Monday, September 21, 2009

Negligible discipline in schools bears fruit

In most cases the angry parents have reason to be angry. Their kid is being bullied with nothing being done about it

WHEN two girls had a row during an online chat session, a dad phoned one of them at school and warned her: "I dare you to come near my daughter. If you do, I will belt the s... out of you." As the Year 10 student appeared upset during roll call, a teacher asked her to put the mobile phone on speaker. What they heard was a tirade of swearing and foul language. The Daily Telegraph reported the girl was put in isolation for her protection and police called as the father later turned up at the school in southern NSW.

School incident reports obtained from the education department under Freedom of Information show parents are increasingly becoming involved in their children's fights. In one disturbing case, a mother claimed to have paid money to a student to harm a Year 3 boy who had been bullying her son. The woman also made threats towards the school principal, the report said.

Out of 500 serious incident reports over two terms to April this year, there were nine cases involving parents abusing either students or teachers within school grounds. Fifty-six incident reports were of students or teachers being threatened, with a number involving parents. And there were nine assaults on school grounds by "outsiders", including parents and relatives of students.

The serious incident reports also revealed a shameful catalogue of bullying and violence in schools with 155 assaults and 37 more serious assaults with a weapon. In one incident, an argument between two teenage boys over a female that began on the internet was transferred to school when one held a knife to the other's throat at recess.

In another nasty incident, 13-year-old Jade Reardon was treated in hospital after she was attacked by an older girl at Gorokan High School on the Central Coast.

The NSW Government yesterday acknowledged cyber bullying was spiralling out of control by calling a crisis conference of experts to debate ways of making children safer. Child psychologists, academics and teachers would be invited to the conference in early November.


New boatload of "asylum-seekers" stretches Australia's border protection facilities

An uncrewed vessel crammed with 54 people intercepted off the West Australian coast at the weekend has raised new concerns about the number of asylum-seekers attempting the treacherous journey to Australia's shores. Over the past fortnight, Australia's border protection authorities have intercepted six boatloads of asylum-seekers, adding to logistical pressures on Christmas Island's detention facilities and political pressures on the Rudd government.

Details of the latest vessel, which was found adrift in international waters on Saturday afternoon, were released yesterday. The 54 people, including one child, were without food and water when first sighted by Border Protection Command P-3 Orion aircraft about 550 nautical miles (1018km) north of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands. The group, whose nationalities were not disclosed, asked for refuge in Australia and last night were en route to Christmas Island for security, identity and health checks.

Their rescue prompted the opposition to again accuse the government of going soft on border protection. But Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor yesterday pointed to Canberra's $654 million strategy to combat people-smuggling as proof it was taking the problem seriously. "The Australian government is pleased that the group is safe, but it is only through Border Protection Command's and the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's vigilance that these people escaped greater harm," he said. However, he said that the illegal voyages were "extremely dangerous". "Drownings at sea are not uncommon," he said.

And while the new arrivals are stretching the resources of the facilities on Christmas Island, the island's nearest Australian neighbours, the Cocos Malays of Home Island, will soon be working at the Howard government's Immigration Detention Centre under a plan by community leaders to reduce chronic unemployment on their tiny homeland. Serco, the contractor that will take over the operation of Christmas Island's Immigration Detention Centre from G4S next month, intends to hire Cocos Malays to work in administration, social care and client services. Their roles could include helping asylum-seekers prepare food or attend a variety of classes, a Serco spokeswoman said.



Three current articles grouped below

Beautiful Australian island faces rising tide of oppressive Greenie regulation

Last Wednesday I was minding my own business, atop the high, sheer cliffs along Malabar Hill on Lord Howe Island. I was not expecting the company of a ratbag. He was the worst kind of ratbag: intelligent, articulate, informed, focused.

It was a perfect day at a perfect place. Lord Howe is probably the most beautiful island in Australian territory, one of the most beautiful islands in the world and a globally significant bird sanctuary and coral zone. I was using binoculars to gaze at tropicbirds, with their long, trailing, red tails, as they wheeled in circling, looping mating rituals above the sea. Behind me, three people turned up, a couple of visitors from the mainland and their guide, a knowledgeable man. His ratbaggery was not at all evident at first.

One of the visitors commented that plants right on the edge of the precipice had been banded with identifying marks by park staff (the entirety of Lord Howe Island has been declared a World Heritage Site). The guide told the visitors that staff were paid $24 an hour to keep the park free of weeds and preserve native species. He said it was like being paid to bushwalk.

He also mentioned that staff were responsible for setting rat traps, because rats have been a problem on Lord Howe Island for more than 100 years, since they were introduced from a ship foundering on one of the reefs. When I asked this apparent expert whether rats were a growing problem on the island, or in a steady state, he replied, ''A steady state, but we can't be complacent.''

''Is it true,'' I asked, ''that they want to drop poisoned pellets from a helicopter over the island to get rid of the rats?'' ''Yes,'' he replied. The program will be based on successful rat eradication efforts on islands in New Zealand. (I later checked this and it turned out to be true.)

He seemed to know everything, so I asked if it were also true there were plans to get rid of the Norfolk Island pines on Lord Howe Island. There was a proposal, he replied, to phase out the pines over 30 years, leaving a few trees for ''heritage'' reasons. ''Why?" I asked. ''Because they are not native,'' he replied.

What? The groves of giant pines along the central shore of the island, where most people live or stay, are sheltering windbreaks, beautiful, and part of the traditional character of the island almost since habitation began in 1833. They are also the breeding habitat for white terns. Besides, Lord Howe has an airport and a village, and will never to return to native purity. When I registered my dismay, he said the pines should be replaced by native species.

''Are you staying at Pinetrees?'' he asked. Yes. Pinetrees is the oldest and most famous of the hotels on the island. It has been run by the same family for 110 years. He had plenty of suggestions for the owners, too. (Pinetrees is owned by two sisters, Kerry McFadyen and Pixie Rourke, whose family has lived on the island for five generations.)

''They should cut down the pine trees and use the timber to make cabins further up the hill, so that when global warming brings a rise in sea level, they will still have a resort and they can still call it Pinetrees.'' His attitude was a metaphor for the dark side of the environmental movement, the uncompromising, didactic, self-important side. Religious zeal may be on the wane in our society, but the impulse towards crusading, evangelistic certainty is not.

This is why the Greens have failed to break out of their 9 per cent political rump. The party should be in a much more powerful position, with the benefit of the great gale of environmental concern billowing in its spinnaker. Instead, it constantly sails into the politically less rewarding and less pragmatic territory of anti-capitalism, anti-Americanism, drug politics, sexual politics, identity politics, refugee politics and a doctrinaire brand of sanctimonious environmentalism that irritates more than educates.

That same evening, I met Kerry McFadyen and her husband, Bruce, who co-manages the property. She is a marine biologist and qualified as a medical doctor; he is an architect, but they gave up these careers to run Pinetrees. I didn't interview them. I was just a guest chatting about what I had heard that day from the zealot on Malabar Hill. They were worried about their pine trees but they had more pressing problems. Like the rest of society, they were beginning to feel the rising tide of regulation, which, in a social system as small and delicate as Lord Howe Island has a greater impact.

The Lord Howe Island Board, which runs the island, intends to impose a thumping tax increase on the small band of hotel operators. For Pinetrees, the annual bed tax is going to more than double from $32,640 a year to $68,000 next year, and to $85,000 in the year after that. They are also being blocked from renovating their staff quarters by a pedantic bureaucrat. Space precludes detailing the idiocy of this particular obduracy.

Then there is the threat to the pine trees from axe-wielding purists. And a particularly doctrinaire island environmental officer who makes their life hell. Oh, and the NSW Government might be dropping rat poison via helicopter.

Lord Howe Island does not face any environmental crisis, but it does face a rising tide of bureaucracy which could threaten the island's health long before the sea rises even a millimetre.


How cutting carbon emissions leads to wasting energy

Why is the Rudd government's green-team intent on wasting natural gas?

ECONOMISTS can and do get it wrong. The lead-up to the sub-prime mortgage crisis being an obvious case in point. While some economists and regulators were convinced all was well, many people were alarmed at a system that enabled people to buy expensive houses with loans that were beyond their means of repaying. It just didn't pass the common sense test. But have we learned our lesson about relying on complex economics that nobody really understands? In the context of climate change legislation, it would appear not.

Consider the following. If the government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is introduced, it will actually be cheaper for the coal industry to burn the natural gas that is produced by coal mines than to use that same gas to generate electricity.

That's right. Rather than capture what is known as waste coal mine gas, which is a form of natural gas, and use it to generate electricity across Australia, once the CPRScomes in it will be more efficient to set it alight.

