Monday, December 31, 2007

Flannery says Japan's whaling is 'sustainable'

Coming from one of Australia's top Greenies, this is going to put a spoke in a few wheels. And for once I think that there is little doubt that Flannery is right. The objection to whaling (which I share) is sentimental rather than scientific

ENVIRONMENTALIST and 2007 Australian of the Year Tim Flannery has declared his support for the hugely unpopular Japanese whaling program. As Australia prepares to monitor the whaling fleet in Antarctica amid rising diplomatic tensions with Japan, Professor Flannery says there is nothing unsustainable about its annual cull of up to 1000 whales - particularly the common minke whale. "In terms of sustainability, you can't be sure that the Japanese whaling is entirely unsustainable," Professor Flannery said. "It's hard to imagine that the whaling would lead to a new decline in population."

But the staunch environmentalist, influential scientist, author and climate change crusader said he was pleased Japan had decided to ditch plans to kill up to 50 threatened humpbacks this summer. "I'm very relieved to see the humpback whale quota dumped," he said.

But the 935 minke whales that Japan aims to kill each year under its so-called scientific whaling program should not threaten the survival of that species. Professor Flannery said there were much bigger threats to marine biodiversity and sustainability, including to the future of krill, small crustaceans essential in the sea food chain - and the main sustenance for whales in the Southern Ocean. Krill populations are declining as a result of over-fishing and because rising sea temperatures are killing off their food sources.

Professor Flannery said he was more concerned about those issues "where our future is most under threat, which is not the minkes". However, he is worried about how the whales are slaughtered, saying he would like to see them "killed as humanely as possible".

Professor Flannery's views have not changed since his comments on Japanese whaling back in 2003. In a paper published that year in Quarterly Essay he argued that smaller-brained whales could be hunted sustainably. "If these animals are closer in intelligence to the sheep than the dog, is it morally wrong to eat them if they can be harvested sustainably?" he wrote. Japanese whalers have begun their hunt in Antarctica and plan to harpoon almost 1000 whales, including 50 endangered fin whales.


Teacher standards slip again

MORE than 50 West Australian high school leavers will be able to study teaching without qualifying for admission to university. In an effort to combat the dire shortage of teachers, Edith Cowan University has asked principals to recruit suitable Year 12 students who have not sat the tertiary entrance examination to train to become teachers.

The move has the support of the Education Minister Mark McGowan and the teachers' union, which hopes to recommence negotiations this week over a stalled pay deal for the state's 20,000 teachers. Mr McGowan said he supported ECU's efforts to attract good candidates by taking other factors into account, including interviews and experience. "I think there may be people who have not done TEE who may become great teachers," he said.

Mr McGowan also extended the olive branch to the teachers' union yesterday, offering to relaunch negotiations on Wednesday over a second pay offer the union rejected before Christmas. "I want to reward teachers properly, that is the Government's aim and ambition," Mr McGowan said.

It is believed the 52 non-TEE students will qualify for direct entry if they have As and Bs in their final year subjects and have a level five in Year 12 English. Level eight is the highest English level attainable.

People Lobbying Against Teaching Outcomes, the group that campaigned heavily against the controversial outcomes-based education framework, is concerned about the move. President Greg Williams said the students who did not sit the TEE were generally those who struggled at school. "I am just wondering whether the kids who struggle at school should be the ones we want as the next generation's teachers," he said. "I still think that a teacher should be a person who has a great love of academia." Mr Williams, a former school principal, said he had been asked to identify potential student teachers from among non-TEE students 10 years ago, but said ECU was now more transparent about selecting students outside the academic stream.

The State School Teachers Union has put the teacher shortage at 600, but claims there are more teachers who are teaching subjects for which they were not trained, so the total figure could be higher. Senior vice-president Anne Gisborne said she was interested in restarting pay talks with the Government as soon as possible. Although supportive of ECU's direct entry for non-TEE student teachers, she said that the university and principals would have to make sure teaching standards were maintained.


Censorship threat

That comes easily to a Leftist government, of course

AUSTRALIANS with internet connection could soon have their web content automatically censored. The restrictions are planned by the Federal Government to give greater protection to children from online pornography and violent websites. Under the plan, all internet service providers will have to provide a "clean" feed to households and schools, free of pornography and other "inappropriate" material. Australians who want uncensored access to the web will have to contact their internet service provider and "opt out" of the service.

Online civil libertarians yesterday warned the freedom of the internet was at stake, while internet providers were concerned the new measures could slow the internet in Australia to a crawl. They said it was a measure usually associated with oppressive regimes and was no alternative to proper parental monitoring.

But Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said everything possible had to be done to shield children from violent and pornographic online material. "We have always argued more needs to be done to protect children," he said. Senator Conroy said the clean feed, also known as mandatory ISP filtering, would prevent users from accessing prohibited content. "We will work with the industry to get the best policy," he said. "(But) Labor is committed to introducing mandatory ISP filtering." Senator Conroy said the Australian Communications and Media Authority would prepare a "blacklist" of unsuitable sites. It is unclear exactly what will be deemed inappropriate material.

The adoption of mandatory ISP filtering comes on top of the former government's offer of free internet filtering software for home computers. Chairman of internet user group Electronic Frontiers Australia, Dale Clapperton, said mandatory filtering eroded freedom and would not improve online safety for children. "China, Burma and Saudi Arabia and those type of oppressive countries are the only ones that have seriously looked at doing something like this," he said. "In Australia, which is supposedly a liberal democracy, the Government is saying that the internet is so full of this material that it must protect us from it by trying to block it."

Mr Clapperton feared that parents would be lulled into a false sense of security. "Parents should not allow their children to use the internet unsupervised," he said. "Stuff that should be blocked will inevitably get through and stuff that should not be blocked will not."

Family First senator Steve Fielding, who has campaigned for ISP filtering, said he would be watching the Government "like a hawk" on the issue. "Australian families want more (internet protection) and deserve more than they are currently getting, and this is a real test for the Rudd Government," he said. A report by the Australia Institute in 2003 showed 84 per cent of boys and 60 per cent of girls using the internet had experienced unwanted exposure to sexual material.


Sydney's high cost of living shows

SYDNEY is shedding 22,000 citizens a year to all parts of Australia, and for the first time the people deficit covers all key groups, from students and young singles to families and retirees. The nation's biggest city is the only capital to lose more people aged 15-34 than it gained from interstate migration between 2001 and last year, and is the only capital apart from Adelaide to also go backwards for both professional and blue-collar workers. But for every Sydneysider who is forced out by the cost of living, another two are replacing them from the overseas migration program.

New official data eveals a dramatic realignment in the nation's make-up as young and old alike criss-cross the continent from Perth to Melbourne and from Sydney to the "rest of" Queensland - everywhere outside the capital city. Hobart is the surprise packet, rising to third place behind Brisbane and Perth as the most popular city destination for interstate migrants, while the rest of Tasmania has leapt to second behind the rest of Queensland on the regional growth ladder.

The rest of Victoria and the rest of NSW are also in the black - breaking the past pattern in which they gave up more people to Queensland than they received in seachange and treechange retirees from Melbourne and Sydney. The bigger picture shows that the rest of Queensland has replaced the state's capital as the nation's top people magnet, gaining 14,000 people a year compared with Brisbane's 10,000 a year. The customised tables were extracted from the 2006 census, and track interstate migration over the past five years by age and qualification.

Demographic experts said the cause of the drift away from Sydney could be explained in part by its high property prices but also by its slowing economy.....

But Sydney's loss is most acute in the youth belt, which is the group providing the best gauge of a city's health. Almost one in 10 departing Sydneysiders was aged 15-34 - 10,000 out of the total 111,400. Sydney had previously been a net importer of youth, with 14,000 recruits from the rest of the nation between 1996 and 2001. The reversal over the past five years suggests cost of living pressures are pushing out Sydney's young and discouraging others from settling in their place.

The top "beneficiaries" of Sydney's youth drain were the rest of Queensland (5900), Brisbane (4600) and Melbourne (1800). ... Traditionally, Sydney and Melbourne received more professionals from Brisbane than went the other way. But the tables flipped in the past five years, although Melbourne lost 400 professionals to Brisbane, compared with 1700 who moved north from Sydney.

More here

Sunday, December 30, 2007

His Eminence promotes climate skepticism

Article below by Cardinal archbishop of Sydney George Pell

ANOTHER year has passed quickly; too quickly for those who will run out of time before they run out of money. Undoubtedly, the most important event in the Australian year was the election last month of a new federal government. The transition was smooth, and the new Prime Minister is striving to avoid antagonising the various elements of the broad coalition that brought him to office.

The unions are impatient about the proposed pace of change to workplace regulations, while the maverick ACT Government's proposals to downplay marriage are causing apprehension among Christians.

The Bali summit on the Kyoto Protocol and climate change was a public relations triumph, although I'm hopeful the new government will not impose major costs on the people for dubious versions of climate goals. We need rigorous cost-benefit analysis of every proposal and healthy scepticism of all semi-religious rhetoric about the climate and, especially, about computer models for the future. It is difficult to predict what the weather will be like next week, let alone in 10, 20 or 100 years. We hope the drought is coming to an end in country areas, but Australia will always be susceptible to recurrent droughts until the arrival of the next ice age.

There is little reason to be optimistic about peace in the Middle East despite the Annapolis meeting, and unfortunate, suffering Lebanon teeters on the edge of another disaster. Australian troops will remain in Afghanistan, probably for years of struggle, and will slowly withdraw from Iraq, where fragile signs of an improving situation have been appearing.

US President George W. Bush survives as the only continuing head of government from the major allies of the "coalition of the willing". Tony Blair has resigned as UK prime minister, although his government is still in office. One of the most remarkable politicians of his generation, Blair possesses communication skills rivalling those of Bill Clinton. Apparently a religious man, Blair remains an enigma at many levels. He has attended Mass every Sunday for many years with his wife and family, and has just become a Roman Catholic. Yet he implemented and personally supported anti-Christian legislation over the years.


