Thursday, September 30, 2010

Labor party to bring back compulsory university amenities fees

This is not the same as the bad old mad old system of the past. Using the fees to finance political activity was the bugbear in the past but is banned in this iteration

THE Gillard government will introduce legislation today to restore compulsory student amenities fees at Australian universities. Minister for Tertiary Education Minister, Senator Chris Evans, appealed today to the new parliament to support the bill, saying he wanted it to be passed by Christmas to ensure it will take effect next year.

Senator Evans said it was important to restore a range of depleted services at universities, particularly in regional Australia, and cited sporting, health and counselling services as key areas.

The legislation would allow students to be charged a fee of up to $250 a year for the provision of student services with Senator Evans claiming it was supported by both universities and students.

He also took a swipe at the Howard government’s voluntary student unionism legislation which had abolished services and amenities fees for students. “Under the arrangements left by the Coalition government, close to $170 million has been ripped out of university funding. This has led to the decline, and in some instances, the complete closure, of vital student services,” he said.

The Higher Education Legislation Amendment was defeated in August last year in the Senate, but Senator Evans said the bill had now been changed to make it more attractive and allow the $250 fee to be paid over time. “The main measure… is that we’ve allowed fees to be treated as part of the HECS debt so there’s not the upfront requirement,” he explained. “This legislation makes it very clear that those fees, which will be in the order of $150 a year... can be added to the HECS debt.”

Senator Evans encouraged the Coalition to review its opposition to the bill and said the legislation would be supported by the independents in the lower house. “We agreed with them that we would reintroduce the legislation and I’m hopeful of Getting Mr Crook from Western Australia to support the legislation,” he said.


Mexican telco billionaire's claim the NBN is too expensive backs our case: Tony Abbott

TONY Abbott has seized on a Mexican billionaire's criticisms of the National Broadband Network to again label the plan a "white elephant".

Carlos Slim Helu, a telecommunications tycoon and the world's richest man, said yesterday the $43 billion network would cost $7000 for every home and was too expensive. Mr Slim said the government should be using a multi-platform approach, instead of relying on fibre-optic technology.

Mr Abbott, who has put the NBN at the centre of his strategy to hold the government to account, said Mr Slim was echoing the opposition's concerns about the NBN. “The point is that the world's richest man thinks that spending $5000 per household on something that might be technologically obsolete by the time it's built doesn't make sense. I think he's right,” Mr Abbott told ABC radio. “He's effectively echoing what the Coalition has been saying for months now, that this is going to be a great big white elephant, a $43 billion white elephant.”

Mr Abbott urged the government to commission a serious cost benefit analysis of the NBN and suggested it would not do so because it was “terrified of what it might say”. “There must be a cost benefit analysis and this is one of the matters that we want to bring before the new parliament at an early stage,” he said.

Mr Abbott would not commit the Coalition to supporting the NBN if the analysis showed the network was feasible. “This is one of the matters we want to bring before the new parliament.”

Mr Abbott went on the attack as the government said it expected legislation paving the way for the NBN will be introduced to parliament before the end of the year. House of Representatives leader Anthony Albanese said the government expects the legislation will be introduced during the “coming sittings”. “We are finalising that legislation, that will be a very significant debate before the parliament,” he told ABC Radio.

Nationals frontbencher Barnaby Joyce described the planned network as a “very expensive fairytale”. “What he (Mr Slim) has said is the bleeding obvious,” he told reporters in Canberra.

But Labor senator Doug Cameron dismissed the criticism. “Would you expect anything else from a billionaire who runs a monopoly in Mexico?”

The man charged by Mr Abbott with tearing down the government plan had trouble remembering the network's correct name. Opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull described the NBN as a “massive leap into the dark” and repeated the Coalition's earlier calls for a fresh look at the network.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy yesterday hit back at Mr Slim's claim the NBN was too expensive. “Mr Slim's comments about the NBN are no surprise given he has become the world's richest man by owning a vertically-integrated monopoly. Mr Slim has clearly not read the implementation study and we will forward him a copy,” the minister said.

“The implementation study provides a detailed analysis of the cost to deliver the NBN. The study found that the $43 billion total capital cost is a conservative estimate and there are opportunities to significantly reduce the build cost. The heads of agreement between NBN Co and Telstra will also reduce the cost of the build by billions.”

Senator Conroy said fibre to the home was the “optimal future proof technology” with a lifespan of 30-50 years., while wireless was a complementary technology that would never match it.”


Immigration to Australia drops somewhat but population growth still troublingly high

Australia's population growth has fallen to its slowest rate since 2007, after a sharp decline in migration levels continued into the first quarter of this year. According to the Bureau of Statistics, the nation was home to 22,272,000 people at the end of March, but the annual growth rate had slowed considerably to 1.8 per cent, from the 2.2 per cent record high of the previous year.

Although the election debate often centred on immigration, the figures, published yesterday, show that a key reason for the slowdown was a cooling in net migration, which was 37 per cent lower than a year earlier.

Some 241,400 people migrated to Australia over the year to March, but this was a far cry from the record of 320,300 in the previous year.

On the other hand, a domestic baby-boom has been gathering pace, with a record 303,500 babies born in the year to March, 3.1 per cent more than last year. With the number of deaths falling, this meant the rate of population natural increase - births minus deaths - was 7 per cent higher than a year earlier.

Overall, the annual growth in population remains well above its long-term average, prompting concerns about overstretched infrastructure.

An economist at CommSec, Savanth Sebastian, said such "phenomenal" growth was near the fastest in the developed world. "More people in Australia means greater demands for houses, roads, schools, hospitals and a raft of retail goods, and as such is providing much-needed stimulus in trying times for the global economy," he said.


Global cooling hits Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide

After their coldest winter in 13 years Sydney residents have just experienced their coldest September in five years, says.

However, the heat is on its way. "September was an unusual month in terms of the lack of warm days across much of south-eastern Australia," weatherzone meteorologist Brett Dutschke said.

"A high pressure system over the Great Australian Bight acted as a blocking mechanism, keeping noticeably cool southerly winds blowing over South Australia, Victoria and NSW. "Significant warming will occur in the coming weeks as heat builds over the interior. All we will need is a day or two of westerly winds and we could exceed 30 degrees," Mr Dutschke said.

When both daytime and overnight temperatures were combined, Sydney's average temperature this month came in at just under 17 degrees. This made it the coldest September in five years, despite being one degree above the long-term norm. It was also the coldest September in terms of daytime temperatures in three years.

During the month, the city had an average maximum temperature of 21 degrees, which is still warmer than the long-term norm of 20. It took until the 27th to warm up to 27 degrees, the longest in 17 years. There was a 23-day period that stayed colder than 25 degrees, the longest in September in 10 years.

The nights were not particularly cold overall, averaging a minimum of 12.3 degrees, one above the long-term average. This made it the coldest in terms of overnight minimums in two years. There were only six nights that cooled below 10 degrees; typically there are 11.

The cold was pronounced across southern and central NSW with several centres including Hay and Forbes having their coldest September in at least 15 years in terms of daytime temperatures.

Melbourne, Adelaide also cold

Residents of Melbourne have just experienced their coldest September days in 16 years, Mr Dutschke said. The city had an average maximum temperature of 16.6 degrees, about a half a degree below the long-term normal of 17.2. This made it the coldest September in terms of daytime temperatures since 1994.

When both daytime and overnight temperatures were combined, Melbourne's average temperature came in at just under 13 degrees. This made it the coldest September in at least seven years, despite being about a half a degree above the the long term norm.

Warmer days ahead will provide Adelaide residents with a good thawing out after enduring their coldest September in 18 years, Mr Dutschke said. The city had an average maximum of just 17 degrees, two degrees colder than the long-term norm, making it the coldest September since 1992 in terms of daytime temperatures. In fact, there was only one day that warmed to 20 degrees, on Monday 13th, the fewest 20-degree days in September in 18 years.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is perturbed at the decision to charge Australian commandos with manslaughter after a firefight in Afghanistan

Greenie laws erode the rights of blacks

A new report by the Anglican Church has found the Queensland Government's Wild Rivers laws are eroding indigenous property rights and wellbeing. The report, to be released this morning, will fuel Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott's fight to have the laws overturned.

The Wild Rivers Act was introduced by the Queensland Government in 2005 to protect the health of 10 Cape York river systems by placing some limits on development. Critics, including Aboriginal leader Noel Pearson, say it will rob traditional owners of economic opportunities on their own land and perpetuate the welfare cycle.

The church said the report was the most forensic economic study it had ever undertaken on the effects of any laws relating to indigenous people. It found the laws were "eroding indigenous property rights and adversely affecting indigenous wellbeing", the church said in a statement.

Mr Pearson will be among those present at the report's launch in Brisbane at 10am (AEST).

Mr Abbott last week said the Opposition's "first priority" in the new Parliament would be to work with the independents to overturn the Wild Rivers laws. He also believes the legislation is stifling indigenous communities and has pledged to introduce a private member's Bill in a bid to have the legislation dumped.

The Queensland Government has questioned whether any move in Canberra could undo state legislation. Queensland Resources Minister Stephen Robertson last week offered Federal independent MPs a personal briefing on the laws, saying they ensure development approvals take account of and protect the natural value of the rivers.

Today, the Wilderness Society accused Mr Abbott of pandering to mining interests and destroying the Liberal Party's environmental credentials by waging war on the laws. "It is ironic that five years ago this week, the Liberals actually voted with Labor in support of the Wild Rivers Act in the Queensland Parliament," the society's Queensland campaign manager Dr Tim Seelig said in a statement. "Now the federal Liberal leader is trying to overturn this same legislation." The society said the impact of the laws had been grossly overstated by critics.


