Monday, April 30, 2007

Labor party plans major disruption for employers

A great way to make employers reluctant to hire. Who needs jobs? There is always a kind government ready to pay you

PARENTS would have the legal right to demand flexible working hours in the first five years of their children's lives in a radical work policy unveiled by federal Labor yesterday. The policy, unashamedly pitched at the Coalition's voter heartland of working families, would also give working parents the right to up to 24 months of unpaid parental leave.

Labor leader Kevin Rudd announced a Labor government would overhaul the industrial relations system to enshrine workers' rights in law and toss out the Government's system of workplace agreements. In the rallying speech to Labor's national conference in Sydney, Mr Rudd accused Prime Minister John Howard of ditching family values by abandoning working families to exploitative bosses. He pledged that Labor would legislate to guarantee 10 employment entitlements for workers, with another 10 included in awards tailored to particular industries and occupations. The centrepiece of Labor's safety net provisions would be a guaranteed right for parents to request flexible work arrangements until their children reached school age. Employers would only be able to refuse those requests on "reasonable business grounds".

Another guaranteed right for both parents would be separate periods of up to 12 months of unpaid leave associated with the birth of a baby. But if one parent wanted to take up to two years, he or she would be legally entitled to request from their employer up to another 12 months of unpaid leave, on top of the first year. This means a couple could legally request up to 24 months of unpaid leave - but it must be taken within the first two years of the child's life.

Labor is also committed to retaining and boosting the baby bonus, now about $5000 a child, and has previously committed to pursuing a mandatory right of 16 weeks of paid maternity leave.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout immediately slammed the policy as being "loaded against business". She said it would add a burdensome layer of cost and compliance, and an onerous level of surveillance. She said many employers were committed to working with their employees to provide a family-friendly work place. Labor's move to legislate those approaches as legal standards would be disruptive and expensive for employers.

The other guaranteed standards a federal Labor government would introduce include:

* A working week for full-time employees of 38 hours. Workers could not be required to work ``unreasonable additional hours''.

* Four weeks' paid annual leave. Part-time workers would be entitled to four weeks pro rata, and shift workers would be guaranteed an additional paid week of leave.

* 10 days paid personal and carers' leave a year for full-time employees, plus two days' paid compassionate leave on the death or serious illness of a family member.

* Leave for community service such as emergency services and jury duty.

* Reinstatement of all public holidays, such as Christmas and Boxing Days.

* `Fair notice'' of termination, dependent on length of service, from one week to at least four weeks.

* Redundancy payments including the reinstatement of provisions for workforces with fewer than 15 employees of up to 14 weeks for 10 years of service.

* Long service leave, which would be determined with the states.

A new awards system would contain a further 10 minimum employment standards, including a minimum wage, overtime and penalty rates, leave loadings and superannuation. Mr Rudd said he would use constitutional powers to legislate national industrial relations laws, sending a message to reluctant state Labor regimes that he is prepared to fight them to take control of a central system.


Wrangle over 'white maggot'

FOOTY fans face a ban on calling umpires "white maggots". AFL Umpires Association chief Bill Deller has called for spectators who use the time-honoured sledge at any AFL match to be thrown out. The Gabba has ruled fans who yell the age-old term at Brisbane Lions' games will be evicted instantly. Mr Deller said the ban should be introduced across Australia. "It's not fun and it's not tradition. It's pathetic and I would welcome a ban on its use across the country," Mr Deller said this week.

The Gabba's surprise move is part of a zero tolerance approach to crowd behaviour at the stadium. Officials have told Brisbane Lions member Garry Edwards, 58, that fans will be evicted if they use the term. But the ban has prompted widespread anger.

Well-known Collingwood supporter Joffa Corfe described Gabba officials as "the Gestapo" and said the term should not be compared with use of foul language. And the Salvation Army has backed him. Fans at every ground in the country have used the words "white maggot" to describe umpires for generations. But Mr Deller will have none of it. "It's not affectionate. It's abuse, plain and simple, and it's bad for both the recruitment and retention of umpires," he said.

Mr Corfe disagreed. "Calling an umpire a white maggot is as Australian as having a barbecue. They'll need to start giving away Band-Aids at the gate so we can stick them over our gobs." Mr Corfe said he was evicted from the Gabba two years ago for the offence of standing up. "I've had my run-in with the Gestapo at the Gabba. A four-foot-nothing usher had me thrown out by Queensland police for standing up and supporting one of our boys in the goal square," he said. "So this doesn't surprise me, but it would be a tragedy if it spread round the country. These people are catering for the theatregoer, not the footy fan. "The problem with umpires nowadays is that they think the game is about them. It's not."

The Salvation Army is opposed to any move to make the ban national. Spokesman Major Brad Halse said: "Sometimes political correctness runs mad in this country and there is over sanitisation in a lot of areas and this is one of them. I think it's extraordinary. "The AFL should concentrate on outlawing obscene language, not a term like 'white maggot'."

A spokesman for Telstra Dome refused to comment on the issue, referring the Sunday Herald Sun to the ground's website, which includes the following: "Patrons must refrain from using foul or abusive language and from making racial or threatening remarks or gestures." Two MCG spokesmen failed to respond to several requests for comment.


Black refugees being trained for jihad

CLAIMS young Somalis are being recruited in Melbourne by terror groups are being investigated by Australia's intelligence agencies. Somalian scholar Dr Hersie Hilole said more than 20 Somalis had trained in Melbourne and returned to fight for the Islamic cause in Somalia's civil war. Two Melbourne-based Somalis have been killed fighting with Islamic militias in Africa and one of the deaths has sparked a police investigation. The investigations will focus on Melbourne's 15,000-strong Somalian population that lives mainly in housing commission complexes in Carlton, North Melbourne and Flemington.

It also has emerged that radical Islamic cleric Sheik Mohammed Omran has been preaching to local Somalian Muslims. Arabic and African Muslim communities in Melbourne generally live separate lives. But the Jordanian-born cleric regularly gives outdoor addresses to large sections of the Somalian Muslim community.

ASIO would not comment on the investigation into Melbourne's Somalian community. But a source said: "There are real security threats in Australia and this is one of them." Dr Hilole said Sheik Omran had established links with the Somalis through a radical group of Lebanese Salafists or Wahhabists. "A number of young people have either trained here or have been recruited," he said. Mogadishu-born Dr Hilole is a member of Sydney's Somalian Community Council and has been an outspoken critic of Abdurahman Osman, the president of Somali Community of Victoria. He said Mr Osman's mosque in Racecourse Rd, Flemington, was under siege by Lebanese Salafists.

Dr Hilole said Sheik Omran had created a link with the young Somalis after 18 alleged terrorists were arrested in nationwide raids in November 2005 under Operation Pendennis. Leaders at a popular North Melbourne mosque, home to about 300 African Muslims, yesterday refused to comment on alleged radicals. But a spokesman said Somalian Muslims in Melbourne's north planned to hold a meeting with police and politicians to discuss the issue. Victorian Somali Social Club president Osman Ali said local sheiks and imams urged followers not to rejoin the fight in Somalia. Ethiopian forces invaded Somalia last year to push the radical Islamic Courts movement from power.


The nuclear argument

With their usual adherence to high principle, the Left say that it is OK to mine uranium but not to use it!

Labor has attacked Prime Minister John Howard's plans for a nuclear energy industry in Australia, after its own national conference dumped a long-standing ban on new uranium mines. Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd's motion to scrap the 'no new mines' policy was passed by a slender 15 votes at the ALP national conference, with environment spokesman Peter Garret among those voting to maintain the ban.

