Wednesday, February 28, 2007


There are many parallels between the Australian and American education scenes but, under strong Federal government leadership, the ignorant and destructive Leftist stranglehold on Australian education is at last beginning to be unwound -- as we see in the four current articles below:

Teachers to be tested on literacy

Student teachers will sit a literacy and numeracy test when starting their university course and teachers will have to undertake continuing education to qualify for registration and higher rates of pay under proposals tabled in Federal Parliament yesterday. A two-year inquiry into teacher education calls for a national accreditation system of university teaching courses, with accreditation made a condition of receiving federal funds, and for national teacher registration, to be administered by the states.

The report, Top of the Class, also calls for an increase in funding for education students, both while at university and when undertaking their practical component, and a one-year induction program for beginning teachers. It recommends the practical component be funded separately and not wrapped into the larger university grant as at present, and that overall funding for teaching courses be increased by about $1800 a full-time student.

Under the induction program, based on a Scottish model, new teachers would spend 20 per cent less time in face-to-face teaching. They would be assigned a qualified mentor, observe classes and undertake professional development courses. The mentor would be trained, given time to properly perform the role, and be paid for the job. The scheme would be voluntary to start and funded by the Federal Government contributing 10 per cent of a starting salary, and by the employer.

It also calls on the Federal Government to ensure that it better allocates the funding of teacher education places to address shortages in the workforce. At present, Australia is training too many primary school teachers and insufficient maths and science teachers.

Tabling the report in the House of Representatives yesterday, the chair of the education and vocational training committee, Luke Hartsuyker, said teacher education was not in crisis but that improvements could be made. "If we invest $1 in teacher education, we're going to provide an increased return on investment in every other dollar in the system," he said.

The report dismisses the idea of setting a minimum tertiary entrance score, believing it would preclude too many applicants and particularly a diverse candidature including indigenous students and those from a non-English speaking or low socioeconomic background. It instead recommends a diagnostic test to identify student teachers' problems with literacy and numeracy and provide them with remedial teaching. "Attention should be focused on the capabilities graduates have at the end of their courses rather than at the beginning," it says.

The report says only four of the 31 Australian universities training teachers require students to have studied maths in Year 12 and that a further eight required students to have Year 11 maths.


It's the teachers who teach the teachers who are at fault

How effective is teacher training in Australia? The question is more than academic. After all, the quality and effectiveness of the classroom teacher is one of the most important determinants of successful learning. The commonwealth report on teacher training, Top of the Class, released yesterday, suggests that all is well and that there is no crisis.

Wrong. As University of Melbourne emeritus professor Brian Start points out, teacher training suffers from provider capture and there is little attempt to measure effectiveness. In 2005-06, Start contacted 38 teacher training institutions, asking whether there was any evidence of a link between teacher training - indicated by admission procedures and graduation scores for prospective teachers - and success, however defined, after teaching for three to six years. Not only did about half of the institutions fail to return the questionnaire but it appeared that none had undertaken any research investigating how effective their courses were in preparing teachers for the classroom.

According to Start in a paper given in Philadelphia last year: "Teacher education is a legal requirement for entering the teaching profession. Universities have a monopoly on this process (as) the providers. They select, train, qualify and certify graduates as competent to teach. Yet there does not appear to be any validity checks on the near billion-dollar enterprise."

Start argues that teacher training institutes are unaccountable. For evidence, consider a paper related to establishing the National Institute for Quality Teaching and School Leadership prepared by the Australian Council for Educational Research. "To our knowledge," the paper states, "no teacher education program or institution has ever been disaccredited, yet variation in quality is known to be considerable." It goes on: "Teacher education is arguably one of the least accountable and least examined areas of professional education in Australia."

It is easy to find evidence that beginning teachers are not being properly equipped to teach. Says one submission to the commonwealth parliamentary inquiry into teacher education, written by the Australian Secondary Principals Association and based on a questionnaire to 600 beginning teachers: "The respondents indicated that their colleagues at school had provided the most worthwhile support and advice with relatively little value being given to that provided by university personnel."

Not only does the ASPA submission argue that teacher training must better prepare teachers for the classroom but it concludes that teacher education "was at best satisfactory" as a preparation for teaching and in "several areas it is clear that they felt that they were significantly under-prepared".

A 2005 survey of beginning teachers, funded by the federal Government, identified literacy, especially the basics represented by spelling, grammar and phonics, as one area in which teachers lacked confidence and knowledge of effective teaching. Fifty-seven per cent of primary school teachers felt unprepared to teach phonics and 51 per cent of secondary teachers interviewed felt unprepared to teach reading.

Of course, it's not the teachers' fault that they struggle in the classroom. Blame rests with teacher education institutions that appear to be driven more by politically correct fads such as whole language - where children are taught to look and guess instead of sounding out syllables and words - and new age theories such as constructivism, where teachers no longer teach. Students, in the words of the commonwealth report Teaching Reading, are treated as "self-regulating learners who construct knowledge co-operatively with other learners in developmentally appropriate ways". And there's more: "Adoption of a constructivist approach in the classroom involves a shift from predominantly teacher-directed methods to student-centred, active discovery learning and immersion approaches via co-operative group work, discussion focused on investigations and problem solving."

During the past few years The Australian has detailed example after example of how the curriculum has been dumbed down and how standards have fallen. While some suggest teachers are at fault, the real culprits are those responsible for teacher education who fail to provide them with the right tools to do the job


Schools dump soft options

The number of subjects Queensland's senior students can study will be slashed to fewer than 20 in the latest phase of the most widespread education reforms since the 1970s. A two-year review has recommended non-mainstream subjects such as recreation, tourism, retail and marine studies be scrapped to enable children to gain a deeper and broader knowledge in their chosen areas of study. Education Minister Rod Welford said the aim of the review was to reduce the "curriculum clutter". "Subject options have been growing like Topsy," Mr Welford said.

But he claimed that while the new system would offer fewer subjects, students would receive a broader education because they would not be specialising so narrowly. "There has been a knowledge explosion and we have to adjust accordingly," Mr Welford said.

The latest changes come less than a week after the Queensland Studies Authority recommended students in Years 1 to 10 go back to learning plain English. Selective state school academies for gifted students have also been introduced, while last month the first intake of Prep Year students began school.

The reforms reverse the trend in recent decades towards "new age" teaching methods which have come under sustained attack from federal Education Minister Julie Bishop and conservative academics.

Mr Welford said the move to cut the current offering of about 80 senior school subjects to between 16 and 20 subjects would add depth and flexibility. It would give students new options to study core subjects at basic and advanced level as well as the option of specialising in their areas of expertise. The new system, likely to be in place by 2009, would result in current subjects such as tourism, recreation, retail, manufacturing and marine studies being subsumed into broader subjects to be known as fields of learning. Mr Welford said the "fields of learning" would include maths, science, English, humanities, technology and design and business. "It will allow for a broader inter-disciplinary approach to allow advance science students, for example, to study emerging fields like biotechnology and nanotechnology as well as the traditional physics and chemistry," he said.

Students opting for a business pathway, for example, would be able to include subjects like legal studies as well as accounting and economics. Mr Welford also hoped to give students the option to begin a foreign language at Year 11. At present that is possible under the international baccalaureate program but not the general Queensland public school system.

The senior syllabus review is being chaired by Griffith University Deputy-Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar. He said teachers, parents, Education Queensland, Catholic Education authorities, independent schools and TAFE were represented on the reference group. "We have had wide public consultation and we will be seeking more feedback when a proposal is finalised," Professor Dewar said.

Russell Pollock, principal of The Gap school in Brisbane's western suburbs, said his school had between 160 and 168 students in each year level and offered 30 to 40 senior subjects. "Sitting down with parents and a guidance officer at the end of Year 10 is essential for students selecting their subjects for Years 11 and 12," he said. Queensland Teachers Union President Steve Ryan said teachers were open-minded about the move but were generally satisfied with the current system. "It is important that students do not narrow down their options too early," he said.


Tot schools' dubious nurturing claims

Here's one for parents keen to get ahead of the pack, writes Bettina Arndt. They can enrol their children in early learning programs. Very early learning programs. The good Bettina blames the destructive move on career-minded parents but it should be added that the parents concerned -- mothers in particular -- are just doing what the feminist Left have always preached: put a career first and farm kids out to group "carers". And that was also of course the Communist system -- both in the Soviet orbit and in the Israeli kibbutzim

For years now, Melbourne's Methodist Ladies College has run a school kindy that takes babies of six weeks and older. That's far earlier than the Perth school, St Hilda's, which attracted headlines last week by allowing 2 1/2-year-olds into its new junior kindy. Newspaper photos featured the tiny tots, complete with school uniform, satchel on their backs. Across the country, private schools are now increasing school enrolments by attracting pupils very, very young. It's proving popular with busy, affluent parents keen on the idea of putting their infants and toddlers into "enriching learning environments."

MLC's program promises even the youngest students will discover the fun of learning a language, explore computing and engage in gymnastics. The Cathedral School in Townsville boasts it offers babies a stimulating environment for promoting fine and gross motor skills as well as sensory development. Most of these schools are willing to take youngsters from 7am to 6pm, with a solid five hours of schooling in the middle. And they offer all this enrichment for 50 weeks a year.

