Saturday, December 31, 2011

Queensland has its own slang?

Not mentioned below is that Queenslanders say "port" instead of "suitcase" and in the far North a bath is a "plunge"

THERE are many words which define us as being Queenslanders, some are on the way out, while others are travelling.

BEVANS are dying out in Queensland, replaced by their southern cousins, the Bogans.

Language expert Professor Roly Sussex says it is difficult to pinpoint why the southern insult is moving north, but suggests it might be due to the bulk of television programs being created in NSW and Victoria and exported to Queensland.

He says Queensland has done reasonably well to hold its own in the Strine stakes, propped up by popular words derived from our indigenous languages, including yakka (hard work), bung (dead or broken) and yabber (chat).

But there are others that are slipping out of use, such as by jingo to describe an ice block and pony for a small beer. Even smoko seems to be losing its grip.

And unless the term "Bernborough finish" - named after the mighty Toowoomba racehorse of the 1940s and meaning to come from behind to win - can mount its own revival, it too could slip away.

If that upsets, going for a glass, or bag, of goom, or goon, is proudly Queenslander ... particularly if it's XXXX or Bundy [beer or rum].

Prof Sussex says Queenslanders, particularly in the north, are hanging on to terms such as Windsor sausage to describe the processed meat popularly used in sandwiches despite the southern usage of Strasbourg, fritz or devon.

And it is still possible to add "eh" or "but" to the beginning or end of sentences without scorn in the Sunshine State, even if the rest of northern Australia does likewise.

Also "duchess" to describe a dressing table, is uniquely Queensland after being introduced into the lexicon in the 1970s, Prof Sussex says. [Rubbish! I remember it in routine use in the '40s]

More broadly, Prof Sussex said Australia's most popular linguistic gift to the world was the rising inflection, growing in use across the UK and US, particularly among youth. [I first heard it among Kiwis]

Making every statement sound in the end like a question is believed to have originated among Victorian women in the 1970s but has rapidly spread across Australia, Prof Sussex says, and now is heading overseas fuelled by popular television programs Neighbours and Home and Away.


School fees rising

Fees at Adelaide's elite schools will top $500 a week in 2012 as they are forced to cover rising costs. Since 2007, yearly fees at many of the state's top schools have risen by between $5000 and $6000, or 30 to 40 per cent, with at least five now charging more than $20,000 for Year 12.

About one in five SA students attended one of the state's 94 independent schools, many of which are in outer metropolitan and country areas and which charge low to moderate fees.

About the same number of students attended Catholic schools. Mercedes College and Rostrevor College were among the highest-charging schools in that sector.

Association of Independent Schools of SA executive director Garry Le Duff said the average fee rise was between 5.5 and 6.5 per cent.

He said the increases differed across year levels and at each school depending on their level of growth. "It's not in the interest of schools to set excessive fee rises but schools have a responsibility to remain viable," Mr Duff said. The fee rises ensured improvements that met parents' expectations and attracting the best teachers, he said.

Mr Le Duff said the latest Education Resources Index revealed costs had risen by 6.7 per cent for pre- and primary schools and 7.3 per cent for secondary schools.

He said the drivers included updating IT, teacher salaries especially with the roll-out of the national curriculum and the new SACE. "The cost of utilities - electricity, water and insurance - are imposing increasing burdens on schools," he said.

At Prince Alfred College the average fee increase was 5.5 per cent, but differed across year levels. Headmaster Kevin Tutt said the school worked to cut staff to deliver extra classroom resources.

"The fee structure next year reflects the increases in our operational costs and the rising cost of salaries and tuition expenses," he said.

St Peter's Girls principal Fiona Godfrey listed teacher salaries, technology upgrades and the school's preparation to implement the International Baccalaureate Diploma from 2013 as key reasons for the fee rise.

Private schools generally offer discounts for siblings.


Another Victorian hospital 'turns away' bleeding mother-to-be

A HEAVILY bleeding pregnant woman was turned away from Geelong Hospital and later found she had lost her baby, her husband says.

It is the second such case uncovered by the Herald Sun in a week.

The husband said: "I would have thought someone ... bleeding uncontrollably would have been enough of a priority to be seen by a doctor. Their lack of action ... could have contributed to my wife's subsequent miscarriage."

Guidelines say medical care won't change the odds of a threatened miscarriage ending in pregnancy loss.

The six-week pregnant woman, 28, began bleeding heavily on December 20. The man explained a nurse said the case was not a priority and that she should see a GP. "We left the hospital in absolute disgust, with my wife still bleeding and in tears," he said.

A Barwon Health spokesman said the woman had "left at her own risk".

Health Minister David Davis said he expected the hospital to investigate.


Australia's false prophets

Without question, 2011 was a year replete with hyperbole and false prophecy, which, come to think of it, is typical of our time.

JANUARY The new year has barely begun when Bob Ellis, the seer of Palm Beach, declares on the ABC's The Drum: "I alone, in all of Australia, think Labor will hold government" in NSW. Shortly before April Fools' Day, Barry O'Farrell leads the Coalition to one of the greatest victories in Australian political history. Earlier in January, reports emerge that environmentalist Tim Flannery predicted that, within this century, a "strong Gaia will actually become physically manifest". One person's Gaia is another's full moon.

FEBRUARY The former Labor leader Mark Latham asserts that "anyone who chooses a life without children, as [Julia] Gillard has, cannot have much love in them". He does not say whether this maxim applies to such departed childless types as Florence Nightingale and Mary MacKillop. Christine Assange, the sandal-wearing mother of the famous Julian, maintains: "What we're looking at here is political and legal gang-rape of my son." The reference is to Sweden's attempt to question Assange about sexual assault allegations.

MARCH Jonathan Green, the editor of The Drum, reflects on the end of the world. He envisages the final media coverage of "a dying globe" with "news helicopters aloft, still filming until at last there was nowhere to land". Independent senator Nick Xenophon opines that "the poker machine lobby reminds me a bit [of] the slave owners of the 19th century in the United States". Liberal frontbencher Sophie Mirabella suggests that Julia Gillard is "as deluded as Colonel 'my people love me' Gaddafi".

APRIL Superannuated Trotskyite Alex Mitchell states that Libyans belong to several tribes and they would never fire on one another. Media tart Kathy Lette reckons that if you "mention 'the Queen' to most Aussie kids . . . they presume you're talking about Elton John". Nevertheless, Lette is first in the queue to meet the real Queen at the palace.

MAY Public-sector union boss John Cahill classifies the O'Farrell government's industrial relations reforms as "worse than Stalinist Soviet Union". He forgets that Stalin shot workers' advocates. Andrew Bolt tells his readers that, under the leadership of commissioner Christine Nixon, the Victorian Police force "was subjected to an almost Maoist program of re-education". He overlooked the fact that Mao's regime led to the deaths of 50 million Chinese.

JUNE The seer of Palm Beach is at it again. This time Ellis theorises in The Spectator Australia that Malcolm Turnbull "will accept a job on the Gillard front bench and thereafter intrigue to become . . . a Labor prime minister". The writer Geraldine Brooks foresees a "critical juncture" for the world environment and predicts a time when "there's not going to be any Wall Street, there's not going to be an economy". Brooks was the ABC Boyer lecturer this year.

JULY Stuart Littlemore pontificates: "I think most people are actually shits." He goes on to warn that it is a mistake "to heroise or demonise people". Really. Littlemore is a barrister/novelist. Geoffrey Robertson, QC, excitedly tells ABC News Breakfast that Rupert Murdoch "before the week is out may find himself under arrest or at least assisting the police with their inquiries". The reference was to the News of the World phone-hacking scandal. For the record, Murdoch was not arrested.

AUGUST Elizabeth Farrelly links American commentator Rebecca Hagelin's opposition to same-sex marriage with "ducking-stool type thinking. White-pointy-hood-type thinking. Taliban thinking." Fred Nile, MLC, equates the introduction of ethics classes in schools with secular humanism, which he says is the "philosophy that we saw during World War II with the Nazis and with the communists".

SEPTEMBER During a one-hour interview with Phillip Adams at the taxpayer-funded Byron Bay Writers' Festival, leftist functionary John Pilger alleges that the US President, Barack Obama, is a "war criminal". Pilger receives a standing ovation from the audience and a "10 out of 10 and a koala stamp" from Adams. The entire hour is replayed on ABC2. Writing in the New Statesman, Pilger depicts the Westfield shopping centre in London's East End at Stratford as "a vision of hell". Nevertheless, he bought a pair of sunglasses there. Raimond Gaita depicts Israel as a "criminal state".

OCTOBER Author and Tony Abbott-hater Susan Mitchell says that if the Coalition wins government she will "probably be locked up". She also maintains Gillard is "not within a whisker of becoming prime minister at this stage". Apparently, she is already anticipating the next election result. The Greens leader, Bob Brown, expresses the view that 700,000 coastal properties will be doomed by 2050. Dick Smith compares the Murdoch media to the Soviet Union.

NOVEMBER Herald Sun columnist Susie O'Brien argues that Alan Joyce "wants to kill" Qantas. Sky News commentator Greg O'Mahoney depicts the link between Fred Nile's Christian Democrats and the Shooters Party as the "guns and rosaries lobby". O'Mahoney is unaware that Protestants like Nile don't do rosaries - that's a Catholic thing. Former Labor MP John Brown maintains that the ABC's decision not to extend Deborah Cameron's contract "will leave this timeslot to non-intellectual idiots".

