Wednesday, December 31, 2008

It won't wash, Fred

I rather like Fred Nile but there is no doubt that Fred is an old wowser from way back. Blaming it on the Muslims will fool nobody who knows where Fred is coming from

Conservative MP Fred Nile says he wants topless bathing banned in NSW to protect Sydney's Muslim and Asian communities. The Reverend Nile has rejected allegations that prudishness is behind a bill he has prepared to ban nudity, including topless sunbathing, on the state's most popular beaches. Australia's reputation as a conservative but culturally inclusive sociery was at risk of erosion by more liberal overseas visitors, he said.

"Our beaches should be a place where no one is offended, whether it's their religious or cultural views," he said. "If they've come from a Middle Eastern or Asian country where women never go topless - in fact they usually wear a lot of clothing - I think it's important to respect all the different cultures that make up Australia." The practice was at risk of raising the ire of Muslim men in particular, Mr Nile said. "I don't want to have any provocations or disturbances on our public beaches," he said.

Acting Premier Carmel Tebbutt and the NSW Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, have both said that topless bathing is an issue for local councils, not state governments. But Mr Nile said he believed most politicians would come around once all the issues were considered. "I think if you survey Australian women you'll find a lot of women would be uncomfortable if it became the custom [to be] topless at the beach," he said. "Australia's always been a conservative country as far as beachwear goes. "Once being topless is accepted as lawful the next question will be why can't women go totally nude on a public beach and I don't think Australians want to go down that pathway."


Greenie laws create danger for swimmers

The number of man-eating sharks in Australian waters is growing, according to experts, who blame the surging numbers on a ban on killing the predators. Marine biologist Adam Smith said initial research and accounts from fishermen and divers pointed to a rise in the number of sharks in Australian waters. Dr Smith, who has created the Great Australian Shark Count to obtain firm data on numbers, said great white sharks were no longer allowed to be hunted and fishermen faced fines of about $20,000 and a possible jail sentence for breaking the law, The Australian reports. "They were once targeted as trophy fish by game fishermen, or caught by commercial fishermen because they were a nuisance," he said. Dr Smith said globally shark numbers were under threat, but Australian law protected them.

Shark researcher Terry Peake, who established the Shark Research Institute of Australia, agreed that the ban on killing great whites had helped their numbers. "Nobody is fishing for the great white, it has no human predators and commercial fisherman are telling us they're seeing an increase in numbers," he said. Mr Peake also warned that increasing contact between great whites and humans could occur as many of the shark's traditional food sources, including salmon species, are more aggressively fished. "For every one shark attack, there are reports of 20-50 close calls," he said.

The news came as a Western Australian couple reported a close encounter with a 5m shark in the same waters where a 51-year-old man was killed in a shark attack four days ago.


Below is the sort of thing Australians now have to put up with. I think it would chill the bones of most people:

A man has described how a giant shark eyeballed him and his wife while crabbing off the Port Kennedy beach where Brian Guest was killed on Saturday. The Warnbro pair was tending crab pots when the shark -- that they said was longer than their 4.5m boat -- swam alongside and rolled over before swimming off. The terrified couple immediately headed for shore and raised the alarm.

The sighting came just before 9.30am and authorities were quick to get people out of the water and clear the beach. Water police, sea rescue vessels and aircraft were sent to the area and the shark was spotted heading out to deep water.

Paul Vickery and his wife Lesley from Warnbro were fishing and drop-netting for crabs when the shark came out of the water. ``We were about 50m off the beach and pretty close to where the guy (Brian Guest) got taken the other day. ``We had burlied up and had the crab nets down in the water when he came up and had a look at us. ``It was just like Jaws except he had his mouth closed. ``The boat lurched when he rolled over and he either touched it or the displacement of water made us tip. ``It was pretty violent and gave us a bit of a scare. ``He seemed to be curious. I don't think he was going to attack but we weren't hanging around to see if he was coming back. ``It scared the 'bejesus' out of us. ``We got out of there as quickly as we could and a guy on the beach who saw it had already rung the police. ``When we were on the beach the shark started to feed in the shallows. ``We normally go snorkelling but in light of what happened we thought we'd take the boat out. ``My wife didn't even want to go and my name's mud now. She was crying on the beach afterwards.''

Fisheries boat tracks giant shark: ``They've noticed quite a large shark swim under their boat and . . . decided the best course of action was to head back,'' Fisheries regional manager Tony Cappelluti said. ``Our boat then immediately headed in that direction and picked up a shark, which was reported to be about three to four metres. ``They followed it but it went into the weed and disappeared . . . so they then proceeded back to shore to help these people back to the boat ramp. ``About half-way there they saw some swimmers in the water so they thought it prudent that the swimmers got out. ``So the couple (who) had originally seen the shark made their own way back to the boat ramp and our boat then rounded up any swimmers and told them to get out of the water.''


Return of the 1950s housewife?

She sews, cooks, knits, gardens and raises chooks [fowl]. The housewife is back - with younger women embracing traditional domestic crafts in droves, new figures show. Sewing machines have rocketed off shelves in the past six months, with Lincraft reporting a 30 per cent increase in sales. "There has been a definite trend happening and we have also started to see an increase in dress-fabric sales," said Lincraft spokesman Jeff Croft. "Demand for sewing classes has increased - and one of the biggest growth areas has been knitting yarn, with a 10-20 per cent increase in sales compared to this time last year."

Spotlight spokesman Steven Carey said DIY craft kits were its booming sector.

The new housewife also appears to be turning our backyards into vegie gardens, with sales of vegetables and herbs surging across nurseries over the past 12 months, according to the Nursery and Garden Industry Association. Tomatoes are hot, as are beans, peas and herbs.

New data from social forecaster AustraliaSCAN shows home-based activities are the focus for people. The survey shows a 5 per cent increase in the number of people spending time doing craft and a 4 per cent rise in people devoting time to home cooking, DIY and gardening. "There has been a substantial shift in our mindset to a more old-fashioned, frugal lifestyle - that real waste-not-want-not approach," said social analyst and AustraliaSCAN consultant David Chalke. "There are a confluence of forces - the global financial crisis, enviromental concerns and a new cocooning - which are pulling together to form the new homemaker. "That's why we are embracing the domestic crafts again," he said.


Hot air is helping nobody

As this year of global financial turmoil draws to a close, it is timely to look at the penchant of our governments, state and federal, to prick the conscience of the community on the varied social crises confronting the country. Creating a public awareness of the lifestyle impact of these problems - ranging from youth binge drinking, gambling and urban violence to homelessness - is one thing but offering shallow, aspirational, politically based solutions is something else. The reality is that a lot of these problems have been exacerbated by governments opting for political expediency, without considering the long-term consequences of their policies.

We are told, for instance, that the homeless crisis in Australia is largely a product of these troubled times, which have triggered mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse and other social problems along the way. No doubt this is a significant contributing factor. But let's not forget that in NSW, for example, it was the government some years ago that changed the law covering public psychiatric care, leading to thousands of troubled people being effectively turned on to the streets. This cost-cutting move dressed up as political correctness also led to the vagrancy laws in NSW because scrapped because they were seen to demean those who chose to sleep in public places.

The effect of this was to take police intervention out of the equation and turn the problem over to charitable institutions offering a voluntary service to those who used to be known as vagrants. The upshot has been a huge spike in the number of people, many of them in their teens, now sleeping rough in our cities and towns, often in the worst of circumstances.

We are told that of the 100,000 people now classified as homeless across Australia, about 16,000 sleep on the streets and in parks. Announcing his multi-billion-dollar 2020 scheme last week, Kevin Rudd said Canberra and the states had committed to providing 50,000 affordable rental homes for low and moderate-income earners, along with 3000 homes for those who were homeless or at risk of being homeless. And those sleeping rough will also be offered accommodation under the scheme. But the problem here is that many of the growing number of people who opt, for a variety of reasons, to sleep rough choose not to have a roof over their heads. Why should that change as a result of the Government's largesse until a deeper core problem of societal behaviour is addressed?

This year also saw the Government wringing its hands at the destructive effects of gambling and binge drinking. The latter led to the so-called alcopop tax designed to make pre-mixed drinks a more expensive proposition for young people. Needless to say this was as effective as the government-inspired, multimillion-dollar, feel-good Grocery Watch scheme, and simply encouraged people to drink something else, perhaps something more potent.

What should have been addressed here was the link between government addiction to poker machine revenue, particularly in NSW and Victoria, and extended trading hours in hotels, which have frequently contributed to anti-social behaviour. After resisting the temptation for years, the Victorian Labor government followed NSW down the poker machine path in the early 1990s as it reeled under an economic crisis brought on by its own mismanagement. The Labor Government in NSW, which is in an even worse financial state, simply cannot do without its regular poker machine fix.

And while all this is going on, law and order in NSW is deteriorating, with increasing levels of urban violence. But in what amounts to an insult to the intelligence of the long-suffering NSW public, the Government of Nathan Rees responded just before Christmas by announcing a three-month amnesty for those who turned in knives and some handguns.

Meaningless gestures such as these are just a waste of time and money. What the Government needs to do is to restore the integrity of, and community respect for, its police force, which it has systematically undermined for years through a policy of political correctness. The bottom line message here is that until governments face up to the real issues at the heart of the many serious social problems confronting the community today, the solutions being touted will amount to nothing more than hot air.