What a cynical exercise. Shame on these schools for conning parents into believing children of that age benefit from this crazy hot-housing. If these programs are indeed put together by trained early education teachers, they should know better. Basic knowledge of early child development shows infants and toddlers are unlikely to thrive when they are separated from their primary carers for such long hours. And surely they learned something about the slower pace of these tiny children who need time to explore their world.

Walk down the street with a two-year-old and watch as the child stops to pick up a leaf, or dawdles along looking over a shoulder to examine his shadow or decides to sit down and look at her feet. Time is slow, the world is fascinating. So what are parents doing cramming these little children into uniforms at daybreak, rushing them into cars and dumping them at so-called "schools"?

The educational hook provides a convenient excuse to allow parents to justify their choice of minimalist parenting. For five years I lived in New York, where minimalist parenting was an art form. There was a childcare centre opposite where I lived and I'd watch sleepy toddlers dropped off well before sunrise and picked up long after dark, often not even by their parents but night shift nannies. Sports clubs were available to take older children off your hands not only afternoons but all weekend, delivered to your door late Sunday evening.

That would never happen in family friendly Australia - or so I thought. Last year, Queensland newspapers reported childcare services in seaside resorts were under pressure to open on Christmas Day - sometimes to help parents forced to work, but often because parents wanted to have a good time without the children.

So let's not kid ourselves that parents are putting babies or toddlers for long hours into this new school care because they have no choice. The high fees demand high earners - often affluent, two-income professionals who don't want children putting a brake on their careers. The real choice we should question is why they have children if neither parent is willing or able to cut back for a few years to provide some slack in the system.

The hot-housing may well misfire. We know spending long hours in even the most stimulating group care does not set children up for a brilliant school career. Solid international research shows these children are at risk of developing problem behaviours -- aggression, disobedience, conflicted relations with teachers, poorer work habits and social skills. Here are children who start off with one of life's great bonuses - educated, successful parents. How sad they hardly ever get to see them.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Sick elderly left starving in public hospitals

As many as four in every 10 elderly patients in Queensland hospitals could be slowly starving in their beds. Health staff are failing to notice the signs of malnutrition and are too busy to check whether patients are eating properly, The Courier-Mail can reveal. Malnutrition can delay recovery times and in severe cases quicken a patient's death.

Merrilyn Banks, director of nutrition at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, said: "We think malnutrition only happens in Third World countries, but it is a problem in aged care and hospitals here. "We have found that 30 to 40 per cent of elderly patients are affected. There's generally not enough awareness of the issue because we are used to treating disease and are just not looking for under-nutrition."

Malnutrition can cause the condition of a patient admitted to hospital with a minor illness to rapidly deteriorate. "When people get ill they have trouble with their appetite and it becomes more difficult for them to eat," Ms Banks said. "Malnutrition can actually increase the rate of infection and may slow rehabilitation." She said medical staff were not necessarily to blame for patients failing to eat. "In a lot of cases malnutrition is just not obvious," she said. "Everybody in the health system is very busy."

Anthony Power, a Brisbane private practice nutritionist, said he saw up to 10 elderly patients each week suffering from malnutrition after being discharged from hospital. In one case, a woman in her 60s had lost almost 20kg after she developed a post-operative infection. "It can happen very quickly. They may be recovering from an illness and don't have the energy to eat and then develop vitamin and mineral deficiencies which further impair their digestion. "The system needs to do more to tackle this."

Ms Banks has received funding from the hospital's Research Foundation to assess how much the problem is costing Queensland Health through longer hospital stays and the treatment of associated complications. One solution might be the appointment of dedicated care assistants to ensure elderly people eat properly while on the wards.

Val French, president of Queensland pressure group Older People Speak Out, said: "Older people are the least likely to ever complain." Gay Hawksworth, secretary of the Queensland Nurses Union, added: "There is a shortage of nurses . . . but nurses are well aware of the need to make sure patients are eating and drinking." [The notoriously low attractiveness of public hospital food surely does not help. And the recent move to make it "healthy" has almost certainly reduced its attractiveness even further. People are not rabbits and elderly people in particular are most unlikely to change lifetime dietary habits]


Preschool for all? No thanks

Both in Australia and California there is a strong political push in that direction. Well-researched comment below from an Australian homeschooler

Politicians are calling for compulsory preschool and there is a lot of rhetoric around about ensuring all children have the benefits of a preschool education so they are not left behind when they begin school. But is compulsory preschool something we really want? Education Minister, Julie Bishop's argument in favour of compulsory preschool is: "many studies and research and analysis show that investment in high quality, large scale, early childhood programs find that early learning experiences, including pre-literacy and numeracy skills make the transition to school easier for children, and it increases the chances of school success."

University studies are often quoted to support the perceived academic benefits of preschool. What is not often mentioned is that, while these studies demonstrate preschool in a favourable light when compared with an impoverished home environment, preschool does not compare favourably with the average home environment.

Even Professor Edward Zigler, credited as "the father of Headstart" a widespread American preschool program admits "there is a large body of evidence that there is little to be gained by exposing middle class children to early education . (and) evidence that indicates early schooling is inappropriate for many four-year-olds, and that it may be harmful to their development".

If preschool were truly beneficial in terms of giving children a head start, those places with some form of compulsory preschool should do demonstrably better academically. The evidence does not bear this out. For example, the two states of America which have compulsory preschool, Georgia and Oklahoma, have the lowest results for fourth grade reading tests in the country.

In 2000, the Program for International Study Assessment (PISA) compared the academic scores of children from 32 industrialised nations in reading literacy, maths and science. The results showed that in countries where schooling starts at a young age they do not consistently outperform those who start later. Finland, which has a compulsory schooling age of seven, held the top ranking in all test subjects of the Third International Mathematics and Science (TIMS) results in 1999. Singapore, which also scored highly in the PISA and TIMS assessments, has no publicly funded early education programs.

By contrast, Sweden, which has one of the most comprehensive early child-care programs in Europe, was one of the lowest scoring nations. Hungary and Czechoslovakia, cut their day-care programs significantly in the 1990s after studies determined that institutional care damages preschool-aged children.

Perhaps most tellingly of all, the longitudinal studies often quoted to argue an academic advantage provided by preschool for lower socio-economic groups, actually also show that this "advantage" disappears by grade three.

But what about the much-touted social benefits of preschool programs? Here again, there is research to refute this. A 2005 Stanford University study reported: "We find that attendance in preschool centers, even for short periods of time each week, hinder the rate at which young children develop social skills and display the motivation to engage in classroom tasks, as reported by their [prep] teachers."

In 1986, Tizzard and Hughes compared the language environments at home and in preschools in the UK. Their method involved tape-recording the conversations of four-year-old girls at preschool in the morning and again at home with their mothers in the afternoon. They reported:

We became increasingly aware of how rich this [home] environment was for all the children (working-class and middle-class). The conversations between the children and their mothers ranged freely over a variety of topics. The idea that children's interests were restricted to play and TV was clearly untenable.

At home the children discussed topics like work, the family, birth, growing up, and death; they talked with their mothers about things they had done together in the past, and their plans for the future; they puzzled over such diverse topics as the shape of roofs and chairs, the nature of Father Christmas, and whether the Queen wears curlers in bed.

Many of these conversations took place during recognisably educational contexts - such as during play or while reading books - but many did not. A large number of the more fruitful conversations simply cropped up as the children and their mothers went about their afternoon's business at home - having lunch, planning shopping expeditions, feeding the baby and so on.

When we came to analyse the conversations between these same children and their [preschool] teachers, we could not avoid being disappointed. The children were certainly happy at school, for much of the time absorbed in play. However, their conversations with their teachers made a sharp contrast to those with their mothers.

The richness, depth and variety which characterised the home conversations were sadly missing. So too was the sense of intellectual struggle, and of the real attempts to communicate being made by both sides.

The questioning, puzzling child which we were so taken with at home was gone: in her place was a child who, when talking to staff, seemed subdued, and whose conversations with adults were mainly restricted to answering questions rather than asking them, or taking part in minimal exchanges about the whereabouts of other children and play materials.

In all this research, it is difficult to sort out to what extent there is a difference between compulsory preschool programs and optional preschool but it seems that there is enough evidence both to question the push towards compulsory preschool and to throw doubt on the theory that preschool is beneficial for all. Children at home with their families are not disadvantaged. Indeed they are very likely better off. So if your child does not wish to go to kindergarten, or you do not wish to send them, rest assured that you are not depriving them.

Relationships are the most important part of life. For small children especially, the time spent in the secure home environment is invaluable. Contrary to popular opinion, forcing children to separate from their parents before they are ready to is not necessary.

Preschool should remain optional so that parents are in control of the amount of time their children spend there. For some families this will be full time, for others, no time at all, but as a society we should stop pressuring families into thinking that a decision not to preschool their child is somehow irresponsible and will disadvantage the child. The evidence just does not support this view.

Throughout history small children have always been nurtured by their parents. Parents talk, read and sing to their preschoolers; they answer questions; they play games; they provide stimulating experiences and the security of cuddles and they accompany their children out into the world as mentor guides who interpret and explain new sights and experiences. Some families wish to supplement this rich rewarding education with a preschool experience. By all means make preschool freely available to all who wish to use it but why make it compulsory?


