Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Survey shows Australians support foreign labour

A new survey shows a majority of Australians support the use of foreign workers to address labour shortages, but are also opposed to large-scale foreign investment.

The Lowy Institute poll has found 62 per cent of people support the use of temporary skilled migration when local employees are not available.

The annual survey was conducted before the Federal Government announced it would allow 1,700 foreign workers to be employed on the Roy Hill iron ore project in Western Australia.

But the institute's executive director, Michael Wesley, says the poll gives some indication of what Australians might think about the plan, and shows many people are worried about foreigners buying Australian assets.

"We found that 81 per cent of people we asked are against foreign companies buying Australian farmland," Mr Wesley said.

"Australians continue to be worried about the amount of Chinese investment the government is allowing in - 56 per cent think the government's allowing too much Chinese investment into Australia.

"I think people are well aware that some of the big projects in Australian history like the Snowy Mountains scheme were built using skilled labour, because the labour wasn't available from within the Australian population.

"So they're aware that our prosperity and our progress as a nation does depend on allowing in people with the skills that we need."

The survey has also found support for Australia's alliance with the United States has reached its highest level since the poll began in 2005.

But support for tough action on climate change has continued to fall, with 63 per cent of respondents opposed to the government's carbon tax.


At long last!

Crooked lawyer struck off for excess charging

RUSSELL KEDDIE, the principal of the personal injury law firm Keddies, has been found guilty of professional misconduct and struck off the legal roll for his part in the gross overcharging of a paraplegic client.

The Administrative Decisions Tribunal found yesterday Keddies had overcharged Suang Ying Meng by about $215,000 when it acted for her following a bus crash in South Australia in 2002.

A senior associate of the firm, Philip Scroope, was also found guilty of professional misconduct, reprimanded and fined, although he has been allowed to continue practising as a lawyer.

Disciplinary proceedings against two other Keddies partners, Scott Roulstone and Tony Barakat, were dropped after Mr Keddie agreed to take "ultimate responsibility" for overcharging Ms Meng. Mr Roulstone now works for a rival firm, Slater & Gordon, which acquired Keddies for $30 million last year. Mr Barakat left Slater & Gordon last December and runs his own firm, Barton Lawyers.

While the Legal Services Commissioner, Steve Mark, succeeded in having Mr Keddie struck off, the high-profile lawyer retired in December and handed in his practising certificate, rendering the tribunal's order somewhat redundant.

In 2008, the Herald reported many Keddies clients had complained about alleged excessive charges. While Ms Meng's case is the only one to have proceeded to judgment before the tribunal, dozens of cases from former clients are before the courts.

Mr Keddie, Mr Roulstone and Mr Barakat also face contempt of court proceedings, accused of failing to abide by an order preventing them from contacting former clients who were taking legal action against them.

Ms Meng, a Chinese national, was awarded $3.5 million to cover medical expenses for the rest of her life. However she was paid a net sum of $2.32 million from Keddies.

The tribunal found Keddies's $819,694 legal bill form contained errors, mistakes, duplications and charged for work that was not performed, or was unnecessary or unreasonable.

Mr Scroope, who signed off on the bill, partly blamed the firm's computerised costing system. But the tribunal found Mr Scroope should have paid much more attention to the bill, and the level and frequency of overcharging was "quite extraordinary".

Mr Keddie acknowledged the flawed system and his failure to supervise staff entering costs involved a "substantial dereliction of duty and a high degree of negligence".


If they're happy and they know it . . .  "Positive education"

CRITICS deride it as "happyology", but positive education is taking hold from the gleaming halls of Geelong Grammar to the classrooms of hardscrabble public schools across the country.

The brainchild of an American psychologist, positive education aims to help students cultivate positive emotions and character traits, improving their behaviour and fighting depression before it sinks in.

Teachers faced with the challenge of teaching adolescents in the 21st century have embraced it with fervour, led by the elite Geelong Grammar and its team of specially trained staff.

"If our investment saves one kid from committing suicide in 10 years' time it's worth every single penny," said vice-principal Charlie Scudamore.

"This is not about kids walking around with a smile on their face, ignoring critical human emotion.

"It's about a flourishing person who is in control of their emotion, who can deal with adversity, knows that adversity is going to hit them and there will be sad times and bad times, but they can bounce back from that."
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Geelong Grammar has pioneered the spread of positive education over the past four years, incorporating it across the whole school as well as running specific Year 7 and 10 classes and seeking donations from parents to run courses on the concept for other school teachers.

Nathan Chisholm, principal of Altona College in Melbourne's western suburbs, said the adoption of positive psychology had produced a remarkable change in student and staff attitudes at his battling public school.

"We have shifted the culture from one of welfare to one of wellbeing, and that's a really important thing," Mr Chisholm said.

South Australia has appointed positive psychology founder Martin Seligman as its latest thinker in residence, using a pilot program in the Adelaide Hills to help determine whether rollout of positive psychology should occur across the state system.

While the growing number of schools involved, and support from prominent psychologists, has lent weight to positive education, Sydney psychologist Vera Auerbach warned it would not help children with serious mental health issues.

"I think it's flavour of the month; I think it's like a fad," she said. "If you're a well-adjusted individual and you've got no issues in life, positive psychology might help by just putting something on top of it.

"If you are deeply depressed and suicidal, if your boyfriend has broken up with you and you don't want to live any more, then I don't think this positive-psychology stuff works at all."


Women are not so green behind the wheel

WOMEN aged between 25 and 49 have been rated the worst on the road when it comes to eco-friendly driving.  A new study has found they scored poorly on everything from car-pooling, braking, airconditioning use and driving in the right gear.

At the other end of the scale, a panel of experts studying the green credentials of Australian drivers scored women over 50 as the nation's most environmentally sensitive.

The national survey of 3000 drivers was conducted for car insurer AAMI.  The impact of driving behaviour on the environment was ranked to produce a "green score" out of 10.   Factors taken into account included whether a driver removed unnecessary weight from the car boot, how often they serviced their vehicle and their willingness to use public transport.  Key findings include:

DRIVERS of both sexes over 50 have a lower environmental impact than those aged 18-24.

OLDER motorists are most likely to service their car.

VICTORIAN drivers have the highest impact on the environment.

AAMI spokesman Reuben Aitchison said the fact that women over 25 were worse for the environment than equivalent male drivers came as a surprise.

"In particular, they were less likely to avoid high speeds or drive in a higher or lower gear than needed, and were far less likely to car-pool," Mr Aitchison said.

"The much maligned older driver sets the best example, with smoother, slower driving and attention to servicing," he said.

Greenfleet chief Sara Gipton said car manufacturers had reduced the environmental impact, but technology went only so far.  "Drivers must take advantage of these improvements to get the greatest benefit," Ms Gipton said.

The release of the findings coincides with World Environment Day today.


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