief of evidence provided by the Director of Public Prosecution Leanne Clare. "Sir Laurence has advised me that he believes there is sufficient admissible evidence exists to support the institution of criminal proceedings against Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley for manslaughter of Mulrunji," Mr Shine said. "Furthermore, Sir Laurence believes there is a reasonable prospect of a conviction."

Mr Shine said Sir Laurence was asked to consider (1) whether sufficient admissible evidence exists to support the institution of criminal proceedings against any person with respect to the death of Mulrunji; and (2) whether a reasonable prospect of a conviction before a reasonable jury exists in the event a prosecution is brought against any person.

Mr Shine said Sir Laurence had emphasised that his role was not to determine whether Senior Sergeant Hurley was guilty of an offence, but rather to determine whether he should be put on trial. "In light of Sir Laurence's opinion, and having given very careful consideration to the matter myself, I have decided it is in the public interest that this matter should be resolved in a court," he said. "I have today instructed the Crown Solicitor to take the necessary steps to initiate a prosecution as soon as possible. "I ask that, given the pending legal proceedings, the media show restraint in their reporting of this matter so that Senior Sergeant Hurley can be assured of a fair trial."

Mr Shine said the fact that Sir Laurence had formed a different opinion to that of Ms Clare was in no way a slight on her. "The best legal minds often differ on matters of law - even in the High Court of Australia it is common for differing judgments to be recorded," he said. "In my view, Ms Clare has acted within the scope of her duty and her authority."

Mr Shine said the Government's intention remained to table Sir Laurence's opinion in State Parliament. "We will do so as soon as it is legally appropriate, but it is likely this will not be until after the court case to ensure the fairness of the prosecution is not compromised," Mr Shine said. The Beattie Government contracted Sir Laurence Street to review the case following widespread protest after Ms Clare found that Hurley had no case to answer. Shadow Attorney-General Mark McArdle said Mr Shine was likely to find himself in a legal minefield dealing with the outcome of Sir Laurence Street's review. "It is imperative that any report by Sir Laurence is made public and Mr Shine fully explains what steps he will take and why," Mr McArdle said.


PM supports new dams

Permanent water restrictions in our cities should be no more acceptable than electricity rationing, Prime Minister John Howard says. Mr Howard said he remained confident Australia could eventually drought-proof its urban centres. But with the exception of Perth, no major Australian city has invested significantly in augmenting their water supplies for decades, he said. In the case of Brisbane, decisions to build new dams were cancelled and "then nothing else was done", the Prime Minister said.

Mr Howard attacked the mentality of state governments that tried to constrain demand by imposing water restrictions instead of investing in water infrastructure. That strategy allowed the states to preserve the cash flow of their water utilities which often paid out large dividends, he said. "The continuation of the drought has shown the strategy to be a foolhardy one," Mr Howard said.

Under the plan, city water providers will be made to invest in dams, desalination plants and other infrastructure or lose federal funding. "Water solutions will vary from place to place. The truth is we have the capacity to drought-proof our large cities. "What is needed is more investment, sensible pricing and an end to state governments using water utilities as cash cows."

Australian Democrats leader Lyn Allison praised the water plan. "Better late than never," she said. "The Prime Minister has also come a long way in acknowledging the needs of the environment."


Being Australian

If you plan on spending Australia Day driving around in a ute while eating a meat pie and listening to Land Down Under, you qualify as the quintessential Aussie, according to a poll of Australians. And if you're heading for a barbeque at Bert and Patty Newton's better still.

Despite decades of multiculturalism, the Top Taste Lamingtons Aussie Poll has revealed stereotypical Aussie lifestyle is alive and well. The meat pie is our favorite Australian fare (56 percent), followed by the lamington.

Ian Thorpe, Kylie Minogue and television couple Kath and Kell are the celebrity icons that Australians are most happy to embrace.

When it comes to language our favorite Aussie word is "Gday", followed by "crikey", (thanks Steve Irwin) while Australian's happy-go-lucky attitude emerged in our favorite phrases "He'll/she'll be right mate (51 percent of votes) and "Don't get your knickers in a knot" (26 per cent).

The nationwide survey of 400 Australians aged 18 to 50 on all things Australian voted swimmer Ian Thorpe as the celebrity who made us most proud to Australian, followed closely by "singing budgie" Kylie Minogue. Interestingly veterans Bert and Patty Newton were our favorite couple closely beating Kath and Kell from TV comedy Kath and Kim.

It wasn't the Socceroo's World Cup performance in 2006 that was named the nation's greatest sporting moment. It was winning the America's Cup in 1983.

And forget the stubbie holder, the ute is considered the greatest Aussie invention, given the top vote by Australian blokes. The sheilas opted for the Hills Hoist, which came a close second.

In true larrikin spirit, the myth that Australians most want people overseas to believe is that we keep koalas and kangaroos as pets (41 percent) and that drop bears are a growing threat. (27percent).

We also see ourselves as a nation of Aussie Norms [couch potatoes] (41 percent) with few identifying with the likes of businessman James Packer (seven percent).

Australian entertainer Barry Crocker said the poll shows the national holiday brings out the "true blue Aussie in all of us''. "We all get a bit patriotic around Australia Day, so it's a great time to celebrate all the things we love most about being an Aussie. "Australian myths and slang words are all part of our mystique overseas, I think if you said yakka, drongo or chunder outside of Australia people would be calling for a translator! This is a good thing because it shows the rest of the world that Australia is unique, with its own distinctive culture. "I'm a huge fan of letting non-Australians believe the myths and stereotypes; the more people who think we ride kangaroos to work the better!"

