Sunday, February 28, 2010

Those wicked ophthalmologists

The political Left worldwide seems to regard everyone but themselves as responsible for high medical costs. The vast load of paperwork that they impose on healthcare providers and drug companies is costless, apparently. And the high incomes of some doctors frequently come under jealous scrutiny.

A high income group in Australia is ophthalmologists. Everyone wants the very best chance of preserving their vision so people are prepared to pay for a high level of care in eye-doctoring. And Australia's Federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, was determined to rein those rogue eye-doctors in.

As part of its socialized medicine system, called "Medicare", the Australian government pays a large part of the cost of privately-contracted ophthalmological services, so Ms Roxon thought she had a good weapon to cut those rich eye-doctors down to size: She would halve the amount that her government pays for such services.

The conservatives in the Senate knocked back Ms Roxon's "reforms" however, so she eventually had to accept a compromise deal which cut the government payment by only 12%.

As it happens, all this affects me personally to a minor extent: I will shortly be having a cataract procedure on my right eye from a well established and formidably equipped private ophthalmological practice a short drive from where in live in Brisbane. So my ophthalmologist explained the cost structure to me.

The cost now includes a "facility fee" -- a fee for use of a private operating theatre that is common for most types of private medical procedures. I pay a similar fee when I go to my dermatologist to have skin cancers excised. The ophthalmologist remarked to me that they used not to charge such a fee. They used to absorb it into their general fees. But after Ms Roxon's "reforms", they have instituted such a fee.

So the income of the ophthalmologists remains largely the same. Ms Roxon's attack on them has been futile. What they lost on the swings, they gained on the roundabouts.

But what about the patients? Here's the catch: Facility fees do NOT attract any government refund. So the patient pays more. The government has indeed saved itself a bit of money, but at the expense of the patients, not at the expense of the doctors: A typical "unforeseen" result of Leftist intervention.

More of that brilliant government "planning"

The shortage of aged-care places is government-created. Governments are quick to impose limits and regulations on aged-care providers without heed to the compliance costs -- thus pricing many people out of the system. So patients end up in much more expensive hospital accomodation: More "unforeseen" consequences of Leftist stupidity and hostility

QUEENSLAND hospitals are bleeding $200,000 a day looking after elderly patients, due to a critical lack of aged-care homes around the state. On any given night in public hospitals, there are about 300 patients who should be in an aged care facility. Latest figures obtained by The Sunday Mail show that elderly patients (65 or older) used up almost half of the treatment days in the state's health system last year.

The State Government said aged care patients cost the health budget $85 million each year and, if those beds were available, more than 36,000 extra operations could be performed annually. "Hospitals are not meant to be aged-care facilities," AMA Queensland president Mason Stevenson said. "They are a high-level healthcare facility to treat sick patients and return them to the community. "This is one of the bigger problems requiring attention – we can and should be doing this better."

Aged-care providers are crying poor, saying they can no longer afford to provide high-care beds for the elderly since the previous federal government legislated against charging bonds for the beds. In 2007 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised to solve the problem, with 2000 "transition-care beds" for older Australians waiting in hospital for an aged-care place. So far, Queensland has received 129 of those beds – 43 in Townsville.

Queensland Health assessed public hospitals on June 9, 2009. On that night, 336 elderly people were in hospital beds. Of those, 223 – or the equivalent of Rockhampton Hospital, which has 225 beds – were awaiting placement in aged-care facilities. "This means that 4 per cent of hospital beds are being occupied inappropriately, and that is an enormous waste," Dr Stevenson said. "That is one in 25 beds, and at $700 a night, that is expensive. If this was fixed, it could speed up access to acute care and reduce the number of elective surgical patients."

The Queensland Hospital Admitted Patient Data Collection shows that 35 per cent of illnesses in Queensland public and private hospitals in 2008-09 were for those 65 and older. Of the 4,959,173 patient days, 46.5 per cent were for 65-plus patients.

Queensland Health Minister Paul Lucas said aged care was a core responsibility of the Federal Government. The Queensland Government currently operates 5 per cent of the state's homes in regional and remote locations. "I do expect that older people will use the hospital system more, and they have contributed through their taxes to being able to do that," Mr Lucas said. "What I am saying is when they are eligible for a nursing home, they should have a reasonable expectation that a place can be found for them in a place far more suitable."

Aged Care Queensland CEO Anton Kardash said providers were not applying for new licences because the return on their investment was less than 2 per cent. Mr Kardash said providers were losing money as aged care moved more and more into high needs. "It costs $175,000 to build a bed – which is a huge cost impost – and the fact is, those costs were offset by bonds," he said.

The Federal Government said Queensland would receive 382 transition-care places. This year there are 1265 community care places on offer in Queensland. As at June 30, 2009, there were 31,361 operational aged-care places in Queensland.


Coalition draws level with Labor as Abbott bites

But pollster for a Left-leaning newspaper thinks Abbott was just "lucky"!

THE Rudd Government's bungled home insulation program is costing it crucial support among NSW voters, who are turning to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. An exclusive Sun-Herald/Taverner poll shows Labor is now level-pegging with the Coalition. On a two-party preferred basis, both sides have 50 per cent of the vote - a drop of almost 3 percentage points on Labor's election-winning 52.7 per cent in 2007.

The results come after a horrific run for the government in which it failed to shake off Coalition criticism and growing community concern about the safety of its home insulation scheme.

The poll of 609 NSW voters, conducted on Wednesday and Thursday nights, shows Mr Abbott has succeeded where his predecessors failed. Mr Abbott has shored up his own voter base while convincing swinging, and some Labor, voters to listen to his message.

But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd remains the preferred choice for prime minister - 53 per cent say he is the better man for the top job while 40 per cent favour Mr Abbott. It is a drop in popularity for Mr Rudd. At his best former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull could convince only 22 per cent of people that he would be the better PM, according to Newspoll.

Pollster Philip Mitchell-Taverner said people were surveyed during an "atypical" period when several issues were rattling Labor. The ALP was also having to cope with a "tenacious" Mr Abbott, Mr Mitchell-Taverner said. "Malcolm Turnbull never had such an opportunity as the Rudd halo stayed so strong for so long and Mr Turnbull was never able to generate any viable negative emotions about the government," Mr Mitchell-Taverner said. "Times dramatically changed in such a short time and the swinging voters noticed. Mr Abbott must consider himself to be very lucky, coming into leadership when he did."

Mr Abbott might be basking in the sunshine of the customary honeymoon period enjoyed by new opposition leaders but Labor strategists believe the figures just reflect the public response to a new leader with an aggressive media presence. The strategists are still banking on a Labor victory later this year. Mr Rudd acknowledged yesterday the insulation program would cost the government in the polls but promised to fix the problems.

Labor still wants to get its emissions trading scheme up, but is prepared to go to an election with a broader message based on soon-to-be-revealed changes to the health system. It will also play its trump card - taking the plaudits for getting Australia through the global financial crisis.

Today's results show a majority of those polled (59 per cent) believe the government's economic stimulus package was justified. The Coalition's message about the size of the debt taken on to finance that stimulus is resonating only with its own supporters - 43 per cent of people think Australia is now in too much debt, while 47 per cent think it is manageable.

The poll also shows both Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott are the most popular choices to lead their parties. Close to half - 49 per cent - of those polled said Mr Rudd was more appealing, compared to 36 per cent who preferred Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Only 15 per cent of people said they would be more likely to vote for Labor if Ms Gillard was leader, while 23 per cent said they would be less likely to vote Labor.

Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey fared better, with 39 per cent of people saying they preferred him to lead the Coalition. But Mr Abbott is still ahead of the field, with 45 per cent of people saying he is the better leader for the Liberal Party.


Warnings about Lebanese Muslim "refugees" ignored -- to Australia's cost

The latest headache for NSW prison authorities is how to safely house the five terrorists convicted this month of plotting bomb attacks in Sydney. With sentences ranging up to 28 years, the challenge will be how to prevent these unrepentant Islamist extremists from radicalising other inmates in Goulburn's supermax high security prison. This week the Premier, Kristina Keneally, told Parliament the men are still a danger, as presumably were their four co-accused who were sentenced earlier. She has reportedly ordered a "deradicalisation program", although clearly the only surefire way is to keep them in isolation.

This reminder of the reality of home-grown terrorism came as the Prime Minister released the government's counter-terrorism white paper this week. As the Herald's Jonathan Pearlman reported, Rudd insisted on highlighting the threat from jihadist and home-grown terrorists in defiance of advice from departmental officials, who had deemed it inflammatory. The timing of the release of the white paper was questionable - in the middle of the insulation furore - but it is still a credit to Rudd that he did not follow advice to sugarcoat the truth about terrorist threats.

Among other things, the white paper states the scale of the threat of home-grown terrorism depends on "the size and make-up of local Muslim populations, including their ethnic and/or migrant origins, their geographical distribution and the success or otherwise of their integration into their host society".

