Monday, April 28, 2008


Two current articles below

No defence for academic ignorance

By Stephen Crittenden

Two weeks ago I had an email exchange with the principal policy adviser to the vice-chancellor of Griffith University. He denied that Australia's universities were secular institutions, on the grounds that they followed the Christian calendar, with holidays at Christmas and Easter, and he added that because we seemed to have no objection to the "Christianisation" of our universities, we could hardly object to attempts to "Islamify" them or any other aspects of Australian life.

If this is the standard of advice that Griffith vice-chancellor Ian O'Connor (above) is receiving, then it is little wonder that he has got himself into such an awful mess this week when he attempted to defend the university's decision to accept funding from the Saudi Arabian Government.

Yesterday, O'Connor was forced to clarify his unattributed use of material taken from Wikipedia in an opinion piece published earlier this week in The Australian. Attributed or not, this doesn't look good from the vice-chancellor of a university parading itself as a centre of excellence in Islamic studies.

Then there was his preposterous use of the term Unitarian to describe the official religion of Saudi Arabia. Unitarianism is a term properly used to describe a liberal Christian movement that included among its adherents some of the founding fathers of the US.

It has nothing to do with Islam, which has never had a non-Unitarian movement, and one can't help wondering whether the vice-chancellor has naively got himself caught up in some cynical Saudi re-branding exercise. This is the view of at least one commentator this week, Sir Wellington Boot of, who suggests that the term Wahhabism has become so toxic that it can no longer be used.

Far more troubling is O'Connor's apparent attempt to whitewash the Saudi Government when he says it "seeks to moderate reactionary elements in its own society by funding Islamic research centres in prominent Western universities to develop a form of progressive Islam that has credibility and legitimacy".

What the Saudi Government really wants is the legitimacy that comes from being associated with a Western university. There is not a shred of evidence that it has any interest in progressive reform and anyone who has any doubt about this should sober themselves by consulting the latest country report on human rights in Saudi Arabia published by the US State Department.

It is a plain fact that in recent decades Saudi Arabia has been using its oil wealth to export Wahhabism across the world. The results are plain to see in Malaysia, South Asia, Africa and, above all, Europe. This is why the greatest caution needs to be exercised in any decision to accept money from such a source.

The photograph on page two of The Australian yesterday - featuring two Islamic female students at Griffith University with their faces covered - gives ample evidence of precisely how Wahhabi influence is already making its presence felt.

Australian universities are the new front line in the battle with extremist Islam. The Muslim students associations are being taken over by Wahhabist and other ultra-conservative groups, such as Tablighi Jamaat and Hizb ut-Tahrir.

The ultimate goal of these groups is the radicalisation of a new generation of Muslim professionals, which would be a catastrophe for Australia. In this context, vice-chancellors proposing to take money from Wahhabist governments need to be relying on more than Wikipedia for their information about Islam.


A major Australian university gives the finger to justice -- denies natural justice to an employee

This is not the first time an Australian university has run a kangaroo court to deal with complaints about its employees. And I note that in the USA the denial of natural justice to students is well-known. See for example the notorious Plinton case -- where an arrogant university bureaucracy actually managed to kill an innocent black student.

One wonders what is behind a big fuss about a minor bureaucratic detail here. Nobody was deceived. One suspects that he found sexually transmitted disease to be more widespread among young people than is generally acknowledged. Why that is so sensitive would seem to be a matter of academic politics and turf protection

The University of Sydney has denied natural justice to one of its leading academics in adolescent health during an investigation into the collection of blood samples from Sydney school students for medical research, a review committee has found. Michael Booth, an associate professor in the university's school of public health, was accused in late 2005 of neglecting to follow the correct ethical approval process before collecting blood samples from 500 adolescents for a study on childhood obesity.

The university commissioned Helen Colbey of the NSW Internal Audit Bureau to investigate the allegations and she released her report in January last year. It found Dr Booth had engaged in six counts of serious ethical misconduct and recommended his dismissal. But a review committee, which was established on the insistence of Dr Booth's lawyers, found this month that the university had denied him natural justice and procedural fairness, because he was not given the chance to respond to the evidence against him. "It was like I was locked in a room, the evidence was presented to a judge and he said 'guilty' and I was taken away, so I didn't get my day in court," Dr Booth said last week.

The outgoing vice-chancellor, Gavin Brown, will now have to choose between ignoring the findings of the review committee - two of whose three members were appointed by the university - or accept them and expose the university to legal action by Dr Booth.

