Thursday, April 16, 2009

Well-dressed illegals arriving in Australia were living in Indonesian hotel

SOME of the families in detention on Christmas Island spent almost two months in hotel accommodation in Indonesia before travelling to a small island for a three-day boat trip to the tiny Australian territory.

A little girl from the group, whose wooden boat eluded a Customs patrol vessel to dock at Christmas Island's main jetty, yesterday took her first steps outside the gates of the island's guarded and gated family accommodation complex since she arrived with her parents before dawn on April 8.

The 15m boat that brought them here is less than five years old and more seaworthy than most used by asylum seekers in recent years, but it was narrow enough to cause seasickness. It had one Indonesian crew member. The group's belongings, including clothes and toiletries, were drenched by seawater and rain during the journey. Some in the group of 38, mostly Iraqis and including seven children, have since told how the boat's diesel engine stopped during the journey, reducing the women and children to tears. Ten single males from the boat are being kept at the island's $400million Immigration Detention Centre.

Accompanied by adults and an immigration official, the girl went only a few metres to and from a makeshift office of the commonwealth department that will decide whether her family's asylum claim is valid. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship takes asylum seekers through a series of basic questions, including "Why did you come here?" It is during this processing stage, which can take up to two months, that the girl and the rest of the group will be kept under guard and behind fences, separate from the community and asylum seekers who arrived earlier.

The questioning and checks will continue today for the April 8 boatload as 16 men and boys from Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan receive permanent visas and are jetted off Christmas Island for new lives in Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland. [Just what we need: More arrogant Muslims to hate us] They include four men and four adolescent boys on board a boatload of 35 asylum seekers intercepted on December 2 last year on Ashmore Reef, 320km from the Kimberley coast. The adolescents have been attending school on Christmas Island, and living in the community with paid guardians from the organisation Life Without Borders. The other eight to receive permanent protection visas today are men whose boat was intercepted 12 nautical miles off Ashmore Reef on January 19.

A spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship said each of the 16 had been provided with resettlement support, and foster care arrangements had been made for the four adolescents. Of the 455 unauthorised arrivals, including crew members, since last September, 131 have been granted visas.

Refugee lawyer David Mann said people should not make judgments about the unusual group of asylum seekers who docked at Christmas Island last Wednesday simply because they were well-dressed or brought personal belongings. [One should not suspect that they are economic migrants rather than genuine regugees??]


Royal North Shore Hospital in trouble still

Firetrap fears for children at NSW government hospital

SICK children are being treated in the maternity unit of a major hospital because its children's ward is still a firetrap. More than a year after the children's ward at Royal North Shore Hospital was deemed a deathtrap, The Daily Telegraph can reveal that the hospital has been forced to set up a makeshift children's ward. It is also still treating children in its children's ward, which was deemed a deathtrap by fire investigators. Sources told The Daily Telegraph that about half the beds in the children's ward had been moved to the maternity unit because airconditioning vents still had not been coated with fire retardant.

It is the latest bungle to hit the trouble-plagued hospital and its $1 billion upgrade. A fire brigade's inspection exposed the safety risk in April last year, yet yesterday the safety upgrade still had not been completed.

Children had also been allowed to remain in the ward despite work going on there. Others were moved to a part of the maternity unit, fenced off by a makeshift plywood gate with a piece of A4 paper stuck to it reading "Children's Ward".

The mother of a child recently discharged from the hospital told The Daily Telegraph she was shocked to learn of the arrangements and would have taken her sick baby elsewhere had she known. Brianna Casey took her six-month-old baby Oliver Herngren to Royal North Shore with bronchialitis, a viral disease particularly dangerous to children under a year old. Ms Casey was shocked to discover Oliver was put into the maternity ward. "They couldn't find a bed for us upstairs in the children's ward," she said.

Ms Casey said that while staff had done the best they could, the area seemed completely inappropriate. They even had to bring down a cot for her son. "There's no equipment. This place is a joke," she said.

It is understood that when the ward was handed over by builders in 2003 it complied with fire safety regulations. However, the rules have been tightened since then and the building has not been upgraded accordingly. At least 15,000 children pass through the hospital's emergency department every year.


Beware the climate of conformity

What I am about to write questions much of what I have written in this space, in numerous columns, over the past five years. Perhaps what I have written can withstand this questioning. Perhaps not. The greater question is, am I - and you - capable of questioning our own orthodoxies and intellectual habits? Let's see.

The subject of this column is not small. It is a book entitled Heaven And Earth, which will be published tomorrow. It has been written by one of Australia's foremost Earth scientists, Professor Ian Plimer. He is a confronting sort of individual, polite but gruff, courteous but combative. He can write extremely well, and Heaven And Earth is a brilliantly argued book by someone not intimidated by hostile majorities or intellectual fashions.