This is something that is rarely discussed. Debate over the make-up of immigration programs has been largely shut down and marginalised as a redneck racist pastime. But we have vivid evidence of the consequences of poorly managed immigration in the disproportionate number of problems that have emerged from some Lebanese families who arrived in 1977 and integrated poorly into south-west Sydney.

The prime minister of the time, Malcolm Fraser, has been out and about lately, accusing the modern Liberal Party of extreme conservative tendencies, while promoting his new book. But he has never adequately explained why he ignored warnings from his immigration department that relaxing normal eligibility standards to accept thousands of Lebanese Muslims escaping the civil war was problematic.

As cabinet documents from 1976 revealed, he was warned that too many of the new arrivals were unskilled, illiterate and "of questionable character", and there was a danger "the conflicts, tensions and divisions within Lebanon will be transferred to Australia". The consequences of poor integration today include social unrest, which culminated in the Cronulla riots and their violent aftermath.

And some of our worst home-grown terrorists have come from that community. They include M, the 44-year-old ringleader of the five men convicted of preparing a terrorist act this month, who cannot be named for legal reasons. He came to south-west Sydney with his family from Lebanon in 1977, along with 11 siblings.

NSW Supreme Court Justice Anthony Whealy said in sentencing M this month: "There is no present indication that [he] will ever renounce the extremist views. [He] has all the hallmarks of an offender whose motivation is not that of financial or other material gain but … from an extremist religious conviction."

Also born in Lebanon was his co-conspirator, Mr K, 36, who migrated to Sydney in 1977 when he was three. Justice Whealy said K had "absolute contempt for the Australian government and its laws [and an] extremist conviction that sharia law should rule, even in this country." Also convicted was his brother, L, 32, born here and likely to represent a danger to the community "even upon his release many years hence".

The court heard the five men had bought laboratory equipment and chemicals that could be used to make bombs: vast quantities of battery acid, acetone, hydrogen peroxide,methylated spirits and sulphuric acid. They shopped at Bunnings for PVC pipe and silver tape.

Whealy said they had on a USB stick "step-by-step" instructions for manufacturing explosives; electronic copies of The Sniper Handbook; and DVDs "glorifying the 9/11 hijackers". There were videos showing the execution of hostages or prisoners by the mujahideen which were "particularly brutal, distressing and graphic".

Justice Whealy also refers to an instructional video found in all but one of the offender's houses. On it, "a masked mujahideen speaks in English with a very obvious Australian accent and says: 'You kill us, so you will be killed. You bomb us, so you will be bombed'. This is an overly simplistic but reasonably accurate summation of the mindset of each of the offenders in this trial."

It's hard to believe in hindsight, now the evidence has been laid out and the men found guilty, but in 2005, when counter-terrorism laws were being amended and the men arrested, there was strident criticism of police and the government. Instead we should have been thanking police and security agencies for protecting us from attack.

But as the white paper says, past successes "should not give us any false confidence that all plots here can be discovered and disrupted". "Australia is a terrorist target," it says. "Public statements by prominent terrorist leaders and other extremist propagandists have singled out Australia for criticism and encouraged attacks against us both before and after September 11, 2001. "There are Australians who are committed to supporting or engaging in violent jihad in Australia and elsewhere. Most of these were born in Australia or have lived here since childhood."

The paper says one of our strengths is our "inclusive multicultural society" and we must all work together to "reject ideologies that promote violence" and work at "reducing disadvantage, addressing real or perceived grievances and encouraging full participation in Australia's social and economic life".

Home-grown terrorism is as much a threat to the vast majority of law-abiding Australian Muslims as anyone else. So efforts to suppress the facts are counterproductive and ultimately lead to distrust and disharmony.


If more Muslims are truly a problem…

By Andrew Bolt

WE didn’t need the Rudd Government to tell us this week that, ahem, our own Muslim community is now a growing terrorist threat. What we needed was to hear what the Government planned to do about it.

And the answers in its new White Paper on counter-terrorism? Virtually zilch. Not even a word on whether it would be wise to cut immigration from Muslim nations, now running at about 28,000 a year. Nor was there anything about ending the mad multiculturalism that rewards most those who integrate least.

Rather the reverse. The Government promised more of the stuff that’s clearly not doing the job - more of that “multiculturalism and respect for cultural diversity to maintain a society that is resilient to the hate-based and divisive narratives that fuel terrorism”.

Hey, guys. If multiculturalism has made us so “resilient to the hate-based and divisive narratives” of jihadism, why does your White Paper admit that “numerous terrorist attacks” have had to be “thwarted” in Australia since 2001, and that we now have 20 people jailed on terrorism charges, 38 people charged after anti-terrorism operations (presumably all, or mostly, Muslims, too) and 40 more denied passports? That’s sure a lot of strife from just 340,000 Australian Muslims, as measured by the last census. We’ve actually got more Buddhists here, but when did you last hear of any plotting to blow us up?

Like I said, the threat from our own home-grown or imported jihadists was already perfectly clear. We could figure that out just from this month’s news that another five Muslims in Sydney had been jailed for plotting terrorism and gathering 12 firearms, 28,000 rounds of ammunition and four boxes of material for high explosives. But even more of a wake-up were the comments from so many leaders of our Muslim community. Uthman Badar, from the Australian arm of the extremist Hizb ut-Tahrir, cried persecution, and claimed poor Muslims were being prosecuted merely for their ideas: “The anti-terror laws were designed to silence Muslims through fear and intimidation.”

Samir Dandan, from the Lebanese Muslim Association, also fed the poor-us-against-them division, saying Muslims believed they were punished harder than the rest of us, while Keysar Trad, of them Islamic Friendship Association, blamed the “anger” of Muslims on our own alleged violence against Islamic countries. Even more worryingly, 10 imams and 20 Muslim “community leaders” met in Lakemba, at Australia’s biggest mosque, to sign a statement demanding police show them proof that the five jailed men had criminal intentions.

Never mind that the police evidence had been enough to convince an Australian jury: “Until we see the real evidence, we believe that the reason for the arrests and convictions is that these young men expressed or hold opinions that contradict Australia’s foreign policy towards majority Muslim countries." Meanwhile, outside the mosque, The Australian reported, “a group of young men pumped their fists in the air and accused ASIO of being dogs”.

This is the scenario, repeated so often over the past decade, that every Australian could see for themselves - of Muslims planning or waging jihad, only to be defended or excused by “community leaders”. And this is the reality that the Government’s White Paper now concedes in the frankest language I’ve heard in public.

“A ... shift apparent since 2004 has been the increase in the terrorist threat from people born or raised in Australia, who have become influenced by the violent jihadist message,” it warns. “A number of Australians are known to subscribe to this message, some of whom might be prepared to engage in violence. Many of these individuals were born in Australia and they come from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds.” And then this warning, so pregnant with implications: “The scale of the problem will continue to depend on factors such as the size and make-up of local Muslim populations, including their ethnic and/or migrant origins, their geographical distribution and the success or otherwise of their integration into their host society.”

Let me decode that. The Government admits the size of this growing terrorism threat depends on the size of our Muslim population. Isn’t that then the debate we must have? Yes, I know most Muslims here, my friends included, are peace-loving Australians, and I do not mean to offend them or expose them to unmerited suspicion. I also admire those Muslims I know who have stood against the extremists. But I do mean to have a frank conversation.

After all, this report also points out terrorism isn’t necessarily related to poverty, and that our wanna-be terrorists are often not the Muslims we accepted as immigrants, but their born-here children. What’s more, they come from a “wide range of ethnic groups”. That means we can’t keep out tomorrow’s terrorists just by bringing in only nice, hard-working Muslims from countries we trust. What of their later children, newly radicalised in mosques, universities or prisons?

Surely one way to minimise the danger, then, is to cut Muslim immigration, or at least freeze it until the jihadist wind blows out. Should we really be bringing in more than 28,000 people a year from Muslim lands such as Pakistan, the Middle East, North Africa, Bangladesh, Somalia, Afghanistan and Indonesia?

But on this issue the Government says nothing. Nor will it discuss dismantling multiculturalism, which at one stage had taxpayers funding the pro-bin Laden Islamic Youth Movement of Australia. But why is multiculturalism sacred, when even this White Paper says one “pathway to violent extremism” is through “identity politics”? After all, multiculturalism subsidises identity politics with your money while making Australia seem too weak or even shameful to deserve the first loyalty of a confused young man.

So what did the Government, badly needing a distraction from its insulation debacle, propose instead? Only easy, uncontroversial tinkering with controls at our borders, rather than anything to deal with the people who’ve got through already. There will be better border checks, for instance, and our spy agencies will help try to stop the flood of boat people unleashed by the Government’s rash softening of our laws.

I don’t mean to single this Government out as unusually weak on the threat within. In some ways the Howard government was even worse. Example? The White Paper warns that a “small number” of Muslims here support foreign terrorist groups that might use Australia as “a suitable or convenient location for an attack on their enemies”. It adds: “This includes groups with a long history of engaging in terrorist acts and a current capability to commit them, such as Lebanese Hizballah’s External Security Organisation.”

