Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Most Australians want an end to population growth

I do myself. I am sick of having to dodge around roadworks for all my life. But a growing population requires roadworks to accomodate more and more cars. And the Australian birthrate is below replacement anyway so it is immigration that is the problem. An immigration program that focused only on highly desirable immigrants and excluded parasitic "refugees" would help solve the problem

FAMILIES should have no more than two children to limit their environmental impact, one in three Australians say. Almost half say families should consider having three or fewer children, a survey shows.

The Australian National University survey found most Australians want the population to stay at or below current levels, suggesting Julia Gillard hit the right note by rejecting Kevin Rudd's "big Australia" push.

ANU political scientist Professor Ian McAllister, who led the survey, said people opposed population growth for a variety of reasons, including the cost to the environment, urban overcrowding and a lack of housing and transport. The phone poll found just 44 per cent of respondents favoured population growth.

About 52 per cent said Australia had enough people already, and further population growth would harm the environment, push up house prices and place pressure on water resources.

But there were also concerns that skills shortages could hold back the economy, with 83 per cent of respondents calling for more skilled migrants to be allowed into Australia.

And two thirds of respondents were concerned about the impact of the ageing population, with the majority opposed to tax rises to support the elderly.

About 59 per cent of Australians supported an emissions trading scheme to curb carbon pollution. But when asked to rank the nation's most pressing problems, the environment and global warming were ranked only fourth after the economy, health care and education.

Mr Rudd, as prime minister, argued for population growth, suggesting the continent could support 36 million people by 2050. Ms Gillard changed course sharply when she became Prime Minister, arguing for a "sustainable population" in an election pitch to the crowded outer suburbs.

She said Population Minister Tony Burke would deliver a sustainable population strategy. "We made an election promise about a sustainable population policy and we'll deliver it," she said.

Greens Leader Bob Brown said something had to be done to limit population growth or the planet was in trouble. "When I came on to the planet there were 2 1/2 billion human beings, there are now seven billion. We are using more than 100 per cent of the renewable living resources at the moment. Something is going to give."

The ANU poll is a quarterly survey and compares Australian results to international opinion polls.


Julia's talk about economic reform seems likely to be just empty politicking

The gap between Labor's promises of reform and delivery seems entrenched

Julia Gillard is right to warn of economic Hansonism and the political risk to reform measures, yet this seems more an exercise in political spin to de-legitimise the Tony Abbott Liberal Party.

There is only one relevant question from Gillard's new position: is this a declaration of how she will govern or an electoral tactic to save Labor from its deepening mire of minority government now reflected in the alarming fall in its primary vote?

The language of "economic Hansonism" is indelible rhetoric. These are words that stick. They are designed to derail and discredit Abbott before he can ruin Gillard with the same political steamroller that crushed Kevin Rudd. On cue, this week's polls show Labor in trouble: the ACNielsen poll has Labor's primary vote at 34 per cent and Newspoll at 33 per cent compared with a dismal 38 per cent at the August election that cost Labor majority government.

Beyond tactics, if Gillard's latest speech on economic reform is an accurate guide to her vision, strategy and values as Prime Minister then it deserves full support. She has made some defining statements: that minority government does not terminate economic reform; that leaders must lead and "my voice will be loudly heard"; and that her government will walk "the reform road every day".

Does Gillard grasp the meaning and impact of such declarations? The problem is obvious: Labor's credentials on economic reform are flawed and the gap between its promise and delivery seems entrenched. Since 2007 Labor's message has been its fidelity to Hawke-Keating pro-market reformism yet this is more a ritualistic slogan reflecting the party's pride in its history than a serious platform for action.

Gillard's statement that she believes "the reform consensus is now under serious threat" because of a few comments from Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb cannot be taken seriously. The reform consensus, in fact, has been unravelling for years and this has been the subject of an intense political and policy debate that, among other things, has dominated The Australian's coverage of national events for some time.

The irony is that Gillard's attack coincided with John Howard's book. At the launch yesterday Howard nailed Labor, lamenting "when we were in government we received no support at all" from Labor on economic reform. Howard won in 1996 on a mandate for industrial relations reform but as early as May 1996 his government's bills were being fought by Labor.

This story was repeated for 11 years, election after election. Labor opposed the GST-led tax reform after Howard's 1998 election victory and took its "rollback" policy to the 2001 poll. Its tactic was to return to power off the destruction of the GST.

Labor opposed most of the Howard government's privatisations; it was consistently hostile to measures designed to return the budget to surplus; it initially opposed the independence of the Reserve Bank; it won in 2007 by rejection of Work Choices reform and by depicting Howard as weak on climate change action.

But Gillard's position is loaded with risk. Consider the $43 billion National Broadband Network, a government-owned monopoly that is the biggest infrastructure project in the nation's history, a venture that Treasury says has financial risks for the public balance sheet, for competition policy and for efficiency in telecommunications. This government, so dedicated to economic reform, refuses to have the Productivity Commission conduct a cost-benefit analysis for a project that Malcolm Turnbull correctly says has no precedent in this country or abroad. The point, of course, is that Labor has no confidence the Productivity Commission would deliver a favourable report.

Gillard's problem is Labor's abject weakness on pro-market reforms, a point hammered by Ross Garnaut. Consider the record: Labor has partially re-regulated the labour market, walked away from carbon pricing in its first term, mismanaged its mining tax, backed a government monopoly in telecommunications, staged a historic retreat on immigration at a time of low unemployment, left the university sector increasingly uncompetitive and falls short on supply side reforms at a time of capacity constraints.

If Gillard's reform pledges are serious, she must review and re-shape how Labor governs. Hopefully, improvements will come, yet Gillard has deep commitments to many of the reform retreats and rollbacks.


Toxic suspicion of men

When did we start to dislike men so much that we're happy for them not to be part of our children's lives? That's the question posed by the latest ridiculous assault on the integrity of all males. It comes in the form of a ban on schoolboys using a public pool change room after swimming lessons because men fear they will be falsely accused of pedophilia.

Of course, the fact that many men support that decision is understandable; any man now knows he is automatically viewed with suspicion. That's why our children might sneak through the entire education system now without a male teacher. It's why men stopped jogging along bike tracks, when the city was on the lookout for the bikeway rapist. It's why airline staff try not to seat adult males next to children. And it's why most fathers I know won't supervise their young daughters' play dates, unless there is a female adult present.

The distrust of males has been creeping up on us, fanned by the sick minds of a few who have stolen the innocence of children, and left heartache in their wake. But can you now be guilty simply by gender?

Alan from Brisbane has this story: he was at South Bank when he saw a small girl, about four years old, wandering along the river's edge and crying. He watched as more than 30 people walked by without helping. He stopped one of them, a woman, and asked her to help him help the child. "I told her why - I'd be accused of being a pedophile," he said. "If that little girl had fallen into the river and I dived in after her I'd be on the front page as a hero; but when she was only 30cm from falling in I'd be called a pedophile." How did we allow ourselves to get to the point, he wrote on a Daily Telegraph blog, where caring people are considered pedophiles?

Just stop reading this, and ask the man sitting nearest to you. His reaction would probably mirror Alan's - because society has made men feel that way. This is another Brisbane man on the same blog: "I know a teacher who was accused of rape by a schoolgirl because he refused her advances, and he lost his job, his wife, his kids and his life. Never mind that she admitted it and cleared him. This culture has to change, or this sort of rule will become more common."

It seems it already has. After revelations of the Sydney pool decision, several people joined the debate, saying it had become standard practice in Brisbane. Rory said it was happening at his children's school: "The poor little buggers were freezing coming home from the pool - about 10 minutes drive - and had to change into their dry clothes at school. "It's ridiculous! If society keeps running on fear, its going to become a pretty hollow environment to live in."

Ann of Brisbane: "Our school has been doing this for years. The kids wrap themselves in towels and sit on the bus for 20 minutes in wet togs." These are boys made to feel bad because of their gender.

Allan, from the Gold Coast, explains it this way: "Why would a male teacher want to put himself in that position? All it takes is for some smart-alec kid to joke about a male teacher perving on him and (his) professional life is over . . ."

Matt of Perth: "I like this rule. You're in more danger of being falsely accused than you are of actually being a victim."

Aaron: "The last thing you want to be doing is changing from your swimming gear to work clothes or vice versa and find out a couple days later you've been accused of exposing yourself or something of the kind."

The Doc of Sydney: "I cannot get out of the pool change room fast enough if children are there as I have no defence against a false allegation."

Clancy: "I would have thought banning parents from taking pictures of their children at the beach would have been enough to wake people up from this insane pedophile mania . . . but apparently not."

Someone else: "Why don't you just stop males from being teachers to protect the student, or just stop fathers from being parents to their sons, in case they get branded a pedophile."

John from Alice Springs calls it "pedophobia", but its consequences are bigger than that. We're creating a generation of young boys who don't have confidence in their own sexuality; sons who think their gender marks them as bad; and daughters who grow up with few, if any, male role models. And in that scenario, men and women lose out.


Victorian grandmother, 91, in hospital bed crisis

A 91-year-old great-grandmother who gave 50 years of service to a Melbourne hospital waited almost 21 hours on one of its emergency department hospital trolleys, desperate for a bed.