"How could you not love Kylie and Thorpey? Two of our country's greatest ambassadors, who can both pull off wearing very tight shorts! I love meat pies and lamingtons too, the perfect national food to eat and bring out the dinky die Aussie in you on Australia Day."

Other poll findings were:

National Priorities: 39 per cent of Aussies want to see an improvement in our attitude towards the environment, followed by 31 per cent saying an increased sense of neighbourliness/ friendliness amongst the Australian public should be a priority.

Honorary Australians: Prince Frederik and the Finn brothers come almost equal at 34 per cent and 35 per cent respectively, as the people we would most like to become honorary Australians.

The Country: 80 per cent of Aussies surveyed say they would raise their kids here in Australia over anywhere else in the world.


Parents still fleeing government schools, despite high costs

Parents sending their children to southeast Queensland's leading private schools are facing fee hikes of up to 14 per cent. For some, the cost of private education will top $13,000 for senior students this year. Even at more affordable Catholic schools, rising fees are putting pressure on struggling families, according to Parents and Friends Associations of Queensland executive director Paul Dickie. "The cost is a big problem for parents," Mr Dickie said. "Some will find it extremely difficult. "Any increase is going to restrict the number of families that can afford to send their kids to Catholic schools."

This year most of the leading private schools in southeast Queensland have lifted their fees by around 7 per cent. That has pushed the cost of a senior education well above $10,000 a year for at least eight of the most prestigious institutions.

The Southport School is one of Queensland's most expensive, charging $13,115 for students in Year 11 and 12. Headmaster Greg Wain admitted some families would have trouble paying that. "Not all our parents can pay the fees easily," he said. "Some do struggle and we're very cognisant of that." Mr Wain said the higher fees reflected increased salaries for teachers, rising interest rates and new technology costs. "Certainly for our parents, there's an expectation that there be national to international level facilities, including such things as swimming pools, rowing programs, leadership programs and extensive music programs," he said. "All of them are quite expensive to resource."

While The Southport School offers an all inclusive fee, other private schools also impose regular levies, which add thousands of dollars to the annual bill for parents. At Brisbane's Anglican Church Grammar school at East Brisbane, parents will pay $12,982 to educate a child in Years 8 to 12. Churchie also charges a non-refundable enrolment confirmation fee of $1150, along with levies for book rental and outdoor education and a $300 compulsory annual contribution to the building fund.

One of Brisbane's leading girls schools, Somerville House at South Brisbane is charging $10,620 for students in Years 7 to 12 this year, with added technology and excursion fees and a voluntary building levy.

If students are boarders, the financial slug at most schools will be at least as much as the tuition fees. But Independent Schools Queensland operations director David Robertson said the increasing cost of private education was not deterring parents. "It would seem the enrolment growth in our sector is continuing, which would indicate that parents still believe they are getting good value for money," he said.


Friday, January 26, 2007

Nation at risk from tyranny of tolerance

AUSTRALIA'S long-term difficulty in dealing with the now politically defunct noun "multiculturalism" is not unique to this country. It is not even unique to this time. In London earlier this week a newspaper columnist dug out some old quotes from Winston Churchill in 1938, then merely another politician but a man whose time was about to come. They were dark days as Churchill watched the tyranny of Nazi Germany spread across Europe and, as the Nazis pushed their violent, intolerant ideology on the world, the British Government simply looked on. Stunned mullets.

They were seemingly unwilling - or unable - to deal with the problem. "I have watched this famous island descending incontinently, fecklessly, the stairway which leads to a dark gulf," Churchill observed. He was never short of a quotable line, was ol' Winston. But he also warned that "if a moral catastrophe should overtake" Britain, future historians would sit back and be baffled as to how a great nation allowed itself to be destroyed so easily. Well, folks, who's to say it isn't happening again?

How many of you noticed that those Christmas cards you have no doubt recycled by now actually said Happy Holidays, and not the religiously correct Merry Christmas? Were the Christmas lights down in your neighbourhood this year? It wasn't so long ago that Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore thought it was a good idea to cancel Christmas decorations in the city so - and how many times are we hearing this? - as not to offend Muslims. Just this week concert promoter Ken West tried to ban the Australian flag because he believed it would invoke racial violence. Aside from showing common sense was officially dead and buried, West did a pretty good job of indicating the spirit of rock 'n' roll is in the early stages of rigor mortis as well.

Australia is not unique in its troubles, though. In England last week a woman graduating with her Metropolitan Police class refused to shake the Police Commissioner's hand because it was against her Muslim faith to shake hands with any man not her husband or a close relative. What did the commissioner do? Privately, they say, he was outraged at the lack of what we Westerners call manners. But he agreed, so as "not to cause a scene". For any right-minded person, though, shouldn't the immediate thought have been: If she cannot touch men, then how is she supposed to arrest them? The commissioner should have stripped her of her badge there and then. These are all examples of this politically correct pandering to other religions gone completely wrong. They are occurring at the disintegration of our own culture. Sure, this woman was entitled to her religious beliefs but when it comes to policing, the greater welfare of the community should have been put before her interests.

