Sunday, November 30, 2008

How to put smart people off teaching

Putting young, inexperienced teachers into sink schools is a sure way to cause them to think of another career. Some of them last only weeks in such a situation. You would think an education boss would know that but when you are a Leftist, you don't need facts. Sounding good is all that matters

Top teaching graduates will be offered extra money to fill difficult jobs and work at "challenging" state schools. State Education Minister Rod Welford will today unveil what he describes as an innovative plan to get elite teachers into tough classroom roles. Mr Welford told The Sunday Mail the graduates would be offered incentives in the form of scholarships to work in specialist subject areas, difficult schools or remote locations.

The minister said he was alarmed at the number of teachers quitting after just four or five years on the job. [So he wants them to quit even faster??] "Recruiting and retaining top teachers is the key to ensuring all Queensland students can access the best possible education, no matter where they live," Mr Welford said.

Mr Welford, who will quit politics after 20 years at the 2009 state election, said there was a shortage of teachers in manual arts and maths B and C. Bonded scholarships would be offered to high-calibre final year undergraduate students to teach in subjects where shortages had been identified. Queensland Health had introduced a similar program for doctors, a bonded medical scholarship to work in areas of "priority service" for six years after graduating from Griffith University.

Mr Welford said other positions that were difficult to fill included schools in areas of socio-economic disadvantage and in rural and remote locations. "Increasingly we need to recognise that to attract the right talent we need to have incentives and we need to apply our most talented people to the most challenging jobs," he said.

The minister said the State Government would also implement a sister program with universities to provide graduates with initial teaching experience in the location of their choice. "This would be followed by a placement in a difficult-to-staff location with a guaranteed return to their preferred location after an agreed time. "Boomerang transfers will also be offered, with staff supported to undertake short-term placements in challenging locations with a guaranteed return to their preferred location on completion."

Queensland Teachers Union president Steve Ryan supported the plan but said the teachers must be fully qualified before taking the demanding roles. "We accept that there is a need for a variety of ways in which we can attract teachers to the profession . . . the best way is to make sure they are getting the right salaries," Mr Ryan said. The Government plans to introduce the scheme for 2009.


Media Bias in Australia

The ABC's partisan preferences are not limited to Australian politics

The taxpayer-funded Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) occupies a position in Australia similar to that enjoyed by the BBC in the United Kingdom. The ABC runs two free-to-air national television channels, four national radio networks, nine metropolitan radio stations in major cities, 51 radio stations across rural and regional Australia and a range of Internet and subscription services. No Australian commercial network approaches the ABC in terms of reach and, arguably, influence. It is well-funded, amply staffed and under more or less constant criticism for projecting a left-wing take on just about every aspect of Australian life that it touches.

Grahame Morris, a chief of staff to former conservative Prime Minister John Howard, once described the national broadcaster as, "our enemies talking to our friends." The recently retired presenter of ABC TV's national gardening show was a former member of the Communist Party. The ABC, you see, takes no chances. Even when you were invited to tiptoe through the tulips, the ABC provided an ideologically reliable guide.

Obviously, the political and cultural disposition of the national broadcaster, as it sucks up taxpayer dollars, is an important and legitimate area of public debate. The left does not see it that way. Conservative criticism of the national broadcaster's political and cultural perspectives is usually brushed off by the ABC and its friends as an attack on the "independence" of its journalists, producers and managers.

But an obligation to provide balance and diversity of opinion is enshrined in the ABC's charter; and the corporation's editorial policies and style guide set out rules for news and current affairs journalists in an attempt to ensure that the obligation is met.

The ABC's partisan preferences are not limited to Australian politics. Consider this comment in the lead up to the 2004 U.S. presidential election from Red Symons, the presenter of one of its prime time radio programs:
"774 ABC Melbourne is, of course, supporting Senator John Kerry in his endeavor to become President of the United States. We can't take sides in Australia, but I've had it from management we can take sides elsewhere in the world. We want Kerry to win."

The Australian chapter of Democrats Abroad would have been chuffed to know that.

There are broadcasting codes that can be used to try to hold the ABC accountable to its charter. The process is far from satisfactory because, in the first instance, the ABC itself is the arbiter of complaints made about it. So between 2005 and 2008 the Howard Government attempted to use the Senate Estimates Committee process to take the problem of political bias straight to the corporation's managing director.

Over the three-year period, the Government tabled more than 1,000 examples of ABC journalists violating the organization's editorial guidelines and style guide?its rule books for providing fair and balanced reporting. The examples were extracted from a very small part of the network's output?the program transcripts that the ABC makes available online?and thus represented only a very small percentage of the total network programming. Unquestionably, a complete analysis of ABC output would have yielded thousands more.

A particularly egregious example of ABC mischief had occurred in February 2003 when Prime Minister Howard visited then Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri in the lead up to the war with Iraq. In a meeting with Mr. Howard, the president of the world's largest Muslim nation gave an undertaking that her Government would explain to the Indonesian public that a war on Iraq would not be regarded as a war on Islam.

However, ABC News, broadcast across Australia and beamed into Asia, that evening reported, "Well, there's support for Iraq tonight from the world's largest Muslim nation. Indonesia claims a war on Iraq would be a war on Islam." The ABC was forced to run a correction the next day, but the damage to the national interest had been done.

The Howard Government's efforts to modify the behavior of the ABC resulted in a number of smoke-and-mirrors efforts to address the issue of bias in its current affairs broadcasting. However, one year ago, the 11-year-old centre-right Liberal-National coalition of John Howard was defeated in a federal election by the centre-left Australian Labor Party (ALP) led by Kevin Rudd.

On election night, the ABC's TV anchor and network icon Kerry O'Brien, on air live from the national tally room, declared that there had been a big swing "to the ABC" in Bennelong, the electorate of Prime Minister John Howard. The gaffe, if O'Brien's comment had, indeed, been unintended, provided an eloquent metaphor for the symbiotic relationship between the ABC and the ALP. Maxine McKew, the ALP candidate who went on to win Bennelong from the prime minister, had been a 30-year veteran journalist and presenter at the ABC. She left the network at the end of 2006, laughing off suggestions that she intended to stand as a Labor candidate in the federal election.

Two months out of the ABC, McKew joined the office of Labor Party leader Kevin Rudd; and one month after that she announced her intention to contest Bennelong for the ALP.

Kerry O'Brien, the election night anchor, presents a 30-minute national current affairs program four nights a week on ABC TV. In the 1970s, O'Brien himself was on the staff of a Labor Party leader. On Sunday mornings, ABC TV presents "Insiders," a national review of the week in politics anchored by Barrie Cassidy. In the 1980s, Cassidy served as press secretary to Labor Party Prime Minister Bob Hawke. ABC Radio National has Phillip Adams, another former member of the Communist Party, covering politics and current affairs for about seven hours a week. One of his regular guests is Bruce Shapiro, contributing editor to The Nation.

The gratitude of one Labor prime minister for the election-time efforts of the ABC is recorded in the Cabinet diary of a former minister: "The ABC deserves a decent go because it has done well by the ALP in the last two elections," Labor's Paul Keating said in 1992.

The Rudd Labor Government has promised to restore a staff member to the ABC board of directors, a position that was abolished by the Howard Government. It has also said it will depoliticize the ABC board; which really means it will stack it with its own ideological allies and friends. The ABC, after almost 12 years of confrontation with a conservative foe, once again has in Canberra a government that many of its foot-soldiers are happy to believe in.


Tasmanian public hospital waiting lists continue to grow

It's a problem in the public hospital systems of all Australian States -- though NSW and Queensland seem to be the worst

The waiting list for elective surgery in Tasmania increased by almost 10 per cent in the three months to the end of September, compared with the same period last year. New figures from the Health and Human Services Department show that at the end of last September, the number of patients waiting for elective surgery was 8,600. That's a jump of 9.9 per cent from the end of September 2007, when about 7,800 people were waiting.

The department's Progress Chart, which has just been released, says the waiting list will continue to grow because of Tasmania's ageing population and increasing rates of chronic disease.

Other figures show the number of women screened for breast cancer in the September quarter dropped by 9 per cent, compared to the same quarter in 2006.

The number of adults getting dental treatment increased by 15 per cent.


Rule-breaking pet-owner outraged at enforcement of the rules

She obviously thinks she is special and can pick and choose what rules she obeys. But town planning is an inherently arrogant profession, from what I see. That allowing her to break the rules would make the rules unenforceable generally is obviously too much for her tiny mind to comprehend. She should study Kant. It sounds like she hasn't got a bloke, either. No wonder

A defenceless pooch has been forced out of a plush apartment complex, home to some of Melbourne's most elite residents, after a costly legal dogfight. Owner Natalie Gray has criticised "pet-hating" neighbours at the Domain Park complex in South Yarra who filed a civil complaint at the Melbourne Magistrates Court to get rid of Princess, her seven-year-old papillon. "They are pet haters, it's outrageous," she said. "I think they lack compassion. It's really sad they are being so unreasonable."

Accountant Colin Tatterson, a director at Pitcher Partners, is on the board behind the anti-pets campaign. Another resident at the Domain Rd apartment block, which overlooks the Royal Botanical Gardens, is former governor general Sir Ninian Stephen - but he said he did not mind pets as long as they were quiet.

It is understood at least $50,000 was spent on the 10-month stoush. The dispute was resolved late last week after Ms Gray agreed not to take Princess into the building. She was unable to afford to continue the legal battle.

Ms Gray, 47, says she can't understand why there has been such a fuss over her pet. She said her dog didn't bark, would never leave a mess and was so well behaved she was welcomed at Mass by the nuns at the Carmelite Monastery in Kew. Ms Gray said Princess lived at her mother's house in Kew and visited overnight only about 20 times a year, often on Thursdays when they watched dog detective television show Inspector Rex. Ms Gray, a town planner, also accused some residents in the block of spying on her.