So Hezbollah (our spelling) has an active terrorist wing and could strike here? Then why did John Howard as prime minister pick for his Muslim Community Reference Group at least five Muslim leaders who defended Hezbollah, including Sheik Taj el-Din al-Hilali, then the Mufti of Australia, and Sheik Fehmi Naji el-Imam, who succeeded him?

I am not saying these men would ever support Hezbollah terrorist attacks here, but how many of their followers could be trusted to draw the line? Answer: no one knows, but our experts fear. So until we get more reassurance, we’ll need more action than this paper proposes.


Europcar again

Nobody in the know would deal with them. See previous post here (31 January)

My wife and I travelled on Virgin Blue recently for a weekend in Adelaide and we booked a car with Europcar.

When we returned the car at the airport, before our flight, it was given the all-clear during an inspection.

Imagine our surprise to receive a letter from Europcar saying that I had been charged, through my credit card, $435 for damage to the vehicle.

- Ray Lewis


Tony Abbott fears political correctness run riot in school curriculum: "Sorry Day and Anzac Day should not be treated similarly in the national school curriculum, Tony Abbott says. A draft curriculum for English, Maths, Science and History will be released for public consultation tomorrow. Newspaper reports have suggested there will be a strong focus on indigenous issues, with Sorry Day being taught as a community commemoration in the same way as Anzac Day is. The Opposition Leader said he didn't like the idea. "You always worry that there will be political correctness run riot in these things and I hope those reports are wrong," he said on Channel 10. "If that is what we do see, I think a lot of people will be very disappointed."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

27 February, 2010

"The skull" sidelined yet again

He's a former rock singer and that's the limit of his talents. It was just expediency that the Labor party accepted him into their parliamentary ranks. He's only a token minister for the environment now. First Penny Wong took up global warming duties and that was just the beginning. Garrett still has some environmental responsibilities, however, so it's a sad day when part of Australia's government is put into the hands of such a dimwit and proven failure: Another destructive decision from the political Left

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd today demoted Peter Garrett as Environment Minister over the housing insulation debacle. Mr Rudd announced in Sydney the establishment of a new stand-alone department of climate change and energy efficiency, which will be headed by Penny Wong. Mr Rudd has appointed Greg Combet as the new Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency.

This new department will be given responsibility for winding up the troubled insulation program and the roll-out of the new household renewable energy bonus scheme. Senator Wong will be Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water. Mr Garrett will be the Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts.

Mr Rudd said Mr Garrett’s passion lay with the protection of Australia’s natural resources and his reduced range of responsibilities would be more suited to him. Under the changes announced by Mr Rudd, Mr Combet will be given the direct responsibility for the troubled insulation program.

Mr Rudd admitted the department changes were a demotion for Mr Garrett. This move is designed to achieve stronger co-ordination and greater efficiency in the development and delivery of climate change policies and programs, especially in relation to energy efficiency and renewable energy," Mr Rudd said. "There’s absolutely no use sugar-coating the facts; there have been some problems in the implementation of this program, problems that as Prime Minister I have taken responsibility for and problems that I'm therefore responsible for taking action to fix." By creating a single stand-alone department with a minister focused on the roll-out and implementation of energy programs, these arrangements will deliver better compliance management for the future, Mr Rudd said.

The Department of Environment will return to its core business of protecting the Australian environmental interests, he said. Mr Rudd said: "There’s no point sugar-coating this; this does mean a different range and reduced range of responsibilities for minister Garrett. Let us simply acknowledge that fact. The core responsibility of the Department of the Environment should focus on the protection of Australian endangered species and the wider remit of environment protection, and that of course is where the minister’s passions lie as well."

The Prime Minister said that he had had a long conversation earlier this afternoon with "Minister Garrett" and said: "I indicated to him the course of action I’d be taking." Mr Rudd said that Mr Garrett "accepted my decision. I indicated that's the decision I had taken. The minister accepted my decision".


Millions wasted on Greenie schemes

TENS of millions of dollars is being funnelled into the State Government's energy efficiency programs with little or no evidence to prove they are an effective use of taxpayers' money. A report tabled in State Parliament has revealed none of the power-saving schemes were independently evaluated and the outcomes were "difficult to isolate". The bipartisan committee's report also found few of the state's 1.39 million households or 390,000 businesses were participating in the green initiatives, despite generous rebates.

The poor take-up of power-saving schemes comes as Queensland grapples with its status as the most energy intensive state in the country.

The report highlights the "enormous task ahead" to attract households and businesses to power-saving programs It found one in 780, or a fraction of 1 per cent of businesses, were taking part in the ecoBiz program, which encourages eco-efficient practices in the workplace. Just one in five households have signed up for the much touted $60 million Climate Smart Home Service scheme. The program is worth $450 per house, with a $400 government subsidy and includes 15 free energy-saving light bulbs plus water-saving shower heads.

Committee member and Opposition energy spokesman Jeff Seeney said despite costing millions of taxpayer dollars, there was no evidence the Climate Smart Home Service achieved its energy-efficiency goals. "We have grave reservations about the expenditure of such amounts of public money with no attempt to quantify the outcomes achieved," Mr Seeney said.

Other key concerns were that green initiatives were duplicated across government levels and that the large number of programs, guides, rebates and incentives was confusing and unnecessarily complex. There were also questions about a lack of co-ordination across government levels and between agencies.

Energy Minister Stephen Robertson said he would respond to the report's recommendations "in due time".


Casualty department (emergency room) shutdowns in an already overstretched Sydney hospital system

MOST seriously injured accident victims in the city and eastern suburbs will no longer be taken to St Vincent's or Prince of Wales hospitals under a new trauma plan. They will be forced to travel across town to either Royal Prince Alfred in Camperdown or St George Hospital in Kogarah. NSW Health has quietly released its trauma services plan after 10 years of wrangling among doctors. Under the plan, due to start on Monday, all major trauma patients will be diverted from Nepean to Westmead Hospital.

There are concerns about the ability of RPA, St George and Westmead to take on the hundreds of extra patients. RPA is expected to be most seriously affected as it and St George will need to absorb more than 400 extra patients a year.

The NSW chairman of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, Richard Paoloni, said RPA already had the highest level of ambulance arrivals in Sydney and the plan would increase pressure on emergency beds.

The Health Services Union, which represents paramedics, is concerned about increased "trolley block" - where patients are banked up waiting to get into emergency - as well as increased travel times to RPA and Westmead.

Although Nepean will still take trauma patients, the most serious will go directly to Westmead, which will increase the patient load by more than 200 this year. Westmead is already struggling to see its emergency patients on time. The latest performance figures show it is failing to meet benchmarks in three of the five triage categories and has the worst record in the state for admitting patients within eight hours - 63 per cent of patients, well below the benchmark of 80 per cent.

RPA is also failing to see all its emergency patients on time, and is not meeting benchmarks for two of the five triage categories. The Garling inquiry recommended just three adult trauma centres in Sydney.

Richard Matthews, the deputy director-general for strategic development for NSW Health, said the changes would strengthen hospital trauma systems and paramedics would still have the power to exercise their best clinical judgment. "If someone is stabbed seriously on the street outside St Vincent's the ambos will take them into the emergency department there. In the end, they've got the responsibility of making the clinical decision about what's best for the patient," Dr Matthews said. He said the hospitals affected had received extra funding but did not say how much.


Frequent weapons seizures in Queensland government schools

MORE than 80 suspensions for violence with weapons or "objects" are handed out every week in Queensland state schools. As the State Government vowed to crack down on student violence and bullying yesterday, figures obtained by The Courier-Mail highlighted the extent of the problem. The figures, released by the Education Department, show more than 10,000 suspensions were handed out to state school students for "physical misconduct involving an object" over the past three financial years. More than two students were expelled every school week last financial year for the violation, with 89 recorded, up from 65 in 2003 to 2004.

Yesterday, Premier Anna Bligh announced state, Catholic and independent school representatives would form the Queensland Schools Alliance Against Violence, which will make recommendations on the best ways to stamp out the growing problem. It follows a recommendation from Professor Ken Rigby in his report on how the state is dealing with bullying, and the alleged fatal stabbing of 12-year-old Elliott Fletcher in his school's toilets at Shorncliffe last week.

Premier Anna Bligh acknowledged there was an "alarming culture of school violence", with the alliance set to address it. But Opposition deputy leader Lawrence Springborg accused the Government of "more talk and no action", saying it had established a youth violence taskforce in 2006 and claimed to have implemented its recommendations in 2009.

Education figures show there were 2797 short suspensions for "physical misconduct involving an object" in state schools last year, down from a six-year high in 2007 to 2008 when 3064 were recorded. But long suspensions – between six and 20 days – have climbed annually over the past six years in the category, reaching 456 in 2008 to 2009.

Education deputy director-general Lyn McKenzie said the type of objects used in the suspensions could include pencils and sticks, as well as knives. Replica guns have also been wielded by students.

Ms Bligh said while bullying had always existed, the playground no longer ended at the school fence and had been radically changed by technology, including social networking sites. She said the alliance would focus on preventative measures but also look at security and violent incidents in schools, including the use of weapons. The group is expected to meet within the weeks and start delivering recommendations within months.


