Tuesday, March 31, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks that the new antibiker laws in NSW are a stupid kneejerk reaction that will make criminals out of a lot of innocent people. Similar laws are planned in other States.

Paternalism harms rather than helps blacks

Just giving them dole money without restriction was disastrous too. Cutting off the dole altogether and just providing soup kitchens is the one thing that might work

The Sunrise Health Service covers 112,000 square kilometres of the Northern Territory east of Katherine and is at the frontline in dealing with the health parts of the intervention. All but one community within its area are subject to the intervention's measures, including welfare quarantining.

Sunrise has compared data collected before and since the intervention and the results are dispiriting. Anaemia is an iron deficiency that leads to poor growth and development, and as such is an indicator for the general health of children. Since the intervention, anaemia rates in the area have jumped significantly. In the six months to December 2006, 20 per cent of children were anaemic. A year later the figure had increased to 36 per cent, and by June last year it had reached 55 per cent, where it stayed in the last six months of 2008. Now, more than half the area's children face big threats to their physical and mental development. In two years, 18 months of which was under the intervention, the anaemia rate nearly trebled.

There is also a worrying rise in low birth weight among babies. In the six months leading up to the intervention, 9 per cent of children had low birth weights. This rose to 12 per cent in December 2007, and to 18 per cent six months later. By the end of last year, it was 19 per cent, double the figure at the start of the intervention.

Since compulsory income management of welfare payments began in the region in late 2007, there have been documented instances when it affected people's capacity to buy food. This included diabetics, who with no local store access were unable to access food for weeks at a time. Their response to this situation was to sleep until food became available.

Income management has not reduced alcohol or drug consumption - indeed, alcohol restrictions on prescribed communities has merely shifted the problems to larger towns or bush camps. And it has not stopped "humbug" or the conversion of Basic Card purchases into cash for grog. There is also no evidence that it has increased the consumption of fresh food among Aboriginal families, which is vital to fighting anaemia.

There was strong agreement about the need to protect women and children from violence and to improve the socioeconomic position of Aboriginal families between those who designed and welcomed the intervention and those who questioned its methods. The key criticism from those of us asking questions was why all the evidence of what is known to work to make communities safer and to improve education and health was ignored in favour of expensive, untried, top-down, heavy-handed policy approaches.

On Friday, the Government is expected to endorse the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, along with the national apology to the stolen generations, another symbolic shift from the Howard government's indigenous policy. But there are still striking similarities between the practical approaches of the former government and the present. Nowhere is that clearer than the continuation of the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act, the right to appeal to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal and the right to seek redress under the Northern Territory anti-discrimination legislation.

The suspension of the right to seek redress have left those people subject to welfare quarantining with no avenues of complaint if they feel unfairly treated. And there are more reasons to be concerned about continuation of the intervention without reflection on what is working and what is not.

While the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, has said she is relying on conversations with some people about the need to continue without reviewing the policy, the evidence on the ground - like that from Sunrise - suggests it is time for the Government to seriously rethink the mechanisms it is using in the Northern Territory, especially around welfare quarantining.

There are two challenges for the Government over its indigenous policy. The first is to make it compliant with the standards it supports in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The second is to make real its promise that it will be led by the evidence of what works rather than ideologies that don't. Both challenges will lead to more positive steps to addressing the socioeconomic disparity experienced by Aboriginal communities and the issues of protecting women and children that has been the justification of the intervention.


Melbourne public hospital lied over waiting lists

THE Royal Women's Hospital has been systematically lying about its surgery waiting list for almost a decade, says a damning report that has forced the Government to overhaul Victoria's hospital funding system. Health Minister Daniel Andrews yesterday apologised to patients who waited months longer for surgery than the Women's has claimed since the late 1990s. He said an independent audit — commissioned after The Age earlier this month revealed the hospital had incorrectly reported data to the Government — confirmed the creation of a "second waiting list" that was disguising the hospital's real performance.

About 180 patients waiting for semi-urgent surgery every year waited an average of 95 days longer than the hospital was reporting, the audit found. This occurred in the context of inadequate scrutiny at the executive level. The finding comes after The Age revealed allegations last May that hospitals were manipulating data to meet benchmarks for bonus funding. Mr Andrews consistently denied the practice was taking place and refused to investigate.

In response to the audit's finding, Mr Andrews yesterday announced that:

* A long-standing $40 million bonus funding pool used to reward hospital performance would be scrapped.

* Six hospitals would be audited without warning every year.

* Patients would be notified in writing if their waiting-list status changed, so they could challenge any discrepancies.

Mr Andrews said he was furious about the audit results and put all Victorian hospital boards on notice that data manipulation was unacceptable. "Health services are accountable for their data and there is an expectation that they record and report it accurately," he said.

The audit of the Royal Women's Hospital found that although staff spoke of "two waiting lists" in front of senior and executive management, executives claimed they knew nothing of it. A "data-entry instruction sheet" revealed that when patients neared a benchmark for how long they should wait, they were put on a secret list, which effectively stopped the clock.

The Government rewards most hospitals with bonus funding if they meet performance benchmarks, but the Royal Women's is not on this list. Mr Andrews said it had previously been on the list and that data manipulation appeared to be a long-standing practice potentially motivated by the incentives. He said he had appointed a delegate to the board of the Royal Women's to ensure the fraud was eliminated. The secretary of the Department of Human Services had received the report and would take legal advice on what action could be taken against those involved, he said.

Royal Women's chief executive Dale Fisher said she had ordered a clinical review to establish whether patient care was affected by the list rorting. She said that, "on the face of it", there was no effect on patients because the list manipulation did not change the booking date of an operation, only the report of the patient's waiting time. "The people got treated at the next available opportunity," she said.

But Ms Fisher admitted it might have hurt the hospital's gynaecological department. "That's one of the disappointing things … that it did compromise our view of demand in gynaecology," she said. "We could have strategically allocated more resources." She said "appropriate disciplinary action" would be taken against staff involved in the practice. This could range from counselling to sacking — but no one had yet lost their job.

Ms Fisher defended her management of the hospital, saying there was no reason the executive team would have spotted the practice, because it was designed to "iron out" the kinds of peaks and troughs that drew management attention. "I am pleased that we found the problem and fixed the problem," she said.

But Ms Fisher said she may never have realised the seriousness of the issue if it was not for a report in The Age this month about waiting-list fraud in unnamed hospitals — a month after she knew about the list problem at her own hospital. "When I found this … I viewed it as a management problem that we needed to fix. The level of seriousness was raised as a result of that article … It was the issue of possible fraud (that) raised the level of seriousness." The hospital will centralise training of staff to get greater control over data reporting, and its internal auditors have been asked "to make sure we're not missing anything else".

The Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association, Doug Travis, welcomed the decision to scrap the bonus pool, saying it would allow hospitals to focus on patient care. "There has been a culture in Victorian hospitals to hit your (key performance indicators) no matter what," he said. "Our community needs to be assured that hospital funds and resources are directed where they are needed."

Shadow health minister Helen Shardey said the Government's response was inadequate because six random audits a year would allow a major hospital to go three years without being audited. "There should be an immediate independent audit of all hospital waiting lists," she said.


Military not ready for war as fighter jets, choppers and submarines unfit for frontline

BILLIONS of dollars of fighter jets, warships and military equipment cannot be used in their current state because they would be too vulnerable to enemy fire. A critical lack of upgraded weaponry has left the Australian Defence Force unable to deploy most of its frontline fighters or warships at short notice against any enemy with modern air defence systems or anti-ship missiles.

An investigation by The Australian reveals much of the ADF's most powerful weaponry is awaiting upgrades or promised replacements and is useful only for training purposes or deployment on operations where there is little or no risk of high-level conflict. As such, the ADF, which receives $22 billion in taxpayer funds each year, cannot conduct any high-level operations without substantial support from coalition forces such as the US.

Former Defence official Allan Behm said: "I think the public would be absolutely astonished and gobsmacked to think we spend so much on defence every year and yet we can't send much of it into harm's way because it won't work or it will not survive in a contest."

Defence experts say none of the RAAF's soon-to-be-retired F-111 strike bombers nor the majority of the 71 F/A-18 Hornet fighters can be used against modern air defences because they lack sufficient electronic protection.

Similarly, they say the navy's eight Anzac frigates cannot be sent into a hotly contested war zone because of a lack of defensive weaponry, while the four other frigates, the FFGs, are still unavailable after a bungled and delayed $1.5 billion upgrade.

Experts say the problem reflects a litany of delayed equipment upgrades as well as a Defence Department mindset that focuses more heavily on future purchases than on current operations. They say the proper balance between current and future defence needs has been lost. Daniel Cotterill, former chief of staff for Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon, told The Australian: "There is a bias within Defence towards investing in the future force rather than giving government the fully functioning options they really need today."

The Government is in the final stages of preparing a Defence white paper that will outline a multi-billion-dollar shopping list of new planes, ships and hi-tech weaponry. But the ADF is in a parlous state of readiness for serious conflict.

