Saturday, March 13, 2010

Millions blown on dud arms

MORE than $1.2 billion worth of munitions are in an "other than serviceable" state, and the Defence Department is wasting tens of millions of dollars on payments to a French arms company, the national auditor says. Of the non-serviceable ordnance, $124 million worth of bombs, grenades, shells, bullets and missiles are beyond repair, an Australian National Audit Office report, released yesterday, says.

The auditor also found that the Defence Materiel Organisation, which buys equipment for the Defence Force, has not tightened up its armament procurement process, despite promising to do so four years ago.

The findings come on the heels of a Herald investigation that uncovered seemingly profligate and inexplicable spending by the Defence Force.

The auditor also found the Defence Department is locked into a contract under which it pays the French arms giant Thales $93 million a year to maintain factories that produce "increasingly irrelevant items". The factories, at Benalla in Victoria and Mulwala in NSW, are under-utilised and marked by "an inability to meet preparedness requirements". Although the contract is due to end in 2015, the department may be liable for further, unspecified, payments.

The report surveyed recommendations made in 2006. Although the department said it had implemented all 15 of these, the auditor found only four had been fully implemented.

One of the problems the department needs to tackle, the report said, is the condition of its $2.9 billion worth of armaments. The army alone had 57 per cent of the value of its ordnance in a non-serviceable condition. "There were a range of ongoing issues which detracted from the effective procurement of explosive ordnance for the ADF. Cumulatively, the impact of these issues is substantial."

The executive director of the Australian Defence Association, Neil James, said many of the problems could be traced back to cost-cutting, particularly contracting out to companies such as Thales.

Defence said it welcomed the report, but that none of the issues identified affected Australian troops serving overseas. It said it was undertaking reforms to address the problems.


Hopeless mathematics teaching in Australian schools

THE Group of Eight [universities] has declared mathematics education in Australia is in crisis. A six-point rescue package for maths and related disciplines recommends better dialogue between mathematics and teaching faculties to improve the mathematical competence of teachers. At the same time, it accepts an increasing number of students will be taught secondary school mathematics at university through expensive "enabling" programs. These will require "systematic organisation" and new funding initiatives.

A groundbreaking review of the mathematics and statistics disciplines at school and university by the Go8 found "the state of the mathematical sciences and related quantitative disciplines in Australia has deteriorated to a dangerous level, and continues to deteriorate."

The review was compiled by a committee of the nation's senior mathematicians headed by former University of Sydney vice-chancellor Gavin Brown. It found that in 2003 the percentage of Australian students graduating with a major in mathematics or statistics was 0.4 per cent, compared with an OECD average of 1 per cent. Between 2001-2007 the number of mathematics major enrolments in Australian universities fell by approximately 15 per cent. In contrast from 2002 to 2006 the number of applicants to mathematics degrees in Britain increased by two-thirds.

Professor Brown told the HES yesterday an attitudinal study which found only 33 per cent of year 8 mathematics students said they enjoyed maths - compared to an international average of 54 per cent - had "frightened" him. "This finding sticks out like a sore thumb," he said. "It suggests that the subject is taught reasonably well at technical level but not at the excitement level, and it's probably because many of the teachers are being asked to teach outside their own areas of expertise. They've never been passionate about the subject."

Professor Cheryl Praeger, Winthrop Professor in the school of mathematics and statistics at the University of Western Australia, told the HES that "very bright" students were entering Go8 universities inadequately prepared for university mathematics because of the poor state of maths tuition in schools. "Many will be learning their high school maths at university," she said. "We have to provide for them." She warned Australia risked becoming a Third World country if it failed to move quickly to arrest the decline in mathematics.

The chief executive of the Australian Research Council, Margaret Sheil, said she shared the concerns of the Brown review and had made mathematics one of the targeted disciplines for the next round of the federation fellowships. But she observed that statistics, which was important for new developments in biology, health and economics, was in an even worse state. She said universities could play a leadership role in arresting the decline at school level, because "strong and vibrant mathematics departments create opportunities to train strong and vibrant mathematicians, and that spins off into teaching."

The chairman of the Go8 Chair, University of Western Australia vice-chancellor Alan Robson, welcomed the review and its recommendations, which focused on equipping primary school teachers with mathematical skills and identified the need for remedial maths courses at the tertiary level.

