Tuesday, December 06, 2011


I went into Woolworths to buy Christmas cards yesterday. I am not fanatical about it as I am an atheist but I like to buy Christian-themed cards out of respect for the Christian basis of the holiday. But although Woolworths had a big range of cards I could find none with Christian themes. Pretty poor for Australia's biggest retailer!

So I went to the Indian shop next door where I occasionally see the owner reading a nicely-bound copy of the Bhagavad Gita in Hindi. Sure enough he had packs of cards with Christian themes. So he got my business.

A sad day when it takes a Hindu to show what tolerance is like! Why on earth would Woolworths be so bigoted against Christianity? Who is going to be offended by them including a few cards with Christian themes in their range?

Australia is not a religious country but there are still a lot of committed Christians about so they would find the Woolworths offering unsatisfactory and would go to (say) a newsagent to buy their cards. So bigotry is also bad business, as it usually is.

Greens abandon official support for Israel boycott

The NSW Greens have abandoned their official support for an international boycott of the state of Israel, a policy that drew unprecedented ire towards Marrickville Council this year and exposed broader rifts within the party.

At a State Council meeting yesterday, which was not open to the media, every local Greens group voted to support a revised motion which recognises the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign as a legitimate political tactic, but to abandon it as an official party position.

The policy provoked a huge backlash from Jewish groups and some sections of the media when it was adopted in-principle by Marrickville Council last December, with support from Greens, Labor and an independent.

Some Green party members, including Bob Brown and MLC Cate Faehrmann, blamed the policy for contributing to former mayor Fiona Byrne's unsuccessful tilt at the seat of Marrickville in the March state election. Immediately after the election, the council abandoned the policy when two of the Greens on the council split and voted with others to overturn it at a dramatic meeting.

Greens MLC Jeremy Buckingham more recently criticised the targeting of Israeli-owned Max Brenner chocolate shops by BDS protestors.

In May, the party convened a working group of about 25 people to reconsider the divisive policy. Their report provided the basis for the revised position.

Ms Rhiannon, a strong proponent of the policy over the last year, denied the policy had exposed a rift within the party, and said a consensus view had now been reached.

“The resolution recognises the legitimacy of the BDS as a political tactic and also recognises that there is a diversity of views in the community and the Greens,” she said.

“While there have been a variety of views among Greens members on BDS there was strong and united commitment to continue our work for Palestinian human rights.

“The Review rejected and condemned false accusations of anti-Semitism.”

The BDS policy had drawn high profile support to the party and Marrickville Council too, with Bishop Desmond Tutu and human rights advocate Julian Burnside QC sending messages of support.

The motion adopted at yesterday's conference reaffirmed their position that the Australian government should halt military cooperation and military trade with Israel and resolved that the party would also work to develop a broader ethical procurement policy.

It also recognised the right of individual Greens members to participate in BDS campaigns.


Top jobs at Queensland Health to be cut to divert funds to frontline services

Good if it happens

A GOVERNMENT razor gang will slash the number of highly-paid Queensland Health bosses to divert funds to frontline health services.

A controversial new blueprint details plans for the most extensive rationalisation of Queensland Health in decades and will force deputy directors-general, who are paid $300,000 to $400,000, to compete against each other to keep a smaller number of jobs.

Seven positions will be reduced to three and all will have to reapply.

Queensland Health has already announced 1000 non-frontline jobs will be slashed.

It is understood the department will also try to find savings by cutting rented office space for its bureaucrats.

Queensland Health boss Tony O'Connell said: "It will be an 18-month to two-year transition. It's a once-in-a-generation change. The incumbents will see out their contracts."

He said savings would be directed back to hospitals, but more money would mean more scrutiny.


Parents who spank kids 'only human'

A PARENTING guide author has reignited the smacking debate by defending parents who snap and hit their children as "only human".

Anne-Marie Taplin, author of Being Mummy and website parentingexpress.com, said some parents fell into the gap between "what should happen and what actually happens". "Children can be very good at pushing parents' buttons and sometimes you can just feel a surge of rage and lose control," Ms Taplin said.

While acknowledging current advice that smacking was unacceptable, the mother of two said it was not fair for others to judge parents who hit their children.

"I would never advocate hitting a child but I think we need to acknowledge that parents are only human and be very careful about how we judge the people who are doing one of the world's most challenging jobs," she said.

Australian laws allow corporal punishment of children as long as it is "reasonable" in the circumstances, but Victorian coroner John Olle earlier this year pleaded with parents to "never hit a child". Mr Olle was inquiring into the death of a girl, aged two.


Victorians demand double penalties from courts

VICTORIANS have called for the courts to dish out sentences for serious crimes two to three times longer than they do now. The State Government's controversial sentencing survey found a wide gap between the demands of the public and the legal profession.

Attorney-General Robert Clark said the findings had steeled the Government's hardline approach on tougher sentences.

Many of the 18,000 respondents called for the toughest penalties for murder, drug trafficking and arson causing death. They want judges to consider the impact on victims, and premeditation by the offender, as reasons for heavier punishment.

The heavier penalties demanded are already on the books, which means harsher punishment remains in the hands of the courts.

But the survey results will now be considered by the State Government as it shapes new minimum "baseline" sentences for serious crimes. The survey also found:

* OPPOSITION to parole for those convicted of murder and manslaughter.

* RESPONDENTS who said they were lawyers were generally more likely to call for sentence discounts, while police were the least likely.

* A LACK of criminal record, co-operation with police and a guilty plea were reasons to impose a lighter sentence.

Mr Clark said he was pleased with the response. "While public commentary about sentencing issues is often dominated by experts and interest groups, this survey provided all Victorians with an opportunity to have their say," Mr Clark said. "These results add to the Government's determination to introduce the sentencing reforms we have committed to."

Victorian Bar chairman Melanie Sloss, SC, said the survey should be treated with caution. She said the Sentencing Advisory Council was better placed to inform the Government. "They have already undertaken and made available some very good and reliable scientific research and analysis that is better suited for this purpose."

Law Institute of Victoria president Caroline Counsel said she was not surprised by the call for harsher sentences. "That's in accordance with what we thought people would say," she said. The survey questions did not allow respondents to consider the subtleties of cases that judges took into account when forming a sentence, she said.

Crime Victims Support Association president Noel McNamara said his criticisms of sentencing had been vindicated. "It sends a clear message to the judges: you've got it wrong," Mr McNamara said. "I think the public has done a great job. A lot of people (who took part) weren't victims of crime, and they've got it right."

Most respondents said the penalty for murder should be life imprisonment, already the current maximum. During the five years to 2010, 133 people were sentenced for murder, and 11 were given life terms, according to Sentencing Advisory Council statistics. For the rest, the median principal sentence was 20 years, with a non-parole period of 15 years and three months.

Asked about commercial drug trafficking, most called for a sentence between 21 and 25 years, compared with an existing median principal sentence of 6.5 years. For culpable driving, most wanted 16 to 20 years, but the existing median is 5.5.


Another failure of a government computer application

Governments and computer bungles go together

A MUCH-hyped email system which cost taxpayers $46 million has been rejected by most State Government departments. Trumpeted as a revolutionary way to centralise systems allowing workers to more easily move between agencies, the email platform was rejected as too costly by some of the departments it was specifically designed for. So far only 2000 users have signed up, at an estimated cost of $23,000 each – the price of a small car.

A Public Works Department spokesman insisted the Identity, Directory and Email Services program was set for wider installation by 2013 but sources said the Education, Communities and Community Safety departments had already opted out.

The state's largest agency, Queensland Health, is not included in the project scope and is unlikely to sign up. The system has also been plagued by delays and is already two years behind schedule.

It is budgeted to cost $252 million over the next decade, with hopes $123 million would be recouped in efficiency savings. But already a $46 million treasury loan, spent setting up the system, has been wiped to reduce charges and encourage hesitant agencies to join. About 81,000 users are needed for the system to break even.

ICT Minister Simon Finn said the wiped loan was not a loss because "it's all the Government's money".

An industry source said: "They will never save one dollar on this project, ever."

It is the latest in a series of government IT failures, with $219 million already wasted on the health payroll debacle. The Public Works spokesman admitted the IDES savings were dependent on agencies accepting the system.

But he said the department was "currently in discussions" with agencies to move more bureaucrats on to the system, with Transport and Main Roads already committed.

Mr Finn denied agencies had opted out and stood behind the email system, saying it would improve security while giving staff more mobility and better remote access.

Sources said many who had commissioned the project had since left and those who took their place had "inherited a basket case" and were likely to become scapegoats for the system's failures.

They said the project, which included a single log-in so employees could access all programs after entering their details only once each day, was a "great idea" but had been "terribly executed".

Opposition ICT spokeswoman Ros Bates labelled the system a "monumental waste" that mirrored the payroll disaster because managers had "declared themselves exempt from good project governance".

Auditor-General Glenn Poole, in a June report, condemned the project's management as "not fully effective", with no clear business owner to push agencies to accept whole-of-government change. He found only four agencies were expected to accept the system, with others choosing to reassess their priorities.

The summer floods had also hit budgets, meaning more departments had baulked at the cost to migrate, he found. Mr Poole estimated only 20,000 users would be using IDES by December next year - 75 per cent less than expected. "This will result in the program incurring further losses," he wrote.

Mr Finn disputed that, saying 53,000 users were expected by 2013.

All 10 government agencies using Microsoft Exchange would be forced to migrate by mid-2015 anyway, he said, with the remaining three departments given the option to choose.


1 comment:

Paul said...

"Good if it happens"

Not what I'm seeing so far.