Tuesday, November 17, 2009

4th boatful of illegals in 4 days

THE Australian Navy has intercepted another boatload of 41 suspected asylum-seekers near Ashmore Islands as tensions rise between Australia and Indonesia over the influx. The fourth boat to arrive in four days was intercepted by HMAS Broome, after it was initially spotted by RAAF P3 aircraft, operating under the control of Border Protection.

The Rudd government remains under pressure over claims of special deals to get Oceanic Viking protesters off the boat and speculation of a diplomatic snub behind the Indonesian President's decision to cancel a visit to Australia on Sunday at short notice blaming “scheduling difficulties”. Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull said Dr Yudhoyono's cancelled visit to Australia showed relations with Indonesia were clearly “very strained”. “The last-minute cancellation of the president of Indonesia's visit is an extraordinary slap in the face for Kevin Rudd and Kevin Rudd's claims to be the great Asia-Pacific diplomat,” he said.

Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce said Mr Rudd had “botched something” about the visit. But Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said there was still a possibility Dr Yudhoyono could make an a end-of-year visit. Mr Smith rejected suggestions of tension in the relationship, saying the relationship was “very, very good, first class”. “The opposition on this matter should quietly calm down.”

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said today the latest group detected yesterday will be transferred to Christmas Island where they will undergo security, identity and health checks. “The Australian Government remains vigilant and committed to protecting Australia's borders,” he said.

Today marks a month since the asylum-seekers still refusing to disembark the Oceanic Viking customs vessel in Indonesia were first detected by the Australian Navy in Indonesian waters. “It is a special, almost unique, circumstances of a search and rescue in Indonesian waters ... and we want this to conclude as a search-and-rescue operation,” Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told ABC Radio. “We have an abundance of patience ... as do our Indonesian counterparts.”

The Rudd government today rejected Indonesian media reports claiming Australia had agreed to resettle the asylum-seekers as part of the deal to get off the boat, arguing Australia is simply one of a number of countries were they could go if their claims are found to be genuine. While the Australian government has long argued the vessel was detected in Indonesian waters, local media has reported Indonesian military concerns over why the boatload wasn't taken by the Oceanic Viking to Christmas Island.

As spokesman for Mr O'Connor said today that the original vessel in distress was detected 120 nautical miles off the coast of Sumatra. “The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) advised the position of the vessel was in international waters in which Indonesia has primary responsibility to coordinate search and rescue (known as the Indonesian Search and Rescue Region,” he said.


Public hospital dental clinic used unsterilised equipment

Will the repeated carelessness at Bundaberg never stop? -- even after they have in the past killed people by their negligence?

Bundaberg Dental Clinic patients have been treated with unsterilised equipment, potentially exposing them to blood-borne diseases such as HIV. However Australian Medical Association Queensland infectious disease spokesman Mike Whitby said the risk was "extremely low". One batch of equipment used at the Queensland Health clinic on November 6 was washed with high-pressure water and detergent, then dried, but failed to go through the final sterilisation process.

Queensland Health, which only found out about the error on Friday, has started trying to track down patients who attended the clinic from November 6-13 who may have been treated with the unsterilised equipment. More than 30 people treated on November 6 before the problem occurred have been asked to undergo blood tests for infectious diseases, so Queensland Health can assess the risk to other patients. Most are understood to have agreed to have the test, and results are expected tomorrow.

Dr Whitby said if those tests proved negative for blood-borne diseases, the risk to patients treated with the unsterilised equipment was zero. He said even if one of those patients tested positive, the chances of others treated with the same equipment becoming infected was "very, very small". "Viruses are designed to live inside the human body so even putting them out into the open, into the air, will kill many of them fairly quickly," Dr Whitby said.

"Secondly, if you've had viruses immersed in detergent, the detergent . . . kills it fairly quickly. "Having said that, it's really not something that should happen. There should be checks and balances in the sterilisation process to make sure that that doesn't happen."

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle described the situation as "shocking". "I can't believe that after the series of blunders we've had in the past four or five years, it just keeps getting worse," he said.


Federal education boss 'determined' to publish school results

THE Federal Government is refusing to back down on plans to publish online the results of national school tests despite opposition from some principals, teachers and parents. "We are determined to go ahead with this plan," Education Minister Julia Gillard told ABC Radio today.

From next year, the Government's "myschool" website will publish demographic information about a school's population, together with teacher and student numbers and attendance rates. It will also contain each school's results from national literacy and numeracy tests, known as NAPLAN.

Six organisations, including the Australian Education Union and Australian Council of State School Organisations, have written to the minister urging her to ensure the information is not made public.

Ms Gillard said she understood why publishing the information would make some principals and teachers uncomfortable. "But transparency is necessary to shine a light on what is happening in our schools," she said.