The book's 500 pages and 230,000 words and 2311 footnotes are the product of 40 years' research and a depth and breadth of scholarship. As Plimer writes: "An understanding of climate requires an amalgamation of astronomy, solar physics, geology, geochronology, geochemistry, sedimentology, tectonics, palaeontology, palaeoecology, glaciology, climatology, meteorology, oceanography, ecology, archaeology and history."

The most important point to remember about Plimer is that he is Australia's most eminent geologist. As such, he thinks about time very differently from most of us. He takes the long, long view. He looks at climate over geological, archaeological, historical and modern time. He writes: "Past climate changes, sea-level changes and catastrophes are written in stone."

Much of what we have read about climate change, he argues, is rubbish, especially the computer modelling on which much current scientific opinion is based, which he describes as "primitive". Errors and distortions in computer modelling will be exposed in time. (As if on cue, the United Nations' peak scientific body on climate change was obliged to make an embarrassing admission last week that some of its computers models were wrong.)

Plimer does not dispute the dramatic flux of climate change - and this column is not about Australia's water debate - but he fundamentally disputes most of the assumptions and projections being made about the current causes, mostly led by atmospheric scientists, who have a different perspective on time. "It is little wonder that catastrophist views of the future of the planet fall on fertile pastures. The history of time shows us that depopulation, social disruption, extinctions, disease and catastrophic droughts take place in cold times . and life blossoms and economies boom in warm times. Planet Earth is dynamic. It always changes and evolves. It is currently in an ice age."

If we look at the last 6 million years, the Earth was warmer than it is now for 3 million years. The ice caps of the Arctic, Antarctica and Greenland are geologically unusual. Polar ice has only been present for less than 20 per cent of geological time. What follows is an intense compression of the book's 500 pages and all their provocative arguments and conclusions:

Is dangerous warming occurring? No. Is the temperature range observed in the 20th century outside the range of normal variability? No.

The Earth's climate is driven by the receipt and redistribution of solar energy. Despite this crucial relationship, the sun tends to be brushed aside as the most important driver of climate. Calculations on supercomputers are primitive compared with the complex dynamism of the Earth's climate and ignore the crucial relationship between climate and solar energy.

"To reduce modern climate change to one variable, CO2, or a small proportion of one variable - human-induced CO2 - is not science. To try to predict the future based on just one variable (CO2) in extraordinarily complex natural systems is folly. Yet when astronomers have the temerity to show that climate is driven by solar activities rather than CO2 emissions, they are dismissed as dinosaurs undertaking the methods of old-fashioned science."

Over time, the history of CO2 content in the atmosphere has been far higher than at present for most of time. Atmospheric CO2 follows temperature rise. It does not create a temperature rise. CO2 is not a pollutant. Global warming and a high CO2 content bring prosperity and longer life.

The hypothesis that human activity can create global warming is extraordinary because it is contrary to validated knowledge from solar physics, astronomy, history, archaeology and geology. "But evidence no longer matters. And any contrary work published in peer-reviewed journals is just ignored. We are told that the science on human-induced global warming is settled. Yet the claim by some scientists that the threat of human-induced global warming is 90 per cent certain (or even 99 per cent) is a figure of speech. It has no mathematical or evidential basis."

Observations in nature differ markedly from the results generated by nearly two dozen computer-generated climate models. These climate models exaggerate the effects of human CO2 emissions into the atmosphere because few of the natural variables are considered. Natural systems are far more complex than computer models.

The setting up by the UN of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988 gave an opportunity to make global warming the main theme of environmental groups. "The IPCC process is related to environmental activism, politics and opportunism. It is unrelated to science. Current zeal around human-induced climate change is comparable to the certainty professed by Creationists or religious fundamentalists."

Ian Plimer is not some isolated gadfly. He is a prize-winning scientist and professor. The back cover of Heaven And Earth carries a glowing endorsement from the President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, who now holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. Numerous rigorous scientists have joined Plimer in dissenting from the prevailing orthodoxy. Heaven And Earth is an evidence-based attack on conformity and orthodoxy, including my own, and a reminder to respect informed dissent and beware of ideology subverting evidence.


Crazy Rudd government plan to install a high speed fibre network

It's a Rudd hobbyhorse so it it going to be done by hook or by crook -- even if the result is a white elephant. Telstra were wise enough not to want a bar of it

FEW communications technologies are as remarkable as fibre optics. Commercial fibre-optic cable first became available in 1981; since then hundreds of millions of cable kilometres have been laid across the world. Over the years, the quality of the cable has improved dramatically: by providing a progressively clearer transmission medium, fibre-optic cables have allowed vast increases in the volumes of information carried over the light waves they channel. Were the oceans as transparent as the cables that are now available, you would be able to stand in the middle of the Pacific and see the ocean floor.

