Saturday, October 30, 2010

Where’s the fire?

According to a most intrusive and misguided piece of strata legislation, occupants in NSW units apparently do not have the right to install a security chain on their front doors, irrespective of need. This is to ensure that, in the unlikely event of a fire, residents do not have trouble with the simple task of slipping the chain off the latch. A deadlock, however, with its confusing and complicated mechanisms and the need for an easily misplaced key, is apparently quite safe. Huh?

This is yet another example of the nanny state and illogical bureaucracy intruding into so many areas of our lives. Fire prevention and safety laws are valuable, and undoubtedly have a place in society, but restricting the right of individuals to secure their home against intruders is a ridiculous and unnecessary bureaucratic invasion.

The destruction of Australian civil liberties might not yet rage with the intensity of a burning building, but is nonetheless quietly smouldering away. So what can we do about it?

On the other side of the world, in a heartening admission of the massive problems the United Kingdom faces with state interventionism and bossy-booting, a community consultation was launched in July by the David Cameron/Nick Clegg coalition. The initiative Your Freedom invites Britons to suggest which aspects of their lives are being restricted by government and which laws or regulations need amending or tossing onto a bonfire. Cynicism about PR campaigning aside, the idea has merit.

Freedom of speech, freedom to organise, and freedom to act are all fundamental human rights, but ones that must constantly be fought for even in democratic societies. Isn’t it time we shouted ‘fire!’ in the crowded cinema of Australian civil life?

What illiberal laws should Australia remove? What individual rights and liberties have we restricted in the name of security or political correctness? In this age of terrorism and global economic uncertainty, do we value the illusion of safety and ‘benevolent’ pseudo-parental concern more than our freedom?

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated October 29. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Why graduates lean to the Green/Left

A correlation between degrees and voting Green reflects poorly on our academics, says a conservative student

SOME have attributed the increasing levels of support for the Greens to centrist policies adopted by the Labor Party on climate change, refugees and gay marriage that offend its progressive base. Others argue the rising Greens vote is due to a failure by the main parties and the media to apply appropriate scrutiny to Greens policies, which they say are far more radical than many realise.

Former finance minister Lindsay Tanner, whose seat of Melbourne was lost to the Greens' Adam Bandt, has a different view. In his 2009 John Button Memorial Lecture, Tanner attributed the rise of the Greens to the expansion of higher education.

"Voting behaviour is increasingly defined as much by education as by income level. The Greens are, first and last, a product of higher education. Greens voters are overwhelmingly people with a tertiary education . . . 20 years ago this group was modest in size and overwhelmingly Labor in adherence. Now their numbers are growing rapidly and many support the Greens," he said.

Tanner went on to say this growing group had a "profound commitment to multiculturalism, gender equity and higher learning" and that this was a product of their education.

There is some empirical evidence to support Tanner's thesis. Data from the 2007 Australian Election Study, collected by the Australian National University, showed voters with higher education qualifications were much likelier than the general population to identify with the Greens.

In the overall population, the study found just 5.8 per cent of voters identified with the Greens. But among those with a bachelor's degree, that rose to 11.1 per cent, and 12.9 per cent among those with postgraduate qualifications. Postgraduates also were twice as likely to state they "strongly liked" the Greens.

The study also asked participants to rank themselves on a left-right matrix. Among the general population, about one-third of respondents identified with the broad Right, while 27.7 per cent identified with the broad Left. Yet significantly more people with university-level education self-identified as left-wing, including 42.4 per cent of people with a bachelor's degree and 44.6 per cent of postgraduate qualification holders.

So, what explains the higher levels of support for the Greens? It should not necessarily follow that more education equates to more left-wing views. After all, what does a bachelor of engineering, science or commerce teach students about gay marriage or refugees?

It is a damning indictment of the higher education system that Tanner, from the left faction of the ALP, admits our universities are churning out increasing numbers of Greens voters. It is no coincidence the institutions that churn out these graduates are dominated by left-wing academics.

There are limited studies of academic bias in Australian universities, and most of the evidence to support the notion of widespread bias is anecdotal, but that does not mean it is not a problem.