Taxes thwart homebuyers

More than 150,000 housing lots are available for development in the nation's three biggest cities, refuting the Howard Government's claims of a land shortage. The figures, compiled by The Australian, show there are 155,500 lots across Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne zoned for residential development - between three and eight years' supply - despite John Howard's claims last week that a shortage of land was contributing to the housing crisis and driving up rents.

In Sydney, where housing affordability is the lowest in the nation and continuing to deteriorate, developers have thousands of housing blocks ready to sell, and are sitting on tens of thousands more. "Every time I see John Howard blaming land supply I see red because it's just not true - there are literally thousands of lots available," said Peter Icklow, chief executive of one of Sydney's biggest developers, Monarch. Mr Icklow said rather than land shortages, it had been increases in property taxes - levied by all levels of government since the beginning of the property boom - that had led to the affordability crises.

He said there was plenty of land available for sale and for development, but there were no buyers at current prices and developers could not drop prices any further without losing money. "I've got about 3000 lots of land and I can't develop any of them until they take some of these taxes off or we get a 20 per cent lift in prices," he said. "And we're not doing this to be greedy, we just need to make a return. The bank won't lend me money if we can't show a return."

Residential Development Council executive director Ross Elliott said governments at all levels had used the property boom as an easy cash cow, but now that the boom had receded the effect of the new taxes had come into stark focus. He said inflated taxes were stifling any recovery in the property market and in turn driving the rental shortage.

Starting with the Howard Government's introduction of GST on all new homes, and culminating with the NSW Government's infrastructure levy on new homes introduced last year, property taxes had ballooned since 2000. Taxes associated with a typical house-and-land package have grown by an average of $77,000 nationally in the past six years, with the problem most pronounced in Sydney's northwest, where government costs have ballooned by $115,000 in that time, according to research by consultants Urbis JHD. The group said taxes and red tape cost more than the land.


NSW conservatives to attack land tax problem

Land tax will be axed for about 39,000 small property investors and a further 90,000 will save $800 a year under a state Coalition government. At the launch of his election campaign yesterday, the Opposition Leader, Peter Debnam, promised to slash $100 million a year from land tax by raising the tax-free threshold on investment property. The tax would kick in once properties had a land valuation of $415,000 rather than the current $368,000.

Vowing to "fix NSW", Mr Debnam said the land tax cut would boost property investment and improve the affordability and supply of rental accommodation. "If the entire land tax cut is passed on to tenants, rents could drop by up to $17 a week," he said. It is pitched squarely at voters disgruntled by the Iemma Government's changes to property taxes, including the short-lived vendor tax, and the even shorter period when land tax was levied on all investment properties, regardless of land value.

"Twelve years in Opposition is a long time and, unlike Morris Iemma, I remember the last 12 years, not just the last 18 months," Mr Debnam said. He said Mr Iemma had been an integral part of the Labor Government, including the decisions on property taxes. Unlike Mr Iemma, who has sought to put the spotlight on his leadership, Mr Debnam yesterday said it would take a team to fix NSW's problems. Flanked by the Prime Minister, John Howard, and the former premier Nick Greiner, he said he planned to rescue the NSW economy, tackle the water crisis and restore trust in government in NSW.

Mr Howard, who has previously described the task facing Mr Debnam as "Everest-like", said he believed the Opposition Leader was "going very well". "The people of this state really want a change," he said.

Mr Debnam said the land tax relief would be funded by previously announced cuts to recruitment and spending in the public service and a reduction in the number of Government departments from 33 to nine. Under the land tax regime, the value of an investor's properties is totalled, so a cut in the threshold has more impact for people with small holdings. "This is a positive move and will help mum and dad investors," said the Housing Industry Association's executive director, Graham Wolfe. But he said investors should be allowed to claim the threshold separately for each of their properties.

The executive director of the NSW Property Council, Ken Morrison, said business investors would still be above the threshold. "We would like to see a cut in the rate of land tax, which would benefit more people, and duties abolished for new dwellings." But Michelle Burrell, from the Council of Social Service of NSW, said the cuts would divert funds from essential services such as health and education.


Monday, February 26, 2007

Corruption rife in Australian State governments

All of which are Left-run

There is something rotten in the state of, well almost everywhere. From coast to coast, state governments are embroiled in corruption inquiries or embarrassed by schemes and stratagems that are ethically appalling. The most extraordinary example of the slide in state government standards is in Western Australia. The state's Corruption and Crime Commission heard this week how four cabinet ministers are amenable to the influence of present lobbyist and one-time premier and prison inmate Brian Burke. The quartet does not include former minister Norm Marlborough whom Premier Alan Carpenter sacked late last year for lying over his relationship with Mr Burke. Nor does Mr Burke confine his influence-peddling and string-pulling to Labor, as he was also working with Liberal Party powerbroker Noel Crichton-Browne. Across the continent in Queensland, former minister Norman Nuttall is charged with receiving secret commissions from a mining magnate and publican.

In NSW, state minister Milton Orkopolous resigned late last year when charged with child-sex offences. And it is not that many months since former police minister Carl Scully was forced to resign for misleading parliament. In Tasmania, former deputy premier Bryan Green is charged with illegally attempting to protect the business of an ex-minister from competition. Things are better in Victoria, where no minister is before a judge at present. But Premier Steve Bracks stands convicted in the court of public opinion over the way he made an industrial arrangement with the police union in the lead-up to the last election, a deal the police commissioner knew nothing about.

It is easy to argue it was ever thus, that there are always ministers who are stupid, greedy or both, and who succumb to the temptations of easy money or the desire to make a deposit in their party's favour bank. But the record of past wrongs does not mean we can either ignore or exonerate present ones, because the present plague of cupidity and alleged corruption is more than the result of individual weakness. It demonstrates what happens when governments are in power for such long periods that ministers start to think they can do what they like. And it shows what occurs when they assume their party interest and ministerial responsibility are the same thing. Because no state government can survive strikes by nurses, teachers and police, premiers do pay deals with the key public-sector unions regardless of what productivity improvements can support. There is nothing wrong with rewarding people who provide essential services, and overly generous pay rises are not illegal. But they are at the innocent end of the long slippery slope that leads ministers to use the state to serve what may be perceived as their own interests.

There is a great deal of difference between the management by mates that is common across the commonwealth and the influence-peddling that appears to exist in Western Australia. But if long-serving but poor-performing governments - such as Labor in NSW - stay in office for decades at a time, ethical standards will slide and we will see more states where shadowy figures quietly walk the corridors of power, appearing to exercise authority over state ministers. We have been here before, when Joh Bjelke-Petersen ran Queensland to suit himself and his supporters. We cannot afford for any state to go there again. The evidence being given to the Corruption and Crime Commission in Perth provides a powerful message about state politics and why it must be kept squeaky-clean.


Queensland corruption

In the windowless room known as the star chamber, Queensland's top corruption investigator Stephen Lambrides is blunt in his directions to Gordon Nuttall. Nuttall, recently retired after a 14-year political career that included heading three ministries under the Beattie Government, is ordered to answer all questions put to him and warned he faces perjury charges if his evidence is misleading. Nuttall - who routinely pins a carnation to his suit jacket to soften the "hard nut" image of his shaved head - knows Lambrides means business. He calls him sir.

It is the fourth day of in-camera hearings for Operation Moonlight, the Crime and Misconduct Commission probe of Nuttall's dealings as health minister. What intrigues Lambrides is how over three years from 2002, during most of Nuttall's time in cabinet, the Labor MP collected $300,000 from one of Queensland's richest men to buy houses and cars for his three children.

More here

West Australian corruption

A fourth West Australian Cabinet minister was snared yesterday in the corruption probe exposing Brian Burke's malign influence on government, a year after Premier Alan Carpenter lifted a ban on ministerial dealings with the disgraced former premier.

Mr Carpenter was forced last night to cut short his 10-day trade mission to India and return "on the first available flight" to deal with a crisis crippling his Government and sparking concerns it is unfit to govern.

Opposition Leader Paul Omodei said he would seek constitutional legal advice after more damning evidence to the state's Corruption and Crime Commission revealed Environment Minister Tony McRae may have manipulated the announcement of a planning decision to gain a financial benefit from Julian Grill, Mr Burke's business partner. The Australian understands some Liberal MPs feel there are now grounds to approach state Governor Ken Michael to have the Carpenter Government removed.

Yesterday's dramatic development comes after two weeks of relentless allegations of misconduct involving Mr Burke and his links to various ministers in the Carpenter cabinet. The names of two other ministers - who Mr Burke described in secret phone taps as people who would do whatever he wanted - have been suppressed by CCC commissioner Kevin Hammond.

More here

Victorian corruption

Leading anti-corruption investigator Frank Costigan QC has slammed a secret pre-election deal between Victorian Premier Steve Bracks and the state's Police Association. The former Royal Commissioner on declared the deal a "distortion" of the democratic process that offended the principle of transparency in government. Mr Costigan, the chairman of anti-corruption group Transparency International Australia, said: "Governments do secret deals with the police union at their peril, and ultimately at the peril of the community".

His criticism comes after Mr Bracks was pressured to release a copy of the five-page letter to Police Association secretary Paul Mullett outlining the pact. Mr Costigan told The Age that keeping such deals secret harmed the political process. "One of the problems with governments that remain in power for a long time, and that applies to both sides of politics, both state and federal, is that there is an increasing inclination to keep things hidden or secret and not open," he said. "It distorts the political process." The letter amounted to a "secret agreement" between Mr Bracks and the police union, he said.

