Monday, January 21, 2013
Going organic fills niche for dairy farmer
Free enterprise at work. Pic below of Mr Watson's gorgeous little daughters -- holding newly-hatched chickens. They are lucky. Few kids these days will enjoy the delight of a newly hatched chicken. Note also how green is the lush tropical landscape there. If the huge restrictions on international agricultural trade were lifted, the region could feed millions
BREAKAWAY dairy farmer Rob Watson has seen the chickens come home to roost in the lush volcanic fields of Millaa Millaa on the Atherton Tableland.
The 53-year-old is as bio-dynamic as the speciality organic milk, cheeses and yoghurts his family produces in the once-thriving dairy region two hours drive south-west of Cairns.
His newly hatched plan is to produce free-range organic eggs in a sign that to diversify is to survive in farming. "No one else is doing it," said Mr Watson. "It is an opportunity."
He is one of a small band of happy farmers who turned the disaster of dairy deregulation in 2000 and the Coles price war launched last Australia Day, into a $7 million-a-year boutique business.
Today Mungalli Creek Dairy delivers its organic milk products to 200 stores including the big supermarket chains in north Queensland and shops in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. "Since the price wars, demand has soared," he said. "Some people will pay a bit extra because they don't want homogenised or permeate milk.
"It was stressful to start packaging our own milk. But we've never looked back. We can't keep up the supply."
Six dairy farmers in the region have hit the wall this year - selling up, or turning to crops, pigs or beef as Coles and Woolies sell milk for about 14 cents below farm production costs.
Some believe the dairy industry is cursed, others like Mungalli, see it is as a matter of thinking outside the box. "We need to revitalise these tiny rural hamlets," Mr Watson said.
Watchdog call for softening of new hate laws
AUSTRALIA'S discrimination watchdog wants the federal government to water down its new hate laws to avoid litigation over workers' water-cooler chats.
Discrimination has been redefined as "conduct that offends or insults" in the government's draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill.
But Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs thinks the broad definition will spark too many lawsuits.
She said the words offend and insult "have to go". "There is no need to set the threshold so low," she said. "I would suggest the government consider taking the words 'offensive' and 'insulting' out (of the legislation). "It does raise a risk of increased litigation".
Professor Triggs said discrimination cases should be based on the higher test of "intimidation, vilification or humiliation".
The Gillard government has drafted the new law to combine and update five sets of legislation banning discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, age or disability.
Professor Triggs said the words offend and insult had been "buried" in Section 198 of the Racial Discrimination Act, which will be replaced by the new legislation.
"Now it (the new legislation) extends that attribute to all areas (of discrimination)," she said.
"Probably what we'll see is an amendment to the exposure bill, taking out offensive and insulting."
The draft law says a person has been discriminated against if someone treats them "unfavorably" on the grounds of "protected attributes" that range from gender to race, disability, age, religion or sexual orientation.
It defines "unfavorable treatment" as harassing someone or "other conduct that offends, insults or intimidates the other person".
A Senate committee inquiring into the draft bill has already received 587 submissions from organisations including churches, employers, unions, mental health agencies, disability groups and state governments.
A spokeswoman for acting federal Attorney-General Jason Clare yesterday refused to say if the wording would be changed. "The main objective of this project is to simplify and consolidate many laws into one," she said. "If the Senate inquiry identifies the drafting goes well beyond this, the Government will closely consider those recommendations."
Queensland Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie has told the Senate inquiry the the new laws could damage freedom of speech.
"The use of subjective language such as 'insult' and 'offend' in the statutory definition of 'unfavourable treatment" may be interpreted to set a low threshold test for discrimination," he said.
"(This) will result in unmeritous complaints and lack of alignment with international human rights benchmarks that focus on the need for equality, rather than merely on the social value of being polite".
Queensland's Anti Discrimination Commission also wants the legislation be rewritten, so a "reasonable person" would have to find the conduct insulting or offensive.