But under the rules of the Domain Park's resident-controlled management company, no pets are allowed, not even budgies or goldfish. And that's not the only rule - prams and bicycles must enter the building through the car park, not the lobby, and "soiled" running shoes are not welcome either. Even buying into the building is difficult. Prospective owners must prove they are of good character in an interview with the company board before they are allowed to buy an apartment.

Michael Trumble, solicitor for Domain Park management, said his client was pleased with the outcome. Some residents had bought into the building at 193 Domain Rd because of the no-pets rule, he said.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

The flow of "Boat people" has resumed

Kevvy's new softer policy was noticed immediately. A problem that Howard solved is back again

Indonesian and Australian police have stopped 14 boats laden with asylum seekers from travelling to Australia this year, including at least three in the past six weeks, as people-smuggling activity accelerates across the archipelago. Four boats have made it to Australian waters. On Thursday, one of them, with 12 Sri Lankans aboard, became the first boat in two years to reach the mainland, near Shark Bay in Western Australia. Government sources said the arrivals, who were being transferred to Christmas Island, would have access to Australian law should they claim asylum.

The previously undisclosed figures on people-smuggling disruption, confirmed by Australian Federal Police, highlight the success of the joint operation combating human trafficking. But the data also points to a spike in asylum seekers trying to come to Australia, a politically sensitive issue for the Rudd Government. This year, the Government softened its policy towards illegal immigrants and has allowed the navy - which intercepts boats - to stand down for two months over Christmas due to a manpower shortage.

"We have a lot of problems with this smuggling," Paulus Purwoko, deputy chief of criminal investigations at Indonesian National Police, told the Herald. He said the number of boat crossings to Australia had increased, particularly in recent months. "They transit first through Malaysia, then from Malaysia to Indonesia. We believe it is organised by a syndicate. "When they get to Indonesia, they try to make a deception to the Indonesian police. They throw away their passports. They get a UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] letter of recommendation or ID. Some of them have originals, the rest have fakes."

The Australian Federal Police has played a critical role in combating human trafficking by providing intelligence. But Mr Purwoko said it was difficult to keep tabs on smugglers due to Indonesia's long coastline and because the boats were leaving from different places each time. He expressed grave fears for the asylum seekers, saying the syndicates use the flimsiest of boats to save money, creating huge risks for their human cargo. The worst time to attempt the crossing is over summer, when the seas are roughest. It is also when the navy will be undertaking limited operations.

Indonesian police have made numerous arrests, including Afghan, Pakistani and Indonesian nationals. Many of the asylum seekers are from Afghanistan, reflecting the deteriorating security there and rise in persecution against ethnic minorities as the Taliban exerts more control. Others have come from Iraq, Somalia and Sri Lanka, all countries besieged by violence.

The Herald interviewed two Afghan asylum seekers this week in Jakarta. The men, who cannot be identified because it would jeopardise the safety of their families, said people-smuggling syndicates are paid up to $US12,000 a person. "They promise they will arrive in Australia or some other country like Britain," said one of the men. They said asylum seekers wanted to come to Australia because it was "safe".


Global cooling fails to cool protagonists of global warming

Europe is shivering through an extreme cold snap. One of the coldest winters in the US in more than 100 years is toppling meteorological records by the dozen, and the Arctic ice is expanding. Even Australia has been experiencing unseasonable snow. But the stories about global warming have not stopped, not for a second.

In May last year, The Sydney Morning Herald breathlessly reported that climate change had reduced the Southern Ocean's ability to soak up carbon dioxide, claiming that as a result global warming would accelerate even faster than previously thought. The story was picked up and repeated in a number of different journals around the region. But this week the CSIRO suggested the exact opposite. "The new study suggests that Southern Ocean currents, and therefore the Southern Ocean's ability to soak up carbon dioxide, have not changed in recent decades," it said. This time the story got no coverage in the SMH, and was run on the ABC's website as evidence the Southern Ocean was adapting to climate change.

CSIRO oceanographer Stuart Rintoul, a co-author of the study, said it did not disprove global warming and he did not believe its lack of an alarmist tone was responsible for the poor coverage. But the story is being pointed out as an example of media bias on global warming. Critics argue that the ABC and the Fairfax media are the worst offenders.

ABC board member Keith Windschuttle said yesterday the national broadcaster was in breach of its charter to provide a diversity of views. "The ABC and the Fairfax press rarely provide an opportunity for global warming sceptics to put their view," Mr Windschuttle said. "The science is not settled. "We are seeing an increasing number of people with impeccable scientific backgrounds questioning part or whole of the story. I don't believe the ABC has been reflecting the genuine diversity of the debate. Under its own act, the ABC is required to produce a diversity of views."

Bob Carter of James Cook University, one of the world's best-known climate change sceptics, said there was no doubt Windschuttle was correct. "With very few exceptions, press reporters commenting on global warming are either ignorant of the science matters involved, or wilfully determined to propagate warming hysteria because that fits their personal world view, or are under editorial direction to focus the story around the alarmist headline grab -- and often all three," Professor Carter said.

National Climate Centre former head William Kininmonth said coverage of global warming had been hysterical and was getting worse, with a large public relations effort inundating the media with information from the alarmist side.


Another stupid government computer cock-up

Frustrated Queensland police are turning a blind eye to crime to avoid time-consuming data entry on the force's new $100 million computer system. Queensland Police Union vice-president Ian Leavers said the system turned jobs that usually took an hour into several hours of angst. He said police were growing reluctant to make arrests following the latest phased roll-out of QPRIME, or Queensland Police Records Information Management Exchange. "They are reluctant to make arrests and they're showing a lot more discretion in the arrests they make because QPRIME is so convoluted to navigate," Mr Leavers said. He said minor street offences, some traffic offences and minor property matters were going unchallenged, but not serious offences.

However, Mr Leavers said there had been occasions where offenders were released rather than kept in custody because of the length of time it now took to prepare court summaries. "There was an occasion where two people were arrested on multiple charges. It took six detectives more than six hours to enter the details into QPRIME," he said. "It would have taken even longer to do the summary to go to court the next morning, so basically the suspects were released on bail, rather than kept in custody."

He said jobs could now take up to seven hours to process because of the amount of data entry involved. "It's difficult to navigate because it's not a matter of following steps in a logical manner. You go from A to G then back to A, then C, then H," he said. "It's a nightmare." At most stations at least one officer was responsible for carrying out "compliance checks" on the new system, which took about 90 per cent of their time, Mr Leavers said.

Supplied by a Canadian firm called Niche Technology, QPRIME was promoted to Queensland police as a one-stop database that would reduce the administrative burden for officers. Its implementation began in April 2006, replacing 230 other systems, many of them non-compatible. Mr Leavers said the Canadian police employed civilians to carry out data-entry, freeing up officers to catch criminals.

A Queensland Police Service spokesperson conceded the introduction of QPRIME had created a "challenge for individuals having to learn the new system". "However, the benefits of the QPRIME system into the future far outweigh short-term disaffection by some officers," the spokesperson said. "It is already showing its worth in assisting officers to solve significant crimes by allowing them to access information in a holistic manner."


Workplace law reforms asking for trouble

Kevin Rudd shouts from the rooftops each day that the global financial crisis has changed the world, but the Prime Minister does not believe his own words. A bizarre fate has befallen Australia. At the precise time it faces a global crisis, a business downturn and rising unemployment, the Rudd Government is recasting workplace relations to increase trade union powers, inhibit employment and impose new costs on employers.

Normally this would defy any test of common sense. Indeed, it would seem the essence of irresponsibility. But it has instead won widespread applause, and its architect Julia Gillard has won almost universal acclaim as a political hero. It is as though Australia's workplace relations system exists in some interterrestrial immunity from the rest of the economic world.

The global crisis means everything has changed: the budget goes into deficit, fiscal stimulus replaces fiscal restraint, the Reserve Bank does a volte-face and begins to slash interest rates, and the Government guarantees deposits as Rudd declares the crisis is "sweeping across the world". But standing immovable is Labor's support for greater trade union power, more costly restrictions on employers, a greater role for the revamped industrial relations commission, an effective end to individual statutory contracts, a revival of arbitration, and a sharp weakening of direct employer and non-union employee bargaining.

The new workplace relations model introduced by Gillard is a significant step into the past. It does more than abolish the Howard government's Work Choices model; it goes beyond Work Choices to Howard's 1996 reforms and even further to Keating's 1993 reforms in reshaping the system. It is hard to imagine how its impact will be other than to weaken productivity and employment. The immediate economic impact should be small. But this is major institutional reform with a long fuse. It is designed to endure and, as the unions test the laws and refine their procedures, it will shift workplace relations a long way from their present moorings.

This bill constitutes a defining moment for the Rudd Government, a historic victory for the trade union movement, and Gillard's most important political legacy. Her skills in translating policy from the 2007 election into the Fair Work Bill are impressive. The Opposition under Malcolm Turnbull is cowed. It has no political option, as Turnbull signals, but to give passage to Gillard's bill. The Government has a mandate from the election. Gillard, via her exploitation of the hated Work Choices symbol, has guaranteed the bill's passage and, in the process, provided brilliant cover for the serious regression to workplace re-regulation and greater union powers that the bill implements.

It affirms that the 2007 election was a turning point for Australia. The combined impact of the Labor Government and the global crisis means that Australia is taking a different economic path, defined by a sharp lift in intervention and regulation, the new global trend. In her second-reading speech, Gillard endorsed the 1907 Harvester judgment that enshrined new protectionism and set Australia on its calamitous 20th-century path of wage welfarism at the cost of productivity. Indeed, the language Gillard used is the same as that of Alfred Deakin and Harvester case judge H.B. Higgins a century ago, with her dedication that "the ideal of fairness should lie at the centre of our national life" and, by implication, be enshrined in a regulated industrial system.