More here

Greenies, want to save the world? Stay home

Caroline Overington wishes Greenies would do as they say

If we are to believe the opinion polls - and I suppose we must - then we in the West have descended into a state of near total panic about the impact our lives have on the planet. We know that we are using an incredible amount of the world's resources and we feel quite guilty about it. But what to do?

None of us really wants to give up our luxurious lives (by which I mean having a car instead of a horse, a house instead of a cave, a mobile telephone that is not an empty can on the end of some string). On the other hand, we do want to protect the environment. As it happens, you can apparently do both. Last week, I was asked to write a story about the ways in which Westerners could continue to live like kings but not feel so guilty about it. All one needs to do is buy what are known as carbon credits, which then can be used to offset the damage your lifestyle is doing to the planet.

If that's not entirely clear, let me explain it further: you can keep your four-wheel-drive and your babies can get about in disposable nappies, you can have a big house and travel by aeroplane, but you must accept that in doing so you are damaging the environment. Enter carbon credit companies. They come to your house, estimate the size of your "climate footprint" (that is, how much damage your lifestyle is doing to the planet) and put a price on it. For the average family, let's say it's $600 a year. You give that amount to any one of these companies and they will use the money to install energy-saving light bulbs in other people's homes. You haven't reduced your emissions but someone has, and therefore you can live a little less guiltily.

Under a similar program, you can offset your mother's farts or even your cat's farts (flatulence contains methane and therefore heats the planet) by paying money to green companies that will spend it on water-saving shower heads or planting trees to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Now, when the story about cat farts and carbon credits appeared on the front page of this paper last week, I got quite a few emails, one of which said: "If you really want to end the damage done when your cat farts, wouldn't it be easier to put a sword through the cat." That's not very kind, is it? Another said people should keep their money and just learn to hang clothes on the line instead of using the dryer all the time.

The point they were making, I think, was that if global warming is a problem - we know it is happening, we know it's man-made, but the jury is still out on how much of a problem it's going to be - we in the West need to do more than pay green companies to offset foul smells made by our domestic pets. As any greenie will tell you, we would need to radically change our lifestyle.

The problem with this, however, is that a sudden, radical change to our lifestyles would destroy the economy. Any action we take would not necessarily save the lives of people who don't yet exist - that is, our children's grandchildren - but it would certainly kill real people right now in parts of Asia and Africa who depend on Western decadence for their incomes and their survival.

Also, I'm not sure that even the most committed greenie actually wants to make radical changes to their lifestyle. An example: I live in the Sydney beachside suburb of Bondi. In summer, the streets are flooded with backpackers, most of whom would claim to be travellers, not tourists, and would also claim, I'm sure, to be very concerned about the planet. Yet most of them arrive by plane. They travel across Australia in the cheapest, dirtiest VW vans they can find (most fuelled with leadedpetrol).

Sometimes they park these vans on the streets outside our home and, rather than pay $20 to stay in a backpacker lodge, they sleep in them. On hot nights, they keep the engines - and the airconditioning - running. Fumes pour out the exhaust, choking local cats. In the morning, they get up and pee and poop in the gutters.

Then they head down to the local internet cafe, where they use computers manufactured by enormous corporations, with operating systems made by Microsoft, and they send emails back home to their folks, doubtless complaining about the gap between the rich and the poor. All of this is OK, I suppose. But how come almost every single one of these Kombi vans have stickers on them that say things like: "Save the Planet"?

To the backpacker, that would mean: no more travelling to Thailand, Vietnam or Burma, or whatever is the fashionable place to be. It would mean no more driving in Kombi vans across the desert; no more jet boats out to the Barrier Reef; no more drinking mass-produced beer straight from the can, which is all the Bondi backpackers do all day.

The other sticker you often see on Kombi vans is: "Magic Happens." But it doesn't. It just seems that way. You flick a switch on the wall and the lights come on. You press a button on the toilet and your waste gets flushed away. You get a job, you save money, you get to travel places on planes and drive around in Kombi vans. It's not magic. It's progress. And it's bought to you by capitalism.



Australian police and Tennessee police have a lot in common

The NSW Police Ombudsman has been asked to investigate claims that a Sydney mother was assaulted by police and her baby snatched from her when she tried to bypass a police cordon. Nicole Whiley, a professional carer for the disabled and elderly, says she was trying to get home with her infant son when officers pushed her to the ground, badly injuring her wrist and back. She claims police then separated her from five-month-old Jacob, allegedly telling her that the child was "going to DoCS (Department of Community Services)". Ms Whiley, 28, was taken to Miranda police station in the back of a police truck, placed in a cell and charged with assaulting police and using offensive language.

In a statement of complaint lodged the day after the February 8 incident, Ms Whiley said she was walking Jacob home in a stroller along Willawong Rd, Caringbah, when four police officers blocked her path. She asked bystanders, "What's happening?" and was told there was "some kind of raid" being carried out at a nearby Housing Commission block of units. "I said, 'Oh, OK - I have to get past,"' Ms Whiley said in her statement. "I walked right up to where the four officers were standing in the walkway with my pram and said, 'Excuse me'.

"I was going to go on to the road and around them but I couldn't because there was a bicycle approaching me and four or five cars on the road. "I huffed and walked around them and got back on the path ... and said: 'You would think four grown men would have moved for a woman with a pram or an elderly lady."' Ms Whiley said a male officer then approached her, jabbed his finger repeatedly into her chest and told her to "shut up". She said she pushed his hand away and the officer took her arm and held it behind her back while a second took her pram and a third held her other arm.

"Once my hands were behind my back I was pushed straight to the ground, realising my shirt had been ripped across my chest," her statement said. "The next thing, they say to me, 'Get up, stand on your feet.' "They were still holding me under the arms. I said, 'I can't believe you've done this to a woman and a baby."' Ms Whiley said she "heard a crack" in her left hand as officers continued holding her arms behind her. She was later treated for a suspected fracture in one of the small bones in her hand and saw a chiropractor for whiplash to her neck and back. Ms Whiley said a neighbour at the scene convinced police to hand over Jacob.

On Friday, she received a letter from Miranda police informing her its complaints management team had assessed her complaint but declined to investigate it - against its own officers. Ms Whiley has been ordered to appear at Sutherland Local Court on March 1.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

"Wicked" Israeli academic to give talk in Melbourne

Professor Raphael Israeli will give a talk on "The Growth of Islam in Europe and it's effect on Western democracies" on Sunday 11th March, 2007, 8.00 pm at Beth Weizmann, 306 Hawthorn Road, Caulfield South. Admission: $10

Given recent events in the Press and the Jewish leadership, there has been an unprecedented demand for Professor Israeli so bookings are advised. Enquiries and bookings: Ronit 0413 813345, Fran 0414 822 584

Prof. Israeli has been disowned by official Australian Jewry because he is outspoken about Muslims. See my post of 17th..


You can book to attend the talk over the internet. Click HERE


In a sad world first, the Australian government has decided to burnish its Green credentials by banning ordinary light globes. In 3 years time, Australians will be able to buy compact fluorescents only. The idea is that the fluoros use electricity more efficiently. That much is true. But the drawbacks of the fluoros are many.

A major one is that they tend to blow up if you use them in conjunction with dimmer switches. That little detail aside, here is a full list (so far) of the problems:

1. Compact fluorescent bulbs are almost always Edison (screw) type, whereas most Australian lighting uses bayonet fittings. This could no doubt change but may push up costs because the lights would have to be made for just the Australian market.

2. They are often physically larger than the incandescent bulbs they replace and simply may not fit the lamp or fixture conveniently or at all. People often have very fancy light-fittings that cost hundreds of dollars. Millions of those may have to be abandoned.

3. The funny elongated or circular shape may result in a less optimal lighting pattern.

4. Many models have light output claims that are only achieved at the optimum operating temperature and/or in some optimum burning position that achieves an optimum internal temperature. Many light output claims are outright exaggerated, often by about 15 percent and in a few extreme cases by 25 percent.

5. Compact fluorescent lamps usually do not produce full light output until they warm up for a minute or two. A few models require about three minutes to fully warm up and produce as little as 20-25 percent of their full light output when first started.

6. Some types may produce an annoying 120 Hz (or 100 Hz) flicker.

7. There are many small incandescent lamps (e.g. in refrigerators) that could not conceivably be replaced by the bulky fluoros we have today. Technology MAY be able to solve that but the costs will probably be large. The compacts we have today are already the endpoint of a big effort at downsizing.

8. May produce Radio Frequency Interference (RFI).

9. The up-front cost is substantial (unless there is a large rebate): $10 to $20 for a compact fluorescent to replace a 60W incandescent bulb that costs 40 to 70c.

10. Due to the high up-front cost, the pay-back period may approach infinity.

11. While their life may be 20,000 hours, a wayward ball will break one of these $10 to $20 bulbs as easily as a 40 cent incandescent.

12. Few commonly available compact fluorescent lamps designed to fit into 240 volt ordinary light bulb sockets match or exceed the light output of a 100 watt standard incandescent lamp.