What stupid paternity laws do

INFERTILE couples desperate to have children are facing agonising waits for donated sperm. The Royal Hospital for Women has had no new sperm donors for more than 12 months. Reproductive specialists say attracting enough men to satisfy demand has always been difficult, and waiting lists are longer because of the growing number of childhood cancer survivors rendered infertile by treatment. The dwindling stocks are also sought by single women and same-sex couples.

The director of the hospital's department of reproductive medicine, Stephen Steigrad, said at least 20 men who had undergone aggressive cancer treatments requested donor insemination for their partners every year. Without new donors, the service would have to be stopped within six months. The Centre for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Sydney Children's Hospital at Randwick says one in 900 Australians aged between 16 and 45 has survived childhood cancer.

Changes to NSW legislation this month requiring donors to register their names on a mandatory central register had turned potential donors off, said Professor Michael Chapman, from IVF Australia, which has a waiting list of two years. The Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill guarantees children access to their father's name, date of birth, education and medical information once they turn 18. It may also require details of the donor's partner and other children to be listed. "Previously men could donate knowing there was no way they were going to get a knock on their door," Professor Chapman said. "Now men are less likely to donate."

Dr Anne Clark, from Fertility First Hurstville, said the sperm shortage would be compounded by the new laws, which legislate that one man's sperm can go to only five families, down from 10.


A few secrets among friends

Comments on the Australian media by Andrew Bolt -- at his sarcastic best

EVERY week I get emails from readers asking me how on earth I do this job, filling endless pages with columns as wise as they are brilliant. Take this latest email from reader Geoff: "I don't know how you get away with that bulls---." Or this, from Mary of Fitzroy: "It just amazes me you can print that f---ing stuff in the paper week after week."

And not just the paper, Mary. As the man officially voted Australia's "most influential public intellectual" confided in awed tones to Age readers: "Bolt has a Herald Sun blog-site . . . (that) took my breath away. Thank you, Professor. (And apologies for cutting your quote. Words such as "omissions" and "distortions" are too bloated for newspapers. Short and sharp, please!)

So how do I do it, dear readers? First of all, by having a thick skin, of course. After all, if I let all this praise get to me, my head would swell to Tim Flannery dimensions and I'd lose the common touch that has made me the talk of so many academics expert in such matters. ....

And so many options to consider. Shouldn't I really help out The Age's editor, still tearing out his hair at being unable to find a single conservative columnist in his entire staff of 1599 journalists and tireless reviewers of the perfect cappuccino? How well I remember the poor man earnestly discussing his woes as sweat sogged his Scottish shirt, the air-conditioning of his office having been turned off to save the planet. How uncomfortable I still feel, having left him to slip all alone into his office bath, over which hangs a framed copy of his bracing editorial of January 18: "Our consumer society has long abandoned the fan or the cold bath as the way to keep the summer at bay."

But don't I also owe it to Channel 9 to take over from Ray Martin, now so hopelessly lost to the Left that he this week confessed not only that he was a friend of anti-American hysteric John Pilger, but that "most positions he takes I agree with"? You might actually have gathered that already from Martin's documentary this year, Caged Animal David Hicks - A Nation's Shame, one of the segments that explains why Sunday now gobbles like a Christmas dinner.

Or should I instead listen at last to the pleas and promises of the ABC's managing director, so short of conservatives that he's been forced - against his will, of course - to hire the eighth straight Leftist in a row as host of Media Watch? How often has he privately confessed that if he could but find a witty, cultured and modest conservative willing to leave, say, Australia's biggest-selling daily, he'd hire him like a shot. A shot of rat poison, I thought he added under his breath, but he assures me I heard wrong.

I mean, haven't ABC radio listeners, for example, earned a break from yet another season of Jon Faine complaining yet again about people richer than him, even asking our new Prime Minister: "What do you do about people making too much money?" Shoot them, perhaps? But, hey, we deserve all that money, Jon. It's not as if it makes us happier than you, dear boy. No, that's something else entirely.

So I know that before I pack, I should leave behind a few tips for my successor, if such is needed and can be found. Jill Singer, perhaps, re-educated and redeemed? Such secrets of success as I possess must not be lost with me, and so here they are, as pinned to my empty chair last night: Here are my top tips to writing opinion pieces guaranteed to amaze and inform.

A word of caution, though: I have left out the boring stuff that you might think obvious, but which in fact barely seems now to matter. Sure, I'm as much as stickler as you for the facts, but I can see now that accuracy is no longer a qualification for a modern columnist, providing their views are sufficiently fashionable.

A for instance? Well, here's Age columnist Tracee Hutchison just last Saturday demanding forgiveness for David Hicks: "He was certainly not the only Australian who considered the warmongering activities of George Bush and his allies to be abhorrent and worthy of opposing." See? It doesn't matter that Hicks actually joined al-Qaida before the September 11 attacks, and before Bush went to war in response. Doesn't matter! Who cares, as long as it feels right.

Likewise it doesn't matter that the Australian's Mike Steketee can claim there were 100,000 "stolen" children without being able to name one; 60 Minutes' Tara Brown can claim global warming is wiping out the polar bears that are actually, uh, increasing; the ABC's Phillip Adams can claim "no nation has a more bloodstained history than the US"; and historian Christopher Shiel can write "Menzies led the Liberals to defeat in 1941" - setting a personal best of three errors of fact in just eight words. A lack of facts hasn't hurt any of them, so I've scrubbed from my list any Gradgrinding advice about facts, facts, facts. I have far more practical tips.

Don't go out. You'll only meet people you've offended, and grow tired of speaking blunt truths.

Thrive on insults. The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote an essay on 38 ways to win an argument, with abuse at 38 - so when someone starts screaming "fascist" you know he's run out of all other ways to prove you wrong. Enjoy your victory.

Name and shame. "Ow" is still the best proof you've hit a target. Second, even villains move when stung. Third, the unrighteous deserve a little smiting, and blood sports are always more fun for the viewers. So make an example of Profit of Doom Al Gore or of Alarmist of the Year Tim Flannery. A proper example.

Repeat yourself. Say it once, and people will forget, when you actually want them to remember, years later, who it was that said the Y2K bug was exaggerated, Melbourne was running out of water, GM crop bans were insane, the stolen generations was a myth and global warming was hot air. I mean, there has to be reward one day for the abuse today. And one bang of the hammer never drove home a big nail.

Never drop the key. Have I mentioned often enough that the world has actually not heated since 1998? That Professor Robert Manne, our leading "stolen generations" propagandist, cannot name even 10 children truly stolen just for racist reasons? That a new dam for Melbourne would give us more water at a third of the price of the Government's desalination plant? One sharp fact can cut through a mountain of waffle.

Lastly, don't forget your real friends. Those friends are not your contacts. Not your fellow journalists. Not the judges of media awards. They are you, dear reader. If I please you, I'm safe. Please you, and I'll be back next year.


Governments are great friends of car manufacturers -- it seems

NSW train faults quadruple, report says. Not a good way to get people out of their cars

The number of faults on Sydney's trains has nearly quadrupled, and there were nearly 1,000 collisions, a public transport watchdog has found. The report says the NSW government faces a major challenge to upgrade the network to allow for both the planned new CityRail fleet and large freight trains.

On Sydney's trains last year 436 faults were found but this year there were 1,693 faults, according to the Annual Transport Industry Safety and Reliability Reports. The Sunday Telegraph reports the majority of the incidents related to faulty doors and included 120 broken rails. There were 1,000 recorded brake faults, 706 on passenger trains, the report said.

The safety report also recorded 217 incidents of drivers passing a red light, 337 cases of signal failure and 181 train fires. In terms of safety 366 passengers have been seriously endured and seven of eight fatalities arose from injuries to trespassers. Overall 2,439 incidents were reported.


Saturday, December 29, 2007

No ambulance: Woman in agony forced to take taxi

Only tears saved her life -- and that was with the taxicab company. Nothing worked on the government ambulance service

MELBOURNE'S overloaded ambulance service has been forced to apologise to a woman it refused to help. Michelle Couling had her appendix removed in an emergency operation in hospital. But the 29-year-old almost didn't get there after being refused an ambulance when she called 000 for help. "I consider myself pretty lucky," she said. "It's difficult to think that they wouldn't believe me and they were going to try and diagnose me over the phone. "(My appendix) could have ruptured and I would have been here by myself without help."

Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said the health system's failings were now being exposed daily. "For this young woman, it put her life at risk," she said. "If we had enough ambulances on the road, paramedics wouldn't need to make medical assessments by phone."

Metropolitan Ambulance Service general manager operations Keith Young admitted an ambulance should have been sent. "The preliminary information is that it was human error," he said. Mr Young said it appeared checks built into the secondary triage system, which diverts about 26,000 low-priority calls a year to alternative services, had failed.

Mr Young said MAS had called Ms Couling to apologise and explain after being contacted by the Herald Sun. He said the matter was being investigated to ensure similar mistakes did not occur again. [So they always say]

Ms Couling was home alone when she fell ill about noon on Saturday, December 15. By 2am, she knew she was in trouble with sharp abdominal pain. She called her parents in Traralgon for advice. "They told me I needed to call an ambulance," she said.

Ms Couling rang 000 and was told an ambulance would be sent, but there would be a delay as ambulances were busy. She was told to call back if her pain got worse. "I hung up thinking someone was on the way so I rang my parents to reassure them that it was going to be OK." But 25 minutes later Ms Couling was in extreme pain and rang 000 back. After being put on hold for about four minutes, Ms Couling's call was transferred to a paramedic. "After a three or four minute conversation he said: 'We're actually not sending anyone out - it doesn't sound like it's an emergency to me, it sounds like you might have gastro'." The paramedic said Ms Couling should still see a doctor and suggested she get a lift or call a cab.