Immigration Dept is racist, says Australia's most reviled conservative Prime Minister

Given Fraser's shaky attachment to the truth, one should ignore the claims below. He makes a great point of being "anti-racist" -- to the point of sucking up to African dictators. It is sad that he has no other claim on praise, given the many wasted opportunities for constructive reform he had whilst Prime Minister

Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser has blamed the immigration department for some policies such as remote detention centres that he believes may have racist motivations. He argues that white farmers fleeing Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe would not have been held in remote detention centres like more recent asylum seekers have been.

"The whole idea for establishing a detention centre in a remote, harsh place ... that sort of idea came out of the department," Mr Fraser told ABC Television on Tuesday. Asked if there was a racist culture within the department, he replied: "Maybe."

Mr Fraser added the Rudd government was "a little" better than the former coalition government when it came to the treatment of asylum seekers. He also challenged the coalition argument that Labor had lost control of Australia's borders. The former prime minister has given media interviews to promote his book, Malcolm Fraser: The Political Memoirs by Malcolm Fraser and Margaret Simons.


Note that my QANTAS/Jetstar and Queensland Police blogs are still getting frequent updates

Friday, February 26, 2010

UN: Aboriginal program violates human rights

It probably does but just about everything else has been tried and there is nothing that a knowall Hispanic lawyer like the Mr Anaya can say that will help. Maybe Mr Anaya should concentrate on Mexico. He might know something about that and there are certainly plenty of human rights abuses there. Anaya has bloviated on this before. See this reply to him. Mr Anaya seems curiously unconcerned about the rights of the abused Aboriginal children. State and Federal governments of all stripes have been trying for decades to solve the problems of Aborigines, using all sorts of "solutions", and this prick thinks he is wiser than all of them after just a two-week visit. Being a Hispanic-American lawyer must give you special wisdom, I guess -- more likely a chip on your shoulder. He works for the same U.N. that constantly maligns Israel while ignoring huge Arab abuses.

I personally think that the latest initiatives will fail like all others before them. Leave Aborigines to their own devices but provide a high level of policing to protect the women and children is what I would recommend. But I have known Aborigines for years, unlike Mr Anaya -- JR

An Australian government program imposing radical restrictions on Aborigines in a crackdown on child abuse is inherently racist, breaches international human rights obligations and must be changed immediately, a U.N. official said Wednesday.

In an advance copy of a report to be released next week, the United Nations special rapporteur on indigenous human rights, James Anaya, expressed serious concerns over the controversial initiative known as "the intervention." The program forced a series of tough rules on Aborigines in the Northern Territory _ including bans on alcohol and hard-core pornography _ in response to an investigation that found rampant child sex abuse in remote indigenous communities.

"The measures specifically target indigenous people and impair certain rights and freedoms," Anaya, a University of Arizona human rights law professor, told The Associated Press. "It does impair self-determination of Aboriginal communities, their ability to make certain choices about how their communities are run."

In August, Anaya traveled to several Aboriginal communities to hear residents' concerns. His conclusions and recommendations released Wednesday are part of a larger report Anaya wrote on Aboriginal issues that will be released next week.

Aborigines make up about 2 percent of Australia's population of 22 million and are the country's poorest, unhealthiest and most disadvantaged minority. Governments have spent billions of dollars on community programs, housing and education reforms over the past few decades, but living conditions for the nation's original inhabitants remain abysmal.

In 2007, a government-commissioned inquiry concluded that child sexual abuse in remote Aboriginal communities had grown to catastrophic levels, though it didn't provide actual numbers. The government quickly suspended its own anti-discrimination law _ the Racial Discrimination Act _ so it could ban alcohol and hard-core pornography in Aboriginal communities and restrict how Aborigines spend their welfare checks. The restrictions do not apply to Australians of other races.

The measures are "incompatible" with Australia's international human rights obligations, including the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, Anaya said. Further, he said, there is no proof any of the measures have actually improved the lives of Aborigines. "Have the alcohol restrictions actually reduced consumption? There's no evidence for it," he said.

Anaya will present his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva in September. Australia would be given the opportunity to formally respond then.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin's spokeswoman Jessica Walker said in a statement that the government plans to roll out new rules for income management in July that will not discriminate based on race. She also said the government has introduced legislation that would reinstate the Racial Discrimination Act.

In August, Macklin defended the intervention after Anaya criticized the program in an address to reporters. "The most important human right that I feel as a minister I have to confront is the need to protect the rights of the most vulnerable, particularly children, and for them to have a safe and happy life," Macklin said at the time. "These are the rights that I think need to be balanced against other human rights."

Anaya believes there's a way to do both _ by giving Aborigines a say in how they can best be helped.


Your health bureaucrats will protect you (NOT)

What good is a "Medical Board" that doesn't do basic checks? All they had to do was to ask a secretary to make a phone call to the credentialling university but they were too lazy and complacent even to do that. So a fake doctor was found working at a government hospital

POLICE have arrested a man who had allegedly been masquerading as a doctor at a major Territory hospital for about six months. Police were interviewing the man last night. The man had been working as a doctor at Alice Springs Hospital for half a year without holding the appropriate qualifications, the Northern Territory News reports.

He was believed to be a graduate of the University of Adelaide but the facility has confirmed his qualification papers were fake. Senior hospital staff supervising the man were concerned about his performance before raising the alarm to police.

The NT Medical Board suspended the man's registration after the allegations were revealed yesterday.

He received conditional registration to work as intern medical practitioner at Alice Springs in May last year. His qualification documents stated he had completed his university degree in 2008. But the Northern Territory News understands the man attended the course for less than two years and never completed it.

The NT News sent Alice Springs hospital general manager Vicki Taylor several questions to ensure patients had not been put at risk by the man. But Ms Taylor refused to provide any answers. The questions we asked included:

WHAT part of the hospital was the man working in?

WERE any patients put at risk, injured or killed as a result of being treated by the man?

In a short prepared statement, Ms Taylor said: "Because a police investigation is under way the hospital is unable to make further comment at this time pending the outcome of the investigations."

NT Medical Board registrar Jill Huck said the board failed to cross-check the certified copy of his degree. "As far as I know it wasn't cross-checked but it was certified by a justice of peace," she said. "The fraudulent document looked very, very close to an original."

Health Minister Kon Vatskalis has demanded a full explanation from the board and an assurance that similar cases would be avoided.

The allegations come only three months after former Territory doctor John Chibanda was stood down over concerns he was working outside the scope of his credentials at Emerald Hospital in Queensland.


Solar Panels - another Silly Roof Scheme

The Carbon Sense Coalition today called for the immediate suspension of another of Mr Garrett’s silly roof schemes – the Roof Solar Panel Scheme

“This scheme is driven by the Renewable Energy Target Scheme, Renewable Energy Certificates and obligations on power companies to buy the inconsistent dribbles of electricity produced by solar panels on domestic homes.”

The Chairman of Carbon Sense, Mr Viv Forbes, said that like the roof insulation scheme, the Roof Solar Panel Scheme was dangerous, ill planned and a massive waste of community funds.

“There are two aspects of electricity demand. “First is base load demand, which is present 24 hours a day, every day. However, sun power is maximised for only a few hours around noon and fluctuates with the seasons. Thus solar panels cannot replace even one iota of base load generating capacity. Coal, gas, hydro, nuclear or some expensive power storage system must sit there, ready to supply 100% of base load demand every night and on all cloudy days. Any storage facility must be large enough to cope with several consecutive cloudy days.

“The second power consideration is peak load demand, which tends to occur around meal times, night and morning. Solar panels contribute nothing at these times either. “Therefore every dollar spent on roof solar panels duplicates capital already spent on conventional power generation – ie community capital is wasted. And the more panels, the more waste.

“Roof solar panels also induce householders into danger. “Even quite small amounts of dirt, dust, bird droppings, tree leaves or suicidal kites will dramatically reduce the electricity generated by a solar panel. Someone must climb onto the roof to clean the panel. Inevitably, someone will fall off.

“Solar power is not free. Whilst the sunshine is free, it can only be harnessed by the construction, collection, distribution, maintenance and replacement of solar panels and transmission lines, which are not free. Solar power is an expensive option that will always need taxes or hobble-chains on competitors, support from taxpayers or coercion of consumers to survive.

“Surely our parliament cannot be so negligent as to allow rock singers and lawyers to pretend that solar playthings have the reliability, capacity and safety to provide any useful contribution to the future energy needs of our homes, cities, trains, factories, mines and farms?

“If solar panels are so good, consumers will buy them without coercion and subsidies. In reality they are a dangerous waste, so why should other consumers and taxpayers be forced to fund such folly?

“Places like Germany and California have learned to their dismay that massive stimulation of the solar power industry has done three unwelcome things. It has driven up electricity prices, driven away other industries and stimulated the manufacture of solar panels in foreign lands, mainly China. And unless it is propped up by conventional power generation, the inevitable consequence will be network instability and blackouts.

