Friday, November 12, 2010

Inconvenient nonsense infiltrates Australian classrooms

Al Gore's flawed climate change film is to be included in the new national English curriculum. Amusing that it's not in the science curriculum, though

In 2006, former US vice-president Al Gore made a movie and companion book about global warming called An Inconvenient Truth. Gore undertook many speaking tours to publicise his film, and his PowerPoint slide show has been shown by thousands of his acolytes spreading a relentless message of warming alarmism across the globe.

But while audiences reacted positively and emotionally to the film's message - which was that human carbon dioxide emissions are causing dangerous global warming - some independent scientists pointed out that An Inconvenient Truth represented well-made propaganda for the warming cause and presented an unreliable, biased account of climate science.

For nowhere in his film does Gore say that the phenomena he describes falls within the natural range of environmental change on our planet. Nor does he present any evidence that climate during the 20th century departed discernibly from its historical pattern of constant change.

In early February 2007, the Department for Education and Skills in Britain, apparently ignorant that the film was scientifically defective, announced that all secondary schools were to be provided with a climate change information pack that contained a copy of Gore's by then notorious film. Many parents were scandalised at this attempt to propagandise their children on such an important environmental issue.

One parent, school governor Stuart Dimmock who had two sons at a state school in southern England, took legal action against the secretary for education in the High Court, and sought the film's withdrawal from schools.

In a famous judgment in October 2007, Justice Burton, discerning that Gore was on a "crusade", commented that "the claimant substantially won this case", and ruled that the science in the film had been used "to make a political statement and to support a political program" and that the film contained nine fundamental errors of fact out of the 35 listed by Dimmock's scientific advisers. Justice Burton required that these errors be summarised in new guidance notes for screenings.

In effect, the High Court judgment typed Gore and his supporters as evangelistic proselytisers for an environmental cause.

Fast forward to this month and many Australian parents have been surprised to learn Gore's film "will be incorporated in the [new] national [English] curriculum ), as part of a bid to teach students on environmental sustainability across all subjects".

It is, I suppose, some relief the film has not been recommended for inclusion in the science syllabus. Instead, Banquo's ghost has risen to haunt English teachers, doubtless in class time that might otherwise have been devoted to learning grammar.

Some Australian English teachers may feel competent to advise pupils on the science content of An Inconvenient Truth, but I wouldn't bank on it. Of course, the same teachers have to feel competent also to shepherd their flock on to the green pastures of sustainability, that other pseudo-scientific concept so beloved by the keepers of our society's virtue.

Australian schools are being transformed from institutions that impart a rigorous education into social reform factories that manufacture right-thinking (which is to say, left-thinking) young clones ready to be admitted into the chattering classes. This process is manifest in other aspects of the new syllabuses.

Two other biases in the public debate about global warming have occurred recently. The first was the launching of the website Power Shift 2009, which describes itself as "Australia's first national youth climate summit. It's the moment where [sic] our fast-growing youth movement for a safe climate future [whatever that might be] comes together".

In reality, this is simply another website aimed at indoctrinating children regarding global warming, and while it's not surprising to see Greenpeace and GetUp are involved, it is disappointing to see the involvement of persons with the mana of Ian Thorpe.

The second recent bias has been the broadcast on ABC Radio National of the George Munster Award Forum from the Sydney University of Technology. Here, a panel of "Australia's top journalists" examined the proposition: "Telling both sides of the story is a basic rule of journalism, but should it apply to reporting climate change?"

Stellar contributions made by the journalists involved included the notions that carbon dioxide is a pollutant, that 97 per cent of all climate scientists agree that dangerous human-caused global warming is happening, and that there is no real debate about climate change. Independent scientists who question these specious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change orthodoxies - for the good reason that they are untrue - were referred to as denialists, fruitcakes, clowns and fools who had "invaded the ABC". Giving them airtime was said to "attack the essence of journalism".

The reporting of email leaks from the University of East Anglia last year was "a terrible and wrong disturbance" in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate conference, and the astonishing claim was even made that Fairfax and the ABC "have delivered the objective, factual scientific stories on climate change".

This farrago of nonsense was described by one US scientist who listened as "probably the most horrifying and disturbing Big Ideas-Small Minds discussion by journalists I have ever heard". Book-burning parties for Ian Plimer's Heaven and Earth or my own Climate: the Counter Consensus can't be far away, and if the persons involved in the forum were Australia's top environmental journalists, then God help us all.

Australia is rightly vigilant about preventing child abuse and guarding the freedom of the press. Why, then, are we so willing to tolerate the abuse of educational indoctrination of our children and the deliberate limitation on the scope of the media discussions they will be exposed to as adults?

Gore's movie and book are an embarrassment to US science and its many fine practitioners, a lot of whom know (but are often unable to state publicly) his crusade is mostly based on junk science.

If allowed in Australian schools at all, An Inconvenient Truth belongs not alongside Jane Austen and Tim Winton, nor with Charles Darwin and Richard Feynman, but with the works of authors such as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells in the science-fiction section of the library.


