Saturday, February 28, 2009

Neo-Marxist English teachers trying to downgrade literature in national curriculum

The old nonsense about the back of the cornflakes packet being just as important as Shakespeare. Literature introduces kids to diversity in thinking and we can't have that, apparently. And they are still resisting phonics! Too bad if lots of kids never learn to read, apparently.

In their own education, English teachers have had "Theory" drummed into them and they have still not unlearned that -- even though the chief protagonists of "Theory" have now abandoned it.

English teachers are seeking to downgrade the importance of literature in the national curriculum to allow the study of an expanded range of texts covering visual and multimodal forms "as essential works in their own right". The professional association purporting to represent the view of the nation's English teachers also calls for the national curriculum to recognise a whole-language method for teaching reading rather than exclusively emphasising phonics and the letter-sound relationships as the initial step.

In its submission to the National Curriculum Board's framing paper on the English curriculum, the Australian Association for the Teaching of English declares studying literature is "inherently a political action" in creating the type of people society values. The submission disputes the National Curriculum Board's definition of school English as the three elements of language, literature and literacy. "Meaning-making in, and through, language, across a range of forms, media and expressions, should be the core organiser of the curriculum," it says. "There is a need to state (that) English is the study of language, its central focus being the different processes through which meaning is made and received through different textual expressions - literary and otherwise."

It calls for the end of traditional literature as a discrete element, and for other types of English texts - which would include advertising, TV shows, signage, text messages and websites - to be viewed as essential rather than "add ons" to accompany the understanding of literary texts. "The place and role of non-literary texts in a national English curriculum needs to be rethought in terms that do not see the value of such texts as being predominantly in their potential to enhance the study of literature," it says. "The expansion of the range of texts used in English ... will necessarily mean a significant reconfiguration of the subject, including a relative reduction in the number of literary works, as the term is traditionally conceived, studied."

The AATE challenges the curriculum's view that studying literature is "a form of arts-related and arts-enriched learning experience" related to aesthetic value, saying it is only "true to a point". Rather, studying literature is "inherently a political action in that it is also about 'nation' building through the dissemination of a 'national' culture". "Studying literature also has historically had an ethical function, contributing to the shaping of a certain sort of person that societies have found desirable," it says. "It is difficult to imagine, for example, that the enduring value of works such as Animal Farm and To Kill a Mockingbird, both widely taught in schools, rests on their aesthetic qualities."

The English framing document for the national curriculum released in October is unequivocal in mandating the explicit teaching of the basic structures ofthe English language from grammar, spelling and punctuation to phonics in the first years of school. "Explicit teaching of decoding, spelling and other aspects of the basic codes of written English will be an important and routine aspect," the curriculum says.

But the AATE submission says the emphasis on phonics "comes at the expense of the focus on a balanced reading program", which is the term now applied to whole language methods of teaching reading. It calls for explicit reference to be made to "all three cueing systems" used to make sense of the written word. Under the Three Cueing Systems model for teaching reading, the sounding of letters is the least important skill, with children first asked to use semantics, and guess the word based on the context including using pictures and then use the sentence syntax to work out the meaning.

Then children use the syntax or where the word sits in the sentence to try to work out the meaning. The third and least important cue under this model is sounding out the letters. In a separate submission, the English Teachers Association of NSW argues the national curriculum threatens to "deprofessionalise" English teachers for limiting its aims to developing literacy skills and knowledge about literature.

The ETA argues for the definition of school English to be expanded to include cultural studies, critical literacy (a sociological model analysing gender, race and class in literature to expose inherent prejudices and agendas) and personal growth of students.


Another glimpse of the nasty bureaucrats behind the trouble-prone Queensland Ambulance service

All they care about is power -- their own. So reasonable actions by ambulance officers that ran contrary to stupid bureaucratic directions get the officers punished. There has been nothing but trouble since the State government took the service over a few years ago. Bureaucracy always has the same deadening and stultifying effect

Two paramedics have been stood down from duty after refusing to risk transporting a sick baby to hospital because their ambulance had no child restraint. The Gold Coast case has sparked uproar in paramedic ranks, with claims of heavy-handed management by Queensland Ambulance Service bosses and "a culture of fear and intimidation".

Sources said the paramedics were called to a Tallebudgera Valley address on Thursday morning by the parents of a sick 10-month-old baby. They assessed the baby's condition as stable and the case non-urgent, and asked the communications centre to send a baby capsule so the baby could be transported safely to hospital. But sources said the paramedics were directed to take the baby to hospital anyway, which would have required the mother and child to be strapped to a stretcher together.

Instead, the mother opted to take the baby to hospital in her own car, which had a capsule. When the ambulance officers returned to the station, sources said they were told they had been stood down immediately for "disobeying a direction". "They were told to pack their things and leave and not return until further notice," a source said. "It was abysmal treatment and part of a culture of fear and intimidation in the QAS." The officers were reinstated four hours later after they contacted their union.

"It's an unbelievable way to treat caring and professional officers," said Prebs Sathiaseelan, the president of the Emergency Medical Services Professionals Association. "These paramedics were punished for acting in the patient's best interests. "There was absolutely no need to risk the baby's life by transporting it to hospital without a capsule. "The officers were given no explanation as to why they had been stood down. "They were made to feel guilty and inferior." One paramedic said the QAS was so short-staffed the decision not to send a baby capsule was likely due to manpower shortages.

A QAS spokeswoman said the two paramedics were stood down about 9am on Thursday for "disobeying a direction". She said the suspension was lifted four hours later after it was investigated. "QAS management have advised that no further disciplinary action will be taken," she said.

The spokeswoman said strapping a young child and parent in an ambulance stretcher was "standard practice" and capsules were suitable only for children aged up to six months.


"Stimulus" not working in Australia either

The sacking of 1850 workers by Pacific Brands this week showed why the Rudd Government risks turning a disaster into a catastrophe. Just one month ago, Treasurer Wayne Swan dismissed concerns that his first big stimulus package - its $10.4 billion free money giveaway in December - had not worked by claiming we were at least buying a lot more undies (and, boy, do we need them now). "The evidence from Woolworths ... showed that there was a very significant impact on spending on the basics of life, such as school shoes, such as socks and jocks, such as polo shirts and so on."

But it turns out that if we were spending our free money on socks and jocks, rather than booze and pokies, they weren't sock and jocks made here. Pacific Brands, maker of said jocks, said competition from imports - not to mention its inefficient, overgeared operation - had forced it to close its clothing manufacturing in Australia.

The Government still claims that without its stimulus package last year - and now its $42 billion sequel - this crunch would be even worse. But really? When the evidence so far suggests the Government's rescue packages aren't working as advertised? After all, last year Prime Minister Kevin Rudd claimed his $10.4 billion package would "help to create up to 75,000 additional jobs" this year. Then he said another $15.1 billion package of state and federal spending would "create 133,000 jobs". And days later he said $4.7 billion for "nation-building" would "create up to 32,000 Australian jobs". BUT where are all those jobs now - and where, indeed, those billions? In fact, the Australian Industry Group says some 42,000 jobs have been lost in the manufacturing sector alone over the past six to nine months.

It's no wonder that estimates of how long this economic downturn will last are suddenly gloomier. Reserve Bank director Roger Corbett this week warned "the situation is a lot more serious than it was at the end of last year, and I think it will be well into 2010 before we see any significant recovery". All this - and 4000 job losses yesterday at Lend Lease and Telstra - suggest two things.

1. It is mad for the Government to spend all our savings now, when we'll need them for a fight that will last years.

2. We have time, after all, to spend these billions on productive investments in rail, airports, Internet, ports and tax cuts, rather than on this red-cordial rush of pink batts, public housing, cash handouts and halls.

But this is not the only sign that a panicked and meddle-prone Government is spending too much on too little. Again, look at Pacific Brands. The Government has for the past two years tried to prop up the company with $10 million a year -- grants now gone with the jobs. DESPITE learning again that picking winners is how governments lose fortunes, here's what Industry Minister Kim Carr did when he heard Pacific Brands might sack workers. The Socialist Left boss rang the chairman to offer yet more GOODIES: "I specifically asked was there anything further we could do to get the company to change its mind and the answer they have given me is no."

Fancy offering so much help that even a capitalist gurgles, "enough". But think of all the other bosses saying "more!" Think of the $149 million Rudd gave Holden last year to make an allegedly "green car" - $100,000 a year for three years for every worker, including part-timers. Or think of the $35 million Rudd gave to Toyota, which said it didn't ask for it, and didn't know how to spend it.

Voters may still cheer Rudd for this kind of Doing Something, not yet realising how little that money does to save jobs, and how much we'll pay once it's gone. But the reckoning will come.


Senate may save Australia from destructive Warmist laws

Can the Senate save Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong from their global warming folly? It can, and it might, if it rejects the Government's attempts to prematurely lock Australia into a flawed carbon trading scheme. There is a growing unease in government and Opposition ranks that the Government's plan to push through its climate change legislation by the end of June is too hasty, as more and more questions are raised about its emissions trading scheme. Not least, there is the important question of its timing.

Ask yourself, do you believe that the worst global recession since the Depression, with job losses accelerating, is the time for Australia to introduce a carbon trading scheme that will squeeze growth, jobs and investment? Business certainly doesn't.

