Sunday, December 12, 2010

Fury over $500 KFC gift cards as nation battles obesity crisis

The headline above is as it appears in the original article. It is worthy of Dr. Goebbels. The nation is NOT battling anything. It is enjoying its food and plenty of it. And it's not the nation that is furious. It is a few fanatics. KFC products ARE fatty but the best medical research shows that a low-fat diet has NO health benefits. And it's not a crisis. It is people of middling weight who live longest. Where's the crisis in that?

FAST-food giant KFC has sparked outrage from health experts by offering Christmas gift cards worth up to $500 as the nation battles an obesity crisis. KFC outlets have been promoting the cards, ranging in value from $10 to $500 and to be used within 12 months, as a "thoughtful gift idea for any occasion".

A $500 card could purchase a fat banquet of 14 buckets of "Original Recipe" chicken pieces, containing 4.5kg of fat and 1.8kg of saturated fat; 63 maxi serves of "Popcorn Chicken" (2.8kg of fat and 1.25kg saturated fat) or 78 "Original Works Burgers" (1.6kg fat, 592g saturated fat).

The "tasty new gift idea" has attracted outrage and disbelief from health experts in Queensland struggling to combat a growing obesity epidemic. About 55 per cent of adult Queenslanders, and about a quarter of children aged five to 17, are considered obese or overweight. An average of 60 people are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes every day around the state.

Preventative Health Taskforce chair Professor Rob Moodie said he was shocked when he learned about KFC's latest marketing ploy. "It's marketing gone berserk," he said. "This stuff is fine if it's just once a month. But if it's twice a week, or $500 a year, it's completely different."

Prof Moodie said aggressive fast-food marketing was the last thing parents needed as they struggled to teach children proper eating habits. "We know that advertising for fast food just works. Never before in the history of man has so much food been made so available for so many. We're shoving more calories down our throats than ever before."

Brisbane-based nutritionist and dietitian Trudy Williams said the gift cards were "worrying". "There are much healthier choices that parents could be guiding their kids with, like a voucher to go indoor rock-climbing or sports gear. Clearly, we're eating far too much food as it is."

Ms Williams, who wrote the award-winning nutrition guide This=That Child Size, said parents should think twice about fast-food Christmas treats. "Certainly, the rates of obesity in kids appear to be increasing," she said. "Parents are really bad judgers of whether their child is overweight or not. They're too close to the coalface, particularly if they are overweight themselves."

Diabetes Australia Queensland CEO Michelle Trute said gift cards made poor eating choices easy. "I would still remind people that food like KFC is occasional food," she said. "Having a gift certificate that you know you can redeem at any time just makes it easy to make bad choices."


Labor politician fingers Lebanese Muslims as a problem group

Guess why the Sydney police have a "Middle-Eastern crime squad"?

RETIRING Labor MP Tony Stewart has attacked the powerful Lebanese Muslim Association (LMA), branding it "backward and medieval" and claiming it wants to run pro-Muslim candidates in the state election.

Mr Stewart used his final speech to State Parliament to slam the Lakemba-based LMA and its chairman Samier Dandan, claiming Dandan wanted Muslims to be "recognised and treated differently" to other Australians because of their faith. "To use religious background as a political focus is a backward and medieval approach," he said.

Mr Stewart said he was responding to reports Mr Dandan had told more than 5000 Muslims at its November Eid al-Adha festival Muslim people should have their say, and the LMA planned to run candidates in a number of seats, including Bankstown, at the March election.

"If there is any marginalisation of Australian Muslims, it is occurring because of people who seem to be suffering from a siege mentality syndrome," he told parliament. Mr Stewart said government in Australia had always represented the community rather than religious faiths.

But Mr Dandan hit back at the member for Bankstown, saying he should have got his facts straight before he used his last parliamentary speech to bag the entire Muslim community. Mr Dandan said the LMA had no intention of running candidates in the state election.

Mr Stewart later told The Sunday Telegraph he stood by his comments and said mixing religion with politics was "not the Australian way". "Religion should not be involved in politics. We only have to look at the Middle East to see the political problems caused by faith being part of the political process," he said. "It can lead us to growing extremism and the idea of jihad and so on."

Mr Dandan said if the outgoing MP had read his speech online, he would have discovered he was urging Muslims to stand up for their political rights, "which have been taken for granted by Labor in western Sydney for 16 years".

"What is wrong with Muslims voicing their concerns? My speech was stating that the Muslim community is a little more intelligent than it was 20 or 30 years ago and we are going to express our voices," he said. "That's what democracy is all about."


Serious delays stymie remote housing scheme

More useless bureaucracy

EXCESSIVE bureaucracy, disputes and problems with leasing arrangements have thrown the remote Aboriginal home ownership scheme into chaos.

As the Home Ownership on Indigenous Land scheme stalls nationwide, The Weekend Australian can reveal that on the Tiwi Islands - the first remote community in Australia to sign a township lease - serious dysfunction has marred the scheme's rollout.

A handful of indigenous people have experienced extreme delay in the completion of their kit homes, which could have been erected in days. Two homes are still unfinished up to two years after their contracts were signed.

A bitter financial dispute between two builders has contributed to the serious delays in construction of new homes at the Tiwi Islands township of Nguiu, triggering complaints from indigenous people that they wish they had never signed up for mortgages.

Federal government subsidiary Indigenous Business Australia has been slow in releasing funds to allow building work, and statutory delays in the release of sub-leases by the Northern Territory and federal governments have deepened the bureaucratic mess.

The IBA - which acts as financier for indigenous clients - has been accused by one construction industry figure of acting as "gatekeeper and social worker" and stymying efforts to create private economies on Aboriginal land. The IBA is providing finance to 15 indigenous families at the Tiwi Islands under the HOIL scheme, which provides low-interest loans to eligible Aboriginal people with minimal deposits required.

But as the scheme began to falter earlier this year on the Tiwi Islands, and leasing negotiations in other remote communities failed to progress, the federal government quietly diverted more than $50 million from the remote housing program to cater for an exploding demand among urban-based indigenous people to buy their own homes.

While Nguiu has been promoted by the IBA as a stand-out success story in indigenous home ownership, the early rollout of the HOIL scheme was beset by difficulty.

Aboriginal couple Nazareth Alfred and Greg Orsto say they are disgusted with the way the IBA has managed the home ownership scheme. Yet two years ago, when the couple were living in a tent owing to a lack of housing on the island, home ownership seemed an ideal solution.

The couple, who have a combined income of $140,000, have bought a $341,000 two-storey home through the HOIL scheme. They pay about $500 a week in repayments and interest payments, which are pegged to their income and below market rate.

But the couple now say they wish they had never signed up to buy a home under the HOIL. More than two years after building began, they are still cooking on a gas burner and still have no power connected to their home. Despite this, the couple have been paying mortgage and interest payments since June. "The whole idea of having a home ownership scheme was to better our lives," Ms Alfred says. "But it's just made it worse. "I could have easily bought a house in Melbourne and been in my house by now, instead of having this headache."

The director of a company that constructed the home for Ms Alfred and Mr Orsto, Shaun Mowbray, has accused the IBA of contributing to serious delays experienced by his clients by refusing to release funds and unreasonably interfering in the construction process. "The IBA have acted like gatekeepers," Mr Mowbray says. "They have been slow on payments and unresponsive to complaints. They are certainly not helping the privatisation and the simplification of building Aboriginal housing."

Mr Mowbray says there is only about $1000 of "tidy-up" work still to be done on Ms Alfred and Mr Orsto's home, and he is working to connect their power despite the fact that it is not his responsibility. "I've done everything to try and make it right for them," Mr Mowbray says. "We've provided about $50,000 worth of free inclusions by way of a gratuity or apology for the delays caused in the contract, despite the fact many of them were not of our doing."

Mr Mowbray says he has provided excellent value for money for indigenous clients on the Tiwi Islands, and two out of four of his clients are very happy with their homes.

While the IBA says it is unable to comment on the individual experiences of clients, it has raised issues with construction quality control in remote communities. It says it was unable to resolve any issues between Ms Alfred and Mr Orsto and their builder because the IBA was not a party to the construction contract.

Delays in construction on the Tiwi Islands were also complicated by an acrimonious business dispute between Mr Mowbray and another construction industry figure, Matthew Hornibrook, the director of a company in which former prime minister Bob Hawke held shares. Fox Hornibrook held the original contract to build the first house of the Tiwi Islands, but the contract was terminated early in the construction process. Mr Hawke's spokeswoman said the former prime minister "had not worked with the company for some time".

The IBA rejected accusations that it had mismanaged the HOIL scheme on the Tiwi Islands and said most of its clients had had positive experiences. "It is unfortunate that problems have arisen for some customers during the early rollout of the HOIL program in Nguiu," a spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin said the government was committed to land tenure reform, and would make funds available to HOIL customers if demand for that program accelerated.


Banish Mickey Mouse from the republic of learning

SOCIAL inclusion is a worthy goal but it must not come at the cost of academic standards.