The case raises questions about academic freedom, government interference in universities and the ethics of using blood samples for controversial purposes, without specific consent, if it means the research leads to public benefit. The blood samples that were collected for the original study, known as the Schools Physical Activity and Nutrition Survey, were later tested for sexually transmitted herpes and the researchers were able to glean invaluable information for a vaccine against herpes type 2. That information has been locked up, along with the blood samples, because it was deemed to have been gathered unethically.

Collecting blood samples from the 15-year-olds at schools across Sydney required extensive consultation with NSW Health, the NSW Education Department and the university's ethics committee, particularly around the parent information sheet, which explained that the blood could be used for future tests related to physical activity and nutrition.

Dr Booth said it was only after the government departments had approved the wording that a colleague, Tony Cunningham, asked if he could also use the blood samples for the development of a herpes vaccine, which clearly fell outside the scope of physical activity and nutrition. "We realised that not only did the wording of the information sheet have to be changed to allow the [herpes] tests to be conducted, but that it would also be preferable to make the wording broader to allow the possibility of other, as yet unforeseen, tests relevant to the health of young people," Dr Booth said. He changed the information sheet to allow for broader testing, but he was later accused of doing so without formal approval, which he denies, leading to the misconduct complaint.

Dr Booth said he knew the herpes research would anger the health and education departments. "[But] I really think it would be unethical of me to protect my career at the expense of the development of a vaccine." However, Bruce Robinson, the then head of the university's school of public health, said the parents should have been told their children's blood samples would be tested for herpes. "Particularly in the context of something quite sensitive, in terms of herpes antibodies in teenagers, I would see that as bad behaviour to go ahead and do that," Professor Robinson said.

NSW Health and the then health minister John Hatzistergos said the matter was now in the hands of the university and declined to comment further. The University of Sydney said: "The university is firmly committed to upholding all its policies and procedures, particularly those relating to dealings with members of the public and especially involving health matters."



Given the often-appalling outcome of the recently enacted British bill of rights, one would hope not but many starry-eyed Leftists are pushing for it amid hope that our new Centre-Left government can be led down that path. Below are two counterblasts to the idea -- one from a conservative commenter and one from a centre-Left commenter. That they say largely the same thing is rather encouraging

Beware the galloping imperialist judiciary

By Janet Albrechtsen

Do not mistake the unseasonal rush of warmth over the weekend with global warming. Put it down to those advocating a charter of rights for Australia at the 2020 Summit in the nation's capital. Their aim is to bathe us in the warm language of human rights so that, ultimately, we will soporifically sign up to a new federal charter of rights.

The heat will be cranked up over the next few years. Having found a good friend in the Rudd Labor Government, and buoyed by success in Victoria and the ACT where charters already operate, charter enthusiasts have finessed one heck of a sneaky strategy to seduce us. What is at stake is Australia's traditional democratic deal where parliaments make laws on behalf of the people and judges interpret those laws. Charter enthusiasts have a different post-democratic model in mind. This class of lawyers, human rights activists and academics distrust the people as too unenlightened to embrace their preferred social agenda. Hence they want to vest power to decide major social issues in an unelected group of guardians of the greater good: the judiciary.

Armed with a charter, these social engineers can seek out a sympathetic judge to legislate their agenda from the bench, unfettered by the messy business of taking their agenda to the people. Here is their strategy. First, promise public consultation, as Kevin Rudd has done. If genuine debate follows, that will be a fine thing.

Unfortunately, as we know from Victoria and the ACT, the so-called independent committees entrusted to consult with the people were stacked with so many charter supporters, they operated like one-way steering committees. Neither Victoria nor the ACT trusted the people's view enough to put the charter to a referendum.

And keep your eye on academic and Labor aspirant George Williams. Having slogged away at a charter for years, he oversaw Victoria's charter of rights. Ditto Hilary Charlesworth, another charter lover who chaired the ACT committee. If they pop up on the federal committee, I'll bet my house on the outcome. Talk that Malcolm Fraser may join them only confirms the one-way debate in store for us.

That "debate" goes something like this. "How can a reasonable person be against a charter of human rights?" they ask rhetorically. Human rights are not controversial, right? Wrong. A moment's reflection reveals that rights are as diverse as people themselves. And this exposes one of the greatest con jobs practised on us by the modern human rights industry: the assertion that human rights are universal, clear and immutable. Even that most basic right - the right to life - is highly contestable. Defining what is a right and the ambit of those rights is where reasonable people can and do disagree.

The charter raises one simple question: when deciding these contestable issues, should we count the votes of the Australian people or those of a handful of judges? It's a no-brainer. These are political questions for the people to determine. Sending political questions to the judiciary does not transform them into legal questions.

