Thursday, January 31, 2008

Maccas defeats the haters

The self-elected elite despise Maccas but the people know a good deal

The reinvented fast-food chain McDonald's has bounced back from the Super Size Me controversy to serve a record number of Australians in the past year. An average of 1.2million Australians [out of a total population of 20 million] a day walked through the golden arches in 2007. The franchise, which has 762 restaurants across the nation, notched double-digit growth over the calendar year, a McDonald's Australia spokeswoman said. But only 15percent of sales were its healthy eating options such as salads and fruit juices. The top seller was the cheeseburger.

"Last year was simply our best year ever," Helen Farquhar, McDonald's director of marketing and senior vice-president, said. The fast-food giant has prevailed despite the negative publicity generated by Morgan Spurlock's 2004 documentary Super Size Me, which highlighted the filmmaker's 11-kilogram weight gain and associated health problems after he ate nothing but McDonald's for 30 days. "There's no doubt that there was huge media coverage given to Super Size Me but it applied more to the US than here," Ms Farquhar said.

"The claims made in that film were untrue in Australia because we were already on a journey of reinvention and had already expanded our menu . and put nutritional labelling on our products when that [film] came out in Australia."

A report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development revealed last year that Australia had the fifth highest adult obesity rate behind the US, Mexico, Britain and Greece. Dr Linda Schachter, a physician at The Centre for Bariatric Surgery in Victoria, which specialises in the surgical treatment of obesity, said it was "incredibly disappointing" to hear that more people than ever were eating McDonald's. Dr Schachter said while some people might choose healthier options at McDonald's, the fact was many still ordered fries, which were high in fat. "Society is getting more overweight and obese and it's disappointing to think that nearly 5percent of Australians are eating McDonald's every day," she said.

Ms Farquhar said the reason for strong business growth was because McDonald's was "not just about burgers and fries any more. "We've broadened our appeal and are responding to consumers who are demanding high-quality products," she said. The $2.5 billion company has been transformed over the past six years after a decade of declining sales. Its menu now features lighter options such as salads and sandwich wraps and food is cooked in an oil blend that has 85percent less trans fatty acids. Since 2006 McDonald's has had "percentage daily intake" information on its packaging, so that customers can see the energy content and nutrients in its food.

Andrew Koch, director of independent Sydney agency The Marketing Factor, said McDonald's had repositioned itself in the fast-food market by addressing the issues of fatty food and obesity. "Their advertising used to be aimed at kids, whereas now they offer a broader range of products and are bringing the whole family in. They've convinced the parents too now," he said.

Susie Burrell, an obesity dietitian at Westmead Children's Hospital said, "At the end of the day, McDonald's is a fast-food restaurant." She said while there were healthier options available, children were not going to go to McDonald's and choose a deli choice option over a cheeseburger. But Ms Farquhar said: "We actually sell more salads than any other [fast-food] restaurant or convenience store across the country."


More hopeless government "security" at an Australian airport

Cairns International Airport is not secure, with knives and even firearms regularly slipping through security checks, an airport insider has revealed. The whistleblower told The Cairns Post he had seen scissors and knives overlooked by security officers checking baggage. The baggage checkers had once failed to pick up a 9mm pistol stashed in luggage as part of a Department of Transport security check. "It's ridiculous," he said. "If I wanted to, I could take a bloody machinegun through there."

Airport security contractor ISS Security has rejected the claims that Cairns' airport checks are not up to par. A company spokesman described the failure of staff to detect the fake firearm as a "systems test". "While the test items resemble prohibited items, they are harmless," he said. The firm has been at the centre of recent claims it failed similar tests at Brisbane airport.

But the Cairns airport insider said that despite his repeated protests about lax security and poorly trained employees in Cairns, none of his complaints had been passed on to management. He also alleged that:

* A baggage handler threw a passenger's suitcase on their bag and swore at him when the passenger complained about how long it took to check baggage.

* A security officer suggested an Asian tourist should slap his wife to keep her quiet while they were arguing.

* Security firm senior staff failed to notice a 9mm pistol stashed in a bag as part of a routine security test - despite X-raying it.

* Management failed to act on reports of scissors and knives not being spotted by security staff.

The allegations come only days after the Queensland branch of the Transport Workers' Union called for an investigation into the security of major international airports, including Cairns and Brisbane. TWU branch secretary Hughie Williams said major international airports, including Cairns, routinely failed to meet minimum security guidelines. "With terrorism a real concern, the Government should be following up on these reports," he said. "The TWU demands a full investigation." The TWU also claims it had received numerous reports of inadequately trained security staff last year.

The Australian Federal Police said they provide additional security and logistical support to 11 major international airports, including Cairns, but day-to-day baggage scanning and security checks were all handled by private security firms.

ISS Security's spokesman said the firm was happy with the security standard it provided. "In the many tests carried out, (there) is no indication of low standards of security, nor can it be used to claim there is any threat to public safety," he said. "Standards at Cairns are consistent with world's best practice."


A corrupt government health boss with a bad memory

There seems to be an epidemic of bad memories among West Australian officials and politicians

THE return of WA Inc was felt with full force yesterday when Australia's highest-paid public servant was forced to resign following a damning corruption report linking him to former premier Brian Burke. The West Australian Government is now bracing itself for nine reports, to be released in the next three months, by the Corruption and Crime Commission, all involving Mr Burke's lobbying activities.

The CCC yesterday recommended that the Director of Public Prosecutions consider legal action against Neale Fong, the state's $565,272-a-year director-general of health. Dr Fong resigned shortly after the report was made public, saying he was embarrassed that he had not recalled 33 emails between himself and Mr Burke, but that they had been "totally innocuous". Dr Fong had told the CCC under oath that there was no personal or professional business relationship between himself and Mr Burke and that he had no recollection of any of the 33 emails.

The CCC recommended that consideration be given for Dr Fong to be prosecuted "arising from his representation of his relationship with former premier, Mr Brian Burke". The CCC claimed Dr Fong had engaged in three cases of misconduct, the most serious being that he disclosed to Mr Burke that the CCC was investigating a fellow senior officer in the department.

Corruption authorities have recorded and listened to about 13,000 phone conversations of Mr Burke related to several major lobbying deals. The calls were intercepted for 18 months from the beginning of 2006. Mr Burke himself was unaware all his phone calls and computer traffic was being monitored until he called before the CCC last year to give evidence under oath....

Yesterday's report stated that Dr Fong engaged in serious misconduct by disclosing a restricted matter to Mr Burke, namely that the commission was investigating a senior Department of Health official, Michael Moodie. The health chief was also reported to have engaged in misconduct by telling his minister, Jim McGinty, that he had no recollection of any emails between himself and Mr Burke and that he had no personal relationship with Mr Burke. The commission found evidence to the contrary. The report also found Dr Fong engaged in misconduct by failing to report the disclosure to him by Mr Burke of what the former premier claimed to be confidential cabinet information.

Commissioner Len Roberts-Smith QC said it was inconceivable that Dr Fong had not, could not and did not recall that there were any emails between himself and Mr Burke. A statement by the CCC said: "Although the investigation concerned the facts of Dr Fong's relationship with Mr Burke, there was no allegation against Mr Burke, his conduct was not the subject of the inquiry and the commission expresses no opinion about it in this report."

Dr Fong said: "I am embarrassed that I did not recall the emails from Mr Burke. However, I receive approximately 2000 emails and send 650 emails per month. I receive thousands of text messages, telephone calls and messages and pieces of correspondence every month."


Ratty Australian Leftist becomes a Muslim menace

PICTURE the sitting room of a modest two-bedroom flat at Lakemba in southwest Sydney. Neatly covered floor cushions lean up against the wall beside a shelf full of brass ornaments from the Middle East, while a tank of goldfish bubbles in the corner. It doesn't look like a terrorist's lair. The occupant is a 54-year-old mother of six and grandmother of two, retired and living on a disability pension. She doesn't look like a terrorist.

But this is the most-watched woman in Australia, monitored for the past 20 years by ASIO and described by intelligence analysts as the "matriarch" of radical Islam in Australia. Rabiah Hutchinson snorts with laughter at the description. "They've got it wrong. I am not important. I'm just a 54-year-old granny with diabetes and arthritis. What are they so worried about?"

Ms Hutchinson has been closely watched by Australian authorities since October 2003, when she returned to Australia from Iran, where she had spent nearly two years in hiding after fleeing from Afghanistan amid the US bombing raids that followed the September 11, 2001, attacks in the US. Her passport was subsequently cancelled, based on advice from ASIO to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that she was "likely to engage in conduct that might prejudice the security of Australia or of a foreign country (and) endanger the health and physical safety of others".

Ms Hutchinson remains barred from travelling overseas, believes she is under constant ASIO surveillance and claims her family and friends are continually harassed. After years of silence, she has decided to speak out to deny any involvement in terrorism and accuse the authorities of persecuting her and her family. "It's not just me they're targeting. Now it's my children and even my grandchildren," Ms Hutchinson says. "It's absolutely ridiculous - to think I had any personal knowledge of or contact with Sheik Osama bin Laden. I am absolutely nobody. I just happened to be there."