But the move was overshadowed by Mr Howard's outlining of a future nuclear energy industry for Australia. Speaking at the Victorian Liberal Party conference, Mr Howard said Australia needed to rethink its energy production in the face of climate change, and the only feasible options were clean coal technology and nuclear power. "Part of the solution must be to admit the use, in years to come, of nuclear power," he said. "If we're fair dinkum about this climate change debate we have to open our minds to the use of nuclear power."

Shortly after the Labor conference vote Mr Garrett went on the offensive against Mr Howard's nuclear proposal. "He has plans for nuclear power plants to be dotted around this country," he said. "He's taking us down a road and a path which I think is very dangerous."

Mr Howard said the Government would invest in research on the setting up of a nuclear power industry while Federal Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane said legislative barriers would be removed. And Mr Macfarlane accused Labor of debating "last century's policy" on uranium mining.

Mr Garrett says he accepts the conference vote on uranium mines but others in the party are less happy. Some are angry with union leader and Federal candidate Bill Shorten, who linked the vote to support for Mr Rudd. "If you think that rolling the leader is a great idea then go ahead and vote for the Albanese-Garrett amendment," Mr Shorten told the debate. Critics of Mr Shorten say the tactic was immature, naive and damaging.

Western Australian Premier Alan Carpenter says there will be no uranium mining in his state while he was in government. "I don't feel under any pressure whatsoever," he said. "The West Australian economy is powering ahead, we've got the highest economic growth figures and the lowest unemployment figures, we don't desperately need for economic reasons or any other reasons to pursue uranium mining."


Sunday, April 29, 2007

Islamic incitement to violence in Australia

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

A conservative facade hides destructive Leftism

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


More downpours but still a "drought"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, April 28, 2007

Better fish dinners coming?

Fish are said to be growing bigger and faster as oceans warm but somehow that is a disaster! The global warming religion requires that there be a dark lining in every silver cloud

Researchers believe that some species of Australian fish are growing bigger, much faster, because ocean temperatures are warming up. A CSIRO study has found that increasing ocean temperatures are speeding up the growth rate of wild fish stocks by up to 30 per cent. But while fish in shallow waters are growing rapidly, species in the cooler deeper ocean are growing at a much slower rate.

Lead author Dr Ron Thresher says this will have huge implications for the long-term sustainability of the marine ecosystem. "Some species are probably going to be able to track an environmental temperature by moving up and down the coast or moving up and down in the water column so they stay in their optimal temperature range," he said. "But the fish we looked at, it doesn't look they're doing that and they're just trying to cope with the temperatures as they're changing," he said. "Sooner or later eventually they'll reach a point where they can't cope and at that stage they're going to be in real trouble."


The global-warming "drought" comes to South Australia

There's even been enough rain to make the farmers happy (and you know what a rare thing a happy farmer is) but it is STILL not enough to fill South Australia's inadequate water storages. It's government neglect, not the climate, that has caused the urban water shortages

The long dry that has pushed many of South Australia's farmers to the brink, was finally broken yesterday as a heaven-sent deluge soaked all corners of the state. Seeding has now begun throughout the state's cropping districts with the downpour set to continue until Sunday, in what farmers described as an ideal start to the season. Every district except the Far North-East had received at least 10mm of rain by 6pm yesterday. It was the first substantial rain since March 24. Cape Borda, on Kangaroo Island's north west coast, received the state's highest rainfall of 89mm. In Adelaide, 13.5mm had fallen by 6pm.

The South Australian Farmers Federation said the ideal start - and the forecast of more to come - had caused a hive of activity in paddocks from the West Coast to the South-East. Many farmers had gambled the break would come and had begun seeding in the dry soil before the rain hit. Farmers' federation president Wayne Cornish said the constant, steady rain was exactly what farmers had prayed for. "As long as they can effectively get their equipment moving in the rain, I'd bet my boots they would be out there," he said. "If we can receive several days with just what we're getting at the moment, it doesn't come in a big rush and if we can have a follow-up, that would be the ideal prescription for the start of the season."

Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Matt Collopy said the rain band had moved across the state and produced rain "pretty much to plan". "Most districts would have received at least 15mm to 20mm by Friday morning, with only the Moomba basin north-east of Marree missing out," he said. "We are expecting follow up rain on Tuesday and Wednesday but that will not be as significant as this rain we had." Yesterday afternoon, another intense low pressure system was developing in the western part of the Bight, which was expected to pass southern districts late tonight and early tomorrow. "That will bring plenty of showers to southern coasts such as Lower Eyre Peninsula, Yorke Peninsula, Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills," Mr Collopy said.

The falls are not expected to help the parched River Murray, however. While the rain will move into Victoria today and up to 50mm has been forecast to fall in the upper catchments of the Murray-Darling basin on Saturday, inflows into the Murray were not expected to be significant. A Murray-Darling Basin Commission spokesman said it was "too early to tell" if the rain would have any impact. He said the ground was still dry and would quickly soak up the rain.

The rain was also expected to have a minimal effect on Adelaide's reservoir levels. Mr Cornish said any rain would have needed to be a "substantial event" to undo the damage that has been caused by the long dry spell. "Ideally (to start cropping), people are looking for at least an inch of rain in the old language (25mm), which some people have had already," he said yesterday. "We need a couple of inches to compensate for the extra dry conditions and then the crucial factor is something coming along behind it a few days after the original event." He said the rain also came just in time for stockholders who were in desperate need to grow feed for grazing.

Opposition Leader Martin Hamilton-Smith warned the Government must increase Adelaide's water supply, even if it was the break in the drought. "I am very concerned the Rann Government may use a break in the season as an excuse to abandon planning for SA's water future," he said. "If our state is to continue to grow, we have to look after the water we already have and find new sources of water, not just muddle from year to year."


Victoria too

Victoria's drought-stricken west received a long-overdue drenching overnight - and Melbourne is expected to get a similar soaking today. Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Ward Rooney said Melbourne was likely to get somewhere between 10-20mm later in the day, or overnight. "We'll get some of the rain from Adelaide but it may not be quite as heavy over Melbourne," Mr Rooney said. "Everywhere, all districts, will have some rainfall. We'll probably see the heaviest falls in the north by tomorrow morning."

Throughout the day the showers would gradually extend eastwards, providing a welcome relief to farmers across the state, he said. "It'll certainly be helpful in terms of having some effect on local dams... and replenishing the soil to some degree. It's been so dry for so long that you really need extended rainfall to turn the corner. (But) it's useful rain." Four towns in the north-west of the state received decent rainfall overnight, with Ouyen leading the way after 23mm was dumped on the town. Horsham, Nhill and Warracknabeal all received partial relief with 7mm. While it wasn't exactly a soaking, it was the best weather farmers from the three towns had seen in weeks. And unlike similar rains that have fallen intermittently in recent months, this rain is predicted to fall fairly evenly across the state.

Mr Rooney said the rain was expected to continue falling in the north-west today. "They're (farmers in north-west) likely to get some more rain today and then again overnight. "It will fall fairly universally across the state with Gippsland being the only area likely to miss out this time. "But that's not too bad because, ironically, Gippsland's been receiving a bit over the last few weeks."

The bureau's senior forecaster said it was the most promising rainfall the state had witnessed for some time. And while it he was reticent to state it would be the end of the drought, he said it was likely to have a more significant impact than previous downpours.