Relax, say the charter advocates. A charter of rights is a tame little law, a modest one which will not transfer power from the people. Just look at Britain, they say. Britain has a special provision in its Human Rights Act to ensure parliament is not stripped of power: that there is simply a "dialogue" between the judiciary and parliament. Courts in Britain can only issue a declaration of incompatibility, telling government that a law offends their Human Rights Act. On paper, that's right. Governments can ignore the courts. However, the political reality is different.

Only a brave government will ignore a declaration of inconsistency from a court. And as NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos said a few weeks back, the only meaningful dialogue for parliament should be with the people, not judges.

By all means take a close look at Britain. In Britain, after enacting the Human Rights Act to much fanfare, former PM Tony Blair changed his tune, promising a battle with the judiciary when British courts put out the welcome mat to radical Muslims, using charter rights to ignore British immigration laws. More recently, present PM Gordon Brown canvassed the need for amendments to the HRA to include responsibilities because the rights fetish was taking Britain in the wrong direction.

Not to worry, say the charter supporters. Look to Canada, they say, where a special provision in their Charter of Rights and Freedoms allows governments to specifically exclude charter rights from a specific law if that is their intention. In other words, the power of parliament is preserved. Look a little closer at Canada, I say. This clause has never been used, not once since the charter was introduced more than 20 years ago. Yet, this clause was the clincher when the charter was being proposed to Canadians. Charter advocates in Canada said it would protect parliamentary sovereignty.

Sound familiar? In fact, it has been politically untouchable for a government to draft legislation which apparently infringes the "rights" of Canadians in the charter. Williams knows that. He has written about it. And why do you suppose most Canadians now express a desire to elect their judges? The Canadian charter has siphoned power away from the people to unelected judges. Nothing modest about it.

These are not obtuse legal wrangles. They go to the heart of how Australia will be governed: by the people or by judges. The real stealth bomb in a charter of rights is the interpretation clause. Hang in there if it all sounds a bit dry. Charter advocates will hope you start tuning out right about now. Section 3 of the British Human Rights Act - more or less repeated in the Victorian Charter - says that "So far as it is possible to do so, primary legislation and subordinate legislation must be read and given effect in a way which is compatible with the Convention rights." This is an open invitation to judges to ignore even the clearest of parliament's intent. The House of Lords has said so, describing this innocuous little "reading down" provision as "dangerously seductive", and "unusual and far-reaching in character".

Charter devotees are all in favour of a galloping imperial judiciary; it is integral to their postmodern democratic model where power is stripped from politicians they regard as too stupid and too slow to mould the perfect world. Done under the guise of protecting human rights, this power play where the lawyer class triumphs over the masses is just the most recent reminder of H.L. Mencken's warning that the "urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule". Remember that when the charter bandwagon comes to a town near you.


Lawyers are already drunk with power

By Bob Carr (A former Labor party Premier of NSW -- pic below)

Call it the first swallow of summer. Last week I met a lawyer who said while she opposed a charter of rights, all the barristers on her floor supported it, and for the obvious reason: the intoxicating whiff of litigation. A bill of rights, or a charter, will lay out abstractions like the right to life, or privacy, or property, and thus enable judges to determine - after deliciously drawn-out litigation - what these mean.

A shift in power from elected parliaments to unelected judges, by a process of "judicial creep", is part of the bill of rights package. Canada has had its Charter of Rights and Freedoms since 1982, planted in the constitution. Before that there was only a legislative version. Clearly this is something the zealots want to see happen here: the first step only a law, but followed by constitutional entrenchment.

Like Australia, Canada also has a shortage of doctors in rural areas. British Columbia came up with a scheme to encourage doctors to practise there, with a finely tuned system of incentives. The provincial Supreme Court struck it down, citing section 6 ("mobility rights") and section 7 (the "right to life, liberty and security") of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada's rural population is still under-served by doctors, thanks to judges who want to write society's rules.

That's the trouble. A menu of abstractions - that is, any attempt to list rights - wrenches from the cabinet table and the legislature and delivers to the courtroom things that ought to be determined by governments. Thus, in the most recent burst of judicial activism, judges in Britain have determined that the justice secretary can no longer block a parole board decision to release a dangerous prisoner. Judges also determined that failed asylum-seekers in Britain could have access to the National Health Scheme, again something that should be a matter for elected politicians.

In Scotland, because of a delay in placing toilets in prison cells, the Scottish Law Reporter estimates that prisoners may be entitled to awards totalling pound stg. 76 million ($158.7 million) because their cells violated the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Government had been caught up with another priority, expanding drug rehabilitation programs for inmates. Last year, pound stg. 750,000 was paid to 197 heroin-addicted prisoners who successfully argued that cutting short their treatment while in prison breached their human rights.