The Prime Minister and his Climate Change Minister do. The Government's white paper on its carbon pollution reduction scheme (better known as an emissions trading scheme) was released on December 15, as the world's advanced economies and many others were experiencing the sharpest quarterly contraction in economic growth in decades. It acknowledges the seriousness of the financial and economic crisis but declares this does not mean we can ignore the threat climate change poses to our long-term economic prosperity: "On the contrary, this current crisis makes it more important we secure the long-term prosperity that comes from rebuilding the low pollution economy of the future."

If you swallow this, you presumably also believe the planet faces imminent catastrophe as a result of global warming. The reality is that delaying action for a year or two isn't going to make much difference. Nothing Australia does can have much impact on the stock or flow of global greenhouse gasses, and if the time is used to improve policy we will actually be better off.

The timing issue is raised in an important report prepared in January for a Senate committee by the former head of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural Economics, Brian Fisher, now at Concept Economics. Fisher reviewed Treasury modelling of the economic impact of reducing carbon emissions. "The global financial crisis and its flow-on to the real economy has altered dramatically the context in which Australia will be introducing an emissions trading scheme and taking, in all likelihood, unconditional action to reduce emissions, Fisher says. "By contrast, the Treasury modelling exercise and much of the ... scheme design has assumed, often explicitly, a continuation of strong global and domestic growth, both in the implementation phase of the ETS and in the longer term."

Fisher notes that an ETS imposes a new cost on Australian producers and consumers, and says a critical concern is the impact of this additional cost of production on Australian firms when company balance sheets have deteriorated dramatically, investment plans have been shelved and workers dismissed. In many countries, including Australia, the global financial crisis has reinforced the primacy of economic growth and jobs in national policy debates.

Steven Chu, President Barack Obama's new Secretary of Energy, told The New York Times earlier this month that reaching agreement on emissions trading legislation would be difficult in the present recession because any scheme to regulate greenhouse gas emissions would probably cause energy prices to rise and drive manufacturing jobs to countries where energy was cheaper. Obama officials concede that Congress is unlikely to pass such legislation in time for the international climate change conference in Copenhagen in December to try to agree on a new global treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol.

The problem is that Rudd and Wong have locked themselves in, even if Rudd the pragmatist would privately like to back off his timetable for introducing an ETS scheme, given the economic crisis. Here is where the Senate comes in. Negotiations are still going on, but one way or another a Senate committee will consider the Government's carbon pollution reduction scheme legislation and it will also be able to consider alternatives.

The opportunity has arisen because of the farce over the Government's announcement that the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics would hold an inquiry into "the choice of emissions trading as the central policy to reduce Australia's carbon pollution". Whatever Rudd's intention, this was a major miscalculation on several grounds. The terms of reference clearly suggested the need to consider alternatives to the Government's emissions trading scheme and were widely seen as the Government rethinking its commitment to this scheme. This opened a Pandora's box that the Government has been unable to close by withdrawing the inquiry reference on the risible grounds that Malcolm Turnbull was playing politics with it. What a shock.

The Government is most unlikely to meet its deadline of passing its legislation by June 30 and there is a better than even money chance that the Senate will reject the legislation. The Government will find itself facing an unholy alliance of the Greens, the Nationals and the Liberals, all opposed to the CPRS, if for different reasons.

The Greens' Christine Milne has already declared that having no scheme would be better than being locked into the CPRS, the Nationals will also vote against, and so, if Turnbull has any political nous, will the Liberals. The Government, while no doubt secretly relieved at being rescued from a trap of its own making, will then be able to blame Turnbull for climate change vandalism and threatening the survival of the planet. But while this is a risk, Turnbull has a powerful political card to play. He can legitimately accuse the Government of putting its obsession with introducing an emissions trading scheme by July 2010 ahead of Australian jobs and businesses.

With Australian unemployment rising to 7 per cent on the Government's own forecasts and quite possibly heading higher in an election year, with the impact of world recession, and the Government itself saying the No1 economic issue is jobs, Rudd is likely to be quite vulnerable. More so because he and Wong have conned Australians into believing that they can make a personal contribution to saving the planet under the Government's scheme, when they can't at all. All they are doing is making life easier for carbon-emitting businesses.

A Senate rejection of the ETS in present economic circumstances is in the national interest and it would offer the opportunity to allow an independent body - the Productivity Commission - to look at the Government's scheme without ideological blinkers on.


Friday, February 27, 2009

Deadbeat NSW government hospitals

The Auditor-General has damned the financial management of the NSW health system, saying area health services had failed to pay bills on time and had routinely misused trust funds. Peter Achterstraat said the financial audits for 2007-08, which were made public yesterday, showed that some health services had classed bills as "in dispute" to buy time because they did not have the funds to pay small businesses.

His report noted that health services had dipped into trust accounts to pay bills and wages and the worst offender was Northern Sydney and Central Coast, which had 1000 trust accounts that were $9.9 million overdrawn in November 2007. The overdraft coincided with desperate attempts by the former health minister Reba Meagher to improve operations at Royal North Shore Hospital after a patient, Jana Horska, miscarried in a hospital toilet. The incident became the subject of a parliamentary inquiry.

Mr Achterstraat said bills totalling $312 million were outstanding at June 2008, and $75 million of that was more than 45 days overdue. A year earlier $174 million had been owing, none of it more than 45 days late. He found that only two of the eight area health services paid their bills within the benchmark of 45 days. "From a financial point of view this is not a particularly good report card," he said. "They are not paying their bills on time, they're not managing their budgets properly, they didn't get their annual statements in on time and they are using trust fund money for reasons they were not intended."

He recommended that the Treasurer, Eric Roozendaal, or the Health Minister, John Della Bosca, order area health services to pay interest on late bills as an incentive to clean up their act. "I am concerned about the $320 million in trusts and special purpose accounts. They need to make better use of these funds. In some cases these funds have been there for a long time and the department is not clear what they can be used for," Mr Achterstraat said. "Some funds have been used to subsidise overexpenditure in other areas."

Yesterday Mr Della Bosca said he would consider interest payments but pointed out that the data was more than eight months old. "Let me be clear, I want creditors paid on time. No question. But we are getting on top of the problem," he said. "In November last year, more than $15 million was owed to small businesses across the state. That figure has dropped by more than 80 per cent to just $3.4 million this week."

The Premier, Nathan Rees, said there was a plan to reduce all of the debt to creditors "to acceptable levels" by June. "Things are better than reflected in that report, and there is a plan to continue to drive down those creditor issues," he said.

The Opposition spokeswoman on health, Jillian Skinner, said the Government was financially irresponsible and reckless. "We have a $380 million health budget deficit, more than $300 million in unpaid bills on top of that and donated money in trust funds being used for recurrent expenditure instead of the hospital projects they were given to build," she said.


Green bureaucrats holding economy to ransom

By Michael Costa

Believe it or not, if Kevin Rudd is genuine about stimulating our economy, rather than borrowing enormous sums of money he should talk to Peter Garrett. Why? Because his misguided Environment Minister and the department he runs are holding up billions of dollars of investment.

The way Garrett's department administers the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act provides a perfect rebuttal of Rudd's recent neo-interventionist call for greater government involvement in economic development. The act gives Garrett enormous powers. It requires that he approve any developments likely to have a significant impact on things the act protects, such as world heritage sites, national heritage properties, wetlands of international importance, threatened species and ecological communities, migratory species and marine areas, as well as nuclear actions including uranium mines. If that weren't broad enough, it also requires Garrett's approval of actions that affect commonwealth land. What you need to know is that the act is at present subject to a statutory review, but we'll come back to that.

The act is the federal equivalent of a range of state acts. These overlapping pieces of state and federal environmental legislation are a nightmare for economic development. New projects are subject to dual assessment processes and separate approval. One tier of government may approve a project that then is rejected by another. This creates investment uncertainty and adds to the cost of projects, costs that then are passed on to consumers. When he was environment minister, Malcolm Turnbull streamlined processes by concluding bilateral agreements with all states, except Victoria and the ACT, to create common environmental assessment of projects. Nonetheless, project approval still requires each tier of government to sign off.

Unfortunately, with the change of government, industry players have noticed a change in attitude. Garrett's department has become more interventionist. According to property industry body Urban Taskforce, the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts' interference and slow response to requests is making it virtually impossible to meet statutory timelines. Indeed, interference from DEWHA has reached farcical proportions. Petty disputes between the department and the states over the wording of newspaper ads hold up projects worth billions of dollars. Part of the problem is that DEWHA bureaucrats prefer to talk to their state counterparts, with whom they share a common environmental ideology, rather than to state planning officials who they see as pro-development.

The Property Council of Australia says its experience with the act has been that there has been little consistency or certainty for stakeholders and that some items of national environmental significance do not have sufficient evidentiary support to justify their retention on the list. Their public counsel argues that items included on any list should be based on rigorous scientific evidence, not anecdotal evidence, and observes that staff making determinations generally do not have specialist expertise on relevant NES or planning matters, and little appreciation of economic realities.

Under Garrett the act has become the last hope for theological environmentalists who fail in their opposition to projects at the local or state level. Catering to the insatiable demands of these people is costing the economy billions of dollars when the Prime Minister is putting the nation in hock in the hope of avoiding a technical recession. Critical land release projects have been delayed by the capricious action of these unaccountable bureaucrats. In the Sydney basin, for example, where for many years the state government was reluctant to release land, the Edmondson Park land release is being held up by DEWHA.

This is despite the fact planning for this release has been under way since at least 2000 and has involved numerous consultations between the state government, developers, local councils and the community. The principal developer is Landcom, a state government agency. At issue is the so-called Cumberland Plain woodland ecological community. Green groups have used this issue to restrict urban development in western Sydney for almost a decade. The result? More costly and less affordable housing.