Not wanting to wake friends at 3am, she called a cab. "The lady said: 'Look, we're not an ambulance service - there's a delay here, too'." When Ms Couling broke down in tears, the call-taker relented. A taxi arrived about 10 minutes later and took her to the nearby Austin Hospital. Ms Couling needed three morphine doses and anti-nausea drugs to dull her pain. She was operated on at 12.30pm and is now recovering.

Ms Couling's father said the response to his daughter's call for help was "pretty ordinary". "It could have been life-threatening - they didn't know that at the time. "A system where you can ring up and get a diagnosis over the phone - I just think that's a joke." Health Minister Daniel Andrews said a doubling of MAS funding since 1999 had put 489 more paramedics and 56 extra ambulances on the road.


How we were

By Professor Geoffrey Blainey, Australia's pre-eminent historian

THE woman on the mobile phone explained - to everybody in earshot - that she was off to Rosebud on New Year's Day. "Camping!" She said that in an excited voice that we all heard.

Camping around the bayside used to be a hallmark of Christmas and New Year, in the era when few families travelled far for their holidays. The bayside tent-towns were so prominent in the summers of the 1930s - just before World War II - that newspapers often sent a reporter and photographer down to see what was happening. One family had camped in the same spot at Dromana for 21 years, they reported. And the girl from Northcote was engaged to marry the Hawthorn boy, from just two tents away. They had first met at this very camping ground!

There were no portable fridges, but an ice man did call. Campers who did not even own an ice chest kept their fresh meat in what was called a safe. Firewood was widely used for cooking meals and boiling water. There were no days of Total Fire Ban. It didn't exist.

At that time most Victorians who went away for a summer vacation stayed with relatives. Most went by train. My first memory of the Christmas holidays is of a train coming in. We were standing on the crowded Leongatha railway station and waiting for our grandfather to arrive. The little station was packed. The excitement was overpowering. More people seemed to be waiting on the platform than coming in the train.

Few Victorians owned a holiday house, at the sea or in the country. If they wanted to holiday at the sea they either camped, or they stayed at what was called a guest house. Victorians then lived in the shadow of the Great Depression of the early 1930s, and most were wary of spending extravagantly. It was cheaper to kill your own Christmas chook and pluck its feathers. Poultry was a luxury, and eaten at only one meal of the year.

Alcohol was not yet essential for New Year's Day. Victoria had just staged a referendum on alcohol, and more than 30 per cent of the voters wanted to close every single hotel and drink-outlet in the State. Many other Victorians tolerated alcohol but did not let it pass their lips, to quote the popular pledge.

Christmas was then more Christian. Even New Year's Eve was seen by many as a time for reflection rather than roistering. In Melbourne in 1938 arose that remarkable festival, Carols by Candlelight. It was the bright idea of the 3KZ radio announcer and football broadcaster Norman Banks, who had once intended to be an Anglican clergyman. The Myer Music Bowl did not exist, and on Christmas Eve in the descending darkness the crowds gathered on the lawns of the Alexandra Gardens, close to the river. Most who came knew the Christmas carols and hymns by heart: the candles supplied the magic and atmosphere.

Community singing was still a favourite pastime, and the enthusiastic singing by the crowd rather than by individual performers appealed to a radio audience. On Christmas Eve, all over Victoria, and eventually in other states, people twiddled the dial on their radio until they picked up Norman's voice or the sound of Away in a Manger.

The way in which people celebrated Christmas and the New Year was about to change. World War II came, and unemployment virtually ceased. By the mid-1950s the country was prosperous as never before. Christmas became expensive. Families added ham to their roast poultry, which by now was rechristened as chicken. A few tried a turkey. The leftover food lasted for days. The feasting was becoming lavish. Alcohol - perhaps Quelltaler Hock or Barossa Pearl or even Ballarat Bitter - was seen on tens of thousands of dinner tables where strong drink had once been banned.

Even in the 1960s, Christmas Day was still like an old time Sunday, and hotel bars were mostly closed, as were picture theatres. Restaurants and coffee shops were few and were mostly closed.

People who did not dream of sending Christmas cards before the war now bought two or three dozen. The postmen carried heavy sacks of mail and worked long hours in the week before Christmas. Some were still delivering mail after 7pm. It was the period when the postie, like the garbageman, was seen by many householders as being entitled to a tip of at least 10 shillings, or a glass of cold beer or Tarax or Marchants lemonade - if December 24 proved to be blazing hot.

By 1960 most families, for the first time, owned a car. The great day for motoring was Boxing Day. The roads to the beach were jammed. On the way home they probably saw at least one traffic accident. There were no blood-alcohol tests in those days. At the beach a tanned skin and complexion was craved, as never before. Whereas holiday-makers on Boxing Day in the 1930s wore a hat to the beach and favoured a shirt with a collar and long sleeves, and usually sat on the sand beneath a beach umbrella - if they could afford one - their children now wore skimpy shorts and sleeveless shirts and no hat. They revelled in their brown faces.

While this was the era of the family car, it was not yet the era for long-distance motoring. Motorists who decided to venture along the Great Ocean Rd reached the end of the bitumen soon after passing Lorne. Cars that pressed on, past the Wye River, were coated with fine dust before they reached Apollo Bay. Those post-war motorists who set out for Sydney in their secondhand Jowett Javelin or their new Holden, and had no wish to camp beside the highway for the night, were wise if they booked accommodation in advance. There was hardly a motel along the Hume Highway. To go interstate - unless by train - was a luxury.

In the mid-1950s the Gold Coast was still in its infancy, and the Sunshine Coast was not yet in the property developers' diary. North Queensland was too far away, except for the family who was reasonably well-off. In any case Cairns was not yet a tourist town and Port Douglas was a sleepy spot in the mangroves.

A young Victorian family whose relatives lived in WA was lucky to see them once in every five Christmases. Unless they were amateur motor-mechanics they did not yet think seriously of driving across the Nullarbor. The train, day after day of it, was their only option.

As for air travel, whether on TAA or Ansett-ANA, it was simply too expensive for most Australians. When I worked as a luggage loader at Essendon airport at Christmas 1948, there were not many suitcases to load. Air travel initially displayed a style, a sense of spaciousness. Air hostesses were glamorous and much admired. It was much later, in 1975, that Reginald Ansett in a moment of exasperation described some of them as a batch of old broilers. By then air travel was becoming cheap.

At Christmas and New Year the unbelievable was happening. Many people who in their youth had camped at Rosebud or Anglesea were now taking their holiday in Thailand or London, and not even marvelling that such a momentous change had occurred in the space of their own life time.


Another influential Australian Leftist who is keen on the navy

Sub fleet should be doubled says Kim Beazley -- even though new ones are already planned. Tony Blair recently ordered two big new aircraft carriers for Britain so maybe the moderate Left is going back to a Theodore Roosevelt mentality. But big Kim always did like military hardware

AUSTRALIA may need to double the size of its submarine fleet tocounter the growing and deadly threat posed by rival submarines in the region, former defence minister Kim Beazley said yesterday. His comments come after The Australian this week revealed that Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon had ordered planning to begin on the next generation of submarines to replace the six Collins-class boats when they are retired in 2025.

Mr Beazley also called on the Rudd Government to urgently tackle what he said was a "glaring weakness" in Australia's anti-submarine warfare capabilities. "This weakness comes at a time when (the navy) will soon be producing the best submarine targets in the region with the new air warfare destroyers and amphibious landing ships," Mr Beazley told The Weekend Australian.

Mr Beazley, who ordered the Collins-class submarines when he was defence minister in the 1980s, said the strategic scenario facing Australia had changed and that a larger submarine fleet was needed. "I think we need to have up to 12 submarines because of the numbers of submarines being developed elsewhere," he said. "This project will be of vital significance to Australia at a time when submarines are increasingly becoming multi-purpose platforms (for warfare)."

The 17-year submarine replacement plan will be the longest and most expensive defence project undertaken in Australia, potentially costing up to $25billion. It comes at a time when rival navies in the region are acquiring submarine capabilities or expanding them. China, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Singapore, Bangladesh and South Korea are planning to acquire modern, conventional submarines.

In September, Russian leader Vladimir Putin visited Indonesia to sign a deal to sell two advanced Russian Kilo-class submarines to Jakarta, with the possibility of selling eight more in the future.

Mr Beazley said six submarines would no longer be sufficient to combat this regional growth or protect the navy's new surface ships from enemy torpedos. "The Russians and the Chinese are going for big numbers of submarines," he said. "We are a bit boutique at the moment and we will have to give serious consideration to the numbers which we acquire. We will certainly need more than six submarines. "If I look back on mistakes I made as defence minister, one was that I should have signed up to another two Collins-class (boats)."

Mr Fitzgibbon has said the new submarines will be built in Adelaide and all options remain open in relation to the design and the capabilities of the boats and the weapons they will carry. Studies will begin immediately within Defence, with the aim of winning "first pass" approval for the design phase from cabinet's National Security Committee in 2011. Although Defence will examine the option of nuclear submarines, Mr Beazley said Australia should opt for deisel-powered vessels. "I think we should go conventional because the main advantage of a nuclear submarine is speed, and the manner in which we use our submarines, closer to shore, means this (advantage) is not applicable," he said. "You also need a substantial nuclear industry to support nuclear submarines and there is no way Australia is going to have such an industry."


Tax cut opportunity

FORMER Treasury secretary John Stone said the Rudd Government could slash taxes without harming the economy. Mr Stone said the economy could handle a cut in income tax scales from four rates to two - 15 and 30 per cent - and could even go further once those rates were achieved. And Mr Stone said the federal budget had the capacity for the capital gains tax to be eliminated altogether.

