Saturday, December 05, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is amazed as I am at the elevation of Ms Keneally to the post of Premier of NSW, and has only faint hopes for her.

Australian climate records a mess too

And note that Australian records are a large part of what data we have about one half of the globe (the Southern half)

Australian weather records for an international database on climate change were a "bloody mess", riddled with entry errors, duplication and inaccuracies, leaked British computer files reveal. The Herald found the criticism in a 247-page specialist programmer's log, unearthed among the thousands of files hacked from East Anglia University, which is at the centre of a climate change email scandal. Labelled "HARRY-READ-ME", the log catalogues problems with the raw, historical climate data sent from hundreds of meteorological stations around the world.

The Australian data comes in for particular criticism as the programmer discovers World Meteorological Organisation codes are missing, station names overlap and many co-ordinates are incorrect. At one point the programmer writes about his attempts to make sense of the data. "What a bloody mess," he concludes. In another case, 30 years of data is attributed to a site at Cobar Airport but the frustrated programmer writes: "Now looking at the dates. something bad has happened ... COBAR AIRPORT AWS [automatic weather station] cannot start in 1962, it didn't open until 1993!" In another he says: "Getting seriously fed up with the state of the Australian data ... so many false references ... so many changes ... bewildering."

The log spans four years of work at the university's Climatic Research Unit, the British keeper of global temperature records. The programmer rails that the information has "no uniform integrity".

His criticisms relate solely to the construction of the database and do not question the validity of historical temperature records or analyses that suggest the impact of human activity on global warming trends. "I am very sorry to report that the rest of the databases seem to be in nearly as poor a state as Australia was. There are hundreds if not thousands of pairs of dummy stations, one with no WMO and one with, usually overlapping and with the same station name and very similar co-ordinates. I know it could be old and new stations, but why such large overlaps if that's the case? Aarrggghhh! There truly is no end in sight."

Michael Coughlan, the head of the National Climate Centre at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology, said it was difficult to comment without knowing the source of the raw data. It was unlikely to have come directly from the bureau's centre because unchecked, raw data was rarely requested for climate analysis. The bureau had a network of more than 100 specially selected weather stations ["SELECTED"?? Selected on what grounds? Selected to be near urban heat islands? I'm betting that not many rural stations made the cut.] to monitor climate change, and a century of records from them had been checked. "We've put an enormous effort into developing a high-quality reliable climate record for Australia and all that data is freely available," Dr Coughlan said.

But he said that if the British programmer had been using raw weather data, which is sent around the world in real time for weather forecasting, it would not be surprising that it contained errors. This raw data could have come from countries other than Australia, and would have been difficult to correct without access to information in Australia, such as the original field books. "A computer programmer sitting in England won't have the resources to make those corrections. I can understand their frustrations," Dr Coughlan said. [That naughty raw data again]

The programmer's log is one of the most read files worldwide since the email archives were leaked. The log has been treated particularly sympathetically as it reveals his blow-by-blow frustrations, which seemed to be unfolding as his scientist colleagues, including the head of the Climatic Research Unit, Phil Jones, appeared to discuss via email ways to avoid freedom-of-information requests for raw data and to denigrate their critics. Professor Jones, who has denied a conspiracy to manipulate global warming statistics as "complete rubbish", has stood down from his post while the university investigates the leaks.

The Herald attempted to contact Professor Jones and spoke to the computer programmer we believe to be the author of the file. The programmer did not deny his name but referred queries to the university's media unit. Professor Jones has not responded. RealClimate, a website run by climate scientists, confirms the log as the work of a specialist charged with upgrading data.

"Anyone who has ever worked on constructing a database from dozens of individual, sometimes contradictory and inconsistently formatted datasets, will share his evident frustration with how tedious that can be," it says. [Tedious?? It sounds more than tedious. Try complete failure]


New conservative leader changes the game

THIS week Tony Abbott smashed the mould of Australian politics. With the opposition divided and behind, he is forcing Kevin Rudd to an election on climate change, the issue that is supposedly owned by the Labor Party. This is either brilliance or sheer folly.

Abbott does not accept the orthodoxies that have governed politics during the Rudd ascendancy, and this makes him dangerous for both Labor and Liberal. Abbott is an unpredictable and elemental force who defies the modern political rule book. No adviser can tell Abbott what to say or how to say it.