Sadly it wasn't, which is symptomatic of the problem in England, in Australia, and throughout the Western world. In a bid to stay modern, be fair and accept every man as equal, countries opened their borders to differing religions, races and persuasions when, according to the rhetoric, we should all have then joined in a group hug. It hasn't quite worked out that way. Hardline fundamental Muslims have moved in, happy to accept the freedoms and benefits of our culture - whenever it suited - while around the world their kill tally continues to rise. They sell their hate-mongering DVDs in western Sydney and then we excuse them because we are a "tolerant" society.

Well, it says here that tolerance these days is just cowardice dressed in a palatable mask. The true meaning has been lost in this dog's breakfast of political correctness. By pandering to religious sensibilities in such a manner Australia is just weakening its own culture and going down the path of ruin. Australia is a wonderful country and deserves protecting. It should not be allowed to be overrun by fundamentalists preying on our weakness to show "tolerance".

The small light of hope this week was Prime Minister John Howard's decision to reflect the feelings of the majority of this country by changing the multiculturalism portfolio to a citizenship portfolio. While it is hard to ignore the change could simply be an election stunt from Honest John cashing in on the wider feelings of the electorate, the hope is it is more a case of astute politics. With no more astute politician in Canberra, he gets the early benefit of the doubt.

Australia needs to be protected not just from the fundamentalists but from ourselves - from the dimwits all too willing to give this country away in the name of tolerance. For a long while Churchill was a lone voice in his opposition to Hitler, even becoming virtually banned from the BBC for being too anti-German. He was proven right only when it was almost too late.


Experts divided over obesity issue

Australians aren't getting fatter at all, according to a group of academics who claim the obesity epidemic is a money-wasting illusion. National and international researchers will convene in NSW on Thursday to argue that statistics supporting obesity and its health consequences are much more uncertain than people realise.

However, the concept has been met with intense criticism from a leading diabetes expert who says it "comes from another planet". The conference organiser, Jan Wright, says the commonly reported belief that Australians are generally fat, and growing all the time, is a "beat-up" with its own agenda. "There's no epidemic," says Professor Wright, associate dean of education at the University of Wollongong, which will host the event. "There's not these radical increases in terms of overweight and obesity like everybody thinks, so the entire argument is wrong from the start."

Prof Wright says there is no longitudinal figures to support expanding waistlines and most calculations rely on the Body Mass Index (BMI), not an accurate marker of obesity. "Using that scale, the entire All Black team would register as obese, so that can't be right."

She said many industries - especially fitness, food and pharmaceuticals - have a vested interest in perpetuating the obesity "myth" because they can make money out of the solutions. Many scientists also support the concept because, says Prof Wright, there is a huge amount of funding thrown at the area by governments. "Money is a huge motivator for people to support the position that there is an obesity epidemic," she said, "but millions of dollars are being wasted".

During the three-day conference, called Bio-pedagogies, academics, including people from the UK, Canada and New Zealand, will develop a plan to stay the momentum of the obesity argument, she said. But Paul Zimmet, director of the International Diabetes Institute, immediately discounted the "myth" concept as "from another planet". "We conduct the national Australian diabetes and obesity study and there's no question from the data that obesity is on the increase," Professor Zimmet said. "There's no illusion here, no scare-mongering - this is really wrong."


Wrongly-accused "fathers" may sue

One of the five men accused of being a deadbeat dad by a government agency hopes to contact his namesakes to pursue legal action. Trevor Holden said he plans to speak to the four other Mr T. Holdens wrongfully sent legal letters by Victorian Legal Aid's Child Support Service to see if they are interested in joining a class action against the service. The five men were all sent stern letters ordering them to declare they fathered the same child in 1994, or to send $550 for a DNA test to prove they were not its parent.

Among those accused were a teenager who was only three when he supposedly fathered the child; a 79-year-old man; a husband celebrating his anniversary; and another who was impotent. At least three of them faced relationship problems with their partners or families after being accused of being involved with a woman named in the letter.

Legal Aid's managing director Tony Parsons said the letters were sent by a junior lawyer not following the service's policies and he has since apologised to the men. But Trevor Holden, of Cheltenham, said the apology did not make up for the damaged caused and although he did not necessarily want money, he believes further action is warranted. "I've had a few people calling up to see if I am taking action and saying I have a case . . . I think we should because nothing like this is going to blow away with just one apology letter," he said.

Mr Holden also called for the sacking of the lawyer who sent the letters. "I wouldn't want to see the guy keep his job doing that, that is for sure," he said.

But Slater and Gordon family lawyer Chris Nehmy said it would be difficult for the men to mount a case. "If there was a divorce that eventuated from it then they would have to prove it was the sole reason, and then they would have to prove the quantum of loss," Mr Nehmy said.

The Victorian Privacy Commissioner is also unlikely to investigate. [One government agency protecting another]


Australian Leftists sponsored mad sheik

Prime Minister John Howard today challenged NSW Premier Morris Iemma to explain why the NSW Labor Right worked to ensure Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilali became an Australian citizen. The controversial Islamic cleric has reportedly floated the idea of running a candidate against Mr Iemma in his seat of Lakemba, just days after the sheik drew criticism for his comments on Egyptian television that Australians were liars and that Muslims were more entitled to live in Australia than Anglo-Saxons sent as convicts in chains. It follows the stir he caused last year when he compared immodestly dressed women to "uncovered meat".