13. Lots of people just don't like the type of light they get from fluoros -- to glary, too white, too flickery etc.

What Wal-Mart have done in the USA -- make compact fluoros cheaper -- is all that reasonably should be done to promote energy savings from lighting. The new Australian policy is a classical example of how Green "alternatives" are generally very poor alternatives to what they replace.

For most of the info above I have drawn on this post. And Gust of hot air has some satirical comments on the matter.


A reader adds:

"The untold story here is that it is a tax grab by the gubmin. There are approx 7.4 million households in Australia and I would guesstimate there are on average 10 light bulbs per household. With the average cost of the fluoro replacement being $15.00 this generates $1.50 GST per unit fluoro to the gubmin x 10 x 7.4 million = $111 million tax grab. Added to this is the number in all other locations likely doubling the number of light bulbs. Since these fluoros are manufactured mainly overseas you can most likely double the tax take due to import tarrifs. We are looking at a half Billion Dollar rip-off by the gubmin."

Australia stops illegal imigrants again

Australia is striking a deal with Indonesia for an even more radical version of John Howard's Pacific Solution - sending 85 Sri Lankan asylum seekers home via Indonesia in possible breach of international refugee conventions. The asylum seekers, who were intercepted by the navy near Christmas Island on Wednesday, are set to be taken to Indonesia and then sent back to Sri Lanka after secret talks between the three countries in Jakarta yesterday. This means they would be sent home via Indonesia, which is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention. Australia would be free of any responsibility towards them, and the asylum seekers would almost certainly be robbed of any chance to lodge an asylum claim under international law.

Sri Lanka's ambassador to Indonesia, Janaka Perera, confirmed last night that Australian and Indonesian officials had told him the 83 men would be returned to Jakarta, then sent home. He expected the men to arrive in Sri Lanka within days. "Sri Lanka's position is that they have travelled illegally to another country and they should be returned to Sri Lanka." Both Australia and Indonesia had said they would assist with the repatriation, he said.

It is understood that Australian and Indonesian law enforcement and immigration officials discussed the plan in Jakarta yesterday.The Herald understands the meeting was told Australia feared it would face a flood of asylum seekers if tough action was not taken against the new arrivals. The boat carried the largest single load of asylum seekers to approach Australia since 2001, the year of the Tampa crisis that spawned the Pacific Solution, under which asylum seekers were refused access to the Australian mainland. Under that process, boat people were still given the opportunity to lodge asylum claims at offshore detention camps such as Nauru.

Before the deal was revealed to the Herald in Jakarta, the Prime Minister, John Howard, had insisted the 85 would not be brought to the Australian mainland. He said the boat's arrival was an opportunity to tell people smugglers that "they needn't think for a moment that our policy has changed". Australia still had "a very strong, effective border protection policy".

In November 2001, after trailing badly in the polls for months, Mr Howard stormed to victory in the federal election in the wake of the Tampa crisis. During the campaign, he declared: "We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come."

The new boatload departed Indonesia, with two Indonesian crewmen on board, intelligence sources confirmed. Yesterday's meeting discussed either directly shipping the asylum seekers back to Java, or flying them to Jakarta. Returning them on their boat was rejected for safety reasons. Indonesia could justify returning them to Sri Lanka as they had arrived in Indonesia illegally, Australian officials told the meeting. They also said the Sri Lankans should be returned as quickly as possible to prevent them lodging asylum claims or staging protests. Australian and Indonesian officials also agreed to co-operate to apprehend the people smugglers behind the operation. It is understood Australian intelligence has already identified two suspects. Australian Foreign Affairs officials refused to make any comment.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees senior officer responsible for asylum seekers in Indonesia, Shinji Kubo, said his organisation had not been informed of the moves. "We are very keen to know what will happen to them," he said. Other international officials, speaking anonymously, said it would be legally dubious for Australia not to deal with the refugees itself or to return them to Indonesia, and could create an international test case. The case was complicated by an obligation to rescue lives in danger at sea. Refugee advocacy groups had called on the Government to bring the asylum seekers to mainland Australia or provide access to lawyers for advice on their rights.

The Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, denied reports that the navy had tried to turn the vessel back to sea when HMAS Success intercepted it. But he said the Government wanted to ensure the asylum seekers did not reach the mainland. "[We] do not want to encourage this sort of behaviour - of people being put on unseaworthy vessels out in the middle of the Indian Ocean - and the tragedy that can come from that. "I think it is quite irresponsible to be sending a boatload of people on a small vessel, which is proven one way or the other to be unseaworthy."

Asylum seekers who land on the mainland have more extensive legal rights than those held on external territories such as Christmas Island. Mr Andrews said crew from HMAS Success had repaired engine damage on the men's boat on Tuesday when they first intercepted it, but they found it had stopped moving shortly afterwards. Navy crew invited the men aboard on Wednesday when they discovered the vessel had been further damaged to the point that it was unseaworthy. Mr Andrews did not know whether the navy would tow or sink the vessel. "This is Australian Government policy in practice," he said.


Now it is the Leftist NSW government shafting farmers

What the farmer buys, the Government takes away. I noted on Feb. 8th that the Victorian government also robs farmers this way

Gil Ackerly feels thoroughly ripped off. He grows lucerne for a living and after paying for water, the NSW Government first cut what it was giving him by 52 per cent and then refused to compensate him. He is now in the middle of filling out a wad of forms courtesy of the NSW Government in an attempt to prove financial hardship, which he has been told is the only way the bureaucrats will compensate him for the water he has already paid for but never received.

Mr Ackerly has lived on the 250ha property Kindillan in the Riverina district of southern NSW all of his 57 years. He began growing lucerne for the recreation horse market 12 years ago, with the rest of his property devoted to the wool and fat lamb trade. The drought has meant many irrigators, including Mr Ackerly, are not receiving their water allocations. On a zero allocation this year, when he normally gets more than 700megalitres, production on his farm is grinding to a halt. His current predicament began to develop in October when he bought 350 megalitres of water for $45,000 on the water market in an attempt to drought-proof his property.

That water is now worth about $800 a megalitre but the state Government stepped in late last year and cut the water he was still owed by 52 per cent - or 100 a megalitre.

The way Mr Ackerly sees it, the Government owes him $80,000 for the water he has paid for and they have refused to supply. On the basis of the water allocation he paid for, he negotiated with produce stores in Melbourne to buy his lucerne. "That 100 megalitres would have given me another two cuts of lucerne," he said. I would have made a decent living. Now I haven't got any water for my winter pasture for the sheep. "This is impacting badly on the property. "I haven't got any water, and the money that I have paid, I don't have the use of that either."


Saturday, February 24, 2007

Brainless Greenie logic arrives in the health field

Read the following report and see if you can find the flaw in it. Answer below

Global warming will take a toll on children's health, according to a new report showing hospital admissions for fever soar as days get hotter. The new study found that temperature rises had a significant impact on the number of pre-schoolers presenting to emergency departments for fever and gastroenteritis. The two-year study at a major children's hospital showed that for every five-degree rise in temperature two more children under six years old were admitted with fever to that hospital. The University of Sydney research is the first to make a solid link between climate changes and childhood illness.

"And now global warming is becoming more apparent, it is highly likely an increasing number of young children will be turning up at hospital departments with these kinds of common illnesses," said researcher Lawrence Lam, a paediatrics specialist. "It really demonstrates the urgent need for a more thorough investigation into how exactly climate change will affect health in childhood."

Dr Lam said the results, collated from The Children's Hospital at Westmead admissions, back up beliefs that children are less able to regulate their bodies against climate change than adults. The brain's thermal regulation mechanism is not as well developed in children, making them more susceptible to "overheating" and at risk of developing illness, he said. "They're particularly at risk of extreme changes, much more than other people."

The study, published in the International Journal of Environmental Health Research, analysed several different climate factors, including UV index, rainfall and humidity, collected from the Bureau of Meteorology in 2001 and 2002. Temperatures were the only negative risk factor, with findings linking heat to both fever and gastro disease but not to respiratory conditions.

Surprisingly, rates of gastroenteritis were lower on days with a high UV factor probably, says Dr Lam, because the rays "sterilised" the ground, killing more germs and reducing risk. He said it was still unclear whether the heat directly triggered the illnesses or whether other heat-related problems, like pollution, were responsible. A longer-term study was needed add strength to the findings, Dr Lam said.


The finding concerned Sydney, which is MUCH cooler than tropical North Queensland, where I come from. So if hot weather causes fever, North Queensland should be RIFE with fever cases, right? I have never heard anyone say that it is, either anecdotally or otherwise, and I am quite sure that it would be widely known in North Queensland if it were true. I have, however, heard many cases of people getting ill when they move to a COLDER climate.

It is true that certain nasty viruses (Ross River Fever, Dengue Fever) thrive best in hot climates so some elevated morbidity from that source would be expected. Overall, however, there is no noticeable inferiority in the health of North Queenslanders -- perhaps because there are also various health problems that are greatest in COLD climates. One notes that elderly people often move to warmer climates for the sake of their health. And surely it is WINTER when 'flu is most prevalent!

Cheney brings out the hate in peaceniks

About 350 anti-Iraq war protesters last night formed a hostile welcome committee for US Vice-President Dick Cheney, clashing with police outside Sydney's Town Hall as they ignored calls for peaceful protests. Mounted police officers and members of the riot squad scuffled with protesters in scenes reminiscent of violent anti-globalisation protests at the G20 summit in Melbourne last year.