As she recounts her life story, Ms Hutchinson laughs, sometimes shouts and occasionally weeps - at the memory of friends killed by US bombs in Afghanistan, or the hardship endured by her children because of her activities. She is passionate, funny and articulate, a natural story-teller and eloquent advocate of her faith. Born of Scottish stock and raised in Mudgee, in central NSW, she is also very Australian, describing in a broad Aussie accent how she carried Vegemite on all her travels, even to Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

She is certainly extreme - in her absolute and unwavering devotion to Islam. And she is also angry. "When we left Afghanistan, we became among those classified as the most hated people on the face of this planet," Ms Hutchinson says. "And being one of those people means that there are a lot of people on this planet who believe you have less rights than an animal, that you can be tortured, raped, maimed, renditioned and have the most horrific things done to you in the name of anti-terrorism."

Rabiah Hutchinson has been of interest to Australian intelligence since the 1980s, when she was living in Indonesia and joined the rising Islamic resistance movement opposed to the Suharto regime. She had arrived in Indonesia as a 19-year-old backpacker visiting Bali in the early 1970s. There she converted to Islam and married an Indonesian man, with whom she had three children. When they divorced, she returned to Australia, but later went back to Indonesia to study Islam, which she says transformed her life.


Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Australian government again told by adviser to relax greenhouse cuts

The Rudd Government will have to abandon plans for rigid interim targets for greenhouse gas cuts to allow its emissions-trading scheme to work properly, a senior economist has said. Warwick McKibbin, whose economic models on climate change are being used by Treasury to calculate the costs involved, yesterday added his voice to concerns that mandating a specific cut for 2020 could lift the cost of tackling global warming. "That's the problem with politicians who make promises that can't be sustained," Professor McKibbin said. "I think the Government will realise they can still be credible enough, even if they drop a few things."

Kevin Rudd has said Australia needs interim targets for emissions cuts, beyond its existing pledge to reduce greenhouse emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. The Prime Minister commissioned Australian National University economist Ross Garnaut to advise the Government on how the targets should be set. Professor Garnaut suggested yesterday it would be more efficient to use targets as a guide for allocating carbon permits, rather than as exact and enforceable cuts for specific years.

Professor McKibbin agrees, saying business should in some years be allowed to exceed the target for emissions. "It can't be all or nothing," he said. "There has to be a balance between the environmental benefit and the economic costs, and that's what's missing."

However, a spokesman for Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said the Government would not abandon its election commitment on targets. "The Government expects (Professor Garnaut) will raise a number of interesting questions and ideas for consideration," Senator Wong's spokesman said. "Of course, given Professor Garnaut is independent, his ideas may not necessarily reflect government thinking."

WWF climate program director Paul Toni warned that some companies would risk doing nothing to cut emissions if there were no binding interim targets, in the hope they could lobby future governments to soften the rules later. "Instead of the crunch coming in 10 years or five years, there will be some industries that will be asking for further support and will be able to exert pressure," Mr Toni said. "It will just postpone rent-seeking to a date further in the future." Australian Industry Greenhouse Network chief executive John Daley said he favoured less government interference and more market freedom in an emissions-trading system.

More here

Bigoted far-Left educational "resource"

Hate-speech against those evil white people again

A taxpayer-funded program suggests Barbie may be Italian and asks whether she likes Spider-Man in a bizarre bid to tackle racism in childcare centres. But the move may have backfired with the radical blueprint telling teachers the Government itself is a racist institution run by white Anglo-Saxon men. The federally funded childcare resource warns early childhood teachers to be wary of "government policy" that expect "all cultures to conform to a white Anglo Australian way of living".

The book even compares citizenship to the White Australia Policy and attacks the Australian Government whose policies have "been formulated by political parties who historically and even today are in the majority white Christian Anglo middle class men". "Like the White Australia Policy, current government policies of 'citizenship' set out an official framework of what it is to be Australian," it reads.

The 'Exploring Multiculturalism, Anti-Bias and Social Justice in Children's Services' project is funded by the Federal Government and put out by Children's Services Central, a network of children service bodies in NSW. Designed to assist early childcare workers in NSW, the document gives advice on dealing with racism.

It comes after The Daily Telegraph revealed the State Government has funded an anti-racism program in a NSW pre-school for the first time. The pilot scheme at the Auburn Long Day Care Centre involves teaching children the national anthems of different countries and celebrating ethnic festivals such as Chinese New Year and Muslim holidays.

In contrast, the wacky teaching resource uses the Cronulla riots as a case study in an anti-racism lesson entitled "All the Lebs Are Bad Guys". Excerpts from another lesson relays a conversation about Barbie's ethnic origins between a group of young children from different cultural backgrounds.

A spokeswoman for federal Early Childhood Parliamentary Secretary Maxine McKew did not comment on whether the Government would consider withdrawing the resource.


Bill Hayden reflects

Comments from Bill Hayden below inspired by Paddy McGuinness (Bill Hayden is a former governor-general of Australia, Labor leader, treasurer and foreign minister

Tributes to P. P. McGuinness have lately been pouring in from across the nation, and many of them have highlighted Paddy's central role in the nation's journalistic and cultural life. But there is another Paddy, and here is my story of the economic adviser and good mate I knew for more than three decades.

I first met Paddy in 1972 when he came to work with me after I was appointed minister for social security in the Whitlam government. I was looking for a senior staff member, a task that left me somewhat flummoxed as, apart from an electorate assistant, I had never employed anyone before. I needed someone with appropriate qualifications, wide experience and plenty of energy. Max Walsh, editor of The Australian Financial Review, called to say: "I've got just the man for you. You'll like him. He's very much like you." On the appointed day, there was a knock on my office door in Canberra.

Now, bear in mind that I was a short-back-and-sides copper, not all that long off the police beat in Ipswich. And a Queensland cop to boot. So when I opened the door and saw Paddy standing there, I was taken aback: long hair, a generous, almost forbidding beard; he was wearing a black skivvy, black strides, a well-cut, silk-lined opera cloak; he carried a rather elegant walking cane with a moulded silver handle. I took a few deep breaths to get over the culture shock, and then we held discussions. Within minutes, I was won over. He was a man of mild presentational manner and clearly an intellectual force with formidable credentials and experience in economics. He was also very agreeable company.

Although a middle-class intellectual, he never sneered at or talked down to the working class. I'm boots-and-braces working class and that has always been important to me. One of the ALP's problems in recent times has been the small but loquacious and self-absorbed middle-class layer that has attached itself to the party. It consists of the politically correct who are determined to transform our lifestyles, habits and even our thoughts to bring them into conformity with their own standards. All the workers have to do is the grubby, sweaty, mucking-out work in the stables of humanity. Kim Beazley Sr once said at an ALP conference: "When I joined the Labor Party, it contained the cream of the working class; now it contains the dregs of the middle class." That may have been a bit harsh in the circumstances, but there was a kernel of truth in there.

Now reflect on Paddy's newspaper columns over the decades. He always spoke with respect about working-class points of view. "My family's Irish-Australian nationalist background instilled in me a respect for the ordinary class, the battlers, the little people," he once noted. Their expression might sometimes be unpolished or untutored, but their views are based on experience at the rough end of the sociopolitical spectrum, where practicalities are often crucially important. That is why workers can invariably see through people who are using them, or who insist on making impractical arrangements to govern other people's lives, as in the case of Aboriginal welfare policy. And that is why John Howard attracted a majority blue-collar vote at the 1996, 2001 and 2004 elections. The prodigious squandering of our tribal heritage left me dumbfounded.

I recall watching Paddy enter an Ipswich pub in attire that wasn't exactly commonplace in those environs, yet in a very short while he would be engaged in conversation with members of the working class. They were attracted to his personality and his obvious intellectual depth - which he wore lightly, like a well-woven but unpretentiously cut coat - but most of all they relished his company because he clearly respected their points of view.

Paddy was the token male in my office in the 1970s. Gae Raby, head of the office, managed everything, except Paddy. At first, the women didn't know what to make of him. Gae, thinking she would reach out for the soft spot in Paddy's nature, cleared his memorably chaotic desk one day while he was out. On his return, Paddy softly growled: "Empty desk tops belong to empty minds." The women quickly recognised that Paddy was a true gentleman: someone who was always ready to help; who would defend them against some of the more pushy, demanding types who can turn up at a minister's office; and who was good fun after work, offering crackingly good-humoured companionship at a dinner table with cold wine and hot food.

Once I was called into parliament to make a statement on some matter at very short notice. I started to address the house before Paddy had finished writing the speech. And yet, as I spoke, the speech kept arriving, one page at a time.

Peter McCawley, a distinguished public sector economist and a mutual friend of ours, recalls Paddy as a formidable member of the razor gang, as it was colloquially known, during the Whitlam era. The task of this group was to recommend ways to pare back public spending: no easy task for a government with a notable devotion to public spending. Sound familiar? The present-day equivalent would be for the Reserve Bank to modestly increase interest rates in order to gently curb sectoral pressure in some part of the economy, and for the government to then dish out huge tax cuts and institute spending programs that undermine the bank's carefully calibrated measures.