IN the 1930s, about 5 per cent of Australians went to university. By the late 80s, the figure had risen to about 25 per cent. If the Gillard government's targets are met, 40 per cent of today's primary school students will attend a university.

Glyn Davis, vice-chancellor of the University of Melbourne and this year's Boyer lecturer, says this is a good thing. "All Australians, whatever their means, should feel encouraged to participate. Only when citizenship is available to all who seek [membership of the global republic of learning] will we realise the potential of this republic of learning."

You don't get to be vice-chancellor of a great seat of learning without a combination of intellectual ability and guile. It cannot have escaped Davis's notice that the expansionary policies he is so fulsomely endorsing will compromise what remain of the academic standards in the sandstone universities, let alone their besser-brick competitors. The most charitable gloss that can be put on the version of his fourth Boyer Lecture published in Inquirer last Saturday is that he's being diplomatic about something he must privately deplore and is powerless to stop. (As an aside, no doubt he hopes that Melbourne's new generalist first degrees will sandbag it, to some extent, against a rising tide).

But it can be argued that Davis and Julia Gillard are setting the bar too high. If a degree is good enough for 40 per cent of the population, why not extend the privilege to all as a citizen's birthright? Surely Labor's commitment to equity and social justice demands no less.

Inadvertently, Davis makes the case. "For younger adults, the lack of university or a higher-level vocational qualification doubles their chance of unemployment. Less education is statistically linked to lower income, a higher chance of poor physical or mental health, less involvement in community or civic life and, for men, a lesser chance of getting and staying married. Missing out on education flows through to every part of life."

When it's put like that, the question arises: what is so special about the lucky 40 per cent? Why should their incomes and life chances be boosted at the expense of everyone else? We can be confident that the proportion of people with high IQs hasn't magically increased to keep pace with the percentage of people admitted to tertiary education since the 30s. Rather, statistics tell us that most of the 40 per cent heading off to university will be of no more than average ability, just like most of the excluded 60 per cent. The inescapable conclusion is that the process of choosing winners and losers will be outrageously arbitrary.

In stressing the desirability of social inclusiveness in the undergraduate population, Davis gets into a rhetorical bind. "People expect university entry to be based strictly on merit. Elitism - at least elitism based on something other than intellectual ability - is untenable. If Australia is to be a meritocracy, drawing in students from all walks of life is essential."

As readers who are growing long in the tooth will recall, referring to people "from all walks of life" was a post-war social workers' cant term for alluding to the poor, which strikes an odd note in our brave new world. So does appearing to sanction intellectual elitism, especially when the policy you're advocating has precisely the reverse intention and guaranteed outcome.

If Davis were being frank with us, he'd have to admit that the 40 per cent inclusion principle was so arbitrary that a university entry scheme decided on the basis of students' hair colour, the month in which they were born or indeed their parents' income or postcode would make just as much sense.

In Australia we've already reached the stage where all you need to get into arts courses at Deakin's Warrnambool campus or La Trobe's Albury is a tertiary entrance rank score of 50. Such courses are not even attracting the top 40 per cent of school-leavers, so we can expect a further systematic dumbing-down of tertiary standards in the future to which Davis beckons us.

In his first Boyer Lecture, introducing the theme of "the republic of learning", Davis spoke of the way in which "a handful of humanists in the time of Erasmus has grown to more than 150 million higher education students and staff worldwide". This is as callow and shameless a conjuring exercise as I've seen in a long time. It calls to mind Julian Barnes's line about expecting the past to suck up to a triumphalist view of the present. No one apprised of the achievements of Renaissance scholarship could expect to be taken seriously when suggesting they could be conflated with what these days passes for tertiary education. I think that over the holidays Davis should read Erasmus's In Praise of Folly.

As a longstanding advocate of meritocracy, I'm all in favour of policies that open up tertiary education to able people from backgrounds of disadvantage. If, in the process, some middle-class dullards with a misplaced sense of entitlement are excluded, that's fine by me. The professional classes have no automatic right to entrench themselves to the third and fourth generation.

What I object to is lowering academic standards and debasing the currency in the name of social inclusion. Davis's reassurance that "the republic of learning, once the preserve of an elite, is on the road to democracy" just won't do. It should go without saying that it's demeaning to working-class people to assume that the only way most of them can get a tertiary education is by offering them Mickey Mouse courses.

Then again, considering that education services for foreign students now amount to such a large source of national income, the debauch of academic standards is a very short-sighted approach. Apart from the weather and proximity to home, in 10 years why would the most talented Chinese or Indian students pay good money to study here? Perhaps, in the future, leadership in the tertiary sector in Australia will come from private universities that see the competitive advantage in setting the highest standards and refusing to compromise on them.


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