“Solar energy is useful for solar hot water systems, for power in remote locations, for small installations with battery backup and for growing plants. It is not useful for generating electricity for modern power grids.

“The Roof Solar Panel Scheme should be suspended immediately and an independent enquiry made into its engineering and financial feasibility.”


Criminals get it too easy, Victoria's Justice Philip Cummins says

One of the nation's most experienced judges has attacked courts claiming they are being too soft on violent criminals. Victorian Supreme Court Justice Philip Cummins said yesterday the courts had "fallen short on sentence" in cases involving sex offences, violence, and especially domestic violence.

His sentiments were echoed by a veteran magistrate, who this week jailed a seven-time drink driver after lashing out at the leniency shown to him in previous court appearances.

Justice Cummins, 70, in his Supreme Court retirement speech to a packed courtroom of judges and lawyers, said: "I think that sentences imposed should better reflect parliamentary provision and community values." He said he had no doubt every judge respected and was concerned for victims. "(But) with sexual offences, violence, and especially domestic violence, I think courts have fallen short on sentence," he said. "Courts need to give significantly more attribution to personal responsibility and to the consequences of that responsibility," Justice Cummins said. "The even hand of justice requires that victims properly be acknowledged and properly be respected."

Courts had failed to translate respect and concern to action, leaving it to the media, Parliament, and commentators. "It was not the common law or the courts that rid us of the blight of provocation, behind which much domestic and other violence escaped its true consequence," he said.

Justice Cummins has been widely regarded as a champion of victims' rights. Last year, he made a landmark judgment that sex offenders on extended supervision orders should be identified. Yesterday he again called for open justice, saying: "Judges should not sit behind closed doors, hear parties in the absence of each other, or engage in undue pressure."

At Dandenong Magistrates' Court on Tuesday, Rodney Crisp, a magistrate for nearly 25 years, told Michael Sich the public was fed up with drink-drivers being freed on suspended sentences. He jailed Sich, 39, who has six prior drink-driving convictions but has twice been freed on suspended sentences for a year and disqualified him from driving for 10 years. "The community won't tolerate a seven-time drink driver being released. (It) could never stomach it. It would rightly lose all confidence in the system of sentencing," he said. Sich appealed but was denied bail and remanded until his appeal hearing on June 17.


The Leftist love of censorship again

Communications Minister's website removes references to filter

THE minister in charge of the Government's web censorship plan has been caught out censoring his own website. The front page of Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's official website displays a list of topics connected to his portfolio, along with links to more information about each one. All the usual topics are there – cyber safety, the national broadband network, broadcasters ABC and SBS, digital television and so on.

All except one. It was revealed today a script within the minister's homepage deliberately removes references to internet filtering from the list. In the function that creates the list, or "tag cloud", there is a condition that if the words "ISP filtering" appear they should be skipped and not displayed. The discovery is unlikely to do any favours for Senator Conroy's web filtering policy, which has been criticised for its secrecy.

According to Google's cache records, the exception has been included on the minister's homepage since at least February 14. A message on the page says it was last updated in October last year.

Melbourne web developer David Johnson told the code was intended to remove references to internet filtering. "The code is a quick fix," said Mr Johnson of creative agency Lemonade. "If the developers of the minister’s site had wanted to do it properly they would have placed the 'ISP filtering' keyword exclusion on the server side where it is inaccessible to the public, instead of the front-end code which can be seen by anyone and understood by people with even a basic knowledge of scripting."


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Private emergency room opens as an alternative to long waits at government hospitals

Patients who pay $195 can jump the queues at hospital emergency departments when the nation's largest health fund opens its first standalone clinic today. Medibank is guaranteeing patients with minor injuries and illnesses will be treated within one hour at its first Rapid Care Clinic in Brisbane. The fund is confident it will have a Sydney facility operating in June.

The clinics, staffed by specialist emergency doctors, will deal with urgent but non-life-threatening medical conditions such as broken bones, sprain, cuts and minor burns, viruses, headaches, earaches and sore eyes.

Twenty thousand patients a month wait more than the clinically-recommended one hour to be treated in the clogged emergency departments in public hospitals.

Single mother Kylie Endycott, who spent five hours at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital yesterday after her one-year-old son Beau had difficulty breathing, said the clinics were a great idea but thought fees could be altered for different family situations.

Almost 170,000 people using a public hospital emergency department leave in frustration every year because of their wait for treatment. Medibank hopes to fill this gap. "Anybody who experienced attending a busy hospital emergency room with a minor injury or sick child, tried to get an appointment with their GP at short notice or out-of hours, will understand the Rapid Care Clinic," Medibank managing director George Savvides said.

The clinics will be open 365 days a year from 8am to 9pm to anyone, although Medibank members pay just $150 for a consultation and face no charge for X-rays, plaster or stitches. The clinics will refer conditions such as chest pain, severe breathing difficulty, acute stomach pain, severe burns, loss of consciousness, head and neck injuries or pregnancy-related conditions to the nearest hospital.

Emergency medicine specialist Dr Peter Herron - who runs the Brisbane clinic, which has been open for a week and a half - has treated seven people including several fractures, a bee sting, a laceration and an earache.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Andrew Pesce said the clinics would help those who could afford them but was disappointed that underfunding of the public hospital system had made them necessary. He is concerned they will lead to further fragmentation of patient care. Those who use these clinics can't claim for their treatment from their health fund or Medicare and must pay the full cost out of their own pocket. The Health Services arm of the fund has run similar clinics for corporate clients for years.


Rogue unions now off the leash and doing a lot of damage

Woodside chief executive Don Voelte has called on the Rudd government to toughen up laws to deal with illegal strikes. He declared the resource giant's timetable for shipping the first gas from its $12 billion Pluto liquefied natural gas project was contingent "on a productive industrial relations environment".

While Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard has repeatedly labelled wildcat strikes by Pluto workers as unacceptable, Mr Voelte said the laws should be changed to ensure employees returned to work sooner once their action was deemed illegal. "It's like a pendulum swung it too far one way with Work Choices. We're concerned maybe we swung it a little too far the other way," he said.

Woodside is a senior member of the Australian Mines and Metals Association, which this week called for legislative changes that would allow for immediate sanctions to be imposed on workers taking unlawful industrial action.

Asked what changes the company would like the government to make to the Fair Work Act, Mr Voelte said: "It's not the issue of collective bargaining. We understand that and we accept that. "When you have an agreement, we expect the unions to follow the law too. It took us eight days to get people back to work in an illegal strike. "The area we'd like to focus on is, `Hey, once it's declared illegal, get back to work'. "It's like a two-year tortuous battle to go through courts to pay fines for being illegal. It should be a bit different."

Mr Voelte said Woodside's target for the first liquefied natural gas exports in early 2011 was contingent on a "productive industrial relations environment" and the company had arranged emergency cargoes from other LNG producers for customers in the event of more strikes.

Ms Gillard, the Workplace Relations Minister, said the government would continue to take a tough position against unlawful industrial action. "Unlawful industrial action is wrong," she told the National Press Club. "People should expect to be punished . . . to feel the full force of the law."

A spokesman for Ms Gillard said last night that throughout the Pluto dispute, Fair Work Australia ordered strikers back to work within 24 hours of illegal industrial action. "Workers chose to ignore those orders, and the Federal Court, just as would have been the case under the previous government's industrial relations system, issued an injunction ordering workers to return to work," he said. "As would have been the case previously, these orders took a number of days to serve on individual workers."

ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said yesterday Mr Voelte's comments showed that big business "continues to hark back to the days of Work Choices". "The increase in profits reported by Woodside Petroleum exposes the hypocrisy of big mining companies calling for changes to Australia's industrial relations system," he said.

While further industrial action has not been threatened at the Pluto project, unions have refused to rule out further strikes.

Workers, many of whom are being pursued by contractors for $22,000 fines over illegal strikes, said they were furious with the Rudd government's retention of construction watchdog the Australian Building & Construction Commissioner, which they said was being used to attack them. Militant West Australian Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union assistant secretary Joe McDonald, who attended a meeting of 2000 Pluto workers yesterday, said the federal government was deeply unpopular in the Pilbara.

"You wouldn't want to be a Labor Party politician in the northwest right now," he said. "The blokes think they've been betrayed by (Kevin) Rudd, by Gillard and (Resources Minister Martin) Ferguson. "They're seen as absolute traitors, (those) were the words that were used. The ABCC is still running around like thieves in the night."

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union state secretary Steve McCartney said Labor had turned its back on workers who felt vulnerable to court action by the ABCC.


Australian government suffers twin setbacks to carbon scheme

KEVIN Rudd's carbon pollution reduction scheme has been dealt a double blow, with the Senate pushing a vote off until at least May and the scheme's last influential industry supporter declaring it off the agenda.

After calling for the CPRS to be passed last November, Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout said yesterday the fracturing of consensus on climate change policy and the failure of international negotiations meant there was no clear way forward. The AI Group would now consider the opposition's direct action approach as well as other emissions reduction options through a high-level industry leaders group to "identify the best way forward".