Paddy had so many estimable virtues. He never left a job half done, and it is no wonder the final edition of Quadrant produced under his editorship went on sale just days before he died. He embodied integrity and was always honourable in his dealings: a person of enormous energy and great abilities. Australia is poorer with his passing. [Hear here!]


Less than a year in jail for this trash?

AN unlicensed motorist broke a police officer's arm after leading him on a high speed chase through Brisbane, a court has been told. Sean William Burdon, 28, was today sentenced to three years jail and disqualified from driving for four years after the dangerous incident on August 7, 2006.

The Brisbane District Court was told the chase began when Burdon stole a car from outside a home at Bribie Island, north of Brisbane, about 2.30am (AEST). After almost running down the car's owner, Burdon led police on a 35km journey from Bribie Island to the inner-city suburb of Fortitude Valley. The court was told he reached speeds of 140km/h during the chase, ran numerous red lights and repeatedly swerved onto the wrong side of the road, narrowly avoiding hitting a police car.

He was briefly slowed but didn't stop when police scored a hit with road spikes. The spikes blew out at least two tyres, sending sparks flying as Burdon struggled to retain control of the car.

The court was told his journey ended when he ploughed into gates at the Brisbane RNA showgrounds. Police attempted to wrestle Burdon from the car when he came to a stop, with one officer sustaining a broken arm during the violent struggle. Burdon today tendered a letter to the court apologising for his behaviour, saying he had "rediscovered" himself since the offence. He pleaded guilty to five offences including dangerous operation of a motor vehicle with a circumstance of aggravation and assault or obstructing a police officer.

Judge Hugh Botting reactivated a previous suspended sentence for property offences and also sentenced him to three years jail for these latest offences. He will be eligible for parole in November.


Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Rudd avoids upsetting middle Australia again

The Labor party has been successful in Australia because it avoids creating alienated constituencies -- and any disrespect for Austalia's greatest cricket hero would have been remembered angrily by many. Rudd is even patron of a gun club in his electorate, so even gun enthusiasts cannot complain about him! His stance on the so-called "stolen generation" is also moderate -- fine words but no money

Kevin Rudd has declared "The Don is safe" ruling out a push to dump a question on Sir Donald Bradman from Australia¨s citizenship test. Claiming political interference from former prime minister John Howard, a self-confessed cricket tragic, Labor sources had indicated they were keen to target the cricket question under a review of the citizenship test. A stunning 93 per cent of migrants who have sat for the test in the last three months have passed with flying colours.

Mr Rudd used an appearance on the Sunrise breakfast program today to rule out any move to axe the question on Sir Don from the Australia test. "The Don is safe," Mr Rudd said. But Mr Rudd said today: "I'm unaware of any plans on our part to give The Don the axe - I'm not lining up in that camp." The question asks who is Australia's greatest cricketer and provides a choice between Sir Donald Bradman, (cyclist) Sir Hubert Opperman and (billiards player) Walter Lindrum.

Mr Rudd has also ruled out establishing a compensation fund for indigenous Australians' stolen generation under his plan to deliver a formal apology when Parliament resumes. The Prime Minister confirmed this morning he planned to deliver on his promise to offer a formal apology in the first sitting of Parliament, which resumes in a fortnight. "The intention is to build this bridge of respect between indigenous and non-indigenous Australia," Mr Rudd told the Seven network. "The judgment I have made is ... let's get this symbolic act of apology right and then let's move on together. Both symbols and substance are important - that's the truth of it."

However, he ruled out offering cash compensation, which some activists have warned is crucial to delivering an apology with real meaning. "We will not be establishing any compensation funds," Mr Rudd said.


Citizenship test a 'stunning' success

Hmmmm... I am not sure I agree with the criterion for success here. Is a test that everyone passes of much use? Maybe so in the circumstances but what the test requires and what it brings about would surely be more important criteria for its "success"

FEARS the citizenship test is unfair to migrants have been proved unfounded by a review showing a stunning 93 per cent pass rate. Indians and Filipinos are doing far better on the exam than Brits and New Zealanders. But a high number of newcomers from war-torn states, most of them refugees, are struggling to get through the quiz, according to an analysis released last night. The study indicates that migrants keen to get citizenship are swotting up on their new country and taking the test seriously.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the Government wanted to ensure the test was not a barrier to migrants in need of support. But he said: "The test can play a valuable role in helping new citizens understand the rights and responsibilities of citizenship."

It was introduced by the former government to "assist" people who want to become Australians understand "Australian values, traditions, history and national symbols". The test, which started on October 1, has to be taken by migrants aged 18-60, before they apply for citizenship.

The Department of Immigration review from October to the end of December found 92.9 per cent passed on their first or subsequent attempts. Candidates are allowed as many attempts as they want. But there were some surprises:

The lowest failure rate was 0.9 per cent for the 338 South African applicants, followed by just 1.1 per cent for the 634 from India, and 1.9 per cent for the 254 from the Philippines. The 1103 British migrants had a 2.26 per cent failure rate, and the 282 New Zealanders, 2.8 per cent. Skilled migrants, who made up 44 per cent of the 9043 people from 172 countries who sat the test, had the best pass rate of 97 per cent, and family reunion migrants, 21.6 per cent of participants had a 90 per cent success rate. However, for migrants here on humanitarian grounds [Mostly Africans] the success rate fell to 80 per cent.


The old alliance continues

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith has stressed Australia's commitment to the US alliance at the Rudd Government's first official meeting with the Bush administration. Mr Smith also reaffirmed Australia's plan to withdraw its combat troops from Iraq in the first half of this year. But he promised US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during a meeting in Washington, that Australia would try to minimise disruption from the pull-out, offering to consider stepping up civilian aid and expertise.

Mr Smith formally outlined the Government's plan to withdraw the 550-strong Overwatch Battle Group when its rotation in Iraq ends. "That's being done ... in a way to minimise, to absolutely minimise any disruption or difficulty," he said in a joint news conference with Dr Rice. "I don't think for one moment think that that in any way has any capacity to disturb either the good working relationship between the current administration and the new Australian Government, nor to be anything of any significance in terms of a long-standing, enduring alliance." The "indispensable" alliance between the US and Australia transcended governments and administrations, Mr Smith said.

Australia would also consider increasing civilian support to Iraq such as rebuilding infrastructure and helping to support the country's fledgling government. The Rudd Government plans to withdraw most of its frontline troops, but will leave hundreds of troops in supporting roles. Mr Smith also reaffirmed the Government's commitment to assisting in the rebuilding of Afghanistan, where more than 1000 Australian troops are stationed. He told Dr Rice that Australia was particularly concerned about Afghanistan following the assassination of Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto and believed there was need for "significant international community interest".

The pair also discussed climate change and securing democracy, peace and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific region in their "productive and useful" meeting, Mr Smith said. Mr Smith is the highest-level official to visit Washington since the Rudd Government was elected in November. The Prime Minister plans to visit Washington later in the year.

Mr Smith, who is also meeting Vice President Dick Cheney and US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, will be at President George W. Bush's State of the Union speech today. Dr Rice accepted Mr Smith's invitation to visit his home state of Western Australia. "It has really been a very good first meeting and I look very much forward to meetings in the future," she said.


Rudd government told "Manyana" on greenhouse targets

("Manyana" is Spanish for "tomorrow" and is often used to refer to not worrying about the future)

The economist advising the Rudd Government on climate change has warned nations against locking in to strict interim greenhouse-gas reduction targets in their zeal to tackle global warming. Professor Ross Garnaut is examining the economic costs of tackling climate change and is due to deliver his report to the Federal Government in the second half of this year. At December's international climate talks in Bali, the Rudd Government refused to commit Australia to interim emissions-reduction targets until the Garnaut review was complete.

Prof Garnaut said it was more important to achieve an overall greenhouse-gas reduction target longer-term - for example over 40 years - than to meet short-term targets in particular years. Instead, the market should decide how quickly to cut emissions, he said. "By focusing on a particular date you may diminish the environmental impact of what you're trying to do and you may increase the economic costs of it," he told ABC radio today. "We're trying to address the question of how we can meet the strong environmental goals in a way that minimises cost. "You have to ask a question about how strongly you focus on particular dates and how much you look at the overall impact over a number of years."

He denied this amounted to a recommendation that governments set looser rather than tighter emissions-reduction targets. "You're looking at a binding total amount of emissions over a long period of time," Prof Garnaut said. "If you just focus on one year or particular years then you can do an awful lot of emitting in other years and so you don't meet the environmental objective that's absolutely crucial - and that's the total amount of emissions going into the atmosphere." However, he acknowledged there was a danger that countries could leave it 10 or 20 years before doing anything if they refused to commit to interim emissions cuts.