Mr Howard said it was Labor's fault that the sheik was now an Australian citizen. "Perhaps Mr Iemma could explain to the Australian people why the Labor Party in western Sydney applied the pressure it did in the 1990s to make sure Sheik al-Hilali became an Australian citizen," he said. "Everyone knows that the pressure from the NSW Right, of which Mr Iemma is a member, from (former prime minister Paul) Keating to Mr (former Speaker Leo) McLeay overturned the view of the then Labor immigration minister Chris Hurford, that sheik (Hilali) not - because of his anti-semitic statements - be given Australian citizenship. "He is an Australian citizen now because of the NSW's Right of the Labor Party, because of the actions of Mr Keating and Mr McLeay and others, with whom Mr Iemma has been closely aligned."

Writing in The Australian newspaper last year, Mr Hurford said that after becoming immigration minister in 1985 he refused to renew Sheik Hlali's temporary visa, which had already been renewed a number of times, or grant him permanent residency. However, then-treasurer Mr Keating, and Mr McLeay, who both had seats in western Sydney, and former Labor senator John Button were reportedly among a number of government ministers who were behind a push to help the sheik become an Australian. Former Labor immigration minister Gerry Hand reportedly finally succumbed in 1990 and granted the sheik permanent residency under the watch of Mr Keating, who was acting prime minister at the time


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Multiculturalism dumped

More than 30 years after the Whitlam government introduced Australians to multiculturalism, the term has been officially discarded by the Immigration Department. Prime Minister John Howard used yesterday's reshuffle to excise the word from Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. The department will now be known as the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in one of Mr Howard's more powerful gestures about the way we now view arrivals.

The PM denied his decision to dump the term was an attack on the concept. He said he believed "citizenship" adequately reflected the desires of the Australian people about the path of a newly arrived immigrant. "I don't think the term (multiculturalism) is defunct," he said. "I think the desired progression is for an immigrant to become an Australian. Simple as that."

Mr Howard said a vibrant immigration process was essentially about bringing newcomers into the fold. "I think the title of the new department expresses the desires and the aspirations (of the people) and that is that the people who come to this country become Australians," Mr Howard said.

Former [Leftist] immigration minister Al Grassby [above] gave Australia multiculturalism under the Whitlam government in the early 1970s. The word encapsulated a new approach to immigration, allowing individual cultures to flourish beside one another rather than forcing conformity to the accepted norm. Australian historian Professor Geoffrey Blainey began writing about the difficulties he saw engendered by the concept in the 1980s.

The Opposition said the new branding would not change the nature of the department. Labor's Immigration spokesman, Tony Burke, said the new minister, Kevin Andrews, would continue to do Mr Howard's bidding. "The real limitation on getting a fresh start is the policies that (former minister) Amanda Vanstone was pursuing were always the policies that John Howard wanted," Mr Burke said. "And if Kevin Andrews has shown anything with his record in the past, it's that he's willing to follow the precise scheme laid down by the Prime Minister."


West Australia scraps most of proposed "postmodernist" education system

Far-Leftist education "experts" rebuffed after public protests

The Western Australian Government has essentially abandoned most of its controversial Outcomes-Based Education (OBE) system in a major overhaul. OBE faced strong opposition from teachers and parents last year but the Government refused to back down, insisting many elements of the system would be introduced this year. But today, new Education Minister Mark McGowan said teachers would be allowed to assess year 11 and 12 students using traditional marks and grades, rather than levels and bands.

Other changes include the introduction of compulsory exams for all year 12 students, except those doing trade certificates. Teacher juries will be established to review 50 new courses for senior school and a new syllabus will be created for kindergarten to year 10 by the end of the year. The new mathematics course will be deferred until 2009.

Mr McGowan is expecting overwhelming support from teachers. "I don't see that there has been a great deal of wastefulness," he said. "What we've done is listened to where there needs to be some change and we've made those changes... "The key aims of what I've taken to the Curriculum Council are to give teachers a greater say over courses because they know what works best in the classroom, and I have great faith in the capacity and ability of teachers."

Association of Independent Schools spokeswoman Audrey Jackson says the changes to the education system are sensible. "Although it sounds as though it's a wholesale change, it's not, in terms of the way that teachers will teach and what they will teach," she said. "That hasn't changed, so I don't see the timetable as being a problem."

Catholic Education Office spokesman Ron Dullard says the overhaul is a marked improvement and will reduces the strain on teachers, parents and students. "If the parents and the teachers aren't working together and happy with it, the students can't do the job that they need to do," he said. "So I certainly think that it's in everybody's interest that we do this."


More false paternity accusations

When are we going to hear that the lawyer responsible for this has been fired?

A 79-year-old grandfather, a man who was impotent and a husband left with some explaining to do are the latest men falsely accused of being deadbeat dads. The mistakes follow revelations in yesterday's Herald Sun that Victoria Legal Aid's Child Support Service had accused Tyler Holden, 15, of fathering a child in 1994 when he was just three.

Legal Aid's managing director, Tony Parsons, said on Monday that Tyler Holden's case was a "one-off". But four more men, also named T. Holden, were accused of fathering the same child.

Yesterday, three of them and their families told of the distress caused by the bungling government agency's clumsy attempts to chase child support payments. Mr Parsons admitted that a junior lawyer sent heavy-handed letters to five men. The legal letters ordered the men to declare they were the child's father or send $550 for a DNA test to prove they weren't.