The crowd, led by members of the Stop The War Coalition, marched down George Street - one of Sydney's main streets - without permission from police, who cited traffic concerns for the decision. The clashes occurred when protesters attempted to break through the wall of police officers. Ten protesters were arrested...

NSW Deputy Police Commissioner Terry Collins yesterday warned that the protest organisers did not have permission to stage the march from Town Hall to the US consulate near Martin Place. But leaders of the Stop The War Coalition said adequate notice had been given. "Police have attempted to drive the anti-war protest off the street," coalition spokeswoman Jean Parker told the crowd. "We will not be silenced."

Protesters carried placards bearing slogans such as "Cheney is a torturer" and "Go home Cheney, take Howard hunting".

NSW Premier Morris Iemma warned demonstrators against disrupting Mr Cheney's visit with violent protests. "Everyone's entitled to protest and to do so peacefully," Mr Iemma said. "But they are not going to cause inconvenience and disruption and take the law into their own hands."


Migrant policy shift on English

Mutual obligation is to become the Howard Government's new mantra on immigration, with migrants expected to learn English after they arrive in Australia. Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration Teresa Gambaro will use a speech tonight to unveil a major shift in the Government's approach to migrants, saying that Australia always helps those in need but expects "those receiving assistance to contribute in return".

"The principle of the 'fair go' is a uniquely Australian value. A 'fair go', however, expects fair effort," Ms Gambaro will tell a symposium run by the Islamic Council of Victoria and the federal Government. "The Government will continue to support all migrants by ensuring they have access to education, employment and involvement with mainstream community activities. "In return, the Government expects migrants to make the effort to learn the language and the culture."

It is unclear at this stage how the Government plans to enforce the program. The shift to mutual obligation will bring settlement services in line with the Government's approach to social security over the past decade, where responsibilities are imposed on welfare recipients. It follows moves by the Howard Government to emphasise integration over diversity as part of a broader shift away from multiculturalism.

Ms Gambaro says there are already many common values between Muslim and non-Muslim Australians and that "there is no incompatibility between a commitment to Islam and being Australian". "For Australia's Muslims, there is no conflict between veils and Vegemite," she says. Mutual obligation would also help Australia's non-Muslim population better understand Islam, the Queensland MP says.

The speech by Ms Gambaro is her first in the new portfolio and maps out a significant new direction for settlement services. Ms Gambaro says the term multiculturalism has become "redundant". She says: "Multiculturalism, as a term, can be interpreted in any number of ways ... in my view, its very imprecision is a critical weakness. "It doesn't tell us what we share in common, it doesn't tell us who we are, it doesn't tell us what our values are."

Ms Gambaro says that while individual backgrounds should be celebrated, "we cannot afford to be confined by them". "Australia cannot be a nation of islands within an island," she says. "Instead we should celebrate our cultural diversity and commitment to shared Australian values and a great method of doing this is by ensuring we can all speak to one another - in English."

Ms Gambaro, whose Italian parents came to Australia with scant English skills, says she can empathise with migrants. "Learning English can be difficult - I know this from personal experience - but it is not an insurmountable hurdle, nor is it an unreasonable expectation. This is because English language ability is a passport to participation, a passport to prosperity."



Inaction allows superbugs to spread

PATIENTS may be getting potentially fatal infections in hospitals because the State Government has yet to allocate any of the $1.6 million it promised to combat drug-resistant superbugs. Professor Lyn Gilbert, who heads an expert panel looking at the problem, said she was surprised more people were not taking legal action. "People are dying of diseases that should have been prevented," she said. "What surprises me is how infrequently people sue hospitals."

Professor Gilbert, who chairs the NSW expert group on multiresistant organisms and the director of Westmead Hospital's Centre for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, said hospital managers recognised the importance of infection control, "but they are limited by resources". "None have enough [money] to do surveillance work. They put out fires, really," she said.

The NSW Government has long accepted that patients at highest risk of developing potentially lethal bacterial infections - those having joint replacements, heart or vascular surgery and those in intensive care - should be screened before their treatment to check whether the bugs are present on their skin. This is because usually harmless bacterial "colonisation" can cause serious illness if it enters a surgical wound. But hospitals cannot proceed with planned improvements because they have still received none of the funding, promised a year ago to carry out screening and other recommendations of an expert committee convened in the wake of disease outbreaks.

In the western Sydney area alone, said Professor Gilbert, it would cost about $220,000 a year to screen all patients using pathology tests. But hospitals would incur even greater costs if they isolated patients who had been infected or colonised by the virulent organisms. Associate Professor Peter Collignon, director of microbiology and infectious diseases at Canberra Hospital, said up to 5000 Australians developed septicemia from golden staph bacteria while in hospital. "One-third of those will die," he said. "These cause more deaths than the road toll. My firm belief is half of these infections at least are preventable." He said surveillance for pathogens was essential, because hospitals could not act unless they knew they had a problem.

Dr Tom Gottlieb, the vice-president of the Australasian Society for Infectious Diseases, said there was "a kind of nihilism" in the response of health authorities to hospital infections as neither challenged high rates of preventable illness. Dr Gottlieb, a Sydney specialist, said surveillance was expensive and inevitably would identify only a small number of colonised patients compared with the total screened. But it was worth screening for antibiotic-resistant golden staph, in particular, because of its high death rate, he said. If the bacteria affected an artificial joint, it could require three years or longer of antibiotic treatment and repeat surgery.

In a statement to the Herald, a Department of Health spokeswoman blamed "consultation to finalise an equitable split of the funds" and the need to put in place "performance indicators" for the long delay.


Friday, February 23, 2007


By His Eminence, Dr. George Pell, Cardinal Archbishop of Sydney

Global warming doomsdayers were out and about in a big way recently, but the rain came in Central Queensland and then here in Sydney. January also was unusually cool. We have been subjected to a lot of nonsense about climate disasters as some zealots have been painting extreme scenarios to frighten us. They claim ocean levels are about to rise spectacularly, that there could be the occasional tsunami as high as an eight story building, the Amazon basin could be destroyed as the ice cap in the Arctic and in Greenland melts. An overseas magazine called for Nuremberg-style trials for global warming skeptics while a U.S.A. television correspondent compared skeptics to "holocaust deniers".

A local newspaper editorial's complaint about the doomsdayers' religious enthusiasm is unfair to mainstream Christianity. Christians don't go against reason although we sometimes go beyond it in faith to embrace probabilities. What we were seeing from the doomsdayers was an induced dose of mild hysteria, semi-religious if you like, but dangerously close to superstition.

I am deeply skeptical about man-made catastrophic global warming, but still open to further evidence. I would be surprised if industrial pollution, and carbon emissions, had no ill effect at all. But enough is enough. A few fixed points might provide some light.

We know that enormous climate changes have occurred in world history, e.g. the Ice Ages and Noah's flood, where human causation could only be negligible. Neither should it be too surprising to learn that the media during the last 100 years has alternated between promoting fears of a coming Ice Age and fear of global warming! Terrible droughts are not infrequent in Australian history, sometimes lasting seven or eight years, as with the Federation Drought and in the 1930s. One drought lasted fourteen years.

We all know that a cool January does not mean much in the long run, but neither does evidence from a few years only. Scaremongers have used temperature fluctuations in limited periods and places to misrepresent longer patterns. The evidence on warming is mixed, often exaggerated, but often reassuring. Global warming has been increasing constantly since 1975 at the rate of less than one fifth of a degree centigrade per decade.

The concentration of carbon dioxide increased surface temperatures more in winter than in summer and especially in mid and high latitudes over land, while there was a global cooling of the stratosphere. The East Anglia university climate research unit found that global temperatures did not increase between 1998 - 2005 and a recent NASA satellite found that the Southern Hemisphere has not warmed in the past 25 years. Is mild global warming a Northern phenomenon?

While we might have been alarmed by the sighting of an iceberg off Dunedin as large as an aircraft carrier we should be consoled by the news that the Antarctic is getting colder and the ice is growing there. The science is more complicated than the propaganda!


Literacy breakthrough in Queensland?

Kids to learn plain English at last, apparently

QUEENSLAND students from Year 1 to Year 10 will have a new plain English syllabus from the middle of next year. It will emphasise the teaching of reading, spelling, grammar and punctuation and the importance of literature. "Curriculum waffle is out, clear English is in," Education Minister Rod Welford said. He said the new syllabus would take a "nuts-and-bolts" approach to help children write well and speak clearly while encouraging them to read and think.

The syllabus is being drawn up by the Queensland Studies Authority after a review of the preschool to Year 10 syllabus last year. The review was conducted by Sunshine Coast-based education consultant Ray Land, a former teacher and education official. Part of the draft syllabus will be available on the authority's website from next month for public scrutiny and feedback, and the full syllabus is to be ready for approval by the authority's board by October. This will allow support materials and teacher training to be provided ahead of the introduction of the syllabus from the start of Semester 2 next year.

The new syllabus was welcomed by Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens Associations executive officer Greg Donaldson. "If this new QSA syllabus is going to improve the literacy levels of our kids we would support it," he said. Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan said teachers had been heavily involved in the process and were satisfied with the new syllabus.

