Monday, August 23, 2010

Single W.A. seat could hold key

What did I say about W.A.?

Interesting point: Ken Wyatt has Aboriginal ancestry. So the immediate future of Australia's government could depend on the vote for a conservative "black" man

FOUR seats remain on a knife-edge after the latest counting. But the West Australian seat of Hasluck could hold the keys to The Lodge for either Julia Gillard or Tony Abbott.

Last night the Liberals held a narrow lead in Hasluck, putting Mr Abbott within reach of moving to 73 seats and a chance of forming government in the 150 seat House of Representatives. At 73 seats Mr Abbott would be able to negotiate with the three independents, Bob Katter, Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, to take power with a majority of one.

But if Labor can get to 73 or 74 seats it may be able to govern with the support of the Green member for Melbourne Adam Bandt, who took the seat from the government after the retirement of Lindsay Tanner at Saturday's election.

After counting yesterday, Labor held leads in the Victorian seat of Corangamite, and Lindsay in western Sydney, putting it on track to move to 72 seats. The Tasmanian seat of Denison was also a tight contest between independent candidate Andrew Wilkie and Labor's Jonathan Jackson.

In Hasluck, Liberal candidate Ken Wyatt held a 363-vote, two-party-preferred lead over sitting Labor member Sharryn Jackson. But Labor is not yet ready to write off the seat and is confident of clawing back the Liberals' lead when pre-poll and postal votes are counted over the next 13 days.

Counting continued yesterday after the Australian Electoral Commission tallied a record 11 million votes on Saturday night -- 600,000 more than on election night in 2007. Over the next week, the AEC will concentrate on declaration votes including absentee votes cast on polling day, postals, pre-polls cast outside the voters' home electorate, and provisional votes.

After counting yesterday Labor held 50.67 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote compared with the Coalition's 49.33 per cent. That represented a swing of 2.03 per cent against the government. Labor had suffered a 4.87 per cent swing against in on the primary vote.

In Lindsay, Labor's David Bradbury held a 1017-vote lead over the Liberals' Fiona Scott and in the Victorian seat of Corangamite, Labor's Darren Cheeseman held a 1189-vote lead over the Liberals' Sarah Henderson on a two-party preferred basis.

An AEC spokesman said there were up to 2 million declaration votes for the AEC to scrutinise and count, including up to 1 million postal votes that could be received by the AEC up to 13 days after election day.

A senior Liberal source said up to 10 seats would probably remain in play as postal and pre-poll votes were counted.

The Liberals are looking at a best-case scenario of 76 seats and a worst-case scenario of about 70 seats as counting continues. But it is expected seats will move in and out of contention over the next few days as postal votes are counted.

For example, in Brisbane the Liberals' Teresa Gambaro is leading Labor's sitting member Arch Bevis by 858 votes on a two-party preferred basis. And in Macquarie the Liberals' Louise Markus last night led her Labor rival Susan Templeman by 1338 votes on a two- party preferred basis.


Children 'wrongly diagnosed'

The medicalization of behaviour marches on. We we will all be in some diagnostic category eventually. I wonder what I will be labelled with? "Senile hostility" perhaps?

DOCTORS are being pressured to diagnose children with behaviour disorders to get them extra assistance in schools, labelling many with diseases they probably don't have, researchers warn.

South-western and western Sydney have become hot spots for children, especially boys, being given diagnoses of behaviour disorder and emotional disturbance. The children are then enrolled in special schools and support classes, according to research soon to be published by Macquarie University academics.

Macquarie University researcher Linda Graham said three separate studies pointed to "pressures on paediatricians to inflate diagnoses so kids get support in class".

The research shows enrolments for "behaviour disorder" rose in NSW special schools by 254 per cent between 1997 and 2007, while kids with physical, hearing and visual disabilities fell 60 per cent over that period.

In support classes in regular NSW primary schools, emotionally disturbed diagnoses rose 139 per cent, while in support classes in regular NSW high schools, autism diagnoses grew by 280 per cent, emotional disturbance increased by 348 per cent, and behaviour disorder by 585 per cent during the same period.

Behavioural disorder diagnoses sharply rose from 2002, when NSW began building special schools for children with behavioural problems.

Children are "being diagnosed with things they don't have", Dr Graham, a fellow with the Centre for Research into Social Inclusion, said. . South-western Sydney, which accounts for 17.5 per cent of total enrolments in NSW government schools, has 26.5 per cent of enrolments in special schools and support classes, while western Sydney accounts for 13.7 per cent of total school enrolments but 17.8 per cent of enrolments in special schools and support classes.

Northern Sydney, with 11.5 per cent of school enrolments, has only 5.7 per cent of children in special schools and support classes.

Australian Medical Association paediatrics spokesman Choong-Siew Yong said he was not surprised at the disparity: parents in wealthier suburbs could afford non-government assistance for struggling children.

Dr Yong said sometimes schools will tell parents their child's behaviour "matches other kids with particular problems" and recommend they take the child to see a paediatrician to seek a diagnosis and therefore see if the child is eligible for special education funding assistance.

