Saturday, April 30, 2011

Abuse in lieu of reason again -- from a Watermelon, of course

"Scepticism is bastardry", says head of ACF

THE president of the Australian Conservation Foundation has attacked the "scientific bastardry" of climate change sceptics amid weakening public consensus that humans are to blame.

Ian Lowe, who is also professor of science, technology and society at Griffith University, lamented the narrowing of the carbon tax debate.

He said it was "naive" to believe putting a price on carbon was the solution to the problem, arguing the carbon price would have to rise to "politically unrealistic" levels if it was to drive the transition away from coal-fired power.

He said other complementary measures would be needed to encourage renewable energy.

Addressing a conference in Melbourne organised by the academics' union, the National Tertiary Education Union, Professor Lowe called on scientists to become more active in promoting the scientific evidence of human-induced climate change.

"As a profession who are paid from the public purse, it is a fundamental part of our responsibility to the community to be engaged in the public debate about these issues," he said.

He said the evidence for human-induced climate change was backed by virtually all scientists. He described the views of climate change sceptics as "illegitimate arguments that you could call scientific bastardry".


Julia Gillard no hope of going the distance, says Tony Abbott

TONY Abbott has completed a week of election-style campaigning with a prediction the Gillard government will crumble before completing its term.

The Opposition Leader has criss-crossed the nation in the past week, swooping on the advantage given to him by Julia Gillard's absence from the country to further exert pressure on a government he now views as unsustainable.

He has sought to squeeze Labor's most sensitive political points, highlighting asylum-seeker unrest, community discontent with the carbon tax and ongoing violence and alcohol abuse in indigenous communities in the Northern Territory.

Speaking to The Weekend Australian yesterday, Mr Abbott said he did not expect the government to go its full term because of the mounting pressure of unpopular policies and an untenable governing position.

"This is a very fragile government with a sense of impermanence about it," he said. "I have no expectation that any of the independents are going to come knocking on my door anytime soon. And I have no expectation that a disgruntled Labor backbencher or frontbencher is going to resign anytime soon. Nevertheless, it is such an obviously incompetent government and it is in such a difficult parliamentary position that it is hard to imagine this shambles surviving for another 2 1/2 years."

Mr Abbott has taken full advantage of the Prime Minister's absence while she travelled to South Korea, Japan, China and Britain, attending yesterday's royal wedding.

The Opposition Leader said the current political climate made him feel as though he was in a "continuous campaign".

Earlier in the week, he travelled to the Christmas Island detention centre, which has been rocked by riots, as well as OneSteel's headquarters in Whyalla, South Australia, which he warned would be "wiped off the map" under a carbon tax.

On Wednesday, he arrived in Alice Springs to highlight problems in the town and outback indigenous communities, consulting with local politicians and indigenous leaders over his proposed "second intervention". While defending Ms Gillard's right to travel overseas and attend events such as the royal wedding, Mr Abbott also took a political potshot at the Prime Minister for not accompanying him to central Australia despite a standing invitation.

"Everybody understands the Prime Minister has to travel. Everyone expects the Prime Minister to go to the royal wedding.

"But I was a little disappointed that she wasn't prepared to come as part of a bipartisan joint visit or at least thus far hasn't been prepared to come under those circumstances."

Wayne Swan has been increasingly talking up the likelihood of a tough federal budget next month, but Mr Abbott said he doubted the government would make spending reductions where necessary. Instead, he said, it would favour "sneaky" cuts.

"This government has talked about a tough budget, but they have never delivered one," he said. "Every year they talk about how tough their budget is going to be, but none of their budgets have been at all tough.

"I suspect this budget will be tougher than previous ones, but I doubt very much there is going to be serious systemic cuts."

However, Mr Abbott said the Coalition would not be outlining its own list of budget savings, as it did before last year's election and before the introduction of the flood levy.

"In good time before the next election we will publish a detailed statement as to how our policies are going to be funded. But I don't think you should expect from us an alternative saving list to accompany this budget," he said.


Nambour Hospital procedures reviewed after boy dies of rare condition

QUEENSLAND Health has promised to review child assessment procedures at Nambour Hospital after a heart-wrenching campaign by the parents of a little boy who died while waiting to see a doctor.

Andrew and Trudy Olive, of Mooloolah on the Sunshine Coast, lost their four-year-old son Tom after an emergency department ordeal on August 25 last year.

In The Courier-Mail on January 26, they called for an investigation into Tom's treatment so other families did not suffer the same anguish.

They revealed every parent's worst nightmare where no doctor was on hand, a student nurse attended the boy with faulty equipment and Mr Olive had been forced to start CPR on his dying son when medical staff failed to notice his heart had stopped. Tests have since confirmed Tom died as the result of an episode brought on by a hereditary muscle-destroying disease that has claimed only a handful of lives worldwide.

The outcry brought an offer from Queensland Health management to sit down with the Olives. Mr Olive said he and Trudy felt that the latest meeting last week was a breakthrough and brought an acknowledgement that more could have been done to save Tom.

"I outlined that basic mistakes had been made at the assessment level. All the warning signs were there that Tom was dangerously ill and they were all ignored," he said.

"His temperature was low at 33.9C, his heart was racing, he was slipping in and out of consciousness and there were indications the potassium levels in his blood were soaring, which can mean cardiac arrest is imminent. And here we were in the corner with a Uni student and nurse for 30 minutes."

The latest meeting was attended by Sunshine Coast Health District chief executive Kevin Hegarty, regional Director of Emergency Medicine Dr Stephen Priestley, pediatrician Dr Tom Hurley, district executive Jackie Hanson and the Olive's solicitor Peter Boyce.

Mr Olive said the outcome was hospital management had agreed to look at what measures they could put in place to ensure what happened to Tom never happened again. "They promised us they would review procedures in the emergency department at Nambour and come back to us within a month of the April 18 meeting with a document outlining the improvements."

Mr Hegarty said the hospital would look at the Emergency Department issues raised by the Olives. "While the clinical review indicated that Thomas's treatment was appropriate, we have undertaken to Mr and Mrs Olive that we will write to them in a month indicating any changes that are being made to emergency department procedures in response to their concerns," he said. Hegarty declined to answer which issues would be looked at.

The Olives are expecting another child in two weeks and while their three-year-old daughter Laura has been cleared of having the double mutation of the LPIN1 gene that killed her brother, a sample of their baby's blood will have to be sent to Paris for testing.

Mr Olive said their new daughter would have a one in four chance of inheriting the disease, but there would be a management plan available if she did.

In recent months, the Olives have discovered a family in Port Macquarie who lost their eight-year-old boy a day before Tom to the same illness. They also have connected with a Victorian family, whose two-year-old has survived it. All three boys have two things in common, the illness and sharing the name Thomas.

An LPIN1 awareness and support page has been set up on Facebook and the Olives have plans for a "Shine for Thomas Foundation" to raise funds to have testing, currently only available in France, performed in Australia.

There has been no decision as to if, or when, a coronial inquest will be held into Tom's death as investigations are ongoing. The Olives are eagerly awaiting a response from the Coroner and are seeking an immediate investigation.


Playground stimulus

Dr Oliver Marc Hartwich

My wife and I spent the long weekend in the NSW Central West. The air was crisp, the sun shining, and the autumn leaves glowed in all shades of orange. However, even in this picture-perfect idyll of countryside Australia, you are never far from government folly.

On Easter Sunday we visited Carcoar. A heritage listed village, guidebooks describe Carcoar as one of the historic gems of the area. Rightly so: three old churches, a few former bank buildings and an Italian style courthouse remind tourists of Carcoar’s proud past. Today, however, they look grossly out of proportion in a village of 218 people.

The world probably only became aware of Carcoar’s existence when a double axe murder happened there in September 1893. The other highlights in the village’s history were the shutdown of the Carcoar Chronicle in 1943, the closure of the court in the 1950s, and the discontinuation of the railway station in 1974.

By all accounts, Carcoar is not so much a dying village as it is a dead village. Indeed, that’s what makes it such as charming place to visit – it is frozen in a time long gone by. But one thing most certainly it is not: a thriving, developing settlement.

The Australian government does not agree with this assessment. At the edge of Carcoar, in front of a small playground (without any children in sight) are two big signs. One reads ‘Nation Building – Economic Stimulus Plan supporting jobs and building our infrastructure for the future.’ The other explains that the junior swing, the small slide, and the little rocker were ‘funded through the Australian Government’s Community Infrastructure Program.’

As it turns out, the Carcoar playground was one of five ‘stimulus’ projects undertaken by Blayney Shire Council, which cost a total of $289,000. The last census counted only 34 children in Carcoar. The village’s median age in 2006 was 50 – higher than Japan’s. And Carcoar is shrinking further as local house prices under $150,000 demonstrate.

How a new playground in a fossilised village can amount to ‘nation building’ is a government secret. They could have just as well repainted the disused railway station or installed a new dock in the closed courthouse.

In two weeks’ time, Treasurer Wayne Swan will present a budget that is already foreshadowed as ‘tough’ and a deficit that will look frighteningly high for times of near full employment. For a government engaging in nation building in dead villages, this should not surprise anyone.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated 29 April. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Wedding ban attracts immature reaction

Christopher Pearson

MICHAEL Shmith is a senior arts journalist with The Age. His mother's second marriage was to Lord Harewood who, as well as being an opera impresario, is a grandson of George V and a first cousin of the Queen.

Shmith has spent a good deal of time in the company of his stepfather and that branch of the family, so his response to the news that the Chaser team had been prevented from providing a running commentary on the royal wedding on ABC2 came as something of a surprise.

"Call it what you will, fetch whichever cutting device you wish from the toolshed, this is, to me, nothing short of censorship. Worse, it is censorship initiated not by the broadcasters concerned but from within the severe stucco Nash facade of Clarence House . . . How narrow-minded, how unnecessary."

No doubt there are people who imagine comedians are somehow entitled, as of right, to footage of the royal wedding and that being denied it is a form of artistic or political censorship, but Shmith really ought to know better. Would he expect the Pope to grant the Chaser team a live feed of Easter mass at St Peter's, for example?

Of course he wouldn't, because as an arts editor he'd know that the head of the Catholic Church has intellectual property rights in that celebration, not to mention the performances of the Sistine Chapel choir, and rights over permitting film crews access to the building. The Pope also has obligations to prevent the solemnities over which he presides and the Petrine office itself being profaned or, with his consent, held up to ridicule.

The comparison with the Queen is precise because she too is head of a sovereign state and supreme governor of the Church of England.

She has intellectual property rights and powers over what happens in Westminster Abbey, a church that comes into the category of "a royal peculiar institution".

Like the Pope, she is sworn to uphold the Church of England and the dignity of its solemnities. She is also duty bound in a special way that does not apply to popes, who are elected, to uphold the honour of her own dynasty and its rites of passage: coronations, baptisms, weddings and funerals.

Given the Chaser team's weakness for stunts in questionable taste, not to put too fine a point on the matter, it's perfectly understandable that Clarence House should have refused permission.

The wonder is, rather, that the BBC and the ABC could have imagined that the Windsors would meekly submit to such mockery.

It probably confirms most people's suspicions about the level of staff-capture in the highest echelons of both institutions.

The Age wasn't the only organ of the wet Left to wax indignant.

The Jesuits' online journal Eureka Street published a piece by Ellena Savage, the immediate past editor of Melbourne University's student magazine Farrago.

"Clarence House's ban on ABC's The Chaser's Royal Wedding Commentary has irreparably undermined the House of Windsor in Australia."

What's more: "Its effective ban on democratic media representation provides a welcome jolt back to reality. British monarchy is not the benevolent and benign institution we pretended it was, but a neurotic, self-perpetuating liability.

"It was their benevolence alone that guaranteed our unquestioned support, or at least tolerance, of their persistence as anachronistic figureheads in our parliamentary structure."

This is all pretty silly, even by the standards of student magazines, and the fact a Jesuit organisation chose to publish it goes a long way towards explaining why the phrase "Catholic intellectual" nowadays strikes so many people as an oxymoron. But there's worse to come.

According to Savage: "We consume the Windsors as we do soap operas. We want them to get fat and to struggle. Celebrity culture is fundamentally about schadenfreude, even where it is disguised as idolatry."

While I've no doubt that's how Savage sees Prince William and his bride, I think most of the people in Australia, as well as Britain, who are the least bit interested in the royal wedding will think they're an attractive pair, recognise that Catherine Middleton has taken on a very demanding role and wish them well.

In the same way, people of goodwill habitually wish luck and perseverance to any couple who embark on a life commitment to one another in full knowledge of the difficulties in living up to their vows.

Judging from the Chaser team's statement in response to the ban, it's hard to imagine that we'll have missed much: "To ensure that our coverage was respectful, we were only planning to use jokes that Prince Philip has previously made in public or at least the ones that don't violate racial vilification laws."

Now if the Chaser team were half as anarchic and politically incorrect as they claim to be, they'd at least give Prince Philip some credit for speaking his mind. As things stand, their parasitic relationship to the people and institutions they hold up to derision is plain for all to see.

The ABC's director of television, Kim Dalton, had the effrontery to say he was "surprised and disappointed" by Clarence House's intervention, adding "we are a mature enough country to enjoy this particular take on this event". However, the truth is that the Chaser's stunts were always undergraduate and appealed to a streak of immaturity in its audience. As well, assuring us that we're "mature enough" is an attempt to ingratiate, transparent enough to be offensive, which had well and truly passed its use-by date long ago, during the republican referendum debate.

Instead, what the public was entitled to expect from Dalton was a grovelling apology that the national broadcaster had even considered commissioning that sort of immature commentary.

If there is any lingering suspicion that the royal family is humourless or overly censorious, readers should remember that Dame Edna Everage was allowed a part in the proceedings, as she had been in the jubilee celebrations and command performances. In this respect she is like King Lear's jester, the "all-licensed fool". Edna's wit is no less anarchic than the Chaser team's. It's just better judged and funnier.


Friday, April 29, 2011

Another Greenie scheme implodes

NSW solar bonus scheme suspended

THE NSW Government has suspended the Solar Bonus Scheme due to cost blowouts.

No new applications will be considered while the future viability of the program is considered next week, Energy Minister Chris Hartcher announced today. Mr Hartcher said the scheme would add an estimated $651 million to the budget deficit over the four years to 2014-15.

The scheme pays householders for all energy generated by residential solar panels, including what they use themselves as well as what they feed into the grid. But it ran into trouble last year when the Government was forced to slash the feed-in tariff.

Responding to spiralling demand for the scheme, the former Labor government cut the tariff from 60 to 20 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh), to curb the take-up and future price hikes for customers not signed up to the program.

Mr Hartcher said all applications currently under consideration would continue to be processed.

The scheme was set up by the previous Labor government and was expected to run until 2016. "People in the scheme are not affected," Mr Hartcher said in Sydney.

Closing the scheme permanently to new applications and opportunities to limit cost blowouts to the existing scheme will be considered at the government's promised Solar Summit on May 6.


Expert warns carbon tax is 'crazy'

Professor Bob Carter, speaking in Mackay, would rather see the government spend money on ‘climate reality’

QUEENSLAND’S resources sector and every day families would suffer for nothing if the Federal Government introduced a carbon tax, a Mackay forum heard last night.

Climate scientist Professor Bob Carter and Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) executive director John Roskam told the forum that a carbon tax would disproportionately impact Australia’s north and have a very negligible effect on reducing emissions.

Meanwhile, Mackay businesses reliant on the resources sector expressed concern that a carbon tax would eventually lead to mining companies looking overseas for exploration, resulting in a large downturn in the economy and local job losses.

Yesterday, Professor Bob Carter told the Daily Mercury that a carbon tax would cost Australia trillions of dollars and it would be better if the Federal Government spent money on dealing with “climate reality” by building cyclone and bushfire centres.

Prof Carter, who has studied ancient climate change, said there was no doubt human activity impacted global temperatures.

However, he said this was insignificant in the context of natural climate change and policy makers needed to abandon the “illusionary goal of preventing global warming by reducing carbon emissions”.

“Climate change always occurs.

"It is certain that humans have an affect on climate locally,” he said. “No scientist on the planet doubts that humans have an effect on temperature locally. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse and there is more in the atmosphere the extra amount of warming is so tiny we can’t measure it – so what’s the problem?”

Mr Roskin told the 120-odd people at last night’s forum that a carbon tax would have no real environmental benefit, but would hurt northern Australia’s “great economic potential”.

He said there was the real threat that mining companies would take investment elsewhere, resulting in widespread job losses.

The Federal Government plans to introduce a carbon price from July 1, 2012.

Yesterday, Treasurer Wayne Swan said setting a carbon price was a necessary move to low pollution economy and defended union claims it could wipe out industrial jobs. “For anyone to say that this transition doesn’t have to happen or should be put in the too-hard basket or should be delayed - what they are really saying is they have given up on jobs,” Mr Swan said.

However, the government has conceded that a carbon tax would impact on living costs. A treasury analysis has showed households may pay $863 a year more for food, petrol, gas and power.

Prof Carter said the cost of a carbon tax was “absolutely enormous” and described it as “crazy”.

He said the Federal Government would be better off focusing a policy which dealt with the reality of climate change and invest in disaster centres and more disaster equipment, such as firefighting helicopters.


Carrot approach replaces big stick in Queensland prisons

Another triumph of theory over reality

JAIL staff banned from punishing unruly prisoners could now be ordered to reward them for toeing the line. Prisoners who are polite, undertake work and stay off drugs look set to be offered inducements such as extra jail visits, phone calls, better accommodation and more recreation.

A leaked memo obtained by The Courier-Mail revealed Queensland Corrective Services had developed the framework for a new reward scheme.

The change of philosophy in prisoner management comes after a 2009 Ombudsman's report criticised the agency's approach to prisoner discipline and a year after officers were stripped of disciplinary powers. Now in an attempt to appease frontline staff, QCS has proposed working groups starting this week develop policy recommendations on how to manage criminals through inducements.

QCS deputy commissioner Marlene Morison said it would be the first broad policy of rewarding prisoners to be implemented in the state's 15 jails.

Inmates who remained incident and drug free, were employed, completed required programs and training, maintained good relationships with other prisoners and who were "polite and co-operative" would be rewarded. "This ranges from access to the range of privileges (e.g. visits, phone calls) through to access of less restrictive environments (e.g. residential accommodation or low custody) to additional access to recreation ... " the memo said.

Ms Morison said well-behaved prisoners could also score better jobs while in jail. "It is as much about ensuring poor behaviour has a fair and real consequence as it is about giving reasons for prisoners to behave well," she said. Prison expert Dr Dot Goulding, of Curtin University, called the plan a "huge step forward".

"I'm delighted to hear that someone has some vision that the stick doesn't always work; sometimes the carrot and reward system is a far better way of looking at things," she said. "(The plan) is looking at positives rather than just the negative and to prepare these people to be job-ready and ready to be law-abiding citizens in the community."

However, Opposition corrective services spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said the plan reeked of desperation. "Prison officers have been forced to resort to (this plan) ... just to get unruly prisoners to behave," he said. "The establishment of this working group was an admission that Labor's soft prisoner discipline system was a complete failure and needed to be fixed."

Ms Morison said the plan's draft policy would be developed by the end of next month and available for consultation with staff and the Queensland Public Sector Union, which represents prison officers.


No money for lifesaving drugs but plenty of money for a useless fibre network

THE government's dilemma over funding new medicines has deepened with its expert panel recommending another six significant drug treatments for prescription subsidies.

The drugs join seven others that have been recommended for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, but which cabinet had deferred acting on for budgetary reasons.

The new drugs to join the waiting list include novel or revised treatments for colon cancer, multiple sclerosis, bipolar disorder and hypertension.

The government's decision to pit cost-saving against potential life-saving measures has drawn criticism from doctors and patient groups for undermining the evidence-based process for determining which drugs get subsidised.

The outcry has prompted the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, to attend a summit in Melbourne tomorrow to face consumer, pharmaceutical and medical groups.

For scheme listing, drugs require a positive finding from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee and, after pricing negotiations, a decision of cabinet. But critics say the deferral for budgetary reasons in the listing of recommended drugs has undermined the committee and threatens to turn the process into a more politicised contest subject to intense lobbying from drug companies.

Drugs on the scheme, that can cost up to thousands of dollars each treatment, are available to patients for between $5 and $34 a prescription.

Cancer Council Australia's chief executive, Ian Olver, said the government's approach to the listing of new drugs was a "very worrying" development for cancer treatment.

"Over the years the PBAC has served us well in the very difficult area of balancing patient benefits with the cost of new drugs," Professor Olver said.

The Consumers Health Forum chief executive, Carol Bennett, said the addition of the new recommended drugs would "further compound the issue" for the government in choosing which drugs to subsidise. "It attacks the principle of safeguarding a cost-effective system that is the envy of the world," Ms Bennett said.

Her organisation and affiliated patients groups had received hundreds of complaints from patients affected by the deferral of scheme listings.

Anger over the issue has drawn together organisations including Medicines Australia and the Generic Medicines Industry Association, the Australian Medical Association, a variety of patient groups and the Consumers Health Forum who will attend tomorrow's meeting.

In February Ms Roxon announced the cabinet had deferred recommendations of the advisory committee to list six medicines and a vaccine, including medicines to treat chronic disabling pain and lung disease.


Australia's rejection of "asylum seeker" claims stokes detention centre unrest

IMMIGRATION officials have begun delivering a fresh round of rejections to detainees on Christmas Island, sparking concerns of more unrest.

A detainee who received one of the rejections this week sewed his lips together. A fellow detainee was found pacing the detention centre with razors in his mouth.

The Australian has been told that the Immigration Department is in the process of handing down about 200 decisions to asylum-seekers on Christmas Island and, in keeping with recent rejection rates, many of them will be what are termed "negatives".

Yesterday, protests and disputes continued at Villawood and the island's family camp but federal police and guards succeeded in ending a three-day rooftop protest at the Christmas Island detention centre by locking more than 1000 fellow detainees in their compounds on Wednesday night.

The men on the roof were told that the centre would remain "in lockdown" until they came down. The standoff lasted about four hours before the six men used a ladder left by guards to climb down, The Australian has been told.

"They got told that the others locked in their rooms would be really angry with them if they kept up their protest because as long as they stayed up there no one would be allowed out in the fresh air," one centre worker said.

Centre manager Serco took the step after West Australian Premier Colin Barnett urged the federal and NSW governments to send in police to get detainees off rooftops at Villawood and Christmas Island.

Yesterday two Iraqi men in the Perth immigration detention centre were receiving medical checks after guards intervened to stop them acting on threats to kill themselves.

It emerged yesterday that by February this year, the incidence of self-harm inside Australia's immigration detention centres was already more than four times higher than last financial year.

The number of self-harm attempts in immigration detention was the highest since 2003-04 and surpassed the 2002-03 total of 182, one of the worst years for self-harm attempts.

Responding to questions on notice from Senate estimate hearings in February, Immigration head Andrew Metcalfe revealed that, as of the end of February, there were 186 incidents of self-harm across the network this financial year.

Since then there have been numerous suicide attempts and protests that have resulted in serious incidents of self harm.

The figures came as Mr Metcalfe also revealed there were 46 full-time mental health staff at mainland detention centres, with three facilities in Perth and Brisbane having no available staff on-site.


Thursday, April 28, 2011

Anglican Church urges Government to cut baby bonus in attack on Australia's birth rate

C of E used to stand for Church of England. My late father was not a churchgoer but I remember him putting himself down -- with some satisfaction -- on forms as "C of E". These days it seems to stand for the Church of the Environment. If I were religious, I would describe it as the Devil's mockery of Christianity.

What the Bible says: "Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them" (Psalm 127)

THE baby bonus should be scrapped to rein in rampant population growth, the Anglican Church said yesterday. The church's key advisory group wants the Gillard Government to get rid of incentives that increase the birth rate and also called for a cut to immigration.

In a submission to a federal population inquiry, the General Synod's public affairs commission described population growth as a taboo subject and the "elephant in the room". The commission wanted a halt to "any policy that provides an incentive to increase population, notably the baby bonus".

A church spokesman said yesterday that a recent resolution by the general synod had asked the Government to carefully consider any such incentive, "while continuing to support low-income families and sustainable immigration". It has called for increases to paid parental leave.

The resolution also called on the Government to "avoid any reliance on continuing population growth to maintain economic growth".

The $5294 baby bonus is paid to families who earn $75,000 or less for the six months after the child's birth. Last year, there were 278,000 payments nationally.

Australian Family Association spokeswoman Terri Kelleher said it would be unjust. "Our fertility rate is under replacement level, I don't think families should be discouraged," she said.

The church said the migrant intake should be cut while being more generous to refugees and family reunion applicants: "The question must be asked whether our population growth is fair to future generations of Australians. "The growing congestion of cities, destined to become worse, means time lost in commuting, more polluted suburbs, denser housing."

The spokesman said, while the church wanted the Government to carefully consider population incentives, it was not questioning the baby bonus in particular. "The public affairs commission is an advisory body which does not carry the authority of the Anglican Church," he said.

But commission chairman and former Labor MP Professor John Langmore said a resolution based on the submission was passed by the general synod. "That clearly implies scepticism about the baby bonus," he said.


Tony Abbott backs use of force on rioting asylum seekers

As vigils by several asylum seekers continue at Villawood and on Christmas Island, Mr Abbott called for the Government to act. But Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said it would not be appropriate for him to order authorities to kick protesters off a roof because it could endanger lives.

Mr Abbott told 2GB radio that it was not good enough for the Government to try to ignore protests in detention centres. "You can't have a situation ... where people are acting in consistent defiance of legitimate authority and these protests have to be ended," Mr Abbott said. "It just has to be sorted out and I think that the problem is that the Government is just not strong enough to do it."

Mr Bowen said a call for him to order police to take down asylum seekers was unrealistic. "I'm not going to say to people like the Australian Federal Police and Serco, I want you to get up on the roof, have an altercation with them and get them down," Mr Bowen told radio station MTR. "That's an operational decision, as to when the right time to do that sort of thing is."

Mr Bowen said it wasn't his job to meddle in operational matters. "I don't take the view that my job, sitting in my office, is to say, 'You get up on the roof and you have an altercation with them, you fight with them; if somebody falls off the roof as a result of that, it's not my fault'."

Last night three protesters remained on the roof of Villawood's detention centre, and five people were on a roof of the Christmas Island centre.


Dodgy figures, wrong questions plague carbon debate

Gary Johns

AUSTRALIA has had two chances to make a dignified exit from the foolhardy proposition of carbon abatement.

The first was Tony Abbott's proposal to then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull to pass then prime minister Kevin Rudd's emissions trading scheme, with the proviso that it not be invoked until there was an international scheme in place. An international scheme is a chimera. Second was Prime Minister Julia Gillard's promise to wait until Australians had achieved a consensus on pricing carbon: in other words, to talk it out until after yet another election. For the foreseeable future, these two options have been closed.

Having cost the political lives of one prime minister (Kevin Rudd) and two opposition leaders (Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull), Australia is now in the end game for pricing carbon. Pricing seemed like a good idea 10 years ago: it is now looking very sick.

Ask an economist the most cost-effective way to abate carbon and they will tell you market pricing. Right answer, wrong question. Ask an economist the most cost-effective way to prepare for the risk of climate change and you will get answers about priorities and adaptation. You hear about research and development, and spending money on things to make people (especially in developing countries) more able to cope with change: health infrastructure, skills, cheap energy.

Instead, the Gillard government walks headlong to its political death with its Climate Change Minister Greg Combet spruiking nonsense. For example, Combet is softening up the electorate for Labor's carbon tax by arguing China puts a higher price on carbon than Australia.

Combet, on ABC's Lateline this year, cited the Chinese and Australian implicit price for carbon from the 2010 Vivid Economics report for The Climate Institute: $8 per tonne for China and $2 per tonne for Australia. The idea is to tell Australians they are not pulling their weight. The Chinese must think Gillard a fool. Vivid Economics has been colourful with its analysis. They wildly overstate China's and wildly understate Australia's implicit carbon price. For a start, Chinese energy policies have not been developed with the aim of promoting greenhouse gas emission reductions.

The primary effort is to harness energy to create jobs and deliver improved living standards. The majority of renewable energy being built in China is large-scale hydro. Chinese power companies are interested in harnessing energy. Greenhouse gas abatement rarely rates a mention. Moreover, the Chinese subsidise coal fuel. As most new generation in China is coal, this implies that at the margin, China has a negative carbon price. Combet, the Climate Institute, and the Climate Change Department are knowingly feeding the electorate complete bunkum.

Australia's average carbon price is assessed by Vivid across a variety of programs, including feed-in tariffs, Renewable Energy Target (the old scheme), the Qld Gas scheme and the NSW GGAS scheme.

There is no assessment of the state government policies opposing coal-fired power stations that make gas the fuel of choice for non-renewable generators. At the margin this imposes a significant carbon price particularly in NSW and Queensland. Even in Victoria it implies a marginal cost of carbon in excess of $10 per tonne. Vivid ignores these policies. The current marginal cost of carbon in the generation sector would be well above $10 per tonne and for some parts of the sector (in particular RET) more than $40 per tonne.

Typically socialist, the development of small plant generation until very recently was largely promoted by Chinese government policies to dispatch all plants equally, that is, regardless of efficiency. Australia's efforts, which Vivid and Combet criticise, have always promoted efficient merit-order based dispatch. Australia has chased the best technology such that no small coal plant was installed here in the last two decades (with the possible exception of Western Australia).

That China is just now scheduling plants in merit order (from lowest cost to highest cost), which means that more competitive plants are built over conventional plants is simply the way it happens anyway in market-based economies in order to minimise the cost of production and maximise welfare. In essence, 94 per cent of the implied carbon price estimated for China is based on removing a mandate to dispatch plants inefficiently and then promote action to shutdown plants that would probably not have been built in the first place on efficiency grounds.

The Productivity Commission has been asked to report on the price of carbon production in other countries. Already, chairman Gary Banks has warned about the difficulties of comparison, and that proper comparison will not deliver the government the picture it wants.

The electorate is becoming less enamoured with the climate change cause. Once they sniff brumby figures, Gillard will be the fourth political life lost to carbon abatement.


Gillard channels her inner Howard

Prime Minister Julia Gillard and partner Tim Mathieson visit the Forbidden City in Beijing yesterday. Picture: AFP Source: AFP
JULIA Gillard should count her northeast Asia tour a modest success. There were no big breakthroughs but neither were there significant stumbles.

This is doubtless a relief for her advisers after the Prime Minister's ill-judged revelation that she lacks a passion for foreign policy. Indeed, Gillard's trip to Asia marks a return to many of the key tenets of former prime minister John Howard's foreign policy.

Despite Paul Keating's gibe that Asian leaders would never deal with him, Howard left office with an enviable record as a statesman. He achieved his aim of revitalising the US alliance while strengthening our most important regional relationships, particularly those with Japan, India, China and Indonesia.

This grid of bilateral partnerships formed a solid platform for regional multilateral successes, such as securing Australia's inclusion in the East Asia Summit and the formation of the Bali Process to counter people-smuggling.

This week, Gillard turned to the Howard foreign policy playbook. Her itinerary was constructed to avoid her predecessor Kevin Rudd's error of bypassing our oldest and most important regional partner, Japan, in his enthusiasm to visit China.

The timing of her visit to Japan was serendipitous, coming just as the country starts to return to a semblance of normality and making Gillard the first foreign leader to make a substantive visit following the earthquake and tsunami disaster.

In my two days of talks with Japanese officials and scholars, many were genuinely touched by the Prime Minister's gesture of support in visiting the scene of the disaster, an event that received extensive coverage in the Japanese media.

The Japanese government was initially reluctant to accept outside help, but there is real appreciation in Japan of Australia's rapid assistance, which included a seasoned disaster relief team and three military transport aircraft. Operating out of US air bases, these have played an important role in ferrying much-needed equipment and supplies to the disaster areas, a tangible dividend from three-way strategic links initiated in 2002 and a bilateral defence relationship that started to accelerate after Australian and Japanese military forces operated together in southern Iraq.

Even before the earthquake, Japan was an anxious nation, unable to throw off more than a decade of economic stagnation and political sclerosis and increasingly spooked by China's growing economic and military muscle. Japan has an even bigger mountain to climb following the disaster. But Gillard's visit provided important reassurance to a friend at a time when it was much needed.

In opposition Labor dismissed the bilateral free trade agenda of the Coalition government, yet the most substantial policy outcome from Gillard's stop in South Korea was her agreement with President Lee Myung-bak to wrap up a bilateral agreement by the end of this year. It was unfortunate that foot-dragging on the part of the South Koreans meant that it was not possible to finalise the negotiations before the visit.

But Gillard's pragmatic focus on bilateral trade and security co-operation and her strongly expressed solidarity with South Korea in the face of the North's belligerence were clearly appreciated in Seoul.

It was in Beijing, though - which loomed, after a spate of recent bilateral difficulties, as the toughest leg of Gillard's tour - that the return to a more modest and realistic foreign policy approach was most evident.

The Howard government got off to a bumpy start with Beijing after firmly backing Washington in a military stand-off over Taiwan and cancelling a development assistance program, and after Howard met the Dalai Lama.

It was only when the then prime minister met then Chinese president Jiang Zemin in Manila in the margins of the 1996 APEC leaders meeting (described in Howard's recent memoir as one of the most consequential meetings of his prime ministership) and laid out a clear and durable conceptual framework for the bilateral relationship that strains between the two nations started to ease.

In essence, Howard told Jiang that Australia wanted a constructive relationship, with a particular focus on the enormous potential of the economic relationship. But he made clear Australia had different values and institutions and would not compromise on those or on vital strategic interests, such as the US alliance.

Howard's tacit understanding with the Chinese leadership provided the political foundation for the explosion of trade that has seen China overtake Japan as Australia's largest trading partner, accounting for one-quarter of all Australian exports.

Gillard's China visit this week seems deliberately modelled on the visit made by Howard in 1997. The Prime Minister came to Beijing bolstered by having already visited the US, Japan and South Korea, Australia's most important strategic partners.

She reportedly told Premier Wen Jiabao that Australia would retain its strong links to the US as well as pursue a constructive relationship with China. The business leaders were there again, as they had been in the 1997 tour, to highlight burgeoning commercial links between the nations.

And when Gillard rightly raised Australia's legitimate concerns about human rights with Chinese leaders she reportedly did so frankly and directly but privately and in a measured way.

An unnamed Australian official, who briefed journalists on the talks, stated explicitly that she did so more in the mould of Howard than Rudd.

Gillard's visit could scarcely have marked a more sweeping renunciation of Rudd's China policy. Gone, apparently, is the romantic conceit that Australia can form a special relationship with the Middle Kingdom. Gone are the mixed messages and the disappointed expectations on both sides. Gone, too, is the notion that political, cultural and strategic differences can be brushed over and that a sustainable relationship with China can be based on anything other than a sober, hard-headed assessment of Australia's long-term strategic and economic interests.

Yet the Prime Minister cannot afford to rest on her newly acquired foreign policy laurels. She can build on her success by remaining clear-eyed in her dealings with China: there will be further tests, whether on foreign investment, human rights or China's military muscle-flexing.

Her dealings with China will be reinforced, rather than impeded, if she continues to develop the US alliance and further strengthens defence and security links with Japan and South Korea.

She should press ahead to conclude free trade agreements with both countries as soon as possible. She also has to find a way through the uranium impasse with India, which is holding back Australia's engagement with Asia's other rising power and the world's largest democracy.

She also needs to make sure her Foreign Minister is fully behind her agenda rather than pursuing his own, which may be her hardest foreign policy test of all.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Africans don't change their spots

Whether in Africa, America, Jamaica, Haiti or in Britain, Africans are characterized by stratospheric rates of violent crime. In recent years, Australia has taken in refugees from Somalia and Sudan -- to a total of about 40,000 people. Very surprisingly, a police chief (Nixon) from the State of Victoria proclaimed a little while ago that the crime rate among Africans in her jurisdiction was unexceptional. Subsequent information suggests that she was lying.

When the police lie, however, how are we to know what is the case? We cannot. But the following list of incidents compiled by Andrew Bolt suggests that Africans in Australia are no different from Africans elsewhere. Remember that these incidents come from a very small community of only 40,000 people and that police rarely mention race where Africans are involved. Usually, it is only when the crime cases come to court that we get information that identifies the criminal as African

From Melbourne yesterday: "Two policemen were pelted with bottles when they went to break up the latest brawl at Braybrook ... Police were investigating whether the incident was related to a brawl the night before at a 'kickback party' for the Miss South Sudan Australia beauty pageant."

Darwin last weekend: "Two teenage boys were wounded with a machete while a third was beaten unconscious ... The attackers were described as being of African appearance."

Toongabbie, April 18: "An elderly motorist escaped unharmed after his moving vehicle was pelted with rocks ... The driver reported seeing three males aged 13 to 14 of African appearance."

Adelaide, April 15: "A Marden woman has been indecently assaulted ... Police described the suspect as of African appearance."

Adelaide, April 15: "Detectives ... are investigating a sexual assault that is alleged to have occurred in a toilet of a city nightclub ... by a male ... of African appearance."

Shepparton, April 15: "Three armed men terrorised two staff members in a brazen attack at a fast food restaurant ... Police are looking for three men ... of African appearance."

Melbourne, April 13: "A man was stabbed in the head during an altercation with two other men ... believed to be of African appearance."

Dandenong, April 11: "Two men ... were approached by four males, one of whom struck the 25 year old man across the head with a baseball bat ... The man armed with the baseball bat is of African appearance."

Melbourne, April 10: "Police said a group of 15 men ... was walking home from a party ... (A) second group ... set upon the party-goers leaving two men with serious stab wounds ... The aggressors were of African appearance."

Melbourne, April 6: "A 24-year-old man was ... stabbed him in the shoulder with a knife ... His attacker is ... of African appearance."

Canberra, April 2: "A 19-year-old man (was) stabbed in the abdomen ... The offender (took) the victim's mobile phone. The offender is described as being African in appearance."


Another brawl involving Sudanese community erupts in Melbourne

A THIRD brawl in as many nights involving the Sudanese community has left at least two people injured. The pair was reportedly hit with a bottle during the clash in the car park of Daisey's Hotel, Ringwood, about 10.30pm last night.

A spokesman for ALH group, which owns and operates Daisey's Hotel, David Curry said the men had not been at the venue before the stoush. He said the hotel would assist police with their investigation in anyway it could.

Police were called after reports of a large group of Sudanese men fighting. It's believed up to 30 men could have been involved in the brawl, which saw two people suffer head and leg injuries.

Paramedics were also called to the scene and treated two people. It's believed one man, 19, was bashed twice. He initially refused treatment from paramedics after the initial brawl. It's believed he was assaulted a second time in a nearby park and became unconscious. Paramedics arrived to find him conscious. The man, who suffered bruising to his face and a leg injury, was taken to Maroondah Hospital in a stable condition. A second man, 20, was also taken to hospital with a cut to the head.

Some of the men involved in the brawl were from interstate. It's believed they had been in Victoria for the Miss South Sudan Australia beauty pageant last weekend.

The latest incident comes after a man was stabbed and others injured at a "kickback party" for the beauty pageant in the early hours of Monday morning.

Then yesterday a policeman was hit in the face with a stubby and another punched when an unruly mob descended on them in Melbourne's west.


Carbon tax 'will clean out workers' wallets'

LABOR'S carbon tax will not clean up the environment but it will clean out workers' wallets, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says.

Speaking from Whyalla in South Australia, Mr Abbott said 4000 local jobs dependent on the steel industry would be at risk under a carbon price. "It's very important that workers right around Australian understand that this carbon tax won't clean up the environment but it will clean out their wallets and it will wipe out jobs big time," the Liberal leader told the ABC.

Today is the first anniversary of former prime minister Kevin Rudd's decision to shelve his carbon pollution reduction scheme.

Mr Abbott said that course of action was backed by current Prime Minister Julia Gillard who was now saying a carbon tax was needed to save the world. "Kevin Rudd couldn't trust her then and the public can't trust her now," he said. "Australia should not try to save the world on its own."

But Mr Abbott went on to claim "all of us want to do the right thing by the environment". "The coalition has a strong and effective policy to reduce emissions by planting more trees, getting better soil and using smarter technology."


Government hospitals leaving patients malnourished

Australia is catching up with Britain

DOCTORS have called for a hospital food review, because patients are being discharged malnourished. Australian Medical Association state president Andrew Lavender said the below-par quality of hospital food, set serving times for three meals a day, and a one-size-fits-all approach could lead to patients checking out malnourished.

"A lot of patients do become malnourished in hospitals," he said. "They are trying to improve nutrition, but when you're cooking for 700 or 800 people the quality is often not up to scratch."

"Generally, the elderly and those who are sick don't have an appetite and there isn't much of a follow-up in terms of what someone doesn't eat. People having major operations are in a state where their body requires extra nutrients to recover and they often they don't get that. People do depart hospital down in weight."

Dr Lavender said a review of nutrition within hospitals was needed to produce an "individual focus rather than a mass-meal type approach".

In New South Wales, Health Minister Jillian Skinner has ordered the Nutrition And Food Committee to develop new standards for hospital food to make it tastier, its packaging easier to open for frail patients and more meal time flexibility. It follows reports that seriously ill children at the state's hospitals were being served party pies, sausage rolls and chicken nuggets.

A 2009 inquiry found that 50 per cent of NSW hospital patients were malnourished and starving. Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation SA secretary Elizabeth Dabars said that she supported any improvements to nutrition in hospitals.

Ms Dabars said the federation was particularly focused on making sure elderly people could easily open the food they were served. "We'd be very supportive of ensuring the food is nutritious, is available and can be easily opened," she said. "If the packaging does become difficult to open, there is every possibility the meal may be taken way without them being able to consume it."

SA Health chief executive David Swan said the quality of meals in public hospitals was evaluated regularly with feedback sought from patients and dietitians involved in the planning of menus. "We are developing new models of care for hospitals that will take into consideration the provision of food for patients," he said.

At Royal Adelaide Hospital, meals for a standard diet can include mixed sandwiches, cold meat and salad, lasagne, roast chicken, fish and potatoes and goulash. Deserts include apple crumble and chocolate mousse, with special menus prepared for patients suffering from a range of conditions such as diabetes and low cholesterol.

Nutrition Professionals Australia dietician Tania Ferraretto said a "decent amount" of time in any facility could lead to malnutrition. "What we tend to see with malnutrition is weight loss, nutritional deficiencies like a lack of vitamins and wounds not healing quickly. And contrary to what people think, you can have a malnourished obese person," she said.

Ms Ferraretto agreed tailoring hospital food to individuals was a key to preventing malnutrition.

Opposition health spokesman Duncan McFetridge said he regularly had complaints from people being served food they couldn't eat because of a specific condition, prompting him to write to Health Minister John Hill. "It's a perennial problem and hospital food should be independently monitored," he said.

Children, Youth and Women's Health Service director Trish Strachan said the Women's and Children's Hospital "provides high quality food to all its patients".


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Australian Government toughens rules on asylum-seeker character test

ASYLUM-seekers who commit offences while in detention will be barred from gaining permanent protection in Australia but will still be allowed to live in the country under temporary visas.

Amid growing violence and unrest in detention centres across the country, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has announced a toughening of the character test to encourage better behaviour among asylum-seekers.

Under the proposed legislation, asylum-seekers convicted of an offence in detention will be prevented from permanently settling in Australia and bringing family members to join them.

Penalties for those possessing or making weapons would also be increased to five years in prison.

The changes would be backdated to today, meaning those involved in recent uprisings at detention centres, but who are yet to be charged, would face the new character test.

“These changes send a clear message to anyone considering engaging in unacceptable behaviour in immigration detention that this will only increase their chances of not being granted a visa,” Mr Bowen said. “This will apply to all people in immigration detention: onshore and offshore arrivals, asylum-seekers, or otherwise.”

However, Mr Bowen admitted those found guilty of offences could not simply be deported. He said a temporary protection visa, akin to those used under the Howard government, would still be available to those found guilty of offences.

“The one thing I'm indicating is that of course we will not (remove) people to where they will be in danger, but there are a range of options available to me including temporary visas, which are less attractive,” he told ABC radio.

The government will rely on support from the opposition to have the legislation passed.

The Gillard government has been struggling to maintain control of immigration centres amid ballooning detainee numbers and a massive processing backlog.

Protests at Villawood detention centre last week left buildings destroyed by fire, while rioting Christmas Island detainees razed facilities last month.

The announcement came as three detainee protesters maintained their vigil on the rooftop of Sydney's Villawood detention centre into a sixth straight day, and after reports a man on Christmas Island had stitched his lips together.

A hunger strike at Western Australia's Curtin detention centre has also continued into a third day while protest groups have rallied against mandatory detention and the treatment of detainees outside Maribyrnong Immigration Detention Centre in Victoria and at Villawood in Sydney.


Make poor teaching a sackable offence

A POPULAR myth about teaching is that if you increase salaries, you will get better teachers. This is an idea that gains traction with the teachers unions. It also resonates with those frustrated with poor school outcomes.

The pay and performance equation is disarmingly obvious. If you don't pay teachers enough, you can't attract the best. This view informs the position of Greg Craven, vice-chancellor of the Australian Catholic University, who wrote on this page on April 13: "If you want brain surgeons and international lawyers to consider teaching as an option, then you are going to have to supplement altruism with cash."

And Ben Jensen, director of the school education program at the Grattan Institute, wrote on this page on April 18 that a "system of meaningful appraisal and feedback for teachers will increase their effectiveness by 20 to 30 per cent".

Jensen goes further and says of the institute's recent report on appraisal: "Our proposal concentrates on improving teaching, not sacking teachers." But how can teaching be improved by not getting rid of inferior teachers? Why is teaching sacrosanct?

There is no other profession, job or vocation that closes ranks on incompetence in the same way. When was the last time you heard a teaching union call for the sacking of incompetent teachers? Never. "It's OK to be a dud, we won't tell on you" is union-speak for membership.

This is why Australian Education Union president Angelo Gavrielatos says the union supports the idea of appraisal and is reported as saying on the release of the Grattan Institute report that it reinforces the union's view that the best professional development for teachers occurs when they are given time to work together.

But appraisal is a delaying tactic on palpably bad teachers. It can take years with minimal or no improvement. In the meantime, students are damaged. In a normal full-time teaching load of, say, five classes of 25 students each, this means 125 students. Multiply that by a three-year cycle of appraisal. That is 375 students who have not been well taught.

A survey by Britain's National Foundation for Educational Research shows only 21 per cent teachers think schools have enough freedom to sack incompetent colleagues. The Times Education Supplement reported on April 8 that a study of 2100 teachers found 73 per cent of school heads and 52 per cent of classroom teachers agreed there was not enough freedom for schools to dismiss poorly performing teachers. In response, Britain's National Union of Teachers general secretary Christine Blower said: "It is regrettable that colleagues agree it is not easy enough to dismiss teachers." There was no mention of appraisal being used to fix the problem.

Why the AEU does not ask its members similar questions is obvious. Many would support sacking teachers. Colleagues are aware of teachers who are failures. They all know who should go and why.

If appraisal and dollars held the key to better teachers, why hasn't performance-related pay been an unambiguous winner? In a report titled "The bonus myth" in New Scientist magazine this month, Alfie Kohn, a teacher turned writer, says: "Economists and workplace consultants regard it as almost unquestioned dogma that people are motivated by rewards, so they don't feel the need to test this." The magazine notes that, in many circumstances, paying for results can make people perform badly, and that the more you pay, the worse they perform.

It is obvious what will improve teacher performance. Australian schools, particularly state schools, must be given the autonomy to hire and fire. The growth in independent school enrolments is in part related to the view held by parents that state school education in some areas is in serious decline and teacher quality is a lottery. They pay independent school fees for not having to gamble on incompetence. The problem is also who gets into teaching. This is unpleasant to say but many teachers are simply not high-flyers, something that the federal government partly understands.

As of 2013 there will be tougher university entrance requirements for teaching. The pool of potential teachers will come from the top 30 per cent of Year 12 students, as well as others who meet the expectation of a high level of proficiency in literacy and numeracy.

Federal School Education Minister Peter Garrett said on the announcement of the new teaching entry expectations earlier this month: "We want the very best people coming into the teaching profession. The Australian community wants to see high-quality teaching in schools."

The problem with poor outcomes in schools is not a matter of funding, class sizes, difficult children or any other excuse. The problem is teachers.

Those who are incompetent, who are inadequately trained or are allowed to consolidate poor performance under union sanction, secure that they will be appraised continuously rather than sacked, are the malady of Australian education.

The only way to tell a teacher they are hopeless is to remove them, as in the case of every other job I know.


Australian Christian Lobby chief Jim Wallace's Anzac Day slur sparks outrage

I have known quite a few "old diggers" (elderly Australian Army veterans) in my day and I am pretty sure what most of them would say if asked whether they fought so that homosexuality would be promoted as normal. The reply would be cutting, very cutting

THE head of the Australian Christian Lobby says outrage over a claim that Australian soldiers didn't fight for gay marriage is down to "misinterpretation".

Earlier today ACL managing director Jim Wallace said on Twitter: "Just hope that as we remember Servicemen and women today we remember the Australia they fought for — wasn't gay marriage and Islamic!" The comment sparked widespread condemnation from other Twitter users, who said Mr Wallace should be "ashamed".

This afternoon Mr Wallace apologised "unreservedly" for having made the comment on Anzac Day and said the comment had been misinterpreted. "There is no way I was trying to infer that our veterans didn't fight for all Australians. Of course they did," Mr Wallace told "I spent 32 years in the army myself, I'm imbued with that. "I'm the last person to (want to) demean Anzac Day or our veterans."

However Mr Wallace stood by his belief that the "nature" of the country that veterans had fought for was changing. "I was simply there with my father, a 96-year-old veteran of Tobruk and Milne Bay," Mr Wallace said. "And he was lamenting, as he had in the past, that he found it difficult to identify the Australia that he fought for. "I think that the nature of our society that our soldiers fought for was based on Judeo-Christian heritage."

Mr Wallace said he cited gay marriage and Islam as they were "two things that, in the future, are certainly going to define the nature of our society".

The ACL boss admitted his comment was ill-timed, but said he had not expected it to spark such widespread outrage. "It's the first time I've experienced that," he said of the potential for controversial comments to be shared quickly via Twitter. "I apologise for the fact that it was ill-timed. I had no intention and no thought that it would go into this."

Mr Wallace this afternoon deleted the original comment from his Twitter page.


Bossy Indian doctor raised hackles in Australia

An unfortunate case of culture clash. Bossiness is the opposite of what works in egalitarian Australia. Not all Indians are bossy but Dr. Virdi is a Sikh and they have a warrior tradition

A TOWNSVILLE surgeon wrongly dismissed by Queensland Health for bullying and harassment has been awarded six months' full pay. Dr Inderjit Virdi, a cardio-thoracic specialist, was stood down on full pay in 2007 after an investigation was launched into 19 claims of bullying and harassment by the doctor.

A hearing before Queensland Industrial Relations Commission president Adrian Bloomfield found it "impracticable" to reinstate Dr Virdi, but instead pay him the maximum compensation of six months' wages, believed to be worth about $150,000. "Given that Dr Virdi's continuing loss for his (conceded) unjust dismissal is significant . . . I should award the maximum compensation allowable," President Bloomfield said.

Dr Virdi, an Australian citizen, was a full-time surgeon at Townsville Hospital when allegations were made against him and in 2009 he was granted leave without pay and moved back to India to work.

In President Bloomfield's decision handed down last month, he described Dr Virdi as a "person of strong will and strongly held views". "Dr Virdi firmly believes that it is his right as "captain of the ship" to talk to and direct, subordinate staff in the manner he thinks appropriate," he said. "His previous behaviour towards his subordinate and other professional colleagues would not change if he was reinstated."

Dr Virdi participated in anger management training and effective communication treatment following complaints about his behaviour.

During the hearing the hospital's medical services executive director Andrew Johnson said he was concerned about patient safety if Dr Virdi was able to be reinstated. Dr Virdi vigorously defended these claims and said his hospital had the best clinical results of any cardio-thoracic surgery in Australia.

Dr Virdi's Australian representative and Salaried Doctors Queensland past president Don Kane said the Indian-born surgeon had suffered after a long-running saga with Queensland Health. "He's been badly affected by what has been done to him," he said. "His family have had a horrendous time with this over the last five or six years and he's paid a huge penalty through no fault of his own."

Dr Virdi is the chief of cardio-thoracic surgery at New Delhi's Max Delhi Devi Heart and Vascular Hospital, one of India's largest private hospitals.


Monday, April 25, 2011


For many Australians this is the holiest day of the year. In recognition, I am going to put up just one long story today, a story well worth reading, however. It is about an heroic Australian and his experiences in Afghanistan. Unlike the Arabs, Afghans are real fighters so hard-fought actions are the rule there

For a video report of the actual Anzac day ceremonies in Sydney, see here for a commentary in a very broad Australian accent (You can click "Close" to stop the introductory commercial)

Even heroes have their heroes. For Victoria Cross holder Ben Roberts-Smith, the benchmark for valour was set by his mate Sergeant Locke.

The Special Air Service Regiment corporal says Locke's courage probably saved his life and stopped a heavily outnumbered Australian patrol being overrun on a mountain top in Afghanistan late one afternoon in 2006.

"He was a very, very brave person, Matt, in every sense of the word," Roberts-Smith says. "He was one of these guys who would stand up in the middle of a firefight in front of a wave of fire and just hook in."

Roberts-Smith's extraordinary tales from Afghanistan, revealed to The Weekend Australian, have opened a rare window into the exploits of our special forces.

They also provide a vivid portrayal of violence and heroism in the war zone for this year's commemorations of Anzac Day, which normally evokes battles fought long ago and immortalised in sepia images and jerky film.

When Roberts-Smith was awarded the Victoria Cross of Australia for his extraordinary charge into a Taliban machine-gun position in June last year, it brought an unexpected burden: the weight of suddenly being a very public hero while his unit fights on with unsung gallantry.

"They're out there every day doing their job and not seeking any recognition for it," Roberts-Smith says. "I'm just one of these guys and I'm so not special."

These guys included Locke, an instructor when Roberts-Smith joined the unit. They hit it off and ended up in the same patrol. "He was a nice guy and a natural soldier," Roberts-Smith says. "I looked up to him a lot as an operator and thought, that's the gold standard, you want to behave like this guy, he knows his job inside out.

"The way I saw him fight in Afghanistan on a number of occasions was inspirational. "He wouldn't look for a fire position. He'd just take it and you'd be thinking, just get down, mate, you're going to get hit. He never cared, always cool and calm."

Locke had served in Afghanistan before. "For me, on my first trip to Afghanistan, having a guy like that in my patrol, that's the kind of thing you want to emulate."

In 2006, the Chora Valley, in Oruzgan province, was a Taliban stronghold considered impenetrable to coalition forces. There were none of the forward operating bases, the small stone forts that now provide a defensive network through the valley, and patrols that tried to move through the pass came under heavy fire.

As Australian and Dutch forces based in Tarin Kowt set about driving the insurgents out, a small SAS patrol infiltrated on foot to the top of a mountain overlooking the valley to work out where the insurgents were set up.

Five SAS soldiers and an American "joint terminal air controller" walked and climbed for 10 hours at night with their night-vision glasses providing eerie light on the landscape. As scout, Roberts-Smith picked out the route. The men had to stay constantly alert, aware they could walk into an enemy force.

The team chose a position just below the top of a mountain and with daylight saw, far below, insurgents openly carrying weapons. The Australians pinpointed Taliban commanders by the amount of security they had with them and the way they conducted themselves.

The plan was for a strong force of SAS and Dutch troops to drive into the valley in vehicles, but as that force moved into the lush green belt along the valley floor, it came under heavy machinegun and rocket fire and the JTAC called in air support.

The insurgents were blasted by A-10 Warthogs, aircraft designed to destroy ground targets. "Being savvy, as they are, they realised that there must have been someone controlling the attacks because even when the vehicles left, we kept calling in fire missions anti them," Roberts-Smith says.

Once the big force in the valley pulled out, the men on the mountaintop were on their own and on the third day an armed insurgent walked to within 30m of their position. Not knowing whether the man had spotted them but unable to take the risk, Locke and Roberts-Smith went after him. They killed the insurgent but one of their bullets set off a smoke flare on his webbing. Across the valley came bursts of heavy machinegun fire used by the insurgents to signal to each other across the valleys - "You OK? I'm OK."

Then three insurgents walked up the other side of the mountain right to the patrol's position and the Australians could hear more voices further back. "Matt and I engaged and dropped the first bloke," Roberts-Smith says. "That started the firefight."

Some of the insurgents got above the Australians to fire down on them. "Rounds were bouncing off the rocks around us," he says. "At that point, I saw Matt Locke sling his weapon."

The insurgents were atop a sheer, vertical rock face 8m or 9m high. "Matt climbed it completely exposed with no way to fire back if he needed to," Roberts-Smith says. "He got to the top and over the lip and engaged them and held that flank by himself." Locke was awarded the Medal of Gallantry for that action. "I remember yelling out to him, 'Are you good?' and he called back, 'Yeah'," Roberts-Smith says.

By then, another group of insurgents had arrived. The patrol commander, a member of the British Special Boat Service seconded to the Australian SAS, decided to stand and fight rather than breaking contact and facing a long-running battle. "That was the right call," says Roberts-Smith, who was also awarded a Medal of Gallantry for this battle. "If we'd tried to break contact and moved downhill, we probably would have got slaughtered in the valley."

As more insurgents moved in, the American called for air support and was told all aircraft were involved in other operations.

The Taliban clearly aimed to surround or overrun the patrol. Armed with a sniper rifle with telescopic sight, Roberts-Smith moved out about 50m from the position to protect a flank. Under fire from two groups coming from different directions, he crouched behind a rock and remembers seeing splinters flying as bullets hammered it.

"The guys on my right were shooting at me and we were having a bit of a three-way gunfight," he says. "Then Matt got on to them and gave them stick from above. That took the emphasis off me. It broke up their formation.

"I felt that Matt had probably saved my life during that contact because he put himself up in that position and he was able to suppress the enemy that was engaging me from the flank that I couldn't see. He took a lot of the heat off me. "If he hadn't done that, they would have taken all day to work out a pretty effective shot."

Roberts-Smith fired single shots at the insurgents moving up the hill to break up their attack but he was concerned he would run out of ammunition. "One well-aimed shot is just as effective as a burst of machinegun fire - especially if it hits them," he says. "If you're running forward and you see a round hit the ground right in front of you, you look for cover and that stops your advance."

The fighting was intense. At one point, a bullet smashed the night sight on Roberts-Smith's rifle and a soldier who'd joined him out on the flank realised later that a thick code book in his breast pocket had saved him from large bullet fragment.

Finally, the American signalled to headquarters that the unit could be overrun and the Warthogs swept back over. While the other SAS men fought off the approaching Taliban, the American was lying on his back with a handset to each ear and bullets bouncing around him as he co-ordinated the attacks by pilots who could not see the patrol. The JTAC told the pilots to make runs using their 30mm chain guns not much more than 50m away from either side of the Australian position. That was when the fight turned and the enemy began to withdraw. It was just on sunset and the light was fading.

"It was one of those days where we were probably extremely lucky," Roberts-Smith says.

As the gunfire ended, the American air commander could not raise the the patrol by radio. "When they did make contact," Roberts-Smith says, "you know Americans, 'Goddam, it's good to hear your voice. I thought I'd killed you. We couldn't see you on the hill.' "

The coming darkness was another reason the insurgents broke off the attack. They did not have the night-vision equipment that gave special forces such an advantage. Since then, the insurgents have recognised the value of night-vision gear and pick up sets whenever they can - from the internet or from supply convoys attacked in Pakistan or coalition positions they have overrun.

The patrol commander decided the team would stay in place for another seven hours to cover the return of the main force. "Then we walked off the hill in darkness. It was a pretty long four days."

Roberts-Smith says all of the men in his unit faced that sort of experience every day. Whenever he was in action, there were mates ahead of him or protecting his back.

Whenever the SAS men climbed into a helicopter, they knew they were in for a fight. "Please say to everyone, I wear my medal for every one of these blokes who walk down the street and never have anyone shake their hand because no one will ever know who they are, like I used to be," he says.

"The things I've seen other blokes do . . . I've seen people storm rooms with guys inside there firing. That's gallant. "I've seen blokes in hand-to-hand situations where they're wrestling with people to take weapons off them. "And guys get up and run across open ground to drag wounded mates out of car seats because half their face has been blown off."

Like the SAS unit caught in a village and blasted by scores of rocket-propelled grenades. "Blokes having to jump over walls, fighting through the streets, destroying the codes in their radios because they thought they were going to be captured," he says. "They spent six hours fighting back until they they could recapture the vehicles they lost in the initial contact. "That kind of thing has happened every year for the whole time we've been there.

"I just want people to understand that all the guys do it. "We want to do it because someone needs to do it. That's what we do and we're all wired that way. There's a strong possibility that you'll be incapacitated or not make it home. The reality is this year everyone in this unit will go there at some stage and they may not come back. That's reality."

For 33-year-old Locke, reality struck on October 25, 2007, when he was leading a patrol in the Chora Valley. The forward scout crossed a creek and Locke moved forward to cover him. The sergeant was lying on his stomach in a shooting position when a Taliban machinegun opened fire.

A bullet struck Locke from the front and hit his heart. Matty Locke, hero, mentor and mate, was dead within seconds. "That is battle," Roberts-Smith says.


Sunday, April 24, 2011

Riots among illegals ongoing in Australia

This is excellent. It gives publicity to the fact that illegals are often not granted residency and are locked up for long periods. It is the publicity from just such riots that put a stop to illegals coming during the term of the previous conservative government

Three protesters remain on the roof of Sydney's Villawood Detention Centre, as detainees stage a sit-in and go on a hunger strike at Western Australia's Curtin facility. Two of the trio at Villawood have been on the roof since Wednesday morning, the same day a riot involving up to 100 detainees broke out leaving nine buildings gutted by fire.

Twenty-two of those protesters were transferred to Silverwater Correctional Centre, where they were questioned by Australian Federal Police.

On Sunday morning, three detainees were still on the detention centre's roof, protesting against the rejection of their asylum applications.

"They are being negotiated with. Currently, the Australian Federal Police are in charge of the negotiations," a Department of Immigration and Citizenship spokeswoman told AAP on Sunday morning. "They have asked to speak to department staff. We are prepared to meet them, if they come down from the roof."

Meanwhile, Social Justice Network spokesman Jamal Daoud has complained of mistreatment by police. Well known for speaking out on behalf of refugees and detainees, Mr Daoud said he was handcuffed and forced to kneel after an argument with police on Saturday afternoon at the centre.

He said he was taken to Bankstown police station and later released with a $350 fine. "The police officers were acting with deep hate, disregard to basic civil rights," he alleged.

In Western Australia, refugee advocate Ian Rintoul said a hunger strike and sit-in involving around 300 detainees at Curtin Airbase detention centre, in the state's remote West Kimberley region, was expected to escalate. Their protest over visitors being prevented from going to the centre over the Easter weekend began on Saturday morning, Mr Rintoul said.

"The asylum seekers are asking that they be allowed to see refugee supporters, who have travelled from Perth and cities to see them over the Easter weekend," Mr Rintoul said in a statement on Sunday. "Serco (the centre's management company) have insisted that only one-on-one visits will be allowed, an arrangement that will only allow about 50 asylum seekers to see a visitor."


Serious and rational Labor party minister fed up

Tanner was one of the few who understood economics and tried to apply it

ONE of the Labor Government's "gang of four" key ministers has taken a swipe at his former colleagues and reveals that one of Kevin Rudd's grand election promises - a powerful business advisory panel - was pure fantasy that never existed.

In the first memoir written by a Rudd government insider, former finance minister Lindsay Tanner also describes Ms Gillard's "moving forward" election slogan as setting "new records for banality".

Mr Tanner, who quit politics on the same day that Julia Gillard became Prime Minister, said the 2010 election campaign was the "worst in living memory", with "banal slogans, robotic delivery, and trivial policy announcement deployed by both the major parties".

He also says Ms Gillard has dyed her hair red for years to help build her personal brand. "It makes her more noticeable. She has registered as an individual personality in the sideshow."

Delivering a damning assessment of politics, Mr Tanner largely blames the media in a new book, Sideshow, for descending into "info-tainment" rather than serious policy analysis.

Mr Tanner, who was one of the "gang of four" ministers who ran Labor's policy agenda, also writes that the media failed to twig that the government did nothing for two-and-a-half years to deliver on a key economic pledge by Mr Rudd in 2008 to boost national savings.

In 2007, when Mr Rudd announced the business advisory panel headed by the respected Sir Rod Eddington, The Australian "splashed the story on its front page, complete with a big photo of a smiling Rudd and shadow treasurer Wayne Swan".

"Did anything actually happen?" Mr Tanner writes. The truth, he explains, was that "Kevin Rudd may have announced the creation of the advisory panel but ultimately it was never established".

"In spite of occasional cursory inquiries from journalists about when the names of its members would be announced, no one ever worked out that it was a chimera. A potentially highly embarrassing story was never written," Mr Tanner said.

The Sunday Telegraph did not obtain an embargoed copy of the book, released this week, but was briefed on key extracts, and understands Mr Tanner:

* DENIES he was the source of damaging cabinet leaks that derailed the ALP's election campaign after it was claimed that Ms Gillard opposed an aged pension increase, accusing the media of ``collective psychosis" after he refused to rule himself in or out as the culprit.

* ATTACKS Ms Gillard's 2010 election slogan of "Moving Forward" as a cliche that would have irritated anyone who had spent time with second tier business executives.

* REVEALS the ABC edited out of a Lateline interview a stumble when he was asked by Leigh Sales to describe Mr Rudd in one word and replied, "Nasty." Mr Tanner quips his gaffe was edited out because he thought he was talking about John Howard.
His book is believed to pull its punches on the ETS debate, following Mr Rudd's claims that Ms Gillard and Treasurer Wayne Swan were in favour of dumping it while Mr Tanner and Senator Penny Wong were against.


On the 2010 campaign:
"The worst in living memory. Banal slogans, robotic delivery, and trivial policy announcement deployed by both the major parties."

On federal politics:
"Modern politics now resembles a Hollywood blockbuster: all special effects and no plot."

On the press gallery:
"Journalists like to pick up on Gillard's earlobes, Rudd's earwax, Anna Bligh's botox, Mark Latham's man-boobs."

On Julia Gillard:
"Some might think it's strange that Gillard dyed her hair red. In fact, it's perfectly sensible: it makes her more noticeable."


Rationed maternity care in NSW government hospitals

PREGNANT women are being bumped from NSW hospitals despite having booked in, as the baby boom and an increase in birth complications put more pressure on maternity units. Many large public maternity units have introduced a cap on numbers and geographical limits on patients.

But one mother, who was not accepted at her hospital, was forced to do a four-hour round trip on public transport to bring expressed milk to her premature twins. When Prue Corlette, from Rose Bay, went into early labour with IVF-conceived twin boys last month, she was told there was no room at the Royal Hospital for Women in Randwick.

The 15 high-care cots in its neonatal intensive care unit were occupied, and the closest ones available were at Canberra Hospital, John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle and Liverpool Hospital. Ms Corlette chose Liverpool, which at 45 kilometres away was a lot closer than Canberra (288 kilometres) or Newcastle (163 kilometres).

"But from the moment I got into the back of the ambulance, the continuity of care I had built up with the staff at the Royal was gone," she said. "Up until then I had been seeing one dedicated midwife and obstetrician throughout my pregnancy. They knew the type of birth that I wanted and I knew what their preferences were."

She gave birth to one baby vaginally, and the other was delivered in an emergency caesarean section for which she was under general anaesthetic.

"When you are expecting premature twins, you want to be able to trust and have some kind of relationship with the people looking after you," she said. "I have to wonder what would have happened if my own doctor was there, whether the outcome would have been different."

Ms Corlette's midwife and obstetrician were unable to attend the birth at Liverpool Hospital as they are both employed by the Royal Hospital for Women.

Born nine weeks premature, baby Theodore weighed 1840 grams and Hugo 1770 grams. They stayed at Liverpool Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit for 10 days. Ms Corlette was discharged after three days. But she could not drive after the caesarean and was forced to undertake a four-hour round trip on public transport to take expressed breast milk to her babies.

"It was a bus, two trains and a walk to the hospital," she said. "The whole trip took two hours door to door from Rose Bay to Liverpool to take milk in a freezer bag in for the twins."

While geographical limits apply to the Royal Hospital for Women, it accepts women with high-risk pregnancies from outside the area. "If RHW's neonatal intensive care unit reaches capacity, babies can be referred through the state-wide network to other NICUs within NSW, and then return to RHW's NICU when a cot becomes available," a hospital spokeswoman said.

The Royal Hospital for Women is one of the state's busiest hospitals, delivering about 4000 babies a year.

The busiest is Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Women and Babies in Camperdown, where 5321 babies were born last year despite being designed for a capacity of 4000 births when it opened in 2002.

Two years ago the hospital was forced to transfer about two women a month to nearby Canterbury Hospital when it reached critical mass but that number has halved following new limits on numbers.

Westmead Hospital, which delivers 5200 babies a year despite being funded for only 3800, has also introduced caps on women living outside the area.

Australian Medical Association president Andrew Pesce, also an obstetrician at Westmead, said: "The birth rate has increased and yet beds have been closed and the funding has not expanded in the way that it needs to to look after the number of women booking in. "The staff-to-patient ratio - especially the number of midwives - is not what it should be. All of these are contributing to the situation."

The birth rate in NSW has been steadily increasing since the introduction of the baby bonus in 2004, rising from about 85,000 a year to 96,000 last year. Caesareans and multiple births have also increased, according to the latest NSW Mothers and Babies Report. Dr Pesce said the proportion of older mothers has also increased, along with obesity and diabetes.

Ms Corlette's sons were transferred back to the Royal Hospital for Women when cots became available. She took her twins home last week and is relieved that they are healthy, but questions how such a large hospital can end up overbooked.

"The problem with the Royal Women's is that it was opened in 1997 when the birth rate was decreasing," she said. "They could not have foreseen the birth rate as it is now."

The NSW government will spend $42 million over four years to meet the demand for maternity services. Reducing the caesarean rate to 20 per cent by 2015 is part of the plan to alleviate pressure on public maternity hospitals.


Australia's Thermopylae

Full details of the battle here. The action was much more complex than the one fought by Leonidas and his Spartans but the spirit was as dauntless and the odds also great.

And, unlike Thermopylae, the enemy was stopped. The Chinese were numerous, well led, well-trained and even had the advantage of surprise -- but were not prepared for the doggedness of Anglo-Saxon troops

JULIA Gillard has credited Korean war veterans with laying the foundations of the modern Australian army at a ceremony to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Kapyong.

Surrounded by towering mountains in a rugged landscape where Australians foiled the Chinese army's final assault on the South Korean capital of Seoul in April, 1951, the Prime Minister said too few Australians knew the history of the battle.

Watched by surviving veterans and their families on the first day of a three-day visit to South Korea, Ms Gillard said the men had been worthy inheritors of the Gallipoli legacy.

"You, the men of Kapyong, know your story," Ms Gillard said. "I believe it is time more Australians did."

The battle began on April 23 as Australian troops form the 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian regiment were preparing to celebrate Anzac Day with a nearby brigade of Turkish soldiers also fighting to protect South Korea from the communist north.

But their preparations, including collecting wild azaleas to make Anzac wreaths, had to be put on hold as the Chinese launched their spring offensive, with more than 300,000 troops pouring through the Kapyong Valley in a bid to take the Korean capital. "It was the final attempt to take Seoul," the Prime Minister said.

"That night the defining night for the Australians in the Korean Way began. Kapyong - the great fighting withdrawal - the battle that stopped a breakthrough. "That night you fought them. In the dark, radios failing, telephone lines cut, outnumbered."

She said the men had come to Korea carrying the Gallipoli legacy of "mateship, courage, teamwork and initiative". "You were more than worthy of the tradition you inherited," she said. "You have added to it for the heirs you have today.

"You came here as the sons of ANZAC, you left here as the fathers of our professional army. "And on operations in Afghanistan or East Timor, in training overseas, the modern Australian Army is still Kapyong's child."

The ceremony had a commonwealth feel with Australian, New Zealand and Canadian servicemen on hand to welcome the veterans and a British Army band providing the music.

They remembered the 32 Australians who died in the battle as their South Koreans hosts bowed their heads amid the flapping of brightly coloured banners declaring "Korea will always remember your sacrifice."

More than 17,000 Australians served in the Korean War, which cost 340 Australian lives.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour