Saturday, February 13, 2010

Indigenous people need less not more discrimination

By Dr Jeremy Sammut

The shocking state of child protection services in the Northern Territory has been revealed by a leaked 2007 report by Dr Howard Bath which details numerous cases of Indigenous children failed by the system.

The report, which the NT government refuses to release, shows Indigenous children are at particular risk due to the ‘Aboriginal child placement principle.’ Placing at-risk children with family members or other Aboriginal carers to ensure they remain connected to Indigenous culture is standard practice in every state and territory.

The problem is that well-intentioned ‘anti-racist’ policies are discriminating against Indigenous children and resulting in worse outcomes. In the Northern Territory, basic child protection considerations have been set aside. Most ‘kinship’ carers are not even subjected to background checks by the Department of Families and Community Service. As a result, children are often taken out of one dysfunctional home and placed in another abusive situation. What ‘culture’ are children learning in these environments?

Retired children's court magistrate Sue Gordon has called for a national review of the Aboriginal child placement principle. She maintains that child protection services should not hesitate to place removed children in non-Indigenous foster care and should not be intimidated by fear of being labelled racist and creating another stolen generation.

Gordon’s call for child safety to trump ‘politically correct’ considerations comes as Alastair Nicholson, the former Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, has indulged in the kind of cheap shot, race-baiting politics that Indigenous policymaking can do without.

Nicholson has branded the Rudd government's plan to extend income management of welfare payments into mainstream Australian as nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to perpetuate racial discrimination against Indigenous Australians.

This is a bizarre argument – how is it racist to treat Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike? As the NT child protection revelations prove, many vulnerable Indigenous children would benefit greatly from a bit less discrimination and a bit more equality, just as the federal government is proposing in relation to welfare quarantining.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated February 12. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

The Australian government's chief Greenie ignores pollution

Greenies talk the talk about pollution and "chemicals" but one of their leading spokesmen does not walk the walk even when he is in a position to do so

THE Environment Minister [above] was allegedly aware of cheap imports reeking of toxic chemicals. The insulation imports were reported to be "reeking" of the harmful chemical formaldehyde, the Herald Sun reports. A Melbourne insulation industry leader, Warrick Batt, said last night he'd raised concerns about formaldehyde in a meeting with the Environment Minister.

Mr Garrett has faced Liberal claims in Parliament that he ignored 13 warnings of safety problems that led to the death of four roof insulation installers.

The Herald Sun has learned that several insulation industry leaders raised concerns with Mr Garrett about formaldehyde in the batts being imported from China, Thailand and the US. Formaldehyde has been linked to respiratory problems and cancer. Its use is not specifically banned, but Australian companies being undercut by imports say the foreign-made product is not up to standard and could pose health risks.

Mr Batt, managing director of Melbourne-based Autex, said he met Mr Garrett three times in the past six months. "I told him we were aware some imported product had high levels of formaldehyde," Mr Batt said. "Mr Garrett effectively said if that was the case, and we could prove it, he would call for action to be taken." Mr Batt said he had told Mr Garrett that it should not be up to businesses to police their competitors.

Doug Mill, the managing director of the Demand Group, sent a letter to Mr Garrett warning that high temperatures in the roof could "release gases such as formaldehyde". Other senior industry figures, who did not want to be named, confirmed they had written to the minister. One letter described the imports as "reeking of formaldehyde". Another gave examples of roof installers vomiting when they opened bags of the foreign insulation.

A senior industry figure said there was no confidence that the Federal Government was able to check the quality of the imports. "We have no idea what are the long-term respiratory effects of having this in the ceiling," he said. Another said shonky installers were putting Australian-made batts around manholes but filling the rest of the roof with cheaper imports.

On December 18, the Polyester Insulation Manufacturers Association lodged a submission with the Government specifically warning about formaldehyde. The six-page letter said, "There has been a flood of materials imported to Australia which both do not meet Australian standards for performance materials, and represent a significant respiratory health risk to both installers and householders due to excessive levels of formaldehyde, which is also a known carcinogen."


Bullsh*t program to help poor readers

Teaching them about phonetics and spelling rules is what is needed but instead they get anything but

PRIMARY school children with poor reading skills are making bug-catchers in a summer school program run in Queensland with federal government money allocated to improve literacy skills. The summer school for literacy held in January and last September is intended for children in Years 5 to 7 whose skills are below the minimum standard in the national literacy tests.

The focus of the school is to teach them how to evaluate and make inferences from what they read and to analyse the way authors have expressed their points of view about a topic.

The need for knowledge of letter-sound relationships and sounding out words to read them -- known as decoding -- is downgraded. "The summer schools literacy emphasis is on discussing the meanings of texts and on making judgments about topic sentences and word choices rather than on coding and decoding," information provided for teachers says. "Teachers are encouraged to read texts aloud so that learners can concentrate on the higher-order thinking involved in making reliable inferences. "Teachers are also able to annotate their students' work where necessary, so that encoding difficulties do not prevent students from showing what they understand and can do."

In information provided to parents, the department says the literacy summer school will teach students "how to evaluate texts". "It is important that students understand that authors (the creators of written text, documentaries, stories, films, advertisements, screenplays, video clips, chat shows etc.) all have a particular purpose and point of view," it says.

One of the literacy activities outlined for teachers to do with their students is to build an insect catcher, or "pooter", after reading a magazine about invertebrates. The instructions for making the pooter are out of order and students must rearrange them before they can make the insect catcher. The summer school program is one of the strategies devised by Queensland under the national partnership on literacy and numeracy, for which the federal government has provided $540 million to help struggling students. It will also pay financial rewards to states that lift their performance in the national tests. The Queensland government is spending $5m of its $139m allocation over the next four years on the summer schools.

Queensland Education Minister Geoff Wilson said summer schools had been popular, with parent satisfaction ratings of about 95 per cent. He said about four in five students who attended the September summer school showed improvement in at least one area of literacy or numeracy, with 85 per cent of students saying it made them feel more confident about reading, writing and maths. Other initiatives introduced by the Queensland government included literacy and numeracy coaches in schools and "turnaround teams" to help schools identify and solve problems.

Macquarie University education professor Kevin Wheldall, developer of the remedial reading MULTILIT program, said the Queensland Education Department was ignoring the recommendations of the national inquiry on teaching reading. Professor Wheldall said the inquiry echoed the findings of similar studies in the US and Britain that teaching children letter-sound relationships and how to put sounds together to form words was the necessary first step in learning to read for all students. "I don't understand how they're allowed to spend federal money doing this, given that the money was earmarked for kids struggling with reading," he said. "We know this doesn't work, it's precisely the approach that's failed these kids in the first place. and they're just offering more of the same at summer school."

Award-winning literacy teacher John Fleming, who advocates the teaching of letter-sound relationships, said the summer school approach showed the need to ensure reading was properly taught from the first days of school. Mr Fleming, now at Haileybury school in Melbourne and the 2006 winner of the national award for outstanding contribution to literacy and numeracy, said if students failed to pick up decoding skills, that was difficult to overturn when they were at the end of primary school. "What they're advocating is trying to engage the kids because a lot of them by this age feel reading is not their go," he said. "To be fair, at least they're trying to give them an opportunity to engage in the activity first, but if these kids didn't pick it up when they were in the first two or three years of school, they will find it difficult now."

Mr Fleming said the students' main problem was "instructional deficit" and that they had not been given the skills needed to develop as readers in the first years of school. "They've been immersed and gone through a school that said `When the kids are ready, they will pick it up'," he said. "Unfortunately, for these sorts of kids, that's not true."

A spokesman for Education Minister Julia Gillard said the summer schools program was one of a number of initiatives by Queensland to improve literacy and numeracy, and all the measures adopted by the states and territories under the national partnership were required to be backed by evidence. The spokesman said the bug-catcher activity aimed to engage students in literacy through a practical activity.


Doctors shut operating theatres in NSW government hospital due to leaky roof

SURGEONS and anaesthetists at the ailing Hornsby Hospital will shut the operating theatres to all but life-saving cases on rainy days after a senior nurse slipped in a puddle from a leaking roof and shattered her arm last week. The snap decision will force some patients to move to Royal North Shore Hospital and others to wait longer for surgery.

Doctors, furious that a leaking air vent in the operating theatres has still not been fixed, say they fear a patient or staff member will die if they do not take action. The chairman of the hospital's medical staff council, Richard Harris, said yesterday that doctors had been left with no option after the Health Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, said on radio during the week that the leaking vent had been fixed in October and a new leak had developed during last weekend's torrential rain.

"How ridiculous. The water is coming from the same place. It has been leaking for 16 years and it has not been fixed. I don't want anyone else getting hurt or killed," Dr Harris said.

The Bureau of Meteorology predicts thunderstorms for Sydney for the next three days. Rain is expected to return on Thursday, which could put staff and patients at risk of electrocution, a senior anaesthetist, David Benson, said.

"If you have water in a roof where there are electrics, by definition you have some potential for safety issues," he said. "It is now time to to force the hand of the state government to to fix this problem." Dr Benson said a cut in the power supply caused by water in the roof could also put patients at risk. "There is a one-second delay before the generator cuts in but that is enough to cause the computerised monitoring systems to shut down and reboot themselves. "So effectively you are without any way of monitoring a patient for about a minute and half, which could be critical."

At present about seven patients a day have elective surgery at the hospital but this rises to about 25 a day later this month.


Rudd is bludging off what his predecessors left him

The Rudd Government claims to be superior in economic management. How so? The real reason Australia did better than most developed countries in the recent financial crisis was that the Coalition had by 2006 repaid the $96 billion debt run up by Labor, left a $5 billion Education fund, a $60 billion Future Fund and a $22 billion surplus! Add to this a virtually strike free environment, whereby employment grew, wages grew and exports grew. Our economy expanded in GDP terms from $530 billion to $1.1 trillion, and our national birth rate increased from 1.7 to 1.9 – One for mum, one for dad, and one for the country, was backed up by a baby bonus that did not discriminate between working and stay at home mums.

People did feel relaxed and comfortable and able in 2007 to take a punt on Kevin Rudd – that nice cheery chap from Sunrise.

He promised more of the same. He promised a new industrial relations system where nobody would be worse off. He promised to keep the 30% Private Health Insurance Rebate for everyone who takes out private health insurance, just like Medicare is for everyone who pays the Medicare Levy. He promised to turn back the boats carrying illegal asylum seekers to Australia and he promised to fix our public hospitals, having a referendum if necessary. And he promised to reign in grocery and petrol prices.

But what did we get?

A new industrial relations system taking us back to the strike prone 1970s and 80s, a system that will cut the wages of nurses in aged care by $300 a week; see young people with after-school jobs lose those jobs by insisting the employer pay them for a minimum of three hours, which it is not possible for them to work or for him to afford. So much for nobody being worse off! The so called ‘modern awards’ has delivered old fashioned inequities.

He didn’t repeal WorkChoices, as most people expected. He amended it to create his so called Fair Work regime. Had he simply repealed WorkChoices and re-enacted the provisions that existed prior to WorkChoices, we would had retained the benefit of the Keating and 1996 Howard reforms. Mr Rudd would then not be in the position he now finds himself of having broken his promise that nobody would be worse off under his Fair Work regime, and have to wear the approbrium of the Nurses Union saying that the Fair Work law is worse than the WorkChoices law.

To add insult to injury, the Maritime Union boss has, with the threat of more strikes, forced a maritime employer to give their employees a $50,000 pay rise. That is $1,000 a week, resulting in an annual income of $180,000 a year to maritime workers with no productivity gains!

With regards to private health insurance, that nice cheery Mr Rudd wants to take away the 30% rebate from ordinary Australians who believed his promise that he would do no such thing. Thousands of Australians will lose out. If you earn $75,000 Mr Rudd says you are rich and should lose your rebate. If as a couple you earn $150,000 you lose out. If you earn less than these amounts you might be ok this time, but what about next time? Teachers, police, nurses are hit this time; are you next?

As for the hospital promise - delivery NIL.

And then there is the U-turn on the promise to turn around the illegal boats. Not only does Mr Rudd not honour his promise, but he adopts a policy which encourages people smugglers to put asylum seekers lives at risk to get them to Australia by dropping Temporary Protection Visas and giving preferential treatment to asylum seekers on the Oceanic Viking. Since then, 79 boat carrying 3,618 asylum seekers have arrived and Christmas Island is overflowing. Australia is now seen as a soft touch.

As grocery and petrol prices have continued to rise we remember the failure of Grocery Watch and Fuel Watch. Not only has Mr Rudd failed to honour this promise, but now plans to give us a big new tax on everything – the ETS. This will force further price rises for groceries and a 20% rise in electricity prices. Thanks for nothing!

Meanwhile the poor man’s Costello, Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner, told ABC radio’s Fran Kelly on 4th February that he did not know how much of the $42 billion stimulus package remained uncommitted. “Oh look I can’t give you a precise figure Fran, because of course these things are a little bit complex”. Really Mr Tanner? You are of course the Finance Minister. It’s your job to know! Complex is the standard response from Government Ministers when they don’t know the answer. You will hear it ad nauseum. We were indebted to Senator Conroy later in the day when he told the Senate that $21 billion remains unspent. That is half of the package, not the ‘bulk’ as claimed by the Finance Minister.

Back to my first point of who is better to manage the economy. Mr Rudd has already run up a debt of $120 billion which has to be repaid and every additional cent he spends on the stimulus above what has been committed has to be borrowed. This plunges us into a sea of further debt. A combination of borrowing and spending and high taxation is traditional Labor behaviour. Hands up if you think this is good economic management??


Useless parole board keeps falling for a polite crook

Anybody who knows the first thing about psychopathy would know what Mr Bartulin is so why doesn't the parole board? Shouldn't they be expert in such things?

A HABITUAL criminal with more than 200 convictions who has repeatedly convinced the Parole Board he has mended his ways yesterday thanked a judge for yet another year in jail. Richard Matthew Bartulin was a menace to society who showed no sign of reforming, Tasmanian Chief Justice Ewan Crawford said.

The 41-year-old from Glenorchy has added convictions for burglary, stealing and three counts of perverting the course of justice to his crimes list. The Supreme Court heard that after the robbery Bartulin called his victim and pretended to be a detective, told the man the case was closed and recommended he clean up the evidence.

Justice Crawford said Bartulin had "an appalling criminal record" of more than 200 offences and had continually breached parole. "He says he wants to reform and realises what an idiot he has been," the judge said. "Having regard to his record, his saying those things is pointless. Actions speak louder than words. "The court must have regard to the terrible financial harm and inconvenience he has caused his fellow citizens over many years."

Justice Crawford added another year to jail terms Bartulin is already serving and said he should not be considered for parole. Bartulin said "Thank you, your honour" as he was led from the court.

The Parole Board has released Bartulin early five times in recent years. "The board is of the view that you have now learnt your lesson," it said before setting him free in 2004. "The board considers that you are not going to be a danger to the public." Three months later he offended again. In 2005, they let him go again. "We are still in the same situation we were when we granted you parole originally, that is, we think it is unlikely that you will commit any further offences of burglary and stealing," the board said.

Three months later he was back before the courts. His latest release on parole was June last year. This time he lasted four months.


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