With the economic gloom threatening to worsen, Rudd can use 2009 to show leadership on these issues and take the states with him down a path of real and constructive reform, or lapse back into the blame game he claims to have disowned. The choice he makes could well determine his future.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Private health insurer reports that private hospital surgery includes very complex and costly cases

More than half of the surgery done in Australia is paid for by private health insurance and yet this is still a "drain" on government hospitals? Leftist logic at work again, it seems

High-end surgery in private hospitals, costing health funds $100,000-plus per case, is on the rise, fuelling concerns that it is adding to, not reducing, the strain on public hospitals. Australia's biggest health fund, Medibank Private, which has paid a record $364,859 for a bowel operation, says complex and costly operations, once the preserve of big public hospitals, are being performed increasingly in private hospitals. "Traditionally the high-end surgeries would be borne by the public system. Now we are seeing people electing to use their private health insurance for these types of procedures and enjoying the clear benefits it brings," a Medibank spokesman, Craig Bosworth, said yesterday.

But the drift of advanced cases to private hospitals is disturbing public hospitals because it adding to the difficulties they already face in finding and retaining surgeons and nursing staff. The executive director of the Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association, Prue Power, said there was "great concern" in public hospitals about the trend to private surgery and the demand it generated for scarce medical staff. Staff shortages in public hospitals made it even more difficult to deal with waiting lists and delays in getting treatment in public hospitals, she said

Ms Power called on the Federal Government to rethink the $3.6 billion health insurance rebate and the level of premium increases for health insurance. The rebate was introduced by the Howard government, which forecast that it, along with other incentives, would boost memberships, keep premiums down and, through increased use of private hospitals, relieve pressure on public hospitals. Private hospitals do more than half the surgery performed in Australia, a plus for those with private hospital insurance, who account for less than 45 per cent of the population.

Health funds, already facing heavy increases in costs, have lodged with the Federal Health Department their applications for what are likely to be significant rises in premiums to take effect from April. Ageing of the population and increasing health-care bills and use of insurance cover by members are driving up costs well ahead of general inflation, the regulator, the Private Health Insurance Administration Council, has stated.

Ms Power said each time premiums rose, so did the cost of the rebate to the taxpayer. The growth in expensive private hospital surgery raised "a basic question of equity". "Funding going to the private sector will just exacerbate the workforce shortages in the public sector." Ms Power said she was not against growth in the private sector but it was a matter of getting the public-private balance right [Who says what is right?] and of getting better integration between the two sectors.

Mr Bosworth said that the rising number of high-cost claims paid by Medibank indicated the private health sector "is increasingly carrying the burden of an ageing population and the complex technologically intensive hospital care older people often require". The overall number of very high-cost claims had leapt in the past year, with Medibank covering 149 claims costing more than $100,000 - a rise of 73 per cent. Among the high-cost operations Medibank paid for in NSW was a neuro-surgery case costing $276,595, neonatal surgery and lengthy post-operative care for a newborn child costing $256,452, and arm nerve surgery on a 24-year-old patient costing $164,134. Mr Bosworth said many of the top claims were for people aged 54 and over, showing that private health insurance was not just for "elective surgery lumps and bumps".


Monarchists back 'people's choice' in any republic

The politicians won't like this. They do now have the right to appoint the governor. A republic might cause them to lose that right

The Rudd Government's "softly softly" approach to making Australia a republic will face a major barrier unless it allows for an elected head of state, according to new polling which shows that even monarchists overwhelmingly prefer an elected president rather than one appointed by Parliament. A survey of 2000 voters by pollster UMR Research last month found that 50 per cent supported Australia becoming a republic while 28 per cent opposed such a move and the rest were undecided, consistent with poll findings over several years. But when the entire sample of voters was asked whether the president of an Australian republic should be elected by the people or appointed by the legislature, 80 per cent opted for the direct election model. Only 12 per cent said they would support an appointed president.

By asking both republicans and monarchists for their views on the model for a republic, the survey effectively replicates the two-stage plebiscite the Labor Government plans on the issue. Under this approach, which the Government has signalled it may pursue if it is elected to a second term, the first stage would be a national vote on whether to become a republic. If this favoured a republic, a second plebiscite would then be held on the model for a republic. The main issues in this second stage would be the powers of a new head of state to replace the Queen and how the person to fill that role should be chosen.

The UMR survey, which covered a statistically representative national sample of voters, suggests that republicans would win the first stage and that, in the second stage, support for an elected president would grow to overwhelming levels as monarchists joined republicans in backing the direct election model.

Previous polling on models for selecting a head of state has only asked pro-republic voters for their opinions, showing strong majorities in favour of a directly elected president. The significance of the UMR findings is that it suggests that the third of voters who would vote against a republic in a first plebiscite would then switch behind the direct-election model in any second plebiscite. UMR is federal Labor's pollster but its research on the republic was carried out as part of its general market and political research.


Fake teacher? No problem in Victoria

Your legion of highly-paid bureaucrats will protect you (NOT). And when you do get found out only a slap on the wrist awaits you

THE state education watchdog has been rapped over the knuckles for failing to uncover a fake teacher working at a Melbourne primary school. The Victorian Institute of Teaching registered Renai Brochard, despite conflicting birth dates and signatures on her paperwork. Brochard, 41, was given a suspended jail term for stealing the identity of South Australian teacher Ginetta Rossi, her husband's former wife. She used the name to gain registration in Victoria and taught for several months last year at Melbourne Montessori School's Caulfield campus.

Brochard was exposed only after Ms Rossi tried to renew her teaching status with SA education authorities. It is believed Brochard is now working in a childcare job in Adelaide.

A recent institute of teaching disciplinary hearing heard Brochard was paid an annual salary of $58,828 at Melbourne Montessori. She misspelt Ms Rossi's first name on some registration documents and had whited out her name and replaced it with Ms Rossi's on her birth certificate, the hearing was told.

The Montessori principal approved Brochard's birth and marriage certificates, although not authorised to do so, the institute panel found. In its decision, the panel, headed by Susan Halliday, said thorough scrutiny and cross-referencing of all paperwork by the institute would have revealed the discrepancies. The panel said the institute had tightened checking procedures, but it recommended staff receive more training. The fraud was the first case of its kind to go before an institute of teaching hearing.

Brochard was convicted at Moorabbin Magistrates' Court on April 17 on charges of deception and making a false document. She was given a three-month jail sentence, suspended for 12 months.


Some Australian wisdom of the year 2008

This was one of those years. Relieved only by the appearance in the West of an apparent (secular) messiah by the name of Barack Obama. Once again, the past 12 months have been marked by a sense of irrationality in the air along with gross hyperbole and false prophesy aplenty on the ground.

January: The Sunday Age predicts former Labor leader Kim Beazley will be appointed governor-general and declares: "We say, arise, your excellency, your people await." It will be a long wait, since Quentin Bryce took up the gig in September. Meanwhile, from the United States, Australian journalist Tony Walker describes the decision of Hillary Clinton's advisers to ask her campaign workers to sign confidentiality agreements as "a bit Stalinist". Walker seems unaware that the communist dictator Joseph Stalin did not bother with election campaigns.

February: Phillip Adams reports rumours that John Howard is to be awarded the Order of the Garter by the Queen. He wasn't. Writing in Dear Mr Rudd, artistic director Juliana Engberg proposes that if the Prime Minister "really wanted to muck with their heads, Rudd could get Callum Morton to redesign his entire office and turn it into an architectural conundrum, so that when people walk in they find themselves in an entirely different kind of environmental-hotel corridor, lift lobby, West Wing". He didn't.

March: Psephologist Malcolm Mackerras prophesies "Hillary Clinton will be inaugurated as president of the United States". Academic Peter Manning depicts the media in Australia as a "state media" - presumably of the kind that prevails in authoritarian regimes. British journalist Max Hastings alleges that "Australian politics is chronically corrupt". Former Brit Keith Austin sees footage of Australians protesting against the construction of a mosque in Camden and maintains that such "hate . could have been ripped straight out of 1930s Germany".

April Fool's Day: Christian Kerr declares that (then) Opposition leader Brendan Nelson's listening tour "is rather like making a confession to some extent at a Chinese show trial during the Cultural Revolution". In Mao's Cultural Revolution, millions of Chinese were killed. Julian Burnside, QC, later in the month decrees "it is a relief to know that ideas and conversation are once again permissible in this country". Yet he managed to become a living national treasure during the time of the Howard Terror.

May: On the ABC's Unleashed website, Bob Ellis proclaims his "hate" for Hillary Clinton and theorises that she does not engage in a certain sex act. However, your man Ellis concedes that his hate-filled thoughts of Clinton's (alleged) "towering frigidity" are affected by the impact of "some nights of the full moon". Fancy that. But Ellis got into the mood of the year by pontificating that Obama is "the present world's likely saviour". Thank God for that.

June: In the ACT, where there has not been a murder conviction for a decade, Justice Hilary Penfold sentences a defendant, who pleaded guilty to grievous bodily harm by stabbing, to nine months' periodic detention. The learned judge advises the defendant he was fortunate that he did not kill the victim. So was the victim, when you think about it.

July: Piers Akerman writes that "Saddam Hussein destroyed the marshes at the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates . and the ALP may soon have to take ultimate responsibility for killing the Murray-Darling". Christopher Kremmer compares Rudd's condemnation of Bill Henson's photography of naked prepubescent children with "Afghanistan under the Taliban [where] images of the human form, even clothed, were banned". Which suggests that governments may change in Australia but exaggeration by moral equivalence continues apace.

August: Australian Olympic supremo John Coates volunteers the observation that Britain has "very few swimming pools and not much soap". Children's author Mem Fox condemns placing young children in long-day care as "child abuse". She announces that such offspring do not want their parents. A Canberra man who the Chief Justice of the ACT Supreme Court, Terence Higgins, found not guilty of murdering his mother because he did not have the requisite intention - despite stabbing her 57 times - is freed after serving 22 months in custody.

September: Age columnist-cum-shouter Catherine Deveny mocks the US vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin as "the closest thing Republican strategists could find to man without a vagina". Novelist Kathy Lette links the experience of Western women who camp to "fleeing the Taliban over the Afghanistan mountains". She lives in London. The Canberra Times reports that nine personality types of heavy drinkers have been identified but misses an obvious category. Namely, the thirsty.

October: Former Queensland premier Wayne Goss observes on ABC Radio National that "people don't eat at home any more". ABC1 Media Watch presenter Jonathan Holmes repeats his view that the action of Australian police in trawling "through people's phone records and homes in pursuit of leakers [of official documents] smacks of Stasiland". The brutal East German Ministry for State Security, the Stasi, spied on virtually all citizens of the communist state. If Holmes believes Australia today is even remotely like the one-time East German dictatorship, he does not know much about either society.

November: Kerry-Anne Walsh claims that Rupert Murdoch's Fox News "only talks to conservatives". She must have missed Bill O'Reilly's interview with Obama. Walsh goes on to argue that "political amnesia is a wonderful thing". Sure is. The fashion-challenged Germaine Greer bags gorgeous Michelle Obama as having worn a "butcher's apron" to her husband's victory speech.

December: Deborah Cameron, the ABC's leading eco-catastrophist, warns that there "could be an ice-free Arctic in 2010". Including during the winter months, apparently. Speaking as a parent, author Sue Cato pronounces that "your children, no matter how gifted and talented, will disappoint you". The year ends with playwright Harold Pinter engaging in one final (life-ending) pause.


Monday, December 29, 2008

Has Woolworths Australia become dangerously complacent?

They are more concerned with "saving the planet" than with selling stuff

Woolworths Australia is one of the world's most successful retailers -- unlike Woolworths USA and Woolworths Britain -- which have both gone bust. But the Australian version only got there by making lots of good decisions and some of the current management seem to me to be making bad decisions. They should reflect that Woolworths USA and Woolworths Britain were once in a strong position too -- until they grew complacent and stopped being self-critical.

Woolworths' ranging decisions (decisions about what to stock) in particular seem to have gone off the rails. I first noticed that when I found that they no longer stock the old incandescent light bulbs. They now stock only the mercury-polluted twisty globes -- even though they are not as yet legally obliged to do that. So people who don't like the twisty globes for whatever reason have to spend their money elsewhere -- as I did. Is that a clever stocking policy? It's certainly not a commercial one. I stocked up on the old globes at Coles.

That was only the start, however. I have now gone three more times to Woolworths and not found what I sought -- only to find what I sought at the little Indian bargain shop just outside my Buranda Woolworths. First I could not find Christmas cards with a Christian theme. Only Santas and reindeer and holly and such secular stuff. But the Indian guy had them. I blogged about that and Christian-themed Christmas cards suddenly made an appearance at Woolworths a few days later. Coincidence? Probably. There are a lot of Christians about so a major retailer has to be pretty dumb to ignore them.

Next I wanted a Thermos flask. Another completedly mundane purchase. You guessed it. Woolworths had nary a one but the Indian guy did. So he again got my money even though I had walked into Woolworths first.

Thirdly, just today I wanted to buy a wall clock. Another mundane purchase. Same story as the Thermos flask.

I really think that Woolworths should put their stocking decisions into more senior or more commercially-oriented hands. My specific recommendation? Cut their huge display of twisty globes in half and put in some clocks and thermos flasks and old globes instead. I am guessing that not all the twisty lines are fast-moving so there would certainly be nothing lost by doing so.

I had a friendly conversation with what seemed a fairly senior person at the local Woolworths and said to him roughly what I have said above. He replied that he too had often had to send disappointed customers to the Indian guy -- even though the Indian guy has only about a tenth of the floorspace that Woolworths has. And you usually don't have to queue up at the Indian shop either. And his prices are VERY reasonable. Jai Hind!

Medi mishaps blowout

Crooked official statistics again

Victorian surgeons and theatre assistants mistakenly left 78 objects inside patients last year - seven times more than official records show. Hospital admission records collated for the Herald Sun show 756 objects were accidentally left in patients after surgery since 2000, far more than reported by health authorities or the State Government. The Government's "sentinel events" reports - which rely on hospitals to notify adverse incidents - show 47 instruments or other materials have been left in patients since 2002-03 that required further surgery to remove.

But figures compiled for the Herald Sun by Monash University's injury surveillance unit indicate more than 550 objects were left in patients in the same period. It is unknown how many of the objects required further surgery, but all patients required further hospital care.

Medical Error Action Group spokeswoman Lorraine Long said it was becoming a major problem. "The Government is not aware how common this is because the sentinel event data relies on people reporting it, and the last thing they are going to do is report something that will expose them to litigation," she said. "There seems to be a failure in the counting back of equipment and materials during surgery. "The consequences of leaving materials inside people can be death if it gets infected, but when patients go back to doctors and tell them they don't feel right they are not believed. "It just gets down to personal responsibility because it is not just the person doing the operation, there are another couple of sets of eyes and it gets down to being accountable, concentrating and following procedures of counting swabs and instruments."

Peter Shanahan, 60, is suing Melbourne Private Hospital after a 22cm surgical pack was allegedly left in his bowel for nine months, leading to agonising pain, the loss of a large section of his bowel and a possibly needless hernia operation after he complained of a lump in his lower abdomen. He claims the alleged mishap during routine bowel surgery ruined a year of his life. "Every time I speak to somebody in the medical field about it, they say it can't happen, that it's an impossibility. But I am proof," he said. "I don't know what the answer is, but it just shouldn't happen."

The Government's official sentinel events report listed only 11 instances where doctors reported leaving objects in their patients in 2007-08 - five involving instruments, wires or clips, five of packs or swabs and one case of a dental plate being retained. In 2006-07, the government report detailed eight retained objects, despite hospital records showing the real number was 85 in 2006 and 78 in 2007. But the biggest discrepancy occurred in 2004, when hospital admissions show 157 patients having treatment for objects left in their body. Government records from 2004-05 show just five cases, while the 2003-04 records list only eight.

Department of Human Services spokesman Bram Alexander said the sentinel events reports only dealt with "catastrophic incidents" where discovery was made after surgery was completed and requiring a new operation. He said some unreported instances may have involved items noticed missing before patients left the operating theatre, allowing surgeons to retrieve the items before recording the reason why the operation took longer on their admission records.


No standards for teachers?

A PRIMARY school teacher accused of swearing at his Year 5 students and allowing them to chase each other around the classroom with a baseball bat has been given the all-clear to continue working with children.

Victoria's top teaching watchdog has found the man, who is referred to only as RJS, may remain registered as a teacher despite being found guilty of incompetence for failing to adequately supervise students, maintain a safe environment or adequately protect students from harm.

It was alleged the male teacher told Victorian Year 5 students, aged about 11, "Don't f..king swear at me" and asked "Why the f..k are you behaving this way in my class and not other people's classes?" A disciplinary panel was also told he said to one class, "You are a pack of arseholes", The Australian reports.

The teacher, who has been working at a school in NSW, admitted during the Victorian Institute of Teaching hearing that the school was not aware of the disciplinary proceedings against him nor the fact that he had had his previous contract at a Victorian school terminated. The disciplinary panel heard the teacher had problems supervising and controlling students at a school that drew pupils from a disadvantaged and culturally diverse community, who had various behavioural problems.

It was alleged RJS started employment as a casual relief teacher before being hired as a PE and environmental studies teacher in May 2006. Soon afterwards, his colleagues complained about his lack of supervision of students. The panel heard this included incidents where the teacher permitted a Year 5 student to climb over a tennis court fence, failed to take action after a fight between two pupils, allowed students to wander off and did not stop Year 3 pupils pushing and shoving while in his class.

The panel was told the teacher allowed Year 5 students to engage in wrestling in class. He said he was showing his pupils the difference between fake television wrestling and real wrestling at the Commonwealth Games. The school's principal told the panel she had concerns about the teacher when she hired him.


