Monday, October 25, 2010

WHAAAT?? This is disgraceful!

New law means arrests for 'minor' crimes not worth the effort, say Qld. police. Another case of do-gooder legislation doing more harm than good

Hundreds of offenders could soon escape prosecution by police who say new laws will make arrests for minor crimes not worth the effort. From November 1, police will be required to present more material at an offender's first court appearance, including witness and complainant statements, pictures, CCTV footage and a list of exhibits.

Under reforms adopted by the State Government, officers who fail to fulfil the requirements face the prospect of being charged with contempt of court, which carries a maximum penalty of 12 months' jail.

Queensland Police Union official Tony Collins said many minor offences would be detected but not acted upon because of the threat of police themselves being charged. "How many arrests are you going to make knowing that this sword of Damocles is hanging over your head?" Senior-Sergeant Collins said.

The sort of offences likely to be ignored by police included shoplifting and break and entering where a small amount of property was involved, as well as some domestic violence incidents and minor assaults.

A senior officer, who did not want to be named, said that in the case of assaults, police would be less inclined to encourage victims to make a complaint because it would not be worth the effort. "It's not worth our while to gather all this material then put it before the courts where you get nothing," the senior officer said. "Arrests will dry up and police will start ignoring stuff, but not serious stuff."

The reforms flow from a 2008 review of Queensland's criminal justice system by former judge Martin Moynihan, now the head of the CMC. They are intended to improve disclosure by police to give the accused a better understanding of the case against them from the outset. In his report, Mr Moynihan found there was an attitude among police that it was "not their job to help the defence".

The Queensland Police Service never responded to the report and as a result Sen-Sgt Collins said they were left with laws that would see officers spending more time desk-bound.

"If Moynihan truly wanted to improve the justice system, he would've required full disclosure from both sides of the table. Instead what we've got is a card game where you have to show your opponent all your cards, and they don't have to show you anything."

The QPS would not respond to questions about the changes yesterday but Brisbane criminal defence lawyer Ken Mackenzie said they would foster an efficient justice system. "It's about disclosing (evidence) to the defence early so informed decisions can be made, and the lawyer can advise the client of the case against them and an appropriate plea," he said.

QPU president Ian Leavers said police were concerned about the implications of the reforms.


Greenie superstition masquerading as agricultural science

The angst in Murray-Darling Basin communities about proposed water regime changes belies Australian farmers' record in adopting research.

Both rain-fed and irrigation farmers have a proud record of steadily increasing sustainable productivity. The adoption of practices such as zero-till and hugely improved output per unit of winter rainfall by rain-fed farmers have resulted in grain yields doubling in the past 30 years. Irrigators have maintained the value of outputs despite using only half as much water during the drought. Both efficiencies were achieved by committed farmers backed by strong research performance from supporting agencies. There is no place for the amateur.

Michael Jeffery and Julian Cribb ("Water is the key to sustainability", The Australian, October 15) give us an interesting drop-by-drop analysis of our water resources.

They very crisply identify the challenge: minimise evaporation, recycle city waste water, don't "over-engineer" streams, preserve prime land from urban sprawls, encourage give-it-a-go farmers, maintain supporting scientific research and ensure supply of skilled personnel.

A useful definition of sustainable agriculture is that to which society has committed enough resources to identify problems, to have solutions adequately researched and to ensure adoption of the solutions: never arrive, but eternally strive! It takes time and solid support for adoption of technology: time to consider the whole impact, to change equipment, arrange finance, and make arrangements with input suppliers and product buyers. In the Murray-Darling Basin it is a whole-of-community adaptation process.

A scientific base for this development is essential but beware of false prophets! Unfortunately, Jeffrey and Cribb have been taken in by one such, Peter Andrews, of ABC TV's Australian Story fame, who scorns agricultural science in his book, Back from the Brink. He insults the rural agencies and scientists with such absurd assertions as: "In my experience most scientists are hamstrung by a fear of change", and "I know several who had an opportunity to initiate change . . . but shied away". He alleges total failure by agricultural scientists to work together on land and water management, gives no credit to the effective efforts of Landcare, state departments of agriculture-primary industries, soil conservation agencies and catchment management authorities.

Andrew's work, described as (undefined) natural sequence farming, is disconnected from the past 50 years of science which gave this country substantial increased food and fibre production and better land management. On pastures he states: "Ten per cent coverage of thistles . . . enough to maintain the fertility". Then, "grass will accumulate fertility . . . a lot slower than weeds do" and, "there isn't a pasture anywhere in Australia today . . . more productive if it had weeds growing in the grass. So it isn't just a case of weeds not being harmful; it's a case of weeds being essential."

