Friday, November 21, 2008

Straight-talking Australian retailer

He built his huge business from scratch so is in good touch with reality -- and is confident of that

RETAILING billionaire Gerry Harvey has lamented that Australian charity is being wasted on "no-hopers". Asked in a new book about his community role, Mr Harvey said giving to people who "are not putting anything back into the community" is like "helping a whole heap of no-hopers to survive for no good reason".

He said it was arguable that giving charity to the homeless was "just wasted". "It might be a callous way of putting it but what are they doing?" he said. "They are just a drag on the whole community." He emphasised that he and his retail chain, Harvey Norman, had given "plenty away over the years . the more quality individuals you develop in the community, the better off the community should be". The comments are in the book Master CEOs, by funds manager Matthew Kidman.

Clare Martin, of the Australian Council of Social Service, said she had always thought Harvey Norman was aligned with the wider business sector on community involvement. "It does surprise me that Gerry Harvey, who's a very significant business figure, should not share the values of many other corporates."


Muslim leaders condone rape, violence

SOME Muslim imams condone rape and domestic violence within marriage, exploitation of women, welfare fraud and polygamy, a report has found. The report was based on a study commissioned and funded by the former coalition government and produced by the Islamic Welfare Council of Victoria, Fairfax newspapers report. The report, presented on yesterday at a National Centre for Excellence in Islamic Studies conference at the University of Melbourne, alleged that some Victorian imams:

* Apply Sharia law only where it benefits men;

* Hinder police investigations of domestic violence claims; and

* Knowingly perform polygamous marriages, which allow a second wife to claim Centrelink payments because they are regarded as de facto wives under Australian law.

The study was based on extensive community consultation; interviews with police, lawyers, court staff and academics, and meetings and interviews with the Victorian Board of Imams, Fairfax said. The report said the 24-man board ignored or did not directly answer many of the questions put to it.

Women, community and legal workers and police said they were concerned about domestic violence and said imams put the interest of families ahead of women. Relatives and community members sometimes pressured women to drop domestic violence cases, the report said. Former husbands entered the houses of their separated but not religiously divorced ex-wives, demanding sex and, in some cases, committing rape. "Workers who have assisted women in this situation said that the advice women received from the imams was that it was 'halal' - permitted - because there was a valid - 'nikah' - marriage," it says.

Melbourne Muslims were increasingly accepting polygamous marriages while police in Shepparton say many de facto relationships were really polygamous marriages, the report said.

The imams' narrow religious training, lack of life experience, poor English and a lack of understanding of Australia caused problems, some quoted in the report said. The secretary of the Board of Imams, Sheikh Fehmi Naji El-Imam, denied the complaints "absolutely". "They must have heard stories here and there and are writing about them as though they are fact," he said. "I haven't heard of any case where the board disregarded a woman or did not try to help her."


NSW department set to lose children's care roles

Not a moment too soon

The NSW Department of Community Services is likely to be stripped of some of its responsibilities for child welfare, including an expensive early intervention program known as Brighter Futures that was designed to prevent children from being abused or neglected. The department is also likely to lose responsibility for some foster care, meaning that children who cannot live with their parents will instead be placed in the care of non-government agencies, or, more controversially, with a range of private corporations that compete for government grants.

These recommendations are believed to be contained in the still-secret Wood report, which had a controversial reporting date of New Year's Eve, but is now expected to be released as soon as next week. A source told The Australian the department was preparing to receive the report as early as 2pm on Monday. The reporting date of December 31 had angered welfare workers, who believed it was a sign the report would be shelved, but the Minister for Community Services, Linda Burney, has told The Australian that she intends to implement the report's recommendations. It is not clear why judge James Wood has bought the release of the report forward. He did not respond to calls for comment on the issue yesterday.

Justice Wood is believed to have prepared a blistering assessment of the beleaguered state of child protection in NSW, where 13,000 children are now living away from their own homes. The inquiry into child protection was called in response to the deaths of several children, including a case in which the body of a small boy was found floating in a suitcase in a lake.

In a separate case, a seven-year-old girl was found starved to death at a house in Hawks Nest, the beachside town where former prime minister John Howard used to holiday. The girl's parents have been charged with manslaughter. At a committal hearing earlier this year, the girl's parents said they did not attempt to resuscitate their daughter because her mouth was blackened with dried blood, and full of ants.

The Wood inquiry has been examining all facets of the NSW child protection system, which is close to collapse. A hotline established decades ago to record cases of suspected child abuse last year took 280,000 calls, or one every two minutes. Children are being removed from the care of their parents at unprecedented rates. There are currently 13,000 children in care in NSW, and the nationwide total is 28,000.

There are too few foster carers, and some of those who have been approved to provide care live in squalor. Foster care is being out-sourced to private agencies, with varying standards. Some foster carers have six or even eight children living with them. DOCS has been forced to extend the homes of some foster carers, or provide them with larger cars.

The Australian understands the Wood report recommends that the Brighter Future program be handed to the NSW Department of Health to manage. The report also considers the role of mandatory reporting and the rise of the private foster care agencies.

Association of Children's Welfare Agencies CEO Andrew McCallum said families dealing with drugs or alcohol issues, family violence and mental illness were being torn apart by the current practices. "As a result, we are seeing an explosion of child removals, and the system is buckling under the strain," he said.

Brighter Futures was introduced in NSW in 2004. It is delivered by DOCS and non-government agencies. As of last year, 975 families had participated in the program, with 39 per cent managed by DOCS and 61per cent by other agencies.


Lower speed limit to tackle obesity crisis, say "experts"

A good way for a government to lose power

SPEED limits in suburban streets should be slashed to 30km/h to encourage pedestrians and cyclists and tackle the obesity epidemic, experts say. Griffith University transport planning researcher Matthew Burke said cutting speeds from 50km/h on local streets would not only reduce road trauma, it would also curb obesity rates by encouraging more people to walk and cycle. "A car can stop in 3m travelling at 30km/h," Dr Burke said. "It would make walking safe for everyone, it would make cycling safe enough for grandmas. It would be a very easy thing to do ... for next to no money."

Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young has identified obesity as the biggest health issue facing the state. Her recently released report, The Health of Queenslanders: Prevention of Chronic Disease, says almost 57 per cent of the state's population is overweight or obese, including 21 per cent of children.

Dr Burke said cutting neighbourhood speed limits to 30km/h would make walking or cycling to school safer for children. "By reducing road speeds, you limit traffic danger," he said. "I think it's a joke that we think we're doing kids a favour with a 40km/h safety zone around schools when best practice globally is for all local streets to be down at 30km/h."

Lowering the speed limit indirectly addresses parents' fear of stranger danger, Dr Burke said. Encouraging more people to take up walking or cycling, increases the number of "eyes" that can look out for children as they make their way to school, he said. Mental health may also benefit. "A convivial street environment where walking and cycling are possible are streets where neighbours meet each other, where there are greater social networks," Dr Burke said. "We've seen much research about the importance of those networks for the importance of people's mental health."

Dr Burke was backed by international expert Rodney Tolley, an honorary research fellow at Staffordshire University in Britain and director of Walk 21 - an organisation attempting to make communities more "walkable". Dr Tolley, who addressed Queensland Health staff this week, said the city of Graz in Austria had set 30km/h limits 20 years ago. "Motorists will often say we can't possibly travel that slow, it will disrupt our day," he said. "But the time losses involved in travelling at those speeds are very, very small."


1 comment:

Paul said...

Not to mention all that delicious Fine revenue. Seriously though, I already brake for fatties.