Setting standards in Qld. schools

The details are not ideal but more attention to standards is welcome -- and long overdue

CHILDREN will be taught essential subjects such as English, Maths and Science no matter where they are enrolled in the state when they start a new school year today. The Bligh Government yesterday unveiled details of its new "essential learnings" program, aimed at ensuring greater consistency in the subjects Queensland children are taught. The program, which cost more than $8 million to develop, will specify what all students need to know and be able to do at key points in their school lives.

Other milestones for the state's school sector this year include the first full intake of prep children and the introduction of the Queensland Certificate of Education for senior students. Premier Anna Bligh said the program would especially benefit the thousands of students and a quarter of the state's teachers who change schools every year. It will specify the things that all students - whether they go to public or private school - need to learn and will be assessed on.

For example, under the new system, students at the end of Year 5 would be expected to know about the colonisation of Australia including the concept of terra nullius [Leftist crap. The doctine of terra nullius had never been heard of when Australia was colonized by the British], the basics of physics and biology and how to read a map. By the end of Year 7, they would be expected to understand how gravity affects the Earth and other planets, the different roles of local, state and national governments and how to represent and compare data in pie charts and graphs.

The new program will use an "A to E" system of reporting and assessment, where an "A" means a student has demonstrated a comprehensive understanding of a subject and "E" means they have only a basic knowledge of concepts and facts related to a subject.

Ms Bligh said the program heralded a "new era" in school education in Queensland. Education Minister Rod Welford said it still allowed schools the flexibility to organise their curriculum while setting out those things all students needed to learn.

About 480,000 students are expected to enrol in government primary, secondary and special schools this year, while the Catholic and independent student body in Queensland is expected to number about 220,000. About 54,000 children will enrol on the first full intake of prep. Mr Welford will also introduce a scheme which requires all primary school children to take part in physical activities for at least an average of 30 minutes a day.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Many tributes to Paddy

Paddy always despised Stalinism so an amusing and rather curious thing that nobody mentions below is that Paddy worked at one stage for The Moscow Narodny Bank -- during the Soviet years. Peter Coleman mentions it here

TRIBUTES flowed in yesterday from around the world for Padraic "Paddy" McGuinness, a unique character in Australian life and a man who had been central to the country's cultural, journalistic and academic life for more than half a century. The renowned commentator, journalist and self-proclaimed dissenter, a one-time daily columnist on The Australian, died aged 69 at his Balmain home on Saturday after a struggle with cancer.

McGuinness first came to public attention as a student activist - his ASIO file is now on the National Archives website - and was a leading light during the heady days of intellectual ferment in the late 1950s and early 60s that saw the formation of the group known as the Sydney Push. A baffled ASIO officer who examined the McGuinness file summed him up as "an individualist, a non-conformist and an anti-authoritarian".

Both loved and reviled, always dressed in black faux-clerical garb, schooner in hand and holding court in his many favourite drinking holes across Sydney, McGuinness prided himself on pricking intellectual pretension wherever he found it. His exposure of cant and hypocrisy earned him friends from all sides of the political divide.

Greg Lindsay, founder of think tank The Centre for Independent Studies, argued and drank with McGuinness for 30 years. "Paddy was always passionately interested in ideas," Mr Lindsay said. "He was one of the great Australians; dying on Australia Day was very fitting."

Most of McGuinness's career was in journalism - as a columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian and as editor of The Australian Financial Review. In recent years he was editor of the magazine Quadrant.

Senior columnist with The Australian Frank Devine, who knew McGuinness for 35 years, said: "Paddy was the quintessential independent thinker, scorning humbug and stupidity. He was a bloodthirsty predator among those he identified as members of the chattering classes."

Long-term friend and columnist Jane Fraser said he was a proud man who had intensely disliked showing his vulnerability in his final months. "He refused to discuss his illness with those close to him and would tell us: 'Mind your own bloody business - and don't send any bloody priests'," Fraser said. "He had that natural charisma which meant people were always fascinated by him. But he was more than generous with his time, whether you were famous, infamous or the cleaner. He wasn't some big blustering crass thing; he was a very sensitive man."

Peter Coleman, former editor of Quadrant, described McGuinness as "a terrific editor to work with, courageous and imaginative". "He published articles no one else would," Coleman said.

Author and new Quadrant editor Keith Windschuttle said of McGuinness: "He had a very strong eye for cant, humbug, hypocrisy and people who clothed the incoherence of their ideas in obfuscatory language. When he became editor of Quadrant in late 1997, he declared one of his targets would be postmodernism, which was then the main intellectual infection in our humanity departments of our universities. Within five years, postmodernism was dead."

Windschuttle said McGuinness was also one of the few voices brave enough to raise debate about Aborigines and the Stolen Generation at a time when even to question the topic was derided by the Left as immoral. "He gave a voice to the carers, the workers and the officials whose voices had been deliberately excluded," Windschuttle said.

Professor of economics at the University of Singapore, Henry Ergas, who first met McGuinness in the 1970s, said: "I will always think of him as a reader over my shoulder, reminding me that ideas are so important they need to be expressed clearly, allowing them to genuinely form part of the great conversation of mankind."

McGuinness's funeral will be held at Rookwood Cemetery in Sydney at 2pm on Friday. The two speakers, both former employers, will be Devine and former governor-general and long-term friend Bill Hayden.



Below is what passes for high-powered intellect among Australian Leftists. It is from the blog of the "Lowy Institute for International Policy" which seems to have high pretensions.

No mention of scientific facts is made but "feel" is given prominent mention. Once again it is nothing but ad hominem argument and abuse -- which is totally disreputable intellectually. I suspect in fact that our poor old Leftist did not have a clue about how to address the scientific issues involved and thought he could get away with bluff. I think that Frank Lowy, the magnate who founded the Lowy Institute, should be looking for more high-powered employees.

I follow the spurt of superciliousness below with a reply that DOES address the facts. I suppose it is something that they published the reply. The reply is by Alex Avery, son of skeptical author Dennis Avery, mentioned below. Alex is Director of Research at the Center for Global Food Issues, Hudson Institute. He hits the poor old Lowy lamebrains with an actual journal abstract -- almost unfair to such simpletons -- who probably would not even know which way up to hold an abstract, let alone being able to make anything out of it!
Climate skeptics tilting at windfarms

A few weeks ago I, along with most of my colleagues on the staff and the board of the Lowy Institute, received a complimentary copy of a book called 'Unstoppable Global Warming - Every 1,500 Years', by S. Fred Singer and Dennis T. Avery. When I arrived at work there was an enormous pile of these tomes sitting at the Institute's reception.

The book appears to be a fairly standard example of the `climate change skeptic' genre. Contrary to the overwhelming scientific consensus captured in the most recent report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the authors argue that most global warming is not caused by human activities but by a natural 1500-year climate cycle, and that it is not nearly as dangerous as the Al Gores of this world make out.

I regret to say that this book does not have an authoritative feeling about it, starting with the spelling error in the publisher's name on the title page. A search of the authors' names by my colleague Kate Mason took us to the far-right reaches of the Internet, including links to research questioning the link between passive smoking and lung cancer, jeremiads against organic food, and the websites of various American think tanks with the word `freedom' in their title.

Anyway, people can write whatever nonsense they like; I'm more interested in the fact that someone, somewhere is sending out thousands of copies of this book to anyone they can think of who may be in a position to influence the public debate. The book's Preface states that: `A public relations campaign of staggering dimensions is being carried forward to convince us that global warming is man-made and a crisis.' It looks like an expensive campaign is being run against those propositions, too.

I doubt whether it is a very effective campaign, though. The sheer oddness of the whole exercise - both the message and the means of communicating it - leaves the distinct impression that history has passed these people by.


A climate sceptic replies

Your comments about my father's book are lacking in any substance whatsoever. Spelling errors and perceived lack of 'authoritative feeling' aside, where is any mention of the reams of cited peer-reviewed research indicating exactly what the title of the book states: global temperatures today are not historically unusual in comparison to relatively recent times (i.e. most recently the Medieval Warm Period) and the existence of a natural, roughly-1,500-year climate cycle?

By all means, let's ignore any and all substance and impugn motives instead. How noble. How enlightened. How . . . sad.

Just so you're not completely in the dark: Dr. Singer's most recent peer-reviewed scientific paper on climate change was published last month (Dec. 2007) in the International Journal of Climatology published by the Royal Meteorological Society. Does that lack an 'authoritative feeling' as well?

As the abstract of the paper states, the authors examined 'tropospheric temperature trends of 67 runs from 22 "Climate of the 20th Century" model simulations and try to reconcile them with the best available updated observations (in the tropics during the satellite era). Model results and observed temperature trends are in disagreement in most of the tropical troposphere, being separated by more than twice the uncertainty of the model mean. In layers near 5 km, the modeled trend is 100 to 300% higher than observed, and, above 8 km, modeled and observed trends have opposite signs. These conclusions contrast strongly with those of recent publications based on essentially the same data.'

Oh, and here is the latest peer-reviewed scientific paper supporting the argument that current temperatures are not alarming and not unusual:

Loehle, C. 2007. A 2000-year global temperature reconstruction based on non-tree-ring proxies. Energy & Environment 18(7-8): 1049-1058.


