Friday, March 20, 2009

Millions may have visited popular websites on 'leaked blacklist'

A SECRET list of websites purporting to be from the communications watchdog has been leaked to the public, and includes one of the most popular sites in the country. The pornography site, which cannot name, is the 38th most popular site in Australia, according to web ranking service Alexa. It is more popular than sites like White Pages, Yellow Pages, Optus, Career One and the official sites of the NSW, Victoria and Queensland state governments.

However the Communications Minister has denied this "leaked list" is the original from the watchdog.

A secret blacklist of illegal sites, maintained by the Australian Communications And Media Authority (ACMA), is the basis of the Federal Government's web filtering plan. Under the plan, all internet service providers will be forced to block access to sites on the blacklist.

The fake list was published on a public website without any age verification or warnings. It contains 2395 sites, which is what identified it as a fake, says Communications Minister Stephen Conroy. "The published list purports to be current at 6 August 2008 and apparently contains approximately 2400 URLs whereas the ACMA blacklist for the same date contained 1061 URLs," Senator Conroy said in a statement. Last November the media watchdog said its blacklist contained 1370 sites.

“The leaking of the list has confirmed some of our worst fears,” said vice-chair of Electronic Frontiers Australia (EFA) Colin Jacobs earlier today, before the list was slammed by Senator Conroy. “This was bound to happen, especially as mandatory filtering would require the list to be distributed to ISPs all around the country."

As well as sites suspected of publishing child pornography the fake list includes pages on Wikipedia, YouTube and Wikileaks as well as online gambling sites.

ACMA has warned that anyone who republishes the list or attempts to access child pornography sites on it could face up to 10 years in prison. It has also warned that linking to sites on the list could incur fines of up to $11,000 a day.


Now oranges are unhealthy! Where will the madness stop?

Netball Queensland bans oranges at half-time -- despite no proof of harm

A juicy stoush is brewing between a state sporting body and citrus growers over the banning of oranges at games because of potential damage to teeth. Netball Queensland, the umbrella body for 82 netball associations, has sanctioned the ban based on the high acid levels of oranges and the potential harm to children's teeth, according to Brisbane's Courier-Mail. "Most of our associations have banned oranges at half-time or are discouraging coaches from offering oranges," said a Netball Queensland spokeswoman.

But Queensland Citrus Growers, which is about to roll out a major campaign promoting fruit at sports games, said it was outrageous to be discouraging children from eating fresh fruit. State manager Chris Simpson said "citrus and kids' sport had been synonymous for generations". "I'd like to see medical research and evidence to prove fruit is unhealthy, particularly fresh citrus," Mr Simpson said.

Netball Queensland's consultant dietitian Kerry Leech said acidity was the problem. "When players come off the court at half-time they're generally a bit dehydrated and the worst thing for teeth in that environment is acid, because it erodes the enamel," Ms Leech said. "So we're encouraging fluids to re-hydrate at half-time rather than eating half an orange."

Dr Derek Lewis from the Australian Dental Association's oral health committee agreed oranges and athletes were not a good mix. Mr Simpson said his organisation was launching a campaign in which hundreds of mandarins would begiven away at sporting functions. "If they're concerned about oranges, why not try an Imperial mandarin?"


McDonald's makes major move into school education with free online maths program

A lot of Leftists will pop a few rivets over this

McDONALD'S will today make a major move into school education, offering a free maths program to more than 1.4 million students. McDonald's restaurants across the nation are bankrolling the company's biggest foray yet into schools. Under the scheme the Maths Online tutoring program - usually costing $40 per month - will be provided free to individuals, classes or entire schools in the government, Catholic and independent systems.

When they open the program on their computers, students will see the McDonald's logo and the words: "Proudly provided by your local McDonald's restaurant."

McDonald's yesterday refused to reveal how much it was paying for the school campaign, claiming the figure was "commercially in-confidence". But The Daily Telegraph understands the total cost will run into millions of dollars.

McDonald's has the support of Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard and the Australian Secondary Principals' Association and will promote the program to students from Year 7 to Year 12. Ms Gillard yesterday commended the company for "encouraging secondary schools and students across the country to utilise this resource".

But State Opposition education spokesman Adrian Piccoli said that parents expected education to be independent of corporate interests. "Maccas should stick to making hamburgers and the Government should stick to educating children," Mr Piccoli said. Professor Bobby Banerjee from the University of Western Sydney College of Business said the program might improve students' maths but it was also promoting McDonald's. "There is a return for the company - they claim they are doing it to serve the community but that's not entirely true," he said.

Maths Online was developed by a team led by Sydney teacher Patrick Murray and features hundreds of animated and narrated lessons and over 15,000 exam-style questions. Secondary Principals Association president Andrew Blair said McDonald's was making a "generous contribution to building the foundation skills of Australian students". "The Maths Online product will be a marvellous assistance to the work of mathematics teachers throughout Australia," he said.


Unions may yet rue Rudd's IR reforms

By Michael Costa (A former Labor treasurer of NSW)

THE Rudd Government's Fair Work Australia Bill represents payment for services rendered by the ACTU as part of the bargain to oust John Howard. But unintended consequences could undermine the longevity of both partners. The high-profile nature of the Work Choices campaign run by the ACTU before the 2007 election means Rudd has no alternative but to address its key concerns.

The danger for Rudd is that he may well have to face the economic and political consequences of a policy that goes further than necessary to eliminate the ideological components of Work Choices.