Ms Ridout's comments came after the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry this month declared their opposition to implementing an emissions reduction plan ahead of the rest of the world.

Last night, the Coalition was pushing for a new Senate inquiry into the government's scheme after succeeding in delaying the debate until May. Ms Ridout said that, in the longer term, the AI Group continued to see a market-based approach as the best means of delivering "least-cost abatement" but a cap-and-trade system was not included in five principles that would guide the industry leaders group's deliberations. She described the chances of adopting an emissions trading scheme as "remote" in the near term. Ms Ridout said five key principles would guide deliberations:

* That the competitiveness of trade-exposed industries not be eroded;

* That Australia be able to meet its international emissions reduction commitments at least cost;

* That the continuity of energy supply should be assured in the transition to lower-emission energy;

* That research and development of new approaches to emissions reductions and refinement of existing approaches be supported; and

* That compliance costs and regulatory burdens be minimised.

Ms Ridout said that the AI Group had supported the amended CPRS legislation in good faith however the deal had still fallen apart. In trying to find a way forward on carbon reductions, the AI Group was being "realistic" rather than "idealistic".

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said the AI Group supported a market mechanism, as it had the most potential to deliver least-cost abatement. "The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is the only market-based solution being put forward by any party," she said.

Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt said Australia's key business groups were distancing themselves from the Rudd government's ETS, which was looking "increasingly friendless".


Phonics to be enforced as part of literacy teaching throughout Australia

Ideology replaced by what works

ALL states and territories will be forced to follow a set program for teaching reading under the first national English curriculum, which stipulates the letters, sounds and words students must learn in each year of school. The curriculum, obtained by The Australian, dictates what students from kindergarten until the end of Year 9 are expected to know and be able to do in English, history, science and maths.

The English curriculum, to be released for public consultation next week, enshrines the importance of teaching letter-sound combinations, or phonics, giving examples of the sounds and words to be taught from the start of school. Students in their prep year will learn to sound out simple words such as "cat", recognising the initial, middle and end sounds; by Year 1, they will have learned two consonant sounds such as "st", "br" and "gl".

The national curriculum ends the piecemeal approach to what is taught in schools, with state curriculums emphasising different course content and teaching it at different stages of school. The new curriculum is a detailed document that provides specific examples and is longer than many existing state syllabuses, some of which are a couple of pages long for each subject.

The curriculum for the senior years of school, from Years 10 to 12, will be released separately by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority later this year.

The English curriculum places a strong emphasis on the study of grammar, from learning different classes of words such as verbs and nouns in the early years through to the difference between finite and non-finite clauses in high school. In a speech to the National Press Club yesterday, Education Minister Julia Gillard welcomed the "strong appearance" of grammar in the national curriculum. Announcing its release next Monday, she said the curriculum set out the essential content for each year of learning as well as the achievement standards students should be expected to perform.

"This will not be a curriculum `guide' or a supplement to what states and territories currently teach," she said. "It will be a comprehensive new curriculum, providing a platform for the highest quality teaching."

Ms Gillard also outlined the next phase of Labor's education revolution, including the external assessment of schools and the introduction of student identity numbers to enable parents and schools to track a child's individual progress through school.

After the speech, a spokesman for Ms Gillard said the government would investigate different systems for assessing school performance in coming months, including a form of school inspectors and the method used in Britain, where the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills conducts detailed inspections of schools and publishes its findings. "The government believes that some external inspection or assessment of schools would be an additional way of ensuring that our schools are providing the best possible education for our children." the spokesman said.

Ms Gillard said the government would examine "how every school can get the right support and scrutiny to make sure it is performing well and improving in the areas where it needs to improve".

The idea of external assessment of schools was mooted by the national teachers union for public education, the Australian Education Union, in a charter of school accountability reported by The Australian in December. The AEU proposal advocates a system of regular assessments against a set of standards by a panel of principals, teachers and education experts, and then working with struggling schools to lift performance. AEU federal president Angelo Gavrielatos said yesterday teachers wanted to see the detail of the government's proposal on school assessment before giving their support, although they were still committed to the principle of accountability and external review.

"But the government must consult with teachers," he said. "We're seeing announcement after announcement without consultation and the Rudd government has to realise that it needs to consult with the profession. "Ultimately, we're the ones who implement education policy." Mr Gavrielatos said the union was also not opposed in principle to the idea of student identity numbers and welcomed moves to improve the measure of student progress than that currently used on the My School website.

Tony Abbott said students already had unique identifiers in the form of names, and questioned why their results could not be tracked using their names.


Australia sets spies on people smugglers

Australia is setting its domestic spy agency on people smuggling, handing the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation greater powers and allowing it to operate overseas.

The Government in Canberra is also boosting co-operation with Malaysia - another key link in the people-smuggling chain - improving intelligence-sharing, immigration controls and the interception of smugglers' operations.

The moves emerged yesterday as Attorney-General Robert McClelland introduced new laws that will widen ASIO's brief and introduce tough new penalties, and as Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor met Malaysian counterparts in Sydney. The Government's drive to clamp down on people smuggling has been pushed by a new wave of boats carrying asylum seekers from Indonesia, straining detention facilities on Christmas Island and raising a political storm in Australia.

The Opposition claims the influx has been sparked by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's relaxation of the tough regime imposed by conservative Liberal predecessor John Howard.

But introducing the new laws to Parliament yesterday, McClelland said a global surge in asylum seekers was being driven by conflicts and turmoil in Afghanistan, the Middle East and Sri Lanka. He said the most recent report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated there were 42 million forcibly displaced people worldwide at the end of 2008, including 15.2 million mandated refugees and 827,000 asylum seekers.

The new laws will enable ASIO to specifically target people smugglers and other serious border threats, and will change the definition of "foreign intelligence" to allow the organisation and other national security agencies to collect people-smuggling intelligence overseas. ASIO is at present not able to directly act against people smuggling and can only use and pass on information it has indirectly obtained as part of its counterterrorism operations. The new legislation will allow it to specifically work against people smugglers, supported by extended interception and surveillance powers and the ability to collect foreign intelligence.

The gathering of foreign intelligence under present laws is restricted to information relating to foreign Governments and political organisations relevant to the defence of Australia or the conduct of the nation's international affairs. "This position no longer adequately reflects the contemporary threats to Australia's national interests," McClelland said. "In an increasingly interconnected global community, activities such as people smuggling are usually undertaken by non-state actors, and [the new law] will enable information about foreign individuals or groups operating without Government support to be collected."

The legislation also introduces a range of new offences, including providing material support for people smuggling, which will carry a maxi-mum penalty of 10 years' jail and/or a fine of A$110,000 ($123,563).


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Climate wars have given science bad name, say leading Australian academics

And they're right about that. Admitting that crooks have corrupted and slid past the peer review process and denouncing those crooks would be the first step to restoring the good name of science but they are not willing to go that far. In fact, by continuing to dignify fraud with the label of science they increase the damage to real science.

In any case, peer review is a very weak defence against deliberate fraud. The fact that both British and American climate researchers hid their raw data for many years was a smoking gun that alerted skeptics to the fact that fraud was going on but there is no mention of that below.

Also missing below is any mention of any scientific fact. Why? Because there ARE no facts showing man-caused global warming -- merely guesses dressed up as "models"

UNIVERSITY leaders are pressing for a public campaign to restore the intellectual and moral authority of Australian science in the wake of the climate wars. Peter Coaldrake [Best known for curbing freedom of speech at his university], chairman of Universities Australia and vice-chancellor of Queensland University of Technology, told the HES yesterday he was "concerned about the way the climate change debate has flowed", and would address the role of science in the formation of public policy at his National Press Club address next week. "It worries me that this tabloid decimation of science comes at a time when we have a major national issue in terms of the number of people taking science at university,"Professor Coaldrake said.

Margaret Sheil, chief executive of the Australian Research Council, said she was deeply concerned about the backlash generated by emails from the East Anglia Climate Research Unit, the criticisms of Rajendra Kumar Pachauri, head of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change, and poor research on the rate of glacial melting in a 2007 UN report on climate change.

Professor Sheil said she feared that these black marks would spread to a "broader negative public perception" of science. "Anecdotally, we now see tabloids and talkback radio, and even some broadsheet newspapers, perpetuating these criticisms and the notion that `scientists just made stuff up'," she told the HES. "These sort of comments reflect a widespread lack of understanding of the nature of scientists and science more generally."

She urged university leaders to do more to explain the rigour of the scientific processes and peer review. "We also need to learn from the medical community to better engage with the community on these issues," she said. "The National Health and Medical Research Council, for example, has community representatives on a whole range of committees [that] build bridges and trust. Much of our collective science communication efforts are focused on engagement with science at the school level rather than the public at large."

Anna-Maria Arabia, executive director of the Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies, called yesterday for concerted action by the funders, producers, advocates and consumers of science to "restore confidence in the scientific process and profession". Ms Arabia said scientists welcomed public debate and embraced scepticism. "In fact scientists would welcome a debate on current climate change that challenges the science with science. A scientist never regards peer-reviewed research as being beyond criticism. "But unbalanced debates pitching peer-reviewed science against opinion, anecdotal evidence or the loud voice of cashed-up lobby groups is not healthy.

"There needs to be a circuit-breaker. And the circuit-breaker is a deeper awareness of the importance of science as a discipline that is based on a time-honoured process called peer review. "Peer review allows ideas, scientific views to change, to be corrected. It allows experts to spot mistakes and omissions. Peer review allows scientists to rigorously test their ideas. It is the robust nature of this process that has given people confidence to fly in planes and feed their children nutritious food."

Ian Chubb, vice-chancellor of the Australian National University, said some populists had found it easy to denigrate science because many scientific conclusions in the field of climate change rested on a balance of probability rather than incontestable proof. "What concerns me is when you get people who are purporting to comment on the science and all they're doing is seeking to turn themselves into celebrities." he said. [The chubby one seems to think that ad hominem abuse is scholarly argument] He also scorned critics of the science who were from other disciplines. "The world can't do without science and if we denigrate it and belittle it and besmirch it by inappropriate behaviour we're in trouble," he said.

Professor Coaldrake said he was attempting to broaden the peak body's public role to include issues such as climate, immigration, ageing and open source information. In attempting to "bridge scientific knowledge, research and public policy", he was seeking a bigger public profile for "the thousands of people within our institutions with a contribution to make", he said.


Australian Labor party out on a limb as as ETS fairyland fractures

THE Rudd government stares down the gun barrel of one of the greatest policy and political retreats of the past generation that confounds its election strategy and its policy credibility.

"Cap and trade in America is dead, the idea is completely dead," Chicago-based global economist, David Hale, participant in the Australian American Leadership Dialogue and a long-time personal friend of Kevin Rudd, told The Australian this week. "The Democrats in the coal-burning states have effectively vetoed a cap-and-trade scheme and Republican gains in the mid-term congressional elections will only make it even more improbable. Cap and trade has been totally submerged in America's economic problems and unemployment near 10 per cent."

Hale says the US confronts a dual crisis of economics and governance with climate change relegated to a minority issue. "America seems crippled by the fiscal crisis," he says. "There is no remote sign of a political consensus about where we are going and my fear is that America is becoming ungovernable. The separation of powers in the US system is the real problem. It means we don't really have government policy, the way you do in Australia. We just have outcomes. There is no government control of the legislature to achieve its program. I think we are heading for some dark moments over the next few years."

Australians, unable to comprehend the scale of this sentiment, should refer to the Pew Research Centre report on the US in late January showing global warming rated the lowest priority, the last out of 21 issues, behind even moral decline, immigration, trade and lobbyists.

Only 28 per cent said global warming was a priority for the US compared with the economy, the highest rating, at 83 per cent, followed by jobs at 81 per cent. (While energy rated 49 per cent or the 11th priority in the US, this usually pertains to energy security, not cap-and-trade laws). Describing voter sentiment, the Pew Centre says: "Such a low rating is driven in part by indifference among Republicans: just 11 per cent consider global warming a top priority compared with 43 per cent of Democrats and 25 per cent of independents."

The latest decisive shift in Australian business opinion comes from the Australian Industry Group and its chief executive, Heather Ridout. "I think the political consensus on climate change both domestically and internationally is now fractured," Ridout tells The Australian. "The emissions trading scheme is on life support. Copenhagen fell well short of expectations."

The AI Group national executive meets today and Ridout's comments leave only one conclusion: the responsible path for corporate Australia is to engage with the Rudd government to find an alternative strategy. Frankly, nobody, including the Rudd government, seems cognisant of what this involves. Ridout says: "Importantly, the way forward is not clear. As an organisation we will operate on the principles that we have already outlined. We continue to believe that a market-based approach is essential. Any scheme must take into account the competitiveness of Australian industry and the current international situation only reinforces this argument."

The Rudd government is stranded without any apparent game plan on its most important first-term policy (outside its response to the global financial crisis). It is rare for a national government to face this predicament in its first term. Labor seems unable to abandon its ETS yet unable to champion its ETS; it cannot tolerate the ignominy of policy retreat yet cannot declare it will take its beliefs to a double-dissolution election; it remains pledged to its ETS yet cannot fathom how to make its ETS the law of the land. Such uncertainties are understandable, yet they are dangerously debilitating for any government. In such a rapidly shifting policy and political climate, even fallback positions risk being rendered obsolete. As Ridout says, the way forward is not clear.

In the interim, Labor's response is to launch a furious series of spins, diversions and alternatives. The list is long: it will make health the main election issue; it will be brave enough to seek a double dissolution on the private health insurance rebate; criticism of its $250 million tax break for the television networks was just a Murdoch media conspiracy; and Tony Abbott is off the planet whenever he attacks the government.

Beneath such drum beating is a government whose world view on climate change is in eclipse and whose domestic political assumptions about climate change have been broken.

As a consequence Labor has lowered, dramatically, its ETS policy profile. Its tactic is to deny Abbott's scare by playing down its ETS. Great tactics, but what's the strategy? Where does this lead? Abbott's bite may be diminished, but what happens to Rudd's credibility? For how long does Labor stop talking about the moral challenge of the age? Is the ETS the policy that dare not bear its name?

Ross Garnaut brands the present phase "the waiting game". But "the agony game" better captures Labor's plight. Garnaut calls this "awaiting the international agreement" that "provides a sound basis for international trade in entitlements". But awaiting the global conditions to make an Australian ETS viable looks like a long wait.

In strategic terms Rudd has three options. They come under the brands belief, compromise and retreat.

The belief option is to stand by the ETS and seek its passage via the deadlock provisions of the constitution at a joint sitting after a successful double-dissolution election around August-September, which approximates a full-term parliament. This is strictly for a government that believes in its policy and its powers of persuasion. Such faith is visibly draining away from Rudd Labor.

The compromise option means radical policy surgery to the ETS, such as legislating a two-year fixed carbon price of about $20 a tonne to get the scheme operational, or even a carbon tax. This is one of Garnaut's options. But it presumably requires some deal with the Greens, a fateful political step that would only create a new set of policy and electoral problems for Rudd. The truth is Labor has not recovered from last year's collapse of its parliamentary strategy of joining with the Coalition to implement its policy.

It was Abbott's election as Liberal [Party] leader that ruined Rudd's entire game plan. The retreat option equates to admitting it is too hard to legislate a policy and too dangerous to make the issue an election centrepiece. Yet saying "no, we can't" would constitute a humiliation for Rudd, making it the worst in a series of unpalatable options.


Schools leaving students at the mercy of bullying

QUEENSLAND schools are failing to properly deal with the two worst kinds of bullying and often don't even check how their existing anti-bullying measures are working, the Government's own expert has warned.

Current approaches to tackling bullying inside the education system are unlikely to stem the growing menace of cyber-bullying. They also are unlikely to curb the effects of children deliberately excluding others. The stark warnings are contained in a highly anticipated report by Professor Ken Rigby, commissioned last year by the State Government. The report says cyber-bullying and social exclusion are "now seen as the most damaging of all to the mental health of targeted children".

After a review of the state's schools, Prof Rigby has concluded they are failing to follow up on how well their existing anti-bullying measures are working. "This needs to be remedied before schools can discover, with confidence, what works at their school," his report said.

Prof Rigby also warned the Government that it needed to continually provide the best new advice to its education department. He recommended every school be made to report annually on its anti-bullying tactics and then be encouraged to note them on their website.

One in three children are bullied in class almost daily, according to research released by Education Queensland last year.

The Rigby report, Enhancing Responses to Bullying in Queensland Schools, highlights a lack of education in schools about the range of anti-bullying measures available. It wasn't all bad, however, with Prof Rigby saying he was "much impressed" during his visits to state schools on their "dedication and sheer inventiveness on what was being done to address bullying". "I have worked with schools in every state in Australia, and it is not my impression that Queensland schools are less dedicated or less effective in dealing with bullying than any other state or territory," he said. "However, I do believe that a good deal of useful advice and guidance can and should be provided by the Department of Education and Training and by other educational jurisdictions."

Prof Rigby acknowledged he only visited a small sample of schools, with only staff and stakeholders – not parents or students – interviewed.

Education Minister Geoff Wilson said he would "carefully consider" the recommendations. Mr Wilson said the report was an important step in his commitment to dealing with bullying and behaviour in Queensland schools.


A profile of Tony Abbott, Australia's likely next conservative Prime Minister

IN the red corner stands Kevin Rudd, conservative man of strong religious conviction. In the blue corner stands Tony Abbott, conservative man of strong religious conviction. Standing between them, refereeing, are Australians who consider God to be less relevant than at any time in the history of this nation. Yet it sometimes feels like the state and the church have become one.