Under the influence of theological environmentalists the development of NSW's Hunter Valley has been a frequent victim of the department's political interventionism. A particularly notorious example of this department pandering to green groups has been its frustration of a popular tourist development on Newcastle's Nobbys Headland on the grounds that the gap between two structures had heritage significance.

The handling of a residential development at North Cooranbong in the Hunter Valley, undertaken by the Johnson Property Group, shows just how out of control Garrett's department has become. This project was approved by all relevant NSW government departments, complied with the state government's regional strategy and conservation plan and the developer had provided environmental offsets in accordance with NSW legislation. Despite this, after eight years of assessments, Garrett's department intervened at the last moment and is demanding more land be quarantined for ecological reasons, which will have the effect of increasing the price of land packages by $30,000, making the project financially unviable. The result? Hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs lost to the local economy.

But here's the catch. As if the present administration of the act weren't bad enough, there is a concerted attempt by environmentalists to use a statutory review to extend its scope and powers. Green groups want to include global warming as an assessment trigger. Their goal? Nothing less than to close down the nation's coal industry. But that's not all. This trigger is so broad it could be applied to all human activity undertaken on land. This would effectively give the department the right of veto over any future development of the Australian economy. Now that would be a recipe for recession.


Schools dump stupid Leftist grading scheme

A PIVOTAL part of the controversial outcomes-based education system will be killed off at WA schools. From 2010, teachers will no longer use a "levels" system to calculate grades for school reports for Years 1 to 10. But Education Department Director General Sharyn O'Neill said schools could "choose to dispense with levels with immediate effect". "Certainly the use of levels to assess and report to parents has been a major platform of OBE and we're removing that today," she said today at a media conference at Applecross Primary School.

Ms O'Neill said simplifying assessment by removing the use of levels would free teachers to focus on teaching and make it easier for parents to track their child's achievement at school. "Teachers will continue to report to parents using A to E grades, but without the current requirement of having to convert levels to grades," she said. Levels were dropped for years 11 and 12 in early 2007, after extreme pressure on the previous Labor Government from the anti-OBE group People Lobbying Against Teaching Outcomes. Many teachers felt that the eight levels of achievement were too complex, inconsistent, and created unnecessary and time-consuming paperwork.

Ms O'Neill said parents had told her they had been "confused" by levels. She said that to determine grades under the new system, teachers would use their ``professional judgement''. But Ms O'Neill, who conceded that WA had previously gone further with OBE than other states, also said teachers would be given online resources showing what standard earned a particular grade. "I want to make sure that an A in Albany is the same as an A in Applecross, as in any other place,'' she said. The Education Department would also give principals a grade distribution guide.

Ms O'Neill said student grades would be based on information including class work, tests and a student's performance in national literacy and numeracy tests. From what she could see, the new system would be compatible with the proposed national curriculum.

The move is seen as honouring a pre-election commitment by the Liberals, who when in Opposition promised an independent audit of WA's curriculum framework by an expert advisory group if they won government and to abolish levels from kindergarten to Year 10. Education Minister Liz Constable said she applauded the decision because unlike the new system, the use of levels did not meet the criteria of being fair to students, easily understood by parents and not creating extra and unnecessary work for teachers.

Rob Fry, president of peak parent group the WA Council of State School Organisations, said the move was a positive step in the right direction. "This way the teachers can focus on doing the grades, making the best judgement from their professional point of view and everyone will know exactly how the child is progressing,'' Mr Fry said.

Applecross Primary School principal Barry France said his teachers would appreciate the decision because it would save them doing a "significant'' amount of work that was part of an "unnecessary bureaucratic step'' - freeing them to focus on teaching and learning.


Queensland police goons again

A disabled woman with a bandaged hand told how she was bullied and evicted from a train by police who did not believe that she had trouble operating an automatic ticket machine. Stricken with kidney disease and a broken hand, Rosemary Carey, 54, a disability pensioner, struggled up the steep stairs at Brisbane's Indooroopilly station on Saturday night and tried to work the machine with her left hand. When her train to Oxley arrived, she jumped aboard without a ticket.

She said two plain-clothes officers in their 30s threatened to arrest her if did not get off at the next stop, Sherwood. She said the officers were menacing and told her she would have to pay a $200 fine. "I was outraged," she said. "There is nothing threatening about me. ''I'm a frail female in my 50s, five foot two, 45kg wringing wet and suffer from a chronic kidney condition which leaves me with little energy. "Managing the steps at the station, then the steep flight of stairs at the cinema (the lift was out of order) is pretty much mountain climbing for me."

The mother of two said she went to the cinema near Indooroopilly station to see the new Clint Eastwood film, Gran Torino. Because she had broken her hand the previous week, she decided to go by train instead of taking her car. She said the movie finished about 8.45pm. "I'm normally in bed by eight and I was exhausted, " she said. "I get to the unfamiliar ticket machine and as quickly as I can with my left hand, begin to follow the prompts.

"In the midst of this a train pulls in. The next train could be in an hour, I have no idea of the timetable, so I board the train. "I remember a time when a conductor could sell a ticket on the train, or you could give your name and address and pay the fare later. Not now." She said she wept when she was ejected.

"I felt utterly humiliated being put off the train like some criminal or violent hooligan," Ms Carey said. "To make things worse, it was scary sitting at a deserted railway station late on Saturday night, so despite my very limited income, I spent $15 to take a cab home. Now I'm angry that innocent people can be treated like this. "Why can QR afford to pay for plain-clothes police to act as ticket inspectors, yet can't pay the presumably much lower wages of a conductor? "What happens if it's the last train of the night? Who would be responsible if I'd been attacked while waiting on a lonely station? Can't they understand that most of us aren't trying to evade the fare?"

Police Minister Judy Spence has ordered an investigation.


Thursday, February 26, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is upset that thousands more Australian jobs have been lost and production moved to China

A great French ship visits Sydney

The Queen Mary 2 was built in the Alstom Chantiers de L'Atlantique shipyard in Sainte-Nazaire, France.

Details of the visit here

Australian economy unexpectedly strong

Thanks to business

Economists say the Australian economy may have escaped a quarter of negative growth after figures showed a surge in capital expenditure to almost $25 billion. Most economists had been expecting spending on buildings and equipment to fall in the December quarter, but today's official figures show a 6 per cent increase compared to the previous three months. It comes after figures yesterday revealed a stronger-than forecast performance in the construction sector.

CommSec had been forecasting that economic growth was flat in the quarter. But CommSec economist Savanth Sebastian says it is now predicting the economy expanded by 0.5 per cent. "There's no doubt that the global economy remains on its knees, but what we're really seeing is that the business sector's really driving growth in Australia," he said. "Rather than making any knee-jerk responses and cutting spending, it's the business sector that is actually increasing investment plans."


Cops kill black with pepper spray

If there were four of them holding him down, why did they need to spray him at all?

A man died shortly after being held on the ground by four police and sprayed with capsicum spray, an inquest heard yesterday. Coroner Greg Cavanagh was told the man's friends warned police not to spray him as he suffered from asthma. The man - who cannot be named for cultural reasons - was taken from the Palmerston home where the incident happened on January 1, 2008, to Royal Darwin Hospital but died later that night.

Eyewitness Simon Pascoe told the coronial inquest that people at the house had told police to let the man go and be careful because he had asthma. "Every time we tried to warn them, they said: 'Don't come any closer or we're going to use our spray on you'," he said.

The inquest heard there had been an argument over "grog" at the house, and a woman had called the police and told officers that the man needed to go to the sobering-up centre. An autopsy found he only had a blood alcohol concentration of .035 per cent. [legal to drive]

The inquest into the man's death will run concurrently with an inquest into the death of Alice Springs filmmaker Bob Plasto. He was arrested and ground-stabilised in Darwin on December 22, 2007 after staff at the Cavanagh Hotel called police when he was behaving irrationally. Police took him to Royal Darwin Hospital for a mental health assessment - but not until after he waited in a caged police car at the Darwin watch house for a shift change. He was pulled to the ground by police officers at the hospital and kept in custody while he was in hospital for several days before he died.


Queensland's rogue "Health" department again

Appalling bureaucratic indifference to the suffering of one of their own staff. Some hard old bitch at the top didn't care that a young nurse had been raped by a crazed black

QUEENSLAND Health officers acted inappropriately and insensitively when notified of a nurse being sexually assaulted on Mabuiag Island in the Torres Strait last year, a report has found. The damning report found members of the Torres Strait and Northern Peninsula Health Service District executive failed to manage the repatriation of the remote area nurse from the island in line with the seriousness of what had occurred. The nurse has welcomed the findings, saying she was keen to see system failures fixed so no other staff member was hurt. The morning after the attack last February, the nurse was allegedly told by superiors to forget about the incident and return to work. Her boyfriend chartered an aircraft to take her to safety.

A Queensland Health ethical standards unit investigation found "substantial evidence" of a systemic failure of the district executive to acknowledge and address workplace safety issues over a long period. QH director-general Mick Reid, who received the report on Monday, said last night the department accepted the investigation had found serious faults in the way staff had responded to the incident. The health service district CEO Cindy Morseu has been stood aside on pay over the investigation's finding, effective immediately. "It's not an easy thing to step someone aside. It's done with a lot of pain," Mr Reid said. "But the allegations are so significant and the findings are so clear that it would have been inappropriate of me not to take action."