Daphne Pollock's case is a shocking example of Victoria's hospital bed crisis, where in the past year more than 1200 people languished in emergency departments for more than 24 hours.

Doctors have pleaded for more money for beds. They also say new services are needed for aged care so even more beds can be freed.

Mrs Pollock, who has dementia, arrived at William Angliss Hospital on October 6 after becoming immobile. Her GP had called an ambulance so the emergency department could assess her for aged-care entry. Her son David said she arrived at 5.30pm but did not get a bed until 2pm the next day.

She is still in hospital after failing to be assessed and is blocking a bed for others - another problem for over-burdened hospitals.

Mr Pollock said the situation had shocked his family. "She doesn't quite understand what's happening and the situation around her," he said. "She wanted to go home but she needed assistance."

Mrs Pollock did volunteer work for the hospital's auxiliary for 50 years. And Mr Pollock said his father was on the hospital's board for 15 years.

Mrs Pollock's case is far from isolated. Hospitals' annual reports show 1211 people waited longer than an entire day and night for a bed in 2009-10. Frankston hospital struggled most, with 707 people - almost two a day - in emergency departments for more than 24 hours. Hospitals in the western suburbs also struggled, stranding dozens of patients. The Australian Medical Association and state Opposition warn the system is in crisis.

Opposition health spokesman David Davis said Premier John Brumby had promised to fix the health system. "Leaving an older and frail patient for almost a day in emergency is not paying attention to the basics," he said.

AMA Victoria president Dr Harry Hemley said there weren't enough beds.

Chief of clinical and site operations at Angliss Hospital, Anthony Black, said the incident was "regrettable" and increased demand in October was taking a toll. "At all times Mrs Pollock was being cared for by committed and professional staff," he said.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Daniel Andrews said under COAG funding, Angliss Hospital would get 10 sub-acute beds and Frankston Hospital would get 24 acute and short-stay beds.


Ignorant history examiners in NSW

ANCIENT history students are the victims of a Higher School Certificate exam mistake, aptly - and literally - known as Herculaneum Gate.

In 2008 HSC examiners in their annual post-mortem upbraided students who confused the two towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Two years later the examiners are accused of making the same error in a compulsory question posed to 12,269 students.

In last Friday's exam, students were asked about inscriptions from a cemetery excavated at Herculaneum. But a cemetery has never been found at the Herculaneum archaeological site. The inscriptions come from tombs at Pompeii, near the town's Herculaneum Gate.

Kathryn Welch, a senior lecturer in the department of classics and ancient history at the University of Sydney, said the mistake would have limited answers on one aspect in particular. It describes a public official with a career that was perfectly normal in Pompeii, but not in Herculaneum.

"This will have impeded the students' realisation that they could have talked about politics in Pompeii on which they were probably better prepared," Dr Welch said. "And, sadly, the better prepared the student was on Pompeii, the more they will have hesitated to apply their information to Herculaneum."

Brian Brennan, an ancient historian who has led school tours to both sites, said angry teachers had contacted him over the mistake. Both Roman towns were buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79.

"To the outsiders it may appear insignificant," he said. "However, we wouldn't accept such mistakes in other papers like English or maths. "It's a question about the credibility of the HSC paper and the board which oversees it. This mistake is basic. The teachers deserve better and they complain and complain and get rebuffed each time."

Jennifer Lawless, the NSW Board of Studies inspector for history, said yesterday the Herculaneum reference was a factual error. But she said the incorrect location would have little impact on the students, who were asked to deal with evidence within the inscriptions. She denied there had been errors in papers for the past three years, saying some facts presented were the subject of academic dispute known to students.

A Board of Studies spokeswoman said one complaint had been received about the ancient history paper this year. She said neither students nor teachers had made complaints about the 2009 or 2008 papers. The spokeswoman said the mistake was unfortunate after an eight-month checking process.

"With all those processes there are sometimes errors," she said. "When we find an error, the chief examiner is contacted and we evaluate how it might affect student responses. "Markers are briefed so they are aware of it and gauge whether student responses have been affected. The bottom line is we want to make sure students aren't disadvantaged."


Qld. Government announces new laws that mean all serious offenders will serve jail time

About time

ALL serious offenders are set to serve minimum jail time under tough new sentencing laws announced by the Bligh Government today. Standard non parole jail periods will be set in legislation for all serious offences from next year. A review is yet to determine what crimes and what non parole periods will be involved.

Currently the law only provides for a maximum sentence.

The changed laws will have some scope for courts to vary minimum jail time, based on strict conditions in the Act. Crimes flagged by Attorney General Cameron Dick to possibly fall under the new laws included murder, rape and sexual assault of a child.


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