One of the men, Trevor Holden, said the threatening letter drove a wedge between him and his partner, Sue. Trevor was away with their young children when the letter arrived, so Sue opened it. She was so devastated she couldn't speak to him, instead confiding in her sister, who called the shocked man. Trevor said the letter created a huge problem for his family. He said a medical condition had made it impossible for him to father children in the early 90s. "I was a hyperdialysis patient at the time and not everything was working until I had a transplant. But that was only eight years ago and this kid is 12," he said. "Sue said, 'I want to know what is going on. I want to know the truth about what you have done'. "She had second thoughts about me, and it was made worse because 20 years ago I used to go out with a girl of the same name as the mother."

Another Trevor Holden and his wife Dianne said their recent anniversary was ruined by doubts about his fidelity caused by the letter. "After 25 years of marriage, it did not do us any good," the Mooroolbark man said. "I work out in the field a lot, so to make her believe me was pretty difficult."

A 79-year-old T. Holden got a letter, and his wife opened it. She said she never suspected her husband of infidelity. "He is 79, so I knew it was not his child. But he was not very happy about it and I think it is absolutely disgusting," she said.

Four of the five men received apologies after yesterday's Herald Sun article, but Legal Aid has been unable to contact the fifth. "It was a one-off in the sense that it was a one-off stuff-up by my organisation and this lawyer," Mr Parsons said. "It involved five letters, but it is the only time it has happened in my time here." The lawyer who sent the letters was being "counselled in the strongest possible terms" and the agency was reviewing its processes, Mr Parsons said. He said in most cases a mother knows the name and address of the father and identification is not an issue. Staff were trained to search phone books and electoral rolls when identity was in doubt, but never to call the person. The agency also uses private investigators, but asks the mother to make the first contact to ensure they have the correct person. "All of those things broke down," Mr Parsons said. "Just occasionally we have to send a letter when we are in some doubt. But we don't send the type of letter we sent to T. Holden."


Mother gives birth in toilet

Another great example of "Don't care" public hospitals

A mother says her baby daughter was born in a hospital toilet bowl and had to be rescued after staff ignored her screams for help. Kay, 24, was in the final stages of labour when she was rushed by ambulance to Monash Medical Centre on Tuesday last week. In a statement to the Herald Sun yesterday, the hospital said it regretted "the birth did not go according to plan".

At the hospital, the Mt Waverley mother of two was told to wait in a standard share room instead of being directed to a birthing suite, despite having contractions fewer than two minutes apart. "A midwife saw me when I came in and pressed on my stomach once. Nobody checked if I was dilated. I didn't even get offered a Panadol," Kay said. An hour after arriving, distressed and screaming in agony, she went to the toilet, where she gave birth to a girl.

Her husband Michael, who had become frantic, had hit an emergency buzzer in panic to try to get help, but he said none came in time so he kicked down the locked door and ran in, pulling the infant from the toilet bowl. Kay said she was terrified her daughter could have died, and described the ordeal as horrific. "I thought she could have been seriously hurt, or worse. If it wasn't for Michael coming to my aid, I don't know what the result would have been," Kay said. "It was the most traumatic thing we have had to go through. I would have thought it would have been one of the happiest times of our lives, but it was terrible."

Kay said Michael pressed the emergency buzzer three times, but no one responded until after a nearby caterer alerted medical staff. "When someone finally came, Michael asked why it took so long and they told him the buzzer didn't work," Kay said. "I was completely shocked. It is an emergency buzzer. This was an emergency."

But the director of nursing at Monash Medical Centre, Kym Forrest, said in a statement to the Herald Sun: "The buzzers were checked and both were working. The obstetrician and midwives were in fact alerted to the baby's arrival by the buzzer being sounded from Kay's room." Ms Forrest also denied the door had been kicked in. "It is a dual lock which can be opened from both sides and this was the way access was achieved," she said.

But Kay said the toilet cubicle, complete with broken door, "looked like a murder scene". "There was blood everywhere. I was screaming. It was just horrible," she said.

The couple are seeking a formal apology, but Ms Forrest said they had not lodged a formal complaint with the hospital. "We regret that Kay did not have the birth experience our midwives strive to provide to all the mums in their care," Ms Forrest said. "We are as disappointed as Kay and Michael that the birth of their second child did not go according to plan, but babies have a mind of their own sometimes."

Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey called for the Government to investigate: "It is just lucky the baby was not seriously injured in this fiasco." A spokeswoman for Health Minister Bronwyn Pike said it was an operational matter for the hospital to deal with.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Teaching Muslims moderation

Young Muslims will be taught Australian-friendly Islam under a Federal Government plan to stop them falling prey to extremists. An approved Islamic curriculum will be rolled out by a consortium of universities, including Griffith University in Brisbane, to counter the teachings of Muslim firebrands who preach intolerance and hate.

The establishment of the $8 million national centre of excellence for Islamic studies comes amid outrage over comments by leading Australian Muslim clerics Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali and Sheik Feiz Mohammed. Sheik Hilali was universally condemned last year for comparing immodestly dressed women to uncovered meat that attracted cats. He has since threatened to run against NSW Premier Morris Iemma in the electorate of Lakemba in Sydney's southwest.

Sydney-born Sheik Feiz, who is now living in Lebanon, is being investigated by federal police for producing videos labelling Jews pigs and calling on young Muslims to die for Allah.

The proposed course will be open to anyone interested in Islam, including religious and community leaders. And while welcomed by the Muslim community, there is concern it could become a breeding ground for Islamic extremists. Yasmin Khan, a member of the Prime Minister's Muslim Reference Group, yesterday said proper background checks would be needed to make sure it was not hijacked by radicals. "I would hate to think that was a remote possibility," she said. "But you have to be prepared. There are complaints about university courses having a left-wing or right-wing viewpoint all the time."

Ms Khan said the course would look at Islam with a western perspective. "I don't know the exact mechanics of it, but it will be an opportunity to provide guidance in Islamic religion," she said. At the moment, anyone seeking advanced knowledge and understanding of Islam has to travel to the Middle East. The Australian-based Islamic classes will be held on campus at Griffith, the University of Melbourne and University of Western Sydney, as well as eventually via distance education. The initiative is part of the Federal Government's action plan to build on social cohesion, harmony and security.

A spokesman for Sheik Hilali said Muslims were tired of getting picked on. "We need to make sure that we are taken seriously . . . getting them to stop picking on us every time there's an issue but also in terms of acknowledging that there are strong (Muslim) candidates who are capable of serving this nation in the political arena," he said.


GREENIE LOGIC: Possums are in pest proportions but are still "endangered"

In New Zealand there are so many millions of possums that the New Zealanders kill them on sight if they can. And everywhere in Australia they live in cities along with the people. They THRIVE in cities. I live in an inner-city area but I see them nightly walking along the broadband cable above the street in front of my house. And I certainly hear them at night on my roof!

To some they're just pests that make a racket in the roof at night. But possums are an important part of Sydney's ecology and one that appears to be under stress from increasing urban sprawl and population density. [BOTH of those?? Both fewer people and more people are bad??]

A study by a Sydney academic suggests the marsupials are dying on northern Sydney roads at a rate that could eventually impact on the viability of their populations. Macquarie University's Tracey Adams found close to one possum per day was perishing on one 40 km stretch of road alone, a death toll which was worsened by the impact of cats, dogs and foxes.

She has successfully lobbied for the introduction for the creation of two trial bridges to allow urban possums to cross major roads. ``I wouldn't think that these kinds of losses would be sustainable in the longer term,'' said Adams, a research officer with Macquarie's Department of Biological Sciences and a Masters Degree student. ``Possums play a role in pruning the trees, adding to the newgrowth and in seed dispersal.''

Adams was motivated to study the impact of vehicles on suburban possums after noticing the high number of dead marsupials by the side of the road during her daily commute. She decided to scientifically log the number of fatalities that occured along both sides of a 40km stretch of road in the Ku-ring-gai area. Specific roads studied included Lady Game Drive, the Comenarra Parkway, Bobbin Head Road and Ryde and Mona Vale Roads. She was surprised at the high rate of deaths. Over two years she logged 585 possum corpses by the roadside. She said she believed the actual death toll from the roads was likely to be higher as some possums probably crawled off to die or had their bodies taken by predators before they could be counted. Counts were conducted twice weekly.

Her research suggested the majority of possums were killed close to street lighting. Adams said as well as having an impact on the local ecology the sight of a dead possum was upsetting for some motorists. Tourists visiting area national parks frequently use the roads involved in the study. Adams successfully lobbied groups including the Wildlife Information and Rescue Service (WIRES), Macquarie University and Ku-ring-gai council for funds to construct two possum bridges in East Linfield.


Food industry choking on red tape

Rules and regulations are strangling innovation and are overdue for a purge

The Australian food industry at first glance appears to be thriving. The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics recently highlighted that its value-added contribution to the economy had increased by more than $3 billion between 1995-96 and 2004-05 to be worth around $20 billion in that year. However, when you take a closer look at this key sector, there are some major concerns.

Firstly, the sector's R&D spending has declined relative to other manufacturing sectors in the past few years. Its growth rate is lower than other major manufacturing sectors such as machinery and equipment and publishing. Furthermore, the share it contributes to GDP has been shrinking over the past 25 years. Clearly, all is not well within the food industry.

It is not difficult to identify one of the causes of this malaise. Food businesses must hurdle a multitude of rules and regulations just to remain in business, let alone to introduce a new product or process. This is not to say that unsafe practices or processes should be allowed but simply that regulation tends to breed regulation, and we are now at the tipping point for the food industry.

More and more, consumers are demanding benefits from the foods they purchase beyond that of simple nutrition. Health conscious consumers want to take control of their health and they expect to take on some "do it yourself doctoring" for diet-related chronic disease. This new trend was recognised by the Australian Government when it announced its Better Health Initiative at COAG in February last year. The initiative emphasises prevention and early intervention rather than treatment.

The health benefits of foods are a key driver for industry innovation and have been a centrepiece of two government initiatives under the $137 million National Food Industry Strategy (2002-07), the food innovation grants scheme and the National Centre for Excellence in Functional Foods. But the benefits don't just accrue to consumers and industry from this form of innovation. Governments also reap rewards as the striving for "better for you" foods has an indirect, positive impact on government health funding by improving the health of the nation and contributing to reduced healthcare costs.

It is lamentable that the food regulatory system works against effective innovation in responding to this initiative. Take the example of an application to allow fruit and vegetable juices and drinks, soups and savoury biscuits to be fortified with calcium. Lack of calcium in the diet contributes to osteoporosis in old age. The application showed that increasing calcium intake through these foods had the potential for reducing osteoporosis in the elderly, a disease with a cost burden, according to Access Economics, of $9 billion annually.

The initial proposal was accepted by the regulatory agency, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) in December 2001. The proposal took almost two years to pass each stage of assessment and public consultation before it was submitted to the Australia New Zealand Food Regulation Ministerial Council in September 2003. The Ministerial Council returned the proposal to FSANZ for reassessment, citing numerous areas for review, many of which had already been covered and reviewed thoroughly in the first stages of assessment.

FSANZ reviewed and returned the recommendation to the Ministerial Council in March 2005 and it was again returned (by a majority) to FSANZ in May that year. FSANZ once again reviewed and returned its recommendation for approval to Ministerial Council and the application was finally gazetted in November 2005. It took four years for this simple request to become part of the food standards code: an unacceptable delay that cost the industry market access.

Another example, fortified beverages, resulted in a lost opportunity of $350million for Australian manufacturing. Australian consumers have shown that they appreciate the opportunity to purchase water and juices with vitamins added to complement their lifestyle. This growing market has been available to New Zealand manufacturers for import into Australia for many years but until recently it was not open to Australian manufacturers. Changing the rules had the potential of increasing Australian jobs, providing niche products for the smaller independent beverage bottlers to explore, and expanding what is now only a small market in Australian non-alcoholic beverage exports. It took four years from 2002 to late 2006 for the Australian Beverages Council to steer an application through the regulatory morass to level the playing field with New Zealand.

Unlike most Ministerial Councils that set policy and permit their agencies to set the rules that allow the policy to be expressed, the Food Regulation Ministerial Council has power of veto over the regulations proposed by the agency. In this case, the council has not one but two opportunities to veto decisions of the agency, first by a single vote and second by a majority vote.

The current system must be fixed. The duplication of review responsibilities given to both FSANZ and the Ministerial Council creates inefficiencies and an additional cost burden. The veto powers of each member of the Ministerial Council, without regard to the constituents that that minister represents, allows Australia's smallest state to stand in the way of a proposal supported by its largest state.

The food regulatory framework was last reviewed in 1998 (Blair review). Its purpose was to simplify food regulation in Australia and New Zealand. However, the sad fact is that the operation of the new system has accumulated even more excessive red tape and poorer delivery in commercial time frames. It has disadvantaged industry without generating the benefits consumers and government deserved from the reforms. Given the difficulties that are needlessly added to the process of bringing new products to market, manufacturing overseas is beginning to look like a preferred option.

The Australian Government recognised this problem 15 months ago and offered a short-term and a longer-term fix. Recognising that some of the delays in the system were the product of the act under which FSANZ operates, the Government undertook extensive stakeholder consultations to streamline the operations of the agency. These were agreed in early 2006 but the bill to amend the act still hasn't been introduced to Parliament 12 months later.

The Prime Minister commissioned the Productivity Commission to report on reducing the regulatory burden on business (Red Tape Review) as a longer-term solution. The Red Tape Review highlighted issues for attention, calling for a reconsideration of the Australian Government's role in the food regulatory system, including aspects of enforcement, which are currently a states and territories responsibility. The Government's response was to endorse the recommendations and initiate a review to report.

The Government announced this week the appointment of the independent chairman of this review, Mark Bethwaite. The review is to be completed by April 2007. The outcome of this review and the implementation of changes by all governments will determine whether the excellent science and knowledge in Australia can be turned into commercial opportunities for the food and agriculture industries.

It is not just commonwealth regulations that stifle industry. The states and territories have the responsibility for enforcement of food regulations and this can lead to a lack of uniformity in response due to resource constraints, which itself creates uncertainty for industry. For example, is it better to set up in NSW, which has a single agency for food matters, or in Victoria or Queensland, where responsibilities are spread across a number of agencies? With 80 per cent of food manufacturing concentrated along the eastern coast of Australia, the Victorian Government has taken leadership in the national reform agenda to build on its competition reforms by reducing the regulatory burden in its food regulatory system. Victoria commissioned an inquiry into food regulation in September 2006 through the Victorian Competition and Efficiency Commission. This is a welcome opportunity and may lead to the establishment of a one-stop shop for food regulation in Victoria, similar to the establishment in NSW some years ago of the NSW Food Authority.

The clock is ticking for food manufacturing in Australia. Delays in reform will increase the potential for more R&D to leave Australian shores. It is imperative that the food regulatory system returns without delay to the fundamentals of protecting public health and safety while removing unnecessary impediments to innovation and competitiveness.


Instinctive Leftist bias at Australia's national broadcaster

Long-time ABC journalist Maxine McKew's decision to help Labor win the next federal election hardly enhances the national broadcaster's reputation as fair and balanced

Some truths are so self-evident that they are hardly worth debating. Yet one of these - that a certain bias shapes news and current affairs coverage at the ABC - still provokes outrage at the Ultimo/Southbank staff cafeterias. The bias, to be sure, is not deliberate; it's not as though Aunty's journalists sit around in dark corners and plan how they will slant their program in favour of their friends and causes. But there is little doubt that, notwithstanding their denials, most reporters and producers at the public broadcaster naturally dress a little to the Left.