Ms Gillard said there would be "moments" for some schools that don't do well compared with schools teaching similar kids.


British view: Not enough censorship of climate debate in Australia

It's all about double standards and fashions. When Tom Schieffer, the former US ambassador to Australia, interfered in the domestic debate by criticising Labor's Mark Latham in 2003, he was rebuked by some commentators for undiplomatic behaviour. Fair enough.

Last week Baroness Valerie Amos, who recently became Britain's high commissioner, also intervened in Australian politics. She expressed surprise that there was a debate in Australia about whether humans are the principal cause of climate change and added: "In the UK there is a degree of political consensus about what in broad terms needs to be done … You would certainly not see on a daily basis … the kind of negative reporting that you have here."

Amos evoked a modern cliche and suggested that it was time, on this matter, that Australia "moved on". Put simply, Amos wants there to be no debate whatsoever about human-induced climate change and, to the extent to which this takes place, she wants the media to refrain from reporting it. It seems that platitudes are handed down in the British high commission in Canberra.

Helen Liddell, Amos' immediate predecessor, delivered a similar lecture at the National Press Club in April 2007 - not long before the federal election of that year in which climate change was a matter of contention.

How come, then, that Schieffer's comments on Australian politics caused offence whereas those by Liddell and Amos passed virtually without criticism? Well, Schieffer is not only a conservative but a friend of George Bush who supported American policy in Iraq. Liddell was a Labour MP from 1994 to 2005 and became a minister in Tony Blair's government. And Amos was appointed to the House of Lords by Blair in 1997 becoming a minister and, later, leader of the House of Lords. Moreover, both Liddell and Amos believe in the most fashionable cause of the modern age - namely that human behaviour is responsible for global warming.

So it seems that there is one rule for conservative Americans Down Under who want to talk publicly about Iraq. And quite another rule for social democratic Brits who want to talk publicly about climate change. Last September, shortly before she left Australia, Liddell appeared on ABC1's Q&A program and used the occasion to lecture the audience about emission trading schemes. It is most unlikely that the Australian high commissioner in London would appear on the BBC Question Time program and lecture the British on, say, how to run an economy.

The British high commission's lecture-at-large to the Australian population invariably overlooks two central facts. First, British carbon emissions are low because, when Margaret Thatcher was conservative prime minister in the 1980s, the coalmines were allowed to close down. This policy was not continued when John Major succeeded Thatcher.

This was done in the face of opposition from British Labour, the radical leftist National Union of Mineworkers and assorted Guardian-New Statesman reading inner-city luvvies. Had this lot had their way, the British taxpayer would have been forced to subsidise dirty British coal and Australians would have been spared the subsequent moralising of such former Labour parliamentarians as Liddell and Amos. At the meeting of the United Kingdom-Australia Leadership Forum in Canberra in 2006, John Howard mentioned that on his first flight to Britain as prime minister he had watched the film Brassed Off, which depicted the anger at the wind-up of the British coal industry, and joked that he had been impressed by the impassioned speeches delivered by Thatcher's opponents at the time. Tony Blair joined in the humour, declaring that he might have delivered one of these orations himself. By then, of course, Blair was more interested in the reduction of carbon pollution.

The second reason why Britain has relatively low carbon emissions turns on the fact that it has a nuclear power industry. As its Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, announced recently, Gordon Brown's Government intends to begin the construction of up to 10 nuclear power stations.

It is true that there is little debate in the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties in Britain about the cause of climate change. Perhaps this explains why it is not as high profile an issue as in Australia. Meanwhile, the Americans seemed subsumed in the debates on health insurance and the war in Afghanistan. That's why - contrary to many predictions - President Barack Obama will not take a firm carbon pollution reduction proposal to the Copenhagen conference early next month. Within the OECD, the Australian economy most resembles that of the US and Canada. The US did not ratify the Kyoto Agreement - not even when Al Gore was vice president in Bill Clinton's administration. Canada signed up to Kyoto - but never got close to meeting its targets. Australia did not ratify Kyoto under Howard, but met its targets.

Quite a few members of the European Union have not met their Kyoto targets. Perhaps the likes of Liddell and Amos might have more effect by taking their climate change diplomatic advocacy to Ottawa or Brussels.

The Rudd Government is attempting to get a carbon pollution reduction scheme through the Senate before Copenhagen. If he does, well and good. If he doesn't, Australia's situation will be no different from that of the US. In his surprisingly strident speech to the Lowy Institute on November 6, the Prime Minister acknowledged that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had found that it was "90 per cent probable" that humans were responsible for climate change. While there is a 10 per cent doubt, it is unlikely that this debate will be silenced in Australia - irrespective of the views of British diplomats in the Antipodes.


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