Most economists are urging the new Government to be cautious about fuelling inflation with tax cuts. But Mr Stone, who ran the Treasury during the early 1980s, said an overhaul of the tax system was necessary, because government continued to be awash with cash. And he has dismissed fears of the "interest rates bogeyman", arguing that the Reserve Bank should have been tougher in its interest rates policy.

In a paper in the latest National Observer, Mr Stone criticised his former Treasury colleagues for getting budget numbers wrong. "The once-in-a-generation opportunities for genuine tax reform have simply gone begging," Mr Stone said. He called for a tax review and for major changes to personal income tax structures in the next budget on a staged basis, starting from next July 1. "This review should take as a basic assumption that the federal budget should continue to be balanced," Mr Stone said. "However, it should also take as a basic assumption that, commencing with the 2008-09 financial year, there is no longer any basis for continuing to run significant budget surpluses."

Mr Stone said that warnings about interest rate rises from tax cuts were exaggerated because overall economic policy was askew. The Federal Government's fiscal policy had been too restrictive while the Reserve Bank's interest rate policies had been too soft, leading to speculation. "As a general principle, there is no virtue in taxing people too heavily so that other people may enjoy lower interest rates than would otherwise be appropriate," Mr Stone said. "That is particularly true when a high proportion of those enjoying those lower interest rates are speculators, either in the stock market or the housing investment market."

During the election the Labor Party promised tax cuts and a "tax goal" over the coming six years, which would flatten Australia's income tax system by reducing the number of personal income tax rates from four to three - of 15, 30 and 40 per cent. But Mr Stone called for a 15 and 30 per cent personal income tax structure, which he said would deliver more cuts so that the two scales would become over time 14 and 28 per cent, then 13 and 26 per cent and eventually 12.5 and 25 per cent.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Why private health insurance is a good idea

The government health system could simply not have afforded many of these procedures and would have covered it up by putting you on an interminable waiting list. The high cost of cardiac procedures is probably the real reason why the Queensland government has recently closed down or curtailed cardiac units

A claim of more than $300,000 for neurosurgery to repair a complex aneurysm has topped the 10 most expensive benefits paid by Medibank Private in the past financial year, setting a record. The fund will release its "chart toppers" today, which climbed to $2.3 million for the top 10 across Australia, representing an annual increase of 8.3 per cent. The highest benefit paid, of $304,119, was on behalf of a 59-year-old person from NSW, up from the previous financial year's top benefit of $276,247 for a coronary artery bypass on a 59-year-old person.

It was followed by a 46-year-old Victorian - the youngest person on the list - who required removal of a tumour from their adrenal gland at a cost to the fund of $283,211. The oldest patient was 83 and needed cardiac surgery, costing the fund $230,876. Last year, the largest benefit paid was $276,247 for a coronary artery bypass. Five of the 10 claims were for heart-related procedures.

The fund paid $1.95 billion for hospital, medical and prosthesis benefits in 2006-07, representing 750,000 hospital admissions. The five most common overnight procedures claimed for were natural birth, at an average cost of $5234, followed by caesarean ($7601), rehabilitation ($8546), knee replacement ($19,065) and keyhole surgery for gall bladder removal ($5120). The five most common same-day procedures were colonoscopy, at an average cost of $1321, chemotherapy ($547), renal dialysis ($351), gastroscopy ($924) and cataracts ($3096).

Medibank's industry affairs manager, Craig Bosworth, said the "chart toppers" showed that medical care was increasingly expensive. "The odds are at some point in our lives we will need to go to hospital. The other certainty is that health care costs will continue to rise and, as the chart toppers list shows, can hit incredibly high levels," he said.

NSW patients were paid a total of $485 million for hospital, medical and prosthesis benefits. The top 10 claims in NSW totalled $1.73 million, the same as Victoria, compared with $1.25 million for Western Australia, $1.69 million for Queensland, $1.14 million for South Australia, $787,000 for Tasmania and $529,000 in the ACT. In the NSW top 10, four claims were for cardiac surgery, two were for aneurysm repair, two for stomach surgery, one for vascular surgery and another for a complex fractured thigh which ranked seventh with a benefit paid of $134,435.


Cricket transcends politics

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd took me-tooism to the next level when he spent a day at the cricket and had a stint in the commentary box at the MCG. While he described Bob Hawke as a cricket nut, and John Howard called himself a tragic, Mr Rudd declared himself a "cricket hopeful" with "abysmal" talents but a reasonable knowledge of the game.

Accused throughout the election campaign of mimicking the policies of his vanquished predecessor, Mr Rudd matched Mr Howard's affection for cricket when he attended the second day of Australia's first Test against India. And he followed Mr Howard and former Labor prime minister Mr Hawke behind the ABC and Channel 9 microphones. He told Nine viewers he grew up loving cricket, like any Australian kid, and was given a cricket set for his 10th birthday, but "I was no good at it". "I was abysmal, I had absolutely no talent, ability or timing," he said of his skills as a wicketkeeper for his school team in Queensland.

He was just as bad behind the stumps, he said, while playing for the Australian embassy in the embassies cricket competition during his time in Australia's mission in Beijing, but he insisted his skills were no worse than Mr Howard's off spin. "I think Mr Howard did for spin bowling what I did for wicketkeeping, which is not a lot," he told ABC Radio. He recalled his memories of catching the train from Nambour to Brisbane to sit on the hill at the Gabba as a 17-year-old watching Dennis Lillee and a current constituent, Jeff Thomson, batter England in the 1974-75 Ashes series. "I spent a day mesmerised by those two, it was extraordinary," he said.

Unless Mr Howard left his collection of green and gold tracksuits in the wardrobes at The Lodge and Kirribilli House, Mr Rudd received his first piece of official national sportswear today when he was presented with an Australian one-day shirt - number "07 Kevin", of course. And he said it would come in very handy to again emulate Mr Howard in his "morning or evening walk attire".

But he also addressed serious cricketing issues, saying he would soon speak to Cricket Australia officials about the March tour of troubled Pakistan and relations with strife-torn Zimbabwe. "On all these contentious tours, my approach is let's sit down with Cricket Australia and get the best solution," he told ABC. "Sport should be able to conduct its business where you can play the game safely ... I'm not into getting in the road of the game unnecessarily." [That politics should be kept out of sport was once a conservative catchcry. Rudd seems to have some respect for that view]


Call for alcohol-free flights

ALCOHOL should be banned from flights if airlines cannot control drunken and aggressive passengers, anti-drug campaigners say. Incidents involving drunk and drug-affected airline passengers were behind almost a third of the 110 cases of disruptive behaviour reported to federal aviation authorities in the past two years.

Australian Drug Foundation spokesman Geoff Munro said yesterday that too many passengers were being served excessive amounts of alcohol and airlines which did not follow responsible serving regulations should face bans. "If the airlines can't ensure that their staff will serve alcohol in a responsible and legal manner then the ultimate sanction should be to withdraw the airline's licence to serve alcohol," he said. "After all, there can be no more dangerous place for people to be intoxicated. "It is extraordinary that air crews would be serving people to that degree because you would think safety would be their number one priority."

Last February, a Brisbane magistrate took a swipe at airlines for the way they manage passengers' alcohol consumption, while sentencing a man for his drunken mid-flight antics. Magistrate Jim Herlihy said airlines had strategies to deal with disorderly passengers and should take some responsibility for mid-air drunks. "Let's face it, the airlines fill them up with grog . . . and then tell them they're abusive," Mr Herlihy said.

A Qantas spokeswoman responded to the criticism, saying the airline took the supply of alcohol on flights seriously. Melbourne resident Gavin Wilson recently complained to Qantas and liquor licensing authorities in three states claiming his October 25 flight from Brisbane to Melbourne was ruined by three drunken passengers who became violent.

Federal Transport Department figures show 110 disruptive people on aircraft incidents were reported between January 1, last year and September 30, this year. Of these:

31 incidents involved intoxicated or drug-affected travellers.

13 per cent related to unruly or abusive behaviour.

Seven cases involved smoking on board.

Six people were removed from aircraft because of conduct.


Quolls rule 'Island Ark'

THE endangered northern quoll may have escaped extinction after some were moved offshore in a landmark experiment that kept them away from the deadly cane toad. Dubbed "Island Ark", the $300,000 Northern Territory Government program to save the carnivorous marsupial with a taste for frogs has proved a "huge success". Rangers and local Aboriginal people gathered 65 quolls from Kakadu and rural Darwin. They were weighed and fitted with radio collars before being released on to the uninhabited Astell and Pobassoo islands, off North Eastern Arnhem Land, in 2003. Almost five years later the number of quolls has jumped to about 2000.

"It was a risky venture," said scientist Brooke Rankmore. "We were releasing a predator on to islands where it doesn't occur at the moment. "The populations are now considered to be about a thousand for each island, so we are just ecstatic at how well they are doing. It's been a huge success."

Cane toads have ravaged the world heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, killing everything which eats them, from crocodiles to quolls, as they move north to Darwin. Millions of goannas, snakes, birds, dingoes and other native creatures are believed to have died after eating the poisonous cane toad, since its arrival in Australia in the 1930s. The warty reptiles have spread from Queensland, where they were originally introduced to kill pests in the cane fields, to northern NSW and across into the NT.

"(Island Ark) is aimed to establish safe refuges for some mainland quoll populations on islands," scientist Tony Griffiths said. And both the islands' wildlife and the quolls appear to be doing well. "The animals appear to be healthy and are obviously thriving," said Dr Griffiths, relying on data obtained during a monitoring trip this month. "We were pleased to note that the translocated quolls have had no significant impact on the islands' conservation values."