Immigration scrutiny in Australia

Australia has very little illegal immigration so the Feds are cracking down on abuses of legal immigration

Employers will be subject to unannounced spot checks by immigration officials and could face fines for exploiting or underpaying migrant workers in a shake-up of visa arrangements. Under reforms announced yesterday by Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, employers will also be required to ensure that overseas workers have a functional level of English. Applicants will be required to detail their English language skills and, on a targeted basis, may be required to complete an International English Language Testing System test.

The Howard Government has faced criticism for its handling of the scheme, which has grown so rapidly recently because of labour shortages that the bureaucracy could not keep up with monitoring and compliance of employers. Over the past 12 months, the union movement and the Labor Party have highlighted extreme cases of exploitation where workers have been charged exorbitant amounts for rent and other fees, paid in foreign currencies and forced to work in unskilled roles despite being highly qualified.

Mr Andrews said the changes, to take effect later this year, would reward employers who had a "strong and demonstrated record" of complying with the 457 visa program by having their applications to sponsor workers fast-tracked. Employers who underpaid workers or made them perform in unskilled jobs would face civil penalties similar to those in the Workplace Relations Act, he said. Mr Andrews said existing penalties, where employers faced being excluded from access to further foreign workers, were insufficient. The government's workplace watchdog, the Office of Workplace Services, would also be given greater powers to investigate breaches of the minimum salary level under the changes. The immigration department granted 368,333 business visitor visas in 2005-06.

Labor's immigration spokesman Tony Burke said the announcement simply put "a band-aid over a gaping wound". "The real problem remains: that the Government doesn't understand that most of the abuses have in fact been legal and continue to be legal," he said. "We saw the example not long ago of the 40 Filipino welders I visited in Brisbane last year who were being paid the minimum salary level under the visa, but this was 20 per cent below the going rate in the area. Mr Burke urged the Government to do more to stop foreign workers being exploited and said unscrupulous employers would be able to undercut local Australian wages by tens of thousands of dollars despite the changes. "You will still be able to undermine a salary through exorbitant compulsory deductions and kickbacks to rogue employers," he said. "With the new announcement, the system is better than it was but decent businesses can still face unfair competition from shonky operators who exploit foreign workers."


Bank gets sued for its careless bungling

About time someone did. Bank bungling is chronic

In A novel defamation case, Westpac is being sued for more than $2 million by an Auburn real estate agent, after the bank bounced 30 cheques written on the agency's trust account. Paul Aktas, who in 1997 had the franchise for the Century 21 agency in Auburn, claims his successful business and reputation were devastated after angry landlords had their rent cheques dishonoured in December 1997.

A jury has already found that Westpac defamed both Mr Aktas and his company, Homewise Realty, when it rejected the cheques and put the words "refer to drawer" on them. Mr Aktas said yesterday angry clients had abused him and he had had to convince his staff he had done no wrong.

He said no one could help him at Westpac, and angry and frustrated, he had rung the banking ombudsman and even the police. His barrister, Tim Hale, SC, said as well as the defamation action, Mr Aktas was suing for breach of contract and negligence.

He said that in December 1997 Mr Aktas and Century 21 were in dispute about some commissions and Century 21 had won a default judgement for $35,000. "What Century 21 did was to issue a garnishee order against [the agency] and served it on Westpac Bank, and by error the bank applied that garnishee order not only to personal accounts but to the trust account," he said. "There were a significant number of very angry customers and clients coming to the agency wanting to know had happened to the rent [the agency] had collected". The $35,000 default judgement in the local court had since been set aside, he said, and defences had been filed.

He said before the bounced cheques, the agency had about 18 per cent of the market share in Auburn, which fell substantially thereafter. He said that in order to stay in business, Mr Aktas had reduced his commission. The lost sales, and reduced commission, meant he had lost some $2 million in earnings, Mr Hale said. The court heard Westpac contends the losses were more in the order of $477,000. The defamation case has now reached the stage where a judge will decide what, if any damages should be awarded, and what defences Westpac has against the action.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Unjust attack on conservative radio host

THE quality of justice in NSW is most strange. The Appeal Court bizarrely found it necessary to disqualify Margaret Cunneen, one of the best Crown prosecutors the state had the good fortune to employ, from a gang rape case; a senior judge agreed with a Muslim defendant that - on highly specious grounds - female court staff could not handle his drinking water; and broadcaster Alan Jones has been convicted of a criminal offence for broadcasting the name of a most repellent young man of questionable age after his identity, through error, improperly appeared in The Daily Telegraph.

Jones, who has for years been Sydney's most successful morning radio host, has always been on the receiving end of crude insults from those with smaller audiences and larger egos. But it now appears the judiciary - and the wannabe judges who run the highly politicised petty authorities - are joining the fray. Notably silent have been the legions of self-anointed protectors of free speech, the civil libertarians and civil rights lawyers because Jones's audience is not theirs and his appeals to common sense and understanding of government process usually expose them as the poseurs they are.

The self-acclaimed leaders of the media, who will be out in force to tut-tut over incursions on press freedom tomorrow night at a dinner to be addressed by Jonestown author Chris Masters, have kept their mouths smugly shut. They only want freedom for their speech, not that which challenges their politically correct vision of how the world should be.

Jones was found guilty under a rarely used law designed to protect innocent young victims of crime and children involved in criminal activities. The section of the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act holds: It shall be conclusively presumed that no child who is under the age of 10 years can be guilty of an offence. That Act defines a child as a person under the age of 18. Tell that to the train drivers who had a brick thrown at the front of their train, or try convincing a victim of the mobs now ruling George St, that those responsible for bashing them cannot be guilty because they were too young.

The law against publishing is even more ridiculous, prohibiting naming individuals even when they are dead at the time of publication or broadcast. It means, as one legal eagle has said, that should the premier of NSW have a child murdered by al-Qaeda, that child's identity could not be disclosed by the press during any subsequent court action.

Jones's case involved members of a large Pakistani Muslim family, four of whom are convicted gang rapists and their late father was facing perjury charges when he died. The court heard that on April 10, 2004, a car thumping with loud music and bearing the number plate "ON DOLE" attracted some rude gestures from passengers in a taxi. The driver cut the taxi off at the next lights and at least two people got out and attacked the taxi and its occupants. One of them, who later claimed to be 14 years old, used a metal pipe. The taxi driver attempted to defend himself and struck out with a screwdriver, hitting one of the assailants, who later died.

The supposed 14-year-old was a key witness in the Crown case against the taxi driver. He had a lengthy criminal record, had used multiple aliases and many birth dates. During the trial he said he was 14 or 15 "or something like that" and at a later hearing that he was "16, 17". His father didn't know and his mother could only guess, basing that guess on her assertion her first child was born in 1978. No one knew - least of all the prosecution. Even the magistrate could only deduce the witness was born between 1988 and 1992.

Jones read The Daily Telegraph's report of the ongoing trial on air and was prosecuted by the DPP. Unfortunately, the DPP wasn't prepared and asked for continual delays running from 2006 and into this year, and all the while Jones was paying his counsel.

Even the fact the prosecution's case was based on a witness it was prosecuting for perjury didn't seem to trouble the magistrate. Nor was she concerned by his police record, the evidence that he bashed the taxi driver with a metal pipe, or that he had even bashed his own sister. Legally irrelevant to this case, perhaps, but most telling about the character of the "child" whose identity had been inadvertently revealed by Jones and The Daily Telegraph.

Deputy Chief Magistrate Helen Syme said she accepted Jones's argument that the urgency of breakfast radio meant he could not check everything that went to air. "From time to time, negligent or reckless behaviour may occur," Syme said, fining Jones $1000 and handing him a nine-month good behaviour bond - and a criminal record. Radio 2GB licensee Harbour Radio was fined $3000 and News Limited $4000. Jones is appealing the case. The transcript is worth reading. If this is the sort of justice meted out to a first offender, why should criminals have any respect for the law?