But Dr Yong said only a very small number of parents come looking for a particular diagnosis for their child and that paediatricians were "not placed under undue pressure". "I don't think people are lying and ripping off the system," Dr Yong said.

While parents are increasingly clamouring for greater funding for assistance, the researchers have shown special education costs rose from 7.2 per cent in 1997 of NSW government school recurrent payments to 12.8 per cent in 2007.

NSW Teachers Federation deputy president Gary Zadkovich said there was "no clear outcome" in the debate over whether too many children are being diagnosed or overmedicated. "I can say unequivocally more students are presenting in Australian schools with special education needs just because of developments in medical science," he said.


Big ripoff in school building

Because both the Federal and State government were asleep at the helm

MORE than $24 million in management fees were pocketed by six construction firms under the controversial federal Building the Education Revolution program in Queensland.

The stunning scale of how lucrative the program has been so far has been revealed for the first time in documents released by the Education Department. The documents also reveal the State Government has been paid almost $20 million in administration fees through July.

BER is due to deliver about $3.1 billion worth of new buildings for Queensland schools, but only 60 per cent of projects have been completed on time.

Department officials defended the fees as being within Commonwealth program guidelines and necessary for the program's success.

But LNP education spokesman Bruce Flegg said it was a waste to pay hefty fees to the states and to major companies that didn't actually do the work. "There have been fees upon fees," he said. "Many of these projects could have been planned by the schools themselves."

He said the major contractors getting the fees "were by and large very close to the Government".

The documents show $24,466,549.93 in management fees was paid to construction companies Hansen Yuncken, Abigroup, Watpac, Laing O'Rourke and to Leighton – along with its subsidiaries Theiss and John Holland – up to July this year. Leighton, Theiss and John Holland received the most management fees through July – just over $10 million. Hansen Yuncken received $3,588,237.22.

Leighton and Hansen Yuncken said they were unable to comment and referred questions to the Department of Education.

The State Government had received $19,891,453 to administer the program up until July, records show.


Hazy truth about organics

ENTHUSIASM for "clean, green" food is being tempered by confusion about what constitutes organic, with shoppers often not getting what they pay for.

Australians spend about $1 billion a year on organic food and other products, paying up to 50 per cent more than for conventional produce.

Yet there is huge confusion about what the label "organic"means. There are now calls for the introduction of better industry standards.

Industry expert Joanna Hendryks from the University of Canberra, said that from a consumer's point of view "it's a dog's breakfast". "Consumers need to be incredibly motivated to tell if something is organic just by looking at the label."

Chairman of the Organic Federation of Australia (OFA), Andre Leu, said shoppers deserve a better deal. "Consumers find it very hard to decide what are genuine organic products," he said.

The fact there are seven separate organisations that certify products as organic, each with a different logo, adds to consumer confusion.

In 2008, OFA commissioned research to find out how well understood the logos were. It found that even the best recognised symbol, which belongs to the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia, was recognised by only 28 per cent of regular organic shoppers. Only 5 per cent of regular organic buyers recognising the other logos.

There is even confusion among the various certifiers about how to define a product as organic.

One of the certifying bodies, Demeter, will only put its logo on food that has been grown using "bio-dynamic" principals, including the application of fermented cow manure that has been buried in a cow's horn.

Assistant professor Hendryks said shoppers gave a variety of reasons when asked why they buy organic. "For some consumers it is about taking back control and being able to make a difference to the environment in their own way," she said. "For others it is about the health benefits - or perceived health benefits, as the studies to date are still contradictory on whether there are or aren't benefits. "Then a lot of people swear by taste, particularly when they are talking about things like organic chickens and tomatoes."

Research shows shoppers are often casual when selecting what they assume is organic food - some believe chicken labelled free-range is also organic. "In my research, many people assumed Lilydale chicken was organic," Professor Hendryks said. "If you look at their packaging they don't anywhere say they are certified organic - and I'm not wanting to imply they are deceiving consumers - but there is a lot of confusion. "People will also assume that what is being sold in a farmers' market is organic when that's not necessarily the case."

A popular range of skin and haircare products is not certified as organic, despite having the words "Nature's Organics" on the label. A spokeswoman for the Melbourne company admitted many customers probably assumed the products were organic. "It is as natural as we can make it at this point," she said.

Until late last year there was no legal definition of the word "organic". As long as a product was not labelled "certified" organic, a manufacturer or grower could imply that it had been produced organically.

Only goods destined for export had to meet a minimum standard set by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. "On domestic markets there has been no legal requirement at all," Mr Leu said. "It's been at best a gentlemen's agreement that products on the market are certified but [there] has been no law to say that.

"We always felt that was a bit of a problem because people could make organic claims when they haven't had anyone to accredit them or certify them as genuinely organic."

A new voluntary domestic Australian organic standard that, among other things, bans the use of synthetic fertilisers and pesticides and genetically modified material was introduced last October.

It will be up to the ACCC to prosecute producers who fail to comply under trade practices legislation. The OFA is pushing for the seven certifiers to accept one standard logo.

Professor Hendryks said the move would be a great boost to consumers: "I think with a big education campaign it will definitely solve a lot of the confusion.".


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