Woman dies waiting 36 minutes for ambulance following collapse

Victoria again, of course. And this was in the centre of its capital city! Don't have an accident in Victoria

A 33-YEAR-OLD woman died last night while waiting more than half an hour for an ambulance after collapsing in Melbourne's CBD. The woman suffered a convulsion and was conscious and breathing when an ambulance was first called at 6.27pm.

An ambulance was dispatched 16 minutes later in a semi-urgent code two response, without lights and sirens. At 7.01pm ambulance dispatchers were informed the woman was now unconscious and in arrest. “We upgraded then to lights and sirens with a MICA unit going and we arrived at 7.03pm,” an Ambulance Victoria spokesman said. “As soon as we knew it was a cardiac arrest we were there two minutes later.”

By the time the ambulance arrived the woman was dead. If the target 20-minute response time had been met after the first call for help an ambulance would have arrived at 6.47pm - 14 minutes before she went into arrest.

Later in the evening there were 60 calls for emergency ambulances “pending” because there were no ambulances available to respond.

Health Minister Daniel Andrews said the death was tragic and acknowledged the system needed to improve. But he did not accept the emergency health system was in crisis. “We don’t have a system that is a perfect system, it’s always important to improve and we are committed to doing that,” he told 3AW. “That’s why we’ve been about more funding and more paramedics.”

He said the ambulance budget had been tripled and the number of paramedics doubled in the past decade.


W.A. Hospitals in plea for police protection

A lot of the aggression is because of long waiting periods. Firing a swag of bureaucrats and replacing them with more doctors and nurses would solve that problem

POLICE should have an increased presence at hospitals on Friday and Saturday nights, and during holiday periods, according to the Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union (LHMU). But the Health Department and WA Police have ruled out having police stationed at major hospitals.

LHMU assistant secretary Carolyn Smith said hospital staff were constantly faced with increasing incidents of violent and aggressive behaviour from members of the public. “As the use of drugs and alcohol increases, so too does this sort of behaviour in hospitals,” Ms Smith said. “We would welcome an increased police presence at hospitals during busy periods like Friday and Saturday nights, and over the holiday periods. “Our members are not trained to be security staff after all and should be able to feel safe doing their important work.”

WA Police Metropolitan Region Commander Gary Budge said in recent years, police officers had been specifically stationed at Royal Perth Hospital on New Year's Eve and Australia Day to support hospital staff and security officers. “Police already work closely with hospitals but additional support on these two days was seen as necessary due to increasing levels of alcohol affected people presenting at the hospital and behaving in a violent or anti-social manner,” Supt Budge said. “At other times, police respond to any calls to assist hospitals deal with violence.”

But Supt Budge said there was no plan to have police officers permanently stationed at hospitals, although police would be at RPH on New Years Eve this year and Australia Day next year. He said the culture of “drinking to excess” was an issue that needed to be addressed across the wider community.

A Health Department spokesman said Perth’s hospitals had robust security measures in place, including onsite security staff, and CCTV cameras.


Tony Abbott warns of elected judges

CHANGES to the legal system, including the election of judges, are "almost inevitable" if courts continue to give light sentences, Tony Abbott has said.

The Opposition leader made the comments during a community forum in Brisbane last night when the subject of crime and punishment came up. “I never want lightly to change our existing systems, but I’ve got to say if we don’t get a better sense of the punishment fitting the crime, this is almost inevitable,” he said.

“If judges don’t treat this kind of thing appropriately, sooner or later, we will do something that we’ve never done in this country. We will elect judges. And we will elect judges that will better reflect want we think is our sense of anger at this kind of thing.”

But the proposal was rejected by law experts and by the Gillard government, with Attorney-General Robert McClelland saying a system of elected judges was not a prudent step.

“Judges should be appointed. And we’ve tried to ensure that judges at a federal level at least are appointed on merit.

“I think that there is a real risk that if we appointed judges who had some allegiance to a political outcome that we may see political decisions on the bench.

“And that would be entirely undesirable and quite inconsistent with the system of justice that we have inherited.”

University of NSW constitutional law expert professor George Williams said a system of elected judges would require changing the Constitution via referendum and was fraught with problems.

“In the main I think it’s very clear that judges are doing a good job in this regard. And people do need to remember that if there are sentences that people are unhappy then there avenues for appeal and looking at these matters again,” he told ABC radio.

“Electing judges is clearly not the right way to go. We need to retain an independent judiciary in this country, judges who are free of politics and partisanship.”

Professor Williams said that if judges were elected Australia would go down the path of some US states where judges campaigned and made promises.

“We’d end up with politicians who would decide cases not just according to the justice that was required but according to their desire for re-election and the political promises that they had made.”

Opposition legal affairs spokesman Senator George Brandis rushed to Mr Abbott’s defence this morning, claiming he did not support a system of elected judges, describing him as a “constitutional conservative”.

“[He] is very strongly committed to existing constitutional arrangements. That includes an independent judiciary, not an elected judiciary.”

Senator Brandis said that Mr Abbott had simply conveyed “serious concerns” about the consequences of a judiciary that moved too far away from public sentiment in relation to the leniency of sentencing.


