Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The "Four Scorners" come unglued

We see once again the bias and lack of ethics we have come to expect from Left-leaning public broadcasters. It is now completely clear that nothing they say should be taken seriously

Nick Kaldas specialises in assassinations. It was not his intention, it just worked out that way. He is on leave from his job as Deputy NSW Police Commissioner to head the investigation by the United Nations Special Tribunal into the assassination of a former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafiq Hariri, and several related murders and murder attempts.

Kaldas has also served in Iraq training the new police force, which routinely deals with political murder. His expertise in such dark matters began back in 1994, when he led the investigation into Australia's first political assassination, the murder of the NSW Labor MP John Newman. A local Labor politician and Vietnamese community leader, Phuong Ngo, was convicted in 2001 of orchestrating the killing.

Eight years later, to the distress of Kaldas, he has had to deal with a different kind of assassination - character assassination. It began on April 7 last year, when ABC's Four Corners broadcast a program which questioned whether the conviction of Phuong Ngo had been a miscarriage of justice, based in part on sloppy conduct by Kaldas.

The Four Corners program was loaded with suppositions such as this one, by a former Labor politician: "I don't think they [Phuong Ngo's accusers] had anything else to go on. I think just because he was Vietnamese." Friends of Ngo, such as the refugee advocate Marion Le, were quoted claiming there had been "a miscarriage of justice".

The report was based in part on the work of two academics from the Australian National University, Hugh Selby and Don Greig. Soon after the program went to air, both men made submissions to the Chief Justice of NSW, James Spigelman, calling for the murder case to be reopened. On the basis of these submissions and the public claims made in the Four Corners program, Spigelman ordered a judicial inquiry into the case. This was highly unusual. On the same day, the NSW Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, issued a press release dissociating himself from the decision. [Spigelman was a far-Left student in his university days]

The Chief Justice ordered the inquiry without seeking advice from the NSW Police, the Director of Public Prosecutions, or the NSW Crime Commission. The matter had been exhaustively examined by hearings of the NSW Crime Commission, a coroner's inquest, a committal hearing, three Supreme Court trials (one aborted, one resulting in a 10-to-one hung jury, and one which led to the conviction of Ngo), an appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal, and an appeal to the High Court of Australia, which declined to give leave to hear the case.

The inquiry went ahead. The cost to the taxpayer was $770,000. When it was over, the judicial officer who conducted the inquiry, the retired judge David Patten, issued a devastatingly comprehensive rejection of the accusations that had been regurgitated on Four Corners and put by Ngo's supporters in submissions to the inquiry, including a former independent member of the NSW upper house, Peter Breen. To quote from Patten's report, released last week:
"Not one scintilla of evidence points to any wrongdoing or improper activity by Mr Kaldas … despite a number of allegations by various supporters of Mr Ngo there is no evidence that the investigation of Mr Newman's murder was conducted otherwise than professionally and competently …

"[The] material put before the inquiry increased rather than diminished the strength of the Crown's case at trial. Moreover, Mr Ngo's own evidence, which was not before the jury at the trial where he was convicted, was, I believe, very destructive of his claim of innocence …

"Regrettably, the strength of the evidence available against Mr Ngo was virtually ignored by his supporters in their submissions to the inquiry. Unsupported allegations of gross impropriety were substituted for analysis of the facts … Mr Selby's submission to the Chief Justice … lost all significance, in my opinion, when scrutinised at an open hearing …

"I find that nothing in the matters raised by Mr Selby [and] nothing which has come before me [suggest] the investigation into Mr Newman's murder was conducted otherwise than thoroughly and competently by police officers dedicated to the task."

During the preparation of the Four Corners report, Kaldas declined to be interviewed on camera because, he told me last week, he had come to the view that the ABC reporter, Debbie Whitmont, was biased against the Crown case. He did, however, agree to go through the trial evidence with Whitmont, in detail. He took notes of these meetings. When the Four Corners program went to air he found that not one of the points he had made to Whitmont was mentioned.

Unusually, the accusations made on Four Corners were subjected to forensic scrutiny and the report by Patten found the inquiry had "increased rather than diminished" the strength of the Crown's case. He criticised Ngo's supporters for their "lack of objectivity", "intemperate language" and "making allegations of fraud, perversion of justice, and improper conduct … without a shred of evidence".

Yet all this was the basis on which the two ANU academics and Four Corners based their claims. Debbie Whitmont submitted the report for a Walkley Award. And won.

Last week, Four Corners issued a statement standing by its report. No acknowledgement of error. No acknowledgement of distress caused. No hint of admission that the program contained innuendo, omission, supposition, false accusation and a preconceived outcome. This is exactly the sort of case another ABC program, Media Watch, should examine, but it is the last thing it would touch, because the opinionated Media Watch actually operates as Ideology Watch. Such is the ethical rigour at our ABC.



Our lab has just published a new paper in PLoS ONE, detailing the interactions of coral and algae on the Great Barrier Reef, and uncovered just how resilient some reefs can be following coral bleaching events. The southern end of the Great Barrier Reef was exposed to extended periods of high sea surface temperatures in the end of 2006, resulting in extensive coral bleaching across the Keppel Islands throughout January 2006. Following the bleaching event, a single species of fleshy macro-algae (Lobophora) overgrew the coral skeletons, causing high rates of mortality throughout the second half of 2006. But, by February 2007, corals were rapidly recovering due to an unusual seasonal dieback of the macro-algae, and astonishing regenerative capabilities of the dominant branching Acroporid corals - almost twice the rate of offshore corals on the northern Great Barrier Reef.

What is unusual about the Keppel Islands story is threefold: first, that corals recovered within months to years (reversal of macro-algae dominated reefs often takes decades), second, recovery of the corals occurred in the absence of herbivory (traditionally assumed to be the 'driving factor' in macro-algal phase shifts), and third, that corals recovered through asexual (regenerative) capacities rather than reseeding of reefs by larval recruitment. Understanding the processes that drive recovery following disturbances is critical for management of coral reefs, and the Keppel Islands example shows that managing local stressors (overfishing and water quality) helps reefs bounce back from global stressors such as coral bleaching events. PLoS One is an open-access journal, so the article is free to read - click on the link below, and feel free to rate and comments on the paper. Congratulations Guillermo et al!

Guillermo Diaz-Pulido et al. (2009) Doom and Boom on a Resilient Reef: Climate Change, Algal Overgrowth and Coral Recovery. PLoS ONE 4(4): e5239


NOTE: Hoagy (Prof. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg), Australia's no.1 coral doomster, was among the joint authors of the paper. I wonder will this slow him down any?

White refugee from the Zimbabwe horror extremely badly treated by Australia's Immigration department

Man unlawfully held in detention for six months now seeking compensation

A ZIMBABWEAN immigrant wrongly held in detention for six months is seeking $2 million in compensation. Troy Parker arrived in Western Australia with his Australian wife and two children in 1999, having fled persecution from the government of Robert Mugabe. He was granted a temporary spousal visa but his application for permanent residency was rejected in 2002 after the relationship broke down.

However, Mr Parker says he never received the notification and continued working in Perth until 2004 when immigration officials placed him in detention as an illegal immigrant. He remained at the Perth immigration detention centre for six months before being released on a bridging visa though he was denied work rights for another 12 months.

Mr Parker, who now resides in Cairns in north Queensland, was finally granted permanent residency last Wednesday, after his case came to the attention of migration agent John Young who lobbied the Federal Government on his behalf.

However, a freedom of information application to the Department of Immigration revealed department officers acknowledged in 2006 that Mr Parker had been detained unlawfully. The documents reveal the letter notifying Mr Parker his visa application had been rejected was not dated, meaning his temporary visa remained valid for the entirety of his detention. They also revealed the visa cancellation was later overturned by the migration review commission, in the interests of Mr Parker's children, but the letter notifying him of the decision was sent to the wrong address.

"This is just a total mess, it's the biggest mess up I've ever seen," Mr Young told AAP. "The whole thing was flawed. He had rights, he had a valid visa."

Mr Parker is now seeking $2 million in compensation from the Federal Government. Two weeks ago he received a letter from the Department accepting there was a risk his detention may have been unlawful and indicating the matter had been referred to the Government's insurer to consider a payout figure.

Mr Young said he and his client were unlikely to accept an offer less than $2 million. "If he'd just been held in detention for six months and had been able to work immediately and get on with his life then we'd probably accept a lesser figure," Mr Young said.

Mr Parker said he was also seeking a formal apology from the Department. "I think some people have to answer for quite a few mistakes - it's caused quite a bit of chaos, it's split families up," Mr Parker said.

An immigration spokeswoman said the Department could not comment because the matter had not been finalised. "Given that the legal issues in this case are yet to be resolved it is inappropriate to discuss at this stage whether, and the extent to which, Mr Parker's detention was indeed unlawful," she said.


Fatal ambulance bungle a complete bureaucratic disaster

The more we hear the more unbelievable the mess gets. How could anyone be so stupid? It is bordering on evil that such stupdity was left uncorrected

A COMBINATION of bureaucratic bungling and technical glitches meant vital time was lost in the search for a teenager dying in the New South Wales Blue Mountains, an inquest has heard.

Police were made to fill in request forms and wait almost 24 hours before receiving information that they admit may have saved 17-year-old David Iredale, who died after becoming separated from his friends during a trek in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. Superintendent Patrick Paroz told Penrith Coroner's Court he made two separate requests to the state emergency services for copies of 000 calls made by the Sydney Grammar student. He did not receive them until almost a day later.

The inquest heard that a "technical difficulty" was to blame for the delay. A disc containing sound files of the calls had to be driven from the city to Katoomba because computer firewalls in the ambulance service system prevented police receiving them by email.

On December 11, 2006, David repeatedly told three New South Wales Ambulance Service operators that he was on the well-known Mt Solitary walking track heading towards the Kedumba River. The inquest heard vital time was wasted time as authorities looked for "Doherty's Pass", which they concluded did not actually exist. "It was time-consuming," said Superintendent Ian Colless, who led initial rescue efforts.

Superintendent Colless said that based on information received from the ambulance service, police treated the calls as a "priority 3", classed as needing action but not urgent. "This is a call we may get every day of the week," he said. Superintendent Colless, who heard the emergency calls for the first time yesterday, agreed that immediate access to them would have given police a more accurate idea of David's location and health. "Not only of the Mt Solitary track but also which portion of the track," he said.

After hearing the calls, Superintendent Colless admitted it was "completely" wrong to assume David was not in distress. The fact David was "yelling" and had fainted meant the situation was "critical", he said.


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