Mr Reid said the Crime and Misconduct Commission had reviewed the report by the Ethical Standards Unit and was satisfied with the investigation. The report's findings were released on the Queensland Health website last night after a news conference planned for mid-afternoon was called off. Premier Anna Bligh, enduring a tough start to her campaign, had earlier told journalists she was unaware when the report was due to be released.

The issue erupted in State Parliament last year when the Opposition accused Health Minister Stephen Robertson of tabling a sanitised version of a security audit carried out 16 months before the attack. Although the report found alterations to a draft risk assessment did occur, the investigation found there was no external influence on the report's authors to doctor the document.

The Health Minister was briefed on the report's findings earlier this week.

Mr Reid said the partner of the woman concerned had also been advised about the report's findings. "I've offered him and her a full briefing regarding the findings," he said. They had not yet decided whether to take him up on that offer."

Queensland Nurses Union assistant secretary Elizabeth Mole told ABC Radio this morning the woman was keen to see system failures fixed so no other staff member was hurt. ``She's holding up okay,'' Ms Mole said. ``She actully welcomes the findings ... with some disbelief that this one component of the whole sorry saga has been concluded. She certainly feels that its good to have some closure on one component but she's got a long way to go.'' Ms Mole said the nurse was receiving workers' compensation but had not yet decided her future in the profession or with Queensland Health. ``She really is an amazing woman. She actually said she wants to make sure the systemic failures are fixed, she doesn't want to see this happen again. ``She's not interested in retribution.''

Ms Mole said members conceded it was challenging to provide health services in the Torres Strait Islands, but strong systems had to be put in place to ensure health workers' safety.


The public hospital lottery: Emergency patient ignored in one public hospital but treated well in another

An elderly woman was left untreated in Caboolture Hospital's emergency department for four hours despite having lost the use of a hand and a leg. She was later taken to another hospital for attention.

The case is one of two this month which have thrown doubt on the department's ability to provide timely treatment. The other involved a 10-year-old boy who had to wait six hours for a head wound to be stitched.

Helen Tansley said her 81-year-old mother, who did not want to be named, was lucky to be alive despite the lack of treatment for what turned out to be a blocked left femoral artery. ``Mum said no one spoke to her at all ... so it was difficult to understand how her level of emergency was determined,'' Mrs Tansley said of the February 7 incident.

Health officials have admitted the hospital was put on bypass four times in February. The hospital was on bypass on Tuesday afternoon, with some ambulances diverted to Redcliffe Hospital.

Caboolture Hospital executive director Caroline Weaver said patients were assessed by a triage nurse shortly after arrival, which was the case with Mrs Tansley's mother. Mrs Weaver said the emergency department was at capacity when she arrived.

Eventually the woman's husband took her home to Morayfield and called a doctor who arranged an ambulance to take her to Redcliffe Hospital, Mrs Tansley said. ``Treatment at Redcliffe in all aspects was fabulous,'' she said. This was in contrast to Caboolture, where she said staff were hostile and uncaring. ``We were appalled at the total neglect and the dreadful attitude and manner of all staff we encountered,'' Mrs Tansley said.

Mrs Weaver apologised. ``Sometimes during periods of intense activity the staff may appear rushed, and this is not meant as uncaring or disrespectful,'' she said.

In the other incident, an ambulance crew was taken off the road for three hours on February 10 to look after a boy waiting to be treated for a head injury. Mrs Weaver said that during busy periods, ambulance officers stayed with patients until a bed was available.

In the three months to December, Caboolture Hospital treated 14,069 people as inpatients or emergencies, a 14.6percent increase from the same period in 2007


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Big sharks right in Sydney harbour -- thanks to the Greenies

All sharks are now "protected" species in Australia

When we arrived about 10.45am Justin handed over one of the frigate mackerel his clients had just caught. With its blood red, oily flesh it was perfect shark bait. We did not use berley - mashed fish flesh, called chum in the US, and designed to attract sharks. Al rigged a stout gamefishing rod and reel filled with about a kilometre of 24kg strength line, attached a wire trace and smallish hook, and cast out a fillet of the frigate. Around us the little tuna - looking like lime green bullets - continued to feed, sometimes spearing half out of the water in their enthusiasm for their own tiny prey. The rod and reel are more at home chasing giant fish in the deep, many kilometres out to sea. But we were 10-15m from shore and our depth sounder read just 8m of flat bottom, with a drop-off to deeper water nearby.

Maybe 15 minutes later we knew something else besides frigate mackerel was out hunting. A bloke fishing in a tinny next to us cruised by and said: "I think I just saw a decent shark, just over in the really shallow water" as he pointed to the sandy shores less than 2m deep. Builders on shore, with the advantage of elevation enabling them to look deep into the water, waved and kept pointing to the same spot.

Within half an hour a brown shadow slid past the stern. About 1.8m long, it had the shape and colour of a bull shark. We also missed two tentative bites from what were most likely sharks. They do not always smash their prey and can be delicate feeders. Then, after only an hour drifting with the outgoing tide, and with Clifton Gardens' netted swimming enclosure a few hundred metres away, the fillet of frigate was swallowed. Line poured from the reel. "This is a shark, and it's a pretty big one," said Al.

The shark headed into the shipping channel, unstoppable. Half an hour after hook-up and the shark was still moving westwards, forcing us to motor at up to 10km/h. An hour after hook-up the shark appeared to be aiming for Garden Island, where navy diver Paul de Gelder was attacked on January 11. We manoeuvred our boat to try to force the shark towards the surface. Nothing seemed to be working until, finally, it swam into shallower water and began to tire.

An hour and a half after hook-up, with little warning, it gave up and could be led boatside. It made one last surge, a thick, broad, tan-coloured head breaching the surface, snow white teeth flashing in the sun, cream belly glowing, tail slapping the water. "It's a bloody big bull shark!" Al shouted.

Just as we were about to put a NSW Fisheries gamefish tag into its shoulders the shark's teeth overcame the wire trace and it was gone, leaving an upwelling of boiling water 2m across. We called it as a bull shark between 2.7m and 3m long. NSW Fisheries scientists will study photos of the shark. State Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald told The Daily Telegraph yesterday: "It is of a similar size to the one involved in the attack on the diver."


Greenie emissions plan for Australia set to be scuppered

The Federal Government's emissions trading scheme is heading for defeat in the Senate before it is even debated as independent Nick Xenophon and the Nationals' Barnaby Joyce rule out supporting the policy even with amendments. Senator Xenophon, who passed the Government's $42 billion stimulus package only after winning $1 billion in measures for the Murray-Darling Basin, told The Age he would vote against the scheme in its present form. But Senator Xenophon said he would not trade his vote for more money for the Murray-Darling or other programs, because he has fundamental problems with the design of the scheme.

Instead, Senator Xenophon is backing an alternative cap-and-trade program based on a Canadian model, which has been previously ruled out by Climate Change Minister Penny Wong. Senator Wong said in a speech on Friday that the Government would not delay nor change the details of its proposed cap-and-trade system.

If Senator Xenophon votes against the scheme, the Government will have to get the Opposition's support to pass it. However, Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce believes "there are not enough amendments" to fix the scheme, and indicated the Nationals would reject the scheme outright. Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull is still waiting on economic research scheduled to be delivered this week before determining the Liberal Party's position.

Senator Joyce told The Age "it didn't matter" what the Coalition policy would be because he would be asked to vote on the Government's proposal. "And I cannot back it because it will throw people out of their jobs and their homes and do incredible damage to the Australian economy," he said.

Senior Liberal sources said yesterday there was disagreement in the joint party room on what policy the Opposition should take, with support from many members of the Liberal back bench to vote against the Government's scheme outright rather than seeking to amend it.

An industry source close to the Liberal Party said "they (the Coalition) have no policy really, but they have made a decision to get on the front foot after the disaster that was last week and so they are talking about climate change probably more than they would like at this moment".

Mr Turnbull and environment spokesman Greg Hunt indicated yesterday that the Opposition would present policies that contain emissions cuts greater than the 5 to 15 per cent range by 2020 announced by the Government last year, but would not say if they would support an emissions trading scheme. Mr Turnbull is backing a range of other emissions reduction programs such as biochar offsets, energy efficiency in buildings and international forestation measures, which can be implemented into an emissions trading scheme or run as independent programs. The Liberals and the Greens are proposing a Senate inquiry to replace the House of Representatives inquiry that Treasurer Wayne Swan shut down on Thursday.

The Greens have proposed 13 terms of reference for the inquiry, including investigation into the adequacy of the Rudd Government's 2020 targets. But the Coalition and Greens, who need to join forces to establish the Senate inquiry, last night had not agreed to the terms. The Government is expected to release draft legislation for the emissions scheme this week.


Even FDR was keen to slash public servant pay packets

Horror of horrors!

By Alan Moran

In his essay in The Monthly on the global financial crisis, Kevin Rudd named me as a neo-liberal (which he didn't define, but which roughly translates as liberal meaning bad and neo meaning very) for proposing cuts in public sector wages. The Prime Minister argues that public servant wage reductions were a policy of one of his nemeses, Andrew Mellon, US treasury secretary in the Harding, Coolidge and Hoover administrations. He is unaware that one of the first acts of his hero and model Franklin D. Roosevelt, on becoming president in 1933, was to cut all government employees' pay by 15 per cent. It was Congress that reversed these cuts over the following year or so.