Historical data provide a baseline for judging how anomalous recent temperature changes are and for assessing the degree to which organisms are likely to be adversely affected by current or future warming. Climate histories are commonly reconstructed from a variety of sources, including ice cores, tree rings, and sediment. Tree-ring data, being the most abundant for recent centuries, tend to dominate reconstructions. There are reasons to believe that tree ring data may not properly capture long-term climate changes. In this study, eighteen 2000-year-long series were obtained that were not based on tree ring data. Data in each series were smoothed with a 30-year running mean. All data were then converted to anomalies by subtracting the mean of each series from that series. The overall mean series was then computed by simple averaging. The mean time series shows quite coherent structure. The mean series shows the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and Little Ice Age (LIA) quite clearly, with the MWP being approximately 0.3øC warmer than 20th century values at these eighteen sites.


Laws to cut costs in family disputes

Anything that keeps money out of the hands of the legal parasites is welcome

LAWYERS profiting from the misery of families fighting over wills will have their fees capped after a string of cases where the bill has exceeded the final inheritance. In one case where the total legal bill was more than $600,000, the plaintiffs were awarded $360,000.

Capping fees will also discourage lawyers caught up in explosive family situations from letting their clients use the courts to vent spleen. They will have more incentive to settle, rather than prolong the process to make more money. Attorney-General John Hatzistergos said he wanted to stop lawyers wiping out estates with excessive charges.

Legal costs in family will disputes routinely ran into tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, he said. "Costs can wipe out a huge chunk of a deceased person's will, leaving family members and dependants with virtually nothing," he said. While judges had the power to cap costs, they rarely did so, and that provision applied only if a case made it to court.

"The proposed reforms give lawyers an incentive to settle before the case gets to court, and will strengthen the judge's hand to cap costs when and if it does," Mr Hatzistergos said. The reforms could include setting a sliding scale of costs, taking into account the size of the estate and the number of claimants, or setting a maximum fee.

It is understood some lawyers are charging more than $30,000 for one-day Supreme Court cases, while more complex cases regularly attract fees of more than $100,000. Most disputes are decided in court. About 600 cases are heard in the Supreme Court each year, and 250 or so settled out of court.

Paul Versteege, from the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association, said older people wanted assurance that the wishes set out in their wills would be followed, and their estates would not be consumed by legal fees.

Law Society president Hugh Macken also welcomed the move, saying the legal profession acknowledged the need to address costs. "For a long time now the legal profession has been driving alternative dispute resolution," Mr Macken said. "These proposed amendments reinforce the importance of mediation."


Qld. Emergency wards facing crisis

The good ol' government "planning" again. This is a government that REDUCES the number of beds when it rebuilds a hospital! Despite steady and quite foreseeable population growth

A DRAMATIC increase in the number of patients turning up at public hospital emergency departments has stretched the system to its limit, says State Health Minister Stephen Robertson. He has called on Queenslanders to give overworked hospital doctors and nurses a break after a survey showed 75 per cent of those who go to public emergency rooms for treatment are there because they couldn't get access to a GP or didn't want to pay doctors' fees.

The number of people who sought treatment at Queensland hospital emergency departments last year increased 8.7 per cent from 2006 - nearly five times the usual annual increase, and four times the state's population growth for the period. The flu epidemic in August boosted the figures and the state's 23 largest public hospital emergency departments treated nearly 1 million patients in 2007. "This is what we have to try and deal with . . . we can't just keep forever expanding our emergency departments to cope with ever-increasing numbers," Mr Robertson said. "We have to find ways to deal with this very challenging, increasing demand."

The survey, commissioned by Australia's health ministers, revealed that one out of every three emergency room patients thought they actually needed hospital treatment. But about two out of three went to hospitals because their doctor was not on duty, or that doctor's clinic was closed. The overload has flowed through to add months to elective surgery waiting lists, hospital staff say.

Mr Robertson said new and refurbished emergency departments would be the priority in the Government's record $5 billion capital works spending in 2007-08. "But the problem is that emergency medicine is one of those specialties where there is a worldwide shortage," he said. Mr Robertson today will release the public hospitals' performance report for the December quarter. It will reveal that 929,093 people attended emergency departments in 2007, up from 854,550 in 2006. The 82,774 December total in emergency rooms was the highest in Queensland history.

Mr Robertson said the number of doctors in Queensland had increased from 8453 in 2001 to 9352 in 2006. But the number of GPs per 100,000 people had fallen from 238 to 227, and an increase in the number of female GPs and an ageing male sector had resulted in a decrease in doctor-patient hours.

AMA Queensland president Ross Cartmill disagreed with Mr Robertson that people attending hospital did not need treatment. He estimated that less than 5 per cent should have seen a GP first. "The fundamental issues in our Accidents and Emergencies are not enough staff and a lack of beds."


Sunday, January 27, 2008

Quadrant editor Paddy McGuinness dies

A very sad loss. I have been reading his writings on and off for decades. I even met him once at a Sydney "Push" party. He was a relentless devotee of rationality and the facts, brilliant at pricking popular balloons. He was, like his brother Michael, a man of great circumference, so it is amusing that he lived to 69 and died of something quite unrelated to obesity. I think that he himself must have found some small satisfaction in that when he saw the end coming. I have emailed my condolences to Michael this morning

PADRAIC 'Paddy' McGuinness, a former Sydney Morning Herald columnist and editor of Quadrant magazine, has died at his Sydney home aged 69. Mr McGuinness is believed to have been sick with melanoma for some time and it is this condition which prompted his retirement from Quadrant late last year. Mr McGuinness died at his Balmain home this morning.

"We knew he had been sick, but had only discovered in the past few days exactly what the nature of his illness was," a friend of McGuinness said. "He has been very private about his illness."

A journalist for many years, Mr McGuinness was sometimes criticised for his commentary. "He was a bit of an icon Paddy, but I think a lot of people misunderstood him," the friend said.

During an interview with News Ltd late last year Mr McGuinness said he had been able "to 're-establish' Quadrant as a 'sceptical and non-ideological' journal in the conservative spirit of Samuel Johnson, the literary colossus of 18th century England."

He is survived by a daughter.


Mother's diet shapes offspring's future weight?

Another study of rats, not people and another despicable attempt to prey on the anxieties of pregnant women. The full report is not public yet but all these creeps seem to have discovered is the earth-shattering finding that fat mothers have fat children. Anything to do with genetics? No mention of genetics. That would be against the prevailing religion. And do mothers on a restricted diet get all the nutrients that the baby needs? Even if the baby appears to be OK, is the individual concerned OK in the long term? No mention of that! It is totally inappropriate to be making recommendations to the public based on this scrap of unreviewed research. But we see that the article below is full of confident recommendations from attention-seeking knowalls who obviously would not know the meaning of scientific caution

Australian scientists have made the world-first discovery that a pregnant woman's diet determines whether her baby grows into a fat adult or a skinny one. The research suggests women who are overweight before they fall pregnant, and during it, may condemn their children to a life of overeating and obesity. It reveals that a mother's diet during pregnancy affects the baby's brain circuits, determining appetite and energy expenditure in their offspring. "This suggests that mothers should think twice about overindulging, or using the excuse that they're eating for two during pregnancy," University of NSW professor Margaret Morris said.

Unlike previous studies, the groundbreaking work highlights the pre-natal period as a critical time for "programming of post-natal and adult appetite". It found that even before a woman falls pregnant, she is potentially "programming" a child's future appetite. "The major finding is the dramatic increase in body fat in offspring of overweight and obese mothers," Professor Morris said. Mothers fed a high-fat diet had offspring that were heavier, with more body fat and altered appetite regulators in the brain, meaning they overate, she said.

The results are supported by a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition last year. It found that mothers who eat junk food during pregnancy may produce children who crave the same foods. Professor Morris will present her findings at the Australian Neuroscience Society conference in Hobart this week. She said the study was particularly relevant, given that about 30 per cent of mothers enter pregnancy in an overweight or obese condition.

The study was conducted using overweight female rats who mated with healthy males. The females continued to be fed a high-fat Western diet during and after pregnancy, Professor Morris said. "The mums were overeating for that whole period. We found the offspring were a third heavier than the rats fed a low-fat diet," she said. Professor Morris said the brain pathways regulating appetite in rats were similar to those in humans, suggesting similar trends could be expected in people.

Sydney University nutritionist Dr Jenny O'Dea said it had become "quite well accepted" that a woman's diet during pregnancy impacted on the fetus. "We also know that obesity during pregnancy more often than not causes gestational diabetes and high blood pressure," Dr O'Dea said. She said that although nutritional needs were high during pregnancy, women should not be "eating for two".

Professor Morris studied mothers who were already overweight before they fell pregnant. The experiment results also found their offspring were showing signs of developing diabetes at a young age.

The findings are particularly relevant for overweight mothers, highlighting the importance of maintaining a normal weight before and during pregnancy. Further research will examine how methods of intervention during breastfeeding can reverse bad nutritional habits and overeating.

Susie Burrell, a pediatric dietitian at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, said the study sent a powerful message to women planning to fall pregnant. "They need to get their weight under control before conceiving, and those who are pregnant need to have minimum weight-gain during pregnancy," Ms Burrell said. She said an increasing number of women were overweight before they fell pregnant, creating a "snowball effect". "Their babies are more likely to have a high birth weight. This then leads to lifestyle diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease."


Big and dangerous hospital hold-ups for ambulances in Victoria

HUNDREDS of ambulances are out of service each day -- stranded at Melbourne hospitals. Ambulances are stuck at hospitals for up to four hours despite government benchmarks that they be free to leave within 25 minutes. Paramedics are unable to respond to new emergencies because the hospitals are full, documents under Freedom Of Information laws reveal.

The Metropolitan Ambulance Service documents reveal alarming numbers of ambulances waiting at hospitals. On average, more than 29 ambulances across Melbourne wait daily at emergency departments for an hour or more. In the first six months of last year, more than 320 ambulances a day were stuck for longer than 25 minutes. The documents reveal:

AN AMBULANCE delivered its patient to the emergency department at the Austin Hospital in three minutes, but waited three hours because there was no bed.

153 AMBULANCES, almost five a day, spent an hour or longer at Royal Melbourne, Grattan St, in May last year.

40 AMBULANCES were stranded for more than an hour at Frankston Hospital in one week.

MORE than 100 ambulances were stuck for an hour or longer at The Alfred in January.

Ambulance Employees Union secretary Steve McGhie said the down time could cost lives. "The reason they're waiting so long is because they can't get their patients off the stretcher," he said. "There is no room for them at the hospitals and ambos have to wait until they find room. "Every minute they have to wait at a hospital is another minute another patient has to wait for an ambulance."

Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey echoed Mr McGhie, saying the out-of-service time could mean the difference between life and death.


Australian parents make big sacrifices to avoid government schools

HALF the Australian parents who send their children to private school are finding it a financial strain, and one in 10 families spend more than half their take-home pay on their children's education. Research has also found that about a third of parents who send their children to independent (private) and Catholic schools allocate more than 15percent of their household income to their children's education. Close to 12percent of parents with children at independent schools, and 1.3percent of Catholic school parents, reserve up to half their income for school fees, the report, commissioned by BankWest, found. Some parents - Catholic school (4percent) and private (1.3percent) - dedicate between 50 and 75percent of their household income to school fees.

The report said that 53percent of independent school parents and 47percent of Catholic school parents found paying for their children's education was financially tough. A BankWest spokeswoman said the survey dispelled the myth that only the well-off were educating their children at private schools. Figures show more than 369,000 students attended private schools in NSW in 2006. About 739,000 students attend public schools.

The report found that the average cost of sending a child to an independent school was $14,201 a year, more than double that of Catholic schools. It also found that, on average, independent school parents spend an extra $2300 a year on uniforms, extracurricular activities, textbooks and stationery. Parents had to find $1600 for Catholic schools and $1200 for public schools.

Executive director of the Council of Catholic School Parents Danielle Cronin said she was not surprised by the research, and that while Catholic schools tried to keep fees down, they were a strain on some families. "I think Catholic schools have a very diverse population in terms of socio-economic statistics," she said. "I believe that Catholic schools probably aren't enrolling financially needy families simply because the fees are prohibitive, even though some of the fees are quite low compared to independent schools."

In the report, parents cited the standard of education, discipline, better academic record and resources as the main reasons for sending their children to private schools. They also said the better focus on social values, networking opportunities for their children when entering the workforce, religious education and social opportunities for the parents were important.


Saturday, January 26, 2008

Greenhouse cuts would land us in the Middle Ages, says Labor Party sceptic

THE Hawke government finance minister Peter Walsh has warned the Rudd Government that cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 would send Australian living standards back to the Middle Ages.

Mr Walsh, who was at the forefront of Labor's conversion to economic rationalism in the 1980s, heads the Lavoisier Group of hardline climate-change sceptics. In a submission lodged with the Garnaut climate change review, the former West Australian senator disputes the scientific evidence that carbon dioxide emissions are causing rising global temperatures. He points out that the Romans grew grapes in northern England in the first millennium and the Vikings grew cereals in Greenland in the second millennium. "Those much warmer periods cannot reasonably be attributed to anthropogenic greenhouse gases," he says. He also says the temperature on Mars has risen in a similar way to that on Earth.

Mr Walsh says that changes in solar behaviour are a better scientific explanation for temperature changes and that many scientists believe a cooling period will set in within the next decade or so.

The review by Professor Ross Garnaut is examining the economic costs for Australia of tackling climate change.

Mr Walsh tells Professor Garnaut that a mooted 60 per cent cut in emissions by 2050 would have significant adverse consequences: "The latter figure is unachievable without substituting nuclear power in place of coal and crude oil or, alternatively, a reversion to the living standards and population densities of the Middle Ages." He describes emissions trading as the "cargo cult of the 21st century".


Propaganda for toddlers

CHILDREN as young as three are being taught anti-racism lessons as part of the first NSW Government-funded program designed to stamp out bigotry from a young age. The program will be rolled out at a preschool in western NSW and youngsters will be given regular lessons in tolerance and multiculturalism.

The move comes as NSW councils investigate implementing a similar program across all council-funded daycare centres across the state.

The Menindee Children's Centre, in the state's Far West, has just received a $4000 grant to launch the first State Government-funded program of its kind. The focus on racism follows the 2005 Cronulla riots and a recent Government survey which found more than 40 per cent of migrants surveyed had come across "some" or "a lot" of racism in Australia. Claims of racism also blew up recently in the Sydney Test between India and Australia.

NSW preschool's director Hayley D'Ettorre said the centre would use the funding to launch the program, which was to include guest speakers and lessons on international music as well as foods and books. She said the centrepiece of the program would be regular discussions about racism. "It is the biggest part of the program, it will be about teaching tolerance and positive diversity every day," she said.

Premier Morris Iemma said it was necessary to teach our youngest about tolerance. "It is important for our children to learn acceptance of different cultures at an early age," he told The Daily Telegraph. "If we set our children up with the right messages we will ultimately enjoy a more tolerant, accepting and peaceful society."

Local Government Association president Genia McCaffery said they would study the anti-racism program of one western Sydney daycare centre with a view to rolling out a simular curriculum across the state.


China's booming economy likely to shield Australia

THE Chinese economy has posted its fastest growth rate in more than 10 years, underscoring how Australia's commodities-driven economy could steer clear of a United States recession and turmoil in global financial markets. China's gross domestic product growth rate "slowed" in the final months of 2007 to register annual growth of 11.4 per cent, the fastest since 1994. Quarterly growth eased from 11.5 per cent in September to 11.2 per cent in December, compared with the previous year. A sharp slowdown in export growth to the US was more than offset by extraordinary investment in new housing, commercial property and infrastructure.

Jonathan Anderson, at UBS, expects the Chinese economy will still grow at a rate close to 10 per cent in 2008. "China will still be well insulated at home in a US recession scenario," he said. Mr Anderson said arguments about whether China has "decoupled" from the US miss the point: the two economies have never been closely correlated. The Chinese economy grew strongly despite contractions in key export markets during the Asian financial crisis of 1998 and the US-led global recession of 2001.

Shen Minggao, at Citigroup, said China's slower export growth would still be considered fast by the standards of any other country. "The external slowdown led by the US will probably push China's export growth down to below 20 per cent," he said. The strength of developing Asia, led by China and India, means Australian policy makers are still more worried about the prospect of high inflation than lower global growth. Economists at Lehman Brothers said policy makers across the region face a greater risk of overheating than of a sustained slump.

The US Federal Reserve's decision to slash interest rates this week has complicated efforts by the Chinese central bank to manage inflation, which surged to 6.5 per cent last year. American interest rates are now below Chinese interest rates - encouraging unwelcome "hot money" flows from overseas. "This implies that it will be hard for the People's Bank of China to lift rates meaningfully without worrying about attracting more money inflows," said Qu Hongbin at HSBC.

In contrast to Australia and emerging Asia, Japan faces a renewed period of economic weakness. But Chinese economic strength has so far saved Japan from recession. Figures yesterday showed Japanese exports to China rose 8.4 per cent in the year to December while exports to the US fell 4.5 per cent. Last financial year Australian exporters shipped more than three times as much product to Japan and twice as much to China as they did to the US. The US was now Australia's fifth-largest export market, coming in below India.

The latest Chinese economic figures were positive for Australian mining, energy, mining services and engineering companies, said Commsec's chief equities economist, Craig James. "The Chinese economy is continuing to grow at a fast clip and the determination of the authorities is to maintain the pace of growth into 2008," Mr James said. "Chinese demand for commodities is likely to remain strong, underpinning the Aussie dollar at levels close to US85-90c. The main concern is that global energy and food prices will remain high, keeping upward pressure on global inflation. "The Reserve Bank's resolve to lift interest rates would be bolstered by the latest batch of strong economic news out of China."