Fake medical degrees accepted by Australian health bureaucrats

Those guys sure are good at protecting the public

A scandal over purported overseas-trained doctors in a Queensland public hospital is widening after revelations that a Russian nurse used an online medical degree from the Caribbean to get a job, while a Chinese woman used documents showing she would have just turned 14 when she went to medical college in Shanghai. Evidence obtained by Chief Health Officer Jeanette Young in an investigation into the hiring of three junior doctors, or interns, at Cairns Base Hospital has appalled officials and Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson, sources told The Australian yesterday.

Queensland's anti-corruption body, the Crime and Misconduct Commission, will soon join the Health Quality and Complaints Commission and the Medical Board in a wide-ranging inquiry into why the hospital bypassed checks and balances before hiring the interns on more than $60,000 a year each. One of the three recruits could not speak English and was unable to communicate with anyone on the wards. Dr Young's investigation began after The Australian revealed, two weeks ago, serious concerns about the interns' qualifications.

Since initial claims by Cairns Base Hospital managers that the recruits were observers who had no unsupervised contact with patients, Dr Young has studied the charts of more than 500 patients and discovered that in a number of cases there were unsupervised examinations, diagnoses, orders for pathology and prescriptions. "The hospital's staff took the view that they would employ the purported doctors and, eventually, the Medical Board would get around to registering them," said a senior health source in Brisbane. "It is untenable. There will bean array of investigators descending on Cairns in the coming weeks." Mr Robertson's spokesman said: "We are concerned about the information emerging. But we can't say anything until we get Dr Young's report."

Health sources said the documentation relied on by the Russian nurse and the Chinese woman to obtain employment in Cairns made the CMC's involvement essential. CMC investigators will be given the task of tracing the documentation of the Russian nurse, whose curriculum vitae was contradictory. The nurse claimed to have received a medical degree from a university in the Caribbean. However, preliminary investigations revealed it was an internet-based qualification and should not have been recognised by Australian medical authorities. "It is a rather unusual degree in that it is an online degree with the teaching done online," a source said.

Dr Young's spokesman said: "The investigation is ongoing and is a matter of priority. The Chief Health Officer is happy to advise that the investigation thus far has uncovered no evidence of patient harm." A former colleague of the Russian nurse has communicated concerns to Queensland authorities about his conduct in a previous workplace. Several Cairns colleagues of the Chinese recruit have rallied to support her as a "person of integrity", with sufficient clinical skills to do a supervised internship prior to an examination by the Australian Medical Council. She has obtained statements from former students of the university in Shanghai who have said they were also aged 14 when they began medical training.

The controversy comes as Queensland prosecutors liaise with US counterparts to extradite Jayant Patel, the surgeon who has been blamed for contributing to at least 17 deaths at the Bundaberg Base Hospital.


Vanished history education

Tragic Leftist destruction of our remembered past

I WAS watching the ABC’s serviceable tele-movie, Curtin, about our wartime prime minister, last Sunday night in the company of a fine young Australian professional. Winston Churchill was mentioned. Churchill was the president of America, wasn’t he, this young professional asked me.

Once again I was brought up short by the astounding dereliction in the teaching of history in Australian schools. We have just witnessed the moving national commitment to Anzac Day, we have just seen several Australian soldiers wounded in Iraq. In an unrelated development the states have decided to reinstate history, geography and economics as separate subjects, abolishing the educational atrocity known as studies of society and environment.

But still we are missing the point. How can a citizen today possibly have any understanding of the shape of the world in which they live without some knowledge of Churchill? Yet unless we change the way we approach the teaching of history, such fundamental gaps in people’s knowledge will continue.

The internet generation will not be the best educated generation in history, as it has the potential to be, but the worst educated generation in a long time because it will not have been taught the most important things.

The federal Government’s national history summit last year made a contribution and identified things Australian students should know about our history. Even the so-called conservatives at that summit, however, generally favoured thematic rather than chronological and narrative approaches to history.

Yet every year when Australians demonstrate in overwhelming numbers their curiosity about Anzac Day and our military history more generally, they are not asking for sociological insights into the role of early feminism in war. Nor do they wish to hear how the demonising of “the other” served the hegemonic power structure of empire. Still less do they ask for the inter-textual ambiguities of war reporting to be decoded in considering the journalism of the power structure.

They ask a much more basic question: “What happened?” In other words, people are yearning for content, the content of the story. That is the answer to the very first question that must be provided before any other intelligent question can even be asked.

I had a disturbing dinner the other night with a history curriculum developer, a good person in every way. She told me that world history is now considered to be too big a subject for content to matter. There is too much content for any school course to cover. Therefore the emphasis is on teaching the techniques of history so that students can develop their own inquiries into history.

But the ability to think clearly and judge shrewdly, based on knowing the central facts, is likelier to come from wide reading and intelligent discussion than anything else. These days students are awarded history prizes for their original research, which normally means interviewing folks about their experience as migrants, workers, local identities or whatever. I once did such an exercise myself as a student, on the history of my local suburb.

It was one of the least interesting or useful things I did at school. And it was based on the ludicrous premise that to drive a car you need to be a mechanic. But, more important, it really has nothing to do with the study of history, which is necessary to have the minimum knowledge to navigate the world meaningfully. Is it really more important to know that my local RSL was built in 1957 or that Hitler murdered six million Jews in the greatest genocide in history? If a history teacher cannot make the study of World War II fascinating, they have no business being a history teacher.

I have three sons who in the past six years have completed high school. They all went to a good Sydney school, for which I have nothing but warm feelings, in the state that, thanks to Bob Carr, has the greatest commitment to teaching history. Yet not one of my sons made the acquaintance of John Monash or Alfred Deakin at school. As a way to treat young Australians, this constitutes a kind of criminal child abuse and neglect.

Monash was the most innovative field general of World War I and an extraordinary and compelling figure, a Gallipoli veteran, the child of German Jewish immigrants, a fluent German speaker, who came to lead all Australian forces though he was not even a professional soldier. He was by a vast distance the most important military figure Australia produced.

Deakin shaped Australia more than any other single individual. A spiritualist, a hearer of inner voices, he was a profoundly thoughtful, intellectual and complex man who, while prime minister, wrote an anonymous column for an English newspaper about Australian politics.

Both these men are richly rewarding to study because they recorded so much of their lives and thoughts and emotions in letters and journals and the like. I would think they are two of the remarkable figures of the 20th century. There should be feature films and docudramas and new interpretive histories and novels in profusion in which they figure, but instead we impose on our young people a deafening silence, a devastating absence of their heritage. The fashion has turned so comprehensively against the grand narrative and the great men approach to history that we fill the classes with trivia and nonsense.

One year I looked over one son’s shoulder and was reassured to find him studying World War I. Just what are you studying about it, I asked him. The answer? The role of women in Australian society in World War I, a legitimate enough topic but, given that there was no study of the amazing Billy Hughes or of the course of the war, this was just more of the discouraging undifferentiated pap offered as a substitute for content today.

The next year he was studying World War II. This is promising, I thought. What are you studying, I asked him: Curtin, MacArthur, Hirohito or Tojo perhaps? The answer? The role of women in Australian society in World War II.

Much of the public discussion has focused on Australian history and that is entirely as it should be. But there are things we have to know about the history of the wider world, especially 20th-century history. Without this irreducible core of content, no student can possibly understand the shape of the world in which they find themselves. This content must include World War I, the Depression, World War II, Nazism, communism, the Cold War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. There is much else that it is desirable to know but this is an absolute bare minimum. We have a UN, a refugee convention, a US alliance system, to take obvious examples, directly because of World War II.