Then again, he posits that fertilisers are not needed: "Chemical fertilisers do not really fertilise the soil; a feedback loop tells the plants to stop growing when there is not enough fertility . . . This correlation disappears as soon as you apply a chemical fertiliser. Then the plant will keep growing willy-nilly, exhausting and weakening the soil, which is then less able to cope with erosion, extremes of climate and other stressful conditions. Chemical fertilisers stimulate grass to keep growing regardless."

Surely, few readers can take such nonsense seriously? Nearly a century of scientific research and farming experience have clearly demonstrated that fertilised leguminous plants in balance with others will produce nutritious feed at the same time raising the organic matter level of the soil and protecting it from erosion.

The water conservation and food production scenario identified by Jeffrey and Cribb, and the underlying the plan for the Murray-Darling Basin, need the best trained scientific brains, well-funded for their research, capable of passing on evidence-based advice to well-trained, intelligent, adaptive farmers, who respect sound science and analysis and are capable of carrying further the successful agricultural research and development of recent decades.


Pupils once had access to life's poetry

Not all education needs to be utilitarian. An introduction to the beautiful and the inspiring is important too

Christopher Pearson

One of the cornerstones of Western civilisation is the proposition that the growth of human understanding is an intrinsic good. This stands regardless of whether it's of practical use or economic benefit and even when -- for example, in the case of research into lethal variants of viruses -- the new knowledge has potentially catastrophic consequences.

Some kinds of new knowledge are obviously far more important than others; some that at first seemed so trivial as to be barely worth recording lead to wonderful drugs such as penicillin. Many of the rankings on what's worth knowing are far more provisional than is commonly supposed and most are subject to revision over time.

For many revisionist educational theorists, truth and beauty are corny abstractions with resonances of the poetry of Keats and Matthew Arnold's late Victorian text Culture and Anarchy.

Others, not least of them Pope Benedict XVI, insist that the experience of the beautiful and developing the ability to discern the true are the foundation of any education worthy of the name. They further argue that it is the intrinsic value of the arts, the social and the natural sciences -- rather than preparing job-ready pupils -- that should shape the content of any curriculum and its priorities.

The philistines in charge of state education, and many of their colleagues in the private schools, have triumphed to the point where concrete examples of the kind of policy I'm talking about may be scarcely imaginable for readers in their 30s and 40s. Let me sketch it out, with reassurances that 40 years ago it was the norm for most Year 10 kids.

At school, in Year 8 and above, students would at least be expected to have mastered arithmetic and be able to read, more or less under their own steam, two novels suitable to their age. They were still taught the rudiments of grammar and spelling, and expected to commit to memory 40 or 50 lines of verse, or perhaps some of Shakespeare's speeches, in any given year. In independent and Catholic schools the emphasis on memorising was stronger, leaving kids an enduring legacy of "the best that's been thought and said" in their mother tongue.

From Year 8 there was a general introduction to maths, physics and chemistry for all but the slowest, and most had at least one year, often three, of French, German or Latin, the great literary languages. Most studied history and/or geography, and had at least one lesson a week of art, music and physical education.

By that time sport was an optional extra, along with participating in the choir or school band and putting on a play each year.

By the end of Year 10 the average pupil would have been no less job-ready than his contemporary counterparts, but would have had a broader and deeper general education.

The class of 1970 would have had a fair range of options and been able to compensate with extracurricular activities if the core wasn't very appealing. They'd have been able to read a newspaper and, when necessary, most would have known how to use a library. Even if their English teachers had been remiss on the subject of grammar, studying another language would have helped many to grasp the fundamentals of their own.

The general assumption was that everybody, including the plodders in the technical schools, was entitled to experience music and poetry and fiction that spoke to "the higher things". The task was to give them a preliminary introduction to the riches of the culture or, in F.R. Leavis's phrase, "a greater sense of life's possibilities". The Left and the Right of the teachers' unions in those days tended to agree that their responsibility was to help prepare kids for life, not just ready them to acquire a meal ticket or turn them into factory fodder.

None of this is to disparage vocational education per se; merely to put it in proper perspective.

The broader and better the education, the less likely that kids will specialise too soon, foreclosing other options, and the more adaptable to the increasing vagaries of the jobs market. Let me end with a proposition that in 1970 would have been a commonplace and now seems almost scandalous.