The redeveloped syllabus would be organised in three strands: speaking and listening, reading and viewing, and writing and shaping. "There will be greater emphasis on correct spelling, grammar and punctuation," said QSA assistant director (syllabus services) Bob Dudley. He said the syllabus would be more balanced in terms of the texts studied with wide range of books, poetry and plays to be read. He said material from the internet, films and television programs would also be included.

The syllabus will be much more specific than it is at present. For example, it is envisaged that by the end of Year 3 students will be able to:

* Identify and record main ideas and make simple inferences.

* Organise and sequence one or two main ideas with some supporting detail.

* Create texts that tell stories, recount, report on, explain, give opinions or transact.

* Use punctuation to signal the meaning boundaries of simple sentences.

* Create and play with representations of people, places, events and things for an audience by selecting descriptive words, images, facial expressions and gestures.

The syllabus requires teachers to use a range of measures, including phonics and whole word recognition, to teach reading to young children. Students' progress will also be tightly monitored under the new syllabus. The syllabus is being drawn up by a team of QSA staff with input from a panel of 20 teachers. Focus groups of parents have also been consulted


Cloud Kirby land: Pampered Justice Kirby is out of touch with the real world

Obnoxious comparison of 9/11 attacks to AIDS by homosexual judge

It is disappointing but necessary to have to explain the difference between murder and illness to a member of Australia's highest court. But once again, High Court judge Michael Kirby has shown just how out of touch he really is with the community he is supposed to serve. Justice Kirby dismissed what he called the US "obsession" with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon in which 2900 people were killed. Justice Kirby said more people died every day from AIDS than died in the attack on the Twin Towers. Furthermore, according to Justice Kirby, the attack happened overseas and we should "keep our eye on the threats to Australia". To extend Justice Kirby's logic, more people die from breast cancer than spousal abuse, so Australia should end its obsession with stopping domestic violence. And the millions who die each year from malaria are foreigners, so let's stop our malaria research effort and concentrate on something that matters at home.

Justice Kirby's comments say much about the man who professionally enjoys one of the nation's most privileged positions, and personally enjoys a waterfront life with a gun-barrel view of the jewels of Sydney Harbour. How would he feel if a terror strike erased the Sydney Opera House and took thousands of innocent lives? The September 11 attack was part of long-running campaign of provocation against the US and the West by forces hostile to the way of life that Justice Kirby is fortunate enough to enjoy to its fullest. The campaign has continued since September 11 with a series of terrorist strikes in Britain, Spain and elsewhere. Terrorist bombings in Bali and Jakarta prove Australia is not immune to the threat. Claims that post-September 11 attacks against the West are in response to Western provocation, or the invasion of Iraq, misrepresent the facts. The 9/11 and the Bali bombings predated the invasion of Iraq. The US has every right to be "obsessed" with terrorist threats to its security, and Australia has every interest in offering its fullest support. This includes dealing responsibly with those citizens who may have been swept up in the jihadist cause.

The appeal case before the High Court regarding the control order imposed on "Jihad" Jack Thomas amply demonstrates the global village that exists when it comes to Islamic extremism. The control order is designed to restrict the movements and communications of the first man convicted under Australia's new anti-terror laws while he awaits a retrial after his original conviction was quashed because of the circumstances in which his admissions were made while in custody in Pakistan. Justice Kirby's view is that of the pampered elite, shielded from global reality by the freedoms bestowed on them. The irony is it is Justice Kirby and his ilk who would no doubt fare worst should the enemies of democracy whom they defend ever get their way.


Justice catches up with crooked Leftist judge

CRIMINAL charges against former Federal Court judge Marcus Einfeld are "imminent", with the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions poised to prosecute him over his alleged false speed camera claims. Einfeld's own lawyers revealed the impending charge as they fought to avoid further details of the police investigation from being made public. But in a dramatic court ruling late yesterday, the besieged former judge lost his bid to muzzle the media.

Following two hours of in-camera argument in the Supreme Court, Justice Megan Latham found there was no substance to Einfeld's bid to conceal further details of his now-notorious attempt to avoid paying a $77 speeding fine in January last year. The speeding charge against him was dismissed in August after Einfeld said he had lent his car to an old friend, US-based academic Professor Teresa Brennan. It later emerged she had died three years earlier. Einfeld then claimed another woman with a similar name was driving the car.

The latest twist in the saga occurred yesterday when his lawyers argued that charges were about to be brought against Einfeld so any further publication of the case would interfere with the judicial process. Justice Latham ruled the argument was a hollow one with no legal basis....

The judge then ordered Einfeld pay the legal costs of Sydney newspaper The Daily Telegraph, along with those of his own senior counsel and lawyers, estimated to be a total of $20,000. Einfeld's latest attempt to suppress details of the police investigation began late on Tuesday night when he sought an after-hours order to prohibit publication of yesterday's front-page story in The Daily Telegraph. The article revealed Einfeld's friend, Vivian Schenker, recently told police she was a passenger in the car driven by Einfeld when it was photographed by a speed camera in January last year...


Thursday, February 22, 2007

Foreign minister says Blair's Iraq decision makes good sense

The Federal Government has played down a decision by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair to start withdrawing his country's troops from Iraq. Word that one of America's closest allies is going to start pulling out of Iraq comes as President George W Bush faces heavy opposition to his plan to send more US troops in. The White House has confirmed Mr Blair has phoned the President to tell him about the move but there is no confirmation of the details. British media say that as many as 1,500 UK soldiers could be home as early as March and that 3,500 will be home by Christmas.

The move comes just days after the Prime Minister John Howard announced plans to send up to 70 military trainers to Iraq, to help Iraqi forces. Australia's Foreign Minister Alexander Downer says the British move is a troop reduction, not a withdrawal. As he went into a federal Cabinet meeting in Perth, Mr Downer said while Britain is reducing is troop numbers, it will also leave several thousand troops in Iraq. "It makes good sense, what we are all trying to do is increasingly transfer responsibility for security to the Iraqi security forces," he said. Mr Howard would not discuss the British decision on his way into Cabinet.

Mr Blair will detail the withdrawal in the House of Commons later this evening, Australian time. There has been no official statement yet but on Sunday he said an operation to hand over control to Iraqi forces in the south had been completed successfully.

The White House says the US president, George W. Bush, spoke to Mr Blair today and he welcomes the improved situation in the south of Iraq. Reports suggest the timetable could change if the security situation there deteriorates. The White House says the British withdrawal is a sign of the increasing stabilisation in Iraq.


Big squeals about performance pay for teachers

The Federal Opposition says the only way to ensure the quality of teachers in public schools is to work cooperatively with the states. Education Minister Julie Bishop wants to introduce performance pay for teachers and says it could be determined by exam results or feedback from principals, parents and students. If the states do not submit to the plan in the next education funding agreement, the Minister says the Commonwealth could withhold some state funding.

But Labor's education spokesman Steven Smith says that is not the right approach. "Yes, the quality of the teacher in the classroom is absolutely essential, yes we want to reward quality teaching, but doing it simply on the basis of the outcomes of standardised tests, doing it on the basis of cheap political points is not the way to proceed," he said.

The Queensland Teachers Union says the Federal Government wants to take control of the portfolio from the states. Union state president Steve Ryan says members are looking at a loss of conditions if Ms Bishop gets her way. "There are two issues here one is the proposal itself regards performance-based pay and the loopy ideas the Minister has put out in today's press, and the second issue is of course how the Commonwealth treats the states," he said. "All teachers in the state system across Australia are employed by state governments and it's curious to see the federal minister trying to interfere in that process."


Economic growth picking up speed

Economic growth is likely to pick up in the months ahead as the Australian share market and money supply surges alongside a strong world economy. The annualised growth rate of the Westpac-Melbourne Institute leading index of economic activity, which indicates the likely pace of economic activity three to nine months into the future, rose to 6.1 per cent in December. The result was well above the long-term trend of four per cent and took the index to a seven-year high. The level of the leading index rose by 1.4 points, or 0.6 per cent, in December.

Westpac chief economist Bill Evans said the result was the fastest annualised growth rate of the index since February 2000. "It continues to point to a solid pickup in economic growth in 2007," he said. Meanwhile, the annualised growth rate of the coincident index, which measures current economic activity, was 4.1 per cent, above its long-term trend of 3.3 per cent. "Westpac expects economic growth to pick up from around two per cent through 2006 to around three per cent through 2007," Mr Evans said. "The leading index is telling us that even that growth profile may prove to be conservative, against the backdrop of above par world growth for the fifth consecutive year. "Of course the index is not capturing much of the impact of the November rate hike."

Mr Evans said the index results supported the Reserve Bank of Australia's (RBA) decision to raise interest rates three times last year, with the latest move in November pushing rates up to 6.25 per cent. "It is telling us that without that policy response, Australia's growth recovery would be strong, probably putting renewed pressure on inflation which, although easing most recently, remains at the top of the Reserve Bank's comfort zone," he said. However, he said the RBA would be unlikely to raise interest rates this year, but risks pointed to a rise in 2008.

Three of the four monthly components of the index rose, including a 3.4 per cent rise in the share market, 0.8 per cent growth in real money supply, and a 0.4 per rise in US industrial production. However, dwelling approvals declined by 1.9 per cent. "All components of the index, except dwelling approvals, are contributing to the annual growth rate, with the money supply, overtime worked, US industrial production and productivity providing the largest contributions," Mr Evans said.