Without studying World War II - and not only the role of women in Australian society in World War II - no student can possibly make any sense of these institutions. Without a narrative history full of content, meaningful citizenship or even mere functioning cultural literacy is history.


Another railway boondoggle coming up?

Do they ever learn? The Alice Springs to Darwin railway was a huge waste of taxpayer funds and will never give a return on funds spent. It will need many more millions of taxpayer money to build this next one. Railways are obsolete anyway. Converting all railways to dedicated truck corridors would do a lot more good

AN inland rail line linking Victoria and Queensland would cut truck numbers on highways, reduce freight costs and boost rural communities - and looks set for government funding. A multimillion-dollar grant is expected to be unveiled soon to kick-start efforts to attract private sector funding for the $3.1 billion project. It is understood Prime Minister John Howard discussed it with premiers at the recent Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra.

The rail line's potential to reduce the number of trucks on national highways amid spiralling freight loads, and its positive impact on rural communities, are the driving forces behind the Government's support. Australian Transport and Energy Corridor chairman Everald Compton said it could be built by 2012. "In these days when climate change is a big issue, trains make a lot of sense," he said.

The likely route for the standard-gauge rail line from Melbourne is through Albury, Junee, Parkes, Dubbo, Moree and Warwick before linking with Toowoomba. The ATEC has asked the Government for a $150 million grant for the track between Moree and Toowoomba, and another $150 million for a final link between Toowoomba and Gladstone.


Thursday, April 26, 2007

Nasty numbers for the Left

KEVIN RUDD may be the most popular Opposition leader in the 35-year history of opinion polling in this country, but yesterday's inflation report shows that John Howard's luck has not deserted him. With consumer prices rising a scant 0.1 per cent in the first three months of the year, annualised inflation was 2.4 per cent, within the Reserve Bank's mandated maximum of 3 per cent. And the more important measure, underlying inflation, which takes out volatile short-term movements, rose by 0.5 per cent or an annualised 2.7 per cent, confirming that inflationary pressures are easing. This means the Reserve Bank is unlikely to raise interest rates in the months ahead. How unlikely? The futures market yesterday put the chance of a rate rise next month at just 3 per cent.

This, in turn, gives John Howard green lights as far as the eye can see down the politico-economic highway leading to this year's election. First, it gives the Government a green light to hand out tax cuts in next month's budget. If the Reserve Bank's governor, Glenn Stevens, had his finger hovering over the red button marked "rates up" Howard and Peter Costello would be accused of economic recklessness for handing out big tax cuts. Tax cuts, by fuelling spending, can increase inflationary pressures and prompt the bank to lift rates. That risk has now fallen away. If the Government had any hesitation, it has been removed by the inflation report.

Second, Howard has a green light for other spending measures as he campaigns for re-election, without bringing down upon the Government's head the accusation of irresponsibility. The outlook is sufficiently benign that Costello felt emboldened to forecast the next published annualised inflation rate would have a one in front of it, not a two.

Finally, the inflation figures give Howard the green light to go to the election with one of his most vital political credentials - as a better economic manager than Kevin Rudd - intact. On the face of it, it is extraordinary. Howard promised at the last election to keep rates "at record lows". As soon as he was re-elected, the Reserve Bank raised rates four times.

Yet somehow polling continues to show Howard well ahead of Rudd on who can better manage the economy. And with no further rate rises in prospect between here and the election, his grip on that title now seems unshakeable.


Melbourne's trains -- what the Greenies are wishing on us all

The frequent complaints about woeful service from Sydney and Brisbane trains are similar. The Melbourne service is provided by a private contractor. The Brisbane and Sydney services are directly run by their State governments

COMMUTERS using some of Melbourne's busiest inner and middle-suburban stations are being left behind on platforms because of overcrowding on the rail system. Hot spots across the network include West Footscray, Yarraville, Kensington, Prahran, Glenhuntly, Armadale and Hawksburn stations. A Connex spokeswoman said it received complaints from squashed and stranded passengers and said most of the problems were caused by late or cancelled services. But the Public Transport Users Association and Connex drivers told The Age that increasing numbers of passengers were being left at busy inner-suburban stations. The State Government's decision to scrap Zone 3 has also increased passengers travelling from outer-suburban stations.

Metlink chief executive Bernie Carolan said anecdotal evidence showed car parks at former Zone 3 stations were almost full. "Those car parks are more popular than ever," Mr Carolan said. Metlink has also seen a rise in tickets being sold at former Zone 3 stations. Almost 170 million trips were made on the suburban network last year - an increase of 13 per cent.

While more passengers from Melbourne's outer suburbs use public transport, commuters in the middle and inner suburbs are feeling the squeeze. Department of Infrastructure figures show the Cranbourne, Pakenham, Sydenham and Broadmeadows lines suffer the worst levels of overcrowding. Pressure on inner-city stations such as Kensington on the Broadmeadows services will increase after the opening of the electrification extension to Craigieburn later this year.

A Connex driver said it was common for trains during the evening peak to wait up to four minutes for passengers to squeeze on at City Loop stations such as Melbourne Central and Parliament. "It's great to see all these people using trains but the services are just inadequate," he said. "It's just getting ridiculous. There are some trains that they could virtually cancel and put them elsewhere. They've still got the same old tired timetable. Let's review the lines and see where people are living."

But as the operator of the system, Connex cannot purchase new trains and make changes to timetables or increase services without Government approval. The Department of Infrastructure's train plan from 2003, obtained by The Age, showed at least 60 new trains needed to be purchased to cope with increased patronage from 2009. PTUA president Daniel Bowen said the lack of planning by the Government for new trains "was bordering on incompetence".

His comments came after Public Transport Minister Lynne Kosky confirmed that the Government had paid $100,000 for nine Hitachi carriages that were initially sold off in 2002 for $2600 each. "They should also be making better use of the existing fleet, ensuring that frequent services run beyond the current peak hours, to help spread passenger numbers," Mr Bowen said. "The people of Melbourne have spoken with their feet and they want more trains."

Ms Kosky defended the purchase and said the second-hand trains would allow for four extra services a day, capable of transporting another 3200 passengers. She would not be drawn on whether the Government would fund new trains in next week's state budget. Opposition public transport spokesman Terry Mulder said it was an appalling lack of planning and said passengers should not be surprised to find themselves soon travelling on steam engines.


When dogma trumps reason in Australia's Left

Uranium debate shows Labor can still defeat itself

LABOR frontbencher Anthony Albanese has got it all wrong in his analysis of why the party can afford to do the wrong thing and maintain its discredited and illogical no-new-mines uranium policy. Mr Albanese has said it was beyond belief to argue that marginal-seat voters who supported John Howard at recent elections would say, "Gee, I'll change my vote to Labor if only they change their policy on no new uranium mines". Perhaps not. But what many will say is that without uranium in the equation, Labor still favours symbolism over substance and therefore lacks credibility when it comes to dealing with climate change. Furthermore, an illogical attitude to retard an expanding industry in which Australia enjoys a natural advantage does nothing for Labor's economic credibility. For these reasons, uranium mining is a totemic issue, and how Labor handles it says a lot about whether the party is ready for office.