Civil language, evil intent show what's ahead

Julia calls for civility while practicing the opposite herself. Typical Leftist double standards

IT'S a day normally reserved for the pomp and ceremony associated with the opening of a new parliament. But politics - the tough, hard politics of a hung parliament - intruded everywhere.

Under cover of promoting harmony and parliamentary reform in the name of democracy, every comment was laced with sarcasm and spite. The language was civil but the intent was evil.

Julia Gillard and Anthony Albanese took every opportunity to attack Tony Abbott for being a wrecker, a dishonorable cad who wouldn't keep his word even if it was written down.

The Prime Minister appealed for consensus and conciliation rather than "wrecking", and used her speech on the election of the Labor Speaker, Harry Jenkins, to get stuck into Abbott from the very beginning of the 43rd parliament.

The Opposition Leader turned his congratulatory speech for Jenkins into a hard-edged declaration of continued opposition and a refusal of any offer of a confected "consensus".

Gillard kept appealing for co-operation and goodwill while criticising Abbott and working undercover to double-cross the Libs on the position of a Deputy Speaker.

Abbott did break his deal with the government over the election of a Speaker on the pretext of a constitutional difficulty but the real aim was trying to keep the Gillard government's practical majority to just one seat in the House of Representatives.

At the same time, Labor was scheming to get a Liberal MP to agree to a "gentleman's agreement" in which Labor would get extra protection from motions of no confidence and keeping a two-vote buffer on day-to-day votes.

But the tactical battles and votes on the first day over the Speaker's post and new standing orders only established an atmosphere of animosity which will frame the wider political scene in the months ahead.

Gillard and Abbott both made it clear they were going to fight each other on everything. Gillard is intent on portraying Abbott as terminally negative and destructive. For his part Abbott is trying to defend his right to criticise and oppose as Opposition Leader while not being continually negative.

Abbott argued that a hung parliament was no excuse for the government to say all its election bets were off and "a finely balanced parliament does not excuse the government of its duty to keep its election commitments".

"It does not excuse the government from its duty to be an effective government. They can lower expectations all they like here, but out there, in the country, the people . . . expect a government that keeps its election commitments. It cannot walk away from its election commitments simply because of the closeness of the numbers in this parliament," he said.

All the angst about parliamentary reform and intrigue about the Speaker's job comes down to this: there's one vote between the government and failure, and nobody's prepared to give way.


No integrity at Victoria's Office of Police Integrity

The OPI has been suspect for a long time and this would appear to seal it

THE head of Victoria's police watchdog admits its reputation has been harmed by the discovery of sensitive documents during a drug raid.

Victoria Police are investigating whether the former head of intelligence and phone tapping at the Office of Police Integrity stole the documents, which were found in a box in a garage in Melbourne's north on September 10.

The suspected criminal whose home was raided is believed to be in a relationship with the former OPI official under investigation.

OPI director Michael Strong said the discovery of the documents, along with others from ASIO and an anti-corruption body in Western Australia, was a “major security” breach and they were “shocked and alarmed” by what had happened.

“Anything like this impacts adversely on our credibility and I am concerned about that and it's a pity that it has happened,” Mr Strong told Fairfax radio this morning.

Mr Strong said his senior staff had “assured him” there was no risk to any member of the police force or the public despite the files being sensitive and containing names. “There are no missing files, there are some copied documents and notes that were found in a box at certain premises,” he said.

Mr Strong said the employee was the head of phone tapping until November last year and it appeared she may have breached the OPI's policy of removing documents. “She came to us with an impeccable security record,” Mr Strong said. “It appears that the employee on the way has gathered documents from her other employment.” He denied the incident undermined the work of the OPI, saying it had been “travelling well”.

Opposition leader Ted Baillieu said the latest incident proved the OPI had “run its race”. “I think it's almost impossible for Victorians to now have confidence in the OPI,” he said. “There have been a series of issues, this is the latest one, and I think the OPI in its current form has run its race.”

Victoria Police chief commissioner Simon Overland also said he did not believe police or individuals' safety had been compromised by the OPI/Victoria Police files. He said the ASIO document found was an acknowledgment of a job application and would not constitute a threat to ASIO or national security.

“Obviously it's a concern that this material has found its way out of the organisation,” he told Fairfax Radio. He confirmed some of the material found related to Victoria Police but had come from the offices of the OPI.


Consumers charged heaps more for electricity under Queensland Government "Green" scheme

HOUSEHOLDS are being charged seven times the real price for gas-fired electricity to meet the Bligh Government's commitment to a "clean and green" Queensland.

Retailers have been handed the right to slug Queenslanders on regulated power prices a set amount for the 15 per cent of electricity they must source from gas-fired power plants.

However, the retailers are pocketing a multimillion-dollar windfall from the Government's scheme as they are routinely sourcing gas-fired electricity at a significantly cheaper price than they charge.

The effect is that the average Queensland household is paying about $28 annually for gas-fired electricity that would cost retailers $4 based on current prices.

Across the 1.8 million residential customers in Queensland, electricity retailers would be raking in more than $50 million from gas-fired electricity that cost them just over $7 million.

The previously secret slug adds to the pressure on households suffering from skyrocketing water bills, increasing interest rates and high petrol prices.

The average annual household electricity bill in southeast Queensland has gone from $1330 in 2006 to $2046 this year. The cost of producing electricity only makes up a portion of bills, which also include the cost of investment and maintenance in the power network.

Energy Minister Stephen Robertson has wiped his hands of responsibility for the effect of the scheme. In a written statement, a department spokesman said the Queensland Competition Authority was responsible for setting prices. "Any specific questions about how the QCA determined a particular component of the Benchmark Retail Cost Index should be directed to the QCA."

But Opposition energy spokesman Jeff Seeney said Queenslanders were being slugged while the Government abdicated its responsibilities. "Despite their talk, there is no effort by the Government to keep downward pressure on electricity prices and that is what this illustrates," he said. "If the minister is not looking after the interests of the consumers, then who is?"

Under the Queensland pricing system, retailers must meet their commitment to buy 15 per cent of gas-fired electricity by purchasing Gas Electricity Certificates.

The QCA in its latest price determination set the price of a GEC at $18.94, or $2.84 a MWh. But, at the time of the determination in May, a GEC could be bought on the energy market for about $4, or 60¢ a MWh. Prices are now about $2.75 a GEC but have gone as low as $1.

Energy Retailers Association chief Cameron O'Reilly said the disparity was the cost of having a Government-introduced scheme and prices could not be changed regularly to match market fluctuations. "Sometimes if (government schemes) are out they work in the retailer's favour, sometimes they don't," he said.

A graph of market prices for GECs shows that the price has declined significantly over the past three years and has not come close to the $18.94 price tag set by the QCA.

With an average southeast Queensland household using about 10MWh annually, the price they are charged for the gas-fired power proportion of their bill by retailers would be about $28. However the retailers are paying about $4.13 for the 1.5MWh of gas-fired electricity required annually for the average home, or $1.50 at the lowest price.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Atrocious decision to prosecute Australian soldiers

There is no way that soldiers in the heat of battle can always make wise decisions. And I don't see that they made unwise decisions, anyway. They were under fire from close range and had to shoot back. It's the ignorant bitch who laid the charges who should be disciplined. What would she know about fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan?

The step-father of a Melbourne digger killed in Afghanistan has warned charges laid against elite soldiers over the deaths of five children will cost more Aussie lives.

"My biggest worry is that it will make (soldiers) hesitant about going into combat situations where they have to make a quick judgement but have the added pressure of waiting...which will cost them lives," he said.

He also questioned the decision of Australia's top military prosecutor Brigadier Lyn McDade. "This should have been handled with an inquest first by the army before the decision to lay charges."

The three elite soldiers were involved in a night raid near a village in Oruzgan Province on February 12, 2009 that left five children dead, another two injured and two adults wounded. One suspected insurgent was killed.

One soldier yesterday was charged with manslaughter, and another faces lesser charges including a failure to follow orders and dangerous conduct. The third will be charged when he returns to Australia.

Australia's top military prosecutor, Brigadier Lyn McDade, yesterday confirmed the charges against three former members of No. 1 Commando Regiment.

The unprecedented legal action has sent shockwaves through the military, with sources on army bases saying the decision had left a "bitter feeling through the military". The possible jailing of the trio had caused "enormous angst and upset", with defence personnel discussing Brig McDade's statement as they went about their work.

The commandos - one of whom is understood to be a former Victorian policeman - have received strong support from families of soldiers killed in Afghanistan. It's understood two of the soldiers are reservists and one is a regular.

The Director of Military Prosecutions said the accused men would be charged with various offences including manslaughter and failing to obey orders.

But Victoria Cross recipient Keith Payne said the charges against the soldiers should be dropped on the grounds they were fighting for survival. "It's a sad incident, but the enemy has always used the cover of children and the civilian population," the Vietnam veteran said. "These blokes would have drawn fire and not known there were children and gone in protecting themselves."

The father of commando Pte Greg Sher, who was killed in a Taliban rocket attack in January last year, also condemned the charges as "totally unfair". "I would urge Lyn McDade to proceed with caution lest she send out the wrong message," Felix Sher said.

Mr Sher said the Taliban had no regard for human life, placing civilians at risk to protect themselves. "It makes life difficult (for Australian soldiers). It's all very well going by the Geneva Convention, but these insurgents don't operate under the Geneva Convention," he said.

Two of the soldiers yesterday vowed to defend the charges through court. "We are deeply disappointed by the decision of the Director of Military Prosecutions to charge us with offences arising from the incident in Afghanistan on the night of 12 February, 2009," the soldiers, identified only as A and B, said in a statement through legal firm Kennedys.

"We will strenuously defend the charges and we look forward to the opportunity of publicly clearing our reputations, as well as the reputation of the ADF."

They said their actions had saved the lives of Australian and Afghani soldiers involved in the raid.