It is consequently uncontroversial that fibre will be at the heart of future telecommunications networks. But there are crucial issues of timing and transition. We have a ubiquitous copper network; it makes no sense to scrap or duplicate that network, which already relies extensively on fibre optics for fat pipes where they are most needed, for as long as it can serve demand at less cost.

Determining that timing is no simple matter. No doubt, demand for data transmission is growing rapidly. Propelled by applications such as YouTube, Australian data traffic has increased more than a hundredfold this decade. Projected increases in residential demand, however, are readily capable of being carried by a combination of fibre in the backbone network with copper, and hybrid fibre-coaxial (used by pay-television networks) for the last mile. Moving fibre closer to the home using clever technology combinations would allow capacity expansion at a fraction of the cost of complete replacement.

The capacity increase would obviously be greater were fibre pushed all the way to the home. The reality, however, is that the vast majority of homes with access to premium DSL, which offers speeds of up to 20megabits per second, choose not to take it. Similarly, very few customers within the footprint of HFC cable networks, which offer up to 30mps, take the high speeds on offer.

Given that, will consumers value capacity of 100mps at more than its substantial additional cost?

The simplest way of allowing this judgment to be made is to leave it to the market. That is largely what is being done in the other advanced economies, with the exception of South Korea, Singapore, Greece and New Zealand (where a publicly funded scheme was an election commitment of the new Government). Those exceptions aside, public funding is generally limited to subsidising service in loss-making areas, with Finland, for example, adopting a controversial scheme to fund fibre rollout in its areas of sparsest population. And even where substantial public funding is being provided, there is little or no direct government involvement in network construction and operation.

The assumption underpinning a market-based approach is straightforward: given a regulatory framework that provides the confidence required for long-term investments, commercial investors are best placed to bear and manage the risks involved in determining timing and technologies. The pragmatic outcome is that private shareholders, rather than taxpayers, shoulder the costs of any mistakes.

There is no reason why this approach would not work for Australia. Our central business districts, where the demand clearly justifies the investment (and where telecommunications has been lightly regulated), are awash with fibre. Were our telecommunications regulatory arrangements more supportive of long-term investment, other parts of the network would also have been upgraded long ago. The Government therefore has a low-cost option: fix the regulatory framework and let markets do the heavy lifting, with properly targeted, technology-agnostic and competitively neutral subsidies for service provision in country areas.

Instead, the Rudd Government has opted for a central planning approach.

The rationale for the decision appears to be the failure of the Government's $4.7 billion tender for a fibre-to-the-node network. Few doubt that process deserves to be buried, but that hardly justifies spending 10 times more on the funeral than one had been willing to spend when the deceased was alive. Rather, a proper cost-benefit analysis of alternative options should have been carried out and published for public scrutiny: "announcement first, assessment later" has prevailed instead.

Moreover, what little analysis has been disclosed is plainly erroneous. For example, the Government claims its proposed approach is cost-effective because it avoids the need to pay Telstra for use of its copper network. But this is like saying that it is cheaper to dig a tunnel underneath a property than to pay the owners compensation for building a road through it. The payment to the owners is largely a transfer, which at most redistributes society's resources; in contrast, the digging is a cost, consuming resources that could be put to other uses. Confusing costs and transfers is a sacking offence in even first-year cost-benefit analysis.

The Government also claims that going direct to fibre is justified on cost-benefit grounds because it avoids the expense of intermediate upgrades. But that merely assumes that a near-term move to complete replacement is indeed warranted. No evidence has been given for that assumption, while there is plenty of investor choice and consumer behaviour, in Australia and overseas, that cautions against it.

The commercial assessment seems even sparser. No business case has been developed, yet ministers promise both low prices and (as required by the Competition Principles Agreement) a fully commercial rate of return. However, even with high take-up rates, breaking even requires national retail prices of $160 a month; to break even with lower take-up rates would require retail prices higher than $200 a month. Given those prices, the network will struggle in metropolitan areas, where it will face strong competition, while bearing large losses in the country (where costs per line will be more than $300 a month).

Compounding the risk of losses is the fact that laying pipes is easy, but providing service that reliably meets customer expectations is incredibly hard, as TransACT and many others have discovered. On how this will be done, the Government has nothing to say.

In short, everything points to a decision taken in haste and then announced as a fait accompli. Were the choice indeed between this costly, risky and poorly documented scheme and doing nothing, then it would be wiser to do nothing. But telecommunications is vital to our future: it deserves more than a stunt. With so much at stake, the Senate should demand a comprehensive, independent and fully transparent review, in the best tradition of Australian public policy, before any final decision is taken.


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