Realistically, inflammatory debates about uranium mining and industrial relations are part of the theatre of the ALP national conference. Fighting over uranium is a good way for the party to put a bit of skin back on the shins of environmental pin-up boy Peter Garrett, who has been forced to endure a series of uncomfortable public compromises such as support for clean coal and continued Tasmanian logging. For the ALP, it is important everyone's point of view is heard. What is most important, however, is that the authority of Labor's new leader, Kevin Rudd, shines through. Having made the point that the no-new-mines policy is a done deal, Mr Rudd can ill afford the public humiliation of a close vote, let alone defeat.

In prosecuting the anti-uranium case, Mr Albanese has employed clever rhetoric such as the claim that the ALP's Light on the Hill was not the product of radiation, and that you can guarantee uranium mining will lead to nuclear waste, but you can't guarantee it won't lead to nuclear weapons. He is, however, simplistic in dealing with the realities. Mr Albanese cites Iran's nuclear program as an example of proliferation, but he ignores the fact that Iran has abundant reserves of uranium of its own. No-one disagrees that the uranium trade must be accompanied by robust rules to ensure the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons, but the reality is that Australia already mines and exports uranium.

The most pressing contradiction in the stance taken by Mr Albanese, however, is that Labor wants to talk tough on climate change but rejects what is globally acknowledged as a key response, namely nuclear energy. The Howard Government has cleverly ramped up the politics of uranium to expose Labor's weakness. Mr Rudd must realise that if Labor wants to be taken at face value over its concern about greenhouse gas emissions, the party needs to demonstrate it is serious about solutions. Without support for uranium there is a fundamental flaw in Labor's position on climate change. The Government knows this, and while Mr Rudd will rule Australia out of the nuclear fuel cycle to appease the Left, the Prime Minister has highlighted climate change response as the most important economic dilemma of the next decade.

The irony is that those who have campaigned hardest for a European-style solution embodied in the Kyoto Protocol and mandatory targets are most likely to have overlooked the fact that Europe, notably France, has made the biggest commitment to nuclear power. This contradiction again highlights the problems that arise when dogma replaces reason on issues such as nuclear power and climate change. From a scientific perspective, the question is would the world be better off if, instead of coal, China's booming demand for electricity were satisfied by nuclear power? The answer is an unequivocal yes.


Rain still falling - but in the wrong place

Or is it the dams that are in the wrong place?

The rain continues to fall heavily in Sydney's coastal and eastern suburbs, as the Bureau of Meteorology confirms rainfall is significantly higher than usual for the month of April [Oh what a lovely "drought"! It's raining in Brisbane too as I write this]. April, the third wettest month in the year after March and June, has an average rainfall of 125.7 millimetres over 31 days. But over 174 millimetres has fallen this April, with more expected in the final six days of the month. Unfortunately much of the rainfall has been in eastern and coastal suburbs, with significant rainfalls staying frustratingly away from catchment areas in the west.

Over the last 23 hours across the state the highest falls were recorded in Bellambi, north of Wollongong, with 99 millimetres falling at their weather station. Eighty five millimetres fell at Williamtown, near Newcastle and 76 millimetres was recorded at Gosford. In the Sydney basin the highest falls - 76 millimetres - were recorded in the Royal National Park in Sydney's south, closely followed by Frenchs Forest with 72 millimetres and the small catchment area of Woronora Dam, which recorded 70 millimetres. The rain is expected to ease off this afternoon, according to the Bureau, though will continue to shower intermittently until Sunday, when it is predicted to be fine.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007


Australia's day of remembrance for our war dead: Australia's most solemn day. Commemoration began at dawn, as it traditionally does. A small excerpt from a news report below:

Thousands of people have braved a wet morning around the nation to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country at the Anzac Day dawn service. Masses assembled at the Cenotaph at Martin Place in Sydney just before 4.30am (AEST) for the ceremony to mark the ill-fated landing at Gallipoli 92 years ago. War veterans were in attendance, but the early morning crowd was a predominantly young one.

Naval Commander of Australia, Rear Admiral Davyd Thomas, said the Anzac story resonated with so many Australians because it was about ordinary people. .. "The wonderful thing about the Anzac story is that it's not a story that glorifies war. "It's a story about ordinary people struggling to overcome their fears and frailties but achieving extraordinary things."

He urged the crowd to direct their thoughts to the approximately 3500 Australian servicemen and women deployed in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Israel, Lebanon, East Timor and the Solomon Islands. "The Anzac tradition continues through them," he said. "Many of them were in harm's way this morning. Their service is still selfless, the mateship is as deep, the teamwork just as vital."

The early morning crowd stretched over three blocks and spilled into nearby streets, while a large screen was used to broadcast events at the Cenotaph for those who couldn't get close enough.... At 4.50am (AEST), a lone bugler sounded the last post. It was followed by a minute's silence during which the only sound that could be heard was the pattering of falling rain.

More here

I cannot resist noting that the "drought" was yet again in evidence
Labor emission target 'crazy' - PM

LABOR is promising to slash greenhouse emissions without knowing the impact of those cuts on jobs, Prime Minister John Howard says. Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has committed a Labor government to reducing Australia's emissions by 60 per cent by 2050, while the Greens want an 80 per cent cut over the same period. Mr Howard said it was irresponsible to commit to greenhouse targets without knowing the full economic effect of such actions.

Mr Rudd and Greens leader Bob Brown were "peas in a pod on this issue", he said. "You've got this ridiculous situation where the Greens are advocating an 80 per cent cut by 2050, the Labor Party is only slightly less radical at 60 per cent by 2050," Mr Howard told ABC radio. "Neither the Greens or the Labor Party has any idea of what that will do to jobs. "I think it is crazy and irresponsible of any political party in this country to commit to a target when you don't know the impact of the target."

Mr Howard said Mr Rudd had borrowed his 60 per cent target from European nations, ignoring the different circumstances Australia faced. "This is not Europe. This is Australia, and I am not going to subcontract the climate change policy of this country to the European Union," he said. "European circumstances are different. Europe is not a major exporter of coal. "The people of Queensland, particularly in the coal industry, should understand that the alternative prime minister of this country has committed to a target and he doesn't know the impact of the implementation of that target on jobs in the coal industry (and) jobs in many other parts of Australia."

In a speech yesterday, Mr Howard said global warming was not the overwhelming moral challenge facing Australia, and argued that economic growth should take precedence over emissions cuts. Today, Mr Howard said the government would not commit to an emissions reduction target until he knew the effect it would have on the economy. A business and government taskforce examining emissions trading would consider the potential impacts, he said.


Police use ethnic labels: Horrors!

NSW police use the description "Middle Eastern" too frequently in media releases, skewing the perception of crime rates and contributing to racial tensions, a report says. The service constantly ignores its policy on the use of ethnic descriptions and has even issued releases referring to suspects wearing balaclavas as being of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern appearance, the report by the Australia Middle East Christian Council found.

The report said up to two-thirds of the police media releases that mentioned ethnicity referred to suspects of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern appearance. This was a disproportionate use, said Peter El Khouri, a member of the council and former Liberal Party candidate. "There is a perception that the Middle Eastern community, Australians of Middle Eastern background, are significantly responsible for crime in the state," said Mr El Khouri, who is of Lebanese descent.

The council said NSW police should use the national standards, adopted in 1993 by other police forces, which use four terms to describe appearance in public communications about crimes: Aboriginal, Asian, Caucasian and other. NSW police expand "other" into four groups: Mediterranean or Middle Eastern, Indian or Pakistani, Pacific Islander and South American.