"It should not be forgotten that the casualties were ultimately caused by the callous and reckless act of an insurgent who chose to repeatedly fire upon us at extreme close range from within a room he knew contained women and children," they said.

The decision to lay charges comes days after the Herald Sun revealed frontline soldiers were complaining they were not getting sufficient support.


Green Party now helping to decide Australia's climate policy

Astounding. Getting any Warmist policy through the parliament will be another matter, however

The arrival of the Greens as a political force has been cemented with a seat at the all-powerful Cabinet table - not quite as a minister but courtesy of a new committee.

In the latest bid to put a price on carbon emissions, Julia Gillard's "multi-party climate change committee" will hold monthly meetings in the Cabinet room. The Prime Minister will chair it and the Greens have landed the position of co-deputy chair. "This isn't easy but we intend to work through and tackle the question of reducing carbon pollution," Ms Gillard said.

Federal politics' new paradigm burst into living colour yesterday with the first Labor-Greens joint press conference of the hung Parliament. Ms Gillard and senior ministers joined forces with Greens leader Bob Brown to announce the committee, whose job is to investigate carbon-pricing options such as an emissions trading scheme, a carbon tax or a blend of both.

Independent MP Tony Windsor is a member too but it is unlikely any Opposition MP will sign up.

Ms Gillard will invite two Coalition MPs to join but only on the condition they agree climate change is real and a carbon price is needed. Terms of reference state the committee would "ensure its deliberations and papers remain confidential" until a final position was reached.

Ms Gillard defended the confidentiality provisions on grounds of economic sensitivity and Senator Brown said it was needed to confidently air differing views. "The end result is going to be very public and a bit of secrecy or confidentiality along the way to get the best result overall is a reasonable price to pay," he said.

Treasurer Wayne Swan and Climate Change Minister Greg Combet will sit on the committee along with four expert advisers - Prof Ross Garnaut, Prof Will Steffen, Rod Sims and Patricia Faulkner.

Coalition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt rejected the committee's membership requirements as "repugnant". "You can only be part of the committee if you accept the pre-ordained outcome," Mr Hunt said.

The terms of reference offer Ms Gillard a dignified way out of her much-maligned Citizens' Assembly to discuss climate change - the committee will decide if it is needed at all.


Committee ignores third way in tackling climate change, says Coalition

"Belief test" shows that it is religion, not science that is involved

THE Coalition has sharpened its attack on Labor's climate change committee, saying it's too secretive and based on accepting a pre-ordained outcome.

Squabbling over the committee intensified this morning before the official opening of the 43rd Australian parliament, the swearing-in of members and the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker. The government says members of the multi-party committee should be committed to establishing a price on carbon, and its deliberations will be in secret until an agreement is reached. The Coalition has refused the government's offer to sit on the committee.

Opposition spokesman for climate action Greg Hunt claimed today that a “belief test” had been imposed on the committee, saying the two options up for consideration were a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme. “Our view is that there is a third way in terms of market mechanisms,” he told ABC radio.

“And that's the water buyback equivalent - what we would call direct action for a carbon buyback. “That's off the table. And you are not even allowed to participate in the committee unless you accept that the third way is not on the table,” he said.

“And I'm not aware respectfully of a belief test ever having been imposed. It's almost Orwellian to say we have a new openness but now in fact we have a) almost the most secret committee ever and b) certainly the only belief test committee in parliamentary history.”

Liberal MP Dennis Jensen said the government was effectively ruling him out of the committee, adding: “I'm probably the most highly qualified scientist in this place.” He said he was being ruled out because he didn't “believe in a carbon price”. “It's as simple as that. I'm being ruled out on that basis,” he said.

“It would make no difference if I thought that there were other mechanisms to tackle things. “And I think that there are things that you can do responsibly without needing to go to a carbon price regardless of what's your philosophical viewpoint on whether human beings are causing climate change or not.”

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet dismissed the criticisms as “hyperbole”. He said on Sky News it was “complete rubbish” that the committee required its members to have a pre-ordained position.

Mr Combet said membership of the committee membership was based on whether a political party respected the climate science, saying it would provide common ground to “move forward”. However, he confirmed the purpose of the committee was to “discuss the options for introducing a carbon price”.

Mr Combet also defended the confidentiality arrangements, arguing there would be some “very commercially sensitive” information being considered. However, he added that some of the information being considered could also be useful in stimulating debate, citing an updated version of Professor Ross Garnaut's climate change review.


Criminals won't get discounts for incriminating others

And even "soft on crime" Cowdery agrees with that

CRIMINALS who dob in other crooks can no longer expect lighter sentences just because they fear being bashed in prison. Under a new directive to be issued to NSW judges by the State Government, courts will also get tougher in sentencing child sex offenders who plead hardship because they have lost their jobs.

Attorney-General John Hatzistergos will today announce a package of reforms to sentence discounts, designed to stop excessive leniency given to criminals who plead for sympathy.

The Government will tell judges not to shorten sentences because offenders suffer "hardship" directly caused by their own criminal behaviour. It follows a report by the NSW Sentencing Council into sentence discounts.

"Discounts for hardship are to be given only where the evidence shows they are warranted, not in instances where an offender's apparent suffering is a consequence of their appalling criminal behaviour," Mr Hatzistergos said.

He said one example to be addressed was the practice of the courts assuming "rollovers" - prisoners who inform on other criminals to police - would endure a tough time in jail.

While such criminals would still be eligible for sentence cuts for co-operating with authorities, no further discount would be given for the feared violence from inmates. "Courts have traditionally presumed that offenders who 'roll over' do it tougher on the inside but the modern reality of our prison system dictates that this is not the case," Mr Hatzistergos said.

Courts would also have to reveal the sentence an offender would have received, had the offender not offered to assist authorities.

There would also be no discounts for offenders who have had their assets confiscated as proceeds of crime and argued the loss of their home was already a punishment.

And sex offenders who have previously received lighter sentences because of "hardship" after being prohibited from working with children under Child Protection laws would also get no discounts.

Director of Public Prosecutions Nick Cowdery yesterday supported the changes as being "matters of logic and commonsense". "A discount for hardship should not be given for difficulty created by the offending and its normal lawful consequences," he said.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Will NSW students go backwards under a national curriculum

NSW school curricula have not been dumbed down as much as in other States because of the influence of long-time NSW Premier Bob Carr. Carr is a scholarly man and blocked any erosion of standards during his time in office

State Labor governments are under pressure to fall into line with the new national curriculum. A statement from the national curriculum authority seems to assume state education ministers will not object to the final version of its national curriculum plan. The statement says: ‘‘Once Ministers endorse the curriculum in December, it will be available for implementation from 2011’’.

The 20-year history of numerous failed attempts to develop a national curriculum are also spelled out in full. The message is clear that the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority wants any obstruction from the states to stop.

The NSW government said nothing to criticise the national agenda in the lead up to the federal election this year. The order for silence had come from above.

The NSW Board of Studies quietly posted its objections to the national curriculum in late July. That is according to the state government which issued no press release at the time. The response went unnoticed for several weeks.

The Board was blunt in its criticism of the national curriculum draft. This view was widely supported by NSW science, English, history and maths teachers. Their collective view is that the national curriculum draft is vastly inferior to existing NSW standards.

The Board of Studies said the draft curriculum for kindergarten to year 10 students lacked an overarching framework and was overcrowded with content. It said the draft maths and science curriculums failed to cater for the full range of student abilities. Year 10 science was said to be too difficult for most students. The draft history curriculum was described as "far too ambitious to be taught effectively".

The question is whether Labor state governments will be brave enough to take on their Federal colleagues later this year when the nation’s education ministers meet to discuss adoption of the final version of the national curriculum.

The head of the national curriculum authority, Barry McGaw, said his press release was not an attempt to pre-empt their decision. He is confident that any grumblings from the states will have been sorted out in the final curriculum documents.

However, teachers and school principals remain unconvinced that this state will not be selling out what they believe is a gold standard curriculum in NSW.


Man dies while waiting three-and-a-half hours for ambulance

The ambulance union says a man dying of poisoning made nine desperate calls for help during an awful three-hour wait for help -- the delay being apparently due to "don't care" management. It's what you expect of public servants

Ambulance Victoria has launched an investigation after paramedics failed to arrive at the man's house for more than three hours, while he deteriorated as a result of deliberately swallowing a liquid detergent. The Burwood man in his mid-50s made his first desperate call for help about 11.28pm on the night of the Grand Final, but the ambulance did not arrive until 2.50am.

Just four minutes after the pair of advanced life support paramedics arrived, the man went into cardiac arrest. A MICA crew was immediately called, but the man could not be revived.

Ambulance Victoria spokesman James Howe conceded the man made "at least two or three" calls to triple zero, but the union today said the reality was far worse. Victorian ambulance union spokesman Steve McGee said his own figures showed the man called nine times, including a call at 2.45am, five minutes before the ambulance arrived. “He rang them nine times before they eventually dispatched an ambulance. It’s just not good enough," Mr McGee.

He said Ambulance Victoria had failed the community, after a string of similar delays and deaths, and called on the Coroner to immediately be involved in an investigation. “He was pleading for an ambulance.” “My belief is that this man should be alive today,” he said.

He said it was clear that the man was a much greater priority than he was given, since the first crew to arrive called for an intensive care unit a few minutes after arriving. “If this man had have got an ambulance in an appropriate time, he would have already have been in a hospital getting appropriate treatment. He wouldn’t have gone into cardiac arrest probably, more than likely his condition wouldn’t have deteriorated to the state that it had,” he said.

“Why did this guy have to wait three hours for an ambulance in his condition? “The system has clearly failed this gentleman and his family,” he said.

Ambulance Victoria earlier confirmed made several calls to the service, desperately asking when an ambulance was to arrive. “I know there were at least two or three calls,” Ambulance spokesman James Howe said today.

Dispatchers also made multiple calls to the patient to check he was stable, he said. "We had spoken to the patient through that time, and he was conscious and breathing and talking

Mr Howe said the man had been conscious and breathing when paramedics first arrived. But Mr Howe rejected suggestions that a lack of resources was the obvious problem, and said an internal investigation would determine what went wrong. "Before we jump to conclusions, before we try to allocate blame, we need to review what went wrong," Mr Howe said.

He said crews on the night had been stretched because of the heavy workload on the night, with its call centre comparing the pace of the night to that of New Year’s Eve. “We were prioritising a huge volume of calls at the time,” Mr Howe said.

He said the workload was 50 per cent busier than the previous weekend, with 180 call-outs on the night, compared with 120 the week before. But he said there had not been any been a shortage of crews in the Burwood area on the night as a result of “dropped shifts”.

He said the organisation realised ambulance crews faced a pressure situation. “I certainly have sympathy for them and the situation that they were in. I’m sure they were doing everything they could. But we have to look at what happened and learn from it." "This case is distressing for everyone involved," he said.

The involvement of family in any investigation had not been established, he said. He said the call tapes would be reviewed by the organisation’s quality team.

He said while the union “had the right” to blame the issue on resources, Ambulance Victoria had actually increased resources in the past 18 months. Mr Howe said another 300 paramedics per year had been added to staff in the past few years.

But Mr McGee ridiculed suggestions that a lack of resources was not to blame. “Even if its workload was high, they knew it was on Grand Final night, which happens every year. They know Grand Final nights are generally busy. Why didn’t they match the resource levels? “At 9pm, there were 50-60 cases waiting … why didn’t they bring in more people then?”

He said the union was unapologetic about its campaign for more paramedics, and said the State’s offer to boost rural services by 297 paramedics must be matched in the CBD. And he said while there may have been up to 300 paramedics employed each year for the past few years, that failed to account for the numbers being lost.

Mr McGee said detergents could cause serious internal damage as a result of corrosion, with one of the worst dangers swelling of airway passages that could prevent breathing.


Beware attention-seekers

Their mother probably didn't look when they were little and said to her "Look at me". There has never been any evidence of harm arising from the consumption of GM foods

Six female Greenpeace campaigners have been arrested for trespassing after staging a supermarket protest in Sydney's north on Monday over a Wyeth Nutrition baby formula they believe may be harmful.

The six were part of a 15-strong group who staged the sit-down inside a Neutral Bay Woolworths about 10am. They positioned themselves in front of the S-26 baby formula, made by the Pfizer-owned company Wyeth Nutrition, which they claim contains genetically modified (GM) ingredients.

A similar protest was held by Greenpeace at a Coles store in the Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy.

Police said the six women, aged between 20 and 30, were expected to be charged with trespassing later on Monday. ``Police spoke with the (Woolworths store) manager and then commenced negotiations with the group," a police spokeswoman said. ``They (the campaigners) left the store and then without warning went back inside."

Officers spoke with the manager again and the women were arrested a short time later when they refused to leave. The remainder of the group left of their own accord.

Greenpeace named the arrested six as Sarah Roberts, Melissa Freeburn, Rebecca Evenden, Anna Parente, Claire Parfitt and Olivia Rosenman, and said they would be assisted by a Greenpeace lawyer.

Greenpeace is angry over what it said was a lack of labelling on the S-26 baby formula and called on Woolworths and Coles to remove it from their shelves. Independent tests of the popular baby formula have found it contains traces of GM soy and corn which could be harmful to infants, Greenpeace Australia spokeswoman Laura Kelly told AAP at the supermarket on Monday. The formula is not labelled as containing GM ingredients.

Wyeth Nutrition said the company has had a strict policy of using only non-GM ingredients in all its infant formulas since 2001. ``It is important to note that trace amounts of GMO (genetically modified organisms) do not present a health or safety threat to infants," it said in a statement.

The company was concerned by the allegations made by Greenpeace and had requested a copy of the test results. ``Wyeth Nutrition would welcome the opportunity to work with Greenpeace and relevant authorities to address the matter in detail," it said.


The school heater saga rumbles on in NSW

A very expensive bungle by clueless (or should that be flueless?) bureaucrats. The article below understates the problem. To avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, the unflued heaters can be used only with the windows wide open -- which makes them almost useless

THERE are certain things you should never argue about with a parent. Try telling someone with kids that Dennis Ferguson has served his time and has a right to live next door.

The issue of unflued gas heaters in NSW classrooms is similarly emotive for parents. The thought of exposing our children to invisible toxic gases – no matter how tiny the amount – is unacceptable to most people.

Whatever the findings of the Woolcock report into the health effects of heaters, Education Minister Verity Firth was always going to be under pressure to replace heaters in all state schools.

In the event, the Woolcock report found that there was a relationship between unflued heaters and symptoms of breathing difficulties in kids.

The study, which relied on a group of parents keeping an observational diary, found a 0.5 per cent increase in wheezing among asthmatic kids exposed to the nitrogen dioxide emitted from unflued heaters.

Despite that connection the report found no measurable reduction in lung capacity of any kids but concluded that replacing heaters was advisable as a safety-first approach. And not many would argue with that – indeed most parents of school-age kids would celebrate the decision. Except that this is no small decision.

It will cost upwards of $400 million and take a decade to complete, so the science has to be right.

A study in the US, huge in its scope, has reviewed the findings of 50 studies into the effects of nitrogen dioxide and suggests that the Woolcock Institute is playing it safe. The US study concludes there is no danger to healthy or asthmatic people at nitrogen dioxide levels at between 0.2 and 0.6 parts per million (ppm) in the air.

The Woolcock study found unflued heaters emitted nitrogen dioxide at between the equivalent of 0.0074 and 0.1352 ppm. On that basis, the worst of NSW heaters registers well below the lower limit of what the US report found to be safe.

There was more than a hint of policy on the run when Firth announced the $400 million replacement without the consent of the Premier or cabinet. I suspect if the wider government – particularly Treasurer Eric Roozendaal – was aware of the larger studies the Woolcock findings may have been treated differently.

Regardless of the scientific findings, Firth all but signed up to a full replacement when she announced that unflued heaters would be removed from schools in colder climates.

As I commented in this column back in June, how can you tell parents their kids aren't at risk when you've gone and replaced them in some schools on the same concerns? You can't. Which is why $400 million will be spent no matter what the science says.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

A very weak excuse for breaking an election promise

Sounds like the Greens are punching way above their weight

Prime Minister Julia Gillard says it is not her fault that she may break an election promise and introduce a carbon tax while leader of the federal government.

Five days before the August 21 poll, Ms Gillard said there would be no carbon tax under the government she led. However, she has since vowed to set up a committee made up of MPs from all sides of politics to examine ways of pricing carbon.

Ms Gillard said because Labor now shared the balance of power in the lower house with the Australian Greens and independents, the circumstances around her original promise had changed. "We can't just go to the House of Representatives and say, `Here is the government's position' and five minutes later it's passed by the house," she told Network Ten on Sunday.

Ms Gillard said she would use the committee to work towards a carbon tax with the Greens and independents.

The coalition is welcome to participate in the talks too she added, but committee membership is only extended to those who agree a carbon tax in necessary.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott has said he would never put a price on carbon unless it became part of an enforceable international system.


Another disastrous "Green" scheme

Home water tanks in lieu of new dams

Three years ago, owning a water tank business was a licence to print money. Then the rebates were cut and the rains came. Now what was the busiest industry on the block is practically non-existent, as 400 water tank operators have been whittled to 12.

Millions of dollars have been lost, businesses have disappeared and customers wanting tanks for their homes have evaporated.

Leisa Donlan, from independent body the Association of Rotational Moulders, said it was the "industry that has been forgotten".

"Lives have been absolutely shattered by this. What the state government did by introducing the rebate and then cutting it all of a sudden was just awful," she said. "Family businesses have been ruined. Our staff have been suicidal some days after counselling the people involved. "Losing a business is a very human thing."

Department of Environment and Resource Management figures showed that across the state more than 250,000 Queenslanders claimed the rebate for a water tank.

"At the peak of the drought and the WaterWise Rebate Scheme, there were four-month waits. Manufacturers were working 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Ms Donlan said.

"State government ministers themselves came out and said that the industry needed to invest in better equipment to keep up with the demand, to step it up.

"Then, all of a sudden in June 2007, as quickly as it started, the rebate for the tanks stopped. Manufacturers had spent tens of millions of dollars buying new equipment to cope with the excessive demand and all of a sudden the demand was gone. Overnight. It was devastating."

Toby Peacock, owner of Brisbane water tank business QTank, said the abolition of the rebate, coupled with the breaking of the drought, had all but "killed" the industry.

"During the height of the drought, water was all everyone was talking about. People were desperate for water tanks, desperate to conserve water and everyone was wanting to safeguard themselves," he said.

"But once the rebate ended and the drought started to break, people moved on to talking about something else. They forgot how important it is to conserve water. Tanks were no longer fashionable."

Under Brisbane City Council planning regulations, all new dwellings must include a 5000-litre water tank to gain approval.

This regulation is the only thing keeping a handful of operators in business, Mr Peacock said. "Every night I go to bed nervous, praying that when I wake up in the morning, the government won’t have cancelled this regulation," he said.

Ms Donlan said the lack of support for the industry was disappointing because it was highly likely water consumption would be an issue again in the future.


'Miracle cure' market unpoliced

WIDESPREAD criticism of the Therapeutic Goods Administration has forced the Gillard government to look at overhauling Australia's drugs regulator because it is failing to adequately police the $2 billion industry in "miracle" cures and other quasi-health devices.

Claims that "therapeutic" products can cure everything from AIDS to cancer, guarantee weight loss or improve strength, balance and flexibility are misleading and deceptive and can sometimes lead to lethal results, health experts say.

