Thursday, November 05, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks that Kevvy should admit that he has got it wrong with his handling of illegal immigrants

Prolonged degrees at Melbourne university not popular

Despite the spin. Melbourne is moving to the American model of a generalist first degree followed by specialized study only at the graduate level -- which increases the time you need to spend in order to get a useful qualification. Australia has always in the past followed the Scottish model -- which allows considerable specialization from Day 1.

MONASH University has again topped the Victorian first preference popularity polls while rival Melbourne University has suffered a steep fall as it transitions to its graduate model and cuts undergraduate courses.

Melbourne stresses that the fall is expected as it discontinues undergraduate courses in professions that are becoming graduate-only like law, dentistry and physiotherapy. But nevertheless, timely first preferences have dropped from 9771 last year to 8022 this year, a fall of 1749. That cuts its share of first preferences from 17 per cent to 13 per cent.

On the plus side Melbourne says first preferences for its "new generation" undergraduate degrees, that are to be the feeders to postgraduate study, are up by 3 per cent. But the drop in Melbourne's first preferences clearly indicates that many would-be students are prepared to look elsewhere so they can take professional disciplines at undergraduate level. But at over 8000, Melbourne's first preferences are still well above its 2010 undergraduate intake that will be limited to about 5000, in line with 2009.

In a statement Melbourne University's new provost John Dewar was upbeat, saying the numbers were "a welcome endorsement" of the new model.

Melbourne's Group of Eight rival Monash was buoyed by an 11.6 per cent rise in first preferences to 15,175, giving it 24 per cent market share.

Demand for places at Deakin University was also strong as its first preferences rose by 16 per cent to 9978 giving it 16 per cent market share.

La Trobe University secured a 15 per cent rise in first preferences to 6767, reversing its falling market share over the past two years. La Trobe's share of first preferences rose to 11 per cent from 10 per cent. At time of writing data from the other Victorian universities had yet to be released.


Australian government being conned by Tamil tall tales about persecution

By Michael Roberts (Adjunct associate professor of anthropology at the University of Adelaide)

AS a dual Australian Sri Lankan national, what has struck me most about the ongoing debate in Australia about Sri Lankan boat people is the abysmal ignorance about Sri Lanka's geography and distribution of peoples. This has led to the inability of Australians to put Tamil migration in its historical context and instead to uncritically accept tales of Tamil persecution and even genocide that are patently untrue.

Those known as Ceylon Tamils did not just begin migrating because of the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka. In fact, Tamil migration is a two-stage process and it has been under way for more than a century.

Ceylon Tamils began migrating from the north to the south in search of jobs from the late 19th century. By 1921, they constituted 11.5 per cent of the population in Colombo, while Indian Tamils (more recent migrants from the nearby state on the Indian mainland of Tamil Nadu) accounted for 13.4 per cent. So Tamils, (both Ceylonese and of more recent Indian origin), have resided in the city environs for generations. Some Ceylon Tamils have also been a segment of its Westernised elite. However, such status did not protect them during the mini-pogroms of 1958 and 1977 and the major pogrom of July 1983, which involved widespread assaults on Tamil persons and property in the south of the island.

It is worth noting that although the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam had been formed in 1976, and the goal of an independent state of Eelam proclaimed that year, the pogrom of 1983 - which followed a deadly assault by Tigers on the military - is widely regarded as the start of the civil war.

While middle-class Tamils have, together with Burgher, Sinhalese and Muslim families, been participating in the migration from Sri Lanka in search of better employment and education for their children since the 50s, the big surge in migration occurred after July 1983.

Despite this migration, Colombo District has not been denuded of its Tamil population. The Tamil population as a whole rose from 11.2 per cent in 1981 to 12.2 per cent in 2001. The number in the metropolitan cluster in fact rose by 58,291 in that period. This is because migration to foreign lands has been exceeded by internal movements from the northern and eastern parts of the island, to escape the conflict and in search of better economic opportunities.

Tamils have been under-represented in state-sector employment for some time, no doubt at least in part due to positive discrimination in favour of Sinhalese and negative discrimination against Tamils. Remarkably, however, a handful of senior Tamil officers remained in the armed services, a minute proportion of the senior ranks, but notable in a context where one might anticipate a zero figure. Moreover, a number of Tamils are sprinkled through the mercantile sector and professions. Indeed, some of the richest entrepreneurs are Tamil. Such success, however, has not eliminated memories of July 1983 and the sense of political marginalisation among some Tamils.

Such sentiments encourage some Tamils to migrate; but in a fair proportion of cases, the desire to migrate is inspired by a concern for the educational prospects of their children and the monetary support provided by kinfolk who are already in some Western country. The migration of Tamils from the Jaffna Peninsula and Batticaloa regions to Colombo in the recent past, therefore, is often a first stage in a projected step outwards.

This second step, of outmigration, calls for patience. Not all can meet the strict criteria laid down in Australia for skilled migrants or family reunion. Some, therefore, seek the illegal pathway provided by people smugglers who take them to Italy or Australia. It is usually young males, mostly Sinhalese but also Tamils and Muslims, who take the sea lanes by trawler to Italy.

It appears recently a few families elected to fly to Malaysia where they boarded the Jaya Lestari. This was a costly exercise. It also required passports and visas. It is unlikely that any of the Tamils (numbers uncertain) who slipped out of the internally displaced persons camps by, say, July could have secured the necessary papers in two months, unless they had connections with the LTTE or criminals engaged in forgery. In view of all the above, my conjecture is that Brindha, the tearful nine-year-old filmed by the ABC pleading for asylum, and her family did not spend time "in the jungle" as they claimed and were not fleeing the IDP camps, but are much more likely to be from the Tamil communities of Jaffna or Colombo. This is not to say they should be refused admission to Australia as migrants, simply that they are unlikely to be refugees.

Australians engaged in public debate about Sri Lanka need to be better informed. People such as Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young have uncritically accepted "the stories of the conditions in the camps . . . of people being persecuted and executed simply because they say, 'We don't want to be here any more' ". The fact is there is absolutely no evidence that people are being persecuted, much less executed. There is a vital distinction between political dissatisfaction and a well-founded fear of persecution, and Australians need to recognise that what is driving Tamil boatpeople is a mix of political grievance and economic hope, which is inspiring migratory moves along uncomfortable, and even perilous, paths.


Being overweight blamed on food, as usual

The fact that obsessive "safety" rules now ban many traditional childhood activities and thus reduce exercise is rarely mentioned. And politically correct bans on anybody "winning" are very bad for sport. So it is in fact government meddling that has created much of the problem and abolishing the meddling would be the surest path to solving it

It's the weighty issue that can no longer be ignored and one that is being blamed for an alarming rise in obesity among young girls. New research released yesterday shows that tweens are wearing their food choices on their waistlines, setting themselves up to be overweight as adults and suffer major health problems such as infertility.

The muffin top, made famous by the TV show Kath and Kim, is now the norm for teen girls who are between 5-20kg overweight, with one in three girls aged between nine and 13 overweight or obese.

Health experts yesterday warned that the sensitive issue could no longer be ignored, and had been avoided in the past out of fear it could lead to eating disorders. "It is a particular age group that has been overlooked and there needs to be more focus because they are much more in control of their food choices," Associate Dean of Clinical and Molecular Medicine at Flinders University Professor Lynne Cobiac said. "If they are overweight now, most, but not all, will often go on to be overweight when they are adults and they could [COULD being the operative word. Most fat people do NOT get diabetes] develop diabetes, heart disease and even cancer. It's really important that we understand what is influencing their choices so we can help them to be healthy, and set them on the right path."

Professor Cobiac's research found that by age 12, girls are doing almost no exercise, compounding weight problems. As they grow older, girls become more body conscious, restricting meals or overeating and developing disorders. Girls fall into two dietary patterns, eating meat, fruit and vegetables - or snacks, no meat and vegetables. Those on the snack, no meat and vegetable diet eat smaller lighter meals, characterised by more cereals, chocolate, fried chips and soft drinks.

Professor Cobiac's findings, based on the 2007 National Children's Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey, reveal that at least 30 per cent of girls are overweight before they enter high school. "Part of the explanation is that they are pre-pubescent and that can sometimes increase weight," she said. "What we found is that they are having a high fat diet on weekends and in school holidays." In some cases, girls were starving themselves during the school day but then "demolishing a pack of Tim Tams" when they got home.

What is concerning experts is the drastic change in girls' attitudes towards sport in high school. Paediatric nutritionist at The Children's Hospital at Westmead Susie Burrell said this was an age group that had been neglected in the past.


Traffic engineering stupidity

I must say that anyone who has driven in Los Angeles must wonder why left turns at red lights are not allowed in Australia. Such turns work well and do speed up traffic. It's just bureaucratic fear of change that obstructs reform

RED lights cost precious fuel. Yet Queenslanders are still not allowed to turn left on the red. Queenslanders have to cop another set of traffic lights for almost every new housing or shopping centre development dotted across the southeast. And stop at isolated intersections in the middle of the night when flashing amber lights could suffice.

Queenslanders still have to stop at pedestrian crossings where there is not a person in sight; when someone has pushed the button and scurried across before the walk signal.

How come Los Angeles' drivers are allowed - all by themselves - to work out a four-, even five-way intersection with just a set of stop signs? How come there, in one of the most motorised cities on Earth, drivers across six lanes will stop for simple flashing pedestrian lights - when there is a pedestrian?

Then, back here, there is the business (or not) of synchronisation of traffic lights. In all the discussions about saving fossil fuel, in all the mandates hurled at car manufacturers and drivers, there appears to be little talk about the role of traffic engineers and planners and common sense. As efficient as modern cars can be, stop-start traffic guzzles fuel. Decelerating, accelerating costs energy.

At least the state and Brisbane City Council are working towards a single system of traffic lights with some 1400 sets soon to be controlled by one management system, at an estimated cost of $6 million. A synchronised trial at a dozen lights in the Indooroopilly area found travel times down 13 per cent during weekday peak periods and 17 per cent on weekends. Hallelujah. Less travel time equates to less fuel used.

Anecdotal evidence suggests a two-litre fuel saving over 10km of commute in school holidays when Brisbane roads are less congested.

Still, too many traffic controls and too many rules are framed for the lowest common denominator. Rather than educating drivers, we dumb them down. Every K over is a killer? That's trite. And tripe. But that's veering off the subject.

If we are going to have motorised transport, even if it becomes all-electric (and to save the planet, that power must come from non-polluting sources), we need progress to be as smooth as possible down the road. This should mean less stop-start traffic. Why do we have 10 cars idling either side of a minor street while one or two cars dribble out of a shopping centre? It should mean cars turning left, with care, at red lights.

It should mean fewer traffic lights, less roadside signage screaming dire threats, more 7am-7pm clearways to stop wastage as motorists brake and swerve around parked cars.

Dutch civil engineer Hans Moderman had radical ideas about modern traffic. His view was to make drivers more responsible for their own actions by removing most traditional road markings and signs, creating spaces shared by all. Moderman's reasoning was that people became more civilised, more thoughtful about the right-of-way principle. Moderman, who died early last year, managed to engineer 100 of these shared spaces across his native country. Most saw accidents and incidents drop.

So, with less regulation, road users of all types can become a little more caring and sharing. More adult. And it would save fuel and frayed tempers as Queensland's summer of congestion approaches.


A truly heartening story

Doctor cures 'Baby Z' of molybdenum cofactor deficiency in medical world first. Pity about the bureaucratic hurdles, though. The baby would have done better if the drug could have been given immediately

A MELBOURNE baby given no chance of survival has amazed doctors after being saved with one of the biggest long shots in medical history. "Baby Z's" brain started virtually dissolving soon after she was born 18 months ago because she had too much toxic sulphite in her system.

But her parents and doctors refused to give in to the one-in-a-million genetic condition and stumbled on a highly experimental drug. The Herald Sun can reveal treatment began a month after she was born and within days Baby Z "woke up". "It was really like awakening - it was just bang, and she was switched on," pioneering neonatologist Dr Alex Veldman said.

Baby Z's overjoyed mother said she had grown into a happy and determined little girl. "She is absolutely delightful and as stubborn as anything - I don't know where she gets that from," she said. "She has just started saying a few words and is constantly moving around. "Every day just gets better and better. We look at her every day and just think, 'Wow'."

The first person to be cured of molybdenum cofactor deficiency - a condition that poisons the brain and kills within months of birth - Baby Z has made world medical and legal history for Monash Children's at Southern Health. The child and her parents cannot be named for legal reasons and to protect their privacy. But her relieved mother told the Herald Sun she refused to accept her daughter would die, even when told she had no chance. "(The procedure) was a tiny bit of hope but, when you have nothing, that is a lot of hope. She might have one bad gene but she has a lot of other good and strong genes."

Soon after she was born in 2008, Baby Z's toxic sulphite levels were almost 30 times higher than normal and were dissolving her brain. After three weeks looking for answers, biochemist Dr Rob Gianello found a research paper by German plant biologist Prof Gunther Schwarz describing how he had developed an experimental drug that was able to save mice with the disease in 2004. The drug had hardly been used in animals and nobody had more than an educated guess at what it would do in a human.

But Monash's Dr Alex Veldman contacted Prof Schwarz in Cologne and appealed to the hospital's ethics committee to use the drug on Baby Z. The long shot was backed because the only other option was a painful death.

The Office of the Public Advocate then called on special medical procedure powers - used just twice before - to convince the Family Court to allow the unique treatment to go ahead. Within an hour of the court's approval, Baby Z was given the drug.

Within hours of receiving her first daily dose of cPMP (cyclic pyranopterin monophosphate), tests showed Baby Z's sulphite levels immediately dropped from near 300 to below 100. Within three days they fell to the normal level of about 10.

Baby Z's neurological development is delayed due to some brain damage in the weeks it took to find the cure, but she is now improving. The full details of the treatment are now being analysed for a planned human trial of the medication at Southern Health. Victorian Public Advocate Colleen Pearce said she was thrilled everything had fallen into place for Baby Z and her family.


1 comment:

Paul said...

l distinctly remember Sydney trialling laft turns on red lights in 1984. It was a discretionary turn, as in it repuired you to use your head and your judgement. Maybe that's why it never went ahead. Government minders are eliminating judgement calls from the driving process.