Tasmania's Anti-Discrimination Commission, however, wants to keep the words "insult and offend" and add others as well. "To provide greater certainty, this clause could also include the words humiliate, denigrate, ridicule or degrade to describe some of the specific types of behaviour that constitute unfavourable treatment," it told the inquiry.
The NSW Government has told the Senate inquiry the broader definition of discrimination "places unreasonable restrictions on freedom of speech". "The words 'offend' and 'insult', in particular incorporate a very low threshold of unfavorable treatment," its submission says.
Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark warned that people could be accused of discrimination over what they say in private conversations held in a public place, such as a club or office.
"Many people may be subjectively offended or insulted by the simple expression or manifestation of views different to their own," he told the inquiry.
"To make such expressions of views in workplaces, schools, clubs and sports prima facie unfavourable treatment and hence discrimination ... appears to substantially erode freedom of expression."
The Law Society of South Australia told the Senate inquiry it "condemned" the new definition. "The robust expression of opinions, short of incitement to hatred, is a strength of our social and legal system," its submission states.
"It should not be curtailed to protect subjective offence that individuals may feel when their beliefs or attitudes are criticised."
Brisbane flood bungling going to law
It's patently obvious that if the flood compartment at Wivenhoe had been kept available, there would have been no flood. The Labor government used it for storage in a bid to save millions but the people of Brisbane lost billions as a result
LEGAL action is to be brought against the Queensland Government over the 2011 floods.
Lawyers from Maurice Blackburn say they will on Monday reveal maps that will show a "very significant" number of properties would not have been flooded if Wivenhoe and Somerset dams had been managed properly.
"We have sufficient evidence to go ahead," Principal solicitor Damian Scattini told The Courier-Mail.
He said he expected a complaint would be filed within a couple of months, after Brisbane and Ipswich flood victims had been given a chance to see whether or not they might have been spared damage.
US experts have spent about a year analysing the actions of the dam operators, crunching data and modelling the water flows that would have resulted if the dam had been operated to what they consider an internationally acceptable standard.
The colour-coded maps will mark in green the area that should not have flooded, and in orange the areas that would have received at least six inches of floodwater.
Mr Scattini said people living in the orange-marked areas could still have a case against the dam operator. "We're not ruling anyone out," he said.
For-profit schools coming to Australia
Global education companies are planning to open Australia's first for-profit schools targeting local primary and secondary students as early as next year.
Fairview Global, a for-profit schools network based in Malaysia, will send scouts to Australia within six months to find potential sites, with the aim of opening two schools next year and in 2015.
"We plan to have one school in the west and one in the east of Australia - cosmopolitan cities of intellects with international-mindedness," said the chairman of Fairview International Schools' governing council, Daniel Chian.
At present, private schools must be not-for-profit to receive public funding, a status held by Catholic and independent schools. Schools are for-profit if revenue is passed to an outside person or group for financial gain. They are legal to operate.
Mr Chian said the expansion plan was being guided by a former vice-chancellor of an Australian university who is now a member of the Fairview governing council, but would not reveal the name.
A second company, Gems Education, based in Dubai, hopes to open a school in Australia. Its original plan to start one in Melbourne was shelved two years ago.
The moves have outraged the president of the Australian Educational Union, Angelo Gavrielatos. "These are large companies driven by a profit motive that consider education as the last bastion when it comes to untapped resources. Our children cannot be seen as a commercial resource - a plaything for companies to make profit."
The NSW and federal education departments said they had not received any inquiries from overseas for-profit education companies.
For-profit schools are banned under Victorian law. "The regulator - the Victorian Registration and Qualifications Authority - cannot register a school, primary or secondary, for profit," said a Victorian Education Department spokesman.
Some for-profit schools exist in Australia but they mainly cater to foreign students.
A Fairfax Media investigation could not identify a for-profit school aimed at the mainstream student that is part of a global brand such as Gems Education. Gems Education claims to be the world's largest kindergarten to year 12 private education provider, offering the British, Indian, US and International Baccalaureate curriculums.
The company's communications director, Richard Forbes, who is Australian, said it had received three inquiries in the past three months from Australian investors interested in setting up schools, but its focus was on developing schools in Africa and south-east Asia.
Arguing for profit-based education, Mr Forbes said US studies showed a large portion of public-system investment never reached the classroom. "In a competitive environment, an environment where the customer - the parent - has a choice, the quality must be high or they will look elsewhere," he said.
The former deputy prime minister Mark Vaile is a consultant for Gems Education, which is making profits from schools in at least three countries, including Britain. "There are schools for profit in the UK and in the US, so in an economy like Australia's there will be that level of competition, they will eventually appear," he said.
A former dean of education at the University of Melbourne, Brian Caldwell, agreed that for-profit schools would make attempts to break into the Australian market in the next five to 10 years.
"But I don't think it's likely to attract significant enrolments, and I don't think they are the answer to improving Australia's school education - they're not viable," he said.
A spokesman for the NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, gave Fairfax Media the same response as the department on the legality of for-profit schools, when asked whether he would allow for-profits to operate.
Staff shortage puts 000 emergency service at risk
A STAFF shortage and thousands of bogus emergency calls each year have been blamed for a series of botched triple-0 responses - including a two-hour delay before police showed up to help a caller being terrorised by a man wielding a knife.
It was one of 34 serious complaints made against police communication centres in the past two years, including another case where officers weren't sent at all despite being told the caller was afraid of getting stabbed.
The problems at Queensland's 21 police communication centres are exacerbated by operators unable to keep up as they face an average 1450 calls a day, forcing many to wait in long queues or not be answered at all.
Queensland Police Service said a review of the complaints relating to both incidents "determined that an appropriate priority and response had not been allocated".
Police statistics show 529,417 triple-0 calls were received last year - almost half at Brisbane. Less than 5 per cent of those were time-critical. Yet no guarantee would be given that communications centres wouldn't be affected by the staff cuts even though demand has increased.
"As at January 17, there are 148 staff attached to the Brisbane Police Communication Centre against an establishment of 148 positions, including 12 persons in training," a QPS spokesman said.
The Courier-Mail revealed in 2009 that police communication centres regularly operated with a staff of just 12 officers and radio operators - six fewer than the agreed minimum staffing level.
Since then, 20 more staff have been recruited but operators say the increase has not kept up with demand, with more than a 30 per cent increase in calls in the past four years (up from 1100 a day).
Queensland Police Union president Ian Leavers said staff shortages in centres were still "at crisis point", prompting fears it would get worse under Commissioner Ian Stewart's recently announced police service changes.
CASE STUDIES 2011-12
- On August 6, 2012, a caller from Toowoomba region rang triple-0 to report they were being threatened with a knife but instead of getting police to respond, they "simply arranged for the job to be recorded and passed onto other police later that morning". No attempt was made to arrange for police to attend the home of the complainant.
- On September 27, 2012, police received a call at Yamanto in the Ipswich district from a person saying somebody had threatened to stab them with a knife. Later, the situation escalated and there were several people outside the complainant's home. A patrol crew were sent to three other jobs of lesser priority before turning up at this address two hours later.
- On July 12, 2012, a caller made a triple-0 call and requested police response to a "serious domestic" in Brisbane involving their defacto. The call centre staff member failed to ask basic questions such as location, the situation, whether they were safe or weapons were involved. Subsequently, it took more than an hour for police to finally reach the home.
- On July 10, 2012, A 000 call was made on "four occasions in relation to a disturbance" at a home in Brisbane. The calls were answered at two communication centres and when the complainant asked if the order had been put through, call centre staff member said: "No I haven't put the order thorough, it's not a take-away restaurant mate." [He would have got a better response from a take-away restaurant]