Bystander intervention still lives on in Australia: "A passer-by thwarted a bank robbery in Sydney's west this morning after tackling a thief as he fled with a bag of cash, police say. The thief entered the bank on Jersey Road, Plumpton, about 10.50am, telling staff he was armed and demanding money, a police spokeswoman said. However the thief was not believed to be armed, she said. "We've been told he then allegedly took a female staff member hostage," she said. The man then left the bank with cash, but was tackled a short time later by a member of the public, she said. The man was in custody at Mount Druitt police station, and was believed to be uninjured, she said."

New slang for redheads: "Redheads are in for a tough time if "fanta pants" wins Macquarie Dictionary's 2008 word of the year. Macquarie defines it as a colloquial term for a natural redhead: "From the orange-coloured soft drink + pants, with reference to pubic hair as indicator of hair colour." ["Bluey" is the traditional slang term]

Sunday, December 28, 2008

NSW police goons again

A woman who was shot by police in a unit block is seeking money and an apology from those she thought had been sent to protect her. Susie Bandera, 48, claims she was initially relieved when she saw officers had been called out to the North Parramatta address where a man was allegedly assaulting her in the early hours of December 21. "I believe he would have killed me," she said. "I was in the foetal position where he was eye-gouging me and ear-gouging me. Then I saw the police torches coming and I thought, 'Oh good, I'm safe.' "

Instead, the mother of two has a bullet wound to the chest and another police bullet lodged in her spine after it passed through her liver. Doctors have told Ms Bandera it might be too dangerous to remove the bullet. "My right leg is gone, I can't feel it," she said. "How [the bullet] missed my vital organs, I don't know."

Friends said Ms Bandera was "upset and angry" at police and would be seeking compensation and "probably an apology" from the officers involved.

Police alleged Ms Bandera threatened officers with a knife and refused to surrender the weapon after they arrived at the Iron Street units after neighbours reported a disturbance. When Ms Bandera lunged at police, they alleged, a junior female officer fired two shots. Ms Bandera claims she wasn't armed with a knife but a cocktail fork she had taken as protection as she walked an elderly, vision-impaired neighbour home after watching carols on television. On her way back, Ms Bandera had encountered a 23-year-old champion kick boxer arguing on a public phone. She said he demanded to know what she was looking at. He said he followed her to ask her why she had poked him with a fork.

Anne McCabe, 73, a resident who had just returned home from a Christmas party, said she heard a commotion on the drive leading to the units. She went out to her balcony and claims that she saw the man kicking Ms Bandera in the stomach and groin before Ms Bandera sought refuge in her foyer. "He was kicking the hell out of her," she said. "Neighbours were yelling at him to stop. He was choking, strangling her and I am standing over them yelling and yelling."

The kick boxer has denied he had assaulted Ms Bandera and has said in the media he was trying to subdue her and that he had her under control when police arrived and sprayed them both with capsicum spray.

"When I saw the police I ran towards them for help, to help me," Ms Bandera said. "And as I ran towards them she shot me, point blank." Ms Bandera said she first thought she had been hit by a stun gun but realised she had been shot when she saw the bullet casing next to her on the ground. "I thought he'd shot me. I didn't think it was the coppers," she said. Under observation in Westmead Hospital, Ms Bandera said she had been told her attacker had since gone to Queensland without charge, while she has been depicted as a "knife-wielding maniac" by police. "They didn't even get a DNA sample from him, they got one from me," she said.

A police spokesman said no comment would be made until the critical incident team finished its investigations into the shooting. But for Mrs McCabe, who said she was the prime witness and her unit the crime scene, the case was simple. In her view, when the police officer opened fire in her tiny foyer - with a bullet ricocheting into her unit to miss her by inches - she shot the wrong person. "A woman shouted out and I could hear her shouting out, 'You shot the bloody victim,"' she said. "And that's in my formal statement. The policewoman obviously shot in panic, she shot the wrong person."


Businesses reap carbon bonanza

NSW businesses are reaping a bonanza from a new greenhouse fund, receiving more than five times the amount in subsidies from the State Government than they would from the Commonwealth, the NSW Opposition says. Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell said the inaugural report of the NSW Climate Change Fund revealed companies and government agencies had received $27 million to reduce their carbon footprint. But the report also confirmed that greenhouse gas emissions had only come down by 127,000 tonnes, meaning the Rees Government was paying emitters $214 a tonne. As part of its new emissions trading scheme, the Rudd Government has capped the cost of greenhouse gases at $40 a tonne for the next five years.

"The Rees Government is subsidising the business sector at a rate of fivefold that of Canberra," Mr O'Farrell said. "Here in NSW, the Government has clearly lost control of this program." Mr O'Farrell calculated the state had spent $27 million to reduce emissions by less than 0.1 per cent. He argued the Government could have achieved the same reduction by buying carbon offsets for about $28 a tonne from commercial websites, saving $23.5 million.

But yesterday, acting Premier Carmel Tebbutt said that suggestion showed Mr O'Farrell had no idea how to achieve emission reductions. "We are transforming the NSW economy to prepare business and the community for a carbon-constrained future. Some early costs are one-off and substantial, and these are reflected in the Government's report."

The report found the major sources of money for the fund were annual contributions from publicly owned water and power suppliers, such as Energy Australia, Integral Energy and Sydney Water. But Sydney Water also received about $3.7 million from the fund to support a water recycling project.

Major property developers and fund and portfolio managers also received public funding, including more than $1.5 million for projects run by EP&T, a company chaired by the former Sydney Olympics chief Sandy Hollway.


Reprieve for "old" maths in NSW

The "old" syllabus is why NSW students learn more than kids in other States

The NSW Government will delay introduction of a long-awaited new syllabus for Higher School Certificate mathematics courses to avoid confusing schools with further changes when a national curriculum is introduced. The new courses were to be taught to year 11 students from 2010. It is about 30 years since the senior maths curriculum has been reviewed.

The Minister for Education, Verity Firth, has asked the Board of Studies to delay the new documents to avoid complicating the national curriculum agenda. "In light of the current work on the national curriculum, the minister has asked the Board of Studies to complete initial work on the senior maths syllabus but to delay implementation while monitoring the progress of the national curriculum," a spokeswoman said. "This is to avoid confusion for students, teachers and parents."

The NSW Board of Studies said it would meet on February 17 to discuss the status of the new HSC maths courses in the context of a national curriculum.

Representatives of the school-resources publishing industry contacted The Sun-Herald about the delay. A maths editor said book sellers who relied on income from the sale of syllabus documents were concerned.


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Huge erosion of individual liberties

St Vincent de Paul Society ordered to pay $27,500 to president sacked for not being Catholic. If religious people cannot choose to associate with people of the same religion, what other associations might be forced upon us?

The St Vincent de Paul Society of Queensland has been ordered to pay $27,500 to a voluntary president it sacked because she was not Catholic. The landmark decision in the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal has massive implications for the welfare organisation. State president John Campbell said the organisation was disappointed at the decision and had sought legal advice over whether it should appeal or try to have legislation amended, The Courier-Mail reports.

The $27,500 has been awarded to Kingston woman Linda Walsh for "offence, hurt, embarrassment and intimidation" following the society's decision to stand her down as president of the Migrant and Refugees Logan Centre. According to documents tendered to the tribunal, Ms Walsh's work for the centre was her reason "to get up in the morning". After volunteering for the society in 1997, she first became a president of a St Vincent "conference" - or group of people who respond to calls for assistance in the community, according to the charity's website - in March 2003. By the end of the year, she was working unpaid seven days a week.

But trouble started in January 2004 when objections to her not being Catholic were raised. Ms Walsh said she was asked when she first joined the society whether she was Catholic and there were no objections to her being Christian only. She also was accepted as a conference president in 2003 despite not being Catholic. But, in 2004, the society gave Ms Walsh three options - become a Catholic, resign her position and stay only as a member, or leave the society.

Eventually, Ms Walsh took her case to the Anti-Discrimination Tribunal. Ms Walsh told The Courier-Mail she felt betrayed by the society to which she had devoted her life. "They put me through the wringer and back," she said. "It hurt, it really hurt." [Does it hurt to take $27,500 out of the mouths of the needy too?]

In its tribunal documents, the society argued its primary function was to "inculcate the Catholic faith in its members" and the charity aspect was secondary for presidents, which meant they needed to be Catholic.

The tribunal found the society did not prove its case and awarded compensation to Ms Walsh as well as court costs. Mr Campbell said that although Ms Walsh did volunteer work, she also was a member and they believed they should have the rights to choose their members, just as a bowling club did. He said the rule that all presidents should be Catholic was "understood", even if it hadn't been written prior to Ms Walsh's membership. He declined to comment further.


NSW police thugs again

BlackBerry seizure an 'abuse of police powers'

A MAN detained and threatened with arrest under the Terrorism Act for filming police on his mobile phone has alleged police abused their powers. Nick Holmes a Court, CEO of web-based media companies BuzzNumbers and ShiftedPixels, was walking to his home near Kings Cross in Sydney about 10pm on December 19. He told that police forcibly took his BlackBerry phone and threatened him with arrest both under the Australian Anti-Terrorism Act and for allegedly disobeying a police directive.

Mr Holmes a Court said he had started filming what looked like a search after he noticed a group of police walking down his street. "I went to one guy and asked what was going on but he told me to move along, and if I didn't they'd be able to arrest me," he said. "So I moved down the street a few hundred metres to where my apartment was, pulled out my phone and started filming."

Mr Holmes a Court said he had stopped filming before two of the police officers approached, demanding he surrender his BlackBerry mobile phone and telling him he had committed a crime if he had recorded them. "It was in my hand, and they were saying, 'Give me your phone, give me your phone,' but I just kept repeating, 'I do not consent to a search of my phone'," Mr Holmes a Court said. "It was pulled out of my hand - it wasn't me handing it over to her - and now I've got this girl looking through my phone and all my content - my contacts, photos, text messages and emails."

Mr Holmes a Court said he repeatedly complained to the police while they tampered with his phone, but was told to "shut up". "They forcefully did it in front of me, wouldn't give me my phone back until they deleted it, and just kept telling me to shut up."

Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Michael Cope said police did not have the authority to confiscate cameras or stop people from taking pictures of them performing their duties. "It's not appropriate for the police to be stopping people taking pictures of them," Mr Cope said. "They've got no power to do that, none whatsoever, and they've got no power to confiscate cameras. "Why should they be fighting being scrutinised?"

In August this year NSW Civil Liberties Council president Cameron Murphy was responding to concerns about a similar incident where a student was arrested and pressured to delete footage of a brawl involving police when he said police could seize footage only if it was needed as part of an investigation. "There has been a steady increase in police powers to stop people, search them and move them along," Mr Murphy said. "This is very dangerous and it's the sort of thing that over time will lead to a police state."

Mr Holmes a Court went to Kings Cross police station on Boxing Day to make a complaint, but decided not to pursue it formally after a duty inspector said he would speak with the officers involved. "He said we were in fact allowed to film the police if you weren't hindering or in the way of an investigation," Mr Holmes a Court said. "He said my complaint would be logged as a verbal complaint, and he would get the media training department to come and make police aware that citizens and the media are allowed to film them."

NSW police media were aware of the incident involving Mr Holmes a Court, but would not comment because a formal complaint had not been made. News of the incident first broke when Mr Holmes a Court sent a message out on microblogging service Twitter just minutes after getting his phone back from police. "I got searched and my phone confiscated for filming a police search in kings cross, I was threatened with arrest and detainment. Police state," he said in his tweet.

Independent and mainstream media outlets began to pick up the story after freelance technology journalist Ben Grubb wrote a short article on his website and posted an audio interview with Mr Holmes a Court.


Victoria's public hospitals 'fudging' figures

A Melbourne doctor has blown the whistle on data fraud in Victorian hospitals, claiming staff routinely fudge patient figures to meet Government benchmarks for bonus payments. Andrew Buck, a senior emergency registrar with a decade's experience in the state health system, made the allegations in a submission to a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into hospital performance data earlier this month. Dr Buck said senior doctors and nurses were "shifting numbers" to make it look like hospitals were meeting targets for funding and put pressure on junior staff to follow suit. "I am regularly ordered to 'admit the patient to short stay (unit) so they don't blow their time'. This is against DHS (Department of Human Services) policy yet is routine practice in my day-to-day work, and I do it under direct orders from senior medical and nursing staff," he says in the submission.

The revelation comes after a survey of 19 Victorian emergency department directors by the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine found nearly 40 per cent of them were "admitting" patients to "short stay" and other units on computer systems when they were languishing in emergency waiting rooms or on trolleys. The doctors, who remained anonymous for fear of repercussions, said the "virtual wards" were used purely for "creative accounting" to receive funding and avoid "performance watch".

Public hospitals get bonuses for reaching State Government benchmarks, including one which requires that 80 per cent of patients be admitted within eight hours of arrival. Studies have shown that patient care is compromised by spending long periods of time in emergency departments.

When The Age published details of the survey in May, Health Minister Daniel Andrews said he would look into the doctors' claims, but then refused to launch an investigation. He said there was no evidence to suggest the alleged practices were happening. In September, the DHS warned hospitals to submit accurate data. As well, earlier this month the Auditor-General's office confirmed an investigation into the allegations.

Dr Buck said in his submission that Government benchmarks had created "perverse incentives" that put unnecessary pressure on overworked doctors in emergency departments. He expressed anger at Mr Andrews' refusal to act on the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine survey and said a "culture of fear" prevented doctors from talking about the real state of the health system. "If he won't accept hard data and admissions of guilt by emergency department directors, what hope have we got and why should I give a stuff about making the numbers look good?" he says.

Dr Buck's submission could affect the new health-care agreements between the Commonwealth and state and territory governments after federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon said in August that any evidence of fudged patient data would be of serious concern. A spokesman for Mr Andrews said this week he did not know if the minister had seen Dr Buck's submission but "anyone with an issue should raise it through the proper channels and it will be dealt with". Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said Dr Buck's submission was a "cry for help" that could not be ignored.


Government-run railway runs true to form

$130m subsidy for Brisbane-Cairns Traveltrain. What government-run railway anywhere ever pays its way? Passenger rail is obsolete

TAXPAYERS are paying $900 to subsidise every Traveltrain passenger between Brisbane and Cairns - the equivalent of flying eight people for free. Despite the tough economic times, the State Government has failed to act on its "use it or lose it" ultimatum for the struggling service and will spend $130 million on subsidies this year. But Transport Minister John Mickel has flagged a review, saying the Government was committed to subsidising Traveltrain in "broad terms" but wanted value for money. "The Government wants to be satisfied that taxpayers' money is being well spent, and that these outlays can continue to be justified," he said.

Opposition treasury spokesman Tim Nicholls said the Government had wasted money by failing to run the services efficiently. "The Bligh Government must explain how it will deliver these services and provide better value for Queenslanders," he said.

An analysis of Budget figures has revealed the cost of subsidising each passenger has more than tripled in only six years as the appeal of train travel dwindles against competition from discount air fares. Figures show the subsidy for every passenger per kilometre was 50c in 2007-08, meaning the real cost of the journey from Brisbane to Cairns was an additional $900, compared with the 15c a kilometre subsidy in 2001-02, or $270 extra for the same journey. Without the massive subsidy, a fare-paying adult passenger travelling this route on the Sunlander, which is marketed as "comfortable and affordable", would pay $1112.30 for a basic seat at normal prices. A first-class cabin would cost $1661.20.

The standard adult economy price is $212.30. A discount fare of $170 is on offer at present. Brisbane-Cairns flights were on sale this week for as low as $109, so the Government could fly eight people for free at the same price it forks out for a single Traveltrain traveller. The train journey also takes up to 31 hours. A Brisbane-Cairns flight takes 2 hours 25 minutes. The blow-out in subsidising each passenger has been caused by plummeting passenger figures. A significant number of the remaining travellers have discount concession cards. In 2001-02, 632,000 passenger trips were made on Traveltrain, falling to 425,600 in 2007-08.

Queensland Rail was predicting an additional 150 passengers a week on Traveltrain in 2008-09 but this forecast was made before the recent Tilt Train derailment. Former premier Peter Beattie warned last year that the Government would have to consider withdrawing funding, forcing services to be cancelled, if patronage failed to increase. Mr Mickel said the level of the subsidy would be assessed when the Traveltrain contract was renewed next year. "This will provide an chance for the Government to examine that the level of subsidy being provided is justified," he said. "At the same time the Government will consider funding injections for the upgrade of the trains used to provide these services." Mr Mickel said he was encouraged by the latest Traveltrain figures - a 10 per cent or 20,000 passenger rise compared with the same period last year.


Friday, December 26, 2008

Wacky accusation: Conservatives are "postmodern"

It's not easy being a conservative. Most of the time your colleagues and peers regard your views as embarrassingly old-fashioned. The culturati and the academy love to poke fun at you. And, when you're at a dinner party, there is no more sure-fire way to upset the bonhomie than to express sympathy for a conservative position on any subject matter.

Then, just as conservatism seemed destined to remain decidedly unfashionable, Deakin academics Geoff Boucher and Matthew Sharpe publish their provocatively titled The Times Will Suit Them: Postmodern Conservatism in Australia. Apparently, during the past decade or so, conservative ideas have not only been very much in fashion, they took a decidedly postmodern turn. The vanguard of this latest postmodern conspiracy is neither Jacques Derrida nor Michel Foucault; the culprits, this time, are John Howard and the entire editorial board of Quadrant.

The crux of Boucher and Sharpe's argument is that conservatism morphed into a form of relativism. Under the former prime minister, they claim, universalistic normative principles such as international human rights gave way to nationalistic assertion and cultural particularism. Values were appealed to "not because they are just but just because they are ours". The Howard version of conservatism also cemented in the Australian psyche a "scepticism towards the modern idea that people can make the world" better through "planned political action". In Howard's Australia, everybody was feeling so relaxed and comfortable that commitments to grand projects such as social justice and equality seemed a thing of the past.

Boucher and Sharpe's perverse use of the postmodern label raises an interesting question: What is conservatism and how do conservatives approach the kinds of issues postmodernists have been raising? The first thing to note is that unlike those other two isms of the modern age, liberalism and socialism, conservatism, on the whole, has been defined by its lack of a utopian vision. Keenly attuned to unintended consequences, and the persistence of human frailties, conservatives traditionally have preferred evolution to revolution, custom and habit to fads and fashions, pragmatic approaches and common sense to theoretical speculations and abstract generalisations. Because of the peculiarly change-oriented character of modernity and modernisation, conservatives often have felt the need to remind their fellow citizens of the value of the permanent, that the wheel doesn't have to be reinvented willy-nilly. In these and other respects, conservatives embody a certain postmodern modesty about what philosophy or theory can achieve, although their preference would be for empirical and pragmatic solutions to life's dilemmas. Along with David Hume, they also believe that having a sense of humour is a good antidote to hubris.

Where conservatives differ markedly from postmodernists is in the latter's embrace of romanticism. Postmodernism regards all critical reflection as "ironic play" and suffers from a tendency to see the world in aesthetic terms. In this respect, postmodernism has more in common with aesthetic modernism than it likes to admit. Art becomes a model for all of reality and anybody but a philistine judges art according to nonaesthetic criteria; hence, the outrage of the chattering classes regarding the public's disquiet with the depiction of children in Bill Henson's photographs. For the postmodern culturati, only a complete prude or ignoramus would see these images aspornography.

Here conservatism and postmodernism clearly diverge. Although conservatism has produced its own share of bohemians and aesthetes, conservatives are suspicious of rhetoric that puts the world views of an artistic and intellectual class above those of the much scorned middle-classes. However, it is the conservative approach to questions of art and culture that has been most open to misrepresentation in postmodern times. The conservative position that has received most publicity during the past decade is the one that has challenged literature departments embracing film and popular culture. The dominant image has been one of conservative critics railing against the postmodern tendency to equate Shakespeare with The Simpsons. No such thing as a postmodern conservative on this score.

The problem, though, is that the rhetoric surrounding the so-called culture wars has become the only measure of the conservative position on cultural matters. Conservatives are supposedly cranky, crusty, intolerant types who look down their noses at the culture of the masses. But this is a more accurate description of a circa-1950 left-wing intellectual writing for a journal such as Meanjin or Partisan Review than it is necessarily of a contemporary conservative intellectual.

Another conservative response to the postmodern question has been to admit that indeed postmodernism represents something new or at least something quite challenging for society and culture. In fact, conservative sociologists such as Daniel Bell, Christopher Lasch, Philip Rieff and John Carroll have led the way in demonstrating the kinds of predicaments that postmodern culture represents for individual identity and community wellbeing.

I would argue that these conservative theorists not only beat their leftist counterparts in diagnosing some of these changes; they also understood the unintended consequences of increased affluence, the triumph of a bohemian ethic and the loss of meaning in the sphere of culture much better than more fashionable strains of social and cultural theory.

After all is said and done, the quintessential characteristic of the conservative is that they have a deep need to confront and understand their times. As conservative American columnist David Brooks notes in his book Bobos in Paradise, the past few years have seen the emergence of "blue jean conservatives". He celebrates them as new kinds of conservative who "treasure religion so long as it is conducted in a spirit of moderation rather than zeal", who "appreciate good manners and cherish little customs and traditions" and who "reject grand rationalistic planning" and feel that the world is "far too complicated to be altered effectively by some person's scheme to shape reality". Sound postmodern? Perhaps the authors of The Times Will Suit Them went looking in the wrong places for their postmodern conservatives.


DOCS again: Children taken from parents with no evidence of risk

A judge says it was a "gross abuse of power" for child welfare staff to forcibly remove two babies from their parents' care when there was no evidence they were at risk of harm. Ordering that the children be returned to their parents immediately, Supreme Court Justice George Palmer said the New South Wales Department of Community Services officers' actions had "gravely imperilled" the children's best interests. "My principal concern is that young children who have been well cared for by their parents have been removed from their care for some three months and, if the DOCS officers have their way, will be kept out of their parents' care for another three months, for no good reason," Justice Palmer said.

Although the parents were recreational cannabis users, the judge said there was no evidence that it posed a direct risk of harm to their children - a 15-month-old girl and a month-old boy. He said there was no evidence the children, who were given the pseudonyms Georgia and Luke, were neglected or physically or emotionally abused. Given that the parents were not mentally ill and had no relevant criminal history, he questioned why their children were forcibly removed and why DOCS was pursuing a care plan that would keep them in custody until May. He said there had been "a serious abuse by certain DOCS officers of the department's power to take children into custody".

The court heard that DOCS sought to meet the parents on September 12 but did not respond to their attempts to reschedule. When the couple failed to show up, three officers came to their house. The mother denied her children were at risk but the officers returned with two police officers and removed the children. The parents, who cannot be identified, applied to the Supreme Court to have their children returned, a move opposed by DOCS.

Officers' attitude showed "an intransigent refusal to acknowledge a mistake, regardless of the consequences to the children", Justice Palmer said. A psychologist who assessed the children and their parents noted: "Both parents are well able to provide for the safety, welfare and wellbeing of their infant children."

Justice Palmer last week ordered that Georgia and Luke be immediately returned to their parents. DOCS declined to comment on the case, saying it would carefully examine the judgment and consider whether to appeal.


NSW: More charming police behaviour

Even when they get it wrong you have to sue the garbage to get them to face it

A 64-year-old grandmother who was arrested and strip searched for drugs on a busy Sydney street in a police case of mistaken identity is suing the state for false imprisonment and wrongful arrest. Leentje McDonald was somehow mistaken by police for an alleged drug dealer 24 years her junior and shaken down outside a Maroubra pub in full public view. A statement of claim filed in the District Court alleges officers took her belt off and put their hands underneath her clothes in the middle of the footpath in broad daylight.

When she screamed and tried to stop them they pulled both of her hands behind her back and pushed her to the ground. They then arrested her and charged her with assaulting an officer. Yet apparently Mrs McDonald's biggest crime was to miss her bus and duck into the Maroubra Junction Hotel to play the pokies while she waited for another one. The publican had previously told police that he believed that drugs were being sold by an Asian looking woman on the premises.

When Mrs McDonald got up to leave she was seized by an undercover officer and - despite her explaining they had the wrong woman. She was then searched by a female officer who arrived shortly afterwards and restrained by both of them.

Despite the incident occurring more than a year ago she says she has still not received any apology from the police. "I just want an apology and some recognition that I am suffering to this day," she told The Daily Telegraph. "I am in a lot of pain. I had a frozen shoulder which the police really hurt when they treated me so roughly.

A spokesperson said NSW Police was unable to comment as the matter was before the courts. Ms McDonald's lawyer George Newhouse said his client had offered to resolve the matter amicably but police had refused.


Charming police in South Australia too

A woman who lives close to one of South Australia's most notorious road accident black spots is fuming after being told to speed up - by police. Sharon Green - who says she has helped more than 20 crash victims outside her home on Victor Harbor Rd, Mt Compass - was pulled over by police for doing 90km/h in a 100km/h zone as she prepared to turn into her driveway.

Ms Green says she was branded a "danger and a menace" to other drivers when she was pulled over by an unmarked police car at 12.45am recently after driving home from Victor Harbor. "He said I was a danger and a menace on the road if I have been driving at that speed from Victor Harbor - I didn't know what he was on about," she said.

"We live on the main road and we have scraped about 20 people up off the highway where our house is because it is a terrible part of the road. We are so conscious of the way we drive so carefully when we see the consequences so often in Victor Harbor Road from speeding and drink driving. "I would understand if I was travelling at 60 or 70, but not 90. Nobody here can understand, when they see idiots every day speeding on this road, they are telling people to go faster." Ms Green said the warning and order to drive faster was contrary to the police Christmas safety message.

A police spokeswoman refused to comment on Ms Green's case but said driving too slowly could cause problems on the road. "In general, driving too slowly can be a hazard. It is not an offence in itself, but the manner of driving can cause a hazard, and be dangerous, which can lead to an offence," the spokeswoman said.

Ms Green said she had slowed from 100km/h with "not a soul on the road in any direction" because kangaroos were a known hazard at that time. Ms Green has been living at the same property for 48 years, 11kms south of Mt Compass in an area known as "Cut Hill" or Mt Jagged. "They sped off without even saying sorry after I explained I lived here and had only slowed down to get into the driveway," she said.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas message of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Cardinal George Pell


Labor Party trying to pull a fast one over political donations

THE Rudd Government has some heavy holiday reading for punters this summer. Last week John Faulkner released his electoral reform green paper, which asks some weighty questions about how best to reform our democracy from the improper influence of political donations. However, genuine reform will require the Labor Party to do its own house cleaning: kicking its addiction to union money and its reliance on union election campaigns. Anything less is window-dressing, at best. And, at worst, reforms that address concerns about the practices of pro-business parties while leaving untouched the abuses favoured by the unions will simply skew democracy in Labor's favour. One-sided reforms will actually damage democracy.

Should we cap donations? Or ban them? If so, donations by whom? Or do we simply require disclosure? If so, at what level do we require disclosure? And what of political and campaign expenditure? Do we cap this? If so, at what level? And the piece of political dynamite for the ALP: how about addressing the tax privileges that allow tax deductions for union contributions used for political purposes while denying tax deductions for contributions to the Liberal Party and other parties?

We know that corporations hand over buckets of money and expect favours in return. For the financial years 1999 to 2002, the ALP received about 19 per cent of its funding from corporate donations while 28 per cent of Liberal Party funding came from corporate donations, totalling $29million during that period. As Faulkner says, even the perception of undue influence is enough to potentially taint our democracy.

But let's be frank. The Rudd Government cannot undertake electoral reform unless Labor looks at the undue influence of unions - the union money that flows into Labor coffers via donations and affiliation fees, and the cashed-up campaigns unions run on behalf of Labor. During the 10 financial years to 2004-05, unions directed almost $50 million into the ALP national office and state and territory branches. And we don't know how much was given by unions directly to local ALP campaigns.

While companies can only hope their money will earn them political favours, unions can count on it happening. Annual affiliation fees unions pay to Labor secure representative rights at party forums. It's guaranteed under the ALP's constitution: union representatives get 50 per cent of seats at ALP state conferences to dictate Labor Party policy.

Indeed, union power is imprinted on Labor Party decisions across the nation. In NSW, unions have dictated criminal standards of proof for employers under NSW occupational health and safety laws. After the 2007 March state election then premier Morris Iemma elevated Paul Gibson to the ministry amid reports the National Union of Workers and the Australian Workers Union threatened to de-affiliate if Gibson was not promoted.

Then there's the botched privatisation of the NSW electricity industry. An elected government approved privatisation in the best interests of the people of NSW. The unions, wanting to secure the interests of feather-bedded union members, took a different view. They threatened to de-affiliate if the government did not cave into their demands. And so the government caved in. If a property developer had given money to a state government in return for a policy that favoured their own special interests, we would call this corruption.

When proposing the green paper, Faulkner promised to consider all options, including a ban on union donations and affiliation fees. "All money received by political parties - quantum as well as nature - will be examined, " he said. But will Labor be brave enough to do something? Labor Party national secretary Karl Bitar was quick to distinguish affiliation fees from donations because, he said, "under our rules, unions affiliate to have a role in the party". How convenient.

Earlier this year, the Rudd Government tabled a bill to tighten disclosure requirements for donations and reduce the threshold disclosure from $10,000 to $1000. But there is no point reducing thresholds on political donations - which are clearly aimed at cutting corporate and small business funding to the Liberal Party - without a broader look at political donations to all parties, whatever the source. And, even then, the thorny issue of third-party campaigns remains. Unions - representing 22 per cent of workers - spent $28 million at the previous election thumping the Howard government over Work Choices. Yet corporate Australia is reticent about engaging in third-party campaigns come election time. Do we stop people exercising their right to express views about government policy? It's a dilemma for anyone committed to freedom of expression.

Yet the nature of third-party campaigns in Australia is such that if we ban or cap donations (except by individuals) and allow third-party campaigns by unions to continue unabated, the political field is skewed against one side: the conservatives. This problem is compounded by Labor's dirty little political secret. Union dues and levies are fully tax deductible. Yet Labor plans to remove the deductibility of donations to the Liberal and other parties. That discrepancy gives Labor vastly increased firepower compared with its opponents. Labor, for example, can count on unions running pro-ALP Your Rights at Work-style campaigns using fully deductible union dues while the Coalition must struggle by on a meagre diet of donations slowed to a trickle by the Rudd Government's abolition of tax deductibility.

If you doubt the Government's sensitivity on this clever scam, read Stephen Conroy's response to Helen Coonan's attempts to get him to address this little earner in the Senate economics committee in February this year. Conroy ducked, weaved and danced. The one thing he wouldn't do was address the double standard. It was a powerful pointer to the way the Rudd Government would deal with electoral reform: the only certainty is that the Government will do nothing to draw attention to, let alone reduce, the tilting of the playing field its way. If Labor's bill to reduce thresholds for disclosure becomes law without any further action, the one-way skew will become even more pronounced.

The green paper on electoral reform is therefore likely to be mere camouflage to conceal these electoral tricks. The best outcome for those who seek an even playing field is that the green paper will be quietly shelved, relegated to the usual Rudd trick of lots of puffed-up promise early on full of rhetoric about securing the nation's future, followed by deliberate inaction. That would be better than more one-sided changes.

If electoral reform is simply a ruse for securing the political domination of Labor, which can rely on cashed-up third-party campaigning by unions then, regardless of your political stripe, it cannot be healthy for our democracy. So-called reforms that favour one party over another will deliver a much more damaging problem than the one we now confront.


Another one of Australia's dangerous creatures

A newly-identified giant cousin of the dangerous Irukandji has been labelled the reigning king of jellyfish. North Queensland-based marine expert Lisa Gershwin on Friday formally identified the jellyfish, a member of the venomous and potentially deadly Irukandji family. The new species, which has a body measuring up to 15 centimetres in height and tentacles measuring up to a metre dwarfs its more common cousins. "It's huge, most Irukandji are one to two centimetres, this guy is massive," Ms Gershwin said.

Ms Gershwin says the species, which she named Morbakka Fenneri, was first discovered in Moreton Bay in 1985 but had not been formally identified. It is named in honour of marine expert Dr Peter Fenner, while Morbakka means Moreton Bay jellyfish. The species has been documented up and down the East Coast, From Sydney to Port Douglas but is most common around Redcliffe and Mackay.

Ms Gershwin said the Morbakka's Fenerri's sting, while not typically fatal, was nonetheless dangerous and had resulted in at least one victim being put on life support. "I don't want to mince words, it is a dangerous animal."

She believed there may be other species of Morbakka waiting to be discovered. "There could be more species of Morbakka and that's something I'm hoping to delve into over the next few years." Ms Gershwin will also embark on an 11 day expedition from Boxing Day to attempt to locate an even larger species of jellyfish which is believed to have a body up to half a metre in height.


Festive feasts 'contributing to climate change'

Wasted food at Christmas time is now being highlighted as an environmental problem. Jon Dee, the chairman of Do Something, says gases from leftover food rotting in landfill are 20 times more potent than the carbon pollution from car exhausts.

Mr Dee says there are simple ways to avoid over-catering at Christmas and damaging the environment. "Australians waste more than 3 million tonnes of food every year and of course a lot of that food is wasted at Christmas," he said. "It's really basic. Draw up a shopping list and stick to it and try and not cook more than you need, and if you do have leftovers you can always put it in tupperware and freeze it."


Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Two articles below

AFP chief 'ignored evidence' in Haneef case

A police chief who ignores evidence! Aint that just fine and dandy? I can find no mention of Chief Jabbour on the AFP site but Jabbour is a Lebanese surname and Ramzi is a Muslim given name so I am guessing that Chief Jabbour is a Lebanese Muslim. So his appointment could well have been an affirmative action one -- in which case we must not be surprised that it was a low-quality appointment. Maybe we should be more careful about appointing Muslims as police chiefs. The world has after all had a few other problems from Muslims this century too. There are quite a few things about Muslim thinking that are stupid from a Western viewpoint

The Australian Federal Police's counter-terrorism chief "lost objectivity" when assessing the case against Mohamed Haneef, ignoring or cynically interpreting evidence that strongly pointed to the former terror suspect's innocence. The long-awaited report into the Haneef affair by retired NSW Supreme Court judge John Clarke QC criticises the AFP's lead investigator, the then national manager for counter-terrorism, Ramzi Jabbour, as "unable to see that the evidence he regarded as highly incriminating in fact amounted to very little".

Mr Clarke accuses Mr Jabbour, who was sent to Queensland from Canberra to take carriage of the 700-person investigation, of selectively, even cynically, interpreting the evidence against Dr Haneef. He is found to have downplayed facts that may have weakened the case against the Indian doctor - such as Dr Haneef's attempts to contact a police officer in England after failed terror attacks in London and Glasgow in June last year. Mr Clarke further criticises Mr Jabbour for dismissing the concerns of his junior investigators, who concluded that Dr Haneef's professed ignorance about the British terror attacks was genuine.

The Clarke report, released yesterday, criticises senior bureaucrats and police for failing to pass on information pointing to the innocence of Dr Haneef, who was held in custody for nearly a month, and for viewing the most benign evidence as suspicious.

The report makes 10 recommendations, but does not call for disciplinary action. It was accompanied by a suite of changes announced by Attorney-General Robert McClelland, including a new statutory authority to review terror laws, parliamentary oversight of the AFP and extending the remit of the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security to probe the AFP's conduct. The report clears then immigration minister Kevin Andrews of improper conduct in cancelling Dr Haneef's visa, but expresses "mystification" as to why Mr Andrews did it directly after Dr Haneef was granted bail.

The Immigration Department is criticised for failing to directly pass to Mr Andrews an ASIO assessment that found no evidence against Dr Haneef. Instead, the ASIO assessments were conveyed to Mr Andrews via his chief-of-staff, Michael Toby - one of the few witnesses who refused to give evidence to the government-ordered inquiry. Another witness who did not give evidence was John Howard's senior adviser, Jamie Fox, who did not receive permission from the former prime minister to give a statement to the inquiry.

Mr Clarke also finds it "troubling" that Howard government attorney-general Philip Ruddock did not seek to reconcile the conflicting assessments of Dr Haneef by the AFP and ASIO, despite both agencies falling under his ministerial responsibility.

But the report clears the AFP of acting in the service of its political masters and notes the investigation was "bedevilled" by its reliance on overseas information. Dr Haneef was arrested on July 2 last year after his mobile phone SIM card was linked to failed terror attacks in Britain. He was charged with a single count of recklessly supporting a terror organisation, but the charge was withdrawn 25 days later for lack of evidence. Mr Clarke finds the AFP was arguably within its rights to arrest Dr Haneef at Brisbane Airport, given the information available. But he criticises Mr Jabbour for ignoring the concerns of more junior officers.

Dr Haneef, who is expected to seek compensation, said an apology from the Government would be "very welcome".


Arrogant and hostile Federal "regulator" to cost taxpayers $120m compensation for its Gestapo-like behaviour

The arrogant bitches in the TGA who created this problem should be asked to cough up too. I don't blame the TGA for disliking alternative therapies (though some of the things they have approved -- such as statins -- are arguably no better) but that does not excuse ruinous Gestapo-type attacks on a law-abiding businessman and the destruction of his business. And the two devious feminazis at the heart of the TGA action -- Fiona Cumming and Rita Maclachlan -- are apparently still in their jobs! Their involvement in the destruction of records should in fact lead to criminal charges being laid against them

The Rudd Government faces a possible $120 million compensation payout after 165 shareholders, creditors and customers of the collapsed Pan Pharmaceuticals company launched a class action in the Federal Court yesterday. Lawyers acting for clients including retailers and pharmacists began action to recoup huge losses after the sudden recall of 1600 Pan-produced vitamins and health supplements in 2003. The legal firm running the class action says it is confident after the Government agreed to a $55 million compensation payout for Pan founder Jim Selim in August.

Action against the Government follows the largest product recall in Australia and the suspension of Pan's licence by the commonwealth-run Therapeutic Goods Administration. In a statement of claim, lawyers for the aggrieved parties say the product recall went ahead despite the TGA conducting audits in 2003 that revealed no critical deficiencies in products manufactured by the company. The TGA also allegedly had not tested any of the products manufactured by Pan that were the subject of the recall and had not received any consumer complaints. It had been told by an expert advisory group there was no imminent risk of death, serious illness or injury from Pan products. A year earlier, the TGA had given Pan "a very good assessment" of its facilities.

The product recall at Pan, which previously supplied about 70 per cent of Australia's therapeutic products market, led to the company's collapse. Action against the federal Government is being led by litigation funding giant IMF and legal firm McLachlan Thorpe Partners, which also represented Mr Selim.

According to the claim against the Government, the TGA had no rational grounds to consider that any, or alternatively the vast bulk, of the products manufactured by Pan constituted any risk of death, serious injury or illness. The suspension of Pan's products allegedly proceeded "in an environment of suspicion, gossip, improper motivations, irrelevant considerations and a pedantic and unreliable audit of Pan, in 2003", according to the claim against the Government.

Referring to TGA audit reports in February and April 2003, lawyers for the aggrieved parties allege: "The said audit reports were pedantic to the point of bias, lacked rigour, were misleading in material respects, were unverifiable and omitted to record relevant matters, such that no rational reliance could be placed on the audit and the records."

It is also alleged in court-filed documents that some of the TGA respondents to the claim - Terry Slater, Rita McLachlan and Robert Tribe - actively set out to mislead Pan "with respect to their intention to take dramatic action (including the suspension or cancellation of licences) against Pan; and otherwise set out to keep secret that intention so as to ensure surprise, and to ensure that neither Pan nor sponsors would have any opportunity of preventing the action by correcting the TGA's mistakes or otherwise seeking relief available in law". The action is being taken against the commonwealth of Australia and former TGA officers Mr Slater, Ms McLachlan, Mr Tribe, Pio Cesarin and Noel Fraser.

Settlement of the Selim case in August was the first made with the consent of the commonwealth in the area of "misfeasance in public office" and involving such a big payout to an individual. IMF, which usually underwrites litigation in which the total claim exceeds $2 million, has current cases against Centro Properties, Opes Prime, Westpoint and AWB. IMF and McLachlan Thorpe Partners, acting for Pharmacare Laboratories Pty Ltd as the representative party in the proceedings, represent a total of 165 sponsors, customers, creditors of Pan, as well as distributors and retailers of Pan products. The total claim for losses exceeds $120million.


No dissent allowed at Leftist radio station

A radio show broadcast in Wollongong that aired corruption allegations about the ALP, including allegations about the state MP Noreen Hay, has been shut down with the help of local police. The broadcaster Paul Matters, a former head of the South Coast Labour Council, was removed from the station by Wollongong police on Saturday when he arrived at Vox FM in Wollongong to broadcast his program, Struggle Street. Mr Matters had presented the program, which examines issues related to unemployed people, for 12 years. More recently he had aired material about alleged corruption in Wollongong and criticised what he saw as Ms Hay's inappropriate relationships with developers.

Ms Hay, who was named in a wiretap played to corruption hearings into Wollongong council earlier this year but was not named as a person of interest by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, is one of Vox FM's advertisers.

Mr Matters and his supporters claimed he was removed so as to shut down discussion about the ALP's alleged role in corruption. The station's board of directors disputed the censorship accusations, saying Mr Matters's aggressive behaviour was the reason for his removal. No charges were laid against Mr Matters. "Disciplinary action has been taken against a small number of Vox members for behavioural issues constituting unacceptable conduct within the workplace," the secretary of the Vox board, Hanno Stanojevic, said yesterday.

He later told the Herald the board was unhappy with some of the accusations broadcast by Mr Matters. "Paul was moving away from talking about unemployment to talking about corruption, including allegations he made about our dealings with council about our new premises."

Mr Stanojevic said the station called the police because it was worried about what Mr Matters might do, following a rowdy meeting the previous Thursday involving board members, Mr Matters and some of his supporters. Mr Stanojevic said a threat made earlier in the year by Ms Hay to sue Mr Matters, Vox FM and its board of directors, was a concern. "She felt the stories were not correct and she told us to run a correction and to stop more stories being broadcast," he said. "We don't know if the stories were right or wrong but our solicitor and insurers warned us we were in a bit of trouble."

Mr Matters told the Herald the program had always had a political edge but that ALP interests connected with the station had been unhappy with his attacks on the party. "We said the most outrageous things about John Howard and there was not a peep out of [the board of directors]. The problems began when we started talking about the ALP," Mr Matters said. "Hay is a sponsor of the station, which is unusual for a politician," he said.

Ms Hay said she knew nothing about any corruption allegations against her but did write to the station about derogatory remarks Mr Matters had made about her physical appearance. "My letter said to tell [Mr Matters] to desist making personal comments about me," Ms Hay said. "I am still a sponsor of the station and will continue to be," she said.

Mr Matters, who is also a member of the group Wollongong Against Corruption, yesterday vowed to present his program every Saturday morning in the Wollongong mall in front of Ms Hay's office and to "name names".

Vox FM said Struggle Street would return to air in the new year with a different presenter.


Attention-seeking a*holes warn Christmas lights harm the planet

Just for that I am going to leave my Xmas lights on day and night

Scientists have warned that Christmas lights are bad for the planet due to huge electricity waste and urged people to get energy efficient festive bulbs. CSIRO researchers said householders should know that each bulb turned on in the name of Christmas will increase emissions of greenhouse gases.

Dr Glenn Platt, who leads research on energy demand, said Australia got 80 per cent of its electricity by burning coal which pumps harmful emissions into the atmosphere. He said: "Energy efficient bulbs, such as LEDs, and putting your Christmas lights on a timer are two very easy ways to minimise the amount of electricity you use to power your lights." He said the nation's electricity came from "centralised carbon intensive, coal-based power stations" which were responsible for emitting over one third of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. Dr Platt added: "For a zero-emission Christmas light show, you may consider using solar powered lights or sourcing your electricity from verified green power suppliers."


Misbehaving police get slaps on the wrist

Senior police are feeling the heat from the Crime and Misconduct Commission over their allegedly light-handed treatment of rogue officers. On eight occasions in the past year, the CMC has taken action in the Misconduct Tribunal against commissioned officers over their findings in disciplinary matters.

In one case, the CMC appealed against a finding by Assistant Commissioner Peter Swindells that excess force allegations brought against a junior officer could not be proved. Constable Patrick Gardiner was accused of slapping, kicking and punching offenders at the Brisbane City Beat Office and the City Botanical Gardens on 14 occasions in 2004. One charge alleged the constable removed the handcuffs from a man in custody and enticed him into a fight. But Mr Swindells found all but one of the allegations were unsubstantiated and did not impose any sanctions on the officer.

The CMC claimed Mr Swindells was wrong to require proof of the charges "to the criminal standard". It also said his decision not to sanction Constable Gardiner was inadequate and failed to "properly reflect the need for deterrence". The case is ongoing.

In another matter, the Misconduct Tribunal upheld part of an appeal by the CMC against Assistant Commissioner George Nolan, in relation to an officer who allegedly failed to abandon a car chase as directed. The CMC took action when Mr Nolan found the charges against Sen-Constable Dennis Martyn should be downgraded from misconduct to breaches of discipline and found claims he lied in interviews with senior police were unsubstantiated.

Three other matters brought by the CMC were abandoned and two more appeals are continuing.