After being elected Liberal leader by surprise, Abbott spent the rest of week throwing political grenades -- supporting individual workplace contracts, backing a nuclear power debate and killing the emissions trading scheme -- while his colleagues held their breath wondering how the public would react.

Abbott has a gift for ridiculing the conventional wisdom. He told Sydney radio station 2GB's Chris Smith the idea that climate change is the greatest moral challenge of the age is "plain wrong", asking what about "man's inhumanity to man". His plan is to force Rudd to re-fight the entire Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme issue, and explain and justify his ETS to the Australian people.

Labor has been rocked by these events. It takes solace in one big idea: that Abbott is an extremist and ultimately unelectable. Yet Labor's control of the political agenda is under threat as Abbott generates a surge across talkback radio. For two years Rudd has carefully identified his likely opponent at the next election: Brendan Nelson, Peter Costello, Malcolm Turnbull, Joe Hockey. Yet it is none of them.

From right field Abbott has emerged, suddenly, shockingly, swinging hard, a knockabout intellectual with a flair for populism that puts Rudd in the shade, a politician who turns his mistakes into confessional honesty, a conviction leader yet a man of humility.

Within hours of becoming leader Abbott mocked himself on radio, repeating his daughter's put-down of him as "a gay, lame, churchie loser". Abbott thinks it's a great joke. Leading a divided party, his recipe for Liberal unity is elemental: attack the government day after day after day. The opening weeks will be vital. If Abbott gets a good start he will only gather momentum. But if Labor can brand him as an unreliable extremist, Liberal woes will intensify.

A natural meeter and greeter, from the fire truck to the beach to the local school, Abbott will talk to the people in the language they know. He depicts Rudd as a remote bureaucratic wonk. "I think he lives in his own world," Abbott says of Rudd. He dismissed Rudd's speech this week to an Australia-Israel function as "just crackers, frankly", saying that facing a nuclear threat from Iran recived a lecture from Rudd about climate change.

Abbott, who once called himself a "Catholic romantic idealist", is branded by his faiths. While this makes him a target, it motivates the moral stands he has taken: stopping Pauline Hanson in her tracks and spending more time inside Aboriginal communities than nearly any other senior politician.

Where Turnbull said the ETS had to be passed for the sake of our children, Abbott dismisses it as a monstrous tax fraud.

Labor can take heart that Abbott was the least popular of the three Liberal contenders and seems hell-bent on making himself a very big target. Yet while his policies are polarising, his personality is engaging. He never walks away from a fight or a conversation, traits that Australians appreciate. Abbott is capable of surprises, just as Mark Latham surprised the Howard government.

With by-elections today in the Liberal seats of Bradfield in Sydney and Higgins in Melbourne -- both with high levels of green consciousness -- Abbott runs the risk of an early setback. His problem is reconciling his anti-ETS crusade with the need to convince urban voters he is serious about climate change action. Operating this week in the fluidity of the huge Liberal reversal on the ETS, he pledged to keep Rudd's emission targets yet rejected any market-based or carbon-tax policy for the 2010 election. It sounds like the Magic Pudding. Here is Labor's opening: the chance to depict Abbott as a populist unfit to run the nation, a good bloke but not a reliable prime minister.

Yet the more Labor attacks Abbott for his irresponsibility, the more it must admit the ETS puts a price on carbon and means higher energy prices, leading back to Abbott's core proposition.

With the most important reform of Labor's first term again rejected, Rudd and Julia Gillard have only one real option: a double dissolution election. Despite endless speculation the outlook is obvious. Rudd now has the grounds for a double dissolution on the original bill. But the fully amended bill (with its extra $7 billion in assistance from the Wong-Macfarlane deal) will be introduced in February and, if defeated twice with a three-month interval, Rudd will have a second trigger on this more preferred bill. That means he can call a double dissolution later in 2010 (the constitutional limitation is by early August), approximating a full-term parliament.

It would be crazy for Rudd to call a snap election now. He needs time to undermine Abbott and get the dissolution on the preferred bill, thereby being guaranteed its passage if he wins the poll.