In 2008 the Senate inquired into the issue and, despite the overwhelming majority of individual submissions reporting instances of academic bias, the Labor-Greens majority on the committee dismissed the idea that bias was a problem in Australian universities.

The Liberal minority report, however, argued the evidence presented at the hearings by students and representative organisations suggested it was a problem. Students complained they were treated as pariahs if they expressed centre-right views and felt excluded and vilified because of their politics.

Studies in the US make it clear that academe is almost exclusively dominated by the Left. One, published by The New York Times in 2004, showed registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans in humanities departments seven to one.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Melbourne during the past five years, I've witnessed and been subject to multiple instances of academic bias. One of the worst examples was presented to the Senate inquiry in 2008.

An introductory politics subject, Contemporary Ideologies and Movements, devoted one week to liberalism and conservatism. For the following 11 weeks, it examined different variants of socialism and green ideology as well as feminist and lesbian political movements.

Worse, the required reading on liberalism was not John Stuart Mill or Friedrich Hayek but an expose on the social lives of Young Liberals published in The Monthly magazine. Following the inquiry the subject was abolished and replaced with a subject that, in the words of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis, would have a broader focus and include readings from Milton Friedman.

Critics note few conservatives aspire to careers in academe, preferring to enter the private sector in search of higher earnings. They argue it is only from self-selection that university faculties tilt left, not sinister design.

That may be true, but many conservatives are discouraged from seeking careers in universities because faculties appear monolithic and unwelcoming for those on the Centre-Right. And it does not absolve universities from their responsibility to teach in a non-partisan manner.

Having left-wing views or political affiliations does not automatically make an academic biased. Excellent teachers are able to put their own views aside and present a balanced appraisal of contentious issues. But many professors are not able to put their politics aside, and the lack of intellectual pluralism at many universities means academics work and socialise mostly among those who share their left-wing views.

Of course, academic bias has a more immediate effect than its capacity to skew the electorate: on the quality of education students receive. For this reason alone, it deserves much greater public scrutiny.


Thousands dying waiting for surgery in Victoria

MORE than 6300 people - almost two a day - have died waiting for surgery in Victoria in the past nine years. The revelation comes as the length of time patients spend on elective surgery waiting lists continues to grow.

Figures obtained under Fredom of Information by the Liberal Party show almost 600 people died on hospital waiting lists in 2009-10, taking the total for the past nine years to 6381.

Almost 1000 of those who died waiting were under the age of 60, including up to 41 infants and up to 52 children. Men outnumbered women almost two to one.

Opposition health spokesman David Davis said the Brumby Government had ignored thousands of desperately ill Victorians needing surgery and often forced to live in pain and discomfort. "It is clear that thousands are dying while on the Brumby Government's waiting lists, and the numbers may actually be far greater given John Brumby's hidden massive surgery waiting lists," he said.

Health Minister Daniel Andrews said there was no suggestion that the procedure for which these patients were listed contributed in any way to their death. "These statistics show the people who have been taken off the surgery waiting list because the hospital has been notified that they have passed away," his spokeswoman said.

Urology patients - those needing surgery for prostate, kidney and bladder illnesses - and those with eye diseases were among the highest death rates.

Documents released under FoI show 77 Victorians died waiting for urgent elective surgery in the past year. Hospital admission is desired within 30 days. Over nine years, 877 people in the "urgent" category died before making it into the operating theatre.

In the past decade the wait for urgent surgery has blown out from a median seven days to 10 days. The wait for semi-urgent surgery has ballooned from 35 days to 51. For other operations, it's out from 52 to 89.

Most waiting-list deaths were recorded by Southern Health, which runs Monash Medical Centre. It had 66 deaths in the past year and 790 since 2001.

Austin Health reported 48 deaths last year and 698 since 2001. Austin CEO Dr Brendan Murphy said most waiting list deaths were not associated with the condition for which patients were awaiting treatment. "If you've got a life threatening condition you don't even go on the waiting list," he said. "Certainly you might find someone, for example, who was waiting for a heart operation, who dies of a heat attack and that might be because the condition suddenly changed."

Mr Murphy said checks on a sample of 50 patients who died while on waiting lists at the Austin two years ago found all the result of unrelated causes.


Bid to lift choice for university students

VICTORIA yesterday called for more student choice and new private providers in university education.

The Brumby government is urging the Gillard government to extend commonwealth undergraduate funding to TAFEs and other approved providers.

In its Tertiary Education Access Plan to be announced today, the government says increased choice is needed to meet skill shortages and demand for more applied-focused degrees.

From 2012, the federal government is uncapping the supply of commonwealth-supported undergraduate places that universities can offer to increase participation. But Victoria wants commonwealth places to be allocated as an "entitlement" to eligible students to study at the provider of their choice.

Philip Clarke, head of tertiary education policy at Skills Victoria, said: "Victoria believes that shifting the focus of a demand-driven model to a student entitlement that can be met by a wider range of providers that have met national quality assurance and regulatory standards is a key element of growing higher education participation and completion."

The Victorian proposal comes as the Group of Eight sandstone universities lobby for significant student fee deregulation to drive choice, and also argue for commonwealth funding for TAFEs.

The Council of Private Higher Education welcomed the proposals but warned that commonwealth funding, plus the student contribution, did not cover the cost of delivery of many courses.

TAFE Directors Australia backed the proposal, noting that TAFE students doing degrees had to pay full fees without commonwealth supported places. But Universities Australia said that while it wasn't opposed in principle the commonwealth first needed to ensure new national quality regulators were in place.

RMIT vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner said universities were already well placed to deliver on the government's expansion targets and that a wide range of courses were available to students.

Kwong Lee Dow, former Melbourne University vice-chancellor and an adviser to the government on the plan, said he was disappointed the plan didn't include significant new spending measures beyond a previously announced $104 million for boosting tertiary access in rural areas.

The plan, worth $7m, details priorities for fostering school, TAFE and university partnerships to boost participation, and includes a government internship program for the disadvantaged.


Fibre network a waste of money, says Japanese expert

ONE of Japan's richest men has labelled Australia's $43 billion National Broadband Network a stupid waste of taxpayers' money. Masayoshi Son, who heads Japanese internet and mobile giant Softbank and counts Apple's Steve Jobs and Microsoft's Bill Gates among his friends, attacked the Gillard government's signature project yesterday.

Quizzed about the NBN by The Weekend Australian after delivering a speech in Tokyo, Mr Son said it was completely unnecessary to spend so much taxpayers' money. "It's a waste; it's a stupid solution," he said. "Without using taxpayers' money you can get 21st-century infrastructure."

Mr Son had just finished delivering his own vision of how to deliver fibre-to-the-home connections throughout Japan without any taxpayer contribution. He claimed that his solution, recently put to Prime Minister Naoto Kan and several members of his cabinet, would deliver basic fibre connections for just 1150 yen ($15) a month, far cheaper than what is envisaged under the NBN. That is also far cheaper than the current typical monthly price of Y5000 ($63) for cable in Japan.

Mr Son's proposal involves splitting the part-government-owned NTT into telco services and fibre network businesses and rolling out cable to all homes within five years. Softbank and fellow carrier KDDI would fold their fibre cable infrastructure into the merged network business, which would then be 40 per cent owned by the government and 60 per cent by NTT, Softbank and KDDI.

Mr Son said that a one-time rollout of fibre -- similar to the NBN proposal -- would cost just one-third as much as cabling individual homes on an on-demand basis. "My advice is forget about the demand basis installation, just do it with a plan. Replace whole cities: this month Hiroshima City, next month another city, and so on," he said. "Replace entire cities with a plan and remove metal and replace with fibre. That way the installation cost is one-third and the installation speed is much quicker."

He believes that no new capital investment would be required from taxpayers and that the network business would soon become profitable because of lower maintenance costs stemming from the replacement of the decaying copper network. "After five years it (the network business) would generate very profitable free cash flow. If that company generates profitable free cash flow over the next 20 years, then it can get all the money from banks, not depending on taxpayers' money.

In a speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, he acknowledged Softbank would benefit from the plan, but said so would the country and potentially the world.

Mr Son said that while Australia faced obvious technical challenges in terms of distances and sparse population, Japan's mountainous terrain and thousands of islands posed challenges, too.


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