The public rejected Work Choices because it was perceived to be unfair. The unfair dismissal provisions and the dramatic reduction of award protections clearly caused anxiety among the workforce. The Coalition's hastily organised retreat on the no-disadvantage test was too late to stop the return of so-called Howard battlers to Labor. Howard had betrayed their trust and they sought and achieved retribution.

While employers are right to be concerned about the new unfair-dismissal provisions, if they contain a workable 12-month probation period they should provide plenty of scope for small businesses to operate successfully. The real sticking point will be on the issue of operational reasons for unfair dismissal. As the Pacific Brands outsourcing demonstrates, this could be used to frustrate productivity improvements.

You could argue that it's unfair for workers to be dismissed because a firm chooses to outsource its production overseas but it's another thing to claim the dismissals themselves, as a matter of business strategy, are unfair. The Government needs to clarify this quickly. The irony is this could see firms choosing to expand production overseas to avoid rigid unfair dismissal processes that hamper responsiveness to competitive pressures.

The extensive union right of entry provisions are a potential problem for employers but it is hard to argue against protection for workers who choose to belong to a union. Equally, it's hard to justify unfettered right of entry for unions to workplaces where they have no members. Enforcement of statutory entitlements is the responsibility of government. This government legislation sets the standards it should to provide neutral enforcement.

The real problem with the legislation is its model of collective bargaining. This model is more than a restoration of the pre-Work Choices or even pre-Workplace Relations Act arrangements. It goes much further.

Even the ACTU acknowledged this was unprecedented in its Your Rights at Work Campaign update for summer 2008-09, when it said: "The new collective bargaining laws introduced by the federal Government will, when they are passed by the parliament, represent one of the most momentous overhauls of industrial relations in this country for 100 years."

The introduction of compulsory "good faith" bargaining with a new arbitral body, Fair Work Australia, means that an effective broad re-regulation of the labour market is likely. This overturns not only Work Choices but also important reforms made in labour market regulation under the the Hawke and Keating Labor governments.

Good faith is extremely difficult to establish in practice and will result in less pressure for enterprise agreements and more arbitrated outcomes. Industrial arbitration, by its nature, tries to please everybody and quite often, as a result, pleases nobody. In an environment where business certainty is critical, workplace productivity could suffer. The old system of arbitration was buttressed by protectionist tariffs.

The claim by the ACTU and the Government that this model will deliver higher productivity is mere window-dressing. Industrial arbiters are not skilled to arbitrate on productivity and business strategy. The only way this could possibly work is if an independent body, such as the Productivity Commission, were resourced to provide advice on the productivity impacts of decisions made by Fair Work Australia. The unions inevitably would resist this. Fair Work Australia cannot be allowed to replace enterprise management in developing business strategy. This would be an unmitigated economic disaster.

The Government faces challenges in being seen to deliver its part of the bargain with the ACTU while avoiding an array of productivity reducing rigidities that undermine economic performance. It is the Government, not the ACTU, that will be held responsible. The Australian public wanted fairness reintroduced into the labour market, not greater business and job uncertainty.

The ACTU also faces the prospect of a Pyrrhic victory in the medium run. The campaign it ran against the Howard government's Work Choices provided it with a much needed sense of purpose and a convenient explanation for its declining membership.

When the Australian Bureau of Statistics released data last April showing trade union membership had fallen by 5 per cent, or 89,000 people, in the year to August 2007, ACTU president Sharan Burrow, claimed it showed "unions have successfully survived Work Choices". Burrow may really believe this but, more likely, it was convenient spin. The data in fact shows that the net decline in actual union membership between 1996, the year Howard was elected, and 2007, the year he was defeated (11 years) was 414,000. In the six years from 1990 until 1996 under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating the decline was 465,000. In other words, there was a greater absolute decline in membership under Labor's pre-Work Choices legislation.

While industrial legislation and employer attitudes may play some part in declining union membership, it is not the main part. Structural change in the economy is clearly the overriding factor.

Alarmingly for unions, they have not captured the hearts and minds of young people and continue to be over-represented in the public sector and declining industries. By making the basic system fairer and removing the Work Choices ogre, unions may have removed any reason for workers to become members. The passing of the Fair Work Australia Bill may reduce the incentive for workers to join unions and restrict employer flexibility and national economic competitiveness at a crucial time.


Victoria's Leftist government is closing the door now the horse has escaped

Controlled burns begin in bid to avoid bushfire repeat

Controlled burning has begun in Victoria aimed at preventing a repeat of the devastating summer firestorm that killed at least 210 people. Environment chiefs have started a program of controlled burns on public land this week following criticism not enough was done to reduce rural fuel loads in the lead-up to summer. The Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) will burn 25ha of public land near Bendoc, in East Gippsland, today to safeguard the town. About 120ha near Mallacoota, in the far east of the state, will also be burnt.

DSE spokeswoman Jennifer Willis said more than 150,000ha of land was torched in fuel reduction burns last financial year. There were no targets for this year's autumn/spring program with the burns being weather dependent. She said conditions needed to be dry enough so that the fire ignited and spread, without getting out of control.

Environment Minister Gavin Jennings said controlled burns would continue as conditions allowed, but acknowledged they may be stressful for some residents. "We are aware that seeing smoke will cause some anxiety for people, especially people impacted by the recent bushfires and ask the community for their patience throughout this program,'' he said.

Mr Jennings said burning would occur in strategic locations to protect towns and minimise disruption to bush ecology. Asset protection burns will target most areas, including the Otways coast, the Wombat Forest and Macedon and the Dandenong Ranges.


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