The level of the coincident index rose by 0.7 points, or 0.3 per cent, in December. The index showed that employment jumped 0.4 per cent in the month, while real retail sales were virtually steady, as was the unemployment rate at just 4.6 per cent. "Employment has been the largest contributor to the above trend growth in the coincident index," Mr Evans said.



Report from a black activist, Noel Pearson

On a recent Friday night I walked out on to the lawn of my mother's house in my home town. It was after 2am and though my family lives a kilometre away, I could hear loud music booming from several stereos in various parts of what I would have called a village in my youth, but which more accurately answers to the description of an outback ghetto today. The music emanated from houses known as party houses, where numbers of men and women congregate to binge drink, share marijuana, often out of what are called bucket bongs, laughing, shouting, singing and dancing and seeking sexual partners - consensual and otherwise.

By midnight the bonhomie of the early evening descends into tension, as various bingers develop dark moods, vent anger, resentment and suspicions at those to whom they earlier professed love. Arguments and fights ensue, over the smallest slights and often over ownership of and access to the dwindling supplies of alcohol.

While parties rage at a number of notorious locations throughout the town, with erstwhile hosts boosting their stereos with specially bought amplifiers, often placed at windows facing outwards as if for the benefit of the rest of the inmates of this sad place, it is hard to maintain the fiction that this place is a community. It is a hellhole where whirring fans and airconditioners in the concrete block houses drown out the noise, including the screams.

This Friday night was the third night in a row of parties, beginning on Wednesday evening following the receipt of Family Tax Benefit payments, which continued at a lower gear over the next day and got back into top gear on Thursday night following the receipt of CDEP work-for-the-dole payments. The number of people missing from work has led almost every community to declare Fridays as the unofficial start of the weekend. School attendance collapses from already low levels earlier in the week. This has led to many proposals over the years from educators to reduce school days in Cape York Peninsula schools to four days, as if that would be a solution.

As I drove around the streets at 3am, I passed by drunks stumbling from one party house to another. I passed groups of young teenage girls walking around or sitting on the kerbside. For too many of them, sexual activity begins young at Hope Vale, very young. Who knows the circumstances of their first experience, but the incidences of abuse that come to light are only the tip of the iceberg of sexual assault, unlawful intercourse with minors, and incest. That older men should be able to have sexual relations with the young girls I pass in the street in exchange for alcohol, marijuana or esteem, is water off the moral backs of our people. Young men may jump through windows to rendezvous with their paramours, but it is as likely they do so to interfere with women and children.

My home town looks and feels like a ghetto. The mango trees, frangipanis and old wooden church still evoke the mission of my early youth, but the fibro and weatherboard cottages built by the hands of our own local carpenters have been replaced by welfare housing, increasingly built by outside contractors. The uniform rows of kit homes and Besser Block houses are of course much more expensive and have better amenities (at least at first, because they do not last for long), but they look squalid. The once lovingly tended gardens with topiary, gardenias and fruit trees are scarce today, and the plastic bags, VB cans, old motor cars and general rubbish spill out of the homes and on to the streets.

With the eyes of someone who returns to his home town for holidays and occasional weekends, I marvel that the people who live here do not see the shit in front of their eyes. Despite vastly improved levels of funding and infrastructure the place is a mess compared with the village of my childhood. I drove past the place where my parents brought up our family in a small fibro cottage with no hot water and a pit toilet out the back. We got electricity when I was in Year 4 but I did not see television until I went to college. Now they have Austar and adults carelessly expose children and young people to their pornographic videos and DVDs.

Earlier in the afternoon at the roundabout I saw the shocking sight of a beautiful puppy that had been run over by a vehicle, in a pool of blood on the bitumen. As we say in the language of this place, Ngathu wawu baathi, my soul cried for this lost life. In my nocturnal drive I passed the puppy in the same place. The binge drinking will continue to daybreak, and on through Saturday. Bingers pass out and catch some sleep, before waking again to resume the fray.

The parties change gear during the course of the four days as participants come and go, supplies run out and fresh supplies are brought in from Cooktown. The beauty of electronic banking is that welfare and CDEP income is dropped into keycard accounts automatically, and Centrelink will assist recipients to stage the time at which payments are made to members of a household. So Jimmy can get his on Wednesday and Sally can get hers on Friday. There is money for drinking and drugs over a longer stretch of the week. Centrelink's intention of course with flexible payment plans is to assist people to manage their income to purchase food and pay their bills, but the reality is that it makes more money available for binge drinking over a longer period of time.

As I drive down to the beach early on Saturday morning I see the young children emerging out of the houses, as if from a war zone. Yes, there are children and young girls in the homes of the hosts of the binge drinking parties. How they fare through these weekly episodes depends on whether their often inebriated parent is nevertheless able to keep an eye on their welfare, because the chance that molesters are among the party people is very high. Older children may run off and stay with sober relatives, particularly grandparents, but what happens to the ones left behind? Some of the young people sitting on the kerbside at 3am are simply scared to go back home.

On Sunday things will be quiet. "They run out of grog," people explain to me. The town will be mostly quiet for the next two, and if you are lucky, three days. The bureaucrats from Peter Beattie's Government will do their business with the people and organisations of Hope Vale in the sane part of the week. Certainly the communities of Cape York Peninsula during the quiet days can give the impression of being pleasant if untidy "communities". You can excuse the rubbish and the ubiquitous high barbed wire fences and iron cages that have to be constructed around almost every public facility, because after all this is an Aboriginal community.

But the public servants and politicians only visit for the day and never sleep in the town. They never have anything other than the official conversations down in the administration offices, so they too easily have the view that "this place is not too bad", "we just need to co-ordinate the programs" and "we have a demand reduction plan" for the alcohol problem. The underbelly of these so-called communities is not intriguing like a David Lynch movie, it is Hobbesian.

Meanwhile in public policy land three relevant events take place. First, journalist Margaret Wenham reported in The Courier-Mail on February 8 as follows: "Hundreds of impoverished indigenous people in remote communities have been hit with fines totalling nearly $600,000 for breaking Queensland's controversial alcohol management laws. Figures, released this week by the Justice Department, also show that seven people have been jailed and six vehicles confiscated since December 2002 when AMPs were phased into the state's 19 discrete indigenous communities. Reports of the penalty tally were greeted with dismay by Aboriginal leaders who said most people could not pay the fines and the AMPs were not working to curb violence."

The problem with Wenham's argument and that of any Aboriginal leader to whom she refers, is that if you divide $600,000 worth of fines between 19 communities over 3 1/2 years, the average fine for each community is about $9000 per annum, or less than $200 per week. The liquor licensing authorities in Queensland do not release liquor sales figures from each community, and no one tracks alcohol purchases from outside of the communities, but if you make a rough estimate of alcohol expenditure per week I would say an average of $10,000 per week would be extremely conservative. So if an average community spends $520,000 on alcohol, how can you say that $9000 worth of fines is causing or even compounding impoverishment? Is it not the spending on alcohol that is causing poverty?

Second, on Monday this week the National Drug Research Institute at Curtin University released a study which showed that in the period from 2000 to 2004, an estimated 1145 indigenous Australians died from injury, disease or suicide caused by drinking. The study found that many indigenous people died very young from diseases that do not exist among young non-indigenous people. A third of the deaths investigated were female. The second biggest alcohol-related killer of indigenous women was haemorrhagic stroke, and the average age of the deceased was only 25 years. Among non-indigenous people, stroke is a disease of the elderly. The worst alcohol-related killer of indigenous people, alcohol liver cirrhosis, on average shortens indigenous sufferers' lives to 54 years. The other major causes of death - suicide, road traffic injury, assault injury, stroke - mainly kill indigenous people in their 20s and 30s.

Third, Premier Peter Beattie met the mayors of Queensland's indigenous shire councils to discuss the problems besetting indigenous communities. The Premier emerged saying his Government would be making various investments in the communities and he expected the community leaders to take greater responsibility for alcohol.

One problem with the Premier's hopes is that these councils are still the owners and operators of the canteens which sell alcohol to their people. The councils are as addicted to the profits from the canteens as the Queensland Government is to gambling revenues. Tony Fitzgerald recommended in his Justice Study report to Beattie in 2002 that the nexus between alcohol profits and councils be broken, but the nexus remains. Typically it is the justice groups that want to maintain AMPs while shire councils want them to be watered down. In fact the Government is considering proposals from councils to allow weekend trading and takeaways, against the opposition of local justice groups.

Beattie's minister responsible for the issue, Warren Pitt, has already weakened restrictions in some communities. Beattie and Pitt need to spend an anonymous night or two in at least one, preferably a couple, of these communities. They need to be in the town on the binge-drinking nights, and they need to take a quiet drive or walk around the town and hear and see the nightmare that the sober people and children have to endure.

Last year Hope Vale's Mayor Greg Mclean invited a delegation of children from the local primary school to present their views to a large roundtable of assembled bureaucrats and community leaders. In plain English the children pleaded to these black and white adults that they wanted the drinking and violence in their community to stop. As I drove through my home town on the Sunday evening on my way back to Cairns, I saw the dead puppy still in the street. I thought about the distance between being inured to the fate of a puppy that didn't see the car coming, and being inured to the fate of our own children.