Consider the bill. It will have a substantial impact on the resources, retail and services sectors, but less so in manufacturing. First, the new commission, called Fair Work Australia, is more powerful and influential than the former Australian Industrial Relations Commission. The Freehills brief on the new bill says: "FWA will have a much more important role than is currently the case, particularly in setting and adjusting minimum wages, facilitating bargaining for enterprise agreements, the expanded unfair-dismissal jurisdiction and dispute resolution under modern awards and enterprise agreements."

This is what makes the bill so reactionary. It genuflects before the idea of a powerful umpire now made user-friendly, the umpire that the Keating and Howard reforms curtailed. It shows the Rudd Government's true character beneath its modernist disguise. Of course, building up FWA will be presented by the Government as an example of virtue and balance, as a responsible alternative to transferring power direct to the unions.

Second, the effect is to empower unions in enterprise agreements and severely limit genuine non-union agreements. A union needs only one member in a workplace to become a bargaining party. Freehills says: "In effect, this means that true non-union agreements are only possible, (1) in workplaces where there are no union members; or (2) where the union chooses not to be covered by an agreement." IR legal experts report that employers hoping to create non-union enterprise agreements, a cause absolutely fundamental to genuine enterprise bargaining, have only a remote hope.

Third, the new right-of-entry provisions for unions are extraordinary and unacceptable in a democracy. Freehills says that union right of entry to businesses "will be significantly broader". Unions will have right of entry to premises where they have no members, and they will be able to inspect the records of individuals who are non-members where this relates to a suspected contravention. In order to justify right of entry, unions will need only to show the business is engaged in an activity where employees are potential unionists. This has been stamped by cabinet in an insight into its real notion of individual rights.

Fourth, the bargaining process is rewritten to favour unions and to allow FWA to intervene more liberally. This is via the beautiful euphemism of "good faith bargaining" that must apply universally. Understand that these rules are highly prescriptive and instruct employers in detail on how they are to bargain and what information they are to provide. The task of FWA is to enforce these requirements. Freehills says this will result in "significant changes to the ways in which many employers bargain". In a situation where an employer commits multiple breaches of good faith bargaining, a union can seek and obtain from FWA compulsory arbitration of the agreement. In addition, FWA is entitled to decide (only a petition is needed) whether there is majority employee support for bargaining and then order an employer to bargain collectively.

Fifth, an entirely new bargaining system is created for low-paid workers, who are entitled to negotiate across an industry with multiple employers. Gillard says this can relate to child care, cleaning, security and community workers. The bill does not define a low-paid worker, leaving upward flexibility. This stream can be accessed only with FWA's approval, and the bill enables FWA to play a hands-on role. The bill does not allow industrial action across an industry but, critically, it does allow industry-wide arbitration. Freehills' brief says that "in certain circumstances where bargaining breaks down", parties can seek "an arbitrated workplace determination".

"This is the way the unions will move into the low-income workplaces," says Peter Anderson, director of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. "In effect, it will be pattern bargaining. The Government is opening new avenues to multi-employer bargaining with industry-wide arbitration that has not existed before."

Sixth, businesses will be more exposed to union demarcation disputes. Employers will no longer be able to bargain with one union in preference to another. Provided a union has a member in the workplace, the union can apply to be covered by the agreement. Freehills' brief says: "Any attempt to bargain with only one union may well mean that an employer is not bargaining in good faith and so could be subject to bargaining orders." This will become a test of the ACTU's authority to manage its member unions.

Seventh, as is well-known, Labor's aim is a workplace system devoid of individual statutory contracts. This realises a Labor-ACTU objective that originates with the Howard government's 1996 reforms that introduced such contracts. This campaign long predates Work Choices. Individual contracts, while not central to the system, operated for a decade before the 2007 election.

Labor's complaint has never been about unfair Australian Workplace Agreements. It has always been about the principle of AWAs that became law on Coalition-Democrat votes. There is no moral, political or economic case for outlawing the AWA principle. There is only one justification: to protect collective power. Labor and the trade union movement waged a brilliant campaign over three years in the name of fairness to bolster collective power. It is another Work Choices legacy.

The Rudd-Gillard new industrial system seems to have firm foundations. The business groups are divided. The Opposition is unwilling to fight. The 2007 election mandate is legitimate and irresistible. The new structure, however, will prove untenable and the struggle will be resumed at a later date. In the interim, the Government will be responsible for all the consequences of imposing on Australia at a time of unusual financial crisis a workplace relations system that means higher costs, a weaker labour market, a more interventionist umpire and a union movement with greater legal powers.


Friday, November 28, 2008

An unusually "incorrect" entertainer

Rolf tells it like it is: Aborigines do very little to help themselves -- so why should we worry?

Rolf Harris regrets the racist verse on Aborigines in Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport, the song that made him famous in Britain and launched the wobbleboard on an unsuspecting music world.

In Melbourne yesterday to plug a book of illustrations of the same name, the singer and painter said he had tried to erase the lines "Let me Abos go loose" and "They're of no further use" from all recordings over the years, with limited success. "It was a mark of the times, done totally innocently with no realisation that you would offend at all . Just trying to create a fun song for a bunch of Aussies who were drinking themselves stupid on Swan Lager in London at the time," he said.

But half a century after penning the controversial lyrics, the London-based expatriate has not succumbed to political correctness. He blames traditional Aboriginal values for the dire living conditions in many indigenous communities. "The attitude is that in their original way of life they would really wreck the surrounding countryside that they lived in and they would leave all the garbage and they would go walkabout to the next place," he said. "The traditional attitude is still there and I wish there was a simple solution but I'm not certain."

He has strong views about some Aborigines lamenting the conditions of their communities. "You sit at home watching the television and you think to yourself, 'Get up off your arse and clean up the streets your bloody self' and 'Why would you expect somebody to come in and clean up your garbage which you've dumped everywhere?' But then you have to think to yourself that it's a different attitude to life."

Aboriginal children were never disciplined or expected to adhere to rules until adulthood, he said. "[Until] then they have a totally carefree life to do what they want and that quite often involves smashing everything that they have."


An old-fashioned responsible father: Good to see

Boy, 5, made to walk two-and-a-half hours to school

A NORTHERN TERRITORY man has been making his five-year-old son walk two-and-a-half hours to school every day, after he was kicked off the school bus. When Jack Burt confessed that he'd been banned for five days for hitting the bus driver in the head with an apple core, dad Sam thought he should learn the hard way. He and Jack last week were getting up at 5.10am for the dusty 13km-hike from the Darwin rural area of Herbert, all the way to Humpty Doo. Mr Burt also took the wheels off Jack's bike so he couldn't be tempted to ride to school.

At the end of the old-fashioned punishment, Mr Burt, 38, took out a public notice in the Northern Territory News. "Jack Burt and his dad wish to thank all the kind people who stopped to offer them lifts in the past week," the ad read. "It's good to see a number of good people in the community. Jack hopes to be allowed back on the bus on Monday."

But in the battle of wills between tall and short, the smart money's on Jack. "Shame it didn't work," Mr Burt told the Northern Territory News. "He got back on the bus Monday, and within three stops he was in trouble again. I couldn't believe it. "I don't understand - he's good at school, he gets awards all the time."

However, a breakthrough might be in sight. When Jack this week said he didn't mind walking - because it made him strong for fighting - he was told if he started fighting he might have to walk home in the afternoons too. Jack's eyes got a little teary. He said he might not get home before dark. Mr Burt told him not to worry - they'd leave the key out for him.


Leftist "national treasure" was a crook

The disgraced former Federal Court judge Marcus Einfeld has been stripped of his Queen's Counsel title after pleading guilty to making a false statement under oath and perverting the course of justice. Einfeld, 69, who has been battling prostate cancer for several months, falsely claimed in 2006 that a female friend was driving his silver Lexus in Mosman when he incurred a $77 speeding fine. The friend, however, had died before the offence.

But in a spectacular fall from grace, Einfeld finally pleaded guilty last month to knowingly making a false statement under oath in Sydney's Downing Centre Local Court on August 7, 2006. He also pleaded guilty to making a false statement in Sydney on August 23, 2006, with intent to pervert the course of justice

Einfeld, who had served a term as chairman of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission, had been a Federal Court judge for 15 years. He had been appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia and proclaimed a National Treasure by the National Trust. His sentencing hearing has been set down for February 25.

More here

Student testing 'gets best results'

TESTING literacy and numeracy is vital to helping students complete high school and continue their education into adulthood, says the head of New York's education department, Joel Klein. In Australia at the invitation of the federal Government, Mr Klein yesterday dismissed concerns that publicly reporting test results between peer groups of schools meant students only mastered what was in the tests.

"What we've found is that kind of mastery is significant, and has the most significant impact on students' achievement," he told The Australian. "We're finding right now with student progress that you can seea direct correlation with likelihood of a student graduating and making it to post-secondary education." Mr Klein is a leading proponent of using tests to measure the improvement of students and school performance, and publicly reporting the results to share expertise and hold schools to account. Even among high-performing schools in New York, Mr Klein said lifting students' test scores by 0.2 points increased their chances of graduating by 15 points.

Punchbowl Boys High School principal Jihad Dib said increased literacy and numeracy testing had been a key part of a remarkable turnaround in student performance at his school. "We put literacy and numeracy in every activity and I always ask teachers where that component is," Mr Dib said.

During Mr Klein's week-long visit in Australia, sponsored by global financial firm UBS, he will promote the tools underpinning the accountability system adopted in in New York. He addressed a forum in Melbourne yesterday on leading transformational change in schools, will address the National Press Club in Canberra today, and tomorrow will speak at a corporate dinner hosted by UBS on strengthening the links between business and schools.

Mr Klein's visit comes ahead of a looming showdown between the commonwealth and states and territories at the meeting of the Council of Australian Governments on Saturday over the reporting of school performance.

Addressing the forum yesterday, Mr Klein was effusive in his praise for Education Minister Julia Gillard, and described her speech outlining the Government's commitment to transparency in schools as one of the "greatest" on education reform he had heard. "The level of courage in a public official isn't as rare as I sometimes thought," he said. He warned that any changes depended on political will.