The council also wants police units such as the Middle Eastern Organised Crime Squad to drop the ethnic reference in their title. Mr El Khouri said the "use and abuse of the policy on ethnic descriptors" could have contributed to racial unrest leading up to the Cronulla riots of December 2005. "Why are we not conforming to the national guidelines?" he asked. "We have not seen a riot or similar ethnic tension to the Cronulla riots in other states that conform to the guidelines."

The Minister for Police said police would retain the descriptions. "Their use does not suggest a link between ethnicity and crime, but is merely a quick and generally efficient way of identifying people who the police need to locate - be they suspects, possible victims or witnesses," said a spokesman for the Police Minister, David Campbell. Police denied that the use of ethnic descriptors increased racial tension or was in any way discriminatory or inflammatory.

The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research has found no statistical link between ethnicity and crime, the report says. NSW prison population figures quoted in the report show 139 of the state's 8961 prisoners last June were born in Lebanon - a lower percentage than those born in Vietnam, China, Britain, Ireland or New Zealand. [Probably because their Muslim code of silence makes them hard to catch]


Basic subjects return to schools

The catch-all subject Studies of Society and Environment will be dropped in the nation's high schools and replaced by the traditional disciplines of history, geography and economics under a schools action plan to be released by the states and territories today. A report on the future of schooling prepared for the Council for the Australian Federation, comprising the Labor state and territory governments, outlines a 12-point plan for the implementation of a national framework for school education.

The plan, agreed to by all state and territory governments, commits them to refocus SOSE in response to criticism that the subject has become too crowded by areas such as environmental and legal studies at the expense of history and geography. "Studies of Society and Environment has been criticised by a number of commentators, partly because its focus is not clear from the label," the report says. "It has become increasingly clear that what should be studied under this label, are the disciplines of history, geography and economics." The report explicitly outlines those disciplines under the umbrella of humanities and social science as part of the plan to develop a national curriculum.

Victorian Premier Steve Bracks, who will release the report today, said the report advocated a return to traditional disciplines to ensure a well-rounded education. "It reflects our belief that there are key disciplines that are best taught within the school curriculum," Mr Bracks said. The governments will also introduce three benchmark levels for reporting students' literacy and numeracy results in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9, under a new national test to start next year. The present system under which students are reported only as passing very low, minimum standards - giving no indication of the breadth of student performance - will be replaced by three levels of minimum, medium and high achievement.

The plan also commits the states and territories to developing a plan for reporting school performance, with a focus on how much it has improved its students' results, and processes for reviewing teachers' performance based on "improved student, classroom and/or school performance".

The release of the plan follows a meeting of the nation's education ministers in Darwin last week, where the states and territories rejected the federal Government's blueprint for national curriculums, performance-based pay for teachers and the reporting of national test results. School curriculums are designed by the states and territories, hampering the federal Government's efforts to impose its will in this area.

Mr Bracks said education heads from around the nation would meet this week to start the implementation of the plan, which invites the federal Government to participate as part of a "collaborative federalism".

The COAF report, The Future of Schooling in Australia, reaffirms the primacy of literacy and numeracy in primary schools and the "fundamentally important" disciplines of English, maths, science and languages other than English for high school students. It also notes the importance of physical education, the arts and technology and identifies two areas to be added to school curriculums - civics and citizenship, and business. "The study of business and the development of commercial and financial literacy skills can assist students in their middle and later years at school to prepare for work in the 21st century," it says.


Rain lashes coast, but the "drought" is still on

There is always a drought somewhere in Australia -- but plenty of rainfall in other parts too -- which shows the need for advance planning -- exactly what governments claim to be good at. But since dam provision has been taken out of the hands of the engineers and put in the hands of Green-shy politicians, practically no new dams have been built

RAIN continued to deluge parts of the east coast yesterday but farmers beyond the ranges again missed out and have little prospect of heavy falls in the near future. As storms lashed Sydney on Sunday night and yesterday, a key weather indicator predicted another dry winter.

The Southern Oscillation Index had been rising towards neutral territory, a sign that drought is weakening, but in recent weeks it has plunged dramatically and it reached a five-month low yesterday of -13.1. Consistent negative readings indicate the likelihood of below-average rainfall, while positive values suggest more rainfall could be on the way.

Storms in Sydney on Sunday night dumped 98mm at Rose Bay, in the eastern suburbs, in just three hours. Rose Bay had another 9.6mm to 3pm yesterday.

The best fall along the Murray-Darling to 9am yesterday was 10mm at Cherrabah, on the NSW-Queensland border. Long-range rainfall forecasts hold only a slight hope that enough rain will fall in the Murray-Darling Basin to prevent the cutting of irrigation allocations next month.

A three-month outlook from the Bureau of Meteorology carries slender prospects of better-than-average falls. John Howard warned last week that "if it doesn't rain in sufficient volume over the next six to eight weeks" initial irrigation allocations in the basin would not be made.

The bureau's latest seasonal outlook, published yesterday, predicts a wetter-than-average three months to the end of July for the upper Darling catchment. But only just. It said there was a 55 per cent to 65 per cent chance of better-than-average rain in the north, northeast, central west and southeast of NSW and southern inland and coastal southeastern Queensland.

National Climate Centre meteorologist Blair Trewin said: "This is the drier time of the year there so above-average rain doesn't necessarily point to particularly large falls. If 2007 is as bad as 2006 for inflows there will be no allocations but that's a fairly unlikely scenario." Dr Trewin said expected lower-than-normal daytime temperatures would help to keep evaporation low.

In southern Queensland, all of NSW and Tasmania, and the eastern half of South Australia, there is a 55 per cent to 60 per cent chance of cooler-than-normal days. Chances of cooler days in Victoria run to 65 per cent. The Queensland Department of Primary Industries also predicts rainfall in the upper Darling catchment might exceed the average up to the end of June.

It predicts a 60 per cent chance of wetter-than-normal conditions. But along the Murray, there was only a 30 per cent to 40 per cent chance of more rain than normal.


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

In Australia, the LEFTISTS want to deregulate!

Which they have historically done to some degree -- but they still want heavy regulation of employment conditions, which is very destructive to jobs. Have a look at France if you doubt that

While most media attention focused on Rudd's compromise industrial relations policy, much of the speech was in fact dedicated to stealing the Liberal equivalent of Labor's battlers, in this case business and independent contractors. Rudd's primary appeal to this traditional Liberal constituency was a commitment to cut red tape. While this might sound platitudinous, like everything Rudd does these days his pitch was firmly rooted in promoting the idea that it is now Labor, not the Coalition, that is better equipped to manage the economy.

How do we know this? Because today Craig Emerson, Rudd's handpicked spokesman on small business and independent contractors, will release a detailed research paper that formed a large part of the economic underpinning of the Opposition Leader's speech. It's an impressive piece of work that seeks to draw a compelling link between what Emerson depicts as Australia's declining productivity and the over-regulation of business. In sentiments reflected in Rudd's presentation, Emerson goes out of his way to reclaim the economic reform legacy of the Hawke-Keating years, something Mark Latham manifestly failed to do.

"The incoming Labor government in 1983 inherited a heavily regulated economy from decades of largely uninterrupted Coalition rule and began the task of deregulating and opening up the economy to competition," Emerson says. "During the last 11 years of Coalition rule, and despite all the reviews, promises and commitments to cut red tape, business has again become shackled by overbearing regulation. As it was back in the early 1980s, so it is now that the task of reducing business regulation as an essential component of a program to lift national productivity will fall to an incoming federal Labor government."