A deficiency in anti-submarine warfare capabilities means the navy would be unlikely to risk sending surface ships into zones where enemy subs were present. Andrew Davies, an analyst with the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said: "Our ability to actively search for submarines is very limited to short-range technologies and we have little or no ability to successfully fire a weapon at a modern submarine." Only half of the six-boat Collins-Class submarine fleet is available and a shortage of crew would make it impossible to sustain operations for long.

The army cannot deploy any of its 33 Blackhawk helicopters into warzones, including Afghanistan, because they remain vulnerable to shoulder-launched missiles. It is also considered unlikely to deploy its M113 armoured personnel carriers because, despite receiving a $500 million upgrade, the M113s are considered vulnerable to large improvised explosive devices, such as those used by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Experts say the Government needs to pressure the ADF to make its existing equipment more operationally effective rather than wait for future replacements.


Keystone Keelty should be fired

FEDERAL Police Commissioner Mick Keelty can duck an issue better than George Bush dodges flying shoes. According to Keelty, the security at an airport where a man was bludgeoned to death last week - in full public view and for many minutes - was "acceptable". You wouldn't use that line at the Comedy Festival. The crime shocked the nation, but the arrogant Keelty seemed pretty relaxed about it.

He has now caught the attention of a few people who want him sacked, a call I have been making for more than a year. Keelty's Keystone moments are too many to mention.

Last year he called for undemocratic restrictions on the reporting of terror-related cases, evidence that he does not appreciate the instruments of the democracy he is paid to protect.

Later, AFP officers were reported to have called the panicking family of Melbourne backpacker Britt Lapthorne, missing in Croatia, aggressively instructing them on how they should behave.

They should "tone down" their language, "ignore the media" and "think of the bigger picture". The dignified parents of the doomed Lapthorne wouldn't have said to Keelty's men what most would.

Young Scott Rush will be shot dead in Indonesia soon for trying to import heroin from Indonesia to Australia. But Scott's dad had a lawyer call a mate attached to the AFP to see if the boy could be stopped at the airport. Instead, the AFP passed on Scott's details to their Indonesian counterparts and he strolled beneath the sign that read "Departures" and on to his grim fate.

Under Keelty, the AFP made fools of themselves - and Australia - by pursuing a suburban doctor, Muhamed Haneef, who someone clearly believed to be a terrorist.

Upwards of $7.5 million was wasted as the AFP had 250 officers on the case, assisted by 225 Queensland police, 97 interstate coppers, six Customs staff, six translators, four officers from other forces and two British police.

If Haneef is a terrorist, and 600 investigators missed their man, Keelty should be sacked. If he is a harmless doctor and we spent all that money trying to prove otherwise, Keelty should be sacked. Keelty should be sacked.


Monday, March 30, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG says that was mainly the young and the foolish who observed earth hour
This is pretty disgraceful: Man imprisoned on such weak evidence that it did not even go to trial

These police "taskforces" seem to let their task go to their heads and think that suspicion alone is enough to imprison someone. One is reminded of the AFP's chaotic and dishonestly-handled Haneef case

An alleged Melbourne gangland figure has been cleared of a charge of murder. Police alleged Angelo Venditti, 43, of Aspendale Gardens, hired slain hitman Andrew "Benji'' Veniamin and another man to carry out the contract killing of drug dealer Paul Kallipolitis in 2002.

Senior Crown prosecutor Geoffrey Horgan SC today requested the charge against Mr Venditti be struck out during his committal hearing at the Melbourne Magistrates' Court.

Outside court, Mr Venditti said he was "ecstatic''. Reading from a prepared statement, he said the day marked an end to a traumatic time in his life. "As a result of being charged by the Purana taskforce with murder, a crime I did not commit, I spent five months in a maximum security jail, endured emotional and physical hardship and have incurred significant financial loss,'' Mr Venditti said.

It emerged during Mr Venditti's bail hearing in December that new AFL Richmond Tigers recruit and former West Coast Eagles player Ben Cousins was an acquaintance of the accused.

Mr Venditti asked that his privacy and that of his friends and family now be respected. "Including my good friend Ben Cousins who was exposed to smear and innuendo that was both untrue and unfair,'' he said. "He should be allowed to continue with his rehabilitation off the field and his brilliance on it.'' Mr Venditti also thanked his legal team.


Rudd on the road to disaster

DURING the 1979 oil shock, the great French political scientist Raymond Aron noted that in crises, governments usually had little to fear from Oppositions but everything to fear from themselves. Only rarely did governments display the intellectual rigour to adapt to the new circumstances. Their tendency, catastrophically evident in the presidency of Valery Giscard d'Estaing, was to retain commitments that were even more economically costly than when first made. Emerging difficulties then led to half-baked populism, with all its long-term costs.

Kevin Rudd could teach Giscard d'Estaing a thing or two. Rudd's errors are not merely the odd concession to economic folly, they go to the core of our economic prospects.

How can one justify reducing labour market flexibility when it will determine whether millions of Australians are condemned to unemployment? Rudd is fond of quoting Olivier Blanchard, the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund. Only a few years ago, Blanchard found that unfair dismissal laws increased the duration and severity of unemployment, in a result confirmed by a vast empirical literature.

How can one justify an emissions trading scheme that imposes large costs for purely symbolic benefits? Originally, the Government, adopting Churchillian tones, portrayed those costs as the white man's burden. That wore thin, not least because Rudd and Penny Wong look less like heroes than like dentists who might convince us to sit in the chair, but not to seek certain death on the barricades. Predictably, the replacement rhetoric was that the scheme wouldn't hurt a bit. Now the scheme's defenders are reduced to saying it could be worse.

As for the national broadband network, the Government seems intent on making its predecessor's policies look good, a feat I considered to be beyond human ingenuity.

The Coalition merely wasted time and money. This Government seems determined to wreck the network we have. Stephen Conroy is poised to try what no country has seriously contemplated: undertaking a complete revamp of the incumbent's network against the incumbent's active opposition. This involves huge costs and risks for users, especially in country areas, for Telstra's shareholders, and for taxpayers, who will bear the project's inevitable and mounting losses. If the Government doesn't like Telstra, so be it. But if it wants to level the Telstra house to the ground while building a house of its own on remnants, then the honest course of action would be to buy back Telstra. Anything else breaks faith with millions of Telstra shareholders, endangers service quality and places an unconscionable burden on taxpayers.

The NBN is only the largest of the Government's ill-conceived ventures. Rather than pursuing genuine regulatory reform, which would remove disincentives to invest in infrastructure, the Government's Building Australia Fund is allocating billions of dollars to projects that would likely fail any serious cost-benefit analysis.

As for the Government's car plan, the only hope is that the US industry will collapse before it can get its hands on Australian taxpayers' hard-earned dollars.

Finally, debate will continue about whether the stimulus packages were justified but there can be no debate about whether the associated spending programs make sense. They don't. The principle that taxpayers' funds should be used only where the benefits outweigh the costs has been ignored.

Consider this. The funding for schools specifically prohibits money being used to install air-conditioning. Yet many studies reveal that intense, prolonged heat reduces learning productivity. As a result, school halls will be repainted while education continues to suffer.

Ultimately, all government spending must be paid for from taxes that have high economic costs. To claim that Keynesian multipliers create magic puddings that can make this all come good is nonsense on stilts. A dollar misspent is a dollar misspent, and reduces incomes by at least that amount. The employment "created" by that dollar, when it could have been used for more worthwhile alternatives, is part of the waste, not a benefit. The quality of public expenditure is therefore crucial and on this count alone the Government's record is distressingly poor.

Lack of transparency makes the Government's record all the poorer. John Faulkner promised full disclosure. In fact, disclosure has been pitifully inadequate. Access to the modelling underpinning FuelWatch: refused. Access to the model used to evaluate the ETS: refused. Access to the cost-benefit studies underpinning the NBN: refused. Access to the Building Australia Fund's project appraisals: refused. Access to the Treasury's assessment of alternative stimulus packages: refused.

This makes a mockery of democracy, whose virtue, as the historian and philosopher R.G. Collingwood argued, lies in forcing governments to operate "in the open air, and not as a post office distributing ready-made policies to a passively receptive country". This Government seemed full of policy wonks who would bring a fresh breath of serious expertise. Unfortunately, it has proven far more adept at politics than at policy. Roosevelt too won many elections, but he did so by schemes that prolonged the Depression. And some of those schemes, such as the introduction of massive farm subsidies, imposed huge, enduring costs on the world economy.

Luckily, Australia is too small to do the world much harm. But history shows we have a rare genius for hurting ourselves. And there is no surer way of doing so than through public policies that are poorly conceived and wasteful. Rudd and Wayne Swan know that: it's time they acted on it.


Logan Hospital staff quit after government ignores complaints

ONE of Queensland's busiest public hospitals has lost five of its most senior doctors and managers, with no signs of them being replaced. Logan Hospital has been seconding staff from other public hospitals in Brisbane to cover the shortfall of experienced medical staff.

Deputy Premier and new Health Minister Paul Lucas confirmed the worrying turnover, but noted that three of the staff remained within Queensland Health at other hospitals.

Mr Lucas will today begin a two-month "health listening tour" across the state to "see first-hand the challenges facing the health network". Acknowledging major problems at Logan Hospital, Mr Lucas said the Government had to do more - something it promised during and after its successful election campaign. "Senior doctors are often harder to recruit and retain, and I'll be listening to the thoughts of medical professionals about how best to retain expert staff on my statewide listening tour," he said yesterday.

The Sunday Mail first highlighted problems at Logan Hospital last May in a frank open letter from Dr Michael Cameron, then the senior staff specialist in emergency medicine at Logan Hospital. Five months after being asked to talk to Premier Anna Bligh and then health minister Stephen Robertson about the issues Dr Cameron left Logan, saying it was "too dangerous and too dysfunctional". "Everyone is overworked and overwhelmed ... the pressure definitely got on top of me," Dr Cameron said last September.

He stayed with Queensland Health, but took his emergency skills to the newer Redland Hospital in January. Dr Cameron's position at Logan Hospital had not been filled as of last week. Sources said the director of emergency services had also left Logan Hospital last month to take up an identical position at Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital. Three other senior staff had resigned in the past year because of the workload and pressure. Sources said Queensland Health had moved doctors in from around southeast Queensland hospitals to fill the gaps.

"Logan has degenerated even further," a senior public hospital doctor told The Sunday Mail last week. "They have got major problems there. Lucas has got an uphill battle."

The Minister - handed the poisoned chalice by Ms Bligh last week - said more people would be put into frontline services. "Queensland Health tells me that since 2005, we've hired an extra 100 doctors for Logan Hospital and almost 220 extra nurses - an increase of 66 per cent and 41 per cent respectively in less than four years," said Mr Lucas, who kicks off his tour with a visit to Dr Cameron's Redland Hospital.

"I know Dr Cameron is very highly thought of and I am very keen to meet him and to understand his perspectives on the health system. "Dr Cameron is one of more than 6600 doctors employed by Queensland Health, and I'm undertaking this tour to see what's happening on the ground, and speak to professionals like him and others right across the health network."

Mr Lucas said he would visit hospitals in Cairns, Townsville and southeast Queensland this week. He also promised to visit health facilities on the Torres Strait islands to ensure repair work on sub-standard nursing accommodation had been completed. Mr Robertson was stripped of his responsibilities during the election campaign after it emerged that the housing had not been fixed. He was ultimately banished from the Health portfolio.

"I want to see every part of our health system at work - from the kitchens, to the wards, to our emergency departments and doctors out there delivering services in the community," Mr Lucas said. "Health impacts on many aspects of people's lives and I'm determined to see what's happening on the frontline and how we can improve the services Queensland Health delivers." Mr Lucas said he would also visit a hospital emergency department in action during a peak period.

Dr Cameron said he would be keen to help the new Bligh Government health regime. He said he was enjoying work under different conditions in Redland Hospital.


Melbourne Catholic Church embraces testing to ID gay priests

THE Melbourne Catholic Church has embraced a Vatican recommendation to test potential priests for sexual orientation. Under the guidelines, potential priests who "appear" to be gay must be banned. The head of the Vatican committee that made the recommendations has made it clear celibate gays should also be banned because homosexuality is ‘‘a type of deviation’’.

Archdiocese of Melbourne spokesman James O’Farrell confirmed Carlton’s Corpus Christi Catholic seminary had started adhering to the guidelines, but refused to comment further.

Victorian Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby spokeswoman Hayley Conway said the church was sending a ‘‘dangerous and offensive’’ message about sexuality. ‘‘They seem to be moving backwards in a lot of ways which is really unfortunate . . . especially for those who are Catholic and out, and there are a lot of them already struggling,’’ she said. ‘‘If the plan is to root out pedophilia or child molestation, targeting people with homosexual tendencies isn’t the way to go about it.’’

Outspoken Catholic priest Father Bob Maguire said the document ‘‘flies in the face of secular society’s sense of fairness and justice’’. ‘‘The point is not to what gender you are attracted, but how you manage that attraction,’’ he said. [Since it seems to have been badly managed in the past, surely it is best not to have that problem in the first place. Frustrated homosexual would-be priests could easily become Anglicans, where they would find many "friends" and plenty of gorgeous eucharistic services, complete with bells, smells and elaborate vestments]


Sunday, March 29, 2009

'Extinct' possums back from the dead

There are MILLIONS of possums in Australia and New Zealand. "Brushtail" possums commonly live in the roof spaces of older houses in Brisbane, where they make a considerable racket. It is hard to imagine how noisy such small animals can be. They sound like a thundering herd of elephants when they run about on my ceiling at times. Visitors from South are often greatly alarmed by the noise they make there and look dubious when you tell them that it is "just possums". Most Brisbane people are used to them, however. Nonetheless possum removal experts do a good trade. The fact that the slightly different species described below is so rare almost certainly indicates that it has been out-competed by the more adaptable common "brushtail" species and was headed for extinction anyway.

Although they are only about the size of a small cat, Australia's possums (a different but related species to the American opossum) are remarkably fearless of humans, which is rather endearing and gives rise to the Australia expression of "Stir the possum". If you disturb them they will often snap back rather than run away. That fearlessness is probably bad for them in New Zealand, however. New Zealanders hate them and do all they can to kill them. The fact that there are probably more possums in New Zealand than there are people might have something to do with that. But I certainly enjoy it when I am having an evening meal on my verandah and a possum comes strolling past along the telecoms cable that runs above the street in front of my house. They are remarkably confident little animals and seem to do a high wire act with total ease

And I can vouch for the fact that Australia's "brushtail" possums are marsupials. I got quite a clear view of the marsupium of a female possum while sitting at my dinner table recently. There is a mulberry tree that abuts onto my verandah and possums often leap about in it quite unconcerned about the nearby human presence. It is always a great pleasure to see them there. And I live in an old inner-city area, not in any kind of rural setting. But Australian inner city areas tend to be pleasant, leafy places. I also see wild turkeys about the place a lot

A POSSUM population believed to have been wiped out by climate change is in fact clinging to survival, scientists say. Researchers say they have discovered three living brown lemuroid ringtail possums in the Daintree National Park, on Cape York, although the Daintree possums were believed to have been killed off during a heat wave in 2005.

No white lemuroid possums - which once accounted for 40 per cent of the lemuroid possum population in the area - have been located so far.

But Associate Professor Steve Williams of James Cook University said there was no reason to believe they wouldn't have survived alongside their brown relatives. "I don't think there is any reason to believe the white ones are harder hit than the brown ones," he said.

Lemuroid ringtail possums are found in just two locations, at the Carbine Tablelands in the Daintree and in the Atherton Tablelands, west of Cairns, though white lemuroids are extremely rare in the latter location.

Prof Williams said the Daintree possums had not been spotted since an extended heatwave in 2005, leading to the belief that they had been pushed to extinction by climate change. He said the species could not cope with extended periods of temperatures over 27 degrees.

"Over the last 50 years, the number of days where you get that temperature has been steadily increasing, to the point that in 2005 there were 27 consecutive days where the temperature went above that threshold," he said. "That seems to have really knocked them down."

Prof Williams said the species still hadn't been found in locations where they had been common and his research team would try to identify why they had survived in the current location.

He said the possums remained extremely vulnerable and another heatwave could wipe them out. "I don't think they are out of danger in any shape or form. It is very clear that these heatwaves are steadily increasing," he said. [And where is the evidence for that? It is just a creed he is uttering]


Supermarket cakes have (shock!) additives in them

This is absurd. Australia has strict food laws and what is in the cakes is legally approved. It is true that a very small number of kids have sensitivities that give them a bad reaction to some additives but the article below gives the impression that kids generally have such reactions. The original heading on the article was "Coles and Woolworths cakes send kids hyper". There are all sorts of food sensitivities, many quite rare, and if you catered to them all there would be nothing left on the shelf

CAKES sold in our leading supermarkets are riddled with additives that cause hyperactivity in children, a consumer investigation has found. The Australian Consumer Association, Choice tested 97 cakes in Coles and Woolworths and found two Woolworths bakery cakes to be the worst offenders.

Choice spokeswoman Elise Davidson said Woolworths Bakehouse Sponge Iced and Fresh-Filled Cream cake had 27 additives. The Top Taste Rollettes Choc and Woolworths' Bakehouse Sponge Single Birthday Fresh Cream were close equal seconds, with 26 additives each.

Ms Davidson said many cakes were found to contain more than 20 additives, including food colours linked to hyperactivity and additives used to prolong shelf life or cover-up cheap ingredients. "Most people wouldn't use 40 ingredients when baking a cake at home, yet that's what we found in a large number of these cakes," Ms Davidson said. Food colours are used to enhance appearance but also enable manufacturers to get away with using cheaper ingredients, such as apples instead of raspberries in jam filling and palm oil, instead of butter.

More than half the cakes also contained food colours identified as increasing hyperactivity in children, in a UK study published in the medical journal, The Lancet.

Ms Davidson said parents should check product labels for the offending food colours. "Consumers expect the cakes they buy to be fresh and to maintain that freshness, so food manufacturers use additives," Ms Davidson said. "But we think consumers should be aware of the type of ingredients that go into a lot of these cakes".

The study found that price was no indicator of quality, with some of the most expensive brands among the heaviest users of additives. Australians spend $312 million a year buying cakes from supermarkets, which equates to about 70 million cakes.


Make an important service much dearer in the midst of a recession

So clever only a Leftist would think of it

CHILDCARE costs are set to soar as the states and territories look at forcing centres to hire more staff. And parents may face another blow as the Federal Government's quality watchdog insists that $3 billion a year in subsidies to working parents be scrapped.

A panel of childcare experts set up by the Council of Australian Governments has recommended that centres hire more staff - one carer for every three babies, one for every five toddlers and one for every 10 children aged three to five, The Australian reports. "Quality care is expensive and somebody's got to pay," the panel's chairwoman, Alison Elliott said. "It obviously will become more expensive if you change the ratios (of carers to children). "But we need to have the best quality environment for children." [Why not have the best quality for everything? I am sure we "need" it]

The Federal Government's National Childcare Accreditation Council has recommended the Government stop paying parents subsidies and rebates for childcare fees, and instead give direct grants to childcare providers offering the best care. "It is envisaged that the objective of containing childcare fees for families would be achieved by lowering operational costs for services," the childcare quality watchdog says in a submission to the Senate inquiry into childcare. "Provision of operational assistance should be linked to a requirement to provide high quality childcare. "Tying additional funding to quality improvements would offer services and incentive to enhance the quality of care they provide, in contrast to the current system of merely applying ineffective sanctions for non-compliance."

The Federal Government spends nearly $3 billion a year on means-tested fee subsidies, paired with an automatic 50 per cent refund of out-of-pocket childcare costs of up to $7500 a year per child.

Professor Elliott, who heads the school of education at Charles Darwin University, said the expert COAG panel did not calculate the added costs of requiring extra staff, nor recommend whether taxpayers or parents foot the bill. But Queensland's biggest non-profit provider, C&K, recently increased its fees by 15 per cent across the board to pay for a 1:3 ratio in its babies' rooms. Had the price rise not been subsidised by parents of older children, the parents of babies would have had to pay $80 a day instead of $60.

The staff-to-child ratios recommended to COAG are significantly higher than those existing in the states and territories, where they range from 1:4 for babies in Queensland and Western Australia to 1:10 for toddlers in South Australia.


Teachers given the cane go-ahead in some Queensland schools

THE cane is still being wielded at some Queensland schools where parents sign legal waivers to give teachers the power to hit their children. The corporal punishment option is offered at some of the state's fastest-growing independent schools as part of their strict behaviour management strategies. Religious beliefs are used to justify discipline at some schools, The Sunday Mail reports.

With more than 55,000 suspensions handed out at state schools last financial year - a jump of more than 20 per cent in two years - Independent Schools Queensland has reported growing support for private schools catering for the "disengaged and at-risk" school sector.

Bundaberg Christian College principal Mark Bensley said corporal punishment had become a drawcard for some parents because of a "lack of boundaries" at other schools. "A growing number of parents come to our school and say the school got their attention because it uses the paddle," Mr Bensley said. "If they choose to not sign it (the waiver), they are not refused enrolment. But a very significant majority of parents sign because they like that we understand the need for boundaries, fairness and consistency." Mr Bensley said the plastic paddle - shaped like a table-tennis bat - was a "last resort" when suspensions, detentions and warnings had failed.

The school, which has 600 students in Prep to Year 12, gave the paddle 10 times last year and seven times in 2007, he said. "I would never use the paddle unless we have spoken to both parents and have their blessing for it to be used," Mr Bensley said. "It is always administered in a loving way. In fact, we pray with them afterwards."

Corporal punishment was banned in state schools in 1995 by a decision of Cabinet but was not written into law. Parents, teachers or guardians are allowed to use "reasonable force" in disciplining children. The 109-year-old law was applied in a case involving a Gold Coast high school teacher last year who was acquitted on an assault charge after he admitted slapping a Year 8 student.

But State Attorney-General Cameron Dick warned that Section 208 of the law that relates to the matter was "by no means a carte blanche authority for teachers to use physical force to manage students".

Colin Krueger, principal of Mueller College at Rothwell on Brisbane's northern outskirts, said the school used the cane at the request of parents. Parents are asked to sign a consent form as part of enrolment which gives teachers the power to use "firm but fair" discipline "administered in a spirit of love according to Proverbs 13.24, 22:6 and 22:15", which promote the "rod of discipline" to "correct the foolishness raging in every child". Mr Krueger, principal of the school for 19 years, said using the cane on a child "depended on the circumstances". "If kids are persistent and we have tried every other avenue, it will be administered if parents request it. We haven't used it for a couple of years," he said. "I've had many kids come back to me and say 'Thank you for giving me the cane'."


Saturday, March 28, 2009

“Earth Hour or Blackout Night?”

"Earth Hour" is supposed to be observed in Australia tonight Saturday, March 28, 8:30-9:30pm.

The Carbon Sense Coalition today came out in support of Earth Hour, but said it should be renamed “Blackout Night” and be held outdoors, for the whole night, in mid-winter, on the shortest and coldest day of the year - 22 June in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Chairman of “Carbon Sense”, Mr Viv Forbes, said that spending just one night in the cold and the dark, with no hot coffee or beef on the barbecue, using no light, heat or vehicle energy from coal, gas, petrol or diesel, and without protection from metal or concrete structures, would be good practice for the blackouts and shortages to come if world rationing of carbon products and carbon energy is achieved.

“Winter nights are usually still and cold, so the candles crew can really experience what it will be like to depend on alternative energy when there is no sun and no wind. The back-to-nature brigade can also try living without iron roofs and concrete walls. And the eat-no-meat mob can experience a night without hamburgers and cappuccinos.

“To hold a candles-and-champagne party indoors, on the mildest night of the year, for just one hour, shows that the whole thing is tokenism. Moreover both candles and champagne emit carbon dioxide. Let the true believers try the real thing in one of the extreme seasons so they can appreciate the great benefits we take for granted when using all of our carbon fuels and foods.

“Instead of sneering at human achievements they should salute the people who keep the lights on for the other 364 days of the year.

“Australia gets almost 90% of its electricity from hydrocarbon fuels – black coal, brown coal, gas and oil. And without the nuclear power that underpins electricity supplies in more advanced countries, the massive cuts in carbon dioxide emissions demanded by the deep greens would see Australia headed for the Romanian power rationing experience - during the Ceaucescu regime in Romania, each house was limited to ONE 25 watt bulb for all of their light.

“All over the world we have aging power stations and an orchestrated campaign by a few warm and well-fed agitators to harass, delay and deter construction of new power facilities.

“Such a campaign can only have one result – blackouts and brownouts will recur erratically every time we have extremes of cold or hot weather. “So we support “Blackout Night” to prepare our population for the dark days ahead”.

The above is a press release from Viv Forbes [info@carbon-sense.com], Chairman of the Carbon Sense Coalition.
A small sop for small business: Tax deferred but not cut

Recognizing their importance is apparently not enough to generate significant steps towards helping them -- such as exempting them from payroll tax. Has it occurred to the loony Left that a tax on jobs is a bad idea amid rising unemployment? The Feds gave that tax to the States to levy in 1971 so they could also take it back if they wanted to -- with compensatory adjustments to grants to the States

SMALL businesses will be excused from paying more than $700 million in taxes in an effort to save Australian jobs. The Federal Government will today announce that small businesses, self-funded retirees and small superannuation funds hard hit by the global recession will benefit from $720 million in "cash-flow relief" from July. The announcement means about 1.5 million taxpayers will pay less tax in 2009-10.

In a move welcomed by small business leaders, the Government will slash PAYG instalments by 6 per cent. So, instead of getting a tax refund at the end of the financial year, businesses will save money during the year instead. The Government said they hoped, by keeping more money in the pockets of small business owners, they would be able to hang on to employees. "Small businesses across the country are the backbone of our economy, providing jobs for millions of Australian families," Treasurer Wayne Swan said. "That's why the Rudd Government is determined to do everything we can to help small businesses in the face of the global recession which is hitting the Australian economy."

In NSW, about 350,000 businesses with annual turnovers of less than $2 million will benefit. The Government said it would make the move because otherwise - as a direct result of the current economic conditions - small businesses would overpay hundreds of millions of dollars in PAYG instalments throughout the year. Small Business Minister Craig Emerson said to address this the Government would cut the quarterly PAYG instalments for the 2009-10 financial year. Only taxpayers whose PAYG instalments are adjusted for growth in GDP are affected. "The reduction will provide cash-flow benefits to around 1.5 million taxpayers, cutting their PAYG instalments by around 6 per cent," Dr Emerson said.


Australian government now letting in illegals under false pretences

The man described below was clearly not a refugee. Even if he was endangered in Afghanistan, he was clearly safe once he arrived in Pakistan. He ceased to be somebody in need of asylum at that point. There are millions of Afghans in Pakistan. But because he arrived in Australia illegally, apparently that made him a real asylum seeker. The fact that he is a Communist no doubt also helped to endear him to Australia's Leftist government. Clearly, he is an economic migrant only and many more like him can now be expected

FOUR asylum seekers who were rescued by the Tampa in 2001, but sent back to Afghanistan during one of the most controversial chapters in Australia's political history, have been found to be genuine refugees.

One of the men, Asmatullah Mohammadi, told The Age he was so desperate to escape the Taliban he risked his life in a second boat journey with people smugglers, despite fearing he would again be rejected by Australia.

He said 11 other Tampa survivors — who had failed to win refugee status after months on Nauru — were killed by the Taliban when they returned to Afghanistan.

The revelations have prompted calls for an inquiry into the Howard government's "Pacific Solution", introduced after the Tampa crisis, under which asylum seekers intercepted before they reached Australia were processed on Nauru or Manus Island.

Immigration lawyer David Manne said an inquiry should seek to remedy injustice and harm that flowed from the Pacific Solution, which excluded asylum seekers from access to Australian law, rights and protection. "People were placed under enormous pressure that amounted to constructive coercion to return to situations that were extremely unsafe," he said.

Migration agent Marion Le, who at the time raised doubts about the quality of the Immigration Department assessments of those who had been rejected, said it was reprehensible that people had been told Afghanistan was safe and sent back.

The four Afghans are the first asylum seekers on board the Tampa who were told by the former government they were not owed protection. They were re-assessed after a second attempt to reach Australian shores. Immigration Minister Chris Evans said: "These people arrived unlawfully and were taken to Christmas Island, where they were assessed as being owed our protection and therefore had the bar lifted to allow them to apply for a protection visa."

They were among 73 Middle Eastern boat people who were quietly resettled in Australia this month after the Immigration Department found they had genuine fears for their safety if returned to their homeland.

An Immigration Department spokesman said the decision was made taking into account current information.

Mr Mohammadi, who was a member of a communist party, said he fled Afghanistan because he was threatened by the extremist Muslim mujahideen. But on August 24, 2001, he found himself caught up in a political storm when the distressed wooden fishing vessel carrying 433 asylum seekers was rescued by the Tampa, on the eve of a federal election.

Mr Mohammadi said that after 17 months on Nauru he was sent back to Afghanistan with about $1000. "When they sent me back to Afghanistan, I was upset and very stressed," he said through a Dari interpreter.

He said he obtained work as a builder for a foreign company in Lashkar Gah in southern Afghanistan, but fled to Iran after two of his colleagues were killed by the Taliban because they were perceived to be working for "foreign criminals".

He was expelled to Pakistan after Iranian authorities discovered he had no documents, and from there travelled to Australia via Malaysia. "I knew it was a big danger to come by boat to Australia — it wasn't my first time — but I was that desperate."

Mr Mohammadi said he wanted to thank all Australians and the Government for "letting me in". "I am relieved and I feel now I am alive, I am not dead," he said. He wanted to find work as a builder and hoped that his wife and six children could eventually join him from Iran.

Ms Le said she had reviewed more than 200 rejected Nauru files and discovered errors, including merged cases and untested "dob-in" material, such as unsubstantiated allegations that a person did not come from Afghanistan.

"Departmental people who were on Nauru were told these people were not refugees," she said. "This came about because of the reprehensible policy of the Howard government. Everyone can stick the knife into the Immigration Department but … public servants were just doing what they were told."

Pamela Curr, from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said the refugee determination process had been deeply political. "We need to have a royal commission to open our eyes to what was done in our name so it can never be repeated."

Of the 433 asylum seekers rescued by the Tampa, 131 were immediately resettled in New Zealand. The remaining 302 were processed on Nauru. Of these, 101 were found to be refugees, 14 were resettled as non-refugees, one died and 186 returned home after failing to win refugee status.


Fraud and loathing in disastrous NSW public hospitals

Patients sent to imaginary beds and a doctor who complained about it gets persecuted!

ON APRIL 28, 2006, Shellharbour Hospital boss, Michael Brodnik, distributed an email. A decision had been made, he wrote, to set up a new unit within the emergency department. "The unit will be … four beds, conceptually down the right hand wall of ED but using the concept of 'virtual beds'," he told colleagues. Patients who arrived at emergency and needed admission would be assigned a virtual bed if no official in-patient bed was available, remaining physically in emergency. Brodnik said he had no control over the change, reassuring staff: "It really is a paper exercise."

The rationale was to get patients off the emergency department's books within eight hours of arrival - a watershed imposed by government as a so-called "key performance indicator" or KPI, amid political pressure over backed-up hospitals and ambulances unable to offload patients.

At Shellharbour Hospital, an outpost serving the cookie-cutter sprawl that straggles down the coast from Wollongong, that target was hard to achieve, because some patients had to be transferred for diagnostic tests.

By May, Shellharbour was still processing emergency patients too slowly, and emails were flying. The head of the hospital's emergency department, Dr Simon Leslie, sent a measured one to Sue Browbank, Brodnik's boss: "We are being asked to run our health service on the basis of the need to treat one statistic," he wrote. "Doctors have not been ignorant or uncaring of the need to manage our resources appropriately … but are driven firstly by patient care and community needs."

For a while, Leslie continued a vocal opposition to the imaginary beds. The directive to reclassify patients "according to any objective look at it was fraudulent", he told the Herald last week. "It required staff in my emergency department to write down records that were incorrect." Later he tired of battling the fait accompli and settled back to running front-line health care in the hard-to-staff hospital.

That could have been the end of it, but then Peter Garling, SC, came to town. On April 14 last year, at one of the inquiry's 34 public hearings, "Dr Leslie told me the 'virtual ward' was a fiction to compensate for the fact that Shellharbour Hospital does not have a short stay unit," Garling recounted in his report. Leslie's evidence resulted - finally - in the ward's abrupt termination, though this, as he had previously observed to Browbank, was, "easy because it doesn't actually exist".

Three weeks later, Browbank informed Leslie of the appointment of a Southern Hospitals Network Director of Emergency Medicine - which, according to Garling's later deconstruction, "both technically and in reality … effected the abolition of Dr Leslie's position". Leslie was ordered to stop calling himself director of the emergency department and told he could instead apply for a part-time position. "How is it possible," he asked a human resources manager, "to remove me from the role for which I have a contract and in which I have been acknowledged and satisfactorily functioning for over two years?"

The vaporisation of his job and claim it had never really existed were normal practice during "amalgamations and clinical reviews," the manager soothingly responded. "In many cases roles and responsibilities have changed, staff displaced and new position descriptions written."

Leslie's was a story Garling could not resist. A microcosm of the poisonous malaise he had observed on a statewide road-trip to 61 public hospitals, it comprised four elements the senior counsel had noticed repeatedly: a bottleneck between emergency and in-patient beds; inflexible performance criteria imposed from on high, then middle-management sleights-of-hand to meet those demands; and a yawning gulf of alienation between clinicians and administrators.

So when Leslie updated the inquiry on the personal fallout from his testimony, Garling in late September 2008 ordered five people as well as Leslie to four gruelling days of extra hearings, devoted to the doctor's treatment. They included Debora Picone - in 2006, chief executive of the South Eastern Sydney Illawarra Area Health Service, but elevated in 2007 to director general of NSW Health.

That won Leslie no respite. On the contrary, shortly after Garling's summonses landed on managers' desks, Leslie was cut out of meetings and told to hand back his pager and vacate his office - though ultimately he did not do so, successfully arguing both were essential to his work.

In her sworn evidence, Browbank acknowledged Leslie's job description was signed by a doctor expressly delegated to work out his role and title. Yet she maintained the position could not exist, because the doctor had no authority to create it. Garling rejected the semantic contortion. Browbank's stance "flies in the face of the obvious facts revealed by the evidence and is wholly untenable," he concluded. Because Leslie's treatment was "unreasonable, repeated, unwelcome, unsolicited, offensive, intimidating, humiliating and threatening," Garling wrote, "I find it amounted to bullying and harassment in accordance with NSW Health's own guidelines."

Leslie is an unlikely poster boy for victimhood. Affable and easygoing, it is hard to imagine him having the sleep disruptions and obsessive thoughts he says beset him at the time. He simply carried on going in to work. "At heart," said the 52-year-old, "I'm a doctor who likes to look after patients."

Doctors who like to look after patients are the backbone of the health system, but are massively disenfranchised. Re-engaging them would be the most critical step in reforming NSW Health, Garling said, proposing a Clinical Innovation and Enhancement Agency - under which clinicians would determine protocols for patient care. As well, he proposes an independent Bureau of Health Information to monitor hospital performance, freeing doctors like Leslie from political pressure to fudge the loathed KPIs.

The toughest challenge is how to make hospitals gentler. "The workplace culture in NSW public hospitals is characterised by lack of respect and trust, absence of empathy and compassion, inability to celebrate the success of others, failure to communicate, and a lack of collaboration," was Garling's damning verdict after his journey to the heart of the health system. Its anti-bullying policy had failed, dissent was quashed and persecution was rife.

Garling recommends making individual employees - all 118,000 of them - more directly responsible for their behaviour, reorienting the system away from blame towards constructive criticism and strengthening complaints procedures.

Last July, Leslie lodged a formal complaint about his treatment. Eight months later he has not been told how it will be resolved. Terry Clout, the area health service's chief executive, told the Herald he was seeking more information and would consider "any actions that may be required". He declined to comment further, citing, "procedural fairness" in the "personnel matter".

Leslie said the delay was "a process to wear me down". He understands deliberations will not privilege Garling's account of events - despite the evidence the commissioner collected under unmatched statutory powers.

Perhaps that is unsurprising. Garling said Leslie's situation went unresolved because Shellharbour managers "did not demonstrate … the slightest knowledge of what constituted bullying and unacceptable behaviour".

When is a bed not a bed? Leslie has paid a price for trying to reconcile the internal logic of NSW Health's storytelling with empirical reality, and no one has ever apologised. He will now take his case to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission. If Leslie - with the inquiry's weight behind him - cannot bring NSW Health managers to account, possibly nobody can. "Mr Garling's put a fairly heavy burden on me," he said. "I feel an obligation not to let that go to waste."


Trial aims to tame bad behaviour in classroom

BASIC etiquette is being taught to parents and children in a prep school trial aimed at tackling bad behaviour and improving academic success. It follows a rise in violent behaviour in prep classes, with Education Queensland introducing suspensions for out-of-control four and five-year-olds to protect teachers and fellow students from pupil assaults.

While unions and school associations have called for full-time teacher aides to stem the violence, others have urged better parenting and social support, which a trial called STEP -- Supporting the Transition for Entry to Prep -- is trying to address.

Participants in STEP, an extension of Mission Australia's and Griffith University's crime prevention Pathways to Prevention Project -- say it has already transformed children's behaviour. STEP co-founder Dr Kate Freiberg said the program targeted lower socio-economic areas where parents with time and financial pressures were least likely to teach their children the necessary skills for a smooth school transition. "The idea is when kids are growing up in tough times of certain circumstances it can constrain and limit their social and emotional development and they start school behind the eight ball," Dr Freiberg said.

She said the program tried to engage parents and children in education while teaching them basic skills such as the importance of discipline and reading. "It can be simple things like not being able to sit and listen and pay attention or know how to participate in a group setting," Dr Freiberg said. "Just really basic things like packing lunch boxes and what the teachers are going to be asking you when you get there and how it is important to sit and listen to what the teacher says and skills for getting along with other kids."

Mother-of-eight, Fua-laau Faolua said she now understood how important it was to read to her children and be involved in their homework. The program also has taught her how to use "time out" and speak at her children's level, which has turned daughter Litarina's behaviour around. Litarina now eagerly attends Durack State School Prep.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Australian interest in environment issues wanes as Facebook group urges Earth Hour power ON

An anti-Earth Hour group urging Australians to keep their lights blazing this weekend is a sign of waning interest in environmentalism, experts say. The global Earth Hour movement – founded in Australia in 2007 – is asking people to switch off their lights for one hour on Saturday night. But a Facebook group is urging people to "keep every light you own running during Earth Hour".

The group urges people to protest by switching lights on "if you think turning the lights out for an hour is completely ridiculous and will change nothing". "Or if you just think people who really believe global warming is a giant threat are dumb, join this group to keep every light you own running during Earth Hour."

Group member Alexander Woodhouse says: "The Earth Hour makes people feel like they've done their share and makes them sleep better... that's nice for them but it doesn't really help the earth." Another member wrote: "I don't believe the vast majority of those participating have given it enough thought to get to that point. ‘It's helping! I don't know how, but it's helping! I'm helping! I don't have to do anything else because I'm doing this now! Go me!'"

Australians have been losing interest in environmentalism for years, says social analyst David Chalke, who leads the annual AustraliaSCAN survey, a cultural change monitor established in 1992. "Absolutely the GFC (global financial crisis) has accelerated a decline in interest in environmentalism that was already going on,” Mr Chalke said. "Environmentalism has been in decline among the Australian public for the last five or six years. "The notion that we’re all becoming more environmentally concerned is not true. We get concerned occasionally when (global warming activist) Tim Flannery tells us we’re all going to die – but it’s not a genuine fundamental shift in values. "The impending recession has focussed people’s minds and priorities and clearly they are much more focussed of my job, my family, my house, rather than the more distant and esoteric idea of climate change. The attitude is: if the climate changes we’ll live with it."

Earth Hour will see lights go out in 82 countries and more than 2400 towns between 8.30pm and 9.30pm (local time) tomorrow night. Organisers hope one billion people will switch off. But practical measures – like demand for candles - suggest interest in the initiative has dipped this year. Last year, nearly 10,000 candles were ordered by a Caulfield candle business in Melbourne to cope with the demand during Earth Hour, but shop owner Roy Merrington said demand had dropped markedly, The Age reported. "I would like to think we would do the same (trade), but we will probably do half that," Mr Merrington said. "People's attention is elsewhere … the conversation about the health of the planet is on the back burner, because people are paranoid about money — and quite rightly."


"Great men are almost always bad men" (Acton)

We like the story of the disgraced former judge Marcus Einfeld, jailed last week for lying about a minor traffic fine, because it is a reassuring morality tale. It restores our belief that character is destiny, that karma eventually catches up with everyone, and that lying, even in an era when trust is in short supply and truthfulness downgraded, is a serious transgression that can land a big wig in jail.

Einfeld didn't just start telling lies in 2006, when he falsely named a dead friend as the driver of his car when it was caught travelling at 10kmh over the limit by a speed camera in Mosman.

The pattern of deception apparent in even a superficial examination of his life shows that he gained a lot of kudos and reward from his fabrications, whether it was padding his Who's Who CV with dodgy degrees from American "diploma mills", or alleged plagiarism, or allegedly claiming a lost overcoat on expenses when he was head of the Human Rights Commission, having already lodged an insurance claim, or using the names of people living overseas in statutory declarations to evade traffic fines. A habit of dishonesty went unpunished.

Instead, Einfeld was richly rewarded, becoming a darling of the legal and media establishment, with an Order of Australia and named a "National Living Treasure". Sad as it is for a 70-year-old man suffering from prostate cancer and depression to be thrown in jail for what essentially began as a trivial matter, his punishment represents a larger righting of wrongs.


Being an incorrigible academic, I thought I might give a fuller version of the famous quotation from Lord Acton. It formed part of Acton's opposition to the declaration of Papal infallibility of 1870
"I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. "

Crooked top cop in Tasmania?

ONE of Tasmania's highest-profile criminal cases - the trial of suspended police commissioner Jack Johnston - continues today. Mr Johnston faces a preliminary hearing before magistrate Sam Mollard at 10am on two charges of disclosing official secrets. Mr Johnston is accused of telling two politicians, including former premier Paul Lennon, about a top-secret police investigation into potential government corruption. The police probe was investigating whether the Lennon government promised a senior legal appointment to barrister and Queen's Counsel Stephen Estcourt in return for favours.

Another matter under investigation was the Shreddergate allegations, after former attorney-general Steve Kons shredded a Cabinet document recommending lawyer Simon Cooper be made a magistrate following a phone call from former Premier's Department chief Linda Hornsey.

Mr Johnston, who has pleaded not guilty, was suspended as commissioner by Premier David Bartlett in October after being charged with disclosing official secrets. He is on leave with full pay.

The 26 witnesses to be called before this week's open preliminary hearing -- expected to run for eight days -- include some of the state's top politicians and powerbrokers. Facing questions from the Crown and the defence are ex-premiers Paul Lennon and Michael Field, Acting Police Commissioner Darren Hine and ministers Jim Cox and David Llewellyn. Whistleblower Nigel Burch, Ms Hornsey and Director of Public Prosecutions Tim Ellis are also key witnesses.

This week's preliminary hearing will be followed by a Supreme Court hearing before a judge and jury. The lawyer representing Mr Johnston, Roland Browne, was last week given court approval to expand his questioning of witnesses.

The charges allege that on or about April 9 or April 11 this year, Mr Johnston improperly told Mr Cox in a briefing note, and Mr Lennon in a conversation, confidential details about the secret police investigation. Mr Johnston was charged with disclosing official secrets under Section 110 of the Criminal Code. The charges allege Mr Johnston knew details of the Estcourt matter by virtue of his senior public office and that, as commissioner, he had a duty to keep the allegations and investigation secret.

No charges were laid in either of the matters investigated by police after the DPP found there was insufficient evidence to proceed.


War on bosses won't fix economy

Michael Costa

WAYNE Swan's legislation requiring shareholders to approve executive termination payments worth more than a year's base salary is another political stunt from a government that has run out of economic policy steam. Its use of the Productivity Commission to conduct a nine-month inquiry into executive pay shows a lack of understanding of markets and is a waste of public resources.

Executive remuneration should be transparent to shareholders. Directors should be accountable for the decisions they make on behalf of shareholders, including executive remuneration. If the Government thinks there is lack of transparency to shareholders in executive remuneration arrangements, this is a failure of its corporate regulatory framework, which it should amend.

The problem with the Government's announcement is that it is not motivated by concerns about transparency. It is another childish attempt to blame our economic problems on executive greed. It also is an attempt by a desperate government to extricate itself from its failure to get Pacific Brands to change its decision to move part of its operation offshore.

By linking executive remuneration to class war and broader economic problems, Swan is following in Kevin Rudd's ideological footsteps. Swan asserts that "the largesse of the last decade has been a slap in the face of many working people" and that many recent payments to executives have been viewed as obscene.

It may be true that many people are angry about executive salaries but that doesn't provide grounds for the Government to engage in a general attack on chief executives and the corporate sector. This is particularly unhelpful at a time when the Government should be strengthening business confidence.

Justified public outrage in the US over bonuses for American International Group executives and in Britain over the pound stg. 700,000 a year pension for Royal Bank of Scotland chief executive Fred Goodwin is an entirely different situation. These outrageous payments involved taxpayer funds as part of government-orchestrated bailouts. But, government bailouts aside, whether an executive's remuneration is considered obscene by the community is largely irrelevant to the directors and shareholders of the company. The responsibility of company directors is to act in their shareholders' interest.

Swan seems to think the interests of the broader community and the individual shareholder are one and the same. They are not. Shareholders want their companies to do well. Often this is at the expense of other companies and their shareholders. The community, on the other hand, wants the best and cheapest products. Workers want their firm to survive and provide job security. Their job security and wages, despite union attempts to take wages out of competition, often come at the expense of rival firms. Workers want the equity investments in their super funds to perform well even if they happen to be in rival firms. These are the fundamental tensions in our economic system. It is the creative destruction that provides our enviable standard of living. The sooner the Government wakes up to this, the better off we all will be.

Company directors must secure the best executive team to guarantee the prosperity of the firm. The challenge for directors is to ensure that remuneration packages align the interests of management with that of the shareholders. This is not easy. A whole body of economics has developed around resolving this agency problem. The core concern is that management can capture company directors and operate the company in their interest rather than shareholders' interest. When this happens, management is in a position to extract an economic rent from the company, reflected in excessive executive compensation. Maximising executive compensation, not shareholder value, becomes the focus of the company.

The most common solution to the agency problem has been share-based incentive payments. This can create its own problems. Executives have an incentive to focus on increasing short-term share price at the possible expense of long-term shareholder value.

There are many examples. The unsustainable expansion of companies such as ABC Learning and Babcock & Brown could fall into this category. These were dominated by strong chief executives who were instrumental in their foundation and initial success. The failure of these companies demonstrates the direct link between corporate results and rewards.

This is of little comfort to shareholders. The directors failed to provide executive incentives that balanced the short-term remuneration objectives of executives with a longer-term interest of shareholders. Better-quality directors, not government regulation, is the solution to this problem. Recent research suggests that directors would achieve better performance from executives by altering remuneration packages to place greater emphasis on a combination of share price and earnings performance.

But even with the best endeavours of the most diligent directors there is no guarantee that companies won't fail, which is what generates the higher rewards of those that succeed.

The same solution applies to more established companies where large remuneration packages are poorly aligned with corporate performance. Directors, not executives, have the responsibility to ensure proper alignment. Better alignment will assuage shareholder concern about executive performance and pay. But it will not deal with the price companies have to pay for a skilled executive, which is set by a highly competitive global market. Highly skilled executives command large salaries. Just because governments and sections of the community believe these salaries to be excessive or obscene doesn't mean they are wrong. Morality has nothing to do with it.

Many in the community regard the salaries of Hollywood actors and sports stars as obscene. That doesn't mean the government should hold an inquiry or attempt to regulate them.

One of the most misleading ways of assessing executive salaries is by comparing them with the pay of workers. The Economist claims that in 1980 the average pay for chief executives in the biggest companies in the US was about 40 times that of an average production worker. In 1999, it had increased to about 85 times and was estimated to be more than 400 times during the recent asset price bubble. This may be true, but it is irrelevant. The market for chief executives is not the same as the market for production workers.

Many factors explain the growth of executive salaries and the relative decline of production workers' salaries, including their relative supply and demand. Executive remuneration cannot be effectively regulated by governments. It would be foolish to try. The resources of the Productivity Commission would be better spent examining the economic consequences of the Government's Fair Work Australia legislation, which will have greater consequences to the economy than any chief executive's salary package.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Razor gang eyes 450 government boards, statutory authorities

This will be great if anything comes of it

MORE than 450 government boards and statutory authorities in Queensland have been told to justify their existence or face the axe. Fresh from an election victory in which it promised not to cut frontline public service jobs, the Bligh Government is preparing to target less sensitive parts of the bureaucracy for efficiency gains.

Amid calls for greater accountability in the public sector, a review has found that Queensland's statutory bodies spend more than $6.2 billion a year, or 17 per cent of all state spending. The Government is likely to use the independent review's findings to decide on the abolition or restructure of many government bodies, with their functions being taken over by government departments.

While Lawrence Springborg's promise to save $1 billion a year in efficiency dividends dominated the election campaign agenda, the Government has set about finding up to $200 million in annual efficiency gains from next year. A spokesman said Premier Anna Bligh had not yet received the review's final report but it remained "on track" to be handed to her next week.

Led by Griffith University Professor Pat Weller and former senior bureaucrat Simone Webbe, the review has caused great consternation in the state public service. Some bodies have protested that they should not be the subject of review, while Auditor-General Glenn Poole has expressed his approval. Bodies under the microscope range from the Queensland Water Commission to the Babinda Swamp Drainage Board. Other organisations targeted include the Industrial Hemp Advisory Committee, the Fibre Composites Forum and the Community Consultative Committee for the Control of Exotic Pest Fish.

The review was part of a major overhaul of the public service announced by Ms Bligh last year, which included an audit of each department and a $60 million "productivity dividend" to be collected across government departments. However, the Government has since set itself a target of finding another $100 million in public sector efficiencies from next year, rising to $200 million from 2010.

In a preliminary report, Prof Weller and Ms Webbe said the review would apply a formal "threshold" test to each of 457 statutory authorities and other government bodies in Queensland.


Christian school rejects Muslim teacher

A CHRISTIAN school in Werribee has been forced to defend its refusal to offer a training placement to a Muslim teaching student on the grounds of her religion. Victoria University student Rachida Dahlal has reportedly lodged a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission against Heathdale Christian College, accusing it of discrimination and prejudice.

But the faith-based private school stood by its decision last night. It said it would have been "inappropriate" to offer the student a placement because of the school's Christian ethos. Principal Reynald Tibben said Mrs Dahlal - who wears a head scarf and is a devout Muslim - may have found it difficult to work at a school where the teachers' morning staff briefing includes prayer devotion and Bible reading. "The way we practise our education is not just nominal, it's actually what parents want for their kids, and it would have been confusing for the kids. It's not that we have anything against her or her beliefs, we just felt it was an inappropriate placement," Mr Tibben said. "There's obviously a difference between being a Muslim and a Christian - so it was a religious issue from that perspective - but it was as much about supporting her as it was the college."

Mrs Dahlal could not be contacted by The Age last night.

According to the Wyndham Leader, the 35-year-old mother had chosen Heathdale because it was the closest school to her home, and one of few offering her specialty subjects of mathematics and French.

Mr Tibben said his school, which takes about 12 university students for training each year, offered to support Mrs Dahlal in finding another school and questioned why Victoria University hadn't given "a little more thought" in guiding her into a school-based placement. The university's acting Vice-Chancellor, Professor John McCallum, said Mrs Dahlal had been counselled about Heathdale's policy of taking those whose values aligned to its own.


Freedom of Information improvements

EMBARRASSMENT to the Federal Government will no longer wash as a valid excuse for bureaucrats to block the release of information to the public. In the first significant overhaul of the nation's 27-year-old Freedom of Information laws, Special Minister of State John Faulkner yesterday announced the Government would scrap all FOI application fees. The Government will set up an independent umpire to adjudicate on FOI applications and encourage the release of information from public service agencies. Cabinet records would be released after 20 years instead of 30 years, and Cabinet notebooks would be available after 30 years instead of five decades.

Senator Faulkner said the reforms would demonstrate the Government's commitment to openness and transparency. Under the plans, FOI requests would no longer be denied on the grounds the information would embarrass the Government or cause misinterpretation or confusion about government activities.

"The Freedom of Information commissioner will be for the first time an independent champion of FOI, charged with overseeing agencies' compliance with both the letter and the spirit of the legislation," Senator Faulkner told a Freedom of Speech conference in Sydney. However, classified national security information would remain protected in the national interest.

News Limited chairman and chief executive officer John Hartigan said that in Australia "freedom of information simply isn't working (and) in fact it has become an oxymoron". "Secrecy and censorship of what we are allowed to know has reached troubling levels," Mr Hartigan said. "In some cases the lack of transparency by our elected government is frightening. Just think about the Australian Wheat (Board) scandal or the Mohammed Haneef case."


Food freak mayor imposing her views on others

SYDNEY Lord Mayor Clover Moore has banned Tim Tams from council events for fear they're partially produced through cruel child labour on Africa's Ivory Coast. In a move to create "sustainable, healthy and cruelty-free catering" at City of Sydney meetings and events, staff have stopped providing chocolate biscuits along with meals containing eggs, bottled water, fat-rich cakes, dairy deserts and "bad" fish species.

One of the first attempts at the new politically correct meals policy was at the council's Investing in Sydney's Future business forum on February 25. On the menu were vegetables (locally grown), NSW wines (organic) and "a good fish species choice" (blue-eye trevalla).

Liberal councillor Shayne Mallard, who was at a briefing on the guidelines, said the first hint of the new policy was when Tim Tams disappeared from meetings. "We are being dictated to by a radical green agenda telling us what fish we can eat, what water we drink and banning eggs or Tim Tams instead of focusing on issues like saving jobs," Mr Mallard said.

"Council staff told me Tim Tams were banned because 80 per cent of world cocoa production comes from the Ivory Coast, where there are allegations of child labour." An Arnott's spokeswoman said only a very limited supply of chocolate was from the Ivory Coast. "But this supplier is a member of the International Cocoa Initiative, which is dedicated to ensuring no child is exploited in the growing of cocoa and to ending child and forced labour," she said.

Requests for comment from Ms Moore were declined yesterday but a spokeswoman said: "No particular brand of food or drink has been identified as being off the menu." In a memo obtained by The Daily Telegraph, the council's environmental projects manager Kirsten Woodward said the council would serve only cruelty-free and healthy options. "Vegan, vegetarian and lactose intolerant options have also been developed for future events," Ms Woodward's memo said.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Does Australia's Green/Left REALLY believe in public transport?

An email below from a North Queensland relative of mine to Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan [Wayne.Swan.MP@aph.gov.au] -- pointing out that the previous conservative government of Queensland did a lot more for rail transport than the present Leftist State government has done. He is appalled that the Queensland government railway system is getting out of freight transport -- the thing that railways are best at

You are trying hard to combat this terrible recession we are about to go into, so please take on board a few ideas of mine. You need to reverse the former Howard government's preference for road over rail transport, even on lines Townsville to Mt Isa, not to mention the Brisbane to Cairns main line.

I understand the Commonwealth has contributed some, but not a lot, of money on the Brisbane to Townsville line but virtually nothing on the rest of the line Townsville to Cairns.

Now I have travelled by car many many times over the years to Brisbane and have noticed an enormous improvement in the highway standard. Unfortunately this has attracted more and more monster trucks, in many cases driven by cowboys. Qld Rail, owned entirely by our state government, does not really want to provide a service for small freight users in the country - they want large customers, so do not look after the former.

In fact they have changed over to road transport for the entire Townsville to Mt Isa route - can you believe a railway using trucks? It defies belief as well as placing cars on the road at great risk. Tonight on 60 Minutes, we saw the devastating consequences of drink drivers killing innocent people - trucks cause devastation also directly and indirectly but no government federally or state seem to care.

You want to increase infrastructure spending? Then start with Qld Railways, electrify the line at least to Townsville from Rockhampton and straighten out many bends. Old Joh had a vision for this state once he was firmly established as Premier and he seemed to find the money for electrification, starting in Brisbane for the suburban network, then extending to Rockhampton. They also electrified and duplicated many of the coal lines in a short period of time, on time and under budget.

Why is it we have Labor governments in Qld who don't seem to be able to do anything - Goss appeared to have no vision and wanted everything closed in the bush; Beattie promised everything but rarely delivered and now Bligh will be a clone of Beattie. Unfortunately the LNP did not inspire any confidence that they would be any better.

Look: John Howard backed the NT line Alice Springs to Darwin. Once given the go-ahead, it was built with remarkable speed and will be a national asset in the years ahead. Unfortunately, unlike the main lines in the Eastern states such as Qld, it will always be underused.

I think the federal government should take over the NSW and Victorian rail tracks and bring them up to the Qld mainline standard to reduce the truck movements on our highways. It will prove cheaper in the long term, save lives and road trauma, slow down the wear and tear on our roads and reduce diesel consumption, all of which is imported.

Well, Wayne, are you going to do anything or just throw it in the too hard basket?

Single-sex hospital wards return in NSW

HOSPITALS are to be radically reformed in New South Wales, with single gender wards returning, under major changes to be announced by the State Government. The Daily Telegraph can reveal the Government will restructure hospitals - with some services possibly shutting - when it officially responds next Monday to the Garling inquiry, held last year into NSW hospitals. Mixed-gender wards will be wiped out where possible, with men and women returning to single-sex rooms or separate ward bays.

It follows Commissioner Peter Garling SC's disgust at men and women sharing wards when he handed down his 1100-page report last November. The move back to gender wards will cost $12 million over four years and was approved by Cabinet last night. Health Minister John Della Bosca said public hospitals needed to have greater resources to place men and women in separate rooms.

Under the new plans, elderly patients would be treated in their homes rather than in hospitals in order to alleviate pressure on the system. In his report, Mr Garling said hospitals were not a suitable environment for the elderly. "My recommendations are designed to encourage models which deliver as much care as possible in the home and not in the hospital, which is a very alienating place for older citizens," Mr Garling said. Other reforms include:

* THE sacking of doctors who repeatedly fail to wash their hands;

* BEDSIDE briefings by doctors and formal shift handovers;

* BETTER supervision of junior doctors; and

* EMERGENCY response teams within hospitals.

The Garling inquiry began a year ago and was aimed at restoring the ailing health system. The landmark 10-month investigation followed a string of mishaps and the death of teenager Vanessa Anderson. The 15-year-old died at Royal North Shore Hospital in November 2005 after being given the wrong medication for a brain injury after she was struck in the head by a golf ball.

Mr Garling's controversial report made 139 recommendations, some of them regarded as radical. At least 10 hospital emergency departments were deemed "unsafe" or unnecessary. The Government has been considering whether to endorse Mr Garling's recommendation to close Manly, Ryde, Sydney, Mt Druitt, Auburn, Camden, Bulli and Kurri Kurri's emergency departments.


Cannabis users 'suffering new syndrome'

THERE is mounting evidence to support the existence of a new syndrome afflicting heavy cannabis users, after the world's first cases were found in South Australia. The condition "cannabinoid hyperemesis" was first identified in a group of about 20 heavy drug users in the Adelaide hills in 2004, and a new case has emerged this time in the US. The syndrome is characterised by nausea, stomach pain and bouts of vomiting - ill effects which, oddly, sufferers say they get some relief from by having a hot shower or bath.

The new case, involving a 22-year-old man in Omaha, is published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology where doctors were also told to consider it when treating people with unexplained vomiting. "Given the high prevalence of chronic cannabis abuse worldwide and the paucity of reports in the literature, clinicians need to be more attentive to the clinical features of this under-recognised condition," writes Dr Siva Sontineni, and colleagues, from the Creighton University Medical Centre.

In the US case, the sufferer had been smoking marijuana daily and in heavy doses for six years. This eventually led to bouts of vomiting lasting two to three hours daily, and this was worse after meals. As with South Australian cases, the young man initially turned to "compulsive hot bathing behaviour" to relieve the symptoms but he was not cured until he gave up smoking cannabis altogether.

Adelaide-based drug expert and emergency ward doctor, Dr David Caldicott, said he had seen three cases of the illness and it was possibly also under-reported by sufferers. "We're probably seeing the tip of the iceberg in the emergency departments, it's probably far more common but far milder (in the broader community)," he said.

Little was known about how cumulative cannabis use could lead to vomiting and, particularly, why sufferers would find some relief in hot bathing, Dr Caldicott also said. "That's a distinct and unanimously recurrent feature of this condition, and we don't know why," he said. "Grown men, screaming in pain, sweating profusely, vomiting every 30 seconds and demanding to be allowed to use the shower. It's a very dramatic presentation."

Dr Caldicott said the condition had been identified in a small number of cannabis users "but in the medical community it is now considered to be a real condition".

The National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre, based at the University of NSW, is taking a more conservative approach. Centre director Jan Copeland said more cases would need to emerge before it could be considered a new syndrome linked to chronic cannabis use. "It is not unusual for there to be significant mental and physical health complications with this level of cannabis use," Professor Copeland said.


Crooked Victorian cop finally convicted

THE former media chief for Victoria Police has avoided jail after pleading guilty to perjury charges. Stephen Linnell, 40, was given an eight-month jail sentence, fully suspended for two years, in the Melbourne Magistrates Court today after leaking sensitive information about a murder probe then lying about the leak under oath. He was also fined $5000 over the charges.

Linnell pleaded guilty to three counts of perjury and three counts of disclosing confidential information. The court previously heard Linnell leaked sensitive information about a murder probe to then assistant commissioner Noel Ashby because he saw him as a mentor and close friend.

The information related to the 2003 murder of male prostitute and alleged rapist Shane Chartres-Abbott and the probe was examining whether police were involved. Linnell then lied about leaking the information when called to give evidence under oath at an Office of Police Integrity (OPI) hearing in 2007. The court had heard Linnell was trying to "protect a mate'' and had nothing to gain personally from passing on the information. He claimed to have been manipulated by Mr Ashby in his drive to succeed Christine Nixon as chief commissioner.

Mr Ashby and former police union secretary Paul Mullett also face perjury charges and will appear at a pre-trial committal hearing in May. Both have said they will fight the charges.

Linnell quit his media director job in November 2007 and now works as a journalist at a suburban newspaper. Wearing a black pinstriped suit and white shirt, Linnell showed little emotion as magistrate Peter Couzens sentenced him. "The price you have paid both professionally and personally for your actions is the price you will continue to pay for the rest of your days,'' Mr Couzens said.

Linnell's family, including his brother Gary who is the editor of Sydney's Daily Telegraph, and other supporters took up almost two rows of the packed courtroom.