Such expenditure restraint policies are being followed by a range of governments, including those tied to the failed Keynesian approach that Rudd finds so attractive. President Barack Obama, in his first executive order, introduced a freeze on White House salaries. Singapore has reduced salaries of top public servants by 12per cent to 20per cent, with further cuts foreshadowed. The Irish Prime Minister is implementing an average 7per cent reduction in gross pay for everyone on the public payroll, in the form of a levy to finance their pensions.

Public servants have long pointed to wages in the private sector as beacons by which their remuneration should be measured. But the near guarantee of job security that public servants enjoy is worth a considerable premium compared with workers in the private sector. This has been recognised by London's mayor Boris Johnson, who has pointed out that in England the generosity of public service remuneration packages has become unacceptable in view of economies forced on private sector employees. Cost-saving economies by private sector businesses are widely evident in Australia. Jobs are being shed across the private sector. Alcoa workers are among those who have volunteered to accept a wages standstill to assist the company's competitiveness and nabCapital's January survey indicates private sector wages are beginning to fall.

Similar approaches must be followed by governments in Australia to ensure parity with the private sector. Moreover, state governments must drastically cut back recurrent expenditure on public service salaries if they don't want to face the fate of Queensland. Standard & Poor's downgrade of the Sunshine State's debt will add $200million to its interest bill.

Other states will face the same deficit pressures as their profligate spending is left high and dry by revenue shortfalls created by lower taxation income from resource exports, house sales and even the GST. Moreover state governments have less scope than federal governments to borrow (and no scope to print money). In the US, several states are already confronting the budget imbalances this creates. Speculation is mounting that California will fail to cut spending and be the first state to declare itself bankrupt.

For electoral reasons driven by the need for state Labor governments to keep sweet with the public sector unions, Australian states will seek to balance their budgets by raising taxes rather than shedding staff (or, heaven forbid, cutting salaries). But eventually, radical spending cuts will be required, though in Australia this normally requires a change in government.

Rudd's defence of paying a bloated public sector excessive wages is part of his fiscal stimulus philosophy based on a crude Keynesian formula that equates income with consumption, investment and government spending. The problem is that trying to boost income through government spending brings offsetting reductions in private spending and investment, and in doing so reduces the economy's productive capacity. The Rudd policy rests on the alchemy of government fiscal multipliers providing extra bang for every buck spent. While cash injections can boost regional economies, a national economy's multiplier is accompanied by a negative multiplier resulting from governments eating into private wealth and incomes. Hence the aggregate national multiplier is unlikely to diverge from zero.

We therefore have a combustible brew. Rudd's penchant for spending and profound mistrust of individuals making their own such decisions is combined with Treasury's advice. This is anchored in a poorly understood Keynesian framework and is abetted by business lobbies seeking a share of government spending spoils. Instead of a gentle economic warming, the measures proposed, which already amount to $80 billion and approach 10 per cent of gross domestic product, will torch the economy. Though having more scope to engage in imprudent deficit spending, even national governments have to confront reality once their deficit financing threatens lenders' risk preferences.

What is needed now is a careful husbanding of expenditures and reductions in the regulatory costs. Ironically, such measures were promoted by Small Business Minister Craig Emerson just as Rudd's essay calling for fiscal intemperance hit the streets.


Tough love a hard sell

By Australian columnist, Janet Albrechtsen

Playwright David Williamson has some advice for those of us on the conservative side of politics. In a long email exchange between us, he said conservatives lack compassion. Indeed, it is a constant refrain from critics on the Left. While much of this criticism is based on lazy and crude logic, Williamson deserves to be addressed for two critical reasons. First, to prove wrong the progressive myth that those on the Left have a moral monopoly over compassion. And second, to remind conservatives that they are sometimes their own worst enemy in articulating why their policies produce the best outcomes.

John Howard's first major foray into politics since his election loss in 2007 went part of the way towards debunking the myth that conservatives lack compassion. Last Thursday, Howard made a compelling case not merely that conservative policies have delivered the best outcomes for a greater number of people, but also installed an "Australian safety net" that strikes the right balance for the underprivileged.

As Howard said, the Australian welfare system rejects the "hard edges, sometimes verging on indifference, of the American approach" and the "overly paternalistic approach of many European countries". The idea of mutual obligation, introduced by Howard, was readily derided as lacking compassion for those in need by a welfare industry that hungers for and depends on bigger government. Yet by imposing an element of irritant, policies such as Work for the Dole and Welfare to Work recognised the best help is to encourage people out of fatalistic welfare dependency into a job.

That compassion does not depend on a government cheque is now part of the orthodox thinking on welfare. As Noel Pearson and others argue so powerfully, welfare without sensible limits and incentives is the antithesis of compassion.

Yet Williamson has a point about conservatives when he writes in his critique to me that "it's a hard sell to convince many that the `tough love' policies are better for us in the long term". Conservatives do need, as he tells me, to "grapple with the fact that the human brain is not totally rational", lest they be cast as irrelevant and out of touch.

However, embracing the legitimacy of Williamson's observations does not mean succumbing to every emotional call on the public purse or public policy. On the contrary, such claims need to be addressed partly by continued rigorous and rational analysis, partly by becoming more generous in response to genuine claims on our compassion and partly by embracing the kind of unabashed spin doctoring so favoured by progressives to explain their policies.

By staying true to their core value of rationality, conservatives are duty bound to vigorously analyse the merits of any claim on compassion. Given that many such claims are shameless attempts to extract money undeservedly from government, there are four filters that should be applied: the motive filter, the intestinal fortitude filter, the brains filter and the fashion filter.

Sometimes the call for compassion is hopelessly infected by improper motive. Frequently it is just a disguised political ploy, partisanship dressed up as nobility. For example, the Australian Human Rights Commission's report has exposed that under the Rudd Government children are still being held indefinitely in our detention centres. Yet the silence from activists has exposed previous calls for compassion from an uncaring Howard government as bogus, politically motivated stunts. The new-found silence suggests they do not care much about detained migrants, at least not enough to protest against a Labor government.

The fortitude filter is a simple recognition that appeasement is easy. How much easier to give in to every demand, buying peace for now, putting off until another day or another government, the harder task of saying no? Armchair moralists don't actually have to make decisions. Yet they denounce decision makers who have to think about both the present and the future.

A critical filter is the one about brains. So often the allegedly compassionate outcome is counterproductive in the long term, revealing that many compassion buffs just aren't that bright. Whoever dreamed up various forms of "sit down" money for indigenous Australians would have needed only the slightest hint of intellect to realise what a poison it would become.

And remember the fashion filter. What sometimes passes for compassion is just fashion - metaphorically and literally. Think of all those silly rubber bracelets championing every cause under the sun, readily discarded as whims change. David Hicks was undoubtedly the cause du jour in 2007. While there were legitimate criticisms from some quarters, many of his supporters refused to apply careful scrutiny to his conduct, which exposed as a fraud his candidacy for membership of the downtrodden, ill-treated and innocent.

Calls for compassion that fail these filters have been duly assigned to the scrap heap of poor policy. Sensible immigration controls, once derided by the Howard-haters, now feature as required policy even in Europe. Foreign aid is increasingly subjected to more rigorous thinking about accountability and outcomes rather than simply pouring more feel-good money into the pockets of corrupt governments. Anti-terrorism laws scoffed at by the bleeding hearts as unnecessary restraints are still with us. And the list goes on.

But that does not mean there is not room for improvement among conservatives. They often fail to explain their ideas and values through the prism of compassion. Even Margaret Thatcher fell for that trap when she declared there was no such thing as society. In fact, as the response to the Victorian bushfires reveals, a deep sense of society rests within most of us. There are certainly more legitimate claims for compassion that conservatives would admit. Disability carers and foster parents are just two groups who deserve more help than they get.

Finally, conservatives need to do a much better job in the spin and hype department if only to offset those keen to portray us as mean and hard-hearted. Williamson may be interested to learn that bleeding-heart purveyors of compassion are not always what they appear. A few years ago, Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks, a behavioural scientist, exposed the great myth of giving. In Who Really Cares: the Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism, his extensive research revealed that religious conservatives in nuclear families are far more generous, giving more to charity than the great pretenders - secular liberals who believe in government entitlement programs.

When conservatives learn that good policy is about winning hearts as well as minds, they will shake off this recurring theme that to be a conservative is to lack compassion.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG comments on the low standards of both Left and Right in Australian politics at the moment

Tasmanian health fear if climate heats up

This would be a most amusing article if it were not so dishonest and stupid. Quite aside from the basic fact that warm weather is better for you than cold weather (a lot more people die in winter than die in summer), the article is about Tasmania, which has a cool climate. And even under pessimistic assumptions, Tasmania would warm up only to the point where its climate is like Queensland today. And, writing as I do from Queensland, I can assure you that Queensland is flourishing in every way!

TASMANIA faces an ominous and burgeoning epidemic of chronic disease in its climate change future, the State's Director of Public Health said yesterday. Dr Roscoe Taylor said the spectre of an influenza pandemic was also very real. The foreseeable risks to health worldwide had been documented, he said, but Tasmania faced its share of public health concerns brought about after events that could only be attributed to climate change.

He said the increased frequency of extreme weather would cause physical injury and psychological instability, as the population became anxious about storm, drought or extreme heat events. "With changes in Tasmania's weather patterns, we will see more severe weather events," he said. "An ageing population of people living with chronic medical conditions might not readily cope with heat stress."

Longer term, Dr Taylor said drought would threaten reliable, nutritious food sources and water supply. "There are significant threats to public health and nutrition when our natural food sources are affected with seasonal interruptions," he said.

The extreme weather would also bring social isolation and anxiety. "There will be community anxiety about the future. We have to be careful not to transfer our own fears on to our children. "We have to give them a sense that they can minimise the risks and do something about the future."

Very real evidence of climate change across Tasmania's water supply was already playing itself out, he said. "We are seeing the impact of climate change on our water supply with increased and longer algal blooms," he said. "At Ross the population has had to seek alternative water supplies because of an ongoing blue-green algae outbreak, and on King Island blooms are appearing in the water catchment dams. "There are marine coastal blooms in the Huon and Statewide they are extending and lasting longer.

"These are subtle but definite effects of climate change. "It would appear that water scarcity is likely to persist, and a range of adaptation measures will be required to ensure the viability of communities and food supplies in the longer term."


Good idea for reducing bushfires

At least someone in politics is pointing at the totally avoidable cause of the fires

Fran Bailey wants to deny Victoria money for road building if the state fails to keep down bushfire fuel levels. The Liberal Member for McEwen broke down in Parliament yesterday as she revealed 195 of her constituents died in the Black Saturday fires. She called for federal road grants to state and local governments to be made conditional on controlled burning being done.

"Millions of dollars are provided to state and local governments for their roads," Ms Bailey told Parliament. "We need to tie that funding to fuel reduction programs because, unless we do something, nothing will be done. "This is something, colleagues, I hope we can have unanimous agreement on."

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised to consider "specific incentives" to ensure recommended fire safety measures, such as prescribed burning were done. He said too many recommendations from inquiries held after major fires had been ignored by governments. "I hate to think how many of those recommendations have not been acted upon by governments of whichever persuasion, of whichever level and at whichever point in history," he said.

Ms Bailey called for schools to be equipped with fire shelters. "Back in 1988, I have discovered, the Victorian Education Department had a plan to build 72 of what I call a community and school safe shelter," she said. "Only one has ever been built. We've got to do better than that." Ms Bailey also said businesses affected by the fires should receive government assistance, and early-warning systems should be introduced as soon as possible.

Yesterday was the first day session Ms Bailey had attended since Black Saturday. She stayed in her electorate to help constituents who had been affected by the fires. For several days, Ms Bailey kept her most precious belongings in the back of her car after deciding not to stay to defend her Healesville home. "I don't want any other Australian citizen to go through what my constituents have," she said yesterday.


Australia likely to cut immigration

Australia will likely cut the number of skilled immigrants allowed into the country next year, following the global economic downturn, the government said Monday. "I expect the numbers of our programme to drop next year as a reaction to the economic circumstances," Immigration Minister Chris Evans told reporters. He gave no indication of the size of the cut, but said the government would also reconsider which occupations should be on the critical skills list. "We will probably have a formal look at that in the next couple of weeks," Evans said.

Around 190,300 migrants were projected to arrive over 2008/09, with skilled workers accounting for most places in a programme designed when the forecast was for rapid economic growth and a skills crisis. But projections for growth have been slashed as the global economy slows, and some industries have already started cutting jobs.

Asian immigration has grown rapidly in recent years while the number of new arrivals from traditional source countries such as Britain and Italy has fallen, the latest census showed last month. "Country-of-birth groups which increased the most between 1996 and 2006 were New Zealand (by around 98,000 people), China (96,000) and India (70,000)," according to the census. "In contrast, European country-of-birth groups declined sharply over the same period -- Italy by 39,000 people, the United Kingdom by 35,000 and Greece by 17,000."

However, while the ratio of Asian immigration to European arrivals changed -- with six of the 10 most common birthplaces of migrants being Asian countries -- 92,000 Britons still accounted for most new residents. Apart from China and India, countries providing increasing numbers of immigrants included Malaysia, the Philippines, South Korea and South Africa.


An old, old story

Every now and again, some members of the Green/Left try to practice what they preach. It always ends up the same way

They thought they could change the world but what came of their dreams has haunted them ever since... The Universal Brotherhood was Australia's most celebrated alternative community attracting hundreds of young idealists who gave up everything to follow their very own New Age guru. Now 30 years later they're hosting a reunion to confront the sect's surviving leader about the paradise they created. and lost.

Compass on Sunday at 9.30pm on ABC1 charts the rise and fall of this uniquely Australian `cult' through rich film archive and the testimonies of Linda Moctezuma (nee Ward) and others as they prepare for a reunion, 30 years after it all fell apart.

The Universal Brotherhood was a home-grown spiritual movement that became Australia's most successful alternative community. Born in the early 1970s it flourished on a 300 acre farm near the small country town of Balingup, south of Perth. The movement attracted hundreds of young idealists who turned their backs on jobs, mortgages and a safe life in the suburbs. Instead, they cashed in their savings to follow their very own guru, 80-year old Fred Robinson - a self-styled eco-prophet who wanted to pioneer a model community that could save the planet, and mankind!

Robinson espoused a mixed bag of mystical teachings, New Age philosophies and old-fashioned Christian values. He'd also developed his own cosmic vision of the future involving `elder brothers' from outer space coming in UFOs with Christ to take them away if and when catastrophe destroyed the world. "They even bought a property that had an airstrip on it so that the elder brothers would have somewhere to land, and rescue us.

Now, there's only one thing more amazing than him saying that - and that's us believing it!" says Moctezuma who at 18, desperate to escape the insular world of Sydney's northern beaches, became one of the Brotherhood's first converts.

From a handful of pioneers, the Universal Brotherhood quickly grew. Within a year, it was almost completely self-sufficient: its young `disciples' putting into practice all Robinson's principles of biodynamic farming and holistic living. "And we really believed that it was a turning point for mankind. And we were going to be the spearhead, the leaders of this new age. We were creating the model that the whole world was going to be built on. And so we had this great responsibility to do it properly," says Moctezuma.

Among the followers was a young rock star, Matt Taylor. He'd just released a hit record, but sold everything to join the Brotherhood. "Because number one records weren't as important as finding out how the universe worked," says Taylor. On the farm the Brotherhood took care of everyone's food, shelter and clothing. Everything was shared, and everyone ate, played and prayed together. Life in the Brotherhood was deemed "safe and pure". The world outside increasingly viewed as dangerously corrupt.

Believing they had all the answers, the Brotherhood began cutting itself off from the rest of society. TV and radio were banned. And increasingly, control of the group was left to its governing council, a small group of advisers known as the `Centre Core', made up of Robinson's wife Mary and the Brotherhood's young co-founder, Stephen Carthew, a 23-year old from Sydney. "Mary had her belief that she slept at night and she had dreams and God spoke to her, and we then had to follow what God had said to her," says Susan Allwood who'd walked out of a promising fashion career in Melbourne to join the Brotherhood.

As time passed the Centre Core became more hardline, scrutinising the young followers' behaviour, and punishing them for minor misdemeanours or perceived weaknesses. Few dared to confess any doubt, anger or distress. The Brotherhood's utopian dream was only six years old when cracks appeared. The cult's leadership began to turn on some of its most faithful adherents.

By 1978 the New Age dream was all but over. The mood of the times had changed. Triggered by events like the Jonestown massacre, public opinion swung sharply against religious cults. "When Jonestown happened there was a moment where I thought, if Mary had said to us, `We've reached the right vibration; we don't need our bodies any more. We're all going to drink cyanide.' I wonder if we'd have done it?" asks former member Anita Chauvin.

The film follows Anita, Matt, Susan, Linda and others as they prepare for the reunion, searching for resolution to the years they put into the Brotherhood dream; years many have kept hidden, until now. Founder and former leader Carthew will also be at the reunion. He knows he has a lot to answer for and the scene is set for a dramatic showdown.


Monday, February 23, 2009

National pride rallies the fire survivors

Since our ancestors rapidly transformed a wilderness into a first world country, Australians have always been quietly proud of their ability to rise to any challenge, and that traditional pride is still a source of strength. The popular song "We Are Australian" is a very compressed history of Australians and the challenges they have risen to.

How well the early British settlers built a new country after their arrival in 1788 can be gathered from a report of 1828 in "The Australian" newspaper of the day. A ship arrived from England with smallpox on board, which was immediately notified to the appropriate authorities. The ship was sent to Neutral Bay in quarantine and the Sydney population warned. Thousands of people had cowpox vaccinations as a result. After official investigations, the ship was allowed to disembark on August 5th. So Sydney was a pretty sophisticated place by that time. A "visiting English gentleman" also writing in "The Australian" around that time was surprised to find Sydney comprised of substantial brick and stone buildings instead of the mud huts and log cabins he had expected. He found it "a bustling, elegant and extensive city" with shops as good as London's but with much cleaner air. So the early settlers (many of whom were convicts) had built well in just 40 years. I personally am descended from a convict who arrived on the ship just mentioned

"We Are Australian" plays at the memorial service in Melbourne, and in Whittlesea, two Salvos stand. Slowly, uncertainly, about 300 others around them rise to their feet and start clapping. At first it is in time to the song, but soon it is applause - for themselves, for everyone.

For most of the 90-minute service, Kinglake evacuees and Whittlesea residents have listened, mostly heads down. It is respectful and expected, but they seem more bowed by the weight of thoughts. Some weep at the sight of a wreath, others at pictures of a green valley shrouded in fog, not smoke.