Thursday, December 27, 2007

Holiest day of obligation for young and old at MCG

The abiding cricket religion in Melbourne. Many Indians will tell you that cricket is their religion but some Australians are not far behind. There are too many local and cricket allusions below for me to explain but readers from benighted non-cricket nations should still get most of it. Note that the great occasion was celebrated in India too. And there is a summary of what actually happened here and here and here

LIKE all pilgrims, the Boxing Day faithful streaming under a sky of brilliant blue toward the G [cricket ground] knew their creed's rites and wrongs. Things change, time moves on, Melbourne evolves, but in the city on the Yarra the articles of a Test crowd's faith never vary. There's the women who don't come, for starters, and how even blokes pushing retirement still relish a day off the leash.

"Nora and the girls, they're off shopping," said one as he emerged from the Crown car park and headed toward the G. "Mine too -- bloody women!" responded his companion of similar vintage with the daggy red shorts and sun-spotted, matchstick legs. "Reckon they'd get enough of spending money before Christmas!" "Too right," said the first, chuckling as they walked on the Southbank promenade, where their childhood memories would have been of factories and the old Fruit Tingle sign you could see from the platforms at Flinders St. Gone now, all gone.

In their place, the new Melbourne -- the sprawling pokies palace where they had left the car, chic bars, and the Eureka Tower's top-dollar pile of soaring glass. However the cricket, well, that is what they had come for, what they relished and recognised as constant and forever. The folks who run the game can drape its celebrants in trendy vestments, the multi-hued one-day uniforms that make the Indians and Windies look like licorice all-sorts, but in creams or colours the essence never changes.

On any Boxing Day in Melbourne, what we witness is as much a celebration of culture as it is of sharp eyes, razor reflexes and the slashing hook that lifts hearts higher than the flagpole while a red ball rockets toward the fence. It was that culture that converged yesterday from all points of the compass and reached a critical mass in Jolimont. A culture, mind you, that has inspired a deluge of school-marmish warnings over recent months and weeks. No racist comments. No mexican waves. No yobbish antics and, just to be sure, no return to the full-strength beer that might fuel the yobbish impulse.

The authorities would have professional eavesdroppers in the crowd, the cricket congregation was warned, so there would be no disparaging of subcontinentals with dismissive references to their dietary staples. Maybe the warnings worked, or perhaps they need not have been quite so stern, because yesterday, on a day when the stadium was packed, only a few dozen ratbags and ruffians needed to be shown the door.

And the rest? They followed the action and cheered and downed a few mid-strengths. And in quieter, conversational tones they put rough-hewn amiability ahead of acerbic nationalism. "F---in' Indians, there's nothing wrong with 'em," said a bloke with a zinc-creamed nose on the edge of Bay 13.

Two Australian wickets fell in short order, and if there was a moment for wringing the acid of racial contempt from raw disappointment, that was it. But no, it didn't happen, at least not in words that would offend anyone but the people who invented the game. "Indians, they're better than Poms!" joked another reveller. And so it went under an enchanted southern sky, the sport's sacramental moments observed and revered.

Outside the G, a trio of kids marked the lunch break with tennis ball, toy bat and a tree trunk for their wicket. "Owzat!" cried the bowler, who couldn't have been older than 13, as ball hit bark. There was no umpire and no argument from the batsman, who handed the yellow lump of plastic to his mate without protest and took up fielding. It was a classic moment. And 50 years from now, like the sixty-something pair from Crown carpark, those kids will be older and balder and maybe a little crotchety. But they'll be back for sure to watch the Boxing Day Test and to honour what is, in Melbourne, one of our holiest days of obligation.


Tsunami aid money spent on Leftist politics

I give a lot of money away but I almost always give it direct to the intended beneficiary. The story below is one of many which shows why. Even though I am a former registered dog breeder, I do NOT intend to remember the local dog's home (RSPCA) in my will for fear that the money could fall into the hands of "animal lib" fanatics.

I used to donate to World Vision until they came out with one-sided criticisms of Israel. I tried to donate to World Vision on condition that the money go to a needy Jewish child in Israel but they would not take my money under such conditions. Because of her huge military burdens, Israel is still in many ways a poor country so there are many needy Jewish families there. I am afraid that ALL the well-known "aid" organizations must be regarded as very dubious conduits for actual aid. There are however Jewish charities which aim to help poor Israeli families and my negative remarks must not be taken as applying to them

THREE years after Australians donated $400 million to rebuild Asian lives devastated by the 2004 tsunami, aid groups are under attack for spending much of the money on social and political engineering. A survey by The Australian of the contributions by non-government organisations to the relief effort found the donations had been spent on politically correct projects promoting left-wing Western values over traditional Asian culture.

The activities - listed as tsunami relief - include a "travelling Oxfam gender justice show" in Indonesia to change rural male attitudes towards women. Another Oxfam project, reminiscent of the ACTU's Your Rights at Work campaign, instructs Thai workers in Australian-style industrial activism and encourages them to set up trade unions.

A World Vision tsunami relief project in the Indonesian province of Aceh includes a lobbying campaign to advance land reform to promote gender equity, as well as educating women in "democratic processes" and encouraging them to enter politics. Also in Aceh, the Catholic aid group Caritas funds an Islamic learning centre to promote "the importance of the Koran". This is seen as recognition of the importance of Islam in a province that has been the scene of a long-running and bloody independence struggle against the secular central Government.

The earthquake on December26, 2004, created the most powerful tsunami in 40 years, killing about 230,000 people in 12 Indian Ocean nations, just under half of them in Aceh. Critics say the aid agencies have exceeded the mandate provided to them by mum-and-dad donors from middle Australia who thought they were giving money to rebuild houses and lives shattered by the tsunami, rather than forcing the ideological views of the Australian Left on traditional Asians.

One critic, Don D'Cruz, wrote at the outset of the relief operation that Indonesian claims of "foreign interference" through Australian NGOs were too often brushed aside. Mr D'Cruz, then a research fellow with the right-wing think tank the Institute of Public Affairs, wrote "it would be a mistake to ignore the substance of these claims, especially when it comes to the activities of Western aid groups operating in Indonesia. The trend among aid organisations has been to become more involved in politics, although this activism has been largely masked." Going beyond humanitarian and development aid, he wrote, risked alienating Asian governments, which could deny access.

Looking through their websites, the aid groups ventured farbeyond standard aid and development. The Oxfam website describes how $18,690 of its tsunami relief fund is being spent on a theatre production to "help change attitudes toward women in Acehnese society". "In one scene, Apa Kaoy, who cannot cook, grumbles when his wife, exhausted from working in the rice field, has not prepared supper," Oxfam says of the play. "In another, he disapproves of his daughter's ambition to study at university. Instead, holding a newspaper upside down because he cannot read, Apa Kaoy tells his daughter it is important that she learn to cook, clean, marry and have children. "Eventually, though, his attitude towards women softens as other more enlightened men point out the error of his ways."

Oxfam Australia chief executive Andrew Hewett yesterday said his organisation initially concentrated on immediate humanitarian relief, including providing food, shelter and medicine to those affected by the tsunami. It had since then turned to reconstruction, and rebuilding the ability of those affected to earn a living. But Mr Hewett said Oxfam "did not shy away" from its concentration on those less well off and less empowered, including women, indigenous groups and the low caste, saying it was a practical issue of delivering aid for maximum effect. "Women, like it or not, fare least well when it comes to resources and political power, including within a village community, and those who are disadvantaged often suffer most when disaster hits," he said.


Government hospital incompetence kills baby

MAREEBA'S model midwife maternity unit's reputation is being seriously questioned after the death of a baby that hospital staff have said "was likely to have been preventable". The death of the baby at the Mareeba Maternity Unit while a 19-year-old woman was in labour has been blamed on a culture of fear, lack of training and a breakdown in procedure by staff. The incident is being investigated by the Health Quality and Complaints Commission, after an internal investigation.

The Cairns Post has obtained copies of Queensland Health's internal reports and memorandums into the May 2007 death. It found the handling of the birth by staff may have "contributed to the baby not being born alive" and described the death as "likely to have been preventable".

The report is a damning assessment of the teenager's care. In it, the nurse unit manager reported that clinical decisions made throughout the episodes of care were a contributing factor and stated "something should have been done sooner". The report also cited an ill-defined model of care, a reluctance of non primary midwives to take responsibility and a lack of managerial leadership, collaboration and communication as a possible contributing factor to the death.

A source told The Cairns Post babies were dying and mothers were being damaged and placed at significant risk of dying with "full acknowledgement and support of Queensland Health management". The whistleblower said Queensland Health was ignoring the situation. "This unit is allowed to continue to function, despite significant safety concerns raised by the staff working at the Mareeba Maternity," they said. "There is a strong culture of bullying and harassment . midwives and other nursing staff who have raised concerns have not been supported or even listened to by management and have been bullied, encourage to leave, from the workplace. "There have been numerous cases of disasters or near disasters that have been brought to Queensland Health management attention with no interim safety measures put in place to protect this community and its mothers."

Cairns and Hinterland Health Service district manager Angela Beckett said a small number of complaints from staff about unsafe working practices formed part of the complaint made to the HQCC being investigated. "Regarding complaints of bullying and harassment, specialist staff from the Workforce Directorate and the Northern Area Health Service have been working with the staff of the Mareeba Maternity Unit to improve communication and relationships and to ensure that the culture within the unit is open and honest," she said. Mrs Beckett said an internal audit of clinical work practices at the maternity unit and the district found there were no concerns about patient safety. "If the district had any concerns about patient safety, the district would not have hesitated to close the unit down," she said.


Australia/Britain ties still strong

Article below by Greg Sheridan, Foreign editor of "The Australian". He notes strong ties at the military level between Australian and Britain. One reason is that there are many British-born people in Australia's armed forces and even some Australians in the British armed forces

IT was good to see Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in Afghanistan and Iraq with the Aussie troops just before Christmas. That is the right place for a leader to be. Rudd bolstered the troops' morale, showing them that we all care about them. The trip also had geo-strategic purposes. In Iraq, Rudd is withdrawing our combat troops, but he underlined Canberra's continuing commitment to help Iraq, not least through military assets, and indeed help the US project in Iraq. In Afghanistan, Rudd said Australia was committed "for the long haul" to fighting the Taliban.

These are admirable and important statements. They indicate clearly that, contrary to the wishes of some commentators, Rudd is not withdrawing from Australia's global engagement in security matters, including involvement in the Middle East. It also means the US-Australia intimacy of recent years, especially the military intimacy and its all-important intelligence aspect, will continue. It was not an aberration born of the unique circumstances of Iraq but a natural evolution. Although Rudd will rightly put heavy emphasis on Asia, he also cites the US alliance as another of the three pillars of his foreign policy. (The third is the UN.) He also has close British connections and spoke to Gordon Brown soon after his victory.

Last year I wrote a book on the US-Australia alliance called The Partnership. In researching it I was astonished at just how intimate the US-Australian military and intelligence relationships have become. But the most surprising thing I discovered while writing the book did not directly concern the Americans at all. Rather, it was the astonishing, continuing, political, military and intelligence closeness between Australia and Britain. This was surprising in part because we are not big players in Britain's primary sphere of concern, Europe. And London's direct security interests in our part of the world are limited. But we are global players and so is Britain, even more so. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the G8 and NATO, and with renowned armed forces, London doesn't have to punch above its weight to be highly influential. It merely has to punch at its weight.

Everywhere I went in the US-Australia alliance, I found the Brits. Our special forces train with theirs, as we do with the Americans. Our troops on exchange with the Brits can deploy into military operations with them, an extremely rare practice, but something we also do with the Yanks. Australian liaison officers attend the most sensitive British intelligence meetings and vice versa, in arrangements of such intimacy that they are equalled only in our relationship with the US.

Then another thing struck me: that while this was all entirely to the good as we share so much in values and history with the Brits (and I say this an Irish Australian), this was really all happening without any overarching structure to inform the public or even to give top level policy guidance. It was organic.

Now here, dear reader, I have to confess, for the sake of the historical record, an episode of direct personal activism. I have never had any problems with journalistic activism so long as this activism consists primarily of advocating a policy and so long as this advocacy is carried out primarily in print. But in this particular case events moved more swiftly than I could get into print and I also faced some question about the status, in terms of on or off-the-record, of certain conversations. In any event, now that all the politicians involved at the time are retired, here is the story, for what it'sworth.

When then British prime minister Tony Blair visited Australia I was invited to participate in an Australia-UK Dialogue held in Canberra. Given the chance to put in my two bobs' worth, I argued that the two nations were military allies in effect, but there was no formal framework for this alliance and, while economic, cultural and sporting links were well celebrated and understood, there should be some agreement, pact or structure that carried the security relationship. Most attendees at this function were business types and the idea didn't seem to grab them.

That night, there was a reception for Blair at the Lodge in Canberra and those of us who had attended the day's meeting were invited along. Howard introduced Blair around the room and I had a few minutes' conversation with him. Determined not to waste this opportunity, I put my idea to Blair. Blair was quite euphoric about Australia, where he was getting a very friendly reception, but gently joked about my idea, saying (with full irony and no intent to be taken seriously) that perhaps Britain and Australia could team up against China.

Howard reacted politely enough to the idea but had that uneasy quality of the politician cornered by the mad voter from Gulargambone who wants him to turn the rivers back. But if you have a mad policy idea, you mustn't be deterred by mere indifference at the highest level. Around the Lodge that night I buttonholed various senior defence, foreign affairs and intelligence bureaucrats and put the idea to them as well. None had any argument against it, but all were similarly noncommittal. Finally I found Alexander Downer and put the idea to him. He, too, was noncommittal, but he pointed out that Iraq and Afghanistan had intensified Australian-British military and intelligence co-operation from an admittedly already high base. He seemed to chew the idea over.

I was planning to write a column in a few days making the argument in print that I'd been making verbally. But the next day Blair attended an Australian cabinet meeting. In the middle of the meeting, without any preparatory staff work, Downer suggested a new Australian-British body of foreign and defence ministers meeting annually, along the lines of the AUSMIN meetings Australia has annually with the US. Downer apologised to Howard for not having raised it in advance privately. Blair, without consulting his advisers, was generous and enthusiastic in his response. He thought it was a great idea.

Thus was born AUKMIN, which is now the highest level formal strategic consultation we have with the Brits. I felt weirdly constrained about writing about this, as I presumed the Lodge conversations were more or less off the record. Bureaucrats in both countries were taken wholly by surprise, despite what they might tell you. Rudd was also at the Lodge that night. His splendid words in Afghanistan suggest he will make full and intelligent use of AUKMIN, as sound an institution as has ever been created with so little bureaucratic preparation.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Navy to get new submarine fleet

A bit surprising from a centre-Left government. Perhaps they are as conservative as they say they are. Or is this just a pork-barrel project for the faltering South Australia economy? I can see another economic disaster unfolding however. It doesn't look likely but pray to all your gods that Australia buys something off the shelf this time. Buying unproven designs has never worked well: behind time, over budget and lacking capabilities has been the routine result in the past

AUSTRALIA will build the world's most lethal conventional submarine fleet, capable of carrying long-range cruise missiles and futuristic midget-subs, to combat an expected arms race in the region. Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has ordered planning to begin on the next generation of submarines to replace the Royal Australian Navy's Collins-class fleet [which they have just recently finally got working!] with the aim of gaining "first pass" approval for the design phase from cabinet's National Security Committee in 2011.

The 17-year project will be the largest, longest and most expensive defence acquisition since Federation, potentially costing up to $25 billion. It comes at a time when regional navies such as Indonesia's, China's and India's are seeking to dramatically expand their submarine fleets, potentially altering the balance of naval power in the region. "There is widespread agreement that submarines provide a vital military capability for Australia," Mr Fitzgibbon said. "The development of new submarines requires long-term planning and needs to progress quickly, and that's what I have asked for."

Defence planners have examined two key studies this year, one by independent think tank the Kokoda Foundation, which have concluded that strategic shifts in the region will make submarines a more important to Australia's defence than ever before. Defence will study a wide range of futuristic options for the new submarines, which will be built in Adelaide and will replace the six Collins-class submarines when they are retired in 2025. The new submarines will almost certainly be built by the builder of the Collins-class fleet, the Australian Submarine Corporation, once the government-owned ASC has been privatised. "South Australia is the only credible location for the construction of Australia's next generation of submarine," Mr Fitzgibbon said.

The aim will be to create the world's most deadly conventional submarine fleet to allow Australia to maintain its strategic advantage over fast-growing rival navies in the region. Although Defence has not yet ruled out the possibility of Australia acquiring nuclear-powered submarines, this option is considered highly unlikely on strategic, practical and political grounds. Instead, defence planners will focus on producing a larger, quieter, faster and more deadly version of the existing six Collins-class submarines, which, after a troubled birth in the 1990s, have proved to be one of the country's most important defence assets.

It is not known how many of the new submarines will be built. Defence has confirmed that one of the options to be considered for the new submarine fleet will be small unmanned mini-subs that can be launched from the "mother" submarines. "Technological developments such as unmanned vehicles would probably offer complementary capabilities to any future underwater warfare platform," a Defence spokesman said. These unmanned mini-submarines, crammed with high-tech sensors, could travel remotely tens of kilometres away from the mother vessel to conduct surveillance, detect enemy submarines or carry an SAS team.

Another priority for the new submarines will be the new generation air-independent propulsion systems, which allow conventional submarines to stay underwater for longer periods, greatly increasing operational effectiveness. Defence said the new post-Collins submarines will have more flexible designs, allowing them to be quickly reconfigured for different types of missions, from intelligence gathering to strategic strikes. The new submarines will be able to carry a greater variety of long-range weapons, possibly including long-range cruise missiles as well as short-range tactical land-strike missiles. They will also be configured to facilitate the secret transporting of SAS squads into regional hot spots.

In a study earlier this year, the Kokoda Foundation estimated that building, arming and supporting a new, fully modernised submarine fleet could cost between $20 billion and $25 billion, making it the largest defence project in Australia, dwarfing even the $15 billion Joint Strike Fighter project. The Government hopes to complete its initial research into the options for the new submarines by 2011, when cabinet will give "first pass" consideration to the plan. In 2014-15, the Government is due to give "second pass" consideration to the project, resulting in contracts and the eventual construction of the submarines, with sea trials tentatively scheduled for 2024. The submarine-replacement project will be included in the next Defence Capability Plan.


Go Queensland!

I have opened several bottles of champagne recently so I have done my bit towards emitting lots of CO2!

QUEENSLANDERS are the highest producers of greenhouse gas in the world, emitting 38.9 tonnes per person every year - nearly eleven tonnes more than the Australian average, a first-ever audit has found. The audit, undertaken by the Wet Tropics Management Authority between Cooktown and Cardwell, offers stark warning about the threats of climate change.

Scientists have warned the Great Barrier Reef may be dead within 20 years [And pigs might fly] and one of the world's most ancient rainforests in the Daintree faces extinction under just a few degrees of global warming. [Warmth and CO2 is GOOD for trees!]

The audit, based on 2005 figures showed far North Queensland - with its vast tracts of forest and little large scale industrial activity - fared relatively well per capita with 23.6 tonnes compared to Australia (28.2 tonnes) and the rest of the state (38.9 tonnes). It found transport; stationary energy; land use change; and agriculture were responsible for 96 per cent of the region's emissions. Carbon dioxide is responsible for 74 per cent of the region's emissions, followed by methane (17 per cent) and nitrous oxide (8 per cent). Other areas such as Gladstone, with energy intensive industry such as aluminium and steel smelting and coal-burning electricity generators, were cited as a likely hot spot of greenhouse gas emissions.