"Yeah," says Abbott, "but I don't bring religion into the square the way Rudd did and does. I am Catholic. I've always taken my religion seriously, even though I have struggled many times in vain to live up to its ideals. "I do not regard myself as a Christian politician. I regard myself as a politician who just happens to think religion matters. I would be appalled, absolutely appalled, to think religion drove anyone's politics in a secular democracy like ours." Abbott says his party never has, and never will, have an image of God watermarked on its ballot slips.

Abbott is moving about the country, visiting the troops, both the camouflaged kind and the party faithful, selling the message that while surviving the financial crisis made Rudd look good, the trifecta of low interest rates, high wages and low prices will not last. Doom is not sexy, but Abbott says: "Our job is to get the public to understand that the Rudd Government is making their situation worse." Things can "definitely get worse for Labor" over coming months. "We can win," he says. "It won't be easy. I'm not saying it's likely, but it is possible. "I don't go to the races often enough to be much good when it comes to odds. We are not a 50-50 chance, but we are not a rank outsider either."

Abbott has not had to reinvent himself for the role of leader. It would not be his style to become toned-down Tony and, besides, no one would buy it from a man who comes to the leadership as an already fully formed politician.

He stuck his jaw out yesterday when asked about his sex life, describing sex as one of life's great pleasures. But, he said, there were times when it was difficult to have sex: "Let's face it, it's almost impossible to have when you are on the campaign trail."

He said the inquiry about his sex life, linked to giving things up for Lent, was a very good question. "When I was a schoolboy, my great Jesuit mentor, Father Costello, said it was much better to do something positive in Lent than to give something up," he says. "And he said that we shouldn't have a hair shirt mentality where we were against the good things of life - we should have a heroic mindset where we went out to try to make the most of life."

That might be tricky to reconcile with his recent comments that he would advise his daughters to abstain from sex until marriage and not give away their virginity too lightly.

If it is correct that people find Abbott physically appealing, the question remains whether women in particular like traditional-values Abbott. "Look, I'm not going to get into this issue because that was then and now is now. My position is well known and it hasn't changed," he says. "I just observe that my view, Kevin Rudd's view and (NSW Premier) Kristina Keneally's view are all pretty similar, and yet journalists aren't rushing around interrogating Kevin Rudd and Kristina Keneally about their view."

His point is reasonable. It also reaffirms that today's voters see nuance rather than vast chasms when choosing between Liberal and Labor.

Asked if there was any circumstance where the death penalty should apply, Abbott says there are some crimes so horrific that it maybe the only adequate penalty. "But look, it's not my policy to reintroduce the death penalty. If the matter ever came before the federal Parliament it would be a conscience vote," he says.

Abbott has not changed: his role has. "I think that moving into a leadership position gives the public a licence to rethink their view about you. "I think when someone changes positions, go from one job to another job, even strongly held and entrenched views can change. "The other point I'd make is that I think people who follow politics closely and have an understanding of public life, actually quite appreciate there are some roles which are necessary and valuable but not naturally popular. "The person who fills those roles is often quite respected even if not necessarily widely liked."

Does he like Rudd? "We don't see each other in a context which is conducive to the normal growth of affection," Abbott says. But there was a time, 10 years ago, when they got along. Faith brought them together, on Monday nights, when former Liberal MP Ross Cameron held religious fellowship meetings in his parliamentary office. "In those days, I was impressed by (Rudd's) willingness to participate in something which tended to be dominated by Coalition MPs. "I know on occasion Rudd was given to understand by (Labor) that he was letting the side down by fraternising with the enemy. "And I respected Rudd for that and I found, in those days, much to like in the bloke. I also occasionally thought he was a little bit more in love with the sound of his own voice than he should have been. Nevertheless I did find much to like in him in those days.

"Since then, as I guess both of us have got closer to the pointy end of debate, you tend to be focusing on things that drive out affection. "That's not to say in a different context I couldn't find him pretty likeable."

In 2006, Rudd, then in opposition, published an essay entitled "Faith in Politics". It rankles Abbott to this day. Rudd had named his most admired 20th-century person as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who was hanged by the Nazis. Rudd talked of the importance of taking belief into office, but making sure God was not hijacked for political purposes. Rudd then attacked John Howard's party for asking people to vote for them because they were Christians with defined views of private sexual morality, and because they chanted the mantra of family values.

"In short, the thing I found obnoxious was the way he was trying to exploit his undoubtedly sincere Christianity as a political marketing tool," Abbott says. "I thought that was a bit of a low thing to do. "He was saying that's what you guys were trying to do, wasn't he? Which I think was complete crap. Absolute complete crap. He was wrong. Absolutely wrong. "He was unable then, and would be unable now, to find any example of a senior Coalition politician saying, 'Vote for me because I'm a Christian'. "No one did, no one would. But Rudd was saying, 'Vote for me because I'm a Christian'.

What he was saying was that the Labor Party was a more Christian party than the Coalition because at the heart of the Gospel, he said, was social justice. "I don't want to get into a new argument with him over that, but I thought at the time it was both self-serving and wrong."

Proof that the campaign is under way is how little spare time Abbott has. The best way to pin him down is to jump on a plane and interview him at 10,000m. Up close he's a good-looking bloke who holds his 53 years well. The long years in government, and now Opposition, have not worn him down. He seems to be chasing minds, rather than hearts. He feels no need to present as a great Aussie bloke who, for instance, just loves his cricket.

For Abbott, sport is personal, a place where he has assessed himself. He boxed for Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar: "Getting into the boxing ring was scary. Um, packing down against Steve Finnane in my second game of first grade rugby was scary." Of knowing fear in recent times, he says: "Getting caught in a big set at Golf Course Reef at Mollymook - it's pretty scary to see a big wall of white water coming towards you, knowing you're going to get hammered and knowing there's probably a couple of equally big walls of white water behind it and you probably aren't going to be able to paddle out quickly enough to avoid it."

Abbott also said he'd had "a couple of hairy moments driving a car", and, as if to prove the point, on Wednesday he almost became a political footnote when his Commonwealth car was almost wiped out by a truck at a highway-side media stop near Geelong. "My life didn't flash before my eyes," he says. "I think the only word that had passed my lips was a short one beginning with F as I saw the truck go past."

Abbott does not fear Rudd. But would he have been better off letting Malcolm Turnbull destroy himself on behalf of the Liberals in this election? Because that's the way things work - isn't it? Australians give leaders a second term? "We didn't give (post-Great Depression Labor prime minister) Jimmy Scullin a second chance, and we only gave Gough Whitlam three years," he says.

If you removed Abbott's budgie smugglers, you'd find "Liberal" branded on his hide. You'd find no such mark on Turnbull when he stepped out of his Calvin Kleins. It was about Turnbull, not the party, and insiders feared he could have destroyed the Liberals. "But he didn't," says Abbott. "Political parties are resilient beasts. The only thing about political parties is they can go through difficult times where people worry about their survival, let alone their success, yet just a few months later everything can be different. "There's a cycle in politics, and when you're at the wrong end of the cycle, things look pretty bad. But there are a few problems that political parties are subject to that can't be cured by victory."

Where are you in that cycle? "Normally, it takes longer than three years for the political cycle to turn. But again that depends very much of the general environment in which governments are operating and the political competence of the government of the day. "I just don't think that the Rudd Government is quite the bunch of political geniuses people thought a few months ago."

On the question of asylum seekers, Abbott has announced a Howard II policy, the only difference being that he won't set up another Nauru or Manus Island to process refugee applicants. He thinks "it ought to be possible to reduce the flow, and if you can reduce the flow, then Christmas Island should be able to cope". He'll do this by reinstating temporary protection visas that will give no guarantee of permanent residency. But he agrees that under Howard, most refugees with TPVs ended up staying - and there's no reason the same wouldn't happen again.

Christmas Island, already close to capacity, will certainly overflow. But won't asylum seekers simply scuttle their boats and demand rescue - as they're already doing? He admits this is so. He will need to find Another Solution.

I ask whether he felt any sense of thrill for Barack Obama in victory. "I felt happy for Obama, because what greater honour could a politician have than becoming president of the United States?" he says. But the real thrill for Abbott was this: "I felt pleased for America, because it would be much harder for America's critics to say there was something fundamentally racist about America. Having said that, if I had been in America I would have been voting for McCain because I reckon he had, on balance, better policies."

Abbott does not believe Rudd should be attacked for being an awkward facsimile of a normal bloke. "I think Rudd's problems are not his personality. I think he's broken a lot of promises and he seems more comfortable with process than with performance. "I mean, he's a great one for setting up committees and claiming that as an achievement of itself. "We've lost count, but early on in the life of the Rudd Government I think we counted up about 150 separate reviews, committees, inquiries and other processes that had been put in place. "A lot of these don't come to anything. That's why people think he's all talk and no action."

He credits Rudd as a "highly intelligent bloke" but says the public can't get a handle on him: "I think the public want to know who the real Kevin Rudd is."

Abbott does seem to know himself. His team does not need to closely media-manage Abbott's mouth - just his time. "Yeah, look, I don't regard myself as God's gift to politics, and I don't regard myself as anything other than a flawed and fallible human being. I think, despite all that, I'm reasonably comfortable in my own skin," he says.