Suppose you had taught a pupil to sing and follow a score, or play a musical instrument. Whether anyone else got to hear the person sing or play, or whether performing became a source of income, was entirely up to the individual. You had given that person a great gift: a measure of access to the canon and a grounding in technique. That was all that mattered.

From an educational perspective, the fact that it might never be shared, let alone monetised, as accountants say these days, or that it might never be captured in measured productivity or the gross domestic product, was of no consequence whatsoever. I trust that, for the best of the rising generation of teachers, it still doesn't matter.


Australia's Leftist policy on illegals will both encourage more to come and stoke opposition to them

IT has taken less than a week for political reality to get in the way of Immigration Minister Chris Bowen's policy response to the ever-increasing numbers of asylum-seekers.

On Monday, Mr Bowen announced a major modification to the policy of mandatory detention, perhaps the biggest change since it was introduced by the Keating government in 1992. Children and at least one parent will now be allowed to live in community housing, run by churches and charities, while their refugee claims are considered. The decision will be welcomed not just by the government's Green allies in the parliament but also by everybody in the community uncomfortable with locking children up. It is hard to imagine anything more unsettling for Australians than the sight of children playing behind razor wire.

But Mr Bowen's compassion comes at a price, and the minister should not underestimate the pitfalls. Too many Labor policies have come to grief at the intersection with the point of delivery.

The minister must start by listening to community concerns in Northam in Western Australia, where single male asylum-seekers will be housed, and Woodside in the Adelaide Hills, where 400 refugees will be housed. While it is easy for politically correct commentators to brush off opposition as unenlightened bigotry, the truth is residents have legitimate questions about what the impact of asylum-seekers' children will be on the local schools and how their health needs, and those of their parents, will be met.

The heavy-handed announcement of the Woodside decision without discussing it with anybody in South Australia, including Premier Mike Rann, will not create confidence. Mr Bowen owes a duty of care to the asylum-seekers he will send into these communities to ensure they stay safe and healthy and that their claims are processed as quickly as possible. But he must also start talking to Mr Rann and Western Australia's Premier, Colin Barnett, to ensure the communities of Woodside and Northam know they will not be overwhelmed.

Before the election, the Gillard government went out of its way to assure the electorate it would not encourage more asylum-seekers, and on ABC TV's Q&A, Mr Bowen acknowledged that detention centres existed for legitimate reasons when he took over the portfolio last month. He also told the network's Lateline he wanted to destroy the "people-smugglers business model".

While a regional processing centre in East Timor was one of the government's original schemes to destroy their industry, his new plan could easily have the opposite outcome. People-smugglers will work hard to argue that it is only a short step from being housed by a church or community group, with children free to attend school, to being accepted as a permanent resident. And if the smugglers make a convincing case, the boats will keep coming.

That Mr Bowen wants to be as kind as he can to the passengers of those that have already arrived is understandable. But releasing children and their parents into Australian communities is not a policy that can easily accommodate the right of asylum-seekers to fair process while respecting community concerns and tempting more people to take their chances on the cruel seas.


Lack of good roads shafts farmers

It should be a time for celebration in southwestem Queens- land, Seven months after drought-breaking floods devastated the region, farmers are finally being rewarded for their grit and hard graft with a bumper wheat crop. But while Mother Nature is at last showing some generosity, bureaucrats and politicians threaten to give growers yet another brutal kick -- with infrastructure delays and water restrictions.

Above-average rainfall this year has meant under-resourced local councils have struggled to perform crucial repairs to many rural stock routes heavily damaged during the March floods. The mostly gravel roads are the lifeblood of the region and used to transport millions of tonnes of grain and more than 500,000 head of cattle.

Balonne Sire chief exceutive Scott Norman said the condition of some stock routes and rural roads was so bad-that individual grain crops may be abandoned if farmers have no on-site storage facilities. ""We just haven’t been able to put a grader through any of these roads because it's just too wet", he said. "We have been seeing more road trains getting bogged, which means we have to damage the roads even more to get them out. It's going to add huge costs to farmers trying to get their grain to the two grain depots in the area.... some crops may be dumped"

St George Cotton Association president and wheat and cattle farmer Ed Willis said he may be unable to transport his wheat crop the l0km to the state’s biggest grain depot at Thallon. "With everything going on with the (Murray-Darling Basin Authority report) we need every single dollar that we can get out of this crop," he said.

