Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Big brother is watching you -- even at the beach

Surf Life Saving Australia says unmanned aerial drones will patrol some Queensland beaches this summer.  The organisation's head, Brett Williamson, says the drones will be used on North Stradbroke Island in a trial of the technology.

He has told Radio National's Background Briefing program the drones, which have a wingspan of one metre, use cameras to search for swimmers in distress.

Mr Williamson says the drones will be fitted with flotation buoys that can be dropped down to the ocean.

"[Drones] have also been fitted with a siren so if nothing else the UAVs flying along the coast and either sees somebody in trouble or a group potentially in trouble or if there's marine life, dangerous marine life such as sharks or whatever in the area, the siren can be sounded," he said.

Mr Williamson says he would like to see the trial expanded nationally to provide surveillance of remote beaches.

He says he does not think flying surveillance drones over secluded beaches will intrude on people's privacy.  "At the end of the day this is about public safety," he said.

"It's not about intruding on anybody's privacy and, fortunately, with our experience of having the fixed cameras network we haven't had one problem or one complaint or one operator that hasn't operated in strict accordance with those protocols that we have in place."


End the boatpeople-Welfare cycle

Judith Sloan

FREE-market economists support free trade in goods and services. Free-market economists also support the free movement of capital and labour. But free-market economists warn against the corrosive and adverse effects of government-provided income support and welfare services on people's incentives to participate in the labour market and to improve their economic lot through their own efforts.

I fit comfortably into the category of free-market economist. Not surprisingly, I find the following comment of one of the doyens of free-market economics, Nobel Prize winner Professor Gary Becker, very persuasive.

"Since I am a free-trader, readers might expect my preferred alternative to the present system (of controlled migration to the US) to be 19th-century-style unlimited immigration. I would support that if we lived in the 19th-century world where government spending was tiny. But governments now spend huge amounts on medical care, retirement, education and other benefits and entitlements. Experience demonstrates that, in our political system, it is impossible to prevent immigrants gaining access to these benefits."

This comment applies no less to Australia. Immigrants, particularly those entering under the humanitarian visa (refugee) category, are attracted to Australia in part because of the generous safety net provided by governments. Free health care, free education, income support - these sorts of luxuries are potent magnets for refugees when seeking another country in which to live. It is a form of welfare arbitrage - safety from persecution with the additional advantage of a raft of government-provided benefits.

No doubt, I will be accused at this point of being heartless and ignorant. Surely refugees bring all sorts of economic benefits to Australia and these should form part of the equation when devising the size of the humanitarian quota. After all, refugees have shown determination to leave their homelands and, in the case of those who arrive by boat, to hand over money to people-smugglers to expedite their permanent entry to Australia. Does this sort of energetic resolve not correlate with subsequent economic success in Australia?

Sadly, the figures point to the exact opposite. They show that refugees have very low rates of labour force participation and extremely high rates of welfare dependence, even years after being granted permanent residence. And these figures are the official ones - admittedly released without fanfare - of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

The report, Settlement Outcomes of New Arrivals: Report of findings, was released last year by the department. The report's bland title is a give-away - vacuous, alliterative titles for government reports are virtually de rigueur these days. (Think: Smarter Manufacturing for a Smarter Australia.) The results on settlement outcomes are ugly.

Using the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Australia, the research describes the position of the three key groups of migrants five years after settlement: skilled, family and humanitarian.

In keeping with the findings of previous research, it is absolutely clear that refugees fare very badly in terms of employment and financial self-sufficiency. And note that this study was conducted during a period of low overall unemployment.

For example, the employment rate of humanitarian migrants from Afghanistan was recorded at only 9 per cent - note this is not the unemployment rate - five years after settlement and nearly 94 per cent of households from Afghanistan received Centrelink payments.

According to the report, "Afghans have a different settlement experience compared with most other cultural groups, such as having poorer English skills and lower qualifications levels. Yet they are more likely to borrow money, obtain mortgages and experience difficulties in paying them."

Those from Iraq did little better, with 12 per cent employed and 93 per cent of households in receipt of Centrelink payments. Interestingly, those who did best in the humanitarian group were from Central and West African countries such as Sierra Leone.

Note that these refugees are the least likely to have arrived by boat.

For the sake of typical bureaucratic "balance", the report notes that "given that we are exploring only the first five years of settlement in this study, [The low proportion in employment] is not a surprising result as many humanitarian entrants are strongly focused on creating a new life, and studying for a qualification is an important step in this journey".

But the comparisons with those entering under the other visa categories - and who are also focused on creating a new life - are stark.

Whereas the overall proportion of humanitarian migrant households in receipt of Centrelink payment was 85 per cent, the figure for the family group was 38 per cent and 28 per cent for the skilled group.

In other words, humanitarian migrant households were three times more likely to receive Centrelink payments than skilled migrant households, five years after settlement. (Note that skilled migrants are not entitled to receive Centrelink payments for the first two years of their residence.) Moreover, skilled migrants were more than five times likely to be in employment than refugees.

So how should policy-makers interpret these results?

The first point to note is that there must be a strict limit to the numbers allowed to enter under the humanitarian visa category given the drain on public finances.

The fact that the numbers were kept at about 13,750 for so long probably is a reflection of this reality. The recent increase in the quota to 20,000 is likely to cause an additional strain on both the federal and state budgets.

The second point is to open the debate about whether a portion of the humanitarian intake should be reserved for those prepared to pay a bond to obtain permanent residence.

Indeed, this has been suggested by Gary Becker. "Given these realities of free immigration, the best alternative to the present system is charging a price that clears the market. That is why I believe countries should sell the right to immigrate."

We have clear evidence that some refugees are prepared to pay people-smugglers to facilitate a speedy entry to Australia.

It therefore seems an obvious policy alternative to allocate a certain number of humanitarian places to proven refugees who are prepared to pay and/or forgo welfare benefits for a period of time.

There is clearly not a particularly strong correlation between refugee status and ability to pay, given the numbers of refugees who have paid people-smugglers to reach Australia.

Surely it would be preferable that this money is paid to the Australian government, rather than to people-smugglers offering travel on rickety boats.

The money raised could be used to benefit refugees who cannot pay.

In the light of the arrival of over 2000 asylum-seekers by boat since the government announced the change of policy to deter boat arrivals - a policy which looks set to fail - there is a clear and urgent case for some lateral thinking.


The charter school revolution comes to Australia

They're charter schools in the USA and academies in Britain but the concept is the same:  Escaping the educational bureaucracy and the teachers' unions

QUEENSLAND'S first Independent Public Schools have been announced, heralding a new and potentially controversial era in state education.

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said 26 schools had been chosen for the first round of Independent Public Schools, which would be given more autonomy than their state counterparts.

Only 30 schools applied for 30 available positions, with just 26 granted, after the Queensland Teachers' Union "strongly" advised principals not to take part.

The QTU had threatened industrial action earlier this year and warned it could create a two-tier state school system turning hard-to-staff schools into impossible-to-staff schools.

Under the changes, principals gain the power to recruit all staff, control their budget and school councils can liaise directly with local industry.

Mr Langbroek said he believed local school communities, parents, teachers and principals knew what was best for their children.

"Independent Public Schools will have the freedom to directly recruit teachers and to build a team that is able to deliver innovative educational practices and have more autonomy to manage infrastructure and financial resources," Mr Langbroek said.

Each school gets $50,000 to assist with the change and an extra $50,000 in funding each year for administration.

"I have no doubt that after the first year, when these 26 schools have experienced the benefits of greater autonomy, we'll see many more schools come forward to become Independent Public Schools," Mr Langbroek said.

Palm Beach Currumbin State High executive principal Stephen Loggie said IPS would enable their excellence programs in academic, cultural and sporting areas to grow.

"It gives them their opportunity to evolve to the next level because IPS removes some of the red tape around the way schools are run and it gives more power to the local community to make decisions that are in their interest," he said.

The 26 include the flagship Brisbane State High School, School of Excellence Palm Beach Currumbin High and Kirwan and Smithfield state high schools in north Queensland.

Primary schools include Ashgrove, Miles, Aldridge, Banksia Beach and McDowall state schools, and Tagai State College in the Torres Strait.

The program will extend to 120 schools over four years.


Corruption at the CSIRO

Given their stance on global warming, funding trumps all other  concerns

TWO of three CSIRO employees who blew the whistle on alleged "criminal or civil breaches of the law" by the scientific organisation were later made redundant, it has been revealed.
But those officials who were the subject of the complaints remain employed, the CSIRO has confirmed.

The details have emerged after a group of former CSIRO employees began a campaign for a change in culture at the science agency, alleging mismanagement and bullying are rife.

Last Thursday, a parliamentary inquiry examining workplace bullying in Commonwealth agencies published the group's submission. It claims the group is aware of 60 cases involving top-flight scientists and other officials who were bullied or otherwise forced out of the organisation.

This list has names on it such as Maarten Stapper, a soil scientist allegedly pushed out because of his criticism of genetically modified crops, globally recognised oceanographer Trevor McDougall, and award-winning entomologist Sylwester Chyb, who has begun litigation against the CSIRO for misleading conduct and unlawful termination.

The CSIRO has declined to respond to the allegations, but the group says some of those forced out had tried to report misconduct or maladministration. Among the group's recommendations is improved protection for whistleblowers.

"Current whistleblower legislation does not adequately protect from persecution those making public interest declarations," the document says. "This is particularly true in circumstances in which it is hard to identify a direct link between a whistleblower complaint and subsequent, seemingly unrelated adverse action against the employee in his or her workplace."

The organisation is also grappling with a spike in the damages it has had to pay as a result of occupational health and safety claims made to the Commonwealth OH&S regulator and insurer, Comcare. The increased costs of the claims has meant that the premiums Comcare charges the CSIRO have nearly tripled from $1.9 million in 2011-12 to $4.9 million this financial year.

"The CSIRO has consistently achieved lower than average claim frequency and claim cost but has had an upward trend in the average cost of its claims," a Comcare spokesman, Russ Street, said.

At a budget estimates hearing in May, the Tasmanian senator David Bushby asked the CSIRO about its handling of whistleblower complaints and those who made them. In answers provided last month, the organisation confirmed two complaints were lodged in 2010 and one in 2008, all of which made serious allegations about unlawful activity.

But while the CSIRO did not retrench any of those against whom allegations were made, it did retrench the complainants.

"One CSIRO employee, who had lodged a whistleblower complaint on March 10, 2008, was made redundant on August 23, 2010, as there was an insufficient volume of current and projected work to sustain the position," the CSIRO said.

"A second employee, who lodged a whistleblower complaint on February 23, 2010, was made redundant on September 4, 2011 as CSIRO no longer required the job be performed by anyone because of changes in the operational requirements of CSIRO's enterprise."

A CSIRO spokesman, Huw Morgan, declined to describe the nature of the allegations made by the whistleblowers, saying it could help reveal their identities.


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