Of course, there is a lot to like about the ABC. Its websites and the service provided by regional radio and News Radio are outstanding. Many journalists there - especially those who have no time for the union's "Vietcong-style industrial tactics" - are intelligent, extremely well-informed individuals who are almost always on the pace with breaking news. At a time when political and current affairs programs are being dumbed down on commercial television, it is heartening to know that at least one network takes ideas and public affairs seriously. On balance, the taxpayer is better off with the ABC than without it.

But when it comes to the quality of the news and current affairs programs, our public broadcaster could be so much better if a certain bias did not cloud so many stories. Sure, ABC TV and radio journalists insist they keep their political opinions to themselves and merely produce objective and truthful inquiry. But, like everyone else involved in the political process, ABC journalists also have strong views about pretty much everything, no matter how neatly they put such baggage aside on air. (Just ask Sydney and Canberra news readers Juanita Phillips and Virginia Haussegger, who pen opinion columns for The Bulletin and The Canberra Times respectively). When recently challenged about the corporation's Left flavour by a listener, ABC radio's Virginia Trioli (a former opinion columnist with The Age) told her Sydney audience that she no longer voted at elections: that's how she maintains her objectivity. It is a nice idea, but personal opinions don't start and stop at the ballot box.

ABC journalists, like journalists in general, may say that they never allow their opinions to shape their reporting. They may even see themselves as perfect arbiters of ultimate truth. But this is a pretension beyond human capacity. Sometimes, a journalist's personal views cloud their news reports, their choice of topics and their analysis. Again, it's not deliberate; it just happens.

Which brings us to the news that former ABC stalwart Maxine McKew will help Kevin Rudd and the ALP beat John Howard and the Coalition in this year's federal election. McKew, who was an ABC journalist for more than 30 years until she quit the national broadcaster last month, will now be a special adviser on strategy to the Labor Party.

She is hardly alone; at one time or another many ABC journalists have worked for the Labor party (think of Barrie Cassidy, Kerry O'Brien, Mark Bannerman, Alan Carpenter, Claire Martin, Mary Delahunty and Bob Carr, among others). In contrast, how many prominent ABC journalists have worked for the conservative side of politics in recent decades?

Now, McKew, like the aforementioned Labor-oriented journalists, will say in good faith that she never consciously went out of her way to favour the ALP and criticise the Liberals on air. After all, as Bob Hawke and Paul Keating will attest, ABC journalists often offend Labor as well as Coalition governments.

This is true. But this misses the point about real bias: it comes not so much from what party the journalists attack; it comes from how they see the world. A left-wing conspiracy is not necessary at the taxpayer-funded behemoth, because (most) ABC journalists quite spontaneously think alike. Former BBC staffer Robin Aitken once said he could not raise a cricket team of conservatives among staff at the British public broadcaster. Could an indoor cricket team be raised at the other Aunty? Not when so many ABC workers are creatures of a culture that is divorced from the thoughts and attitudes of mainstream Australia.

How else to account for the fact that ABC presenters often identify conservatives as such but not those on the other side of the ideological spectrum? Thus, according to Lateline's Tony Jones, the right-wing Mark Steyn is a "conservative polemicist", whereas the left-wing journalist Robert Fisk is "one of the most experienced observers of the Middle East". No left-wing labels are necessary. Perhaps conservatives need to be identified because in the world-view that prevails at the ABC, they are outside the mainstream.

How else to account for the fact that the one ABC show that challenges the prevailing orthodoxy is called Counterpoint: Michael Duffy's Radio National program, which airs conservative voices and ideas?

And then there's the ABC's Insiders. Although a conservative commentator is accommodated on the program every Sunday morning, he (either Andrew Bolt, Piers Akerman or Gerard Henderson) is always outnumbered by two other more liberal counterparts and sometimes host Barrie Cassidy. The token conservative's input, moreover, is often regarded by the panelists not as a contentious contribution to the debate, but as a flat earther's fit of extremist nonsense. Incidentally, during its 15 years of existence, Media Watch has never been hosted or produced by anyone in the centre, let alone right-of-centre. Why?

All of this might also explain why certain stories that would appeal to a conservative audience are played down. For instance, during the week of Ronald Reagan's death in June 2004, Lateline virtually ignored the Republican president's life and times. No stories, no features, no debate. Nothing. Yet several months earlier Jones went weak at the knees remembering John F. Kennedy 40 years after the liberal leader's death. Instead of affording similar treatment to a conservative leader - much less having a debate about Reagan's place in history - Jones focused on tributes flooding in for another American legend who died that week (musician Ray Charles) and he browbeat Alexander Downer on the topic of Australia's (as it turns out) non-role in the Abu Ghraib scandal in Iraq.

Now, more honest friends of the ABC insist that we need Aunty to "balance" the so-called shock jocks on commercial radio and the right-wing columnists at News Limited newspapers. So, the argument goes, what difference does it make that ABC journalists are lefties? But those who hate talkback programs or The Australian's opinion page can take solace in the fact that they aren't subsidising Alan Jones or Janet Albrechtsen; taxpayers who subsidise the ABC to the extent of more than $800 million a year don't enjoy that peace of mind. Besides, the need for balance is there in the ABC Charter; it is the legislative quid pro quo for public funding.

Of course, there is nothing wrong in Left-liberal voices being heard on the ABC. It's just that there should also be a place for conservative, more contrarian, voices: and these should not be put on air with some sort of health warning. At the very least, there should also be a place for the silent majority: that is, a good percentage of the population to whom the ABC purportedly answers.