But a change comes near the end of the broadcast. They hold hands and smile. Behind the seating, a new mum dances with her babe in arms. The strength has come from somewhere and everywhere, from each other, Melbourne and around Australia. It is strength to go on.

From 10am, mourners at the Whittlesea service trickle in gently. One girl wears a T-shirt with the message: "Together in strength we can rebuild Victoria". Some wear wrist bands that give access to the mountain and what's left there of Kinglake. Many Kinglake residents, though, are behind roadblocks at their own service on their mount. At Whittlesea, Australian flags fly from prams and are draped over shoulders.

About 400 plastic seats are under marquees beside portable party hire cool rooms. For a fortnight life has been makeshift like that. Walker Reserve, the cricket oval, is a mass of dust and dead grass. Two Sundays earlier it was a car park for emergency vehicles and refuge from the blazes. A smoke haze still hangs over the hills and fire helicopters fly overhead.

As the many tributes end, a wiry looking bloke with a beard strokes his wife's arm. Peter Petkovski, wife Lena and boys Ricky, Paul, Tony and Mark lost their Long Gully Rd, Flowerdale, home and much more. Mrs Petkovski can't bear yet to think of returning there. She says the service was overwhelming. "This has just made me stronger," she says.

Her husband can't bear the thought of not going back. "There's too much history. A lot of my friends died there. You can't throw that away," he said after the service.


Major Australian political parties in climate of confusion

MALCOLM Turnbull's new focus on greenhouse gas reduction policy is simply a diversion from internal problems in the opposition, Climate Change Minister Penny Wong says. The Opposition leader - who has been fending off renewed speculation about the ambitions of Peter Costello - has seized on the Government's emissions trading scheme (ETS) policy, flagging a Senate inquiry to replace the one the Government axed last week.

But today Liberal MPs were unwilling to define their policy with frontbencher Christopher Pyne telling ABC Television: "Everything's on the table.'' Emissions trading spokesman Andrew Robb was also reluctant to provide more details. "We will specify that in clearer terms later on,'' he said, when asked for a specific reduction target. Queensland backbencher Stuart Robert was happy to attack the Government, but unable to offer clear advice on where the Opposition was heading. "The Government's ETS will cost jobs,'' Mr Robert said in Canberra.

Mr Turnbull has also signalled a more ambitious greenhouse gas reduction target than the Government's 5-15 per cent by 2020, and a less complex scheme for achieving the target. The Government has dismissed the new stance, saying it is a mirage.

However the Government is also grappling with what the final shape of its emissions policy will be. Senator Wong says the Government has always acknowledged the need for additional policies to its planned emissions trading scheme. But turning Australia from one of the most carbon-intensive economies in the world to a low-pollution one requires the "hard'' economic reform of an ETS.

"Mr Turnbull knows this,'' Senator Wong said. The only reason he is walking away from the ETS is because of deep divisions in the Liberal Party, she said. "Many ... simply do not want to take action on climate change.''

Tasmanian Labor MP Dick Adams said he leant toward starting with a lower reduction target. "We can't go about sending our capital offshore and therefore costing us one hell of a lot of jobs. "I'm a minimalist in this debate, let's start, let's get a scheme out there and then let's deal with that over a period of years.''

South Australian Government backbencher Amanda Rishworth said it was hard to believe anything the Opposition said about climate change. "I don't believe what Malcolm Turnbull does say because he's dealing with a party that is filled with climate change sceptics.'' [Heartening news!]


Warmist laws to butcher Australian farm production

The nation's agricultural output would be slashed by $2.4 billion a year by 2020 under Kevin Rudd's carbon pollution reduction scheme. Losses to the farming sector would balloon to $10.9 billion a year by 2030, driven by production declines of more than 25 per cent in the beef and wool industries, a report by the Centre for International Economics has found. The forecasts are based on the federal Government's White Paper assumption that agriculture will have to pay for its emissions by 2016.

The study, prepared for the Australian Farm Institute in conjunction with Australian Wool Innovation and Dairy Australia, finds the sheepmeats, pork and dairy sectors will also be hit hard, with production drops by 2030 of 21 per cent, 10.4 per cent and 8.1 per cent respectively. Producers will experience a big rise in ETS-related costs even before agriculture's inclusion in the scheme because of increased energy, fertiliser and transport costs, the study finds.

The increased cost of Australian products is expected to cause export volumes to decline. Exports of beef and sheep are projected to decline by 14 per cent and 10 per cent respectively by 2030 if agriculture is included in an emissions trading scheme. David Pearce, of the Centre for International Economics, said the research body had been surprised by the size of the fallout expected to hit the livestock-based industries of beef, sheepmeat, wool and dairy. "There is a cost increase for the cropping industries but nowhere near as big as for the meat-based," he said. "One of the key things we show is that agriculture will be affected by the scheme whether or not it is a participant. "Parts of agriculture are energy intensive; they use inputs which involve energy, fertilisers, chemicals; they also use a lot of transport in order to shift commodities around the country."

Peter Heelan, 52, who runs cattle at his Ulcanbah Station, 90km from Clermont in central Queensland, said he knew one thing about the Prime Minister's ETS: it was going to cost him money, which could not be worse timed following the floods and droughts that had hit rural Australia in recent years. "Everyone in the bush is hoping the ETS will go away," Mr Heelan said. "We're at the end of the line. We can't pass it on but everything will be passed on to us - the cost of electricity, transport, any fodder you've got to buy, it's all likely to rise. "The ETS will send some people to the wall. I'm sure a lot of bush people have large debts after floods and droughts. Things are tight enough as they are."

Australian Farm Institute head Mick Keogh said the report showed the impact of the emissions trading scheme would be far greater than the projected slowdown under the unlikely worst case scenarios developed by Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics. "The biggest threat to agriculture over the next half century is not climate change, it is climate change policy," Mr Keogh said, adding that the ETS had the potential to do profound and long-lasting damage to the sector. "Even the most conservative projection of 9 per cent reduction in the beef industry by 2020 represents $1.5 billion reduction in output, which would lead to a significant loss of job opportunities and major changes to regional economies," Mr Keogh said. "That would amount to a massive change in rural communities."


Increased croc danger due to protection

A different Battle of the Boyne

Dangerous saltwater crocodiles may be expanding into new territory in southern Queensland under a "huge recovery" in numbers, experts have warned. One world-renowned crocodile expert believes Queensland needs to reconsider culling, with increased sightings of maneater-sized reptiles in southern parts of the state. Prominent researchers Professor Grahame Webb, from Darwin, and Professor Gordon Grigg, from the University of Queensland, said the state's existing crocodile management plan was "inadequate". They say there is insufficient data about crocodile movements and numbers.

But Environmental Protection Agency director-general Terry Wall hit back, saying that since November last year, the EPA had responded quickly and effectively to more than 40 separate crocodile reports and incidents around the state [Not counting those who got killed and eaten by crocs, I guess]. "There is no evidence of crocodile populations expanding beyond the accepted range, the southerly extreme of which is the Boyne River," Mr Wall said. "Crocodiles do, from time to time, turn up south of the Boyne and a large animal was shot in the Logan River south of Brisbane in 1905. This is a rare occurrence." He denied there had been any explosion in saltwater crocodile numbers, saying "available data showed population recovery was slow" due to predators eating eggs, the low survival rate of hatchlings and illegal fishing.

But the experts say there has been too little research. Professor Webb, head of the United Nations crocodile specialists group, said claims of a static population were "nonsense". "There has been a huge recovery in population," he said, suggesting it might be time to bring back the gun.

His comments come amid heated debate over culling after the death of crocodile attack victim Jeremy Doble, 5, who was taken by a 4.3m crocodile on the Daintree River on February 8. His parents, Steve and Sharon Doble, who operate crocodile tours, asked that the animal not be harmed. It will be sold to a crocodile farm.

Professor Webb said many Queenslanders appeared to be croc-huggers. "They are a large and dangerous predator that extends up and down the east coast of Queensland," Professor Webb said. "There is nothing wrong with removing crocs by shooting or culling because their populations are robust. "Crocs cause the biggest problem when they suddenly appear in areas, when they are moving around trying to find new territory." Professor Webb said that while the climate and terrain of the Northern Territory and parts of Cape York was ideal for crocodiles, they were known to move as far south as Coffs Harbour in New South Wales.

University of Queensland Emeritus Professor of Zoology Gordon Grigg, who is writing a book on crocodile biology, said the EPA needed to do more regular surveys. "We've had sporadic surveys and I think we'd be better if they were done more frequently," he said. "The EPA needs to know a lot more about the animals, where they are, what numbers, and where they can be in possible conflict with humans." Only then could informed decisions be made about how to handle them.

He said reports of resident crocs in the state's southeast should not be dismissed. "It is certainly not impossible, salties would not be able to breed and raise young as far south as Coffs Harbour or Brisbane, but certainly a largish croc is able to come down this far south. "I suspect if they did come this far they'd be lost, they'd have swum the wrong way, they'd be strays."

Professor Craig Franklin, of the University of Queensland, said humans were encroaching more and more on crocodile territory as people ventured more into their zone. "In the end we have to learn to live alongside crocodiles as we will never completely remove them," he said. "My fear is that people who believe a cull is the solution will ultimately lead people into a false sense of security, simply because you might remove them for the short term, but next week, next month or next year another one will appear in the system."

Estuarine crocodiles, also known as salties, are protected nationally and listed as "vulnerable" in Queensland. Hunting was banned in 1971. It is estimated there are up to 80,000 wild crocodiles around Australia. In 2007, an EPA vessel-based survey of 47 Queensland rivers stretching from the Endeavour River near Cooktown to the Burnett River near Bundaberg, identified 289 crocodiles of varying sizes. The next study is set down for late this year.

Under the latest EPA estuarine crocodile management plan released last month, authorities are allowed to remove up to 50 problem crocodiles a year from the wild to be placed in captive crocodile facility. Last year seven were removed, compared with 12 the previous year. All crocodiles trapped south of the Boyne are removed from the wild. Satellite tracking of three large male crocodiles, between 3m and 4m long, shows the prehistoric creatures can swim up to 30km a day.

One relocated croc swam 400km in 20 days, displaying an impressive homing instinct by returning to within metres of its former territory on the other side of Cape York Peninsula in a single journey. [So much for all the good that relocating them does]


Sunday, February 22, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG comments on the scandalous $500,000 office refit proposed for an incoming NSW government minister

How to protect the guilty and endanger the innocent

Criminals allowed to hide their past in Left-run Victoria

Violent criminals and sex offenders are being allowed to change their names by deed poll, helping them hide their pasts and reduce the risk of revenge attacks. Criminals and sex offenders not listed on a registry can pay $58.80 and change their name by deed poll. And while the worst sex offenders face name-changing restrictions, they can still apply to authorities to hide their identities.

The Adult Parole Board said 21 of 25 parolees who had applied for a new name were approved. But the State Government and police have refused to say how many registered sex criminals and prisoners in total have been given the green light for new identities. All three agencies have refused to identify the criminals granted new identities, saying it would breach confidentiality.

But the Sunday Herald Sun understands some criminals are listing fears of revenge attacks from vigilantes as the reason for wanting to change their names. Laws were toughened after it was discovered notorious pedophile Brian "Mr Baldy" Jones wanted to change his name to Shaun Paddick, in an insult to his victims, whose hair he cut. Frankston serial killer Paul Denyer also announced plans to change his name to "Paula".

Crime victims' advocates have slammed the process as a free ride and warned name-changing criminals could easily strike again. The revelations came amid concerns that a serial pedophile jailed this month could be out by October. Jamie Armstrong, 28, of Mt Duneed, pleaded guilty in Geelong County Court to 30 counts of sexually assaulting seven children under 16, and two counts of assault with intent to rape. Armstrong's victims were aged two to 11 and he told police he was always in danger of reoffending, the court heard. He had previously been placed on a community-based order and completed the sex offenders' program, after admitting to indecently assaulting a girl at a pool in 1999. He was sentenced this week to four years' jail with a minimum of 18 months. But having served 10 months on remand he could be out in October.

Anti-child abuse campaigner Hetty Johnston said child sex criminals should be given life sentences on their second offence and no sex offenders should be able to change their names. Parole Board spokesman David Provan said police were notified when criminals changed their names.


Frozen human egg system improved

THE first "frozen egg" baby born in Australia through a revolutionary technique will give single women and couples greater choice for having children later in life. Lucy was born last October to a Sydney couple, and the success is expected to spark huge interest in the technique.

Freezing has been relatively unsuccessful until now because human eggs are so fragile. It has grown out of a demand from mainly single women in their 30s who want to delay childbirth. The $10,000 process is also suitable for cancer patients who store eggs before radiation or chemotherapy, which often damage the reproductive system. The technique would also be used by women who have a family history of early menopause. Because of low success rates in the traditional method of slow egg freezing, women have had to take their chances by relying on IVF, sometimes leaving it too late.

Since July 2006, Sydney IVF has been testing the process, which boasts almost a 100 per cent success rate in freezing and thawing eggs. The IVF breakthrough works by snap-freezing the egg, which avoids ice crystals forming in the cell and damaging genetic material. Vitrification is used around the world to freeze embryos, but has never been successfully used in Australia for eggs.

Dr Kylie de Boer, general manager of Sydney IVF, said she expected numbers of women and couples wanting to freeze their eggs to soar. "Women want to have their eggs frozen for social reasons, such as they are not ready to have children, or for medical reasons," she said. "We get about 5-10 inquiries a month now for egg freezing for social reasons." Only 25 couples so far have used the process, which involves up to 10 eggs being collected and stored in liquid nitrogen vapour. The pregnancy rate is about 63 per cent.

Lucy's parents, who do not wish to be identified, used the process as part of their IVF treatment. Her mother was 37 when she had her eggs frozen. They were stored for six months before being fertilised and the embryo implanted. Now with a healthy girl, the 38-year-old mother said she would recommend it to other women. "My husband and I are so happy with our beautiful little girl," she said. "My pregnancy was textbook and the birth was a natural one, and occurred at full term. "We would love to have more children and will opt for IVF treatment once again."


Kevin Rudd isolated on emissions trading scheme

The Rudd Government is increasingly isolated on the emissions trading scheme, with business supporters demanding further concessions to mitigate its immediate impact and green groups and the Coalition intensifying their attacks. A day after the Government was forced to confirm publicly it was sticking by its plans to introduce an ETS in July next year, after cancelling an inquiry into the scheme, the Opposition accused the Government of being divided on the issue and the Business Council of Australia said more action was needed to reduce its impact on business during the economic crisis. Opposition climate change spokesman Greg Hunt said indecision and internal division were behind Thursday's decision to dump a House of Representatives inquiry into the ETS.

The BCA, which gave guarded approval to Labor's plans last year, now says the Government has to find a way to minimise the initial cost of the scheme if it comes into effect in July next year. Policy director Maria Tarrant said the economic crisis meant "the Government has to think of a way to minimise the scheme's impact in the early years after its introduction on July 1 2010". "There are likely to be big questions as to whether companies will have the cash flow to buy the permits they need, or invest in the emission-reducing technologies they need at that time and still remain viable," Ms Tarrant said. "It could put many companies' ongoing operations at extreme risk."

With green criticism intensifying, Climate Change Minister Penny Wong yesterday warned environmentalists the ETS was their best chance to see an early reduction in Australian greenhouse gas emissions. Green groups have argued the scheme's lack of ambition and already generous industry compensation means it is fatally flawed. Senator Wong said: "We have a chance now to reduce Australia's emissions next year or, if we fail, to simply allow our emissions to grow. The most responsible thing to do, even in this economic environment, is to start the hard task of reducing our emissions right now."

Australia Institute executive director Richard Denniss and others have advanced the argument that an ETS means an individual's or state's efforts to voluntarily reduce emissions have no impact on the country's total level of greenhouse gas, and that a carbon tax would be a better answer. But Senator Wong rejected those arguments as well. "If you are serious about climate change a carbon tax is not the answer," Senator Wong told The Weekend Australian.

But the federal Coalition appears to be hardening in its opposition to the scheme. And the Australian Industry Group agrees the Government needs to "look at every option" to ameliorate the early costs, warning the effects of the economic crisis risk "fracturing any consensus around this issue".

Among options being canvassed by industry groups are a plan advocated by Professor Ross Garnaut for a low fixed price on carbon in the first two years of the scheme, offering trade-exposed industries all their permits for free in first few years, starting the scheme as a "dry run" without actually charging for permits and offering industries exemptions or holidays from the cost of the renewable energy target.

Coalition emissions trading spokesman Andrew Robb told Sky news yesterday the scheme was a "total failure". And Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout said the global financial crisis had "amplified the negative effects of the emissions trading scheme many times over".

Executives from Virgin Blue also told the Senate fuel and energy committee yesterday they were "deeply concerned about the planned timing of the introduction" of the emissions trading scheme. "Even in the most benign circumstances, the (emissions trading scheme) is effectively a tax on investment and growth," said Virgin Blue general manager Simon Thorpe.

The Government is drafting its legislation. It says it intends to try to pass it through both houses of parliament by June, but most observers believe debate will continue later in the year. The Greens have said they are willing to negotiate with the Government over the legislation, but also believe the scheme as it stands is deeply flawed.


Weapons offences have jumped in Victoria

So much for the gun ban

Weapons offences in Victoria have doubled in the past decade. Almost 7000 offences involving guns, knives and other weapons, bombs and explosives were recorded last year. That is up from 6716 crimes detected in 2006-2007 and 3472 crimes in 1998-1999. Hundreds of Victorians were found to be illegally in possession of guns, including pistols, or ammunition, explosives and illegal fireworks.

The most recent figures available show 19 people were caught possessing, carrying or using unlicensed long-armed firearms such as rifles and 17 were caught using a firearm in a dangerous manner. People caught with a gun while prohibited from possessing a weapon numbered 172. A further 16 people were caught trying to take a weapon into court premises, 24 were caught either carrying or using a gun in a public place and 44 using or carrying a gun in a populous place. Eleven people carried a gun while drunk.

There has been a big rise in the number of people charged with arming themselves with pistols or handguns and 258 people were caught in possession of an unregistered handgun. Two people were charged with possessing body armour without approval, while 30 people were charged with selling a firearm to an unlicensed buyer.

Police recorded a clearance rate of 98.5 per cent, meaning they identified the person responsible for the most of the crimes. Police Association secretary Sen-Sgt Greg Davies said people were increasingly likely to turn to weapons if they had been abusing drugs or alcohol, rather than relying on their fists in a fight. "In years gone by you always had the drunken punch-up," he said. "But more and more people are prepared to arm themselves and use a weapon." Sen-Sgt Davies said this had contributed to a rise in serious injuries being sustained by young men and women who were attacked by people with weapons.