Ms Gillard said yesterday the Government was still working on the final form of school reports, but she envisaged a paper report for parents on their child, and a website on schools. Ms Gillard made it clear the Government would not bow to pressure from the states and teaching unions over reporting school results. "We want a new era of transparency so that parents and taxpayers know what is happening in Australian schools," she said. "I want to see a system where parents can get full information about schools in their local community which (they) can compare with similar schools around the nation."

In her speech, Ms Gillard acknowledged concerns over reporting school results, saying publishing test performances "out of context can be misleading". But she said Australia had failed to grasp that it was not appropriate for information on students' learning to be held by schools and government but not made available to the community. "I absolutely reject the proposition that somehow I am smart enough to understand information and parents and community members are somehow too dumb," she said. Ms Gillard said boosting teacher quality was key to improving standards, especially at schools in disadvantaged areas that did not attract their share of good teachers.

Mr Klein received a mixed response from the 100-strong group of educators and policymakers at the Melbourne forum. While teachers generally supported boosting accountability and empowering parents, president of the Australian Secondary Principals Association Andrew Blair was concerned that tests for ranking schools were simplistic. Mr Blair said measurements of performance should cover multiple methodologies, beyond "raw grabs" of test data.

Mr Klein said multiple measurements risked covering up underperformance. "The more we have multiple measures the risk is we dilute the power of accountability," he said. "What matters isn't finding the perfect indicator, but settling on a consistent intelligent method of assessing outputs and tracking them."

Mr Klein trumpeted the importance of mathematics and literature, and defended tests as being effective in teaching higher order thinking beyond the test itself.

It was important to empower parents with information. "Don't believe for a second that when you provide them with the information and the transparency, that parents won't become the greatest advocates for their kids. Sure, it will make you uncomfortable to think your kid isn't in a great school, but it will make you much more uncomfortable not to know that."

In an interview with The Australian, Mr Klein said the key was to measure progress in groups of like schools, to give information to parents and identify the most effective teaching practices.

An analysis of middle schools in New York found that almost regardless of the level of achievement at which students started, students in 90per cent of schools lost ground in their results from year to year. But in 10 per cent of schools, student results improved. "We learn by studying that 10per cent and particularly wondering why students in one out of 10 schools are moving forward," he said. "We analyse different results from different teachers, and how some are getting steady progress of students, and use that information to support teachers and improve their work. That's the power of accountability systems; to shine a spotlight right on the best practice. There is no question about it."

Mr Klein said three basic tools of accountability underlined his system: a progress report measuring student improvement; a quality review of schools; and surveys of parents, students and teachers.


The Kiwis are still coming

The number of Kiwis flooding into Australia has hit another record. Nearly 48,000 New Zealanders moved across the Tasman in the past 12 months. Statistics New Zealand has released figures showing 47,800 Kiwis came to live in Australia in the year to October. In the same period 13,200 people living in Australia emigrated to New Zealand, leaving a net loss to New Zealand of 34,600.

New Zealand's new Prime Minister John Key campaigned on a platform of trying to reverse the exodus of Kiwis to Australia.

In what may be an indication that global economic woes are hitting tourism, short-term visitor arrivals in NZ were down 3 per cent to 173,900 in October compared with a year earlier.


Thursday, November 27, 2008


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG comments on the "achievements" of one year of Rudd.

Huge government transport bungle in Sydney

Even at a cost of billions of dollars, building just 19 kilometres of railway was too difficult for them. The contractor did as it was told but the things it was asked to do were half-baked. Governments should never attempt anything "innovative". You need close involvement for that -- not bureaucratic inertia and indifference

Serious defects have emerged in the $2.3 billion Epping to Chatswood Rail Line that could threaten its long-term reliability and have the potential to increase dramatically the cost of running the still unopened railway. A secret Government report, obtained by the Herald, has exposed thousands of flaws in the way the tracks have been fixed to 19 kilometres of concrete slabs. It details the widespread failure of the epoxy, which was often water-affected or contaminated with slurry, the use of incorrectly tensioned bolts and clips, and cracks in the sleepers.

The line was meant to open in 2006, but it has been repeatedly delayed. Full operation of the line was again deferred after revelations in the Herald last month that noise levels inside test trains were equivalent to a Boeing 737 coming in to land.

The latest report, commissioned by the State Government's rail-building agency, the Transport Infrastructure Development Corporation, raises grave questions about the long-term cost of maintaining the line. "Any assurance of reliable track performance remains presently 'out of the question' until action to solve the thousands of track component defects, currently being uncovered and listed, can be accomplished," the document of March this year says.

There is already a feud between the Government and the contractor, Thiess Hochtief, over the noise problems, which will cost $29.5 million to fix. The Government is now demanding the contractor also pay to repair the latest problems. A TIDC spokesman, Peter Whelan, told the Herald that "95 per cent of the track has been lifted and fully inspected", as part of its "quality assurance and audit process". "The issues noted [in the report] were identified by TIDC and were required to be addressed by the construction contractor at its cost," he said.

But the Herald understands that senior RailCorp staff consider the long-term maintenance risk to be so serious that they have begun their own work on how to fix the problem. "Some concerns have been raised [by RailCorp] and are being addressed," Mr Whelan said.

Unlike traditional railways, the multibillion-dollar line uses more than 54,000 "Delkor Eggs" as sleepers - these are oval-shaped rubber mats designed to absorb vibration. At the core of the problem is the lack of reliable bonding between these eggs and the concrete slab. "It would, in this author's view, be a grossly irresponsible and negligent act to certify as to the suitability of the ECRL track structure reliability prior to the above conclusion items being satisfied," the report finds. "Such action would constitute grave compromise of professional integrity of those individuals involved in my opinion."

The document questions whether the problems may also stem from an incorrect concrete mix being used to lay the slab: "The presence of slab cracks and prevalence of voids under [base plate] pads suggests some level of variance from design and placement requirements for ECRL." But Mr Whelan said there was no problem "with the integrity of the concrete slab".

The report reveals that the failure of individual eggs increases the pressure on neighbouring eggs, eventually buckling the tracks and causing "ride discomfort". This accelerates the wear on the track, increases the cost of routine rail grinding, reduces longevity and can only be repaired as effectively as "the integrity of the initial track construction provides", the report says.

The problem was first revealed by the Herald in February. But for several months before that TIDC and Thiess Hochtief carried out works to try to solve the problem. At first, attempts were made to squeeze more epoxy under the baseplates - but this only made things worse, the report reveals. The problem's persistence led to the independent site inspection that formed the basis of the leaked document. "It is considered possible that RailCorp will decline to accept handover of [the] project on the basis of inadequate assurance available for future system reliability," the report concluded.

But Sue Netterfield, a Thiess Hochtief spokeswoman, said the problems had "been rectified". "Having met all the contract requirements, the joint venture is in the process of handing the project over to the client and is not aware of any outstanding issues."


Beware the church of climate alarm

As the Czech President, Vaclav Klaus, an economist, anti-totalitarian and climate change sceptic, prepares to take up the rotating presidency of the European Union next year, climate alarmists are doing their best to traduce him. The New York Times opened a profile of Klaus, 67, this week with a quote from a 1980s communist secret agent's report, claiming he behaves like a "rejected genius", and asserts there is "palpable fear" he will "embarrass" the EU.

But the real fear driving climate alarmists wild is that a more rational approach to the fundamentalist religion of global warming may be in the ascendancy - whether in the parliamentary offices of the world's largest trading bloc or in the living rooms of Blacktown. As the global financial crisis takes hold, perhaps people are starting to wonder whether the so-called precautionary principle, which would have us accept enormous new taxes in the guise of an emissions trading scheme and curtail economic growth, is justified, based on what we actually know about climate.

One of Australia's leading enviro-sceptics, the geologist and University of Adelaide professor Ian Plimer, 62, says he has noticed audiences becoming more receptive to his message that climate change has always occurred and there is nothing we can do to stop it. In a speech at the American Club in Sydney on Monday night for Quadrant magazine, titled Human-Induced Climate Change - A Lot Of Hot Air, Plimer debunked climate-change myths.

"Climates always change," he said. Our climate has changed in cycles over millions of years, as the orbit of the planet wobbles and our distance from the sun changes, for instance, or as the sun itself produces variable amounts of radiation. "All of this affects climate. It is impossible to stop climate change. Climates have always changed and they always will."

His two-hour presentation included more than 50 charts and graphs, as well as almost 40 pages of references. It is the basis of his new book, Heaven And Earth: The Missing Science Of Global Warming, to be published early next year. Plimer said one of the charts, which plots atmospheric carbon dioxide and temperature over 500 million years, with seemingly little correlation, demonstrates one of the "lessons from history" to which geologists are privy: "There is no relationship between CO2 and temperature."

Another slide charts the alternating periods of cooling and warming on Earth, with the Pleistocene Ice Age starting 110,000 years ago and giving way, 14,700 years ago, to the Bolling warm period for 800 years. This in turn gave way to the Older Dryas cooling for 300 years, then the Allerod warming for 700 years, and so on, until the cooling of the Little Ice Age from 1300 to 1850. Since 1850, we have lived through the "Modern Warming", one of the most stable climate periods in history. Plimer said some astronomers predict we are headed for a new cooling period.

Plimer said there is a division between those scientists who sit in front of super computers and push piles of data into the mathematical models that drive the theory of climate change, and those who take measurements in the field. We are not sceptical enough about the data. For instance, Plimer cited differences between results from temperature measuring stations in urban and rural areas. Those in urbanised Chicago, Berkeley, New York, and so on, show temperature rises over the past 150 years, whereas those in the rural US, in Houlton, Albany and Harrisburg (though not Death Valley, California) show equally consistent cooling. "What we're measuring is urbanisation," Plimer said. To understand the chaotic nature of climate change, we need to consider all the inputs - cosmic radiation, sun, clouds and so on, he said.

There was much more but essentially Plimer's message is that the idea humans cause climate change has become a fundamentalist religion which is corrupting science. It is embedded with a fear of nature and embraced principally by city people who have lost touch with nature. He likens the debate to the famous 1990s battle he had in the Federal Court, where he accused an elder of The Hills Bible Church in Baulkham Hills of breaching Australia's Trade Practices Act by claiming to have found scientific evidence of Noah's Ark in Turkey. Plimer says creationists and climate alarmists are quite similar in that "we're dealing with dogma and people who, when challenged, become quite vicious and irrational".

Human-caused climate change is being "promoted with religious zeal . there are fundamentalist organisations which will do anything to silence critics. They have their holy books, their prophet [is] Al Gore. And they are promoting a story which is frightening us witless [using] guilt [and urging] penance." It is difficult for non-scientists to engage in the debate over what causes climate change and whether or not it can be stopped by new taxes and slower growth, because dissenting voices are shouted down by true believers in the scientific community who claim they alone have the authority to speak.

Quadrant is under fire for publishing articles by sceptics but, as its editor, Keith Windschuttle, said on Monday night, "People who are really confident [of their facts] relish debate."

In any case, ordinary people already have suspicions. The zealotry and one-sidedness of the debate alarmed an 81-year-old Seven Hills pensioner, Denys Clarke, so much that last month, at his own expense, he hired the ballroom at the Blacktown Workers Club for two public forums, titled The Truth About Climate Change. He invited a climate sceptic, the James Cook University professor Bob Carter, a geologist, to speak. More than 300 people attended, some from as far away as Nowra. Carter, like Plimer and Klaus, has come in for his fair share of vilification. But as Clarke proves, you can't stop people thinking. Yet.


NSW public hospitals in crisis: report

A landmark report into the state of NSW public hospitals says they are "in a period of crisis" and on the brink of demise unless radical reforms are made. Commissioner Peter Garling, SC, said in his report, tabled in Parliament today, that cultural change was needed from the top down. "To start with, a new culture needs to take root which sees the patient's needs as the paramount central concern of the system and not the convenience of the clinicians and administrators," Mr Garling said. "Given the demographic changes and rising costs, it is the case that we have entered into a period of crisis for a public hospital system which has always been free and accessible to all. We are on the brink of seeing whether the public system can survive and flourish or whether it will become a relic of better times," he said.

The NSW Health Minister John Della Bosca said the first report into NSW public hospitals, released today, was a "landmark report" that would improve the way health care is delivered. Mr Garling, SC, has made 139 recommendations in his report, which focus on improving patient care and safety, Mr Della Bosca said. He said it was critical to take pressure off emergency departments and staff. He has recommended several changes in the way emergency departments operate, including that patients who do not require treatment within 30 minutes be seen by a doctor other than an emergency specialist.

Mr Garling has also recommended the Federal Government fund emergency "primary care centres" that should be set up in all hospitals to treat less urgent cases. "In my view, if it is all right for you to wait for an hour or more to be seen in an emergency department then you probably didn't need to be seen by an emergency specialist. "Many other well qualified doctors can help you." He said patients who were in the more urgent categories of one, two and three should be channelled through the emergency department and patients in categories four and five should be channelled to "primary care centres" to be set up within hospitals.

Mr Della Bosca said the Government would respond formally by March. "The Government will carefully consider this report. It is a first and important document," he said.

Mr Garling has also recommended that hospitals should have a "safe assessment room" for mental health patients close to the emergency departments. Mr Garling said a culture of bullying was "endemic" in the health system. "Almost everywhere I went, I was told about incidents of bullying. Many witnesses asked to be allowed to give their evidence in private."

He said NSW Health should establish a casual medical workforce within 12 months through a centralised register and annual performance reviews for all doctors. Mr Garling said a single health service, called NSW Kids, should be set up within six months for newborns and children needing acute care to "ensure that children of Walgett get as good care as do the children of Woollahra and Wollongong".

He has also said that all hospital staff should wear colour-coded uniforms or vests identifying in large print the role of the health professional" after the inquiry repeatedly heard that patients were confused about who was responsible for their care or even if they were a doctor or nurse.

Other recommendations include that NSW Health refund patients the cost of medication to treat hospital-acquired illness after discharge after the inquiry that only about 60 per cent of medical staff adequately washed their hands.

He said there should be an audit system for measuring how hospitals compile patient records many complaints were heard about poor record keeping and note taking.

The inquiry was called after scathing criticism from Deputy State Coroner Carl Milovanovich that systemic problems had contributed to the unnecessary death of teenager Vanessa Anderson at Royal North Shore Hospital. Vanessa, who was hit by a golf ball in 2005, died from respiratory arrest due to the depressant effects of opiate medication after a doctor misread her chart.


Must not express negative views about homosexuality

Health Minister Nicola Roxon has dumped one of her new men's health ambassadors over his "abhorrent" views about homosexuals, but her other appointee is still railing that "extreme feminists" are on a witch hunt to get him. Ms Roxon said today she took full responsiblity for failing to vet the candidates properly before they were appointed this week. Controversy has also erupted over appointment of Julia Gillard's partner Tim Mathieson to an unpaid role as one of her men's health ambassador.

Warwick Marsh, who co-authored a paper that suggested gay men were more likely to be child molesters than heterosexuals, has been removed from the position today, after he told The Australian Online yesterday that lesbians were often sexually abused women rebelling against a "gender wound". "They're rebelling. They actually end up hating the gender that's hurt them," he said. "Ultimately the really sad thing is...have you talked to people with AIDS? I don't like to see people get AIDS and get abused and a trail of destruction. The bottom line is there's heightened levels of drug abuse and suicide. "(But) If you are asking me if I hate homosexuals I just think that's ridiculous."

Ms Roxon said today Mr Marsh has not repudiated ``extremely offensive'' statements he had made, including in a document on gender. ``This makes his position as an ambassador untenable and I have made a decision to dismiss him from this role,'' she said in a statement. "I take full responsibility for this setback in the policy development and engagement process.

"But I remain firmly of the view that to reach men that feel disfranchised, disengaged - and often at high risk - we will need to continue to be prepared to involve men with varying [But not too varying, apparently] views and experiences. This is an attempt to consult with men beyond health professionals and academics."

But another ambassador, Lone Fathers Association head Barry Williams, said he was not homophobic. ``I don't endorse that gay people would be child molesters,'' he told ABC Radio. Mr Williams described the allegations as a witch hunt, saying the criticism had come from the media or ``extreme feminists''.


The dreadful DOCS again

Just grabbed a kid out of school. And it wasn't even the one they were looking for

The Department of Community Services (DOCS) has apologised to the parents of a child mistakenly taken from a primary school by one of its staff. The seven-year-old was picked up yesterday by a DOCS worker who had gone to the western Sydney school to take another girl to an appointment with a speech therapist, the Education department and DOCS said. The DOCs worker gave Penrith South Primary School the girl's full name and was taken to a classroom by a staff member, but the wrong child was identified. The worker realised she did not have the right girl after they had driven away from the school and took her back within 10 minutes.

Simon and Sara Raffan, parents of seven-year-old Angel, said they were distressed when they were told about the mix-up. "How can someone go into a school with no paperwork, simply say they are from DOCS and just take a child," Mr Raffan told The Daily Telegraph. "It could have been a pedophile or a killer or anything. They never even asked any questions."

"(The departments) have apologised unreservedly to the families involved in an incident," DOCS and the Education department said. "The DOCS regional director has spoken to the father of the girl who was incorrectly picked up and personally apologised to him and his family for any distress that they have experienced. Education Director General Michael Coutts-Trotter has called the father of the child who was picked up to apologise on behalf of the department."

Both departments promised to investigate what went wrong and if protocols needed to be improved. The incident comes just days after a year-long special commission of inquiry into child protection in New South Wales, which found the department needed an extreme overhaul.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Beer sends you blind (?)

Another stupid "correlation is causation" claim

Knocking back four beers a day doesn't just risk a serious beer gut - it could also be damaging your eyesight, a study of Australian men has found. Melbourne research shows men in their 60s who drink alcohol heavily are about six times more likely to develop the most debilitating form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). About 15 per cent of Australians are affected by the disease - where sight fades in the centre of the visual field - and 1 per cent will have the advanced or end-stage form that eventually steals sight.

Smoking and genetics have been linked to the condition but Dr Elaine Chong from the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital decided to study the diet and eye health of almost 7000 people over a period of time to determine the contribution of alcohol. "We found that higher levels of alcohol, more than four standard drinks a day, was associated with a three-fold increase in end-stage AMD in men," Dr Chong said. Beer drinking, in particular, carried a six-fold increased risk. Quantities of wine and spirits drunk were too low to evaluate their risk. The same link was not see in women, possibly because they were less likely to drink heavily, she said.

Explaining the trigger, Dr Chong said it was possible alcohol could increase oxidative stress to the retina. "Alcohol is a neurotoxin so it is thought that high levels can actually cause retinal damage that might lead to the disease," she said. An earlier study found rats fed alcohol in the lab were more likely to develop signs of end-stage AMD.

While the new findings, presented at an ophthalmology conference in Melbourne today, suggest drinking habits could be contributing, it may not be that clear cut. "It might be that heavy drinkers were also more likely to smoke, which is a well-identified disease risk," Dr Chong said. "But regardless, heavy alcohol intake is harmful so cutting back will always do you good."


Black influx creates crime problem in mining town

The Mount Isa City Council is considering a youth curfew to combat out-of-control children in the north-west Queensland mining community. The issue was brought to a head on Monday when a 12-year-old girl, who later allegedly recorded a blood alcohol content of 0.172 per cent, allegedly stole a car which crashed into a house. The girl failed to appear in court yesterday and a warrant has been issued for her arrest.

Mount Isa mayor John Molony, who will put the idea to the council today, said the problem stemmed from "alcohol refugees" fleeing the intervention in the Northern Territory and dry communities in the north-west. They were neglecting their children who were running wild, Mr Molony said. He said at present 80 to 150 people who had fled their communities seeking alcohol were in Mt Isa. "They're a problem," Mr Molony told AAP.

"The ones from the Northern Territory are not only drunk, they're sick as well," he said. "It's no good for the hospital situation here. "If they keep coming in the numbers they are we'll have to ship them (out) or do something with them."

Mr Molony said he had a mandate for a curfew. The People's Group which he heads and which controls the council had campaigned for the curfew ahead of the March local government elections in Queensland, he said. "When we fought the local election in March this year a curfew was part of our platform," he said. If the council agreed he would then approach the police and the State Government requesting they impose the curfew.


Tribunal grants taxi accreditation to nutcase who killed wife

VCAT and "human rights" again. The fact that the nut is an African would have influenced VCAT in his favour. The VCAT is the same body which decided that Christian pastors must not criticize Islam

An insane killer who stabbed his wife to death has won the right to drive a cab due to a legal loophole. A tribunal granted the man taxi accreditation despite pleas from Victoria's Director of Public Transport to ban him from the roads. A Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal order prevents the Herald Sun revealing the name of the driver, known only as 'XFJ'.

But Transport Minister Lynne Kosky has announced new legislation is being introduced to Parliament to eliminate the technicality that his acquittal was based on an insanity plea. "If he had been found guilty of manslaughter he wouldn't be able to drive a cab whether he had been rehabilitated or not," Ms Kosky said. "Because he was found not guilty by reason of mental insanity he's actually allowed. "The legislations didn't cover that particular instance. The legislation has been re-written and it's about to go into Parliament. We've done it as a result of this case."

Ms Kosky said she hadn't seen the tribunal's full decision but had briefings from her department late last night. She said she was "unbelievably disappointed" by the decision and expressed anger that she had not been briefed on it earlier.

VCAT deputy president Michael Macnamara said in his decision that XFJ's violent history raised a significant safety issue for taxi passengers, but still ruled the killer could get behind the wheel.

The tribunal heard XFJ, an African refugee, repeatedly knifed his new wife in the head and stomach in a frenzied attack in 1990. Deeply depressed, he tried to hang himself - but failed when a tree branch broke. A jury acquitted him of murder on the ground of insanity. He was detained in a psychiatric institution until his release under supervision about 10 years ago. The tribunal heard he wants work as a cab driver so he can have more flexibility to care for his young son, who is battling leukemia.

Lawyers for the Director of Public Transport raised the risk of a recurrence of the major depressive disorder that underpinned XFJ's earlier violence. The stress of dealing with intoxicated or angry passengers might also affect XFJ's mental state, the tribunal heard. But Mr Macnamara ruled the "apparently blameless life" XFJ had lived since 1990 should outweigh any unease taxi passengers would feel about his violent history. "I accept that the ordinary man in the street would probably say, 'I would prefer not to have as a taxi driver somebody who has killed in whatever circumstances'," he said. "On the other hand, the decision that I have to make must be based upon more than mere prejudice. In my view XFJ has established that he is suitable in the relevant respects."

The Director of Public Transport had twice refused to grant XFJ accreditation before the appeal reached VCAT in October. The case is one of the first tests of new State Government laws intended to weed out rogue cabbies. Convicted murderers are automatically refused driver accreditation under the new laws, but because XFJ escaped a murder charge with a plea of insanity, he remained eligible for consideration.

Ms Kosky said she had worked tirelessly to clean up the taxi industry and was incredibly upset a decision was taken that may have jeopardised passengers. "It is about the perception of safety in our cabs," she said. "Cab drivers are often alone with individuals in the cabs. "People who drive cabs have a special responsibility and I've got a responsibility to give that certainty to the public that they can feel safe every time they pop into a cab."


Big improvement to unfair dismissal laws

The three strikes and you're fired policy will not apply under Labor's new workplace regime. One warning will be enough, Small Business Minister Craig Emerson says. The changes to unfair dismissal laws were an important concession to small business, he said. Any employee who committed theft, fraud or violence in the workplace could be dismissed on the spot. "You just say you're finished,'' Dr Emerson told ABC Television today.

In other circumstances, employees - who have worked for longer than 12 months - would have one chance to improve their performance. "No three written warnings, appropriately spaced over time, no legalistic processes.''

Under Labor's laws, three million more workers will have access to protection against unfair dismissal, almost doubling the number now protected. Casual employees will be covered for the first time and unfair dismissal protection will be available to workers in businesses with fewer than 100 employees provided they have worked there for six months.


The Times pleads with Australians to stay in the United Kingdom

A LEADING British newspaper has pleaded with Australians living in the UK not to head home amid concerns a looming recession and plummeting pound are fueling an exodus. The Times praised the cultural contribution of famous Australians who have made Britain home, including Barry Humphries, Clive James and Germaine Greer as well as the generations of Antipodeans who have flocked to the "old country''. But in its editorial yesterday, the Rupert Murdoch-owned daily voiced alarm at new figures showing record numbers of Antipodeans are leaving Britain and its economic gloom for better job opportunities back home.

"This is largely a vote of no confidence in the old country,'' The Times said. "As the recession bites, the lure of home, with unemployment at a 33-year low and the Australian dollar at an 11-year high against sterling, is very tempting.''

According to the paper, Australian Immigration Department figures show an average of 2700 Australians are leaving the UK each month, up from 1750 a month in 2005. In the 12 months to June, 13,062 Australians applied for working holiday visas compared with more than 27,000 two years ago. Online readers blamed more than the economy. "The weather, bad schools and healthcare and poor infrastructure will not keep highly educated and mobile workers. not to mention the rising tax on 'the rich' ," wrote j of London in the paper's online comments. "Ever get the feeling the whole place is going to pot?" asked Jez W, of Leeds.

But not everyone was sure about the weather in Australia. "The sun doesn't always shine. My colleague has just come back from Brisbane where there was TEN INCHES of rain overnight!", wrote Ben Foster of Wokingham.

A strong pound, the chance to travel widely and superior job opportunities - particularly in London's financial sector - had enticed thousands of professional Australians to the UK in recent years. But with mass redundancies, a falling currency and the poor economic outlook, there is an exodus from the City of London.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Greens do some good for once

Greens could block plans for internet filter

The Australian Greens won't be supporting plans to introduce compulsory internet filters. The Federal Government wants to introduce filters to stop people accessing X-rated material, child pornography and inappropriate material. The plan is being opposed by the internet industry which says it opens the door to censorship of other material, including political views.

"We're very, very concerned that there's going to be a unnecessary clamp down on the internet and it has to be watched," Greens leader Bob Brown told the ABC today. His colleague Scott Ludlam has been lobbying against the changes. "He's working very hard with community groups in Australia to oppose the current proposals by the Government," Senator Brown said.

The Government needs the support of all seven crossbench senators - including the five Greens - to have draft laws pass parliament against coalition opposition.


Labor party ready to axe maternity leave policy

The proposed federal paid maternity leave scheme appears to be dead in the water with the Government saying the country may not be able to afford it. Even the minister in charge of the status of women, Tanya Plibersek, has warned it might have to be put off because the country can't afford it. "We are in very difficult economic circumstances and these things have to be worked through in the budget context," she said yesterday.

While noting the enormous community and government support for paid maternity leave, she said it may no longer be possible to deliver it. "When we were elected, we didn't predict the financial crisis and everything we do and everything we've done has to be in the best interests of the whole community," she said. Education Minister Julia Gillard said at the weekend the policy must be "weighed in the budget process".

The only female minister publicly backing paid maternity leave is Health Minister Nicola Roxon. Ms Roxon last week said allowing mothers time off to recover from the birth and giving newborns time with their mothers was an important health issue. "I am on the record, as are many members of the Government, acknowledging the issue of paid maternity leave is very important to women across the country," she said yesterday. "I will make sure the areas for which I have carriage, including the maternity services review, are ready for those options to be seriously considered."

Women's groups argue that paid maternity leave would do the economy good. National Foundation for Australian Women spokesman Marie Coleman said it was one of the best ways to kickstart the economy because the money would be spent on nappies and baby paraphernalia.

The Productivity Commission has proposed a $450 million a year paid parental leave scheme in which mothers would be paid for 18 weeks leave at the minium wage with a further two weeks of paid leave for fathers to be used on a take it or leave it basis.


Unions to regain bargaining power under proposed new workplace rules

A RADICAL overhaul of workplace laws will be unveiled today by the Rudd Government that will give much more bargaining power to unions. The new Fair Work Bill will replace the Howard Government's WorkChoices with new rules for unfair dismissal and the creation of a `wage umpire' who will be able to set pay for low-paid industries.

Businesses have criticised the new laws, with The Australian Mines and Metals Association warning they will "give unions the key to the door of all workplaces", even though just 14 per cent of private sector workers belong to a union. AMMA chief executive Steve Knott called it a "throwback" to days when unions could get involved in all workplace deals and said the new rules would let unions access non-members information.

However, unions say the Fair Work Bill will shift the power balance back to workers, after WorkChoices changed unfair dismissal laws and pushed individual Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs). The Acting Prime Minister and Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard, who has been working on the 600-page legislation `Fair Work Bill' for more than a year, says the laws fulfil Labor's election promise to scrap WorkChoices.

The new legislation creates a `wage umpire' called Fair Work Australia, which will have the power to set wages for workers in low-paid industries and for employees whose employers refuse to bargain. It will allow industry-wide wage settlements for low-paid industries, like childcare or hotels, on a wide scale. Businesses say the laws would force pay deals across the board, while unions say it will benefit low-paid workers.

In workplaces with one at least one union member, the union will get a seat at the bargaining table, and new `good faith' rules mean unions will be involved at every stage of negotiating wages. Under right-of-entry, unions will be able to inspect a company's books and chat to potential recruits.


Lazy teachers "forget" toddler

An 18-month-old toddler has been left abandoned inside a locked childcare centre in Sydney's west - the second such case in just months. Uriah Vollmer, son of Daily Telegraph reporter Tim Vollmer, was left sleeping in a cot inside Penrith's Nepean Pre-School when staff went home early. His mother Michelle arrived 10 minutes before closing time to find the centre already locked and empty - apart from baby Uriah. It was only when a centre staff member drove by and spotted a distraught Mrs Vollmer that Uriah was discovered asleep inside.

The two incidents have prompted calls for a State Government review of centre lock-up procedures. "(This) is proof that a serious overhaul of the procedures is urgently needed," Mrs Vollmer said. The first case, in May, resulted in the baby being left alone for more than an hour before police broke in.

Mrs Vollmers' concerns have been backed by the body that represents childcare centres around the country. Childcare Associations Australia conceded yesterday that it was timely for the State Government to re-examine centre training programs in the wake of two incidents in just six months. "The fact that it has happened twice might mean there needs to be a training program and a review of lock-up procedures," executive director Helen Kenneally said. "It does astound me people have these things happen."

A spokeswoman for Community Services Minister Linda Burney said yesterday a total review of the regulations was under way but changes, if any, would not come into effect until 2010. The current regulation states that two primary contact staff must inspect the premises to ensure no children are left behind.

Mrs Vollmer said the delay was "completely unacceptable and it is putting the safety of kids at risk". She also criticised the fact she was still yet to be contacted by DOCS investigators despite making a complaint on Friday. Ms Burney's spokeswoman said investigators had already interviewed staff at the centre and checked its records and would move on to the family.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Schools failing the children of the poor, says Rupert Murdoch

Below is a large excerpt from his latest Boyer lecture. It has been accepted for centuries that education is the high-road to advancement for the able children of the poor but far-Leftists hate that. They want everyone ground down to a uniform low level. And they have been doing that in the schools with considerable success. Murdoch is reasserting the more compassionate traditional message of opportunity

As a child, I attended boarding school outside Melbourne. Bucolic and idyllic it wasn't. So I made myself a promise. I swore that I would never become one of those fogeys who goes on and on about how his schooldays were the best days of his life. Today I intend to keep that promise. But I do want to talk about schools. In particular, I would like to talk about why you hear so many business leaders talking about the problems with public education. Far from reminiscing about some glorious and largely mythical past, I want to focus on the challenges we face today - and what they mean for our future.

Let me say at the outset: it is not a pretty picture. The unvarnished truth is that in countries such as Australia, Britain, and particularly the United States, our public education systems are a disgrace. Despite spending more and more money, our children seem to be learning less and less -especially for those who are most vulnerable in our society.

In my view, things will not really improve until we begin setting much higher expectations - for our students, for our teachers, and for our schools. At the very least, we ought to demand as much quality and performance from those who run our schools as we do from those who provide us with our morning cup of coffee. And then we ought to hold these schools accountable when they fail.

In Australia, we pride ourselves on our passion for equality - we have popularised the word "egalitarian". That passion is an attractive part of the Australian personality. But it is getting harder and harder to square Australian pride in equality with the realities of the Australian system of public education.

Like me, most of you probably went to a decent school. Your children will probably do the same. This means that your family will probably thrive no matter what happens, because you are no doubt primed to succeed. But too many children are socialised to fail.

We can argue over whether our better schools are as focused as they should be on mathematics and science. But it is inarguable that our lesser schools are leaving far too many children innumerate, illiterate, and ignorant of our history. These are the people whose future I am most concerned about. For these boys and girls to rise in society - and have a fair go at the opportunities you and I take for granted- a basic education is essential.

The tragedy today is that in many nations like Australia, the people who need a solid education to lift them out of deprived circumstances are the people who are falling further and further behind. That is unacceptable to me. And it should be unacceptable to all of us.

So I will talk about three things. First, I will discuss how the dividing point between the haves and the have-nots is no longer how much money they have. Increasingly, your life chances and your life choices will be defined by your skills and knowledge.

Second, I will talk about why we need to stop making excuses for schools and school systems that are failing the very children they are meant to serve.

Finally, I will talk about the need for corporations to get more involved - especially at the lower school levels. Corporate leaders know better than government officials the skills that people need to get ahead in the 21st century. And businessmen and businesswomen need to take this knowledge and help build school systems that will ensure that all children get at least a basic education.

Let me begin with the growing importance of education in our new economy. At first glance, it might look as though advances in technology are making education less important. After all, thanks to computers and calculators, even people without a good education now have the ability to have their sums done for them by a cheap calculator . to have their faulty spelling corrected by a word processing program . and to have even complex tasks completed for them by a specialised software program.

For example, if you go to a McDonald's or the milk bar the person behind the counter no longer has to calculate the change. The cash register is now a mini-computer and the barcode does the work. In industry, computers and automation have reduced much of the need for calculation and repetitive labour. And, as unions in Europe have been quick to notice, that means many enterprises can be more productive with fewer workers. This in turn is one big reason that so many unions - like the Luddites before them - are so opposed to new technology.

But ultimately, fighting the new and better technology is a fool's errand. History clearly demonstrates that a technology that shows itself to be more productive will win out in the end. The reason is simple. Over the long haul, no one is going to pay more than he has to for something that can be done far more cheaply. Even if an individual businessman or two were willing to forgo such an improvement, in the end they will be forced to adopt the more productive approach just to keep up with their competitors.

That's where a good education comes in. New technology is replacing many tedious tasks. That means that there will be fewer and fewer satisfying jobs for people without skills. In the new economy, the people that companies are craving - and are willing to pay for - are people who add value to their enterprises. That means people with talent and skills and judgment.

Talent and skills and judgment are part of what economists call human capital. Human capital is a broad term. It includes formal skills - for example, a degree in computer science or the ability to speak a foreign language. But human capital is much more than this. It also includes such things as good work habits . the judgment that comes from experience . a sense of creativity . a curiosity about the world ... And the ability to think for oneself. Free societies succeed because the people who have these skills are free to use them to advance themselves, their enterprises, and society.

It's true that some people manage to develop these skills on their own. For the most part, these people are highly driven self-starters. They exist in every society. They are also very rare. For every Steve Jobs who drops out of college and founds a company like Apple . for every Jim Clark who leaves high school and starts up Netscape . for every Peter Allen who drops out and becomes a successful entertainer, there are tens of thousands of others for whom leaving school early means shutting the door forever on opportunity - and permanent condemnation to an underclass.

For most of us, the best path to success is through an education that will allow us to fulfill our potential. That begins by setting high expectations, adhering to real standards, and ensuring that when you do leave school, you leave with the tools that will help you get ahead in life. These tools begin with the basics of any education: the ability to read and write . to add, subtract, multiply and divide ... And to use these basics to acquire other, more advanced skills.

For those who doubt me, the relationship between education and opportunity is most obvious in the pay cheque. As a general rule, the more education you have, the more you are going to earn over your working career. That differential can be very large. Two Australian economists found that for each additional year of education a person has, he can expect about 10 per cent a year in increased income. That's true even after taking into account the lost earnings from starting work later. And though that figure is for Australia, it roughly tracks with similar findings in the United States....

Another way of putting it is this: it's not that the poor are getting poorer. It's that the economic rewards to the skilled are making them much richer. This is clearly understood by the leaders of developing countries. But it seems beyond the comprehension of much of the developed world.

That leads me to my second point: what we ought to do about it. As the world economy grows more competitive, it is will become even more difficult for people without skills to keep up. Billions of people are now entering the global workforce. And a recent study by Goldman Sachs suggested that 70 million people are joining the new global middle class each year. These people are talented . they are confident . and they are increasingly well-educated. That means the competition is getting keener. And unless we stop making excuses for our failures, a good many of our own young people will be left behind and bereft of opportunity.

Most of you are well aware of the public debate about education. And you will be well aware that there is a whole industry of pedagogues devoted to explaining why some schools and some students are failing. Some say classrooms are too large. Others complain that not enough public funding is devoted to this or that program. Still others will tell you that the students who come from certain backgrounds just can1t learn.

The bad schools do not pay for these fundamental failings. Their students pay the price, because they are the victims when our schools fail. And the more people we graduate without basic skills, the more likely Australian society will pay the price in social dysfunction - in welfare, in healthcare, in crime. We must help ourselves by holding schools accountable - and ensuring that they put students on the right track.

As a rule, we spend too much time on avoiding failure. The real answer is to start pursuing success. Developing countries seem to understand this. When I travel to places like India and China, I do not hear people making lame excuses for mediocre schools. Instead of suggesting that their students cannot learn, they set high standards and expect they will be met. And they have crash programs for more and better schools.

The obstacles they have to overcome are as difficult and challenging as any we face here. Recently, for example, American public television ran a special called Chinese Prep - which followed five students through their final year at an elite high school. These students are competing for slots at the top universities in a system based almost entirely on merit. The pressure is intense, and most Australians watching would probably think that the time and effort these boys and girls put into their studies is inhumane.

Now, the high school in this film is elite, and it is far from representative of the schools that most Chinese attend. But the interesting thing about this show is the emphasis on competition, on merit, on doing well on standardised tests. Some of the children who do end up doing well come from very poor backgrounds. The television cameras showed that one of them lived in essentially a hut in the countryside.

But no one makes allowances for them. They compete with the children of high officials. And they succeed. In a sense, the entire school system is taking a lesson from Confucius, who observed sagely, as a sage does: "If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself."

I am not saying that Chinese education is perfect. It certainly is not. But it is clear that in a system where you are expected to perform, there is less slacking off. Maybe that1s because poor people in China know that doing well on tests and getting a good education is the ticket to personal progress. Or maybe they know that the consequences for failure are much more severe than they are in, say, the more comfortable societies that are America and Australia.

My point is this: the children of poor people always have fewer options than the elite. That's true whether you live in Sydney or Shanghai or San Francisco. For these people, a solid education is the one hope for rising in society and levelling the playing field. If we have any real sense of fairness, we owe these children school systems that hold them to high standards.

However tough their schools may be, the world is going to be tougher and less forgiving. That is one reason I have two key criteria for education programs that News Corporation supports: schools must be focused on achievement. And they cannot make excuses for why some students are supposedly poor scholars.

It's amazing the results that you get when you actually expect your students to learn regardless of race, background, or income. In Manhattan, for example, my wife and I have been involved with a local public school called Shuang Wen. Shuang Wen is unique. It is the only public school in America offering a mandated bilingual program in Chinese and English for all students. Two-thirds of its students live below the poverty line. Despite this, Shuang Wen is one of New York's top-ranked schools in terms of performance. It also has the highest daily attendance rate - 98 per cent.

What's the secret? In the morning, its students study in English. Then they stay until 5:30 pm to study Chinese. They come in on weekends too. Not many American children have a school day or school week that goes as long as Shuang Wen. But instead of repelling students, the school is attracting them. African-American parents are clamouring to get their children into this school. They know that the hard work and sacrifice Shuang Wen demands of its students is their children's ticket out of poverty and hopelessness.

Another school we support in New York is the Eagle Academy for Young Men. This is a charter school. Although charters are public schools, charters have more freedom than traditional American public schools. They are also directly accountable to the people who run it. The Eagle Academy for Young Men is boys-only. And it was started up by a group of concerned African-American men who are simply unwilling to allow the next generation of African-American boys to be written off by the country's public schools.

Let me put this in context. The Eagle Academy has a student body of almost all Latino or African-American boys. It also operates in a part of New York City where three out of four young black men drop out before they receive a high school diploma. So failure is all around them. But inside the Eagle Academy doors, they don't talk about failure. The students have long days, often until 6pm. They come in on Saturdays. And they are paired with mentors. It's tough. But the results are impressive.

The fact is, the boys at Eagle Academy are getting the education they would never get from soft-hearted, supposedly well-meaning people who would just make excuses for them. And, like Shuang Wen, the Eagle Academy has a waiting list of parents who are ambitious for their children.

In Australia, our problem is a little different. In America, the children whose futures are being sacrificed tend to be those who are stuck in rotten schools in the inner cities. In Australia, by contrast, the children who suffer the most tend to be those in our rural areas and outer suburbs. But whether urban or rural, no government of any decent society should be effectively writing off whole segments of the population by refusing to confront a failing education bureaucracy.

More here

Federal education boss pledges transparency of school performance

Rupert has an influential convert already

JULIA Gillard has marked the first anniversary of the Rudd Government by pledging a new era of transparency in Australian schools, allowing parents to compare student performance across the nation. The Acting Prime Minister and Education Minister outlined her goals for a revolution in transparency at a conference in Melbourne today, warning schools that withholding information from parents on national tests and performance in literacy and numeracy was not an option. "We need a revolution in transparency," Ms Gillard said.

"I absolutely reject the proposition that somehow I am smart enough to understand information, and parents and community members are somehow too dumb. "I therefore absolutely reject the idea that rich performance information about schools should be confidential to government and denied to the parents of children in schools and the taxpayers who fund schools."

Accusing unions of running a fear campaign about transparency on funding, she said this approach should be viewed for what it is - the last gasp of those who think education policy in this country is a sterile debate between school systems about who wins and who loses. "Transparency about resources isn't about the politics of envy. Rather, transparency about resources is the tool which will better able us to understand what difference resources make to educational outcomes," she said.

Ms Gillard also said News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch was making a "hell of a lot of sense" when he described Australia's school system as a disgrace. Mr Murdoch said yesterday that schools and school systems must stop making excuses for failing the children they are meant to serve, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The Australian-born Mr Murdoch, now a US citizen, used the fourth of his six Boyer Lectures for the ABC to focus on the state of public education, saying the school system in Australia, along with the US and Britain, is a "disgrace".

"I certainly think Rupert Murdoch is making a hell of a lot of sense," Ms Gillard, who is also federal education minister, told ABC Radio. High-achieving students in Australia were not doing well enough against their counterparts in other countries, she said. There were too many students - overwhelmingly from poor backgrounds - who don't reach minimum standards.

Ms Gillard agreed with Mr Murdoch's suggestion Australian businesses must take an active role in the reform process, saying she would like to see all major corporations enter a relationship with schools.

Ms Gillard is hailing the Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education, Joel Klein, who is touring Australia as the example Australian schools should follow. "You have to admire the dedication of someone who deliberately located a school in his education department building so that every bureaucrat every day heard the sound of kid's voices," he said. "And you have to admire the relentless reform dedication of someone who is prepared to say that putting a bright light on a problem is the best way to get it fixed."

In Australia, Ms Gillard said too many students from disadvantaged backgrounds were clustered in a small number of schools, with low expectations and low rates of achievement. "Let's be honest. Current achievement levels are simply not good enough in too many schools," she said. "Australia still performs well in international studies. But we do not achieve as highly as we should or could. Our performance at the higher levels of achievement is static or declining. And our persistent tail of low achievement, associated as it is with socioeconomic disadvantage, is too long." "Our participation and attainment rates at Year 12 have plateaued for the last decade or more at around 75 per cent," she said. "And as a result, a child from a working class family is only half as likely as a child from a high income family to go on to tertiary study. "This level of failure is not acceptable."

She named Cherbourg State School in Queensland, where principal Chris Sarra pioneered his "strong and smart" philosophy of educational leadership and Punchbowl High School in Sydney as examples to follow in Australia.

Ms Gillard said a major government survey of parents' attitudes about the information they want from schools revealed 96.9 per cent of parents in all school systems agreed that important information relating to school activities and performance should be made available to parents. "What this shows is that parents are hungry for information about how they can help their own children to learn better, both at home and at school. And that they understand the importance of information for producing systematic school improvement," she said. "I know that national testing is controversial. And I know that publishing information about student test performance out of context can be misleading."

The Council of Australian Government meets on Saturday to finalise the new National Education Agreement and the new National Partnerships on teacher quality, improving disadvantaged school and literacy and numeracy and the Schools Assistance Bill, that will provide $28 billion to non-government schools over the next four years must also pass the Australian Parliament by the end of the fortnight.

"Together the new agreements and the Bill will mean every jurisdiction will sign up to transparency and accountability for the same measures of achievement, from the readiness to learn of our youngest children to attainment at year 12 and its equivalent. A comprehensive framework of this kind is unprecedented in Australia," she said. "To those who oppose transparency the message is clear. The Rudd Government is absolutely determined to achieve this reform for Australia's children."

Ms Gillard said future reforms may include rewarding accomplished teachers to work in the most difficult schools or "developing an extended or full service school offer, where breakfast clubs and after-school activities combine to offer children from chaotic homes or homes without a focus on achievement, extra learning opportunities and encouragement to pursue their studies in a structured and supportive environment."

"As a nation we have to say we will no longer tolerate an education system that under-achieves," Ms Gillard said. "We will no longer turn a blind eye to results that say in our nation if you are a poor kid you are likely to fail at school."


Red tape in government hospital denies dying boy a chance

Power-mad bureaucrats again

A SIX-year-old boy with only half a heart is dying as red tape prevents Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital surgeons giving him an operation and a chance to save his life. As well as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, Nathan Garcia suffers from scoliosis - a condition that has deformed his spine and now places so much pressure on his arteries and lungs he is unable to undergo life-saving surgery to re-rout his half a heart before it stops beating.

Royal Children's orthopaedic surgeons had planned to place a new type of metal rod in Nathan's back to ease his scoliosis, improve his heart and lung function, and hopefully make him healthy enough to undergo the heart surgery. However, the hospital's New Technologies Committee has refused permission for the operation. It says processes have not yet allowed it to evaluate and approve the French-designed Phenix Rod for safe use, and instead Nathan has been placed in palliative care.

Nathan's distraught mother, Monique Garcia, said her son would be dead or too crippled for the operation before the red tape cleared, and was appealing for the decision to be reversed for a one-off operation. "They say it might be OK to use in a few months, but I'm terrified he'll be dead in two months," Ms Garcia said. "Normally I would accept the process of approval, and it is warranted, but it doesn't have a place in this situation - he is going to die anyway. "We have a surgeon who is wanting and trying to save his patient's life, but on the other side we have red tape, and I don't think anything should get in between a doctor and the welfare of their patient. He will die if he does not have this operation - and soon."

Royal Children's orthopaedic surgeon Dr Ian Torode and director of cardiac surgery Dr Christian Brizard met the Phenix Rod's inventor, Arnaud Soubeiran, in Paris last month to discuss Nathan's case.

Royal Children's spokeswoman Julie Webber said the committee was examining the use of the Phenix Rod and a decision about its suitability as a treatment for Nathan would be made in his best interests. "The decision will be made around what is in the best interests of the child," she said. [Dying is in his best interests?]


Skinny models a turn-off in TV commercials

A QUEENSLAND study has found that skinny models in TV commercials and other advertising are a turn-off to consumers. University of Queensland psychologist Phillippa Diedrichs found images of super-thin models carried no advantage in encouraging young women to buy products. For most adult women, advertisements showing skinny girls discouraged sales, whereas plus-size models encouraged women to buy, the study found.

Ms Diedrichs created a series of mock ads for underwear, shampoo and party dresses using a skinny size 8 model and another featuring a size 14 woman. When the ads were shown to 300 young men and women aged between 18 and 25, they felt better - and more likely to buy - after viewing images of larger models.

"For anything to change, research has to be convincing, not just to government and health researchers but also to people in advertising who actually make the decisions," Ms Diedrichs said.

Recent fashion shows in Madrid and Milan banned "size 0" models deemed unhealthy by a body mass index measure.