Emerson cites official figures showing that between 2000 and 2006 Australian productivity growth slumped from what he calls "the miracle rate of 2.6 per cent per annum during the 1990s" to 2.1 per cent. "As the governor of the Reserve Bank has pointed out," Emerson says, "labour productivity growth since the end of 2003 has averaged just 1.0 per cent per annum. The governor cautioned that this is a fairly short period over which to be drawing a trend, but nevertheless observed: 'That is quite a slowdown."' To grasp the governor's meaning, consider the following: If Australia's labour productivity growth rate over the 40-year projection period of the Treasury's Intergenerational Report was a percentage point faster than the assumed rate of 1per cent, Australia's national income would be 20 per cent greater by the end of the period.

So, productivity counts. And don't just take Emerson's word for it. Here's the Business Council of Australia on the issue: "More worryingly, labour productivity growth has slowed sharply in Australia. This deterioration in productivity performance is a very real concern." It's one of a number of BCA warnings Emerson sprinkles throughout his paper. Emerson is making a political as well as economic point here: when it comes to the link between productivity and cutting red tape, the BCA is a potential ally of the Labor Party.

Emerson produces figures to show that Australian labour productivity reached 89.4 per cent of US levels in 1998, only to fall to 81.7 per cent in 2006, back to where it was in 1989. But there's a conundrum here that is often used to explain away the chances of the Howard Government being defeated at the next election. Despite falling productivity, the economy is still booming.

Emerson explains it this way: "Australia ranks 16th in the world in labour productivity levels but eighth in prosperity as measured by (gross domestic product) per person. "If today's productivity growth is tomorrow's prosperity, why hasn't Australia slipped down the prosperity rankings? The answer is that during the past decade Australia has experienced not one but two booms: a productivity boom up to 2000, followed by a mining boom. "The boost in our incomes has been estimated at $55 billion every year, equivalent to around $8000 for every Australian household. Australia's mining boom has masked the economic effects of Australia's productivity slump," Emerson says. Again he turns to the BCA: "The benefits that rising commodity prices have provided to the economy, to an extent, have also masked underlying structural weaknesses. "Add to these challenges the impact of an ageing population and slower productivity growth as the benefits of past reforms fade and many conclude that slower growth in the future is inevitable for Australia," the BCA concludes.

Emerson and the BCA have a shared view on one of the ways this productivity slump can be addressed: a concerted assault on business regulation. "In the seven years from 2000 to 2006, the commonwealth passed the same volume of primary legislation as had been passed in the first 82 years of Federation," Emerson says. "And this doesn't include all of the regulations that are made as subordinate legislation, the volume of which has increased more than five-fold since the 1960s."

Again, the BCA is in sync with Labor: "The creeping re-regulation of business and the introduction of policies that are inconsistent and overlapping across jurisdictions are additional examples of how the benefits of past reform can be quietly eroded over time."

So there we have it. On the question of regulation, Labor and the BCA are on a unity ticket. Or at least that's the way Emerson would like to see it. The final balance as to where business comes to rest in terms of election support will, of course, be overwhelmingly influenced by Rudd's final position on industrial relations. The brutal truth is that the kind of constituency the BCA represents wasn't much interested in Rudd's small business and unfair dismissal announcements of Tuesday. What it wants to know is his intentions regarding Australian Workplace Agreements.


"KEEP 'EM IN THE DARK" argue Nazi-type "scientists"

Airing the views of climate change sceptics in the media may only be serving to keep the global warming controversy boiling, argue scientists. Leading climate change experts have warned the World Conference of Science Journalists in Melbourne, Australia, that a balanced view does not always reflect the consensus of the research community.

Kevin Hennessy, a lead scientist with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), said yesterday that media attention on "the view of a handful of climate change sceptics" amplifies their opinions and "implies that there is little agreement about the basic facts of global warming". Hennessy is also with the marine and atmospheric division of Australian government research body, CSIRO. Speaking in a session about climate change reporting, he said editors and journalists have a duty to ensure that facts are presented in context. Balanced reporting, he said, "perpetuates the public's perception that scientists are in disarray, which is misleading in the case of climate change".

Geoff Love, secretary of the IPCC and former deputy director of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, said that IPCC assessment reports from 1990 through to this year are strong evidence of "the coming together of the scientific community." Emphasis on the sceptic view does not help public understanding of climate change, said Love.

Media coverage has not always reflected the consensus of the majority of the scientific community, said Ian Lowe, president of the Australian Conservation Foundation a non-profit environment group. "That only makes the public and political discussion more difficult," he said.

The problem is compounded by a lack of reporting on climate change, according to Chris Mooney, a U.S.-based science journalist attending the conference. Although the 2006 hurricane season attracted a lot of media attention, Mooney presented statistics from the United States showing that climate change has never been a priority in the media.

The situation is similar in Africa, said Ochieng' Ogodoa a Kenyan correspondent for London, U.K.-based news web site SciDev.Net. Articles about deaths caused by floods or other natural disasters, and political scandals related to climate change tend to get precedence, he said.


I liked the advertisement shown alongside the above article in its original source. I reproduce it below. It is a pic of an INCANDESCENT globe, not one of the fluorescent wonders! The Greenies don't win 'em all!

Some patients get no treatment at all in Tasmanian public hospitals

ONE in seven patients leaves the stretched Royal Hobart Hospital emergency department before being treated because of long waits. Between December and March, 13,058 patients presented to the department but 1821 -- an average 15 a day -- did not to wait to see a doctor. Some of the patients had been assessed as suffering "life-threatening" or "potentially life-threatening" illnesses or injuries and severe pain.

But department director Tony Lawler said the "majority" were patients who had presented to triage with "potentially serious" or "less urgent" conditions. He said there was always a "concern" that patients who did not wait would die, but stressed they were encouraged to stay or given options for medical help. "We don't put people in the waiting room and forget them," Dr Lawler said. "We try to maintain supervision." [Hard to do when they have walked out!]

RHH chief executive Craig White said the "did not wait" figures were steadily climbing but the hospital was working hard to bring them down. The figures come as the emergency department -- which moved into its new $15.4 million home last month -- comes under increasing pressure and criticism. In the past month, nurses, patients, politicians and ambulance officers have complained of long waits for medical help. Ambulances have been "ramping" or building up at the department, unable to offload patients because the hospital is full. And an elderly woman died in the emergency department last month after four days trying to get help and hours in waiting rooms.

Dr Lawler said patients were prioritised on clinical need, sometimes causing frustration. "Sometimes a patient might not appear to be very ill," he said. "It sometimes seems there's an inequitable process about who is seen first." He said some patients felt better and left or decided to see their GP, but conceded some patients who left were rated category one, two and three.

Dr White said waits had increased because more patients were presenting to emergency and beds in wards were harder to access. He said access block was "complex" but recent nursing-home closures meant aged-care patients were taking up 16 beds. Access block figures from the second half of 2006 show 29 per cent of patients admitted through the RHH emergency department wait more than eight hours for a ward bed. This compares with a 27.4 per cent national average.

Dr Lawler said the hospital had started holding daily bed management meetings to free up beds and new systems would help ease the wait. The new emergency department allows patients to be "streamed" through three paths and there is a clinic dedicated to patients in the lowest categories. This means a patient needing stitches can be "in and out" without having to wait for a cubicle. A short-stay unit will open in July for patients who require observation but don't need to be admitted. Dr Lawler said this area would act as a "pressure valve" to the department and reduce waits.

He could not compare the RHH "did not wait" figures to other hospitals but Australian Nursing Federation state secretary Neroli Ellis said they seemed "high". She attributed the figures to the closure of 1B North, a 30-bed ward closed for six months for renovations that only began last month. Ms Ellis said up to 16 patients stayed in the emergency department overnight on trolleys waiting for a bed.