But there's another phenomenon that perverts proper process: police and bureaucrats in Britain anticipate getting overruled on human rights grounds and start to shape their responses. Pity the factory owner who, this month, had to pay pound stg. 20,000 to bailiffs to remove 40 Gypsies who had torn down a 2.4m fence and occupied his factory land. The police refused to act so as not to breach the travellers' human rights.

A friend of mine who sits in the House of Commons says when his constituents talk about loutish behaviour in the streets or around housing estates, they say: "I suppose the police can't do anything about it because of their human rights." Thus creeping judicial activism around a charter of abstractions renders negative a concept that should sit nobly and proudly in the lexicon.

When Kevin Rudd looks at the 2020 Summit's endorsement of a bill or charter, he'll be politically astute enough to know a move to enact a charter or bill in any form would meet the same commonsense opposition that doomed it in 1988, when Australians voted it down 69 per cent to 31per cent.

Consider the objectors. Business knows it just represents another layer of uncertainty; what judges will do with "a right to property" is anyone's guess. Churches are becoming aware their immunity from anti-discrimination laws - a justified immunity - will end with a charter or a bill of rights. Church leaders can democratically lobby parliaments and cabinets, but not non-elected, tenured judges. The most obvious effect of a charter is to add opportunities to defence lawyers in criminal matters.

I look forward to advising victims of crime groups of the consequences of a bill or charter. The power of police to stop and search people for a knife, and remove the knife, which we enacted in NSW in 1998, would not survive judicial activism based on freewheeling interpretations. And the decisive life sentences imposed on the state's worst killers (who were originally given indeterminate "never to be released" sentences) would also be found to contravene prisoners' rights, as in Britain.

Perhaps, as former justice minister Michael Tate seemed to foreshadow in The Australian last week, we will see a proposal for a list of rights to be overseen by a parliamentary committee, not by judges. A big retreat, but it will still be objectionable. I and others will take issue with any attempt by a group of zealots to arrogate to themselves the power to define, codify and nail down their definition at this time of what they think ought to be our rights. Talk about elitism.

Rights count. So much so they need the give and take of the common law, rowdy parliaments and the ebb and flow of public opinion. It's the commonsensical ethos of a people - temper democratic, bias offensively Australian - not a declaration of abstractions that will keep us free.


Global Warmists eat your heart out

Australia's winter is approaching but the snow is falling already in places -- yet more of the global cooling that we have been seeing in recent times. The recent Northern hemisphere winter was deadly in many places

A COLD snap across Victoria's alpine region dumped a heavy layer of snow over the weekend in an encouraging sign that the coming ski season could begin early.

After sub-zero temperatures at Falls Creek early yesterday, resort operators hope the colder than normal weather could result in the best conditions on the slopes in several years. About 15cm of snow was dumped on Falls Creek and Mount Hotham yesterday and forecasters expect more falls in the region over the next 24 hours.

Keen young skiers rugged up and hit the slopes early yesterday while snow and ice covered trees and cars around the resort. With weather experts predicting bigger than expected snowfalls in Victoria this season, Melbourne Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Dean Stewart last night said the heavy falls around Falls Creek followed a cold snap in the area on Saturday night. "There have been some fairly good snowfalls in the last 12 to 18 hours in the alps," he said. "The main rain-producing cloud that led to the falls has pushed east of the alpine area. So over the next 24 hours there's going to be further showers pushing up over the alps."

Mr Stewart said more rain and snow were expected to fall before the weather cleared on Tuesday. "As far as the big dumps go, they've had that already, but there could be some more showers in the next day or so," he said.

Falls Creek spokesman Ian Talbot said the cold weather could herald the best skiing conditions since 2000, when the official season began two weeks early. The season is due to begin on the Queen's Birthday weekend of June 7. "All the predictions suggest we may have a season like 2000," he said. "That started off really well too." Mr Talbot said bookings were already strong for the school holiday period, and yesterday's heavy dumping of snow meant visitors could be confident of a good winter ahead. "For this time of year, it's been quite unusual weather, but from the industry's point of view it's very encouraging," he said.

Meanwhile, the Bureau of Meteorology issued a severe weather warning late yesterday for people in the southwest of NSW. Severe thunderstorms were expected to produce damaging winds in the region overnight, with towns including Wagga Wagga, Albury and Cobar likely to be most affected. Residents were urged to move cars away from trees, secure loose items around homes and avoid using their phones during the storm.


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