Constant rain in the southwest has reduced the quality of many wheat crops. Degraded stock routes could increase freight costs by up to 40 per cent, making profits marginal.

Some locals have also queried the quality of State Government repairs to sections of the Carnarvon and Castlereagh highways. A section of the Castlereagh Highway about 25km south of St George has been filled with gravel and not resealed with bitumen; while a section of the Carnarvon Highway, about l0krn south of Thallon, has not been restored to its previous condition.

A Department of Transport and Main Roads spokesman said both were repaired to a safe standard. Thallon farmer Andrew Earle disagrees, saying the frequency of road lrains using the Camarvon Highway will increase over the coming weeks and seriously damage the road surface. "You can see where the bitumen is bubbling up because they didn’t patch the road properly," he said.

The condition of the two regional highways is more crucial than ever since Queensland Rail decided to permanently close the Thallon to Dirranbandi line in July this year, after it had not been in operation since the middle of 2009.

Cattle and wheat farmer Kerry O’Sullivan has lived off the land west of Thallon for more than four decades and believes the rain and poor quality of roads could increase his freight bill by between 20 and 30 per cent "I don’t like to whinge. After all the years of drought, it is fantastic to finally get rain, but we just need a couple of dry weeks," he said.

The damage to the stock routes and rural roads has forced many in the Murweh Shire to get their cattle to bitumen roads before they are taken to the ahattoir. Mayor Mark O’Brien said some graziers in the area were doing it tough because of the condition of the roads since the flooding. "Because of the poor quality of these rural roads, graziers have had to battle to get their stock out of their property," he said. "It means having to get the cattle out to the bitumen, which could be miles away from where the road trains would normally pick them up."

Mr O’Brien said constant rain since the floods had made it impossible to seal a 7km secuon of Adavale Rd. He said about half the shire’s 2000km of gravel road should be sealed but at nearly $50,000 a kilometre, the expense was beyond the scope of the council’s ability to pay.

The article above appeared (print only) in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 24 October, 2010

Petty bureaucratic nastiness in Australia too: Man fined $300 after saving a life

Britain is the world HQ for this sort of thing but there is always some nasty little bureaucratic prick everywhere who needs to use his powers to hurt rather than help people

A MAN who saved his mate's life after a jetski accident at Caloundra is outraged that he has now been hit with a $300 fine by authorities. Brisbane man Dave Burke suffered the hit to the hip pocket by Maritime Safety Queensland for "failing to report an incident".

The "incident" happened near the Caloundra Bar on Easter Sunday when a large wave knocked the 30-year-old and his 29-year-old friend off Mr Burke's jetski. The jetski sank and Mr Burke was picked up by an onlooker and taken back to the beach.

"I've then borrowed a jetski and gone out to get my mate," he said. "He was wearing a vest but he was pretty frightened. "He kept getting hit with some pretty heavy waves and because he had the vest on he wasn't able to get away from them."

Both men made it safely on to the sand of Bribie Island, where a female sunbather alerted the nearest life guard. Mr Burke said his friend was uninjured and had walked about 200 metres by the time the life guard and Coastguard arrived on the scene. "He told them he didn't need any transport but the Coastguard have insisted. "Now, because they've insisted on a transport that we didn't want, I've had to pay a $300 fine."

Mr Burke said the life guard advised him he would take care of any required paperwork and he retrieved his jetski with the help of another jetski rider.

Several weeks after the incident he was contacted by Maritime Queensland, who requested he make an incident report. He claims he did that but officials say it never arrived and he received his $300 fine in the mail last Monday.

Mr Burke said Maritime Safety Queensland viewed the incident as a "man overboard" that required reporting. "It's a jetski. If that is a man overboard, then Maritime should be chasing up the other 200 of these that happen every day," he said.

But Caloundra Coastguard Commander Bill Rowland said he did not recall the incident but the law was very clear. "He has to understand that as the skipper of a vessel... he has responsibility under the Marine Act to report an incident to a shipping inspector within 24 hours," he said. "The law is very clear on that. There is no ambiguity. "He obviously didn't do that and he got fined.

"I imagine there will be more to the situation than he is saying. "He would not be fined for falling off a jetski, he would be fined for not reporting an incident which the MSQ determined was a reportable marine incident."

Mr Burke said he had paid the $300 and while he would save his friend again if he had to, the fine had left a sour taste in his mouth. "When you've busted your arse to get to someone and also risked your own life – this is the thanks you get," Mr Burke said.


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