Never mind that the world demand for natural gas is rising. Never mind that the gas wasted in this way could be used to reduce the amount of coal burned elsewhere in Australia. And never mind that there are a lot more skilled jobs in building and maintaining waste gas-fired generators than there are in literally watching the gas go up in smoke. If the intent of the government's legislation is to be believed, they know what's best and that, it seems, is supposed to be the end of the issue.

But what if the economists Climate Change Minister Penny Wong is listening to are wrong? Isn't it at least possible that using this waste natural gas is better than burning it?

The irony is that for the past decade the answer has been a resounding yes. Well before anybody had even heard of a CPRS, private companies began building and operating gas-fired electricity generators. In fact, there are 215 megawatts of these generators now in operation. Together they help to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by more than 6.5 million tonnes each year, which is greater than the annual abatement the government hopes to achieve with its $4billion ceiling insulation initiative.

The problem is that it costs a bit more to turn gas into electricity than it does to simply set fire to it. While the electricity that is generated can be sold into the grid, without some form of government assistance it can't compete with the very low price of power generated from burning coal.

And there's the rub: while the existing NSW scheme makes using the gas viable, the proposed CPRS does not.

In response to pressure the government recently announced some changes to the renewable energy target designed to reduce the harm that the CPRS will do to the owners of waste coal gas electricity generators, but in doing so they ensured that no new waste gas generators will be built.

What better example of the lack of transformation that the CPRS will generate could there be? The government is willing to provide some compensation to existing waste gas generators, but its policy will prevent new ones from being built.

The CPRS has been criticised from all directions. Of course the government argues that if nobody likes it they must have the balance right. But of course it might also be the case that nobody likes it because it doesn't really work. The government's whole strategy for selling the scheme to the public seems to be to confuse people into supporting it. In arguing that their scheme is the most effective way to tackle climate change they have placed the burden of proof on their critics. But it is the government that should be able to answer simple questions about its scheme. Simple questions such as:

* If the CPRS is a step in the right direction why will it destroy $350 million worth of planned projects to convert waste natural gas into electricity?

* If the CPRS delivers least cost abatement why is it cheaper to burn the natural gas that comes out of coal mines than turn it into power?

* If the government is interested in creating green jobs why does its scheme encourage coal mines to import emissions credits from other countries rather than invest in the onsite conversion of waste gas into useable electricity?

Australian firms are at the cutting edge of this industry, with their technology and skills in demand throughout Asia where this gas exists in abundance and is being converted to fuel for communities in dire need of energy. Already they are employing hundreds of people turning natural gas, that would otherwise be wasted, into electricity. It's an efficient use of a natural resource and it means that less coal needs to be burned elsewhere. Most important of all, however, is the fact that it is the existing policy framework, not the CPRS, that makes the expansion of this industry viable.

Australia needs a comprehensive national approach to tackling climate change, but that does not mean we need the CPRS as it is proposed. It is the government's fault that the proposal is so flawed and it is the government's job to fix it. Unfortunately, rather than listen to her critics, Wong has sought to silence them. And rather than explain her scheme to the public she has sought to confuse them.

If the Minister is proud of her scheme she should explain why she thinks burning waste natural gas is better than using it. And if she isn't proud of it, she should fix it.


Greenie craze burns down homes

Rather a puzzle why, though. Batts are usually made of glass fibre or wool, neither of which is flammable. Are people using ones made of recycled paper?

DOZENS of NSW homes have been destroyed or damaged by fires which erupted when badly installed ceiling insulation came into contact with downlights. Seven homes in Sydney caught fire, with at least one totally destroyed, in just the past six weeks. The fires are particularly dangerous because they can spread in the roof cavity before the occupiers notice, and have forced an urgent warning from the State Government and NSW Fire Brigade.

In NSW, 129,420 homeowners have taken advantage of the $1600 rebates for the installation of ceiling insulation batts which are part of the Federal Government's $3.9 billion energy efficient homes program.

But NSW Fair Trading Minister Virginia Judge said yesterday too many batts were being laid incorrectly. Ms Judge said at least 26 homes in NSW had been destroyed or damaged this year by fires caused by poorly placed ceiling batts touching downlights. Several fires happened within a day of batts being installed. Downlighting, globes that sit flush in ceilings with their transformers and wiring in the roof space, is one of the most popular ways to light a home.

Ms Judge said batts were being laid directly over downlights, or over older insulation material. "Down lights and transformers should never be covered by ceiling insulation because they act like giant firelighters," Ms Judge said.


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