DECEMBER It's time to take (yet another) stance for Assange. Michael Pearce, SC writes that Republican presidential contender Newt Gingrich has called for Assange to be "murdered". And ethicist Leslie Cannold tells ABC TV that "high-profile American politicians" have urged that he be assassinated. Neither produce evidence for their claims. The year ends with The Age's house leftie Michael Leunig bemoaning the "dreary dictates of materialism". He is one of the paper's higher-paid contributors.


Friday, December 30, 2011

Global cooling hits Sydney

It's been an unusually cool December in Brisbane too

IT'S a good thing December is almost over - it's been the coldest for more than 50 years. With two days to go, it seems certain Sydney will record its coldest December since 1960, with the average daily maximum so far this month 2.2C below the long-term average. Sydney's average top temperature so far this month was a chilly 23C - only 0.2C more than in 1960.

That isn't going to change much over the next two days, with the Bureau of Meteorology forecasting showers and tops of just 24C.

Not once has the temperature reached 30C in the city this month, the first time since 1999 the mercury has failed to reach that mark in December. Even in 1960, Sydney recorded two days with top temperatures above 30C.

The Weather Channel meteorologist Dick Whitaker said Sydney wasn't the only city to suffer a cold start to summer, with Canberra and Brisbane also experiencing below average temperatures.

"Across eastern Australia we had a lot of cloud cover in December and on top of that we had an above average frequency of southerly winds," Mr Whitaker said.

He said La Nina wasn't solely to blame for Sydney's unseasonably cool weather, despite it being associated with cooler, wetter weather: "Each La Nina is unique, like a fingerprint. La Nina was even stronger last year but Sydney was drier than average, which was a bit unusual. La Nina is just one factor, and this year there are other factors."

One of those is rainfall. So far this month Sydney has received 77.8mm of rain, precisely the long-term average for December. "In 1960 they had 244.9mm of rain, so clearly it was an extremely wet month and that was the biggest issue behind the cooler temperatures then," he said.

Thankfully there will be an extra reason to celebrate when the fireworks go off over the Harbour - the new year will also usher in a new weather pattern, delivering Sydney its first run of blue skies and warm weather this summer.

After a cool start of just 16C, the first day of the year is expected to be sunny with a top of 26C - and the news gets better from there. The sunshine is expected to continue for at least the following two days, with top temperatures of 27C and 28C expected in the city.

"It looks like summer is on its way," Bureau of Meteorology forecaster Michael Logan said. "Longer term, it looks more like what you would expect for summer, with plenty of days in the mid to high 20s."


Losing the War of Ideas due to Incompetence

By Isi Leibler, writing from Jerusalem. Leibler is a former prominent member of the Melbourne Jewish community

In the war of ideas, we operate under huge handicaps. Our adversaries attract sympathy as underdogs, yet carry enormous economic and political clout and effectively control international institutions like the UN. In addition, they have hijacked NGOs purportedly promoting human rights, yet are at the forefront of racist campaigns to demonize and delegitimize us. It is disgraceful that many western journalists collaborate with them.

Australia has consistently maintained a staunch bipartisan friendship with the Jewish State since its creation. Under the current Labor government headed by Julia Gillard, it remains, like the United States and Canada, one of the few countries where Israel still gets a fair hearing.

On November 26, John Lyons, the accredited Jerusalem reporter for The Australian, the leading national daily, wrote a 3000 word feature lambasting alleged inhumane Israeli treatment of Palestinian children.

Although The Australian has a consistent record of being fair and open-minded in relation to Israel, this was a classic compendium of anti-Israeli vilification, reminiscent of the wildest distortions and fabrications contained in the Goldstone report.

The sources attributed were the usual Israeli demonizers – B’Tselem, Public Committee against Torture in Israel, Yesh Din, and in particular, the organization Defense for Children International (DCI) represented by Australian lawyer, Gerald Horton. Lyons also interviewed a spokesman for ‘Breaking the Silence’, the discredited group which paved the way and actively collaborated with the Goldstone Committee, providing ‘evidence’ which, after investigation, proved to be largely unsubstantiated and was even significantly repudiated by Goldstone himself.

Lyons, who the IDF provided with unfettered access to closed courts, portrayed youngsters in shackles and weeping mothers observing swift justice by ‘brutal’ Israeli military authorities. He described IDF courts as a “Guantanamo Bay for kids”.

He quoted at length from DCI’s Horton, who referred to “385 sworn affidavits” alleging the worst imaginable atrocities, including beatings, torture, intimidating children with savage dogs, electric shock treatment, and every conceivable horror. He even referred to an “interrogator from Gush Etzion” who specialized in threatening children with rape.

If only a tiny proportion of these allegations contained a kernel of truth, we would have good reason to be concerned. But as in previous horror stories, I have every confidence that the evidence is based on testimony which will once again prove to be overwhelmingly false. We need only refer to the Mohammed el Dura fraud, the Jenin “massacre”, the Goldstone allegations of “deliberate” targeting of civilians in Gaza and other charges leveled against us, that months later, were shown to have been outright lies.

Not surprisingly, the marathon feature by Lyons created a considerable stir in Australia.

Australian Jewish leaders and pro-Israel activists promptly requested the Israeli embassy to respond with information for rebuttals from the Army, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs or the Prime Minister’s office. Direct representations were also made to Jerusalem. For weeks, they were told that the authorities were reviewing the matter but no reply was forthcoming. One unofficial response idiotically suggested that the best approach to such a hostile article was to ignore it and it would blow over.

On December 17, the failure to respond resulted in a second article by Lyons, regurgitating what he had written previously, informing readers that Australia’s Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd was deeply concerned over the report and had instructed Australia’s diplomatic representatives to initiate a formal inquiry with the Israeli authorities. It is common knowledge that Rudd is personally keen to distance Australia from Israel in order to curry Arab votes for Australia’s candidature for a UN Security Council seat. But he would not have had credible grounds for initiating such an inquiry had the Israeli authorities provided a meaningful response.

Only following the Australian decision to investigate the matter, did the IDF spokesperson belatedly issue a bland legal statement, outlining the reasons why in this context, the custody of minors did not violate international law.

It may be difficult for those living in Western countries to comprehend the concept of jailing children for throwing stones. However, stone throwing has emerged as a staple component of terrorism and to some extent a wretched form of identity for Palestinian youth.

It should also be appreciated that stones are hurled equally at innocent Israeli civilians as well as soldiers, and in addition to maiming and scarring, have proven to be lethal. Only recently, Asher Palmer and his one year old son died after a stone smashed the windshield of his car.

Yet despite this, the reality is that as a deterrent, only a tiny proportion of stone throwers are being prosecuted. Otherwise, the Israeli jails would be overflowing with them.

The issue is additionally complicated because children in Israel are not tried under the same laws as apply to territories over the green line which, not having been annexed to Israel, operate under Jordanian and British mandatory laws.

Any Israeli official with a modicum of political sensitivity should have stressed that child terrorism represents one of the most reprehensible aspects of the Palestinian culture of death and criminality.

From kindergarten, Palestinian children are brainwashed into becoming martyrs by killing Jews in order to fulfill their Islamic obligation to expunge Jewish sovereignty from the region. Aside from continuously being employed as human shields, they are frequently exploited as suicide bombers.

The monstrous massacre of the Fogel family in March, which included the beheading of an infant, was perpetrated by a Palestinian family group which included a minor.

But what is both incomprehensible and disgraceful is that until now, the IDF response has still failed to repudiate the real source of concern – the outrageous lies and defamations concerning the torture of minors.

The response to the libels contained in Lyons article should have pointed out that many of the NGOs demonizing Israel are the same ones which provided “testimonies” about Israeli atrocities and war crimes to the Goldstone Committee which were subsequently demonstrated to be fabrications.

They should also have asked why Lyons did not query the failure of the defamers to raise these accusations in the appropriate Israeli tribunals such as the Supreme Court which even has a controversial record amongst Israelis for intervening in IDF related matters.

What is wrong with the IDF, Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Department? Do they really believe that they can ignore such vile accusations in the mainstream media of a friendly country? Their deafening silence even led to an editorial in the local Jewish weekly, the Australian Jewish News, foolishly asking whether “God forbid”, the “country we cherish” enabled “the torture of children”.

If this is how our senior military and government offices deal with such issues, it is high time to demand accountability.

It is the Prime Minister’s Office office which carries the ultimate responsibility for ensuring that such matters are efficiently handled. Binyamin Netanyahu, more than most politicians, has a genuine grasp of the crucial importance of the war of ideas. If his office is not fulfilling its obligations in this area, he must, as a matter of urgency, personally intervene to guarantee that government information offices are staffed by personnel who are sufficiently competent to confront such issues in a skilled and professional manner.


Australian law does allow legal reprisal against online defamation and hate speech

But it is difficult, time-consuming and expensive. And the ultimate defendant may not be worth suing

Welcome to the world of hate blogging. A reported defamation payout of $13,000 by the TV book show celebrity Marieke Hardy gives us an inkling of the dark side of the blogosphere.

Hardy has been the victim of some poisonous blog posts for more than five years by someone assuming the name of "James Vincent McKenzie".

It's distressing stuff and naturally Hardy is offended. Her error was accusing, in one of her own blog posts, the wrong person as being the author of these "ranting, violent" attacks.

Under a naming and shaming exercise with the Twitter hashtag of #mencallmethings she pointed to her own blog, which said Joshua Meggitt was the person responsible.

Meggitt had posted critical remarks about the First Tuesday Book Club on ABC TV, where Hardy is a regular member of the panel, but he was not the author of the extraordinarily nasty "James Vincent McKenzie" blog. Hence, the payout and apology to Meggitt.

So who is James Vincent McKenzie? The comments on his blog make all sorts of helpful speculations - Kyle Sandilands, a jilted lover, Jack Marx, even Hardy herself.

The blog appears recently to have changed URLs, which adds to the trickiness of the enterprise. Presumably, if McKenzie's true identity could be revealed, Hardy might be on her way to getting back her $13,000. After all, she is just as much a victim as Meggitt.

What is alarming is the propensity for hateful and anonymous blogs to continue publishing after the online host would be aware of the content.

How safe can the identity of McKenzie remain? The site which he uses is operated by Google, based in California and registered in Delaware. It requires a Google account and gmail address.

One person posted an online comment about this yesterday, saying they had tried to report the McKenzie blog to Google, which replied that it is not responsible for any allegedly defamatory content and it does not remove defamatory, insulting, negative or distasteful material from US domains. It claims that under US law internet services, such as the blogger site, are republishers and not the publisher.

That's all very well, but increasingly Google finds it cannot hide behind these waivers of responsibility. In this country, republishers can be liable for defamation when they have notice that what they are republishing is actionable.

If she had the time, a small fortune and determination, Hardy could apply to bring discovery proceedings in a US court.

McKenzie is in breach of the blogspot terms and conditions, which require compliance with the laws of the country in which the blogging takes place. In any third-party proceedings, the offender also would be required to indemnify Google.

Proceedings overseas may not be necessary. In October, the Supreme Court of Queensland ordered Google Australia to cough-up the details of the identity behind a blog that called a Gold Coast self-help guru a "thieving scumbag".

Last year, a judge in Ireland gave permission to the Irish Red Cross to start proceedings against Google in California in order to obtain the identity of an anonymous blogger who had posted what the charity claimed was "distorted confidential" material. Italian and French courts have held Google liable for defamations that arose from "autocomplete" search requests.

In England, the Demon internet service provider was found to be liable for defamation after a judge held that the "innocent disseminator" defence didn't wash once an ISP had notice of the offensive content.

The principles of the Demon case got an airing in the Supreme Court of Western Australia in Ives v Lim. There, the material under consideration was published on a blog site owned somewhere in the Russian Federation. Justice Rene Le Miere said: "In principle, a person who creates a website that hosts an interactive blog may be liable for defamatory material posted by third parties."

Further, courts have ordered the identity be revealed of people who have made unpleasant comments on newspaper websites or on internet travel sites.

It may not be a real identity but at least the IP addresses of the computers used to post the comments can be located.

The NSW Supreme Court judge Robert Hulme in October found that Google and other global publishers, such as Facebook and Wikipedia, were not out of reach as far as internet take-down orders were concerned, in relation to a pending criminal trial.

In the Gutnick case, the High Court decided a defamation by an offshoot of The Wall Street Journal occurred where it was read, Melbourne, not where it was uploaded. [In the Gutnick case an Australian businessman who has been convicted of no crime was portrayed as "a schemer given to stock scams, money laundering and fraud", with no evidence adduced to support such a scurrilous accusation]

Despite the internet looking like a game of Twister, Hardy is not without a remedy. However, at the end of the rainbow she may find "James Vincent McKenzie" doesn't have a cracker to bless himself.


Thousands voted twice in cliffhanger poll

Shades of the USA!

AS many as 16,000 Australians got away with voting more than once in the 2010 razor's edge federal poll. Dozens may have voted three times or more, but only three copped a slap on the wrist.

The Australian Electoral Commission has admitted to a Senate committee its own records make it difficult to tell who is flouting electoral laws. And it has been revealed little can be done if voters deny it.

Of the 16,189 people the AEC suspected of multiple votes, 5211 denied it and 80 per cent of the 1458 who confessed were new voters or did not understand how to vote. It was decided 7925 were errors, many caused when voters with similar names were recorded under the same name by accident.

Electoral Commissioner Ed Killesteyn told the committee the offence was hard to prove as there was no real evidence if a person denied the offence.

Victorian Liberal senator Scott Ryan said the lack of prosecution sent a confusing message to the country.

There have been calls for the introduction of photo ID, with some seats won or lost on just a few votes.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Solar tariff scheme blows out by $46 million

Now it's Western Australia's turn

WA's solar power tariff feed-in scheme has now blown out from $114 million to $180 million - $46 millon of which will be paid by the state government. Photo: Glenn Hunt

The state government's solar panel rebate scheme has blown out by at least $46 million, after a cap imposed on the program in response to its popularity was breached.

The feed-in tariff scheme was introduced in 2009, and offered new households who fed solar-produced power back into the grid a rebate of 40 cents per kilowatt hour.

More than 76,000 households signed up to the scheme, but its popularity prompted the Barnett Government to impose a cap of 150MW earlier this year and to halve the rate to 20 cents.

The scheme was originally estimated to cost $28.2 million, before being revised to $114 million.

But yesterday's mid-year budget forecasts revealed the estimate had blown out to $180 million, after too many applications were processed and the cap was breached by 15MW. Synergy will pay $20 million of the overrun, while the state government will pay $46 million.

Treasurer Christian Porter has ordered an audit into the scheme, which will analyse all the applications received between May 21, when the cap was announced, and June 30, when it was imposed.

Mr Porter said the audit would find out if any applications were incorrectly approved, which could see the cost blowout reduced.

"The suspicion that we have in Treasury is that there are applications that said they met the requirements, but didn't," he said. "Or alternatively, the Office of Energy or Synergy made an error."

"There's been a cost overrun, there clearly has been... but the money is not wasted, the money has been spent delivering clean electricity and incentivising the product of photovoltaics.

"There weren't appropriate procedures put in place to know which bundle of applications, or which single application, represented the breaching of the cap."

Shadow Energy Minister Kate Doust said the feed-in tariff scheme had been completely mismanaged. "This scheme has been poorly regulated with poor safety records and now there have been huge cost blowouts – it has been one stuff up after another from this minister," she said. "With an extra $46 million needed over the next three years for this scheme, the (Energy Minister Peter Collier's) mismanagement and hands-off approach will ultimately cost our state for a decade."

But Mr Porter said the overrun was closer to $14 million, as the initial forecast from the Office of Energy was inaccurate and the government had always been prepared to pay $165.3 million for the project.


Bungling medical watchdog

THE powerful commonwealth agency tasked with investigating medical rorts needs to be completely rebuilt, having bungled at least 71 cases, breached patient privacy and failed to comply with various financial and legislative controls.

The recommendation is in a government-commissioned review that has found problems so entrenched it calls for the independent statutory authority to be partly subsumed by the Health Department and put on a new financial footing.

That could mean doctors or their professional bodies for the first time being asked to pay a levy to fund the Professional Services Review potentially bringing the new Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek, into conflict with the doctors lobby.

The PSR was established in 1994 to help ensure patient safety and doctors' proper use of funds under the Medicare Benefits Schedule and Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. But as the agency has grown it has become bogged down with investigations and struggled to remain accountable, with a growing list of internal problems detracting from its role.

While a parliamentary inquiry recently recommended a series of minor reforms, and the PSR has been negotiating others with the Australian Medical Association, a draft of the government-commissioned PricewaterhouseCoopers review, obtained by The Australian under Freedom of Information laws, recommends sweeping changes.

The review reveals the PSR is currently dealing with a number of "high-risk" issues, including

its legislative non-compliance, information security failures, staffing problems and a "high number of instances of financial framework non-compliance, particularly in relation to the expenditure of public money" and credit cards used without proper authorisation.

"The extent of the challenges identified in this review indicate that the current operating model needs to be redesigned to facilitate the future delivery of PSR scheme functions and enable sustainable, efficient and effective delivery," the draft report warns. "Changes are required to both the structure of PSR and oversight arrangements."

Last month, the Privacy Commissioner found the PSR had illegally merged MBS and PBS data, requiring changes to its computer systems, while allegations of documents being left unsecured finally prompted the PSR to install lockable cabinets.

The PSR was almost crippled by a decision of the Full Bench of the Federal Court in July, which undermined 71 completed cases and left a cloud over others. The court found the PSR, through previous health ministers Tony Abbott and Nicola Roxon, had failed to consult the AMA on appointments to its investigative committees, as required under legislation. If the decision stands the commonwealth will in February seek leave to appeal to the High Court. 44 doctors who were suspended from Medicare and the PBS, and stripped of $3.3 million in claims, will have a legal right to sue for damages.

The PSR has on average recouped about $2.3m in taxpayer funds each year and provided a much greater deterrent to inappropriate practice. It has a current budget of $6.7m less than previous years due to the impact of the Federal Court decision and about 30 staff.

The draft report highlights how the PSR workforce has doubled in five years and become more senior, which "may be inefficient", while the number and length of investigations has also drained its finances.

It recommends the PSR be partly subsumed by the Health Department, which would take over corporate support and provide further oversight.

It also suggests the government bring the PSR into line with public-sector guidelines on cost-recovery, either through a direct levy on all members of the professions it covers about $87 a year for each of 94,000 practitioners, based on the PSR's 2010-11 funding levels or a direct levy on professional bodies.

"This (direct levy) approach would provide an incentive for professional bodies to increase their activities in actively discouraging levels of inappropriate practice," the draft report states.

A spokeswoman for the department said the review would be completed early next year, when the final recommendations would be considered and discussed with stakeholders, including the AMA.

"The government is aware of the problems identified by the report and has already taken action to address these," the spokeswoman said, noting the appointment of William Coote as PSR director last month. "It is important to acknowledge the work that the PSR has already done over the last year to improve its operations, and make sure that they are effective and transparent."

The draft report, dated December 19, found it was too early to judge the success of those reforms and a larger overhaul was needed.

The PSR has sought to prevent a repeat of the issues that led to the Federal Court of Australia decision and is currently recruiting a new panel of members who can form investigative committees, along with the deputy directors who can head them.


An informed comment on illegal immigration into Australia

I'd just like to point out, having just written my Masters thesis on this very topic, that while the majority of Australia's asylum seekers arrive by plane, this majority is much slimmer than imagined. Last year the spread was something like 46% boat and 54% air and the last few years have all been like this - I can provide some sources on this if you like.

Of those who arrive by plane, only a small percentage are actually illegal, in that they have no permission to enter - and those that are are removed from the country via the next available flight to their point of origin. The majority of our ASYLUM SEEKERS who DO enter by plane do so on tourist or short term working holiday visas and then apply for asylum, which it is perfectly legal to do.

To emphasise, boat arrivals are placed in detention NOT because they are seeking asylum. Seeking asylum in Australia is perfectly legal, they are in detention because they arrive without permission (unlike plane arrivals who largely show up with a valid visa of some kind). While I don't defend the morality of mandatory detention, this is an important distinction.

Boat arrivals fill our detention centres because they are the largest group of people who enter Australia illegally and are then detained (not sent home immediately).


Negligent public hospital: Bleeding pregnant woman sent home on train, loses baby

A WOMAN has lost her baby after being sent home from a Melbourne hospital bleeding and forced to catch public transport. Rebecca Dee suffered a miscarriage early yesterday, hours after returning to her home in Mordialloc, Victoria.

Partner Herbert Bouvard said: "I don't understand why they sent her home bleeding, and on public transport ... the way we were treated was absolutely disgusting. "Obviously there was something wrong. How do you send someone home like that?"

The ordeal began when Ms Dee, seven weeks' pregnant, began bleeding on Tuesday morning, Mr Bouvard said. After arriving at Monash Medical Centre's emergency department by ambulance, she waited two hours to see a doctor and three hours for an ultrasound, he said. Ms Dee was told the baby's heart was beating, and it was fine, and she should go home, he said.

The couple had no money for a taxi and no one available to pick them up, so asked if a cab could be provided, given Ms Dee's condition, but were refused one. Still bleeding, she undertook her 90-minute trip - walking to the station, catching a train to Caulfield, changing there for another one to Mordialloc, and then walking home.

They arrived home soon before 9pm on Tuesday, and yesterday morning, bleeding heavily, the couple called another ambulance. They were again taken to Monash Medical Centre where doctors told Ms Dee she had lost her baby.

But a Southern Health spokeswoman said the patient's bleeding fell below the threshold for further intervention and she was discharged with clear instructions to return should symptoms worsen.

She did not fall within the criteria for a free taxi voucher, but had been given a free public transport ticket, she said.

Ms Dee was also admitted within the appropriate time frames, with records showing treatment began within half an hour of her arrival, she said. "One in three women with bleeding in early pregnancy will go on to have a miscarriage," she said. [Well, why was she not admitted on her first visit?]


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gillard attempting to censor news about illegal immigrants

She can't solve the problem so wants it hidden

IMAGES of asylum seekers arriving to our shores by boat may be banned. The restrictions were announced after the Immigration Department successfully lobbied the Australian Communications and Media Authority to "protect the privacy of these vulnerable clients", The Australian reports (subscribers).

Under the new privacy guidelines, a person's identity would be protected even if they are in a public place. This would allow ACMA, which oversees the licenses of major TV networks, to possibly prevent the broadcasting of asylum seekers' faces.

Seven Network's Head of News Peter Meakin told The Australian: "I think it's a ridiculous provision and I suspect it is being done more for the benefit of authorities than for the asylum-seekers."

"I can understand asylum-seekers wanting privacy for the protection of their families, but a blanket ban is just the big hand of censorship," he said.


Doctors tell people to avoid a broke public hospital

THE Australian Medical Association (AMA) has warned Victorians to avoid Frankston Hospital, saying it is a basket case after it closed a 30-bed ward due to a lack of government funding.

Patients at the Mornington Peninsula hospital, which is under extra pressure during the holiday season, have endured long delays, particularly in the emergency department, Fairfax reports.

Nurses have told the paper they are deeply concerned about the closure of a general medical ward at this time of year.

They said thousands of patients had already been languishing on trolleys in emergency in recent months, instead of being admitted to beds on wards.

The president of the AMA's Victorian branch, Harry Hemley, advised people to avoid Frankston and attend neighbouring hospitals instead. "I wouldn't recommend anyone make their way to Frankston Hospital over the holiday period ... they should go to Monash or one of the other neighbouring hospitals because Frankston has clearly become a basket case," he said.

A spokesman for hospital operator Peninsula Health, John Dukes, said the 3 North ward at Frankston Hospital was closed in June due to budget constraints but could be reopened when the hospital is under pressure and needs more beds.


Gillard's pandering to the Greens costs Australia a fortune

THE Labor government's tenuous hold on power has already cost taxpayers almost $15 billion.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard spent $65 for every Australian in order to keep the Greens and independents happy - and her party in government - all while facing global financial turmoil and a wafer-thin budget surplus, The Daily Telegraph reported.

An analysis shows the costs extended beyond deals struck after the election, with Labor forced to extinguish political spot fires and buy votes for policies such as the carbon and mining taxes.

The $14.95 billion bill after less than half Labor's term is in contrast to a $950 million revenue windfall after a Greens campaign to adopt its fringe benefits tax to encourage a reduction in driving.

NSW independents Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott strengthened their positions as major powerbrokers, involved in deals worth $4.2 billion compared to the $364 million of Andrew Wilkie.

Acting Prime Minister Wayne Swan defended Labor's economic record, pointing to the regional focus of much of the funds as returning the proceeds of the mining boom.

But the opposition attacked the greener initiatives as wasteful and evidence that Ms Gillard was unable to stand up to Greens leader Bob Brown.

University of Melbourne professor Mark Considine said there were only minor positives in what he called an "inefficient form of democracy".

"It's very similar to what has happened in the American system where every bill has to contain inducements across the board for bringing people on board," he said. "There is a high cost in the time spent bringing people on board and the exaggerated power of some minority groups and electorates that distorts everything."

The Greens have won $10.275 billion - headlined by the $10 billion clean energy fund - while Queensland independent Bob Katter scored a $335 million renewable energy promise a day after backing the Coalition.

In one vote-buying spree last month, Labor spent $320 million securing three lower house votes to allow its mining tax package to pass.

At least one promise has blown out, with the $75 million pledged to Mr Oakeshott to expand Port Macquarie Hospital rising to $96 million.

Mr Windsor, who was promised $20 million for Tamworth Hospital but has since scored another $120 million, said his efforts had won important money for the regions and improved the outcome of key policies. "Very little is local (in my seat)," he said. "I don't think the punter in the street would object to much of this."

A spokesman for Mr Swan defended the deal-making, insisting the federal government still had a strong economic record on jobs, interest rates and maintaining the AAA credit rating.

"Regional Australia - where one third of Australians live - has every right to decent government services and to enjoy the benefits of the mining boom," the spokesman said.

Opposition government waste spokesman Jamie Briggs said while he did not object to regional initiatives such as health and road, he claimed many of the billions demanded by the Greens was a waste.

"Gillard's lack of courage to stand up to the Greens is costing taxpayers," he said.


Council's $1.1m fine threat over 1.5m kids' cubby

IT didn't cost much to build but that could change dramatically if a New South Wales family refuses to tear down a child's cubby house erected in their backyard without council permission.

Penalties of up to $1.1 million - plus a further daily fine of $110,000 - await the family if they don't agree to demolish the structure.

The cubby, which measures just 1.5m by 1.5m, was deemed a "fire risk" by Wollongong City Council, which wants it removed by January 5.

Earlier this year, Sonja Keller and husband Andrew Bergmann used leftover building supplies to build the cubby for their son, Yaan, 9, behind their home at Tumbling Waters Resort in Stanwell Tops.

They returned from holidays before Christmas to find mail telling them to remove the cubby as it posed a bushfire threat and they did not have "development consent".

"Council has become aware that a cubby house has been erected within the premises adjacent to a dwelling; within a bushfire prone and environmentally sensitive area, without development consent," the council wrote.

"Failure to comply with the order is an offence under section 125 of the (Environmental Planning and Assessment) Act. The maximum penalty for that offence is $1,100,000.00 and a further daily penalty of $110,000.00. "If the order is not complied with, Council may give effect to the order and recover the costs of doing so from you."

Mrs Keller said council staff first inspected the cubby house earlier this month. "Three people from the council came to inspect some of the work we had done at the resort," he said. "I thought they were joking when they said they needed to look at the cubby house."

She said the cubby was barely visible from the street and no more of a fire risk than other garden furniture. "This decision is a joke. It's ridiculous to say it's in a fire-sensitive area," she said. "The garden shed is in a fire-sensitive area. The pergola is in a fire-sensitive area. The whole house is in a fire-sensitive area."

Mrs Keller said she would try to fight the decision, but they could not afford to pay the whopping fines.

"The council should be encouraging people to spend time with their families, especially this time of year," she said. "My little boy got $50 for Christmas and asked if that was enough to fight council."


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Australian Defence looks offshore to recruit troops

This is not as unusual as it might seem. I gather that about a third of the British army is comprised of "Commonwealth" troops, Pacific islanders particularly. And the U.S. army has many Hispanics, some of whom are non-citizens who get citizenship at the end of their stint

The ADF is looking overseas to recruit defence specialists in order to fill recruitment quotas.

The Australian Defence force is trying to recruit laid-off soldiers, sailors and air crew from Britain, the US and other western countries in order to fill quotas.

The Australian reports (subscribers only) the navy has sent a delegation to Britain to discover how many retrenched sailors, particularly engineers, are available.

A report on maintenance in Australia's navy suggested that as many as 200 engineers are needed to rebuild lost expertise.

The paper reports the department also is looking for defence specialists, such as fighter pilots, submarine crews and officers and are offering fast-tracked Australian citizenship as an incentive.


His Eminence has a shot at the Warmists

Cardinal Pell's reference to the "Roman warm period" is completely factual. There is no way Hannibal could drive elephants over the Alps these days and yet that is one of the best known episodes in Roman history. But Warmists don't do real history. They just make up their own

The changeable environment loomed large in the Christmas message of Sydney's Catholic Archbishop, Cardinal George Pell, who said the blessings of prosperity, peace and a good climate were taken for granted. "The unusual rains after 10 years of drought are a small price to pay in this run-up to Christmas," he said.

Every age was marred by some disasters, he said. "In Biblical times, only Noah escaped the great flood and Jacob's sons had to travel to Egypt for grain during a long drought."

Cardinal Pell said Christ's birth in the "Roman warm period" was a call to worship God and "to acknowledge how powerless we all are before the mighty forces of nature, unable sometimes to escape the caprice of disease and misfortune".


Link to the full address here

Foster couple's adoption bid on hold over claims dad hit boy with wooden spoon

The child of a feral couple almost certainly needs a whack at times

A COUPLE has been stopped from adopting two children because of claims they smacked them and once hit one of them with a wooden spoon. The 11-year-old boy and his eight-year-old sister considered the couple who had fostered them for four years to be their parents and called them Mum and Dad, Acting Justice William Windeyer told the NSW Supreme Court.

The children's birth father was in jail on sex offences and their mother, who has another three children, all in care, acknowledged she could not look after them.

The judge said the foster parents were devoted to the children and were "very suitable" to adopt them. However, Justice Windeyer said he was not satisfied there was no risk to the children and he had to take into account the possibility the boy had been hit with a wooden spoon.

The judge postponed a decision on adoption until the end of next year and said, if it was established there was smacking and the use of a wooden spoon, then the children could be removed from the couple.

The judge said the boy had behavioural, physical and mental problems. During an interview with a clinical psychologist the boy said his foster dad hit him with a wooden spoon and it "hurt".

The man denied hitting the boy with a spoon but said he had once banged a wooden spoon on the kitchen bench to get the boy's attention when he was waving a knife around.

The man admitted twice smacking the boy "gently" - once when the boy had a "massive meltdown" and grabbed him by the testicles and a second time when the boy hit him in the ribs.

The judge said he had some sympathy for the man. "It seems impossible where someone is in danger of injury to go for a walk to calm down. After all, the three actions did get a result and no one was harmed," the judge said.


Man left screaming in pain as ambos 'dealt with drunks'

RESIDENTS are furious an ambulance had to be sourced from another area while badly burnt chef Matt Golinski lay screaming in his Sunshine Coast driveway.

Neighbour Gary Siljac told The Courier-Mail he tried in vain to comfort Mr Golinski for more than half an hour, watching firefighters and police arrive before an ambulance.

Fairfax media reports the ambulance that first arrived on the scene had only one paramedic. That meant a police officer then had to drive the amublance to the hospital while Mr Golinski was treated in the back.

Mr Golinski, who has appeared on Ready, Steady, Cook, lost his wife and three daughters in the tragedy at Tewantin and suffered severe burns to 40 per cent of his body.

Residents of the quiet neighbourhood awoke to an explosion and screams about 3.30am, with several locals rushing to help. Mr Golinski's wife Rachael, their 12-year-old twins Sage and Willow and younger daughter Starlia died in the blaze. Neighbours found a badly burned Mr Golinski in his driveway, screaming for someone to help his trapped family.

"Where were they? It was an eternity before an ambulance came and then it was a guy on his own. We have an ambulance station only a few minutes away," Mr Siljac said. "The poor bloke (Matt) was burnt from top to bottom and was screaming in pain and there was nothing we could do for him," he said.

"We heard that other ambulances had been attending incidents in Hastings St involving some drunken idiots brawling. Surely something has gone wrong here."

Ambulances are allocated jobs by communications with the Sunshine Coast broken into four groups - Caloundra, Maroochydore, Noosa and Gympie. The stations closest to the fire are Tewantin (two minutes away), Cooroy (11 minutes) and Noosa (15 minutes).

A Department of Community Safety spokeswoman confirmed Queensland Ambulance Service had experienced "high operational volumes" at the time. She said three QAS units in the area could not attend the Tewantin job as they were responding to other cases.

The first ambulance to respond was sourced from Maroochydore, with the official log showing it arrived at 3.59am - 27 minutes after the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service notified the QAS at 3.32am.

Police said the first triple-0 call was logged at 3.31am and they had officers on the scene at 3.47am. A fire unit had been first to arrive at 3.41am.

The Courier-Mail was informed both police and ambulance were required to attend a disturbance on Noosa Pde, near Hastings St, at 3.30am.

The Department of Community Safety said the QAS was mindful that the details of the Tewantin fire would be subject to a coronial inquest. "The QAS allocated a total of four ambulance vehicles, including a Regional Operations Supervisor to this case and QAS crews remained on standby at the scene until cleared by QFRS," a spokeswoman said.

Mr Golinski was taken to Nambour Hospital and later flown to the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital where he was last night said to be in a "critical but stable" condition.


Monday, December 26, 2011

When will they ever learn?

I think the Gillard government must WANT our navy to be useless. The navy never got the Collins subs to work so how are they going to get more advanced subs to work?

AUSTRALIA can build a new fleet of 12 state-of-the-art submarines in Adelaide for $18 billion, less than half the cost of initial estimates, according to a major report to be released next month.

The report, by strategic think tank the Kokoda Foundation, will be embraced by the Gillard government, which has been under pressure from critics to opt for smaller, cheaper, ready-made submarines from Europe rather than pursue Navy's more expensive but preferred option of building a next generation of the Collins-class boats.


Negligent college kills girl

And then does a coverup

A coroner has described a New South Wales TAFE report on the death of a student in a horse fall as being "not worth the paper it was written on".

Deputy state coroner Sharon Freund said jillaroo student Sarah Waugh died from head and neck injuries after falling from a bolting horse that was unsuitable for a beginner.

In March 2009 the 18-year-old from Newcastle was learning to ride as part of a TAFE jillaroo course at Dubbo in the NSW central west.

The coroner criticised TAFE for not being thorough enough in assessing horses used for beginner riders and said the ex-racehorse Dargo had been obtained for use just days after running in a race.

Ms Waugh fell from the horse after it bolted in a paddock and she was unable to stop it.

The coroner said TAFE staff gave conflicting evidence at an inquest and that the teacher supervising Ms Waugh had little formal experience in teaching beginners how to ride.
Sarah Waugh in her Jillaroo gear, just days before she was killed falling from a horse in 2009. Photo: Sarah Waugh's parents hope her death becomes a legacy to help improve safety. (ABC)

Ms Freund said the TAFE investigation and report on the death was inadequate.

"That investigation and subsequent report failed to uncover or identify any failure of any workplace practices or procedures," she said. "The investigation and subsequent report was essentially not worth the paper it was written on."

Outside Glebe Coroners Court, Ms Waugh's father Mark welcomed the findings. "We feel relieved... relieved that the truth is finally out there. It's been a long process for us," he said.


Arrogant youth taught a lesson

Ten years ago, I drove cabs for a living. I’m pretty much done telling taxi stories, but there’s one I’ll share today, as it’s more or less in the spirit of Christmas.

It was the Friday before Christmas and I was working the area around Coogee/Maroubra on Sydney’s eastern suburbs beaches. It was a favourite spot to work as the fares were regular, and I stayed out of the city traffic.

So in the early evening, I pick up three young guys in South Coogee. They’re 18, maybe 19, and they get in the cab carrying brown paper bags filled with booze. They say “hey driver, can we drink this in here?”

Technically, the answer is no, no way, absolutely not. But I go sure, why not? Just don’t spill any. An accommodating driver is a driver who gets good tips.

The boys are stoked. You’re an awesome driver, they say. And you speak English too! That used to happen a lot. Like it was a compliment or something.

We’re heading to a local RSL club, where the boys are attending some kind of function. It’s only a short fare, but the mood is jovial and the smell of beer permeates the cab. The odour is strong. A little too strong.

When they get out, I see why. They have left their empty bottles on the back seat of the cab. The bottles were half full and there are puddles of beer below the seats. The boys walk off high-fiving and join the queue of young people on the steps of the RSL.

As a cabbie, you learn to put up with crap. Vomit, beer, bodily fluids, you name it. Once or twice a week, you lose half an hour to go and clean the cab mid-shift. It’s part of the game. So are runners. You can kick up a stink or you can get back on the road as soon as possible and make your money for the night. That’s normally how I played it.

But not this night. On this summery Friday evening, I am tired and frustrated and I want to make a point. So I park the cab. I ascend the RSL steps and approach the huge, muscular bouncer. The boys see me but think nothing of it.

I point the guys out to the bouncer. I tell him they’ve just trashed the back seat of my cab and I’d prefer he doesn’t let them in till they come and clean up their mess. He becomes an instant ally. Says he’ll look after me. There is an unspoken code between men and women with menial jobs. The public screws us, we screw ’em right back.

I retreat to the cab and wait, leaning against the door. When the boys reach the bouncer, I see him shaking his head. Then he marches them down my way. The boys are joking at first. But the smiles soon retreat.

The bouncer says he’s not letting them in the club till they’ve cleaned the car to my satisfaction. I ask the bouncer to bring me some bar towels and sponges or whatever he can get his hands on. This he does.

The boys clean. And clean some more until the beer puddles are soaked up and the car is cleaner than when I started the shift. The bouncer asks if I’m happy. Not yet, I say. So I make them clean where they’ve already cleaned, and then some.

By this stage, the boys are silent. All traces of bravado are gone, replaced by sullen resignation. When I finally decide I’m done, two of them look genuinely chastised. One remains defiant, and gives me a giant raised middle finger from the steps.

I couldn’t care less. My battle has been won, and even with the needless gratuitous extra wiping, I have been off the road for less time than if I’d done it myself.

There’s probably not a chance in a million that the bouncer is reading this piece. But if he is, I’d like to thank him. He didn’t just facilitate my revenge that night, he gave me dignity.

More importantly, he bestowed upon the boys the belittling emotion of indignity. I think too often nowadays people think they can get away with any kind of behaviour, any time. At the risk of sounding old and crusty, respect is on the wane. I reckon the boys would have benefited from that little episode.

What does this have to do with Christmas? Well, nothing directly, apart from the fact it happened in the Christmas week.

That said, I think the Christmas break is about more than religion. For churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike, I believe it’s a time of recharging and reflection. It’s a priceless few days to ponder our values, and how we might enact them in the year to come.

There’s a little of the vengeful cabbie and a little of the bouncer, a little of the chastised drunk boys and a little of the defiant kid in all of us. Our lives are busy, messy and often compromised. But they’re always better when we take time to slow down and refocus.


The tough little VW Beetle that could

This story has nothing to do with politics but I am a VW beetle fan. I have owned 5 of them. A VW motor is very simple, with no electronics, so its survival below is easily understandable

THIS orange VW Beetle has survived two floods in six years and earned its owner calls from friends around the world.

Natasha Donaghy said her hardy little vehicle was first flooded when a stormwater drain burst in Fortitude Valley, and more recently during the January 2011 floods.

Images of the car being carried through floodwater at Rosalie Village made local and international news as Queensland's flood crisis was beamed around the world.

She said the footage of the rescue was cause for concern to her partner's father in Scotland, and a girlfriend in France, when they recognised shots of her soggy car in Rosalie.

After leaving her car in Nash St overnight, Ms Donaghy returned to find floodwaters lapping at the tyres.

While conga lines of helpers from near and far helped evacuate Rosalie Village and nearby Beck St of goods and property, Ms Donaghy found herself staring at her car, wondering how to get it out of about a metre of floodwater.

She was just about to give up when a passing stranger noticed her predicament. "She said, 'leave it to me', turned around and did this wolf whistle and said 'I need 20 blokes now to come and lift this car out'," Ms Donaghy said.

She said that straight away a group of helpers materialised and carried her car to safety. "Everyone was clapping and cheering," she said.

The car is now back up and running, but needed about $2000 of repairs for the flood damage. Worth every cent, according to Ms Donaghy.


Sunday, December 25, 2011


Another so-called Aborigine

I had better not call her a fake Aborigine or I might end up in court like Andrew Bolt. So much for free speech in Australia.

Though it must be said that judge Mordecai Bromberg was dancing on the head of a pin with his vapid reasoning concerning Bolt's writings. According to Bromberg what Bolt said was OK; It was just the "tone" in which he said it that condemned him. Do we really have a law about "tone"?

It is a great pity that the Bolt verdict was not appealed to a higher and hopefully fairer court. But the Labor Party legislation made that difficult.

And what does it say for the progress of Aborigines when the successful ones among them are white rather than black?

A PERSONAL tragedy inspired Ellie May Moore to pursue a career in medicine, something she hopes will be possible now she has completed Year 12. Ellie was the top Aboriginal student to complete the South Australian Certificate of Education this year and was presented with an award in recognition of her achievements.

The 18-year-old obtained a university entrance score of 89.75, completing biology, health studies, maths studies, psychology and a research project.

"I was shocked when I heard I had received the award," she said. "It's a real surprise, and my family are thrilled for me. I hope it can encourage indigenous students to complete their schooling and realise their dreams."

It was the time she spent in hospital around the time of a grandparent's death when she saw the good doctors could do that she set her goal to be part of the medical profession.

This year 145 Aboriginal students who started Year 12 went on to complete their certificates - out of 172 - which is an 84 per cent completion rate and a rise of 5.8 per cent on 2010. And 83 students gained a tertiary entrance score, more than any other time in the past six years.


The folly of litigation over wills

THEY are often the only winners when families go to war over disputed wills but the state's most expensive lawyers have been told by judges to stay off the battlefield.

As legal costs eclipse the value of some of the estates being fought over, top silks should know better than to get involved when they are not needed, however lucrative the work, judges believe.

When flautist Jane Rutter, 52, and her brother David, 51, challenged their father Barry's will after their stepsister, 25, made a claim for a greater share of his estate, the judge was scathing that the four-day hearing cost an "outrageous" $400,000 in legal bills. The estate was worth only $375,000.

In another notorious case, two daughters and a granddaughter of widow Alma Sherbourne won a $360,000 inheritance from the late 81-year-old's estate - but their legal bill was $450,000.

Professor Prue Vines last week released a study of fights over wills for the country's judges and said it wasn't that top lawyers weren't doing a good job for their clients but most disputes over wills were not complicated enough to merit the expense of hiring a Queen's Counsel or a Senior Counsel.

"It's very hard to ask someone to turn down work but judges have said to me that a silk should be able to say, 'that (case) doesn't really need me'," Professor Vines, from the University of NSW's law faculty, said. "Judges generally feel that silks have the ability and the knowledge to know when they are not necessary."

Her study for the Australian Institute of Judicial Administration found that family members sparring over the smallest amounts were willing to spend the most on lawyers. The most disproportionate costs came in cases between battling siblings, followed in second place by fights between the children of the first wife and the children of the second wife.

In one case, a 61-year-old woman claimed for the cost of a car from her late step-father's estate despite the fact neither she nor her son drove. She didn't get the car but did get $30,000. Her legal costs were $38,000. Judges have been outspoken in court when the legal costs have added up to more than one quarter of the value of the estate being fought over but Professor Vine said that some cases involved costs adding up to more than half the value of the estate.

Families are then shocked to discover they have to pay out of their own pockets because they were no longer automatically paid out of the estate, as had traditionally been the case.

Professor Vine said this was the end of the generation where parents would scrimp and save and "starve" to ensure there was something to leave to their children. Latest figures show there were 1576 disputes over wills filling the Supreme Court lists in 2009, with 512 new cases filed that year and 605 finalised. Numbers have remained high for years - in 2005 there were 655 new cases filed and 578 finalised.

It was reminiscent of Charles Dickens' Bleak House, where the fight over the inheritance went on so long that beneficiaries did not live to see the end, Professor Vines said. Costs balloon because people swear hundreds of affidavits which means longer in court time and the resulting costs.

Professor Vines suggested that people discuss their will with their family before they die and explain the decisions they are making so the bad news doesn't come as so much of a shock when they lose the inheritance lottery.


Christmas rituals help hold us together

Christmas has been commercialised, but the central activity remains - people taking time out to be with other people, be it family, friends or a mixture of both. Photo: Luis Enrique Ascui
Christmas is a time when religion meets US-style enterprise. Despite its manifold and, some say, crass modifications, the capacity of Christmas and other traditional celebrations to hold us together remains undiminished.

As Christmas beckons I find myself wondering whether this and other religious and cultural festivals such as Passover and Ramadan share common ground. After all, they bind us in our humanity, but remind us of our unique origins and experiences and affirm the importance of our community life and renewal.

Rituals are deeply embedded memories and traditions that have been carried on the migratory journeys of people and adapted to new environments. Santa Claus decked out in his winter gear has been lugged from the northern hemisphere winter to the dry heat of an Australian summer without a change of clothes.

Many in Australia will celebrate Christmas on beaches, a sundeck or under a mango tree. If it is not a fire danger day, the Aussie barbecue, with its slabs of meat, salad and beer, will replace the traditional cold climate Christmas meal of pudding and roast.

Our indigenous peoples know deeply that rituals and traditions are the connecting threads that provide us with a sense of our familial and ancestral history. Without them we can become lost. But, paradoxically, if rituals become rigid and fail to adjust to altering circumstances, they can lose their power and meaning.

This occurs when we go through the motions but do not necessarily engage in the spirit of the occasion — when we dutifully turn up, but our hearts are not in it. In all but extremely dysfunctional families, the legitimacy of the day rests with what we confer on it. Being mindful of the passing of life and expressing genuine pleasure in the company of those we love or who are significant in our lives is the deal maker. For some whose family history has been a source of pain rather than a nurturing environment this might mean creating a new "family" of friends.

We also need to reassess the culture of excess that seems to go into a frenzy over the festive season. We overeat and over consume, bestowing often unwanted gifts on recipients who must feign gratitude so as not to offend. As the planet groans under our weight it is time to reassess the tradition of plentitude and overindulgence — a legacy of the yuletide winter solstice and pagan festivities that are part of "ye olde Christmas".

Despite all, at their best, these traditions provide a celebration of continuity, comfort, company, family and community. They mark time, but reassure us that some things still remain, if not the same, at least recognisable.

Some celebrate with prayers and carols, and above all, the iconic Christmas lunch. But many have an "early Christmas", to gather in disparate groups that reflect divorce and separation. It is possible to have four or more sets of grandparents to visit. As a result of split relationships, many find themselves experiencing a force-feeding at multiple Christmas feasts. Like the Vicar of Dibley who politely and agonisingly consumes three enormous Christmas lunches in succession.

And the festive season can also sharpen awareness of change and loss. These are times when wounds can be reopened. The lonely are more lonely and the season may bring a heightened risk of suicide.

The absence of dead relatives and friends is felt keenly. This may be the loss of a grandparent who spanned the decades and held generations of memories.

The survivors of the Queensland and Victorian floods will experience their first Christmas since the disasters. Some are in temporary homes and have lost all memorabilia of the past or worse are now without much loved family members. Many will fear this time of year. There will be new homes but a need to reconstruct their way of remembering the experience.

But perhaps the most forgotten among us are the homeless, who at best will have the "tradition" of a lunch served by kindly volunteers in a church hall or other charitable venue or do nothing at all. They are left as outsiders.

In these times of fast-paced change, the observance of time-worn and adapted, even kitsch, traditions has become more important and powerful. All of us, including the dislocated and the grieving may find comfort in some form of celebration, however different from past years.

The raison d'etre remains the same. Connecting with family, friends and our communities; farewelling the passings and embracing the time to come with hope.



The following are results from an OZ-words Competition where entrants were asked to take an Australian word, alter it by one letter only, and supply a witty definition. Clearly, you need to be an Aussie to understand.

Billabonk: to make passionate love beside a waterhole

Bludgie: a partner who doesn't work, but is kept as a pet

Dodgeridoo: a fake indigenous artefact

Fair drinkum: good-quality Aussie wine

Flatypus: a cat that has been run over by a vehicle

Mateshit: all your flat mate's belongings, lying strewn around the floor

Shagman: an unemployed male, roaming the Australian bush in search of sexual activity

Yabble: the unintelligible language of Australian freshwater crustaceans

Bushwanker: a pretentious drongo, who reckons he's above average when it comes to handling himself in the scrub

Crackie-daks: 'hipster' tracksuit pants.

And for the Kiwis amongst us:

Shornbag: a particularly attractive naked sheep

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Leiden university rankings

You can see them for yourself here. You will note that the top rankings are overwhelmingly dominated by American universities.

Leiden university ranks other universities in the following way:
The Leiden Ranking 2011/2012 is based on publications in Thomson Reuters’ Web of Science database in the period 2005-2009. Only publications in the sciences and the social sciences are included. Publications in the arts and humanities are excluded because in these domains the bibliometric indicators of the Leiden Ranking do not have sufficient accuracy. Furthermore, only publications of the Web of Science document types article, letter, and review are considered in the Leiden Ranking.

Impact indicators

The Leiden Ranking offers the following indicators of the scientific impact of a university:

Mean citation score (MCS). The average number of citations of the publications of a university.

Mean normalized citation score (MNCS). The average number of citations of the publications of a university, normalized for field differences, publication year, and document type. An MNCS value of two for instance means that the publications of a university have been cited twice above world average.

Proportion top 10% publications (PPtop 10%). The proportion of the publications of a university that, compared with other similar publications, belong to the top 10% most frequently cited.

Publications are considered similar if they were published in the same field and the same publication year and if they have the same document type.

Citations are counted until the end of 2010 in the above indicators. Author self citations are excluded. The PPtop 10% indicator is more stable than the MNCS indicator, and we therefore regard the PPtop 10% indicator as the most important impact indicator of the Leiden Ranking.

In other words it looks at how often papers coming out of a given university are cited in other papers.

That rather explains the American dominance. There are a LOT of American universities (around 7,000 on some counts -- depending on what you define as a university). So what we are seeing is that all those American researchers mostly cite papers by other Americans. There are many reasons why that might be so with the excellence of the cited paper being only one of the reasons.

Being personally acquainted (via conferences etc.) with other people working in your field is another obvious reason. I know from my own experience during my research career that the heaviest use of my papers mostly came from people I knew personally from conferences.

So although the Leiden rankings are the most objective of the rankings available they are really only useful in ranking American universities. As rankings of universities worldwide they are essentially useless.

It is therefore all the more to the credit of the occasional non-American university that crept into the list. The highest ranking Australian university was the ANU, ranked 114th. The ANU was of course designed from the beginning as a research-heavy university so that is not unexpected.

The University of Melbourne came 163rd ,the University of Queensland (my alma mater) was 170th but the University of Sydney was 290th.

Most other rankings of world universities place Australian universities much higher.

One "habitat" versus another

THE federal and NSW governments are facing claims their $24 million purchase of the historic Toorale Station near Bourke in 2008 to help the Murray-Darling river system was a waste of money that has harmed the local economy while delivering scant environmental benefit.

Three years after the federal government led the purchase of the 91,000-hectare property to release its irrigated water back to the river system, the dams and irrigation channels are still in place - though their decommissioning was a key part of the environmental plan - the Herald has confirmed.

An "infrastructure decommissioning plan" drawn up by engineering consultants Aurecon in 2009 found there were environmental obstacles to scrapping the dams and channels because a new ecology has grown in the 150 years since the station was established. Also, a complete decommissioning would cost $79 million.

Angry locals have told the Herald their economy has been battered without much gain.

"It's very hard to see that there's been any environmental benefit whatsoever from the $23.75 million that was spent," Geoff Wise, general manager of Bourke Shire, said. "But there's been millions and millions of dollars of lost productivity that would have flowed had it remained a viable property."

He said Toorale Station had provided about 10 per cent of Bourke's business and 4 per cent of the shire rates. "Overnight, we lost that."

The property on the confluence of the Darling and Warrego rivers was bought by the NSW government, though the Commonwealth paid the bulk of the purchase price with nearly $20 million and in return got the water rights.

The then water minister Penny Wong said at the time the infrastructure decommissioning plan would be "implemented as soon as possible". The Aurecon report in August 2009 advised "partial decommissioning".

The federal Environment Department said in a statement to the Herald the purchase had delivered an extra 56 billion litres of water to the environment by releasing water out of the dams. This falls short of the average 20 billion litres a year - peaking at 80 billion in flood years - Senator Wong promised in 2009, despite the heavy rains and flooding of recent years.

In the 2010-11 financial year, 7.6 billion litres were returned to the river system - just 0.01 per cent of the total flow of water through the Darling River at the Louth gauge, downstream.

The Water Minister, Tony Burke, acknowledged decommissioning had "taken longer than originally expected" and added "we're still working through the technical details with NSW as to which is the best pathway".

He said the water already recovered had helped the Darling River, the Warrego River, the Great Darling Anabranch and the River Murray wetlands.

Even supporters of the purchase are disappointed by the lack of progress. Justin McClure, the owner of Kallara Station, a flood plain grazing property south-west of Bourke on the Darling River, said it had always been the understanding the dams would be removed.

"I'm disappointed that the infrastructure hasn't been decommissioned," he said."I'm disappointed that more water hasn't been returned to the river, although I understand the issues the government is facing."

Mr McClure said there had been environmental gains downstream and he still believed the purchase had been worth the money. But he added: "The fact there's no information on what they're actually doing is what upsets me the most … I don't think it's a transparent process."

The opposition water spokesman, Barnaby Joyce, said the Toorale situation boded ill for Murray-Darling Basin reform.

"When the nation pays for a property that doesn't actually deliver much water into the Darling River and now they are reorganising the nation's food bowl and how we feed ourselves, I get very worried."


The Labor party's freedom from information office

Never accuse the government of lacking a sense of humour. It was brilliant! Here was its new agency, the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. An official-looking website claimed this supposed "OAIC" was part of the Attorney-General's Department.

It was committed to "open public sector information", according to the mission statement. On and on it went about the integrity and importance of free, public, and open information in government.

"We will champion open government, provide advice and assistance to the public, promote better information management by government … we will have a comprehensive range of functions, including investigating complaints". Vigorous stuff, but was it too vigorous to be true?

Government-held information is a national resource, this OAIC said

Just the place to go for some information, we thought. We had discovered public information had been disappearing from government databases. Something had to be done. The Australian Information Commissioner here we come!

"No comment," the commissioner said, via email.

But hang on! Large files of public information had been quietly purged by the corporate regulator, and the central bank and Treasury. National resources buried, by three separate departments. We have a pattern. Here is the proof.

"No comment," the email from the communications operative said on behalf of the commissioner.

It was at that moment that the penny dropped. This was not just another bureaucratic enclave whose sole raison d'etre was self-preservation. It was actually a gag, and a damn fine gag too, an information gag.

"Care for some information about information? Yes sir, you've come to the right place, no doubt about that! Just wait there for two weeks, sit tight, we'll get right back to you!" It was Pythonesque - the Ministry for Silly Pranks, the Bureau for Wasting People's Time.

The name of the Australian Information Commissioner, they say, is Professor John McMillan. It sounds lifelike. Indeed the name is attached to long and windy statements in the annual report about strong commitment to open government, engagement with government agencies and so forth.

But was he real? Dare we try to speak with this mysterious professor himself? Again, we emailed a question to this elusive figure via a communications officer:

"In the spirit of freedom of Australian information and keeping the public properly informed in the press are you prepared to actually speak with me on the telephone?"

Alas! Our petitions were met, once again, with a good old fobbing-off.

"Thanks for your email. John often speaks directly to journalists but he is very pressed for time this afternoon as he is leaving for the airport at 4. He asked me to let you know that there is nothing more that he can add on this particular issue without a proper investigation."

Was it that the professor, if he really existed, had yet to embrace the mobile phone revolution? Or perhaps he was off on a trip, one of those nice overseas trips; a fact-finding mission from Canberra to Cancun say; finding facts about information at the annual international conference for information commissioners in order to commission a steering committee report on a white paper to evaluate the opportunities for a comprehensive range of functions with which to address the challenges of promoting more efficient information management.

The question is serious. It is about information vanishing from public databases: public information about banks using government guarantees, information about government agencies providing special favours to liquidators.

McMillan proffered his "no comment" to the question of exemption orders being purged from the public database of the Australian Securities and Investments Commission. The documents were relief orders given to liquidators, providing special exemptions from their having to file public accounts. Lots of them.

They disappeared about the time the regulator was to come under scrutiny by a Senate inquiry into liquidators. The Senate report was damning. Nothing was ever done by ASIC to restore the information to the public database. And as yet there is zero accountability from the OAIC or any other agency.

To the second issue: large swathes of public information had been purged from the Reserve Bank of Australia and Treasury websites, without explanation, relating to sovereign guarantees for wholesale bank funding.

When questioned, the RBA conceded it took down the information because a bank, or the banks, had requested it. The OAIC did not even respond to the issue by acknowledging it with a "no comment".

"The OAIC looks forward to an energetic year promoting information rights, information policy and the strategic management of personal and public sector information," Professor John McMillan, Australian Information Commissioner, said in this year's annual report.


A case that should worry all Queenslanders

THE tacky, disturbing and totally unnecessary case of Bruce Rowe versus misplaced authority came to an end in the District Court on Monday. Well, it could have, although Constable Benjamin Arndt, who was found guilty of assaulting Rowe in 2006 in Brisbane's Queen Street Mall, could appeal to the Supreme Court or, conceivably, beyond.

The immovable Rowe, who turned 71 on Sunday, was a comparative stripling of 65 when he crossed paths with Arndt and a bunch of other police about 9 o'clock on the night of July 9, five-and-a-half years ago.

In an incident that was widely seen on TV (and is still out there on YouTube), Rowe was arrested, charged and convicted of obstructing police and failing to obey a police order after a disagreement that began in the public toilets and ended with him being held down by four officers and kneed by another.

It dragged through the Magistrates Court, the District Court and the Court of Appeal. The first court convicted Rowe, the second confirmed the conviction but the third overturned it.

The rematch came in the Magistrates Court in February when Rowe launched a private prosecution resulting in Arndt being found guilty of assaulting Rowe, fined $1000 and ordered to pay him $2250 court costs, although no conviction was recorded.

The established forces of investigation or law and order were conspicuous by their absence.

Then Arndt disputed the magistrate's findings but this week Judge Brian Devereaux tossed out the appeal. Watch this space.

The appeal largely revolved around claims that magistrate Linda Bradford-Morgan had relied on information extraneous to the case.

Arndt argued that the wrongful consideration of extraneous materials constituted a substantial miscarriage of the Magistrates Court trial, justice was not seen to be done and the trial was not conducted according to law.

Judge Devereaux was sympathetic to a point but decided it was open to the magistrate to convict Arndt on the original evidence without the distraction of the extraneous material.

He watched the distasteful video "many times" and declared: "It is unnecessary to say I reach precisely the same conclusions ... having due regard to the findings and conclusions of the magistrate but mindful of the errors I have found in her honour's reasoning, I have formed my own conclusion that the force used in the application of the four knee strikes was not authorised or justified or excused by law. "It was unlawful because it was not reasonably necessary and was unjustified in the circumstances."

How did it all come to this and why did it take so long to resolve?

Had Rowe been just another homeless, friendless and vulnerable man it might have been a simple issue resolved in court just after the morning drunks' parade.

In nine cases out of 10, that might have happened. However Rowe, although grieving and troubled, was also a stubborn and courageous man who refused to take a step backwards in the face of what he perceived as injustice.

He ultimately turned out to be more than capable of looking after himself and seeking justice. Perhaps, it is the other nine out of 10 cases we should be worried about.

At the time of Arndt's assault case, Police Union president Ian Leavers expressed concern that the conviction had "dire consequences for all police officers doing their job". "I am very, very concerned now that police officers across the state will be reluctant to do their job and the community will suffer," Leavers said.

It is a seductive sentiment for those who haven't the wit or the humility to ever imagine themselves in Rowe's shoes. However, it is ultimately even more harmful to the community to pretend that police cannot do their job without breaking the law.

And it is an affront to the thousands of police who do manage to do their difficult jobs without breaking the letter or the spirit of the law and apply the police motto of "With honour we serve" to all citizens, regardless of their station or their situation.

Equally worrying is that justice was delivered despite, not because of, the Police Ethical Standards Command and the Crime and Misconduct Commission, which found there was insufficient evidence to charge any of the police officers over the incident.

Subsequent court findings that Rowe was not only innocent but had been unlawfully roughed up must raise questions about the quality and diligence of both investigations.

Had it not been for the toughness and pigheadedness of Rowe, whose "age and slight frame" were noted by the magistrate, a serious wrong would have gone unpunished.

Had it not been for the video evidence, his might have been the feeble voice of an ordinary man who had fallen on hard times against that of police.

The inadequacies of the investigations into this event - and similar failings and inconsistencies in many others - are hardly likely to inspire confidence among the public or the police, who have an equal entitlement to justice.

The Roman poet Juvenal is credited with asking "Who will guard the guardians?" We are yet to adequately answer that, but surely it is not a 71-year-old man.


Report reveals emergency department bottleneck

AMBULANCES and emergency departments are becoming increasingly jammed with patients as Victorian hospitals struggle to cope with a shortage of beds, new figures show.

Doctors yesterday called for an urgent increase in hospital capacity after the state government's latest hospital report showed hundreds of thousands of patients had waited longer than they should for emergency and surgical care since July last year. This included two patients who waited more than the government's benchmark time for urgent elective surgery at the Royal Women's Hospital.

The report showed a clear bottleneck developing in emergency departments, where 1877 people were left on trolleys for more than 24 hours while waiting for a bed during the last financial year. This was nearly double the 1012 people left on trolleys during the 11 months to June 2010.

Between July and September, the problem appeared to get worse, with a further 623 patients waiting more than a day on a trolley, compared to 320 for the previous quarter between April and June.

Frankston Hospital was by far the worst, with 1046 patients waiting longer than 24 hours between July 2010 and September this year, followed by Albury hospital with 535 and the Mercy in Werribee with 305.

Ambulances have also faced more delays in handing over patients to emergency department staff because of a shortage of beds.

The report showed that in the last financial year, 15.6 per cent or 49,907 of the 319,922 patients taken to hospitals by ambulance remained with paramedics for more than 40 minutes before they could be left with emergency department staff.

This blew out further between July and September this year, with 19,407 of the 84,017 ambulance deliveries taking more than 40 minutes to hand over. Paramedics have long complained that this holds them up, reducing the number of ambulances free to attend new cases.

While all urgent emergency department patients were treated immediately, more than 200,000 semi-urgent and non-urgent patients waited longer than the benchmark times for care between July last year and September this year. This included people having strokes and those suffering severe bleeding and breathing difficulties.

On elective surgery, all but two urgent patients were treated within the government's benchmark of 30 days during the last financial year, but 25 per cent of semi-urgent patients waited longer than the government's target of 90 days for their procedures.

Health Minister David Davis acknowledged the system could improve, but said hospitals had coped well with record demand. He said Frankston Hospital's poor results had prompted a review of its emergency department.

Opposition health spokesman Gavin Jennings accused Mr Davis of trying to bury the report by releasing it three days before Christmas.