The federal Department of Health and Ageing released a consultation paper on the advertising of therapeutic goods in June, saying it was important the public received accurate information about the risks as well as the purported benefits of these goods on the market.

"Concerns have been raised by some opponents of the current advertising framework that the system is not working to protect consumers as well as it might," the paper said. "There is a perception that the complaints handling process is not as transparent as it could be, and that the sanctions available to the [TGA's] complaints resolution panel … do not provide sufficient deterrence."

Unlike registered pharmaceutical drugs, most herbal and complementary medicines are "listed" by the TGA, which means their makers pay a fee and are expected to have evidence to back their claims. Listed products are not reviewed by the TGA but are subject to random audits.

Public Health Association of Australia chief executive Michael Moore said there was a perception the TGA did not take consumer protection seriously. Its "light touch" approach was no longer appropriate in an industry where Australians spend more than $2 billion a year.

He said product names such as "Fat Magnet", "Weight Loss Accelerate" and "Slim Me" were, in his view, misleading and deceptive and provided minimal or no information about known adverse side effects.

Under the Therapeutic Goods Act, there is no provision for the TGA to impose civil penalties for breaches of the advertising code. The TGA can only remove products from the register and refer repeated breaches of the advertising code to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions for criminal prosecution, where the maximum penalty is a $6600 fine for individuals and $33,000 for corporations.

TGA spokeswoman Kay McNiece said most companies supplying therapeutic goods to the Australian market did comply with advertising requirements, but "the complaint handling arrangements for those companies that do not comply could be improved".

One long-standing critic of the TGA, La Trobe University public health expert Dr Ken Harvey, said it was failing to protect customers from unproven complementary medicines and devices that may be shonky. "If the TGA moves at all, it moves with glacial speed," Dr Harvey said.

Federal Parliamentary Secretary for Health Catherine King said she was worried by the number of companies pushing the boundaries and would consider all 38 submissions before taking appropriate action


Ambulance delays threat to lives

DESPERATELY ill Victorians seeking urgent ambulance assistance are routinely facing a life-threatening waits for help, new documents reveal. More than one in six Victorians calling for emergency aid are waiting longer than the State Government benchmark for acceptable service, the previously unseen Ambulance Victoria information shows.

A dossier of Code One (lights and sirens) ambulance response times for metropolitan Melbourne over a two-year period shows 87,514 cases where patients waited longer than the 15-minute threshold set by the Brumby Government.

Analysis of the documents, obtained through Freedom Of Information, reveals 321 cases of patients waiting more than an hour from April 2008 to April 30 this year - an average of more than 13 a month.

On January 29 last year, 12 ambulance call-outs took more than an hour each to reach their destinations on the same day, including a call at 4.20pm to Kew that took more than one hour and 50 minutes and a call to Reservoir three minutes later that took more than one hour and 40 minutes.

On a single day in October 2008, four ambulances dispatched within 20 minutes of each other to different part of Melbourne were delayed for more than an hour.

Other shock findings from the log include:

AN ambulance to Springvale on March 23 that took an hour and 40 minutes;

A WAIT of more than two hours for specialist help in Gladstone Park on August 24, 2008 when an ambulance called at 11.58am from a house did not arrive from nearby Essendon until 2.11pm;

A PATIENT stranded in Hastings on April 10 for an hour and 30 minutes; and

AN ambulance to McMahons Creek on April 10 that took an hour and 31 minutes.

Ambulance Victoria defended its performance in the Gladstone Park emergency, suggesting that the call had originally been logged as Code Two, but was upgraded once ambulance officers arrived.

The response times are based on arrival of the first ambulance only, not subsequent units with specialist equipment that may be required.

Release of the data comes days after a man with a severed finger had to pay a $300 taxi fare from Maryborough to Melbourne because no ambulance was available.

Ambulance Employees' Australia state secretary Steve McGhie said the trend continued with a 55-year-old Lalor woman suffering severe abdominal pain who was forced to wait more than two hours for a Code One ambulance last Sunday.

"I don't even think that waiting 15 minutes is acceptable," he said.


Saturday, September 25, 2010

Poverty does not make you happy

Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich

‘Money can’t buy me love,’ the Beatles once told us. Now economists like Jeffrey D. Sachs argue that money can’t buy you happiness, either.

In an opinion piece in Wednesday’s The Australian, the Columbia University professor recommended a closer look at the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. The Bhutanese attitude towards development and their government’s focus on happiness should inspire the West, he wrote.

Indeed, Bhutan is always held up by as the shining example in the quest to make the world a happier place. In the 1970s, the Bhutanese king decided that his subjects should strive to increase Gross National Happiness, not GDP. Ever since, this has been the country’s guiding principle. It is this principle that Sachs now recommends to more developed nations.

There is nothing wrong with happiness, of course. In fact, it was the Americans and not the Bhutanese who first declared the pursuit of happiness a national goal. But it’s nevertheless a bit odd to present Bhutan as the role model for global happiness and well-being.

Have the Bhutanese really reached a special stage of enlightenment the rest of the world should follow? There is reason for doubt if you believe reports in the country’s press. Not long ago, the Bhutan Times came to this harsh assessment:

"To the world beyond its borders, Bhutan is a sort of a fabled country. Happiness is the mantra of development here that has tickled the imagination of economists and social engineers near and far. Closer home, a microscopic view of things reveals that all is not so well. In the recent years, an overriding numbers of drug and substance abuse and an alarming suicide rate have been reported in the country, an indication that the pursuit of happiness is still a delusional journey for some."

Perhaps the Bhutanese are not so happy after all because they are poor. According to the country’s National Statistics Office, 23.2% of the total population are living below the poverty line of Nu 1,096 (approximately $25) a month.

Or maybe they are unhappy about their press freedom, which was ranked as one of the worst in the world in the 2009 ‘Freedom of the Press’ survey. That is, of course, only relevant insofar as they can read because Bhutanese literacy is below the South and West Asian average.

None of these figures featured in Professor Sachs’ rose-tinted survey of Bhutan. Such ignorance is a bliss that only Western tourists can afford. Maybe money can’t buy you happiness, but at least it can buy you a return ticket to Bhutan.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated Sept. 24. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Afghanistan-bound soldier pays $5000 to replace 'dodgy' army kit

Low quality equipment for soldiers is a disgrace but has been going on for decades. The government spends billions on submarines that it cannot even find crew for but "economizes" on how it equips men who are going into life-threatening situations

Though, mind you, sailing on a jerry-built Australian submarine is pretty life-threatening too. No wonder few men want to crew them

A SOLDIER soon to be deployed to "the badlands in Afghanistan" says he has paid almost $5000 to replace army-issue gear he says is "guaranteed to fail in the field". The 5RAR soldier is one of 100 being deployed to relieve Diggers from 6RAR in the region west of Tarin Kowt, where Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney was killed in the Battle of Derapet last month.

The soldier, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Advertiser that the battalion was undermanned and ill-equipped for the job. "It's not that we're not up to the task - Australian soldiers are some of the best in the world - but we are going in undermanned and poorly equipped," he said. "I've shelled out nearly $5000 of my own money to get the kit that will last me the whole trip."

His comments came at the end of a week of criticism of the army amid allegations Australia's soldiers are under-resourced in Afghanistan.

Despite being a veteran of the East Timor and Iraq conflicts, the young father said he had never been more nervous. "I've had mates die in Afghanistan this past year," he said. "We need the Government to listen to us, stop fobbing us off and give us what we need."

Among items bought by the soldier for his tour of duty are extra boots and a Sord rig - which is an ammunition and equipment vest "almost all Australians in Afghanistan purchase because the army-issue vests fall apart".

He said even spare army dog tags, used to identify soldiers killed in action, must be bought by soldiers at $30 a set.

The soldier said army officials would argue that buying a Garmin 401 wrist GPS for $320 was a luxury but he begged to differ. "We use GPS to call in mortar attacks and support," he said. "It could prove life-saving equipment."

The price of extra kit

Spare "dog tag" soldier identification - $30.

Sord ammunition rig, army issue "falls apart" - $600.

Desert boots, shortage of boots in army supplies - $400.

Garmin 401 wrist GPS, GPS used to call in mortar strikes - $320.

Minus 20C rated swag, to withstand the cold - $500


Corporate leaders stepping up to challenge a clueless government

Demanding that the government consult widely before acting -- which any governmenmt with brains would do anyway -- but Leftists think that they know it all

BIG business has warned Labor it will escalate a public campaign against the federal government to protect the economy from being damaged by vested interests.

A range of chief executives, chairmen and directors canvassed by The Weekend Australian said business leaders had a basic responsibility to step up to fill the policy vacuum left by the unstable political situation.

In the wake of last week's controversial call for a carbon tax by BHP Billiton chief executive Marius Kloppers, many believe there will be further public intervention in policy debates to set the agenda and ensure adequate consultation on reforms.

National Australia Bank and Woodside Petroleum chairman Michael Chaney said: "Several actions of the previous government left business with no choice about speaking out.

"Business leaders thus have a responsibility, not only to their shareholders, but to the public, to speak out where they believe business interests and the national interest is threatened."

He urged the government to see "the necessity of wide consultation before announcing fait accompli legislation".

Former BHP Billiton chairman Don Argus, who will be co-chairing the government's mining tax transition panel, said business people should be raising issues to provoke debate.

"The more you get a debate going, the better the outcome," Mr Argus said.

After an election where business was deeply frustrated by the lack of detailed policy discussion, it is now concerned about the prospects for economic reform in a range of areas. They include taxation, skills, infrastructure, climate change, the lack of an energy security policy, and an overloaded agenda before the Council of Australian Governments.

Many business leaders are particularly concerned the emergence of the Greens and the country independents could damage the prospects for crucial reforms and cause continuing uncertainty for local and international investors. They point to the inability of Julia Gillard to strike a deal with Tony Abbott on a new speaker as a bad omen for the new parliament.

There is also widespread concern about the government's refusal to conduct a cost-benefit analysis on the $43 billion broadband plan. Wesfarmers and Boral chairman Bob Every supported Telstra chief financial officer John Stanhope's questioning of Labor's refusal to build a business case for the NBN.

"I think we need to look at all the infrastructure areas - roads, rail and water - and prioritise. Obviously, there's only so much money to go around. So I think it needs to be looked it in that light," Mr Every said. "And it does need a cost-benefit analysis. I find it very impractical that we would roll it out . . . in the rural areas first, where there would be the least return and that would obviously then have the worst cash-flow effects."

Business Council of Australia president Graham Bradley said he had been encouraging business leaders to be more outspoken on public policy matters.

"I believe that one of the lessons of the resource tax debacle is that it is important for business leaders to speak up frankly and fearlessly on major issues to improve the quality of government decision-making and public understanding and debate," he said.

Brambles and BlueScope Steel chairman and Reserve Bank board member Graham Kraehe said business had thought it "more appropriate to be working inside the tent with government".

"But now we need to work outside the tent to raise the public awareness of issues. And that is even more important given the debacle over the RSPT consultation process."

Business groups and lobbyists are gearing up to negotiate with the independents, Greens and opposition on new legislation, as much of the government's program will have to be delicately handled in the new parliament.

"It is not just the relevant government minister we have to get our message across to now," said Australian Institute of Company Directors chief executive John Colvin. "Business needs to make sure that the opposition, the minor parties and independents and indeed the wider public hear what we are saying and understand our issues and concerns."

But opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey said personal relationships between businesspeople and politicians would come to the fore in an era of uncertainty. "The greatest influence now will be through existing relationships with MPs," he said. "Don't contract out your relationship to a lobbyist or a junior employee. Experienced politicians on all sides of politics know that the people that they listen to or have the most influence with them are the ones they have had relationships (with) for some years."

A spokesperson for Wayne Swan declined to comment, but the Treasurer is said to be supportive of business becoming more involved in the policy debate.


Druggie doctor not stopped, infects patients with Hep C -- the druggie disease

One would think that of all regulatory regimes, medical regulation would be the strictest. It seems in fact to be just about the slackest. Turning hopeless doctors into taxi-drivers seems to be the great taboo for all concerned and Nelson's telescope is much in use. Too bad if patients suffer and die

TO THOUSANDS of women treated at the Croydon Day Surgery, James Latham Peters looked like any other clinician. But would they have agreed to enter an operating known of his past?

Peters had a history of illicitly injecting himself with painkillers, as well as a 1996 conviction for forging prescriptions for pethidine. Since 2006 he has faced urine tests to determine whether he was still abusing drugs.

A few years ago, a bout of throat cancer nearly killed Peters. Last year, he was under more strain when he was again charged by police — this time for possession of child pornography. Peters, 62, also has the potentially fatal virus hepatitis C.

Now, at least 35 of the women given an anaesthetic by Peters from 2006 to 2009 have the same strain of the virus. None of the women knew any of those details about their doctor.

The Medical Board — the ultimate doctors' watchdog — knew much about Peters's life, but not all. A crucial question to be answered is whether the board's screening of Peters's urine tested for the right drug. Did they test him for all the most likely drugs he had access to?

The lawyers behind a planned class action on behalf of the infected women will also be asking if Peters was abusing the very same drugs he used on his patients.

Last year, one of those patients, we'll call her Jane, looked in the mirror and knew she was getting sick. "I'd do my make-up, I'd notice my eyes were yellow, my skin was yellow," she says.

Weeks before, she had made one of the toughest decisions of her life, travelling to the Croydon Day Surgery for a termination. Then it had seemed like a medically seamless procedure, even if it was emotionally fraught.

"I lost hair from stress, I was a mess, and I got sick from it," says Jane. "I knew there was something wrong, from all the symptoms." With no medical knowledge, she turned to Google for answers, trying to diagnose her condition. Then the blood tests came back. "Oh no," said her GP, as he called up the results on his computer. "And I just sank in my chair," she says. "I was a mess. I was an absolute mess."

Hepatitis C can be fatal and is one of the leading reasons for liver transplants in most developed nations. But this cluster of hepatitis C infections is mired in a web of regulation, law and potentially criminal behaviour.

Wading through the mire is a veteran of the Victoria Police, Detective Superintendent Gerry Ryan, who's more used to following blood trails. This time he's tracing a more complex trail, left by a virus. Its genetic fingerprints have taken months to map, and its legal dimensions are so wide that more than six months on, investigators still haven't spoken with Peters. "No . . . we haven't spoken to him," says Superintendent Ryan, "but we've left the door open to him to make an approach to us if he wishes to do so."

Superintendent Ryan says he won't push Peters, the Medical Board or others, before his investigators are ready. "So when we get to talk to Dr Peters and anyone else we need to speak to . . . we can do the best interviews possible, because we're aware of all the facts and issues . . . so that if anyone is ever charged, they're not going to get out on a technicality."

The police have much to examine. Who should have known about Peters's past conviction? Who should have set the precise terms of his supervision once he was known to be an injecting drug user? The laws around who is obliged to keep an eye on him have changed over the past decade. Peters could be charged under a wide variety of laws, all of which need to be examined closely by police before a decision on any charges is made.

The police would never have been involved, and the women would never have known they were linked, if not for a particularly astute nurse working in the Lonsdale Street headquarters of the Victorian Health Department.

Every time someone tests positive for hepatitis C a bureaucratic red flag pops up. But this public health nurse saw that out of thousands of hepatitis C cases, three stood out. They didn't display the usual risk factors — such as injecting drug use — and all three women had been to the Croydon Day Surgery.

This case is so sensitive that the nurse will not speak to The Age about her analysis. But quickly, her information was relayed to Dr John Carnie, the chief health officer. His first hunch was that it was a mistake in infection procedures at the day surgery. "This sort of thing has happened, that there has been some slip-up in the infection control," he says.

The following morning Dr Carnie dispatched a team to the clinic. They checked surgical procedures, the cleanliness of their theatres and their internal regulations. They came up with nothing.

The next step was for Dr Carnie's team to ask the clinic staff for their hepatitis C status. Again this looked like turning up nothing. Except there was no immediate response from one of the clinicians, the anaesthetist James Latham Peters, who was then on holiday in New York. Asked by his employers about his hepatitis C status, he responded by undertaking a blood test at a local US clinic. When that result "turned out to be positive," Dr Carnie realised "we need to see this man immediately on his return".

The initial blood test for antibodies is only the first step in tracing a person's hepatitis C history. To put together more pieces of the puzzle, each blood sample is analysed to identify which strain of the virus caused the infection. Then finally, all the blood samples with the same strain are compared again, to see if they have the same genotype or genetic fingerprint.

Thus far, the department says 35 women have a virus closely linked to the strain carried by Dr Peters — the anaesthetist who was supposed to spare them the pain of their experience. He was suspended from practising medicine in February....

In February, the department was surprised when Peters revealed he had a "history of injecting drug use", according to Dr Carnie. He says that in his interview about the infected women, that revelation was “a significant and important thing for [Dr Peters] to admit to us, but the [false prescriptions] conviction I didn't know anything about; we didn't learn about that until much, much later."

Since 2006, while working at the Croydon Day Surgery, Peters has been subject to a range of sometimes regular, and sometimes random, drug tests.

When anaesthetists do end up abusing drugs they often use what is closest at hand. Pethidine can be an option, but so can a drug like fentanyl. Both are opiate analgesics — in the same class of drugs as morphine and heroin. Fentanyl is often used with terminations because its effects last 30-60 minutes. Because it has such a short-term effect on the body, fentanyl can be harder for drug testers to detect than pethidine.

Last year, Peters was charged with possessing child pornography. No one had a legal obligation to relay this to the board unless the charge became a conviction. There is an agreement between Victoria Police and the Medical Board to alert the board about such charges — but for some reason the news that Peters had been charged was not conveyed. Peters was convicted this year, after he'd already been suspended as a doctor.

The Medical Board won't comment on Peters's drug testing. But which drugs could and should have been tested for, and how often, could be part of the civil action.

It became an offence not to tell the board about a conviction only in 2007, and it was only in July that a new law decreed that doctors must report colleagues who significantly deviate from accepted professional standards.

It's a law Paul Henderson is keen to highlight. "If doctors are put in the position where they have knowledge [about their colleagues], they're required to report it," he says, "which means [Peters] might have been managed differently, which means these women might not have been put at risk."

Slater & Gordon can take aim at James Peters first, by trying to recover as much as $300,000 for each of the women seriously affected. That could total $15 million. But if he is charged and then convicted, his insurers would not be liable to pay out any compensation won in a civil court.

It's not clear where Peters is living, but police say they've taken steps to ensure he can't leave the country.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Sydney artist rips the lid off controversial cover-up

SECURITY has been called in after tensions threatened to boil over a provocative mural to ban burqas at a Newtown workshop. Following artist Sergio Redegalli's painting opposing the Islamic face covering veils with the slogan "Say no to burqas", security outside the premises has been called in after tensions threatened to boil over.

Police also attended the unit at Wilford and Station St after a female resident allegedly unleashed a foul mouthed tirade against the picture and attempted to deface it with paint.

Security guard Nathan Daniels, called in by Mr Redegalli to protect his work, said there had been a lot of abuse - nearly all from women. "The trouble has been mainly from feminists saying it was sexist and racist. This one woman was abusing the artist - shouting and swearing at him as well as making threats that she's `going to get him', so we had the police called in," Mr Daniels said.