Australian asylum policy in disarray

The Federal Government has been urged to review all asylum-seeker claims dealt with under the contentious offshore processing regime after a landmark High Court decision, labelled "diabolical" by the Opposition but hailed by human rights groups.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has called for legal advice on the unanimous court ruling, which could cast a cloud over the Gillard Government's plans to send unauthorised boat arrivals to a detention centre in East Timor.

The ruling means asylum-seekers taken to Christmas Island would have the same right to appeal when their refugee claims were rejected as those processed on the mainland.

Mr Bowen would work through the "significant ramifications" of the decision and take recommendations to cabinet in coming weeks.

"It's a significant judgment. It's an important judgment," Mr Bowen said yesterday. "It's a judgment which has the potential to elongate the amount of time it takes to process refugee claims."

Former immigration minister Philip Ruddock said the ruling was "diabolical" an opinion echoed by Opposition spokesman on immigration Scott Morrison.

"What this outcome will produce is just seeing more people coming on boats with false claims, making those claims, and appealing them endlessly through the courts, costing taxpayers an enormous amount of money and compromising the integrity of our immigration system overall," Mr Morrison said.


Australia's tougher skills test for legal immigrants angers some business groups

Perhaps they can recruit some of the Afghan and Tamil Tiger "refugees" into becoming waiters etc

Business groups have slammed the Government's new skilled migration test, saying it will exacerbate the skills shortage and make it even harder for small businesses to hire new and qualified staff in specialised areas.

The comments come just after new figures from economists suggest immigration will drop over the next few years and the skills shortage will become worse as employers search for qualified staff, especially in the engineering, trades, manufacturing and construction industries.

John Hart, chief executive of Restaurant and Catering Australia, says the new test will make the skills shortage in the hospitality industry even worse, warning that restaurants and other catering firms may struggle to find qualified chefs who are specialists in overseas cooking methods.

"This is going to make it worse, absolutely. Substantially so, because the harsher English language test requirements have been enhanced. This means that fewer cooks and chefs will be able to get a visa," he warns.

"It's already difficult enough, this is going to make it more difficult. This isn't very good news for us at all."

COSBOA chief executive Peter Strong says the changes will continue to make it difficult for SMEs to get involved with skilled migration.

"We have areas where we know we have skilled shortages, such as the hospitality industry, and it does make it hard. The red tape becomes more difficult, and that's one of the biggest issues here," he says.

"I really would like the Government to stop and think about how this is making it more difficult for businesses. If there are good reasons, there should be some sort of help desk or help services for businesses, especially small businesses."

The Australian Industry Group has slammed the new test, saying it will make it more difficult to attract skilled migrants.

"In particular, the decision to give fewer points to the skilled trades compared with university qualifications does not adequately reflect the critical need for trade skills in our economy," chief executive Heather Ridout said in a statement.

Ridout points out that university graduates receive 15 points while skilled traders receive 10 points, and has also criticised the English test, which she claims will disadvantage migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds.

"We would urge the Government to be open to further changes that would better balance the needs for both tertiary and trades skilled migrants," she said.

Bowen announced the changes yesterday, saying the new points test will assess independent skilled migrants as part of the Government's decision to reform the migration system. The test will, according to the minister, "emphasise the importance of English, work experience and high level qualifications... and is designed to ensure no one factor guarantees migration".

But Hart says this is the most frustrating part of the test, given that so many restaurants rely on authentic cuisine, and in order to provide such services they hire chefs and cooks from their native countries who may not have a firm grasp of English.

"It's nonsense to say that you should have an English language requirement of that level, because the reality is, they don't require that level of English to work in the kitchen. This isn't an academic pursuit."

"In fact, we rely on cultural diversity in this industry, in order to provide those sorts of cuisines. It seems the immigration department is attempting to stamp that out."

The changes come after the Government dramatically changed the skilled migrants list, giving preference to a number of occupations over others. Previously, simply listing an occupation would provide 50% of the test's passing mark, but now, a number of factors will be considered, including qualifications and work experience.

"The existing points test has not always led to outcomes consistent with the objectives of the skilled migration program," Bowen said yesterday.

"For example, the current test puts an overseas student with a short-term vocational qualification and one year's work experience in Australia ahead of a Harvard educated environmental engineer with three years' relevant work experience."
In comparison, Bowen argues the new test will recognise a larger pool of talent, and warns that employer-sponsored visa categories are not affected by the changes.

But Hart says despite the minister's assurances, the hospitality industry will still be affected, and he intends to seek a meeting with the minister as soon as possible.

"We will definitely be speaking with the department. We haven't yet been able to get a meeting with minister Bowen, but I'm sure at some stage he'll get around to talking to us."

The announcement comes just after research from Access Economics and KPMG found the skills shortage will worsen during the next few years. Access predicts net migration will fall to 170,000 over the next few years, and KPMG found 50% of businesses surveyed are complaining of skills shortages.

KPMG migration practices head Karen Waller recently told SmartCompany the Government needs to consider how the skilled migration system will help businesses, rather than keep them from hiring new staff.

"The challenge for government is to ensure there is independent and rigorous discussion about what role skilled migration plays in Australia to help businesses grow," Waller says.


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