Thursday, January 26, 2012

"My daughter the doctor" comes seriously unglued

CMC launches criminal investigation into University of Queensland nepotism scandal, where rules went bent to allow the daughter of a university boss entry to the medical school

THE Crime and Misconduct Commission this morning launched a major criminal investigation into the University of Queensland nepotism scandal that claimed the scalps of two of Australia's leading academics.

In an escalation of the investigation that began last year, a six-member taskforce has been set up to probe possible criminal breaches and official misconduct over the university's handling of controversy.

Vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield was ousted from his million-dollar job at the university last year after The Courier-Mail reported a "close family member" had been allowed into the prized medical course despite failing to qualify during an admissions exam.

Professor Greenfield's deputy Professor Michael Keniger, was also forced out despite claiming the admission was a simple misunderstanding.

The acting chairman of the CMC, Warren Strange, said the investigation would cover three key areas.

The most serious complaint revolves around certain allegations made by a former University of Queensland student to police. "This complaint has been recently referred to the CMC by the Queensland Police Service," Mr Strange said.

"Due to the seriousness of the allegations , the CMC is obliged to commence an investigation to ascertain whether or not any criminal offence has been committed by any persons associated with the making of the forced offer."

A major part of the investigation will seek to determine whether university chiefs deliberately sought to mislead the CMC and the public. "This will focus on broader aspects surrounding the university's handling and response to allegations concerning the vice chancellor and senior deputy vice chancellor, including the university's public responses to date," Mr Strange said.

He said it was in the public interest to "independently examine" issues associated with the "forced offer for entry" by a student into the university's 2011 medical program.

There would also be a quality review of the university's overall management of official misconduct matters. He said it was important to restore public confidence in the institution's ability to deal with allegations by staff and students.

"The CMC has, in line with its statutory responsibility to oversight allegations of misconduct in Queensland's public sector, been closely monitoring the university's handling of the matter," Mr Strange said.

He dismissed earlier suggestions from the university that the CMC had completed its investigations and cleared the university. "At no time has the CMC closed its oversight and, in the public interest, we have decided to take this course of action due to the seriousness of the allegations," he said.

Mr Strange said it was important the public had confidence in the university's ability to deal with any future complaints of official misconduct. He said it was not appropriate to comment further.

He declined to say whether the ousted academics or the student at the centre of the controversy would be asked to give evidence. However, a CMC source warned the commission had coercive powers.

The CMC will consider publishing a detailed report of its findings which may be tabled in Parliament.


Aussies love one thing more than beer - freedom

That must be sour news to Leftists

WE love our beer, we love our beaches and we love our barbecues. But, like the swaggie who sprang into the billabong back in 1895, we love our freedom most of all.

We asked you to name the three things that made it great to be an Aussie, and got more than 15,000 responses. Sam Kekovich can rest easy: barbecues, meat and mates all got significant support.

But freedom topped the list - and there was daylight between that and the second most popular response, beer.


Flood victims gear for court action in wake of renewed scrutiny of Wivenhoe Dam operations

FLOOD victims are gearing up for action should renewed scrutiny of the operations of Wivenhoe Dam by the flood inquiry provide grounds for class-action lawsuits.

Insurers are also taking a close interest because further hearings might provide new evidence of the timing of dam releases that could affect disputed flood claims.

The moves come as questions continue to be raised about why the top-level Commission of Inquiry overlooked crucial documents about the management of Wivenhoe Dam in the days before last year's inundation of Brisbane.

The documents, revealed in The Australian, indicate that on the crucial weekend of January 8-9 last year the dam's managers were operating under a low-level release strategy rather than a more urgent strategy to prevent flooding, contradicting evidence given to the inquiry.

Announcing the election would occur after the final flood report was released in March, Premier Anna Bligh said it was only fair that voters had a chance to know whether candidates they were voting for had adverse findings against them.

She said "the full force of the law" should apply to anyone found responsible for any cover-up or having given false evidence but stopped short of criticising the inquiry for failing to fully scrutinise evidence. "Every flood victim" deserved the truth, she said.

LNP leader Campbell Newman said it was right that the hearings were taking place amid suggestions of a cover-up. "These suggestions need to be put to bed and it is a good thing they are going to be investigated," he said.

One insurance company said last night it was already receiving legal advice on the extended inquiry "in case it changes any of the fundamental premises ... about the timing of the floods".

A spokesman for RACQ, the second-biggest domestic insurer in Queensland, which dealt with thousands of claims after the floods, said: "We're evaluating these latest developments and will be watching the hearings with interest."

In the flood-hit Brisbane Valley, members of The Fernvale Action Group, the Mid-Brisbane Irrigators and other local residents were meeting last night in Lowood to decide whether to engage lawyers to pursue action against the dam operators.

Pine Mountain nurseryman and flood victim John Craigie, who was attending the meeting, predicted it would be difficult to fund such an action because "there are lots of people out there still doing it tough".

The inquiry's report was unlikely to be a sufficient basis for a legal action and "hard evidence" would have to be found to put to a court, he said.

But in Rocklea, a group of flood-hit businesses and households expected evidence of negligence would emerge. David Stark of Flood Affected Businesses and Homes said: "If it doesn't come out at the inquiry, it's going to come out at the class action."


Sisterhood beware - silencing ideas stymies progress

When debate is marked by personal vitriol, people opt out and keep quiet

I have long considered myself a feminist and been disturbed by the parts of the sisterhood who operate like the nasty in-group in primary school. You can't be our friend because you don't wear the right pink dress. You can't be our friend unless you toe the approved party-line on abortion, childcare or sexual clothing. It is astounding to watch grown women engage in exclusionary behaviour that most of us outgrew by age 10.

But they have been at it again in the debate over the feminist credentials of Melinda Tankard Reist.

Anne Summers wrote in The Sunday Age that Tankard Reist can't be in the feminist club because she is pro-life. Summers said the core principle of feminism is women's independence, financial and reproductive. That might be Summers' definition, but it's not mine, nor would it be many other women's. Definitions aside, why can't Summers just reiterate the arguments in favour of free, legal and safe abortion, instead of seeking to ostracise someone with whom she disagrees? "You're not my friend" does not counter any anti-abortion argument. It is a non-sequitur.

Kate Gleeson, an Australian Research Council Fellow in politics at Macquarie University, then called for Tankard Reist to explain herself in The Age - in particular her work for former senator Brian Harradine.

Gleeson said that many feminists were "suspicious" of Tankard Reist because she "identifies as a pro-life feminist". Lots of people have advised politicians with whose policies many of us disagree. Why Tankard Reist has to explain herself any more than any other adviser is beyond me. And why any of us should be "suspicious" of her just because she thinks differently from us beggars belief. I don't believe in god but I feel no need to be suspicious of those who do.

Like Tankard Reist, I have been on the receiving end of the self-appointed sisterhood's ire. I used to write about motherhood and childcare; about the importance of women having time away from work to care for their own children; about the need for child-friendly work practices, as opposed to employer-friendly long hours of care and short periods of leave. Ideas that are commonplace now, but 15 years ago, fresh out of '80s feminism, were rare, if not among mothers, at least in public forums.

I used to write about that, but not now. I stopped because along with other academics I know, I couldn't be bothered dealing with the vitriol, as opposed to refutation of ideas. The insistence on playing the player, not the ball. I stick to property law these days. My ideas on strata schemes don't seem to leave anyone reaching for their garlic and crucifix.

The problem with exclusionary vitriol is that it lowers the level of public debate.

First, many people, much smarter and more insightful than me, step out of the arena. Public debate is carried on by the small pool of people thick-skinned enough to weather, or perverse enough to like, the nastiness. Now that unaccountable bloggers, sneering and abusing from the safety of their bedrooms, have entered the fray, the pool of contributors to civil public debate is even smaller.

Second, shooting the messenger fails to engage with the question at hand. "You're wrong because you don't think like us" only convinces the converted.

Finally, silencing ideas stymies progress. The essence of any functioning democracy is the ability to get as many ideas on the table as possible and then thrash them out without fear or favour. The humility to admit that you might be wrong, that someone might be able to change your mind by presenting you with a new idea, is the hallmark of a healthy intellect.

The alternatives to democratic debate are cults or repressive religions. Devotees want to be told what to think and tenets of faith must not be questioned, on threat of excommunication. I have often thought this is what some women want from feminism.

I do not know Tankard Reist and I am not pro-life, but I defend her right to express her opinions, call herself a feminist and prosecute her beliefs. That includes her right to advise senators with whom I might also disagree.

The real test of tolerance is tolerating those with whom we strongly disagree. And we will never have a right to express our own contested ideas if we do not defend others' rights to do the same.


Why we can't trust Gillard any more

The Prime Minister has let us all down, particularly young people.

Some things transcend politics and policy and the lust for power. Truth, honesty, integrity, decency and fairness are immutable values. They are the ethical substance of life. They ought to be cherished. To sell them out is to sell one's soul. It is even worse when a leader expediently betrays these values, because it undermines the entire community.

We have a duty to lead and inspire our young people, in particular. What are they, and indeed all of us, to make of a prime minister who judges it acceptable to blatantly, blithely break a written pledge in the name of base politics? This is what Julia Gillard has done by abandoning her poker-machines promise to Andrew Wilkie. It was a solemn, public undertaking instrumental to her gaining the trust and the numbers to form government, having come to the prime ministership through means that had already undermined her moral authority.

She ought to have introduced the legislation; it is unimpeachably better to honourably lose a vote on the floor of the house than to prove beyond doubt that your word is not able to be trusted.

One of the greatest thinkers and leaders of all time, Socrates, that magnificent practitioner of the dialectic method of investigation and learning, might have had such circumstances in mind when he asked: "Are you not ashamed of caring so much for the making of money and for fame and prestige, when you neither think nor care about wisdom and truth and the improvement of your soul?"

It is hard to think of a worse message Gillard could have delivered. It is shameful. She has pretty much forfeited her claim on respect. Her trashing of her word means she no longer merits our trust. If the Prime Minister places so little value on her honour, why should anyone else have any faith in it? It is little wonder that so many people feel so disenchanted by politics. This Prime Minister has even managed to trump the moral slipperiness of John Howard's Orwellian construct of "core" and "non-core" promises.

Media organisations need to think carefully and clearly about their role in all of this. There is a tendency for politics and policy to be covered more as blood sport than the noble contest of ideas. That is understandable, to a point, and can be entertaining for aficionados. But there is insufficient differentiation drawn between policy issues and those issues concerning the very structure and ethics within which parliamentary democracy operates. Gillard's pledge to Andrew Wilkie and, by extension, to all of us, falls into the latter category.

There is nothing wrong with a politician and, for that matter, any of us, changing position in light of new evidence. There is everything right with it. Economist and policymaker John Maynard Keynes famously said last century: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?"

Here, too, media organisations might want to be more open to the validity and need for intellectual flexibility. Public policy is about getting best results. Public policy driven by ideology, rather than the intellectualism so neatly encapsulated by the late Lord Keynes, is the antithesis of what we should be seeking.

There is another category - the expedient reversal or abandonment of policy. In such cases, where, for example, a politician changes course by opting for what is currently popular, as measured by polls and focus groups, over what is right and just, media organisations and the general public should express dismay. Gillard's betrayal on poker machines policy is not of this category. It is a change for which there is no valid excuse. Any attempt to justify it as something dictated by "the real world" or "real politics" is disingenuous and insulting, both morally and intellectually. We owe our young people, and ourselves, far better than that.

When was the last time you heard an insightful, inspiring piece of oratory from an Australian political leader, an appeal to what is pure and true within humanity, a statement of belief backed by ideas for change and betterment, a call to those immutable values wherein lie the potential greatness of people individually and collectively?

Such exhortation, such leadership, is lamentably scarce. There are probably only two in recent times I reckon are candidates for a list that ought to be replete. One is Kevin Rudd's apology to indigenous Australians. The other is Malcolm Turnbull's speech when he crossed the floor on climate change.

There is something going on in the community that some of our politicians, including the Prime Minister, seem to be missing, bunkered as they are in the battle for dominance of the current Parliament. So many people are seeking authenticity, a return to simplicity, meaning and community. It's there in the burgeoning not-for-profit sector, where as many as one in 12 people are employed. It's there in the vegie patches that are being planted in so many more back gardens. It's there in the outrage people feel about the treatment of asylum seekers. It's there in the explosion of writing and communication and creativity in what's known as social media, but is perhaps better described as open media. It's everywhere.

There has been an inversion; the real leadership is coming from the community, a community that has left Gillard behind, rather than from the body politic. And it's a community now all-but out of reach for a PM who has let down not only herself, but all of us.


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