"The thing is Mr Redegalli is trying to get the message across that by women wearing the burqa their identity is being wiped out. A policeman said to me it has practical problems for them, such as identifying people," he added.

A resident, who did not want to be named in case of reprisals, said: "I'm only a pensioner but I would like to give the guy $50 for doing this. "These people come to our country so the least they should do is try and integrate a bit. I don't want to be named because I fear for the safety of my family and friends - everyone's scared of them."

Mr Redegalli said the painting was a rallying call against the creeping growth of extremism in Australia and was not anti-Islam. "It's about the burqa and extremism and not Islam. This mural has come from frustration," he said. "You can't say anything about Muslims without getting in trouble."

The image, which faces one of CityRail's busiest corridors, has been defaced twice since painting began on Monday.

Marrickville Mayor Sam Iskandar said he "condemns" the painting but council did not have the right to remove it.

Muslim Women's National Network Australia president Aziza Abdel-Halim said the image was disrespectful, insulting and an "immature way" of starting a debate. "I don't think [Mr Redegalli] is really even worth thinking about," she said. "[Wearing a burqa] is a matter of personal choice."


Incredible Greenie nonsense in NSW

Homeowners who sandbag coastal areas to protect their properties during storms could face fines up to $247,000 under tough new coastal protection laws. Councils will also be given the power to impose levies on coastal property owners to build sea walls.

Environment Minister Frank Sartor is in negotiations with the Greens to get his Coastal Protection Bill through Parliament, with the Opposition opposing it and organisations such as the Property Council lobbying to have it defeated.

The Bill includes provisions for $495,000 fines for corporations and $247,000 fines for residents who install illegal measures to protect their homes from sea level rises. Residents who do not gain approval for sandbagging would also pay up to $22,000 a day in fines if they continue.

Mr Sartor's laws - which he introduced into Parliament this week - have raised the ire of NSW coastal residents. The laws apply to properties within 1km of coastal rivers and estuaries as well as seafront properties.

Pat Aiken of Saratoga on the Central Coast has set up a community organisation to oppose the Bill. "Gosford Council has identified 9000 properties as potentially affected by sea level rise," he said. He said it was not just rich residents of Byron Bay who were affected but "people with the arse hanging out of their pants" in suburbs such as Woy Woy and Booker Bay.

"The estuary, river, bay and lagoon people probably have no idea what is about to come down on them - another big government tax on the back of climate change," he said.

Collaroy property owner Robert Wiggins said the Bill was about removing liability from government for not building sea walls.

Property Council of Australia acting executive director Edward Palmisano was "concerned that property owners who purchased or developed land in good faith will lose the capacity to take reasonable measures to protect their property from sea level rise".

"The Bill creates potential limitations on the opportunities available to homeowners to protect their property. Such restrictions do not apply to properties under threat from bushfires or floods, so why should sea level rise be treated any differently?" he asked.

Mr Palmisano said the Bill had the potential to impose "huge burdens on property owners" including "onerous new levies".


Gillard dances to beat of green drum

THIS minority government is in danger of falling down a policy rabbit hole.

JULIA Gillard, provided she doesn't find a Liberal rat and decides to appoint the long-suffering, second or third-choice Harry Jenkins as Speaker, faces a majority of just one vote in the House of Representatives.

It's going to be hard-ball politics and the independent MPs of the "new paradigm" will find themselves confronted with the fact that their vote is going to count on every issue, and they are going to have to be there to support the Labor government they backed into office.

While there is a dramatic sense of theatre about every division deciding the fate of the Gillard government and threatening to send Australia back to the polls, it's exaggerated: under the new standing orders, the government is not about to be brought down by an MP trapped in the toilets during a division.

What is of far greater importance than the day-to-day vote is Labor's policy and legislative agenda. Just what is going to get priority during the 43rd parliament, and what will proposed legislation look like at the end of the committee process that is minority government?

Yesterday's list of proposed legislation for the parliament in the coming weeks is little more than housekeeping. The issue of "strengthening water efficiency labelling for products", which Gillard described yesterday as a significant piece of legislation, seemed to struggle for prominence over an emissions trading scheme, a mining tax, a carbon tax, an East Timor refugee processing centre, tax reform, population restraint and billion-dollar rail lines during the 2010 election campaign.

In truth, the legislative list is a grab bag of things that had no priority previously and serves as an excuse to fill a program that can't even look at a new mining tax, climate change bills, tax reform or a National Broadband Network for months at least, even with the best will in the world.

The real problem for Labor is that its tenuous majority and lack of a meaningful agenda to be put to the parliament means there is a vacuum that various groups will be looking to fill, and Gillard will not be in control of the outcomes. For a start, Tony Abbott, having decided to pull the pin on any gentleman's agreement about pairing the Speaker in divisions and thus denying Labor the luxurious buffer of two votes, intends to attempt to overturn the Queensland state Labor government's wild rivers laws that control development by indigenous landowners on Cape York Peninsula and have split Labor and indigenous ranks. There is also split support for the proposed motion among the independent MPs.

But for Gillard the far more worrying prospect is that of her alliance partner the Greens pursuing their policy agendas, which will simultaneously create tensions with the Labor Party and build the profile of the Greens as they eat away at Labor's base.

To make matters worse for Gillard, the Greens are having their own crisis of policy determination and priorities that will distort her agenda. Only two weeks ago, when the negotiations were under way to form minority government, Greens leader Bob Brown nominated climate change and same-sex marriage as the Greens' priority.

Since then, pushing for changes to euthanasia laws nationwide has become a general Greens' aim and Brown has declared changing the euthanasia laws is his priority. It's worth noting in that time the Greens have signalled they will negotiate with the government on a carbon tax or price, they will not allow blocking the mining tax to bring down the government, and have conceded that uranium mining is the province of the states.

Brown has also walked away from some of the more embarrassing and economically challenging policies -- such as death duties -- and has embraced euthanasia as the new priority.

This week Brown has accused Abbott of "not understanding minority government" and declared he intends to introduce a euthanasia bill in the first private members' opportunity of the new parliament with the new rules Labor has endorsed.

"My bill would restore the right of territory parliaments to pass laws that would allow terminally ill people to choose a death with dignity," Brown said. "This right was taken away under the Howard government. While this bill is about territory rights, a huge majority of Australians support voluntary euthanasia, and it is time for federal parliament to debate the issue."

This is a double danger for Gillard; in the first place it will be the tail wagging the dog of the rainbow alliance and the public debate will become enmeshed in an issue that evinces strong emotions but is not a top-order issue for the public; and, in the second case, this is an issue tailor-made to contrast Kevin Rudd as a leader who stands for something with a prime minister who is reluctant to state a position.

Unlike the question of same-sex marriage, which just before the election Gillard said she did not agree with on cultural grounds, the issue of euthanasia is one Gillard refuses to be drawn on.

Consider this scenario: in the next few weeks the Labor minority puts up a series of housekeeping bills, the opposition puts up embarrassing bills, and the Greens grab centre stage with a euthanasia bill that Gillard has already promised would be a conscience vote.

Gillard, trying to reassure voters during the election that she was being tough on border protection, wants to cut population growth, introduce offshore processing for illegal boat arrivals, and ease pressures on working families, would be opposed to her former leader Rudd, who is already proving to be a media magnet and who is attractive to conservative voters on life issues.

It was a signal this week of what will come when Jesuit priest Frank Brennan, head of the government's constitutional committee on a bill of rights and the man who accompanied Rudd to the ministerial swearing-in, opened hostilities over euthanasia in New Matilda: "So now we have a hung parliament and Brown wants to agitate the issue of euthanasia once again," he said.

"There is little pressure from the people and legislatures in these places about what is presently an academic issue. To date no state parliament has legislated for euthanasia," he said, as Western Australia rejected a Greens euthanasia bill. "I doubt that a hung parliament will have the time and resources to consider these complex issues in its early days. As Tony Abbott says, there are real 'bread and butter concerns' that this parliament needs to get its head around."

This is not just a point of principle, it is a political point: Labor should not let itself be sidetracked by issues that aren't priorities for the people, aren't Labor promises, and will only draw attention away from Labor's own agenda.


Victoria's top cop goes too far

An editorial from the Herald Sun

WHEN does a police force cross the line from protection of the community to an intrusion into its legitimate affairs?

Victoria Police and Chief Commissioner Simon Overland have done that by secretly gaining access to the private telephone records of this newspaper in a witch-hunt for whistleblowers within its own ranks.

The Herald Sun freely admits it has embarrassed Chief Commissioner Overland by exposing the blunders within his own office. That is the job of a free and independent newspaper in holding not only Mr Overland to the utmost scrutiny, but also the Government that appointed him.

But legitimate scrutiny is not what the police force is doing in the case of the Herald Sun and perhaps other companies going about their daily business.

The police have paid telecommunication providers for access to phone records in the hope of identifying any of its members who might have spoken to our journalists.

It is ironic that we were alerted by police officers who, like us, think the surveillance is potentially dangerous and at the very least unwarranted.

If Mr Overland wants to close down any conversations between his officers and Herald Sun journalists, to the extent of controlling their every word through his media office, that is his concern. Spying on its members might also be a concern of the Police Association.

What is our concern is that the Chief Commissioner is not only using taxpayer money, he is diverting these funds from the pursuit of criminal matters. Better that he spend the community's money on preventing murders by criminal gangs and outlaw bikies, who have transferred their drug-related activities to Victoria after crackdowns in other states.

The Herald Sun, in its Right to Know campaign, is pushing for national shield laws for journalists to protect whistleblowers as much as the journalists they speak to. It is these witnesses to government and bureaucratic maladministration who keep institutions honest. This is right and proper and Victoria Police is one such institution whose own members are best placed to watch for similar excesses.

But just how far does police surveillance intrude into the business of companies other than the Herald Sun? Does it extend to even the higher echelons of the Victorian Government? How long has this surveillance being going and will these records be destroyed? Where are the checks and balances and what other investigations have been hindered as money has been diverted?

Tapping phone conversations requires a court order from a judge and the Herald Sun argues that the monitoring engaged in by the Victoria Police requires the same judicial oversight. Under its current code of intrusion, it needs only an inspector to sign off on an order to save what Mr Overland might consider an embarrassment.

The next phone call the Chief Commissioner receives should be from Premier John Brumby to tell him to get on with the job of catching criminals.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

How they Educate the Educators

By Peter W.

GK Chesterton said `Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.' That is not my favorite Chesterton quote. He also said `A dead thing can go with the stream, but only a living thing can go against it.' Both are apposite when thinking about contemporary government-run education.

Last year my wife completed a post graduate Diploma in Early Childhood Education. The theme of every unit in this diploma was that the little blighters educate themselves. All you need to do, as an educational facilitator, is to provide them with a rich learning environment. In particular, you shouldn't think of teaching them anything, or of directing their learning in any way. This may harm their self-esteem, curiosity and creativity. Children will absorb the numeracy and literacy skills they need as they need them. Their learning should be self-directed.

Apart from being complete and utter bollocks, what struck me most about this course was how carefully structured it was. By the time you get to post-graduate level, you have a pretty good idea of how to study, and of the gaps in your knowledge. Of course, as Donald Rumsfeld remarked, there are also unknown unknowns - things you don't know you don't know, and this is where a good teacher comes in handy.

But in this course, every student had to read the same articles in the same order, and was expected to come to the same conclusion. Namely, that education works best when it is structured. The lecturer, being a humourless left wing git, saw no irony in this at all.

Post-graduates can be expected to take most of the responsibility for their learning. Kindergarten and primary children cannot. The whole world is unknown unknowns to them. They have no way of knowing what they need to learn, or how to go about learning it. Sadly, most primary teachers in Australian state schools, never having been educated themselves, cling to the romantic ideal of student directed learning.

The one area where this does not seem to apply is political/environmental issues. At KICE (Kangaroo Island Community Education), and at other government schools around the country, students are regularly subjected to emotionally laden, reason-free, questioning forbidden, programmes of indoctrination on matters environmental.

This week's subject is the ghastly consequences of palm oil farming. Empty headed and single-minded guest speakers are inflicted on the students, who are also obliged to watch heart-rending videos of forest clearing followed by pictures of sad looking orang utans and little elephants.

They are then encouraged to act globally and to take action by telling other people what to do. For example, students may wish to write to Australian companies which use palm oil, threatening not use their products unless they cease to do so. Or they may write to the Indonesian ambassador expressing their dismay at Indonesia's apparent disregard for the welfare of its endangered species.

The arrogance is astonishing. As is the complete lack of concern for the families whose livelihoods such actions will destroy.

Students then file home in a bored fashion, leaving a trail of litter, and perhaps bashing a few penguins to death along the way. Believe me, it happens.

The end result is listless and resentful students, whose self-esteem really is damaged because they know very well that they are not achieving or learning anything worthwhile.

But teachers, in a frenzy of rose tinted delusion, return to the staff room to congratulate themselves on what a wonderful job they are doing, oblivious to the consistently appalling behaviour, and equally appalling academic results.


A female Hitler calls for infant formula to be made hard to get

Infant formula should be available only on prescription to boost breast feeding rates, an expert says. But Victoria's peak doctors' group and Melbourne mothers say the proposal goes too far.

Jennifer James, of RMIT University, said formula manufacturers should also be banned from marketing their products to the public.

"When women are having problems, and it's very challenging learning to breast feed, the formula is readily available and the marketing suggests that babies will thrive on it, so women go for it," Dr James said.

"The majority of women and new dads that you speak to will give you some reasons why it's important to breast feed but there's still this pervasive belief that 'I'll try it and if I can't do it, formula's just as good'. "I would like to see formula prescribed by a health professional rather than being available in supermarkets and chemists."

Melbourne mum Christine Rookas said it should be a mother's choice whether to breast feed or not. "I would be very frightened and afraid to think that formula will be prescribed," Ms Rookas, from Avondale Heights, said. "I think there's already a paranoia for mothers. They feel guilty enough about using formula milk."

Ms Rookas was still breast feeding six-month-old Neave, as she had her two older children, despite finding it tough. "I just kept persisting ... because it's more convenient rather than a huge health benefit," she said.

AMA Victoria president Harry Hemley said requiring a prescription for infant formula would be very inconvenient for new mothers. "There's no doubt that new mothers need more support to make sure their children are as fit and healthy as possible," Dr Hemley said. "Breast feeding is the best option for most new mothers, but not for everyone."


Chaos and confusion as Australia's Leftist government tries to find a solution to illegal immigration

They seem however to be going slowly down the path that worked well for the previous conservative goverenment

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen will head to East Timor to revive plans for an offshore immigration processing facility following talks between Julia Gillard and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao. The Prime Minister spoke yesterday to Mr Gusmao and asked whether she could dispatch Mr Bowen to discuss the processing centre with his East Timorese counterpart.

It comes as political controversy has again erupted over boat arrivals and Australia's system of mandatory detention with a suicide and two days of protests at Sydney's Villawood facility.

Detention facilities are overcrowded. Mental health experts and refugee advocates believe this has contributed to the incidents this week, although the asylum seekers appear to have protested in an effort to have their claims reconsidered.

Plans for an offshore processing centre have faced strong resistance in East Timor since they were first mentioned by Ms Gillard earlier this year, and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd was quick to indicate after the election that it would be Mr Bowen who would deal with the issue.

The East Timorese Government has signalled it wants the issue of a processing centre resolved through regional dialogue, not through a bilateral deal with Australia. It has however left itself open to talks with Australia.

Yesterday's discussion between the Prime Minister and Mr Gusmao comes as Mr Rudd is due to meet the East Timorese Foreign Minister Zacarias da Costa at the United Nations in New York.

The deal comes as the head of a government advisory group on asylum seekers warned incidents of self harm at Villawood were the beginnings of a detention system spiralling out of control.

Monash professor of psychiatry Louise Newman said conditions would likely deteriorate at other detention centres across Australia and chastised the government for failing to learn from the past.

Already, men have broken out of Darwin detention centre to stage roadside protests and others fought with tree branches and pool cues in a mass riot on Christmas Island.

"There is a shocking sense of de ja vu," Dr Newman said. "We're seeing the tragic repetition of the same risk factors that we know are predictive of the sorts of problems we saw in Woomera and Baxter."

Nine Chinese nationals on the roof of the stage two accommodation building had climbed up just after 8am yesterday in the same area where Fijian detainee Josefa Rauluni, 36, died in an apparent suicide on Monday.

Speaking through a translator last night, one of the detainees said one of the men had cut himself and was lying unconscious on the roof. The nine include four women, one of whom Xiao Yun, 32, says she is two and a half months pregnant. Ms Yun was detained upon arriving in Australia in early April after she was caught on a fake passport. She has been in Villawood since. Ms Yun said the group were Falun Gong or Christian and feared persecution if returned to China.


Army top brass imbecilic as usual

Why won't they listen to the men in the field?

A senior soldier has blasted plans to send 100 troops to Afghanistan next month without mortar support.

The Townsville-based Digger, who does not want to be identified, also revealed troops heading off to war against the Taliban have been forced to buy their own combat boots. More than a dozen Diggers from the 5th Mechanised Battalion have purchased American made Altama and Bates boots for up to $250 a pair because their Q (supply) store ran out of army-issued combat footwear. "It is a joke," one soldier said.

Mortars are the most effective form of fire support to infantry. Especially if they are pinned down like Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney and his mates from the 6th Battalion were in Afghanistan last month.

The young Lance Corporal became Australia's 21st fatality in Afghanistan and his comrade who sent the explosive email revealed this week by The Advertiser argued that mortar support might have saved the father of two. "That contact would have been over before Jared died if they gave us f*****g mortars," he said.

The senior soldier contradicted joint operations chief Lieutenant General Mark Evans who told the media yesterday that troops fighting in the three-hour battle in Afghanistan last month did not run low on ammunition. "A mate of mine who was there said they had to withdraw because ammo was low," he said.

While he regards the lack of boots as very serious, the soldier said mortars were a matter of life and death. "A lot of blokes would be dead if it wasn't for mortar support, especially in Afghanistan," he said.

The senior soldier said that mortars were the only guaranteed fire support for infantry troops. "Mortarmen are soldiers within the battalion they are supporting, so they know full well the urgency and the reason when they are needed to fire," he said. A good mortar line can have highly accurate weapons ready to fire within two or three minutes.

According to some insiders, tactical commanders are reluctant to use mortars and artillery due to the risk of civilian casualties and prosecution. The insurgents deliberately fight in populated areas to expose local civilians, and five Australian commandos are facing possible unlawful killing charges over the deaths of six Afghan civilians, including five children, in February 2009.

Australian infantry units use 81mm mortar tubes manned by three soldiers with three tubes per section.

Three combat teams from the 5th Battalion will deploy next month to replace the Brisbane- based 6th Battalion in Oruzgan Province, but only two will take mortars. "For unknown reasons a Major in charge of the third team has decided not to take any mortars," the soldier said. "There are so many things wrong and so many leaders making decisions that will get people killed, and have got people killed. "This is very disheartening, what do we tell these kids heading to war?"

A chorus of serving and former soldiers have jumped to the defence of the Digger who sent this week's email while condemning the response from the top brass in Canberra.

Vietnam veteran and war pensioner Bernie McGurgan, from Capalaba in Queensland, posed a simple question to General Evans: "Are we fighting a war in Afghanistan or not? "If the answer is yes, nothing is too good or too costly in providing the ultimate and maximum fire support for our fighting soldiers," Mr McGurgan said.