Left-run NSW choking on bureaucratic incompetence

NSW IS in the grip of a public service meltdown, with the entire NSW public health system to be referred to a special commission of inquiry for the first time in the state's history. Sparked by a blistering report from the NSW Deputy Coroner into the death of 16-year-old Vanessa Anderson, it comes on the heels of an identical inquiry already under way into child deaths and the Department of Community Services.

Having just returned from holiday, Premier Morris Iemma yesterday faced a collapse of confidence in the health system, echoing a similar catastrophe within DOCS in November following the death of seven-year-old Shellay Ward. It was accompanied by the likelihood that the failure of the Government's four-year $300 million public transport ticketing system less then 24 hours earlier will now also be referred to a parliamentary inquiry for investigation.

Following a scathing critique of the health system by the Deputy Coroner Carl Milovanovich, based on his shocking findings into the death Ms Anderson, Mr Iemma adopted his recommendation for a full public inquiry into NSW Health. It would be the third hospital inquiry in as many years but the first to encompass the whole health system, including the state's 500 hospitals.

Mr Milovanovich said a worse level of care could barely have been imagined and slammed the Government for presiding over a problem which has existed for years. Ms Anderson was admitted to Royal North Shore Hospital in 2005 for a mild head injury inflicted by a golf ball. she died after being administered too many painkillers. "As a Deputy State Coroner for the past six years I have presided over many inquests involving deaths in hospitals," he said. "In many of those cases one error or omission, sometimes a serious one led to death, however, I have never seen a case such as Vanessa's in which almost every conceivable error or omission was detected and those errors continued to build one on top of the other." A series of shortcomings, including indecision by medical practitioners, communication failures, staff inexperience or overwork and poor record-keeping, had conspired to claim the teenager's life, Mr Milovanovich said.

The lawyer who headed the previous inquiries into the Camden and Campbelltown hospitals and Sydney Ferries, Brett Walker, looks likely to be handed the task again, which could take up to a year to complete. "We will be establishing a special commission of inquiry to act on that recommendation of the Coroner," Mr Iemma said. "There is nothing here that anyone wants to hide or run away from."

Asked why the Government would not hold a royal commission into the health system, Mr Iemma said: "A special commission of inquiry is broad-ranging and has powers, so let's not get bogged down on what you call it. "Can I also say to the family, our heartfelt condolences on the tragic loss of Vanessa and an unreserved apology for how the system tragically let down the Anderson family and Vanessa Anderson." Health Minister Reba Meagher promised that the inquiry would conduct public hearings.


Friday, January 25, 2008

Woman's death in government hospital was preventable

A MELBOURNE woman who died after giving birth could have survived if her medical treatment had been more timely and organised, a coroner found today. Piyanat Siriwan, 33, died at 2.15pm on April 1, 2004, at the Monash Medical Centre from massive blood loss after giving birth to a healthy baby girl at 8am that morning at the South Eastern Private Hospital in Melbourne's outer east.

Delivering her finding today into the death, Coroner Paresa Spanos said with more competent medical management, including a more timely transfer from the South Eastern Private Hospital, Mrs Siriwan "had a reasonable chance of surviving''. "In that sense I find her death was preventable,'' Ms Spanos said. Saying Mrs Siriwan's transfer between the hospitals was "a study in chaos'', Ms Spanos was critical of Mrs Siriwan's obstetrician Maurice Lichter and anaesthetist Emlyn Williams in their handling of her case on the day of her death, and ordered them to front the Medical Practitioners Board of Victoria (MPBV). She recommended the MPBV take whatever "action it deems appropriate against the two doctors''.

Ms Spanos also made an adverse comment about South Eastern Private Hospital not having made Dr Lichter or Dr Williams aware there was an emergency supply of blood available which would have been used to help Mrs Siriwan. She recommended the hospital ensure all doctors were aware of such supplies being available in future cases.

However, Ms Spanos said she did not have any adverse comment to make in relation to the Metropolitan Ambulance Service or the nurses attending Mrs Siriwan on the day, adding that their concern and frustration had been evident. A lawyer for Mrs Siriwan's husband, Harrinat Siriwan, said outside the court that he was too upset on hearing his wife's death was preventable to speak publicly.


An employer's right to fire upheld

It's an important precedent for other, smaller, employers. The more an employer's right to fire is restricted, the less an employer will be inclined to take on new empoyees -- as we see in France, with its high unemployment rate

A Telstra worker, sacked for taking part in a sex romp at a Sydney hotel after a work Christmas party, has lost the right to receive compensation and get her job back. Carlie Streeter was sacked from her job at a Miranda Telstra store in February last year after an investigation into a night of alcohol-fuelled sex and partying with colleagues. Telstra accused Ms Streeter of having sex with a male employee in the bath tub of a hotel room at Cronulla's Rydges Hotel. It was alleged another male employee was in the bath tub at the time when the trio was interrupted by a female employee. The two former male colleagues - Steve Hatzistergos and Aakash Sharma - also lost their jobs over the scandal, along with another unnamed employee.

Bosses were alerted to the incident after another female employee made complaints about Ms Streeter's behaviour on the night to a store manager. Ms Streeter subsequently appealed against her dismissal and won her case. But yesterday, Telstra won its own appeal against the ruling made in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC), which had ordered the telco giant to reinstate Ms Streeter and pay her compensation for lost earnings. The successful appeal means Telstra has no obligation to give Ms Streeter her job back or pay her compensation.

The decision, handed down by a full bench of the AIRC, ruled Ms Streeter's termination was not harsh, unjust or unreasonable. A Telstra spokeswoman last night said that Telstra welcomed the decision. "We are pleased the Australian Industrial Relations Commission have upheld our appeal," she said.

The sex-romp scandal ignited debate about the right of employers to sack workers for bad behaviour while off the job. In September last year a worker sacked by Allianz Australia Services, following a drunken after-hours trivia night, won the right to a full bench rehearing of his claim in the AIRC. The AIRC had previously thrown out his unfair dismissal case, which followed his sacking for threatening a manager with physical and sexual assault.

Ms Streeter has kept a low profile since her sexual exploits were revealed by The Daily Telegraph in August. Her lawyer Kelly Durant yesterday said his client was upset by the commission's ruling and was keen to discuss whether she could launch a further appeal in the Federal Court. "Ms Streeter is unhappy about the decision and feels like justice hasn't been served. This has been a long fight," he said. "She understands that these are matters of law. But she's quite aggrieved by the decision."


Australian economists put the heat on the Stern report

A Productivity Commission paper has criticised the influential Stern review on global warming for making value-laden assumptions that inflated estimates of the economic costs of warming. The internal staff working paper, released as Australia prepares its own version of the Stern review, called the original British review's conclusions "as much an exercise in advocacy as it is an economic analysis of climate change".

It acknowledged Nicholas Stern's contribution to the field, but said it was impossible to say whether some assumptions were "definitively right or wrong". The former World Bank chief economist's review had "erred" in not making key value judgments explicit, or testing different parameters in his modelling, the paper said.

The commission paper, originally prepared for internal use in response to the Stern review's October 2006 release, was published yesterday. It was given to the Labor-initiated Garnaut review, which is modelled on the Stern review, over the Christmas break.

When then Opposition leader Kevin Rudd announced Labor's review last year, headed by Australian National University economist Ross Garnaut, he said Australia needed its own version of the Stern review. "The Stern report to the British Government sent a clear warning that, left unchecked, climate change will have catastrophic economic consequences," Mr Rudd said. Sir Nicholas found the cost of global warming, estimated at between 5 and 20 per cent of global GDP a year, far exceeded the annual cost of mitigation measures, estimated at 1 per cent of global GDP. But his conclusions have been dogged by controversy since their release, the harshest critics calling them biased and alarmist.

The commission paper said some criticisms of the report were justified. The use of high emissions scenarios, pessimistic assumptions on damage costs, and an unconventional method of calculating current and future costs and benefits all tended to "escalate the present value of future costs", it noted.

Sir Nicholas last year appealed to Australia to cut emissions by 30per cent by 2020 -- a call then prime minister John Howard rejected on the basis it would cause thousands of job losses in the coal industry.

An Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics report earlier said the nation's GDP would fall by about 2.5 per cent by 2050 if emissions were cut by 40 per cent. Labor has promised to cut emissions by 60 per cent on 2000 levels by that date. The Garnaut review, due to report in draft form in June, is likely to look at the economic impact of shorter-term targets. Climate Change Minister Penny Wong would not comment on the conclusions of the Productivity Commission document, saying only that she welcomed any paper that contributed to Australia's understanding of climate change impacts. "We will draw on a range of analysis in designing the Government's response to climate change -- including modelling from Professor Garnaut and the Treasury," she said.


Afghanistan troop numbers tipped to stay

THE military may change the mix of its forces in Afghanistan but is unlikely to increase troop numbers, Chief of Defence Force Angus Houston says. Air Chief Marshal Houston yesterday said the Rudd Government had asked for an analysis of the Australian presence in Afghanistan. "I will take some proposals to the Government in the near future (on) where we might make some adjustments to the mix," Air Chief Marshal Houston said. "In terms of the mix, I don't think we'll see any increase in force level. "What we will do is have a look at what we've got on the ground and make recommendations to government."

There are currently 1038 Australian troops in southern Afghanistan, making Australia the 10th-largest provider of personnel to the troubled nation and largest non-NATO contributor. "I think we're carrying our share of the burden," Air Chief Marshal Houston said. "We're in a very demanding and challenging province. "The Government will obviously have a close look at that over time and if they decide to make adjustments, well that's a matter for them."

On the Federal Government's air combat review, the defence chief argued against using the air force's ageing F-111s as an interim measure instead of Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets ordered by the former Howard government. Defence last year signed a contract to buy 24 of the Super Hornets at a cost of $6 billion as part of a transition to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter over the next decade. ast month Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon announced a review of the entire air combat spending program. The force has a 2010 target to withdraw its F-111s from service.

"You're running down a capability and then suddenly you've got to turn it around again. That's difficult," Air Chief Marshal Houston said. "What you're faced with is a fairly expensive and extensive upgrade. That's the reality." He said the Super Hornet was a good choice for an interim, multi-use role and readily available from the US.


Thursday, January 24, 2008

Yuk! Orange-coloured furniture!

How 1970s!

Kevin Rudd has purged his Parliament House office of all traces of John Howard. He has ordered his predecessor's hand-picked Chesterfield-style chairs and the desk of Liberal icon Sir Robert Menzies to be put into storage. The Prime Minister has wiped his office clean of Mr Howard's interior design touches and restored more contemporary fittings purchased when Parliament House was built in 1988.

Mr Howard was sometimes lampooned by critics for his taste in furniture, particularly following his 1999 decision to spend $10,000 on the green leather suite for his office. Scornful critics charged that the chunky furniture would be better suited to Old Parliament House and that Mr Howard had offended the design atmosphere of his huon pine-dominated office. He had previously dumped his prime ministerial desk in favour of the antique used by his hero Sir Robert - the former long-serving prime minister and Liberal Party founder. The desk had been used by several prime ministers between 1927 and 1973 but mainly by Sir Robert.

A spokeswoman for Mr Rudd confirmed yesterday that all of the furniture acquired during the Howard years had been removed from the Parliament House office and placed in a storage basement. This included the green leather chairs, which had been replaced by the original fabric seats in a pale orange. "The Prime Minister has had the normal furniture taken out of storage and put back in his office," Mr Rudd's spokeswoman said. "The furniture purchased by the previous office is now in storage." She said the changes included the Menzies desk.

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Coroner wants inquiry into NSW government health system

THE coroner investigating the death of teenager Vanessa Anderson has called for a full and open inquiry into the New South Wales health system. Deputy NSW Coroner Carl Milovanovich today found the 16-year-old died from respiratory failure after being inappropriately prescribed opiate medication.

Mr Milovanovich said the health system had failed Vanessa at every turn and her death was the result of a systemic failures at Royal North Shore Hospital and other hospitals at which she was first treated. "If one had sat down and planned the worst possible case scenario for Vanessa ... it could have been done better," the coroner told Westmead Coroner's Court. "I have never seen a case such as Vanessa's in which almost every conceivable error or omission was detected and those errors continued to build one of top of the other."

Mr Milovanovich said he continued to see the same staffing training and administrative errors in hospital deaths and called for an inquiry into the health system. "There is little doubt that the NSW health system, while certainly staffed by dedicated professionals, is labouring under increased demand and expectations from the general public," he said. "The government of the day has the responsibility to provide adequate resources, training and staff to ensure the deliver of appropriate and timely medical services. "It may be timely that the department of health and or the responsible minister consider a full and open inquiry into the delivery of health services in NSW."


Officials lose raped deaf girl

QUEENSLAND welfare workers were unable to find a 13-year-old indigenous multiple-rape victim, a profoundly deaf cerebral palsy sufferer whose behaviour had exhausted 43 foster carers and who had been known to the system almost her entire life.

Doctors at Cairns Base Hospital had rung the Department of Child Safety crisis line in an urgent bid to find the girl to treat her for three sexually transmitted infections - chlamydia, gonorrhoea and trichomoniasis - contracted when she was allegedly raped by her 19-year-old cousin at Weipa on Cape York in December. Crisis line staff on December 28 were "unaware" the child was under the care of DCS and had no contact details for her, say case notes provided to the Cape York Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect office and obtained by The Australian.

"A 13-year-old girl who is profoundly deaf, has (fetal alcohol syndrome), cerebral palsy, a learning disability and who has recently been raped," says a doctor in the file. "The best they could do was to give me names of carers. I contacted the Child Protection Investigation Unit (police) and they commenced trying to locate her."

The case of the 13-year-old, who has been supervised by the DCS almost since the day she was born to a 14-year-old alcoholic mother, follows the disclosure in The Australian yesterday of the rapes of very young boys by teenage and pre-teen victims of rape in Kowanyama, to the south of Weipa. It also follows the disclosure in The Australian in December that nine males who pleaded guilty to the rape of a 10-year-old girl in Aurukun had escaped jail time.

The most foreboding file in the case notes of the 13-year-old Weipa victim is the recommendation made on September 3, 2004, when the then 10-year-old was examined by highly-respected paediatrician, Richard Heazlewood. "(The girl) has been in care since November 2003 and has been having access visits to her natural mother in Napranum (near Weipa) and while in Cairns has been attending the Cairns West School," he wrote. "The first stages of puberty are advancing and, according to her carer, she does not mind who she shows this to, which will obviously make her very much at risk back in her home comunity. "(The child) will be best served by remaining in Cairns at the West Cairns Special Impaired Hearing Unit, and also remaining in a stable foster care situation."

That care situation continued until July 2005 when Dr Heazlewood again noted: "(The child) is still attending the Special Education Hearing Impaired unit at West Cairns school. She is demonstrating significant sexualised behaviour, is defiant, has massive tantrums and is quite abusive. "However, her carer is slowly working on these behavioural patterns, with some improvement."

However in December last year the child was in Bamaga Aboriginal community on the tip of Cape York "on a trial placement as 43 foster placements in Cairns have failed. (the child) sexually abusing other children. She is not attending school, her grandmother claims that her mother is drinking and has a new boyfriend, and the child is wandering the streets at night. "The mother is not sticking to the plan of attending school with the child." ....

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Marcos Bagdatis stands by 'racist' slur

Greeks still loathe their former Turkish oppressors

Defiant tennis star Marcos Baghdatis, captured on film chanting offensive slogans on a party video, says he was just sticking up for his country. Footage of the Greek Cypriot tennis star arm in arm with the alleged ringleader of a confrontation with police at the Open and chanting "Turks out of Cyprus" has ignited fury among Melbourne's Turkish Cypriot community, with one leader calling for him to be kicked out of the country. Australian Turkish Cypriot Cultural and Welfare Association president Hakki Suleyman accused Baghdatis of a racist attack and said he should be expelled from the Australian Open and booted out of the country.

But Baghdatis today refused to budge. "There has been a lot of coverage of me appearing in a video on," the tennis sensation said in a statement. "In that video from 2007 I was supporting the interest of my country, Cyprus, while protesting against a situation that is not recognized by the United Nations. "Now I would like to concentrate on the tournament and ask everyone to respect that. I love the Australian Open and want to do well here."

Several clips on video-sharing website YouTube show Baghdatis at a barbecue hosted by the Hellas Fan Club after he was knocked out of last year's Open and reportedly singing "Turks out of Cyprus".

Victorian Premier John Brumby warned fans and players there was no room for ethnic rivalries at sports events. "There is no place for ethnic rivalry in sport in our state,'' Mr Brumby said. "It's one thing to get out there and support your player, but it's another to get into the business of ethnic rivalry and there is no place, I think, in Melbourne in our sporting culture for over-zealous ethnic rivalry,'' Mr Brumby.

Mr Suleyman said his association would write to Tennis Australia, the State Government and other organisations calling for Baghdatis to be expelled from the Australian Open and the country for abusing his position. "When you become a professional sportsman you have to be careful about what you are saying and it doesn't matter where you are, you are followed and it can be used against you,'' he said.

But friends of the tennis player, who plays Lleyton Hewitt tomorrow in the tournament's third round, rushed to his defence. Sources today told Herald Sun Online the video was filmed after Baghdatis was knocked out of last year's Open. It was one of about 30 songs sung on the night, a source from the player's entourage said.

Turkey invaded and occupied a third of Greek-controlled Cyprus in 1974. Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria director Bill Papastergiadis denied the chants were racist and that the call for Turks to leave Cyprus was in line with a United Nations resolution. "`It's not exactly expressing a view which doesn't conform with the UN resolution or with the general global view of that incident,'' Mr Papastergiadis said.

Tennis officials are meeting to decide how to respond to the matter, and the Association of Tennis Professionals is meeting Baghdatis' management to discuss the issue.

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