This is not just a repeat of the 2007 election. John Howard and Rudd agreed on an ETS, so it was never the issue. The 2007 test was climate change credentials and Rudd outshone Howard as a candidate of the future. This time the Rudd-Abbott dispute will be greater and Abbott, unlike Howard in 2007, has political ammunition to fire and a grassroots crusade to lead. He will target Rudd on one issue: explaining the ETS and explaining why Australians need it.

The people will decide this result. For Abbott, the ETS is the prime exhibit of Rudd as a high-taxing, high-spending bureaucrat with Whitlamite overtones, out of touch with people and imposing new cost-of-living pressures on them. The ETS slots perfectly into Abbott's economic campaign.

As an aggressive leader in the Howard mould, Abbott is a mixture of conservative, radical and populist. Many of his opponents misread him. In his recent book Battlelines, Abbott argued "the Federation is broken and does need to be fixed". Convinced the Howard government was punished for the failure of the states, Abbott will hold Rudd to a degree of responsibility for the failures in NSW and Queensland.

As health minister during the Howard era and an unsuccessful advocate for a national takeover of public hospitals, Abbott is guaranteed to put health services at the centre of his campaign by insisting that Rudd is accountable for the condition of public hospitals across the board.

On boat people, he will campaign as a dedicated border protectionist.

On Aboriginal deprivation, he champions Noel Pearson's philosophy and will attack any Rudd retreat to the rights agenda.

On industrial relations, he backs individual agreements on the pre-2005 model before Work Choices.

But there are two urgent lessons Abbott must learn from Howard if he wants to succeed. As a social conservative he must convince people that he does not seek to recast the moral agenda on issues such as abortion and divorce. Second, Abbott's credentials are suspect on economic policy where, too often, he seems inexperienced and unsure, suspicious of markets, reluctant about disciplined costings and inclined to old-fashioned regulation. Labor will gun Abbott on economic policy.


Corrupt public hospital boss

Unbelievable! Charity funds raided for beauty treatments!

THE boss of the Brisbane Royal Children's Hospital approved thousands of dollars worth of luxury beauty treatments for nurses out of the hospital's charity fund for sick children, documents show. RCH district manager Doug Brown is being investigated over a $6500 bill for "pamper packages" at a Brisbane beauty salon, despite department financial guidelines prohibiting staff gifts, The Courier Mail reported.

The Royal Children's Hospital Foundation asks for donations to help support seriously ill kids, buy medical equipment and fund ground-breaking medical research. But an invoice obtained by The Courier-Mail shows Mr Brown approved its funds be used for 65 nurses to enjoy manicures, massages and body polishes at Skin Beautiful in the Queen St Mall two years ago.

The case is part of a wider Queensland Health ethical standards probe into Mr Brown, including his approval of an $8000 interest-free loan of taxpayer funds to a senior bureaucrat for personal overseas travel four months earlier. Mr Brown approved the loan to then director of allied health Gil Hainey despite guidelines banning loans to staff.

The beauty voucher issue allegedly involves a dispute with nurses during the relocation of oncology services from the Mater Children's Hospital at South Brisbane to the RCH at Herston in September 2007.

A group of about eight MCH nurses were allegedly offered six months' free parking at taxpayers' expense in the Metro Car Park at the RCH, despite the entitlement generally being given only to more senior medical specialists. But the plan allegedly backfired when nurses in the Banksia Ward at the RCH, led by a group known as the Oncology Steering Committee, learned of the parking perk and threatened industrial action. Mr Brown, who is listed as the board secretary of the RCH Foundation, allegedly tried to hose down the issue by organising with the nurses for 65 Ella Bache gift vouchers.

The invoice shows the salon billed the RCH for 65 packages costing $100 each, with the 90-minute sessions including eyelash tints, pedicures, manicures, and body polishes. "Approved," Mr Brown wrote. "Foundation to sponsor - oncology consolidation."

Queensland Health yesterday confirmed the bill was paid out of RCH Foundation funds, saying the money initially came from a district account before being reimbursed by the charity.

Director-general Mick Reid said the probe involved "alleged financial mismanagement in relation to car parking and alleged improper purchase of gift vouchers for staff". "Gifts to staff are in breach of the provisions of the Financial Management Practice Manual," he said. "I am treating this matter with the highest degree of seriousness and will act on all recommendations."

Mr Brown did not return calls. The probe is expected to be finalised and handed to the Crime and Misconduct Commission before the new year.


A comeback for Sir Lunchalot?

NSW: The Premier, Kristina Keneally, will reward the dumped ministers John Della Bosca and Ian Macdonald [Sir Lunchalot] by reinstating them to senior positions in a cabinet reshuffle this weekend. Rewarding the plotters against the former premier Nathan Rees will fuel criticism that Ms Keneally is a ''puppet'' of powerbrokers Eddie Obeid, Joe Tripodi, Mr Della Bosca and Mr Macdonald, who all backed her into the leadership against the wishes of Labor's head office.

Mr Obeid is understood to have given guarantees to at least one minister that his position was safe on Thursday, Government sources say. When asked if she was speaking to Mr Obeid and Mr Tripodi about who would be in her cabinet, Ms Keneally did not deny it, saying she was prepared to consult on who she would appoint.

The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, took a shot at the week of plotting saying: ''People of NSW are sick to death of fighting, infighting and divisions in the Government of NSW. The time has come for the NSW Government to get its act together … ''The people of NSW are now expecting better government, and I would suggest the new Premier of NSW get on with the job, and get on with the job as of today.''

Mr Rudd is understood to be unhappy he was talked into defending Mr Rees three weeks ago after the then premier sacked Mr Tripodi, only to see his support evaporate.

After being sworn in as the state's first female premier, Ms Keneally said her Government would be about ''respect'' and protecting the ''vulnerable''. She did not rule out scrapping the $5.3 billion CBD Metro and said Mr Rees's transport blueprint would be reviewed and ''finalised'' before it was released.

Ms Keneally continued to deny accusations she was a ''puppet'' of Mr Obeid and Mr Tripodi and has said she is ''nobody's puppet, nobody's protege, nobody's girl''.


Another corrupt Queensland police investigation

POLICE who investigated an alleged cover-up of child sexual abuse at a Queensland Catholic primary school had close ties with teachers and the principal. At least three police officers involved in the investigation last year of a teacher, later charged with the rape and abuse of 13 young girls, had children at the school or spouses on staff at the close-knit Toowoomba school, west of Brisbane.

Police previously said all officers with any involvement at the school were taken off the case at the start of the investigation.

The initial abuse complaint was made by a nine-year-old girl and her father to the school principal in September, 2007. Police were not told and the veteran teacher, 60, remained at the school for another 14 months, during which time he is alleged to have abused another 12 girls, resulting in him now facing 46 charges of rape and indecent treatment. He faces court next year. Police were belatedly alerted in November last year , but only when another child brought her allegations of abuse directly to them.

The Weekend Australian has learned that a detective who last year helped interview the alleged offender and later took the statement of the father -- who made the first abuse complaint to the principal -- is married to another teacher at the school and was treasurer of the parents and friends association that threw a farewell for the alleged pedophile, who retired briefly from the school before being rehired last year. The father told the detective he and his daughter had gone to the principal with abuse complaints about the teacher, involving herself and another girl, more than a year before before he was arrested. Under state law, schools and their governing bodies have a mandatory requirement to report to police any suspicions of sexual abuse by a staff member. Two other police involved in the investigation also had children at the school.

Police last night issued a statement saying they "hold no concerns whatsoever" of any possible conflict of interest among the investigators. But parents of the victims say they were assured by police there had been no prior suspicions about the teacher, who later confessed to some of the abuse.

In February, the state government ordered an investigation into the school because of a series of reports by The Weekend Australian revealing the inaction to the earlier abuse complaint to the principal. In May, the principal became the first person in Australia to be charged under the six-year-old mandatory reporting laws. But this week, he was acquitted after magistrate Haydn Stjernqvist found the principal had met his legal obligations by reporting the complaints to senior officers in Catholic Education.

Documents showed that after the parent's complaint -- coupled with staff allegations about the teacher giving out lollies and putting children on his lap -- the principal suspected he had sexually abused at least one student. Prosecutors accused the principal and Catholic Education of watering down the complaints before taking them to the teacher, who denied the allegations.


No comments: