Friday, July 27, 2012

Increased dependence on overseas countries for Australia's petrol supply

With Bass strait crude and local refineries, Australia once got close  to complete petrol independence  -- a clear strategic desideratum

NSW will be fully dependent on foreign sources of oil within two years as a result of Caltex's decision yesterday to close the Kurnell refinery, prompting the federal Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, to warn there is a long-term risk to Australia's energy security.

The closure will result in the loss of 330 in-house jobs and put at risk an unspecified number of the company's 300 contractors.

It will also leave NSW without any refining capacity. Instead, Caltex said, it would buy refined oil from Singapore, Korea and India for sale in Australia.

Mr Shorten told the Herald the decision heightened fears that Australia could start experiencing energy security problems in a decade or so.

"We're an island nation and if it ever becomes a situation where the security of our sea lanes were threatened, decisions like this will come home to haunt us," he said, echoing the views of his former union, the Australian Workers Union, which represents refinery workers.

It issued a research paper in March warning that Australia's dwindling refining capacity - driven by the high dollar and the emergence of huge refineries in Asia - was increasing the nation's reliance on imported fuel. In 2003 Australia had eight refineries. When Kurnell closes, it will have five.

Mr Shorten's comments contrast with those of the federal Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson, who said Caltex's decision would "not jeopardise Australia's energy security".  "This decision will see imported supplies of crude oil being replaced by imported refined product," he said.

Last month Shell brought forward by 12 months the closure of its smaller Clyde refinery, which it is also converting to an import terminal with the loss of more than 220 jobs.

Caltex said Kurnell lost $208 million last year and a further $60 million in the first three months of this year, which has forced it to close the refinery.  "We have taken a decision that's going to secure the position of Caltex," said the managing director, Julian Siegal.

The closure would not influence petrol prices. "The competition is pretty fierce," he said, pointing to the Australian dollar, the price of crude oil and the Singapore refinery margin as affecting Australian prices.

Graeme Grace, an operator at the refinery, said he felt "betrayed" by Caltex's decision, since for the past year staff had been "working our butts off" to make the refinery more efficient.  "I've been a refinery operator for over 30 years. As refineries are shutting down, I've got nowhere else to go," he said.

Caltex said it would spend $260 million to remediate the site. Much of this work is to begin from 2015 once refining has stopped. This is expected to take several years.

The executive director of Renewables Fuels Australia, Bob Gordon, said the decision would add to Australia's growing fuel deficit, which was more than $18 billion, up from $600 million in 2000, unless big oil companies started investing in renewable fuels.

Some Kurnell residents hope the closure will let the area show off its strengths.  "It's probably the best-kept secret in Sydney with the beachside," said Rosemary Marney, from Silver Beach Realty.

Tony Orchard, who works near the refinery, said: "Without the stench of the gases, it's probably going to improve the place. I think people who live here would probably welcome the fact that they are closing - not withstanding the fact that a lot of people are going to lose their jobs.'


Parents with children in private schools fear reduction in Federal  subsidies

PRIVATE school parents are worried that less federal government money as a result of the Gonski review of school funding may force them back into the public system, according the NSW Parents' Council.

More than 90 per cent of parents with children at independent schools fear that unless the federal government maintains full indexation of private school funding their school fees will rise, a survey of 660 parents shows.

Indexation has been running at 6 per cent for the past decade but private schools fear this will be slashed to 3 per cent under the government's response to the Gonski review.

If this happened 70 per cent of parents say they would struggle to pay school fees; 30 per cent say they would consider withdrawing their child from their independent school.

The federal Education Minister, Peter Garrett, returns from holiday on Monday with the government still struggling to detail its response to the Gonski report, which it received in December. The report recommended an urgent injection of $5 billion (in 2009 dollars) across the entire school system but Mr Garrett is yet to win Cabinet support for funding.

Private schools have made full indexation the centrepiece of their pitch. "We ask that the government guarantee funding certainty for schools by announcing a six-year funding cycle with guaranteed indexation equivalent to historic levels of around 6 per cent", said Geoff Newcombe, the executive director of the Association of Independent Schools of NSW.

"Independent school parents simply ask for a fair deal. They currently save governments billions of dollars each year and it is important that governments recognise this and support their choice by ensuring the value of funding is maintained from year to year," said the president of the NSW Parents' Council, Stephen Grieve.

The survey, conducted by UMR Research, also found nearly half of parents believe implementing the Gonski funding model will result in less funding for independent schools.

A spokeswoman for Mr Garrett said the government would not introduce changes that mean schools lose funding per student.  "The Gonski review recommended investing more money into all school systems, not less," she said. "We won't introduce any new model that favours one system over the other or reduces parental choice."

Mr Grieve said he supported the proposals outlined by the review headed by David Gonski, but was unclear about the government's response. "We certainly support them in principle but it's difficult to go beyond that because we don't know the detail. I'd love to know more detail but we don't know what the government has in mind," he said.

An opposition education spokesman said this week the question of funding should be resolved at the next federal election and vowed any legislation would be repealed by a future Coalition government.

But Mr Grieve said more funding will be vital when Australia stops riding on the mining boom.  "Investment in education is a big deal for Australia. It might be a lot safer if we rode on the backs of a terrific bunch of teachers and schools right across the nation, regardless of what system they come from - government, Catholic or independent," he said.


Surgery on hold as cost cuts slow major Queensland hospitals

QUEENSLAND'S biggest hospital is facing a $50 million budget cut while others have wound back critical elective surgery amid financial stress.  The Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital will lose funding of almost $1 million a week while Metro North district faces an $80 million cut.

The cost-cutting comes as new figures show Queensland's hospitals wound back elective surgery by as much as 19 per cent last month.

The cutbacks have sparked union concerns about patient safety.  "People's lives are going to be put at risk by the failure of the Government to properly fund the health system," Together Queensland secretary Alex Scott said.

Metro North district acting chief executive Martin Heads confirmed last night that the district's board was targeting cuts to the RBWH this financial year of $50 million, more than 5 per cent of its 2011-12 budget.  He said cuts of $80 million to the Metro North district, which takes in Prince Charles Hospital, were also on the cards.

The reduction has already claimed 30 beds at Prince Charles, prompting concerns about surgery and emergency department delays.

A spokesman for Health Minister Lawrence Springborg would not comment on the cuts, referring questions back to the board. Local health boards began operating this month.  But he said the LNP would increase district funding in its September budget, possibly by as much as $447 million, to $9.713 billion.

New figures show Queensland's hospitals wound back elective surgery by as much as 19 per cent last month.  The Queensland Health statistics reveal the state's hospitals treated almost 300 fewer category one patients (7 per cent) in June compared to the same time last year.

Category one patients are classed as having a condition that could quickly worsen and become an emergency and should have surgery within 30 days.

Category two patients, supposed to be treated within three months, fared worse with 11 per cent, or about 550 less patients, treated statewide.

Mr Springborg's spokesman defended the reduction, saying the floods and Cyclone Yasi early last year delayed elective operations.

He said that created a backlog and hospitals later had to ramp up elective surgery which peaked in June, artificially inflating that month's statistics. He said this year's figures had returned to normal levels.

Of the state's biggest hospitals, Princess Alexandra was the worst performer last month with category one elective surgery cuts of 19 per cent, a reduction matched by The Prince Charles.

The reductions are likely to add more patients to already long surgery waiting lists.

One worker said the 30 beds slashed at Prince Charles had previously been used to care for elderly people as they negotiated placement in nursing homes, which could take up to two months.

"We do open heart surgery here, that would equate to eight or 10 surgeries not being able to go ahead because there's no access to the ward beds," the worker, who did not wish to be named, said. "So if you multiply that by 30 bodies, it equates to a lot of blocked access.

"Those patients will sit in either an acute hospital ward or a rehab ward and block access to other patients."

Mr Springborg's spokesman said the beds were put in place because of issues getting elderly patients into aged care facilities, but that was only a temporary arrangement.


University boss has memory failure over whistleblower

Reminiscent of Alan Bond

UNIVERSITY of Queensland acting Vice-Chancellor Debbie Terry has sent a video message to UQ's 7500 staff to reassure them about the referral of the UQ nepotism scandal to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

In the message, sent on Wednesday night following a report in The Courier-Mail, Prof Terry reminded staff that UQ had conducted its own investigation and had since been co-operating with the Crime and Misconduct Commission.

UQ's probe, by barrister Tim Carmody under instruction from solicitor Eddie Scuderi of law firm Corrs Chambers Westgarth, found no evidence of misconduct. It has never been made public and has only been seen by a handful of senior UQ officials.

"I know that the recent news may cause concern to staff and members of the UQ community," Prof Terry told staff, adding they could make an appointment to see her to discuss it further.

In the video, Prof Terry denies that the ousting of misconduct investigator Phil Procopis was a reprisal for his role in unearthing the UQ nepotism scandal.  "I can assure all staff that the University of Queensland does not tolerate any reprisals against whistleblowers," she said.

Prof Terry also claimed Mr Procopis was not a whistleblower - saying the real whistleblower was still an employee of the university, and their identity was protected under Queensland's Public Interest Disclosure Act.

But ethics expert Howard Whitton, who drafted Queensland's first whistleblower protection laws in the 1990s, said Prof Terry appeared to misunderstand the current Act.  "It prohibits retaliation against any person being taken in the belief that they may be a whistleblower, whether they were or not in fact," he said.

Mr Whitton called on UQ to reveal the details of what Mr Procopis uncovered and the paper trail that led to his job being cut.

The Courier-Mail yesterday revealed that a review panel report, which Prof Terry has said led to the removal of Mr Procopis, made no such recommendation.

Prof Terry has told The Courier-Mail that changes to the proposal were signed off by the University Senate "and we briefed the CMC".

But asked this week whether the CMC was informed specifically about the removal of Mr Procopis, Prof Terry said: "I can't remember exactly what was in the letter."


Pardon My F*?#$! French

Are bad language, swearing, cussing, profanity, impiety and blasphemy part of being Australian?

IN HINDSIGHT, Craig Symes realised he shouldn't have gone to work that early summer day in 2011. Before he started his 5.30am shift at the Linfox Armaguard depot in Brisbane, Symes had a fight with his wife, and in his evidence to Fair Work Australia says he was feeling frustrated.

Symes, who worked on the security vans transporting cash to the city's ATMs, soon found himself attending a communications meeting, where operational matters were discussed with the road crews.

Political scientist Lauren Rosewarne: 'The biggest effect of the media would be normalising language, letting people know that it's actually OK.'

Things went quickly from bad to worse. Symes became aware he'd been allocated a vehicle with a faulty indicator, and left the room to get it fixed.

His manager told him to return to the meeting. What happened next is subject to debate, but one thing is certain: Craig Symes told his boss to "get f---ed".

There was some further heated discussion, but the end result was that Symes was dismissed. But as Fair Work Australia has ruled, telling his boss to "get f---ed" was not grounds for dismissal. Linfox Armguard was ordered to give Symes his job back.

The crux of the case involving Craig Symes revolves around what's regarded as acceptable in that particular workplace. Commissioner Helen Cargill found his use of swear words to his manager was "totally inappropriate and unwarranted".

But she also considered evidence that the workplace was one in which bad language was commonly used, and there were mixed messages given to employees about swearing.

The case has divided opinion, sparking a debate about not only what's tolerated in the workplace, but what counts as acceptable - or at least tolerable - in general society. Was the early morning encounter at the Armaguard depot in Brisbane part of a bigger phenomenon in Australian society, where once-taboo swearing is widespread?

Invariably, the incident inspired some wistful discussion among the general workforce. Who hasn't at some stage in a working life considered the appeal of telling a difficult boss those exact same words uttered by Craig Symes?

This kind of empowering fantasy usually has conditions attached - a Monday morning after a multimillion-dollar Tattslotto win. But in the case before Fair Work Australia, the worker was able to deliver the words because of the context in which they were used.

And there lies the nub of this debate: it's all about context and what's considered acceptable by different sections of society. Different workplaces have different standards. It's impossible to imagine that same exchange being acceptable in a suburban banking office, for example.

Yet it is clear that swearing can play an important part in the esprit de corps of some workplaces. Work done by researchers at New Zealand's Victoria University of Wellington has reinforced the fact that swearing can be part of the fabric of the workplace.

The 2004 study looked at a New Zealand soap factory, and found that "f---" was the most common swear word among a tight-knit group of workers nicknamed the Power Rangers. But in the context of a close-knit workforce, it wasn't considered offensive.

Based on extensive recordings of their daily conversations, the study found that strong expletives, and especially forms of f---, "are extensively used within the Power Rangers as a positive politeness device".

"Forms of f--- occur frequently in certain contexts and serve a range of functions, including the role of positive politeness strategy. F--- is regularly associated with expressions of solidarity, including friendly terms of address and speech acts which unambiguously serve the function of solidarity construction," the study found.

Language - good and bad - is a dynamic thing, always evolving. Swearing has a long and colourful history. Consider how the curses of Elizabethan England regularly found their way into Shakespeare's works. Blasphemy was, appropriately, the greatest sin. Shakespeare used "minced" curses such as "zounds" and "sblood" - contractions of God's wounds and God's blood.

Swearing has always been part of the Australian character. Think "bloody", the great Australian adjective. In a paper on swearing, Monash University's Kate Burridge and Keith Allan noted Australians have always regarded their colloquial idiom as being a significant part of their cultural identity.

"The standard language is more global in nature and many Australian English speakers see their colloquialisms, nicknames, diminutives, swearing, and insults to be important indicators of their Australianness and expressions of cherished ideals such as friendliness, nonchalance, mateship, egalitarianism, and anti-authoritarianism," they wrote.

And there is also evidence that swearing can make you feel better. Recent research by Britain's Keele University found that swearing can produce short-term pain relief - although the effect was greater for people who don't swear regularly. The findings replicated early research that showed people can withstand an ice-cold water challenge for longer by repeatedly swearing, compared with those who used neutral words.

There is clearly something deeply primal about the way we swear and how it makes us feel.

But there remains the wider question of when we can swear, and to whom.

Anecdotally, there appears to be a growing acceptance of public swearing, particularly the word "f---". Take the example of the FCUK trademark of fashion label French connection. The passage of time and familiarity means that initial shock value may be diminishing - at least for some.

Last year, lord mayor Robert Doyle was clearly offended by a billboard advertising the company as he drove towards the Bolte Bridge after a trip to Canberra.

"Do the advertisers think this is clever? That the transposition of two letters somehow makes this a sophisticated word play rather than a cheap obscenity?" Doyle wrote in a newspaper column. "It is not clever. It is not funny. It is an insulting and gratuitous blot on our urban landscape."

But is Doyle part of a minority? There are signs that a significant liberalisation is occurring within society.

Television arguably remains one of the best barometers of social change; the extent of swearing is inextricably linked to those who view it.

Take as an historical benchmark American comedian George Carlin's 1972 routine about language and the seven words you could never say on television. They are, tidied up for this publication, shit, piss, f---, c---, c---sucker, motherf---er and tits.

These were the words, Carlin said, that will "infect your soul, curve your spine and keep the country from winning the war".

Following a performance in Milwaukee, Carlin was arrested and bailed on a charge of disturbing the peace. A judge found the monologue to be indecent, but he upheld the right to free speech, and found there was no evidence the peace had been disturbed.

Carlin's routine went to the Supreme Court after it was broadcast by a New York radio station. The end result was a ruling that authorities could set a "watershed" time before which obscenities could not be broadcast, with the aim of protecting children.

A few years later, Australia had its own obscenity controversy - although much tamer - that proved Carlin's case.

On his national tonight show in "living colour", Graham Kennedy uttered his infamous "crow call" in March 1975. In a live ad for Cedel hairspray, Kennedy said the word "faark!".

The station was inundated with protests, as burnt orange paint peeled from the walls of offended households and lava lamps bubbled to boiling point. Kennedy received a caution from the broadcasting control board.

In typical Kennedy fashion, he responded the following week by asking the audience to take part in a mass crow call. Kennedy was banned from live broadcasts.

Almost four decades on, the King's performance remains undeniably funny; it's certainly inoffensive. Today, we live in an era where the full-blown "f---" peppers everything from cooking shows to stand-up comedy routines to reality programs.

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