Tourism and Industry Minister Desley Boyle said the large volumes of air traffic, personal motor vehicle use and electricity consumption in the region added to the high figures. It was a wake-up call about the impact of climate change, she said.


Aussies' wealth up 21 percent

THE financial wealth of Australians has soared 21 per cent in 12 months despite record spending on credit cards. And it could be even higher for many Australians if they bothered to check on their superannuation. About $12 billion remains in unclaimed super accounts, according to the Australian Taxation Office. Queenslanders now earn on average $1033.30 a week and nationally, Australians have an average wealth of about $60,000 each as household assets continue to rise.

According to CommSec's Craig James, the jump in wealth is attributable to a stronger sharemarket and increased inflows into superannuation. Financial assets such as shares and deposits rose by 2.5 per cent in the September quarter to $2.4 trillion while liabilities were also at a record $1.17 trillion. Mr James said in the past three years the average financial wealth of Australians had risen 70 per cent. And although the sharemarket has taken a battering in recent days, analysts believe there will be a strong recovery in January, but that may be the only good news.

Economists still believe that Australians will face a rate rise as early as February. Market analysts Michael Matusik said he expected mortgages to top 9 per cent next year and believed 50 per cent of new loans will be fixed. The impact will be a slowing housing market, he said. But rents were likely to jump another 15 per cent because of a shortage of stock and a continuing fall in new housing starts.

"If were to label 2008 at this stage it might best be called consolidation," Mr Matusik said. "While inflation is rising around the world and the US is in danger of heading into recession, our economy is marching to a different drum. "Once the current credit panic settles down, credit will be repriced and rationed, resulting in fewer housing loans and starts, which in turn will provide a solid floor under the residential market."

A Morgan Gallup poll this week also found 26 per cent of Australians expect unemployment to rise in the next 12 months, while most think it will stay the same or fall.


A Ruddy good Prime Minister

For American readers: "Ruddy" is a polite form of "bloody" -- which is a mild expletive often used to mean simply "very". Tedious to explain a pun but the pedagogue in me comes out sometimes

FOR his first Christmas as Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd went to a morning church service then spent the afternoon washing dishes at the Lodge. Mr Rudd attended a eucharist service with his family at Canberra's oldest church, Saint John's [Anglican], where he married his wife, Therese Rein, in 1981.

He then went to his new home for lunch, but expressed concerns about fulfilling his duties as the Christmas Day dishwasher. The Rudds had given the staff at the Lodge the day off, which left Mr Rudd in charge of handling the industrial dishwasher. "I'm a hopeless cook," he told ABC radio yesterday. "I think [the dishwasher] is designed for a field army."

Mr Rudd went Christmas shopping on Saturday after returning from a trip to Afghanistan and Iraq. It was the first time a Prime Minister has spent Christmas at the Lodge for 12 years, when Paul Keating was leader. Mr Rudd is due to take a two-week holiday from January 1.


Tuesday, December 25, 2007


Australia is up to 18 hours ahead of the USA in time zones so for American readers this greeting will probably seem a little early -- depending on when they read it. The time here in Australia as I post this is just after 8:30 on Christmas morning

The image above is by talented Australian conservative cartoonist Zeg

A friendly Koala above

An Australian Christmas

For one unlucky person anyway: Victim tells of blue-ringed octopus bite

WHEN 49-year-old Anna Van Wyk went swimming off Stradbroke Island during her annual holiday last weekend she didn't expect to be bitten by a blue-ringed octopus. "I just walked out of the water and saw something on my leg - and instinctively wiped it off," she said. "It didn't swipe off and a looked down and it was a little octopus hanging off my leg."

"I wanted to get a plate to get it so that if something happened to me they could identify it, but by the time I got up there I was history." "I had to sit down because I was fairly sick and I thought I was going to pass out." Mrs Van Wyk said lifesavers on the beach acted very quickly, bandaging the wound and giving her oxygen.

She said she was lucky because the animal was most likely sick, and was not as venomous as it normally would have been. The Energex Rescue helicopter flew to Point Lookout to stablise Mrs Wyk, and took her to the Princess Alexandra Hospital for treatment. Mrs Van Wyk said her lung capacity was tested and she received a tetanus shot before she was released.

The blue-ringed octopus is usually found in shallow waters or rock pools and will appear with small fluorescent blue spots if threatened.


The facts: Education expansion unlikely to do much good

IMAGINE you are Julia Gillard. As the new federal Education and Employment and Workplace Relations Minister, it's your job to reform the Coalition's Work Choices legislation and to implement Labor's election promises on education. You are itching to get started, but wading through the paperwork on your desk you discover two other pressing problems demanding your attention. First, employers are complaining about a skills shortage. After 15 years of sustained economic growth, we are running out of skilled workers. Forecasters predict a shortfall of 250,000 by 2016.

Second, unskilled workers are finding it difficult to get jobs. Official unemployment is at its lowest for 30 years, but many jobless people have been transferring to the Parenting Payment or Disability Support Pension. Many of these people could work but relatively few of them have formal qualifications and most of the new jobs created today are for graduates.

As you ponder how you may solve these two problems, there is a knock at the door and in come representatives of the business community, the education profession and welfare organisations. Speaking with one voice, they demand that you expand education and training. The business groups want an increase in the number of youngsters completing high school. In 1980, one-third of Australian pupils completed Year 12. Today, three-quarters do. But this upward trend has stalled in recent years. The Australia Industry Group says the Year 12 retention rate should be raised to 90 per cent. The educationists agree with this and add that you should expand the universities, too. The number of university places has doubled since 1980 and 40 per cent of young people are in higher education, but the delegation tells you we need more if we want to be a smart country.

The welfare organisations want more training for the unemployed. The Coalition emphasised getting people off welfare and into work. The thinking was that any job was better than no job. But the welfare lobby says jobless people should not be required to take dead-end jobs. They should be trained and given new skills so they can compete for well-paid jobs in the new skills economy.

Relaxing in the bath later, you mull over what you've heard, then: Eureka! You realise you can solve both your problems with the same bundle of policies. Increase Year 12 retention rates, expand university numbers and boost training for jobless adults, and the result will be an increase in the supply of skilled labour and a fall in the number of unskilled, jobless people on welfare. What's more, expanding education and training will be popular. The pressure groups will love you and the voters will get a warm glow. Nobody will criticise you for increasing education spending.

Next morning, you summon your bureaucrats and set out your plans. "First," you tell them, "I want Year 12 retention rates raised to 90per cent." There is some coughing and shuffling of feet before one brave soul outlines the evidence. Pupils doing vocational courses beyond Year 10 receive no benefit when it comes to getting jobs. And while bright students who remain at school improve their earnings and their employability, this is not true for low-ability students. Their risk of unemployment increases with two additional years of schooling and their earnings fall. If you push retention rates beyond their present level, a lot of children will end up taking courses for which they are not suited and that may even damage their prospects.

"Well," you respond, "we can still expand the universities. This country needs more graduates." Another awkward silence. It turns out that 500,000 graduates (more than 20 per cent) are unemployed or doing jobs for which a degree is not required. There are shortages in some specialist areas, but the country is drowning in arts graduates.

You throw your final dice. "Surely," you say, "it makes sense to train jobless people on welfare. Employers report skills shortages, let's train the unemployed to fill these jobs." The same deathly hush. Someone pushes an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development report across the desk that shows training jobless adults rarely does any good. Middle-aged women returning to the labour market after rearing families do benefit from training; they are motivated and they have skills that just need brushing up. Few others get anything out of it.

"If you want to solve the skills shortage," one adviser tells you, "it makes more sense to delay early retirements, increase skilled immigration and attract more women back into work. All these people already have skills. "Training unskilled welfare recipients doesn't work."

You send the bureaucrats away. It seems this government lark is more complicated than it appears. Policies that sound attractive don't necessarily work. But how do you break this to the PM? You take a deep breath and pick up the phone. "Hi Kevin, it's Julia."


Sometimes we hate price rises too much

IT'S surprising how often a feel for the insights of behavioural economics can help conventionally trained economists understand the way politics and the economy really work. As a general rule, the people with an intuitive understanding of behavioural economics are the marketers and the politicians. It's the economists who need to study the subject, to overcome the misconceptions they've acquired in their training.

But, as Brian Loughnane, federal director of the Liberal Party, demonstrated last week, sometimes even the pollies' thinking can get muddled. Loughnane admitted that one of the reasons for the Howard Government's defeat was its failure to acknowledge the dissatisfaction people were feeling over the rising cost of living - particularly the higher prices of food and petrol and rising mortgage interest rates. He could have added the higher price of child care.

Kevin Rudd and company made a lot of sympathetic noises about these discontents - which they must have picked up in their focus groups - even though there wasn't much they could promise to do about them. The Coalition's response was generally dismissive. Sure, the cost of some items households buy was up, but the cost of other items was down. Overall, the consumer price index had not been rising strongly (notwithstanding the build-up of underlying inflation pressure).

What's more, real wages were still growing - had been growing strongly for a decade, in fact - with the strong growth in employment meaning that many families had a lot more income to play with. So, whatever the rise in the cost of living, it wasn't stopping continued improvement in living standards. In which case, it's pretty perverse - churlish, even - to ignore all the good stuff and focus on a few things going the other way. That was the Howard Government's perfectly rational attitude, and most of the economic commentators tended to agree (including yours truly).

Trouble is, it's too rational by half. One of the insights of behavioural economics - which is the study of the way people actually think about economic issues, not the way they should think - is that, unlike economists, most people don't add pluses and minuses together to get a net result. Rather than focus on the overall position, they look separately at each component of the sum. An even more important finding is that people hate losses about twice as much as they love gains of the same size. So when the government (or the economy) takes with one hand but gives back with the other, people don't think of themselves as square. Rather, they focus more on the loss and end up feeling hard done by.

It's thus hardly surprising that people who were better off overall were more conscious of negatives such as rising food and petrol prices and rising interest rates. The Coalition would have been better off had it more freely acknowledged these discontents. Part of their problem was a point their pollster, Crosby Textor, understood, but they seemed never able to grasp. It's that the public is focused on the "personal economy", not the macro economy. That is, people focus on their own economic circumstances, not on the national average. So there's a limit to how impressed voters are by the endless repetition of the excellent results achieved on economic indicators such as the consumer price index, growth in gross domestic product and the unemployment rate. They just don't identify with that stuff.

While we're on the subject, behavioural economics does much to explain why so few people believe the CPI - they think bureaucrats make up the figures in a Canberra office - and most think inflation is much higher than the government admits. When people focus on bad news - big price rises - but tend to forget good news - prices that fall or rise only modestly - not to mention probably being oblivious to prices that don't change, it's hardly surprising they end up with an exaggerated impression of what's happening to prices overall.

The public's unwillingness to aggregate gains and losses helps explain another thing economists could never understand: the punters' long-standing suspicion of proposals for a goods and services tax. To economists it was all very simple: sure the GST would raise prices, but this would be offset by a big cut in income tax. In fact, since the whole tax package was significantly "revenue negative", it was obvious most people would be better off in net terms. To this the public's response was predictable: I don't mind a tax cut, but I'm worried about those price rises. Let's forget the whole thing.

Finally, the public's refusal to aggregate and its tendency to weight losses more heavily than gains explains its objection to inflation - even in the days when wages were indexed to consumer prices. To an economist, if wages are being raised to keep up with the rise in prices, wage earners don't have a lot to complain about. Economists' objections to inflation run deeper than that.

The punters, however, never saw it that way. From their perspective, the pay rises they got were richly deserved and hard won, but when they got to the supermarket they discovered the greedy B's had jacked up prices again. Whatever their reasoning, it's just as well the public hates inflation. We'll be paying a high price to keep it under control next year - including, paradoxically, higher interest rates.


Monday, December 24, 2007

Top doctors failed meningitis boy

They may have seen him but they did not look too hard

FOUR of the state's top doctors failed to give eight-year-old meningitis victim Isaraelu Pele the one test that could have saved his life. As a full investigation into Isaraelu's death was announced, the Children's Hospital at Westmead admitted the boy was not given a test for meningitis during his nine hours under its care. The revelation came as almost 300 mourners farewelled the talented rugby union player at a moving memorial service.

The Children's Hospital at Westmead CEO Tony Penna admitted four senior doctors failed to recognise the symptoms of meningitis that killed Isaraelu last Tuesday. He said the boy had been seen by "all the senior staff", including the resident registrar and consultant fellow, during his time at the hospital. But he revealed the battery of tests run on the Year 2 Punchbowl Public School student did not include a lumbar puncture - the one test that would have diagnosed his condition.

Less than 24 hours after doctors told Isaraelu's family he was merely dehydrated, the child was dead. [If he was dehydrated, he should have been put on a drip] Dr Penna announced a full investigation, headed by an external expert and with the input of Isaraelu's grief-stricken family, would be held. "This is a tragic event, we really do need to look into this objectively with a proper investigation," he said. "I stand by the competence and expertise of my staff." Dr Penna said it would be inefficient to test every child who presented at hospital for meningitis showing symptoms such as vomiting and headaches. The disease could progress rapidly from general symptoms to a serious condition, he said. All tests conducted on Isaraelu, including a blood count, came back normal.

But that was of little comfort to mourners who packed the Congregational Christian Church at Moorebank yesterday. In a moving tribute to his young brother, Andrew Pele, 19, joked that Isaraelu had been the favourite and that he was "a very good kid". Mourners included the schoolboy's parents Lila and Fai, who watched as Andrew played the guitar and was joined by other friends and relatives in a tribute song. Outside the chapel a family friend was scathing of the hospital staff, saying that, in his belief, if four senior doctors failed to even consider meningitis as a possibility "they should not be practising medicine".

"This is not a woman who came with her first newborn," the friend said. "She's a mother of six who knew something was really wrong with her child. The way this family has been treated is disgusting." Isaraelu's body was last night at the family's home where a vigil was held in his bedroom ahead of a funeral today.


A small victory for private property in South Australia

CHARGES against a man accused of resisting arrest and refusing to give police his personal details have been thrown out because officers were trespassing on his property when they arrested him.

The Supreme Court upheld a magistrate's decision to dismiss charges against Seaton man Alexander Dafov, who police had followed home after detecting him allegedly driving at 78km/h in a 60km/h zone. Police had appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing officers had authority to be on Mr Dafov's property and were not trespassing. But Supreme Court Justice Michael David upheld the decision, saying police misinterpreted the law they used to justify being on Mr Dafov's property.

The court heard in October, 2006, police allegedly detected Mr Dafov travelling 18km/h over the speed limit on West Lakes Boulevard at Hendon. They activated their lights and sirens and followed the vehicle to a Seaton address where the car stopped. The officers approached Mr Dafov in his driveway and asked him for his personal details but Mr Dafov told them to "get off my property" and they were trespassing. They attempted to arrest Mr Dafov and there was a struggle.

Justice David said the law had to state clearly if police were allowed onto someone's property and the section they relied on in Mr Dafov's case, relating to asking a driver to stop and answer questions, did not do so. "It means that if a person is on private property and does not consent to police presence, and the police wish to use this provision to obtain information, they need to wait until the person leaves the property to question him," he said. "However, one would think that in the circumstances of this case, the police could have used the vehicle's registration number to obtain the details of the vehicle's owner." South Australian Council of Civil Liberties president George Mancini said the judgment reflected the "private rights of the individual".


Queensland: A child safety crackdown at last?

BESIEGED Child Safety Minister Margaret Keech wants bad parents to attend court-ordered parenting classes or lose their children. She also wants to stop dysfunctional parents from regaining custody of their children, even if their lives are back on track.

Mrs Keech will next year ask Cabinet to approve tougher legislative measures, including more proscriptive definitions for the judiciary. Children who continually have lice in their hair or are sent to school without food could be subject to early interventions under radical changes.

Mrs Keech told The Courier-Mail she would discuss with Attorney-General Kerry Shine how courts could be empowered to force bad parents to attend parenting courses. "I have asked my department to prepare options that would strengthen our case if, say, we were applying for a long-term care order," she said. "It might be that the court could give weight to whether a parent or parents had refused, or failed, to complete a parenting, anger-management or possibly a substance abuse course in determining whether their children should remain in the home," she said.

Premier Anna Bligh and federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin announced a trial last week requiring indigenous families to meet basic responsibilities in order to receive welfare payments. Separate to the announcement, Mrs Keech said her proposed child safety initiatives were not a reaction to the public outrage over the case of an indigenous girl who was pack raped in Aurukun. Mrs Keech said she was looking at ways to lower the threshold to allow child safety officers to investigate suspected child abuse earlier.

Asked if that could dramatically increase the workload of an already stretched department she said: "If it means more notifications, then that's what will happen. "If it means more resources I will go to the Treasurer and the Premier and put a strong case forward . . . for more resources."

New guidelines will be developed for investigating officers under the cumulative harm program. "It could be a bruise on the head or a sore shoulder or dislocation. Minor health issues, not coming to school with lunch/breakfast, lice in their hair, more neglect issues." She said child protection would always be a major issue in Queensland because of a surging population, but the welfare of children had to come before the wellbeing of parents. Bad parents who turn their lives around should not always regain custody of their children, she said. "In the past there's been too much of the kids drifting backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards . . . if the child is well and happy and attached to the foster carer, that's exactly where they should stay," Mrs Keech said.


Australia to stay in Afghanistan

THE Prime Minister has given an open-ended commitment for Australian troops to remain in Afghanistan as he revealed he fears more fatalities. Kevin Rudd met Australian troops at Tarin Kowt in Oruzgan province before flying to Kabul, where he held a press conference with the President, Hamid Karzai. It was the latest stop in Mr Rudd's tour of the Middle East with his Defence Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, and the Chief of Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, to thank military personnel and meet political and military leaders.

Mr Rudd said it had been a difficult end to the year and worse could be to come. "I fear what the new year might bring," he told soldiers in central headquarters at Kabul air base on Saturday. "But our advice and our conviction is that this is a job worth doing."

Three Australians have been killed in southern Afghanistan since early October: Trooper David "Poppy" Pearce by a roadside bomb; an SAS veteran, Matthew Locke, by a sniper; and a commando, Luke Worsley, shot dead at close range during an attack on a Taliban bomb-making complex.

Earlier, Mr Rudd had committed an additional $110 million in aid to Afghanistan over the next two years, taking the total to about $270 million. "Australia is here in Afghanistan for a long haul," Mr Rudd said, without offering a time limit on the involvement of Australian forces. He urged NATO countries to lift their contribution after Afghanistan suffered its bloodiest year of fighting since the Taliban were ousted in 2001. "There are important meetings coming up over the next several months," Mr Rudd said. "I would also be encouraging other friends and partners and allies in NATO to continue their commitment to this country and where possible to expand that commitment."

There are about 60,000 foreign forces in Afghanistan, many undertaking only training roles rather than front-line fighting. The US Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates, has said at least another 7500 troops are required, while some analysts say troop numbers need to be doubled to combat the resurgent Taliban. The Rudd Government has not ruled out sending more troops to Afghanistan as it draws down from Iraq, but will probably require similar action by other NATO countries first....

Mr Rudd's visit was part of a flurry of trips by world leaders. The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Italy's Prime Minister, Romano Prodi, both flew into Kabul within 24 hours of Mr Rudd.