The Go8 has renewed its push for a new higher education policy architecture focused on targeted funding to strengthen the top research institutions and render them more internationally competitive. The Go8's executive director, Mike Gallagher, will warn a higher education congress in Sydney today against attempts to emulate research universities across the sector. He will stress the need for more cost-effective forms of higher education supply, such as teaching only institutions, amid expanding domestic enrolments.


Senior Citizen waits months for 'urgent' brain surgery

They're letting this guy walk around with a time-bomb in his head

A PENSIONER has been set a date for brain surgery after accusing Queensland Health of "playing God" and forcing him to wait more than 200 days longer than he should have for the urgent operation. The state opposition seized on the case of 70-year-old Hans Hagen, who understood himself to be on a category-one waiting list for more than seven months. That's despite him being listed as in need of surgery within 30 to 60 days.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle tabled in parliament a copy of a letter from Mr Hagen to Health Minister Paul Lucas. It outlined the way his case had been handled since he was recommended for the aneurysm-correcting surgery in September last year. In it, Mr Hagen accuses Queensland Health of "playing God with my life". "My predicament is especially extreme as my life is threatened by two medical problems either of which could kill me without warning," Mr Hagen wrote. "Hence, I am at a loss to understand why my surgery has been delayed for such a long time."

He said he'd been told by Queensland Health staff that the extended wait was because he'd been reclassified to category two.

Mr McArdle demanded in question time that the health minister "explain to Mr Hagen in person why he has been waiting 267 days for urgent brain surgery".

Queensland Health district executive Dr David Theile said Mr Hagen had on Monday been scheduled for surgery in April. "Princess Alexandra Hospital apologises to the patient for any confusion about the surgical category assigned to him," Dr Theile said. "However, the hospital does not agree that his surgical condition, as has been published, is high risk." It is understood Mr Hagen's GP believed he was a category one patient, when specialists had classified him as category two.

Dr Theile said the hospital had been working with Mr Hagen since February to prepare him for surgery. "This has included consultations with specialist clinics in the hospital and privately as arranged by Mr Hagen's GP," Dr Theile said. "The hospital is sorry if this delay has caused concern for Mr Hagen, but he has expressed his satisfaction with his proposed surgery date with the hospital in communications today."


Britain voted worst place in developed world to bring up children (while Australia is the best)

Comment from Britain

Britain is the worst country in which to raise children, while Australia is the best, a study has found. The survey of [British] expatriates living in six different countries found there was a better standard of living Down Under, and a better quality of family life. A massive 78 per cent of children who moved there from countries such as the UK spent more time outdoors than they did before, and the majority ate more healthily.

In comparison, foreign children who moved to Britain were more likely to become lazy and inactive.

A third of parents who have moved here said their children watched more TV than they did before and 27 per cent saw an increase in the amount of time spent playing video games. Overall, Britain was also branded the most difficult country to move to. Schools were found to be less welcoming, and it was difficult to arrange child care.

A massive 45 per cent of parents said the quality of their family life had decreased since moving to the UK - just 16 per cent noticed an improvement, according to the survey commissioned by HSBC. Britain was rated the lowest of the six countries examined. The list, from best to worst, read Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates, the U.S. and the UK.

The results bode well for Leah Wood, 31, who recently emigrated to Sydney with her Australian husband Jack MacDonald and their nine-month- old daughter Maggie. Miss Wood, the daughter of Rolling Stone Ronnie said she wanted a 'fresh start'. She said: 'My husband is Australian and I love the lifestyle and the pureness of this city. It's really easy to be organic here. I want the best for my little Maggie.'

An HSBC spokesman said: 'When you're talking to an expat community you're obviously talking to people with a varied degree of experience in terms of different countries. 'The key centres around childcare and education... they were the things that were really highlighted. The UK has scored lower than some of the other countries in those respects.'

But Britain did rank highly in terms of cultural integration, with 83 per cent saying they were able to adapt to UK living 'well' or 'really well'. The spokesman said: 'The UK is a great place to be able to dip into a number of different cultural experiences.'

The Offshore Offspring report, commissioned by HSBC, examined children's integration, health and well-being by questioning 3,100 expats from 50 nations living in the six countries. In 2008, emigration from recession-hit Britain reached a record level with 427,000 people leaving, up from 341,000 in 2007, according to the Office for National Statistics.


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