Friday, May 31, 2013

Computerization causing reliability problems for Australia's VWs

All modern cars are under the control of an engine computer and we all know about computers doing strange things.  VWs seem to be prone to excessive panic in their computers:  The computer rather often puts the car into "limp mode".  "Limp mode" is in general a good thing.  It is the computer's way of protecting the car from further damage if something in the car is not working properly.   It slows the car right down among other things.  Usually, it should NEVER happen, however. But the VW computers do it a lot so either VWs have a lot of faults or the computer is wrong.

I have owned FIVE VWs in the old days when they were very simple machines and they NEVER let me down. And the two Toyotas I own now have never broken down either.  One is 15 years old and the other 8 years old.  I would never settle for less. Why should anyone?

There have been a lot of other problems with modern VWs too.  Buy Toyota

At least 15 Volkswagen owners have revealed they experienced the same terrifying loss of acceleration that appears to have led to the 2011 death of 32-year-old Melissa Ryan on the Monash Freeway.

Volkswagen, one of the most popular manufacturers in the Australian market, is facing growing pressure to tackle problems with its cars that have led to overseas recalls.

A coroner this week investigated the death of Ms Ryan, who was killed when a prime mover with two trailers hit her Golf from behind. The truck driver and Ms Ryan's family believe her car dramatically and inexplicably slowed before the crash. After Fairfax's reporting of the coronial inquest, 15 owners of Volkswagens have spoken of frightening experiences when their cars, including Golf, Passat, Polo and Eos models, suddenly lost power on highways and, in one case, a train line.

"I did not feel safe driving a car like that. It was frightening," said Jean Lim, who was driving a 2007 Golf automatic that suddenly decelerated. VW replaced the gearbox but the issue returned. Another driver, who owned a 2008 Golf automatic, said she drove "in constant terror". "The light comes up, the car just dies and you just pray that you're not smashed into," said the driver, who declined to be named.

Fairfax can also confirm the federal Department of Infrastructure and Transport is investigating Ms Ryan's death. It is "liaising closely with Volkswagen Australia", spokesman Craig Stone said.

The coroner, whose decision is due in late July, will assess whether Ms Ryan's death was due to fault on the part of the truck driver, her own fault, vehicle malfunction or a combination of factors. Her car was a manual; most problems overseas with sudden deceleration in Volkswagens are found in automatics.

Volkswagen's expert witness Warren Chilvers told the inquiry the vehicle information showed no evidence to suggest the car was at fault. The truck driver, Ivan Mumford, insisted he never saw Ms Ryan's brake lights come on before the crash, but he had seen them working earlier. Fairfax is not suggesting Ms Ryan’s death is linked to a fault in her car.  Volkswagen has this year issued recalls for almost 400,000 of its cars in China and 91,000 in Japan for problems with the high-tech automatic direct shift gearbox (DSG). The DSG problems have been connected to sudden power loss.

In the US, the company issued two minor recalls related to the DSG. Then, after a federal government investigation and bad publicity,  in 2009 Volkswagen launched a service program that repaired or replaced the transmission components of about 43,000 Volkswagens and 10,300 Audis at no charge.

But the company has resisted calls – mostly made in online forums and in comments replying to motoring articles – to issue a recall in Australia. Volkswagen executive vice-president Ulrich Hackenberg said  this month that the China recall related to a problem with Chinese-built DSGs. He said DSGs in Australia were made in Europe. But the company had not revealed where the faulty Japanese DSGs were made.

Volkswagen  currently has a "campaign" – which is like a recall but driven by the manufacturer – to fix an injector problem with some diesel models. But online forums have pointed out Volkswagen has no way of getting in touch with owners who buy the cars secondhand.

David and Norma Levin  had their 2007 diesel Golf booked in for the campaign service a week after  they suffered sudden deceleration while driving to Adelaide recently. They blame the injector fault for the incident. But Volkswagen says the campaign is not about a safety problem. Volkswagen Australia declined to answer a dozen  specific questions put to it by Fairfax Media about recalls and sudden deceleration.

But spokesman Kurt McGuiness said there were no plans for recalls. "Volkswagen conducts vehicle recalls in conjunction with the relevant federal government bodies. At this time we do not plan to announce a recall. Any recalls are conducted in accordance with the Consumer Product Safety Recall Guidelines issued by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission."

Mr McGuiness said service campaigns are "deemed to be non-safety related in accordance with federal regulations" and are carried out within dealerships when vehicles are brought in for routine services.

The "limp home mode" – where a car reduces speed to protect the engine from extensive damage in the event of an issue arising – was not unique to Volkswagen, he said.

"Rapid deceleration is not an issue widely observed or reported with any Volkswagen vehicles ... However, should any of our customers have cause for concern with their Volkswagen vehicle, we urge them to contact our customer care team .. We are dedicated to rectify any lost confidence our customers may have in our products."

Mechanic Dean Coutts, owner and manager of Volkspower, a Volkswagen specialist, said sudden deceleration was not a problem he had seen.  "Yes we have customers who have their car go into limp mode, but that’s no different to any other manufacturer on the planet."

Fairfax also received complaints about sudden speed loss in a Ford Mondeo and a Mercedes ML 350.


Attacking Sydney's 'enclaves of Islam'

Pastor Nalliah.  Good to see that some Christians can still find Matt. 28:19-20 in their Bibles

A CONTROVERSIAL anti-Islamic political leader who says he is prepared to die for his cause has denied he is inflaming violence with a talk about "Muslim enclaves" at Blacktown tonight.

Police are on alert for the speech by Rise Up Australia Party national president Daniel Nalliah at the town's RSL and have warned Mr Nalliah and the local community to say nothing that "might incite violent or criminal behaviour".

Mr Nalliah said yesterday "gutless politicians" had to stop "pussy footing" around the issue of "Muslims taking over whole suburbs and turning them into no-go zones".

He said his "patriotic" views had led to several death threats and the machete murder of a British soldier in a London street last week was in the forefront of his mind.

"I'm not going to back off," Mr Nalliah said yesterday.  "If I have to get killed for this cause, I'm willing to do that for the sake of the future of our children."

Mr Nalliah, a migrant from Sri Lanka via Saudi Arabia, who describes himself as black, denied RUP was another "white Australia" party.

It is one of several new political parties registered in time for the federal election which are expected to attract votes from the major parties.

The spectre of Muslim ghettos was raised by a federal parliamentary committee into multiculturalism which recently handed down its report.

"References were made to Muslim 'enclaves' in Sydney and Melbourne and the riots in Cronulla in 2005 to suggest a lack of willingness on the part of Muslims to embrace the Australian lifestyle, values and behaviours," the report said.

A police spokesperson said they were aware of the speech to be delivered tonight. "Individuals and groups have a right to express their opinions as long as this is done in a lawful and respectful manner," the spokesperson said.  "We would remind people that care must be taken so nothing is said that may incite violent or criminal behaviour."

Muslim leader Keysar Trad said groups such as Rise Up Australia should be ignored: "The community should continue to ignore Islamaphobic groups such as this and let them continue to do what they want to without any publicity."


Gonski reform process 'a sham', says Victorian Education Minister

JULIA Gillard's agenda for seamless national education reform took a battering yesterday when Victoria accused the commonwealth of running a "sham", "puerile" and farcical process over her Gonski agenda.

In a further blow to the Prime Minister, Labor's last mainland Premier, Jay Weatherill, told The Australian it was "unlikely" South Australia would reach agreement on the reforms before he delivered his state budget next week.

Ms Gillard did get one Gonski victory yesterday when the ACT government agreed to her school funding reforms, joining NSW, after a deal for an additional $190 million for schools in the nation's capital in the six years from 2014.

"Every agreement gives momentum to these reforms, because it becomes clearer and clearer that this is a good way of making sure our children get a great education," Ms Gillard said at Lyneham High School in Canberra's north.

However, Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon excoriated the commonwealth over its handling of the Gonski negotiations, claiming the reforms amounted to nothing more than a slogan.

In unusually strong language, Mr Dixon said he no longer trusted the federal government over the way it had conducted the negotiations.

He said that he was being forced to read in the media about key developments in what were meant to be confidential negotiations about the future of billions of dollars worth of education funding.

"This process has been a farce and it's been a sham," Mr Dixon told parliament.

"We are not going to sign up to a slogan. We want a real funding deal. We are going to sign up to what's best for every student, school, family and taxpayer."

Senior government sources said Victoria would only now sign up to the Gonski reforms if there was a "deal breaking" offer by Canberra.

Mr Dixon, Catholic Education Commission Victoria executive director Stephen Elder and Independent Schools Victoria chief executive Michelle Green have written to the Gillard government asking for four-way negotiations to address funding proposals. This is believed to be due to existing discussions having collapsed.

"The current bilateral negotiations have not achieved results we would have liked," the trio wrote in a letter to School Education Minister Peter Garrett.

Mr Dixon's outburst makes it increasingly unlikely that Ms Gillard will be able to broker a truly national approach to the Gonski reforms. While Mr Dixon has not ruled out signing up to the reforms, he has sent the clearest possible message that Victoria's support is highly conditional.

Queensland is still holding out on the reforms while Western Australia says it is not signing.

The South Australian Premier, who took on Treasury in his January frontbench reshuffle, yesterday hosed down any expectation he was about to sign up to Gonski and was just waiting for the right time to announce it with the Prime Minister before next Thursday's state budget.

"Negotiations are continuing," Mr Weatherill said.

"State government representatives held further negotiations with federal government officials earlier this week. However, there are still a number of outstanding issues between us.

"It is unlikely we will reach agreement before the state budget, but the Prime Minister has stated that states have until June 30 to reach agreement."

Sources familiar with the negotiations said the South Australian government would push the Gonski talks "down to the wire".

"It may all fall over yet; we'll likely push it right up to the last minute of the deadline," one source said.

Mr Weatherill has refused to disclose publicly the issues still to be resolved with the commonwealth. But in a letter from Mr Weatherill to non-government schools, obtained by The Australian, the Premier stated that one of the issues to be resolved was "how quickly the new funding model would be implemented in South Australia". The letter, dated May 24, also warned that, "it may not be possible to reach an agreement with the commonwealth on the Gonski reforms".

Mr Weatherill said schools should be prepared to lose funding if a deal was not struck. "It would mean a significant and immediate reduction in funding for all government and non-government schools due to the nature of the current funding arrangements with the commonwealth government," he said in the letter.

Association of Independent Schools SA chief executive Carolyn Grantskalns said she doubted any funding cuts would eventuate.

"We've seen no actual numbers . . . there is absolutely no certainty at this point," she said. "There is no certainty the state will sign up.

A spokeswoman for Mr Garrett yesterday said Mr Weatherill had expressed "strong support" for Gonski.

"We are very hopeful of reaching a deal with the South Australian government in the coming weeks," the spokeswoman said.

Ms Gillard has given the states until June 30 to sign up to her Gonski reforms, promising to deliver an extra $14.5bn plus indexation to schools over the next six years.

Wayne Swan accused the federal opposition of attempting to intimidate Coalition governments into not signing the deal.

"They have attempted to thug . . . the premiers of Queensland and other states into not accepting this deal," he said. "And what that means is they're stealing from the future and they're putting their political interests before the national interest."

School Education Minister Peter Garrett was unable to say yesterday what the year-by-year funding increases would be for schools in the ACT, but provided an assurance they would be released in coming weeks.

Under the deal signed yesterday, ACT government schools will now receive $3.3bn, the Catholic sector $900 million and the independent sector $700m over the six years from 2014.


Australian Warmists slowly backing away from alarm

They describe their figures below as "highly uncertain" but still think action must be taken!

Dramatic new research has claimed that the effects of global warming may be less than first predicted.

Australian scientists have narrowed the predicted range of global warming through groundbreaking new research.

However, the team behind it said the smaller rise could still have major effects - and warned we cannot wait for more exact figures before acting.

The paper, published in Nature Climate Change today, found that exceeding 6 degrees warming was now unlikely while exceeding 2 degrees is very likely for business-as-usual emissions.

Dr Roger Bodman from Victoria University and Professors David Karoly and Peter Rayner from the University of Melbourne have generated what they say are more reliable projections of global warming estimates at 2100.

This was achieved through a new method combining observations of carbon dioxide and global temperature variations with simple climate model simulations to project future global warming.

Team leader Dr Bodman said while continuing to narrow the range even further was possible, significant uncertainty in warming predictions would always remain due to the complexity of climate change drivers.

'This study ultimately shows why waiting for certainty will fail as a strategy,' he said.  'Some uncertainty will always remain, meaning that we need to manage the risks of warming with the knowledge we have.'

The study found 63% of uncertainty in projected warming was due to single sources – such as climate sensitivity, followed by future behaviour of the carbon cycle and the cooling effect of aerosols – while 37% of uncertainty came from the combination of these sources.

'This means that if any single uncertainty is reduced – even the most important, climate sensitivity – significant uncertainty will remain,' Dr Bodman said.


The journal article (excerpt)

Uncertainty in temperature projections reduced using carbon cycle and climate observations

Roger W. Bodman,     Peter J. Rayner     & David J. Karoly

The future behaviour of the carbon cycle is a major contributor to uncertainty in temperature projections for the twenty-first century1, 2. Using a simplified climate model3, we show that, for a given emission scenario, it is the second most important contributor to this uncertainty after climate sensitivity, followed by aerosol impacts.

Historical measurements of carbon dioxide concentrations4 have been used along with global temperature observations5 to help reduce this uncertainty. This results in an increased probability of exceeding a 2 °C global–mean temperature increase by 2100 while reducing the probability of surpassing a 6 °C threshold for non-mitigation scenarios such as the Special Report on Emissions Scenarios A1B and A1FI scenarios6, as compared with projections from the Fourth Assessment Report7 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Climate sensitivity, the response of the carbon cycle and aerosol effects remain highly uncertain but historical observations of temperature and carbon dioxide imply a trade–off between them so that temperature projections are more certain than they would be considering each factor in isolation.

As well as pointing out the promise from the formal use of observational constraints in climate projection, this also highlights the need for an holistic view of uncertainty.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

ABC's new fact checker Russell Skelton accused of left-wing bias over tweets

THE ABC's new chief fact checker has been accused of left-wing bias over tweets criticising Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and other coalition MPs.

Tweets read at a budget estimates hearing last night show Fact Checking Unit editor Russell Skelton also targeted the Coalition MP controversially mocked by his wife, ABC Breakfast host Virginia Trioli, during a live television interview four years ago.

But the government last night said the opposition was trying to intimidate Mr Skelton, a Walkley Award winner and former senior newspaper journalist, adding that some of the criticisms read out were factually accurate.

Tweets show Mr Skelton often links to articles negative of Mr Abbott, who he describes as "The Monk" in some tweets, and appears to add his own criticism to the article link.

In one recent case, Mr Skelton also retweeted a tweet by someone else saying opposition senator Eric Abetz wanted to start a "race war" with Aboriginals.

In multiple tweets, Mr Skelton criticised Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce, who received an apology from Ms Trioli in 2009 after being caught on camera twirling her finger around her ear and pulling a crazy face while he spoke.

Mr Skelton described Mr Joyce in tweets as "super snide'', a "dense, opportunistic carpetbagger'' and "Bananaby'' while referring to Joe Hockey as "not the sharpest pencil in the box''.

The fact-checking unit will assess political statements ahead of the federal election and rule on their accuracy.

ABC managing director Mark Scott told the hearing a fact checker did not express opinions but rather checked claims, noting all journalists voted but the test was the content they produced.

"There is no suggestion at all a retweet is an endorsement of an view,'' he said of the race war tweet.

Senator Abetz questioned the appointment, saying articles by Mr Skelton had also been corrected by the ABC's Mediawatch, including for not telling both sides of a story.  "Your own Mediawatch has pinged him!'' he said.

After Senator Abetz raised a tweet by Mr Skelton about a poll accompanied with the phrase "Abbott now a liability, a proverbial albatross'', Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said the questioning was "blatant intimidation'' from the opposition.

"That would be factually accurate!'' Senator Conroy said.

Mr Scott said the tweets were made before Mr Skelton’s appointment was announced.


Solar has increased electricity prices, says Qld. government

Solar power users and green schemes have been singled out by the state government as responsible for driving up the state's electricity prices.

Energy minister Mark McArdle said advice from the Queensland Competition Authority had shown the Commonwealth's Renewable Energy Target Scheme added $102 to the average electricity bill, while the Solar Bonus Scheme cost $67.

"When you add $190 for the carbon tax this means 18.9 per cent of an average $1900 annual electricity bill is made up of green schemes," Mr McArdle said in a statement.

"By 2015-16 the solar bonus scheme will increase to $276 on an average bill, which could see the price of green schemes reach $621 on average per year if the carbon tax is not repealed."

Solar Citizens, an advocacy group supported by ‘‘a number of community and industry organisations’’, has dismissed Mr McArdle’s statement as ‘‘unfair and misleading’’.

“The primary driver of rising energy bills in QLD is increasing network costs,” Solar Citizens’ campaign manager Dr Geoff Evans said.

“In fact, the Queensland Competition Authority recently released data that shows that solar users only amount to 7 per cent of a family’s electricity cost — with nearly 70 per cent of an electricity bill going to network and retail costs.’’

Mr McArdle issued the statement ahead of the QCA announcing on Friday an anticipated 21 to 22 per cent increase in the retail price for electricity.

When releasing its draft determination in February, the QCA laid some of the blame for the massive price hike at the state government's feet, claiming its decision to freeze the tariff 11 last year had forced the authority to play catch up.

"So low-use customers have not been paying enough to cover the costs of their supply and high-use customers have been paying more than the cost of their supply," the QCA said at the time.

"This is changing, so that customers' bills better reflect the costs of their electricity use.

"As a result, low consumption customers will see a high percentage increase in their bill as the fixed service fee is increased."

But Mr McArdle blamed green schemes, saying the state government was "looking at ways" it could reduce their impact on households.

"The overly generous solar bonus scheme gave significant cash windfalls to those customers who installed solar PV [Photovoltaic panels] on domestic roofs, but the scheme did not pass on the real costs to the electricity network, to support solar PV," he said.

"It is not right that the 80 per cent of customers who do not have solar are expected to pay the full price of the 20 per cent who have solar.

"Some customers with solar are getting a very generous $0.44 feed-in tariff (FiT) and should make a fair contribution towards the upgrade of the electricity network needed to support their solar PV."

But Mr McArdle said the government would not be changing the solar feed-in tariff that was legislated by the former government until 2028.

Mr McArdle said it would "cost other electricity consumers almost $3 billion to support".

Instead he said the government would consider "a range of other options" to make the "system more equitable".


Qld. Building Services Authority to be scrapped and replaced with new watchdog

About time

THE controversial Building Services Authority will be scrapped and replaced with a new commission in a move the Newman Government says will restore confidence in the system.

Housing Minister Tim Mander will today announce his plans to create a new building and construction watchdog after a parliamentary committee released a scathing review of the BSA last year and recommended it be replaced and the system overhauled.

He said legislation was expected to be introduced into State Parliament next week to establish the new Queensland Building and Construction Commission to take over from the BSA in January next year.

A new complaints review unit will be set up within the commission but will remain independent to ensure builders and consumers can appeal decisions, the home warranty scheme will be retained and possibly broadened while an implementation committee with also be established to help determine a new disputes and review process.

"The whole challenge has been to balance the rights of contractors and consumers," Mr Mander said. "We want both those groups, consumers and contractors to have confidence in the system."

Current BSA general manager Ian Jenning's contract will be terminated year's end but Mr Mander said Mr Jennings was welcome to apply for the new commissioner role.

"We have put together a 10-point action plan for the future," the Minister said.

The Queensland Building and Construction Commission will be run by a professional board and a commissioner.  "The commissioner will report to the board and the board will report to me," Mr Mander said.

The commission would include a number of general managers whose areas of responsibility would be firewalled from each other to avoid conflicts of interest.

A rapid dispute adjudication system will be implemented to allow builders and consumers to raise disputes before a contract is finished or terminated.

"Being able to intervene far earlier in disputes and also putting in processes that will actually stop disputes in the first place will mean there will be far less issues going to QCAT . . . " Mr Mander said. "And of course there's the right of review of decision which consumers haven't had in the past, nor builders."

A building ratings system could be introduced along with consumer incentives for those who undertake some form of education or training.

Licensing, compliance and auditing practices will also be overhauled along with the penalties scheme.


Remand prisoner severely bashed

A remand prisoner is one who has not been convicted of any crime.  There will be a big compensation claim out of this  -- which will be borne by the taxpayer

A FATHER has had three conflicting explanations of how his son suffered severe head injuries while on remand in the Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre last week.

Russell Smulders is on life support in the Princess Alexandra Hospital after the mystery incident at the jail last Tuesday.

His father, Russell Smulders Snr, said he was told his son had slipped while mopping, had fallen while playing basketball and had run into a wall in a touch football game.

He said doctors told him his son's injuries were inconsistent with an accident. Corrective Services said there was no CCTV footage.

"He has severe brain damage - if he lives, he will never have any motor skills again," Mr Smulders Snr said. "He's got damage to the right temple, he's got a back head injury, he's got a shoulder injury and spinal injury."

Corrective Services yesterday said that "given the seriousness of the injuries", Commissioner Marlene Morison had asked the chief inspector to investigate.

"Early indications are the prisoner was injured while participating in supervised physical activity (touch football) in the Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre gymnasium," it said.

In a separate incident, alleged loan shark and standover man Christophe Phillipe Bertomeu was taken to the PA Hospital last week after an assault by another prisoner in Arthur Gorrie.

Prison staff have also been assaulted in a series of attacks and the United Voice union says it is concerned about safety and security in the prison.

Smulders, 25, is charged with attempted murder for allegedly stabbing his wife Analeigh in the chest and stomach at Crestmead, in Logan, in November.

He was under observation after he jumped from the top floor of a building in an attempt to take his life in December, his father said.

The family has regularly featured in newspapers and magazines because of its size, with Smulders the eldest of 15 siblings.

Mr Smulders Snr said he was first advised of the injuries in a phone call from a nurse at Arthur Gorrie about 2pm last Tuesday.

"She said, 'I have an eyewitness that Russell was mopping the floor and he slipped over'," he said.

Mr Smulders Snr flew from his Sydney home to Brisbane and met hospital staff, including doctors who said his son had fallen while playing basketball.

Corrective Services subsequently told him Smulders ran into a wall while playing touch football.

"The neurosurgeon has discounted everything. None of those fit the injuries," he said.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Lawyer sued for failing to write up and sign woman's will nine days before she died

Bryan Mitchell did my will last year but took months to finalize it.  He must have had an optimistic view of my health

ESTATE lawyers will rush to write up informal wills and have them signed after a lawyer was successfully sued for failing to do a woman's will on-the-spot, nine days before she died.

The woman's son missed out on an increased slice of his mother's estate because the lawyer delayed having the new will signed because he was going on holidays.  The woman died before his return.

The son, who was to be bequeathed half his mother's family share of her estate under her instructions for the new 2010 will, was left only 25 per cent under the former will made in 2009.

He is expected to be awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages.

Brisbane wills and estate lawyer Bryan Mitchell, of Mitchells Solicitors, said the NSW Supreme Court case delivered on May 2 had set alarm bells ringing.

Local estate lawyers would now make sure temporary wills were signed immediately, as they could be sued in Queensland courts for similar circumstances, he said.

Mr Mitchell said while most lawyers considered it good practice to get an informal will signed on the spot, it now would become essential practice, increasing the cost of making a will.

Sydney lawyer Graham W. Howe took complete instructions from Marie Fischer, 94, of Mosman, for a new will on March 25, 2010, but told her he would get her to sign it after his Easter holiday, the NSW court heard.

Mrs Fischer, who lived with a carer, agreed to wait about two weeks, but she became ill and died, leaving her 2009 will as her final will.

On March 25 she had given Mr Howe instructions to change her executor and increase her son Henry Fischer's family share of the estate to 50 per cent.

Expert legal witness Pamela Suttor told the court Mr Howe should have prepared an informal will on March 25, or at least obtained her signature on a note recording her intentions.

Justice Christine Adamson found that Mrs Fischer had been adamant about changes she wanted made to her will and Mr Howe was negligent and breached his duty of care by not making an informal will that day.

The judge said had the informal will been prepared and signed by Mrs Fischer she was satisfied it would have been accepted as her will under the Succession Act.

She said Mr Fischer was entitled to full net loss of the further 25 per cent of the estate, which Mr Fischer calculated was $824,447.


Middle-class bludging? It's a myth

FIRST there were families. Then there were "battlers". Then "working families". Now the political spin-cycle has moved on to "modern families". Going forward.

Elections in Australia are traditionally fought and won by parties appealing to the interests of middle-income families. So this will be a strange election campaign, with both parties promising to reduce your family income.

This week the Government will introduce legislation to abolish the baby bonus. Australia's treasurer-in-waiting, Joe Hockey, will wave it through, having argued our "age of entitlement" must come to an end.

But are Aussie families really a bunch of middle-class welfare bludgers? Economists are constantly calling for family payments to middle-income families to be reduced to reduce the "churn" in the tax and welfare system. Why take with one hand only to give back with the other?

Recent studies have shown the "middle-class welfare" bogey is more myth than reality. In a new paper, Peter Whiteford, a professor of social policy at the Australian National University, argues our family benefits system is, in fact, highly targeted at low-income families.

Prof Whiteford's calculations find Australia's poorest 20 per cent of households get about $435 a week in cash benefits from the government. The top 20 per cent get only $15 a week and of that, only $1 is family benefits - the rest is aged, disability and veterans' pensions.

The poorest 20 per cent of households also pay negligible income tax, while the top fifth of households by income pay $756 a week, on average.

If the government didn't tax and redistribute, the richest 20 per cent of households would have private incomes 21 times higher than the poorest 20 per cent. As it is, once taxes and benefits are factored in, the multiple is just three to one.

Australia's poorest 20 per cent of households receive 42 per cent of government cash benefits - almost twice the developed world average of 24.4 per cent.

According to Prof Whiteford: "The idea that there are vast amounts of wasteful social security spending that can be easily cut back simply does not accord with the reality that the Australian benefit system is the most targeted to low-income groups of any developed countries."

Truth is, Australian governments have been supporting families in one way or another since just after Federation.

Bob Hawke may continue to regret his ambitious 1987 pledge that no child would live in poverty. But his boost to low-income family support did substantially reduce child poverty in this country, by as much as 50 per cent in its first year, according to some estimates. Between 1985 and 2000, Australia dropped from sixth to 16th place in the developed world rankings of rates of child poverty.

Family payment rates grew under the Howard government thanks to the mining boom, and payments were expanded further up the income scale. The proportion of couple families with children who pay no tax rose from 16 per cent in 1982 to 26 per cent under the Hawke and Keating governments, and increased again to 29 per cent under Howard. But most of that was still tightly targeted to families in the $40,000-$70,000 income brackets.

Millionaire mums getting family tax benefits and the baby bonus were always the exception rather than the norm. (It is almost forgotten that it was John Howard as treasurer in 1978 who abolished the Maternity Allowance, the precursor to the baby bonus that had been in place since 1912.)

Since the global financial crisis, the Rudd and Gillard governments have done more than they care to admit to tighten eligibility for family payments. Indexing of payment rates to general prices - not wages, which tend to grow faster - has reduced annual payments by about $500 from what they would have been.

So, although we constantly hear of "middle-class welfare", in reality it's getting harder to find. Notable exceptions include Labor's non-means-tested "schoolkids bonus" - which is really just an ad hoc payment that should rightly be abolished by an incoming Coalition government.

The Seniors Card - which entitles bearers to discounted travel and shopping - also gives a group of Australians a benefit regardless of their capacity to pay.

The childcare rebate on out-of-pocket expenses is also not means-tested, meaning a high proportion of the benefit goes to high-income women.

The Grattan Institute estimates the annual Budget deficit will yawn to about $37 billion by 2023.

Axing the baby bonus saves only about $1 billion over four years. Fixing the Budget crisis will require tax hikes or politically painful spending cuts.  Baby, you ain't seen nothing yet.



Four current articles below

Greenie regulations on Qld. coal mines eased

A LOSS of about $750 million in royalties through the flooding of central Queensland coal mines over the past three years has pushed the Government into allowing more mines in the Fitzroy River basin to release water.

Deputy Premier Jeff Seeney said the plan will be put in place next wet season after a trial among four mines found no long-term impacts on water quality.

"The pilot program carried out over the last wet season shows that this legacy mine water can be released when there are sufficient river flows, while maintaining water quality," Mr Seeney said.

Mr Seeney said Central Queensland coal mines still have an estimated 250 billion litres of excess water as a result of the recent wet seasons.

"The government will undertake detailed discussions with coal mine operators in coming months to identify the optimal solutions that may be available for each mine," he said.

"Any amendments will need to be finalised well before the next wet season, to allow coal mines to be well prepared and for the supporting monitoring programs to be up and running.

More than 30 mines in central Queensland have been flooded in the past three years and unable to release that water until heavy rains can dilute the pollutants like salt.

Only two have been able to reduce any significant amount of water hampering production at most mines.

Only about 26 billion litres was released into creek and river systems during heavy rain in January.

He said the Government would look for more options to release the water, but any amendments will need to be finalised well before the next wet season, to allow coal mines to be well prepared and for the supporting monitoring programs to be up and running.

Environment Minister Andrew Powell said an independent assessment of the pilot had proved that the measures put in place ensured water quality for drinking, agriculture and the environment was protected.

"The data shows that adequate measures are in place to ensure water quality standards have been met and I am confident that we will continue to see that in the future," Mr Powell said.


Green funding rush fires loans row as $800M push defies Tony Abbott

THE Clean Energy Finance Corporation is planning to write up to $800 million in green loans before the election, defying the Coalition's call for the agency not to sign contracts before September 14 because Tony Abbott has vowed to scrap it.

The CEFC has revealed it is in "active discussions" with 50 projects seeking $2 billion and that an additional 119 project proponents have presented proposals that are seeking finance worth $3.3bn. The figures are contained in an email from the CEFC to the opposition pleading its case not to be scrapped if the Coalition wins the election.

The CEFC was established as part of the Gillard government's Clean Energy Future package to provide finance to clean energy projects that might not otherwise be able to raise funds through the commercial banking system. It receives an allocation of $2bn a year for five years which has been locked into the government's budget through legislation.

The scale of discussions under way between the CEFC and clean energy project proponents puts it on a collision course with the Coalition, which in February wrote to the CEFC asking it not to write any loans between July 1 and the election.

Opposition finance spokesman Andrew Robb said the Coalition was "deeply troubled by the indecent haste to start risking many billions of dollars of borrowed money".

"There is simply no valid reason for agreements to be struck, contracts to be signed or for funds to be meted out this side of the election," Mr Robb said. "It is unconscionable. We have been crystal clear in our opposition to the CEFC and in our resolve to abolish it. We will do whatever we can to prevent $10bn of borrowed money from being wasted."

CEFC chief executive Oliver Yates last night said the agency, which can begin writing loans from July 1, would do so in an orderly way and was planning to write about $1bn worth of loans every six months.

Asked what the CEFC could write between its start date of July 1 and August 12, when the pre-election caretaker period begins, Mr Yates said he would be happy if the CEFC could write between $600m and $800m. However, all agreements would be subject to extensive due diligence.

The CEFC has revealed the full value of the 50 projects in "active discussions" is put at $4.6bn and the 119 extra projects for which submissions have been received are worth more than $6bn.

In the email to the opposition, Mr Yates said there had been a "resounding positive response to date from the market, demonstrating the significant role which the CEFC can play".

He revealed the CEFC was working on a dozen projects in Victoria that would deliver jobs and growth "but all are now in question". "These projects have a total expected size of nearly $2.5bn," he said.

The letter also revealed the CEFC had tightened its lending criteria and it had removed an assumption that it would grant or lose 7.5 per cent of the investment portfolio.

"We determined that to operate commercially the CEFC would not make grants or what was termed 'immediately impaired loans'," Mr Yates wrote. "The making of such are inconsistent with the approach of being self-sustaining and commercial."

Mr Yates argued that the difference between the CEFC and a traditional financial institution was that "we don't seek maximum profits but seek to cover operating and funding costs, and use the potential to make higher profits to secure public policy benefits and reduce the cost of moving to a lower-carbon economy".

"We will participate alongside traditional financiers and may from time to time rub shoulders as we build our market presence and financial self-sufficiency," he said. "That said, the net effect of our participation in the market will be to increase available funding opportunities for the private sector, not reduce them."

Mr Yates said the CEFC was focused on being a sustainable institution and, where a loan was written below the bond rate for a public policy purpose, another might be written at a commercial rate to ensure the business was sustainable.

In his budget reply speech this month, the Opposition Leader repeated his vow to "scrap Labor's green-loans scheme for projects that the banks won't touch".

The corporation's chairwoman and Reserve Bank board member Jillian Broadbent has previously said there was "significant appetite" for funds and has signalled that the CEFC would seek to act according to its mandate to write loans, despite the opposition's request not to do so.


Mining industry releases report stating resistance to coal seam gas projects will end expansion and sacrifice many jobs

COMMUNITY activists fighting CSG projects with "myths" are putting at risk a potential $150 billion investment bonanza, a mining industry report to be released this week warns.

And the industry is pressing the Coalition to pledge tougher workplace laws and slashed regulation before the September 14 election.

Mining company executives are pointing to an opportunity to capitalise on growing liquified natural gas (LNG) markets which could be lost to gas producers in Africa and North America.

Seven of the 13 LNG plants being built around the world are under construction in Australia but further expansion opportunities could be lost. LNG now supplies nine per cent of the world's energy and this could rise to 15 per cent by 2020, with lower carbon emissions than from coal power.

LNG demand in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to rise from 160 million tonnes a year now to 320 million tonnes by 2025, the McKinsey study found.

"The window of opportunity for LNG projects is open for about 18 months. We have momentum on projects, and want to get through that window," the outgoing Australian chair of Shell Ann Pickard told reporters in Brisbane Sunday.

Liquified Natural Gas producers increasingly are turning to coal seam gas as conventional supplies run down or prove too expensive to mine.

But in some parts of Queensland and in NSW they are being fought by an unusual combination of Greens, farmers, and broadcaster Alan Jones, a group Mr Byers said was well organised and very well funded.

The Lock the Gates Alliance representing the resistance has accused mining companies of "riding roughshod over our governments and local communities".

Mr Byers said: "Call it for what it is: it is a campaign which is based on some ideological objections to having kore gas into our energy supply system as distinct to going for more renewables."

He said the research presented on CSG was being rejected by groups claiming it would harm water supplies and wreck productive pastures.

The miners also are pointing in particular to the significantly lower labour costs in North America.

Another industry executive said Australian labor costs were not only high against those of developing nations, they were greater than those of the US and Canada in similar work.

State and federal governments both Liberal and Labor are threatening mine expansions which could see an extra $13 billion in taxes and royalties paid by 2020, according to the report commissioned the the Australian Petroleum Production Exploration Association (APPEA).

"We do have some very big hurdles in front of us in order to keep this investment wave going," said the APPEA's chief executive David Byers on Sunday.

Mr Byers said in an election year there was "a lot of people who are looking to win friends and votes by raising the hurdles that we face even higher".

"And here I'm not just talking about the Greens," Mr Byers told reporters in Brisbane.

"In recent time we've seen government of both political persuasions at both federal and state levels prone to flip flopping on gas regulation."


Brisbane City Council to relax tree and vegetation protection laws

RESIDENTS will be able to trim street trees for the first time in almost 20 years and protected growths will become easier to remove from properties under sweeping changes to Brisbane's vegetation protection rules.

In a move likely to anger some community and environmental groups, Lord Mayor Graham Quirk will today announce the proposed amendments aimed at "ensuring people's lives and homes aren't put in unnecessary danger".

The changes to the Natural Assets Local Law will affect more than 60,000 Brisbane properties housing protected trees and could have implications for about 600,000 city street trees, including Moreton Bay figs, jacarandas, red gums and hoop pines.

Anybody wishing to trim or remove protected trees from their land will still have to apply to Brisbane City Council.

However, rather than just consider the tree's health, council will place more emphasis on risks to life or property and "nuisance issues".

Residents will also no longer have to commission an arborist report before starting work.

The council is also planning to lift a 20-year ban on residents pruning street trees affecting their properties.

Currently residents must call on council to request officers carry out even the most minor trimming of street trees.

Property owners will still have to flag the pruning work with council before getting to work but can gain approval on grounds including "safety, nuisance or presentation". Cr Quirk said the changes were a "reaction to growing community concern" about protected trees being put before the rights of residents.

"There will undoubtedly be opponents to these changes, but the January storms reminded us all how easily seemingly healthy trees can cause serious harm and common sense needs to prevail," he said.

Cr Quirk said the council would continue to maintain park and street trees and carry out major work but did not want to stand in the way of residents wishing to carry out minor work on public trees affecting their properties.

On-the-spot fines of up to $550 will also be introduced for offences including unauthorised interference with a protected tree.

Key tree species covered by the Natural Assets Local Law:

* Hoop Pine (Araucaria cunninghamii). Attains heights over 25m.

* Forest Red Gum (Eucalyptus tereticornis). Attains heights over 25m. Known for dropping large branches without warning.

* Jacaranda (Jacaranda mimosifolia). Grows to 15m high x 12m wide.

* Moreton Bay Fig (Ficus macrophylla). Grows, on average, 30 to 35 metres tall and 40 metres wide. The same species that famously fell over in New Farm Park.

* Leopard Tree (a common council street tree). Leopard Trees drop seed pods causing a slip hazard to pedestrians, aren't native and council no longer actively plants them.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Privacy laws stop cops tracking lawless "refugees"

PRIVACY restrictions are preventing police being told where asylum seekers are living in the community.

The Immigration Department has told a parliamentary committee that "due to privacy reasons", police were not told where boat arrivals on bridging visas are.

More than 10,000 asylum seekers who have been released have had initial security checks, but are yet to undergo screening by ASIO.

Four people in community detention have been charged with animal cruelty, theft and assault, while four on bridging visas have been charged with stalking, custody of a knife, and assaults.

Police have been called to asylum seeker housing five times over assaults from November 2011 to December last year. Four asylum seekers living in the community have since absconded and are yet to be found.

In detention centres across Australia, asylum seekers who have not had their refugee claims processed since the government began a "no advantage" policy in August have been involved in 56 critical incidents and 155 major incidents in two months to October.

Acting Opposition immigration spokesman Michael Keenan claimed police had asked for locations of asylum seekers.

"This is not only because of their responsibilities, but also because asylum seeker families particularly may require protection," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Immigration Department said character checks, consideration of behaviour and co-operation were taken into account before people were released and that they then had to report to the department regularly.

Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor's spokesman said: "This is lazy, fearmongering journalism, given that less than half of one per cent of people in community detention or on bridging visas have been criminally charged and that people are only released into the community after security checks are completed."

The revelations came as a boat carrying 82 asylum seekers arrived on the Cocos Islands, and another boat carrying 126 people was intercepted off Christmas Island, taking arrivals for May to 2963 and just over 35,000 since Julia Gillard became PM.

Since the start of the year, 10,137 people have arrived, compared with 3428 in the same period in 2012.

Immigration Department Secretary Martin Bowles yesterday told Estimates arrivals this financial year could end up reaching 25,000.

However, the Government has only budgeted for 13,200 people next financial year, in part because only 483 people arrived in the monsoonal month of January.


Northwest Qld rivers opened up to farms

The Greenies won't be happy but the Qld govt. has given them lots to fight lately so they may just lie down on this one

SIX northwest Queensland farms are now allowed to use water from Gulf river systems for irrigation after the state government granted the first licenses.

Twenty-two applicants applied for a licence to undertake irrigated farming along the Gilbert and Flinders rivers last year, Natural Resources Minister Andrew Cripps says.

Three of the licence holders have access to a combined total of 80,000 megalitres from the Flinders River catchment while the remaining three licence holders will be able to use 14,220 megalitres from the Gilbert River catchment.

Mr Cripps says it's an important step towards creating a sustainable irrigated agricultural industry in the Gulf Country.

The release of water strikes the right balance between development and sustainability, he added.

"It is important to note that the volumes of water we have released had been identified as unallocated under the Gulf Water Resource Plan, after environmental flows had been taken into account," Mr Cripps said.

More water from the rivers might be released for irrigation in future.

The minister said he would fast track a CSIRO and government review on the volume of water from the Gilbert and Flinders rivers that could sustainably be released.


Australia the world's happiest nation: OECD

These ratings all have an element of arbitrariness but it is interesting that Australia scores highly on many variables

Australia is still the world's happiest nation based on criteria including income, jobs, housing and health, despite some signs of a slowing economy, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Australia kept the top spot for the third straight year, leading Sweden and Canada, the Paris-based group's Better Life Index showed, when each of 11 categories surveyed in 36 nations is given equal weight.

More than 73 per cent of people aged 15 to 64 in Australia have a paid job, above the OECD average of 66 per cent, while life expectancy at birth in Australia is almost 82 years, two years higher than the OECD average, the survey showed.

Australia, the only major developed nation to avoid the 2009 worldwide recession, remains at the top of the OECD index even as the mining boom powering economic growth crests and the government forecasts unemployment will rise to 5.75 per cent by June 2014, from 5.5 per cent last month.

“Australia performs exceptionally well in measures of well-being, as shown by the fact that it ranks among the top countries in a large number of topics in the Better Life Index,” the OECD said.

The average household net-adjusted disposable income was $US28,884 a year, well above the OECD average of $US23,047. "Money, while it cannot buy happiness, is an important means to achieving higher living standards," the OECD noted.

But the organisation also pointed out that there is a considerable gap between the richest and poorest – the top 20 per cent of the population earn six times as much as the bottom 20 per cent.

The data also showed Australian work fewer hours a year than their OECD peers. The average Australian works 1693 hours, compared with most people in the OECD who work 1776 hours a year.

Australians also share a stronger sense of community than the OECD average. According to the the report, 94 per cent of people "believe they know someone they could rely on in a time a need, higher than the OECD average of 90 per cent.

Moreover, more Australians participate in the democratic process than anywhere else in the OECD, with 93 per cent voter turnout during the last election, the highest among the surveyed countries. The average is 72 per cent.

Australians are also more satisfied with their lives than the OECD average, with 84 per cent of people saying they have more positive experiences in an average day (feelings of rest, pride in accomplishment, enjoyment, etc) than negative ones (pain, worry, sadness, boredom, etc). This figure is higher than the OECD average of 80 per cent.


Conservative think tank gets practical

Almost 10 years ago, the leader of an East Arnhem Aboriginal community arrived unannounced at CIS asking for help. His community’s children were not receiving any education so he feared that they would be condemned to a life on welfare. This plea led to the CIS finding practical assistance for the community and the development of our Indigenous program.

Since then, with volunteer helpers, the community has moved forward in parallel with CIS’ Indigenous policy development. Our research exposed the failure of ‘culturally appropriate’ Indigenous education while the Baniyala community now has an excellent school with the highest Indigenous school attendance in the Northern Territory.

From education, the focus has moved to housing. The community wants decent homes instead of the sub-standard dwellings into which they have been crowded. In keeping with the CIS’ liberal philosophy, we support home ownership as an alternative to public housing.

Over the last 50 years, 20% of Australia has been returned to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ownership. Few know that this land was returned without the provision for individual land title. Australia’s Indigenous lands are the largest area on earth where you are not allowed to own your home. All prosperous societies combine good governance of communal assets such as roads, parks and hospitals, with private ownership of homes and business. On Australia’s vast Indigenous lands, communal governance is poor and private ownership is non-existent. The misery of remote communities on Indigenous lands is the result.

This East Arnhem community commenced negotiations with governments and their statutory organisations to introduce 99 year leases for private housing. Progress has been slow.

To move private housing along, two modest houses have been built in Baniyala for private rental. These houses have kitchens and bathrooms - unlike the public housing provided in remote outstations. Two families now rent these houses. One family – parents plus children – was previously ‘housed’ in an 18 feet ‘donga’ container. The other family shared bedrooms in a dwelling that would be condemned as ‘unfit for human habitation’ outside Aboriginal Australia. In their new houses, these families are planting gardens and taking advantage of ‘quiet enjoyment’ – the right of a tenant or landowner to undisturbed use and enjoyment of property. When leases over the housing blocks are issued, the tenants have the option of getting a mortgage and buying these houses.

These first two houses built for private rental and ownership have easily disproved the mantras about housing on Indigenous land. For years it has been claimed that construction costs are too high and Indigenous incomes too low, and that unlike other Australians, Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders do not want to own their homes. These are excuses used to hide the discriminatory state and federal policies that deny individual property rights on Indigenous land. The CIS and a handful of volunteers are helping a remote Northern Territory community to drive changes in these policies.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Blue-collar blues as uni equality fails by degrees

Michael Thompson points out below  the lower participation by working class people in higher education but omits to make a case for that being a bad thing.  With tradesmen making a mint and graduates flipping hamburgers, I suspect it is a good thing

WHY has the participation rate in higher education of people from low socioeconomic status backgrounds - in effect the working class - changed so little during the past 40 or 50 years?

The Whitlam government's abolition of university fees from 1974 ushered in "free" education. However, "equal" education proved more elusive. According to Gough Whitlam's private secretary, Peter Wilenski, the effect of abolishing fees was "found to have had no impact on the socioeconomic distribution of the origins of university students, and was in effect a direct handout to the better off".

Several government discussion papers and the like have reviewed higher education, including the 1996 report by the then Higher Education Council and the 2008 Bradley report. They tell of little change in the participation of low SES students in higher education, with their overall proportion of enrolment having remained static at about 15 per cent across the past two decades. The latest statistics show their proportion at only 16.7 per cent of total commencements last year. And, even if more working class students attend university in the 2010s, their numbers will likely be far exceeded by increases in students coming from better-off families.

Women made up 51 per cent of all students by 1989, with those from middle-class backgrounds now over-represented by 10-15 per cent. Although women's participation is skewed towards arts-humanities, health and education, they are underrepresented in higher-degree research programs.

As for the future, the government supported the Bradley report's recommendation that by 2020 "20 per cent of undergraduate enrolments in higher education should be students from low socioeconomic backgrounds".

But people of low SES make up 25 per cent of the population (to this day they participate at only a little more than half their proportion of the population). Further, their target date of 2020 falls 12 years after it was recommended, and 46 years after Whitlam abolished fees.

The government's target for the low SES evinces a certain lack of urgency on its part. What's been going on?

In 1996, the HEC's chairman, Gordon Stanley, was adamant that the reason for the under-representation in higher education of people from low SES backgrounds is not "barriers to access"; rather, it is their "individual and family attitudes and values about higher education".

Coming from an Anglo-Celtic working-class family, and growing up in the 1950s and 60s, I naturally thought of getting a good job, an apprenticeship. Like most of those of my age around me, my horizons were narrow. No one among my immediate family or relatives had ever finished high school. And there were few visible examples of working-class success. I lacked confidence in my intellectual ability. I never dreamed of going to university.

More insidiously, the working class almost invariably is portrayed by the progressive entertainment industry and media as at best buffoons and at worst proto-Nazis. Lately it is spoken of sneeringly as "bogan". Lindsay Tanner writes that "bogan is the new word for working class", and says calling someone bogan "has become an all-purpose put-down. If you want to label someone crass, crude and stupid, bogan is the word for you."

If people are told often enough that they're dummies with nasty little prejudices, they come to believe it; they internalise it. This stereotyping of the working class as unfit serves to mask the progressives' own class interest.

The HEC warned in its report that if "the desired results to have student population more representative of the groups in the community are to be achieved, the over-representation of other groups will have to be reduced". It's a zero-sum game (in which the losses exactly equal the winnings); an increase in students from the working class means fewer from professional families, many of whom are progressives, whose main asset is knowledge: their university degrees.

The government supported the Bradley report's recommendation that institutions determine how many students to enrol; on the face of it, then, no more zero-sum game.

However, those from low SES backgrounds are likelier to have attended disadvantaged schools. They are typically ill-prepared for university and so do not satisfy the higher entry requirements for so-called professional degrees such as medicine and law, enrolling instead in business (economics and accounting) and arts-humanities.

The abolition of student quotas has seen universities lower entry requirements; now almost anyone is accepted into business and arts-humanities degrees at non-sandstone universities.

Students enrolled in business are often forced to pay the same HECS fees as those in professional degrees (although students in arts-humanities pay less). The money paid by these students has been used to cross-subsidise those in medicine and law. In effect, low SES students are subsidising wealthier students who have attended selective and non-parish Catholic schools where they have been groomed for university studies. A perverse outcome - reminding one of Wilenski's observation.

Where to begin anew?

Why not broaden working-class youths' horizons, and put an end to the undermining of their confidence?

The government supported outreach activities in communities with poor higher education participation rates, along with institutions and schools raising the aspirations of people from low SES backgrounds to attend university.

They may help broaden horizons, but as the figures quoted earlier indicate governments' track record with programs is not encouraging.

Governments could review their advertisements that reinforce the stereotyping of working-class families as dysfunctional, such as those censuring violence against women and the irresponsible behaviour by parents that can lead to underage drinking, as they almost invariably show working-class husbands, boyfriends and fathers as the perpetrators.

The government also may want to consider a prominent and ongoing national advertising campaign encouraging participation in higher education, featuring working-class male and female success stories as role models. Use of the media in this way could go a long way towards broadening working-class youths' horizons and boosting their confidence.


Homosexual nurse admits murder of old folk

As a 35-year old geriatric nurse with no family he was obviously going nowhere vocationally or in any other way so he apparently needed something to make him feel good about himself. Being Asian probably made him feel an outsider too. That he was interviewed by police BEFORE the fire suggests that he had already begun to behave erratically

No mention below of Mr Dean's "partner".  Asians are normally very law-abiding

EMOTIONS ran high for the families of 11 elderly people killed in a Sydney nursing home blaze as they heard the man responsible for their care plead guilty to murdering them.

On the first day of his four-week murder trial, Roger Dean, 37, stood with eyes downcast and hands clasped as he quietly said "guilty" to 11 counts.

He also admitted to causing grievous bodily harm to a further eight residents who were injured in the Quakers Hill nursing home fire.

Family members in the packed courtroom cried and one woman ran out of court sobbing loudly as Dean admitted his guilt.  Outside they clung to each other and wept.

Dean, who worked as a nurse in the home, started the fire in two parts of the building on November 18, 2011.

He appeared on national television in the aftermath of the blaze, describing his efforts to help rescue those trapped inside.

Firefighters and paramedics who battled the fire and helped rescue the frail residents described it as one of the worst scenes they had ever dealt with.

Elly Valkay, whose 90-year-old mother was killed in the fire, said she was relieved at the outcome.  "My perfect scenario was that he would stand up in court and say guilty to all charges," Ms Valkay told reporters.  "My prayers were answered."

Last year Dean offered to plead guilty to the manslaughter of the 11 residents but those pleas were rejected by the crown.

He also lost a bid last week to be tried by judge alone and his trial before a jury was expected to last four weeks.

Dean had previously pleaded guilty to two counts of stealing prescription drugs from the home and they will be taken into account when he is sentenced.  His case returns to court on Thursday.

Ms Valkay says she shared a close bond with her mother Neeltje Valkay, who died of smoke inhalation four days after the fire.

"It was, I think, joy in my heart to see that my mother would say yes - justice is going to be done, and we're going to see it," she told reporters.

She said her family in Australia and in Holland continued to grieve.  "I still do the wrong left-hand turn to go home and go past the nursing home, which I did every day," she said. "There's been a lot of loneliness on both sides of the world ... I still have nightmares."

Gary Barnier, managing director of Domain Principal Group, which owns the nursing home, said the events of that night had caused damage to so many lives.

"At least today justice has been done," an emotional Mr Barnier told reporters, adding he felt "not relief, just sadness" at the guilty pleas.

Despite the heroism of staff on the night, many of them struggled with feelings of guilt after the blaze, he said.

Lessons had been learnt, with fire sprinklers now mandatory across NSW, he added.  "This thing that happened was the act of one man and in no way representative of the aged care sector," Mr Barnier said.

Neale Becke, whose 96-year-old mother Doris Becke was murdered, said his mother loved kids and had "heaps of grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren".

"At last we're getting justice for her," Mr Becke told reporters.

"Not just my mother but all of those down there who perished in that darn fire."


Tax failure as teens tap into goon (bulk white wine)

TERRITORY teens are loading up on cheap goon to avoid the alcopop tax, an alcohol activist has said.

And Australian drinkers have spent $4.5 billion in "alcopop" taxes that have failed to curb teen binge drinking, a federally funded study released today reveals.  The study shows the tax has not dinted the number of teenagers and young people with alcohol-related injuries.

People's Alcohol Action Coalition spokesman Dr John Boffa said alcopops were very expensive before they were loaded with the tax.

"The key problem for young people is pre-loading on cheap grog," he said.  "The grog of choice for that is cheap cask wine.

"Then they buy the more expensive alcopops later when they go out. That's why you need a floor price that does not allow for substitution."

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd slapped a 70 per cent tax increase on pre-mixed drinks - dubbed "alcopops" - in 2008 to try to curb binge drinking. But a University of Queensland analysis of 87,665 alcohol-related visits to hospital emergency departments over three years has found the tax made no difference.

"The premise was that this tax would reduce alcohol consumption among young people, as teenagers of both sexes prefer pre-mixed drinks over other forms of alcohol," the researchers concluded. "The increased tax on 'alcopops' was not associated with any reduction in hospital admissions for alcohol-related harms in Queensland 15-29-year-olds."

The lead researcher, UQ School of Population Health professor Steve Kisely, said young people had turned to other types of drink. Some bottle shops taped bottles of soft drink or fruit juice to bottles of spirits, once the tax came in.

"If teenagers are looking for a good time and find their favorite tipple of alcopops has doubled in price, they're not going to go home and have a hot mug of chocolate," he said. "They're going to find something else."


Qld. police declare they can not reduce crime unless they have more freedom to chase criminals in car

POLICE have declared they will not be able to reduce crime unless they have more freedom to chase criminals in cars.

So frustrated are police by their inability to pursue most offenders, mock-up posters ridiculing the pursuit policy are doing the rounds of stations.

One such poster shows the penguins from the animated hit Madagascar films, with their catch-cry "Just smile and wave boys, smile and wave".

Under the current policy, police must terminate a pursuit if a single road rule is broken.

Although the State Government has moved to increase penalties for people who evade police, police say that has failed to make a difference.

In the nine months since motorists were threatened with a $5000 fine and two-year licence suspension for not stopping for police, 855 people have been charged with the offence - more than three every day.

Police Minister Jack Dempsey has undertaken to review the much-maligned pursuit policy.

Acting Police Commissioner Ross Barnett said he was aware of frustration among "rank and file officers".

"But the key question for the community has to remain: Is the death of an innocent person, an innocent motorist, a price the community is prepared to pay for the unfettered right of police to pursue?" he said.

However, officers insist lives are being lost because of the reckless driving behaviour of some people who police often cannot pursue.

One officer, who did not want to be named, highlighted the recent death of Mal Osborne, 58, after his vehicle was struck by an allegedly speeding stolen car driven by a 19-year-old at Beenleigh.

He said it was a graphic reminder that offenders were driving dangerously even when they were not being pursued.

Writing in this month's Queensland Police Union journal, Metropolitan South executive Tony Collins called for a new pursuit policy that offered legal protection for officers involved.

"There is a complete lack of respect for the road rules, and stolen cars are crashing because of the way they are being driven, not because they are being chased," he wrote.

Mr Dempsey said there was a misconception of a no-pursuit policy when there was a "managed pursuit policy".

Queensland Coroner Michael Barnes reviewed the pursuit policy in 2009, following 10 deaths in four years, including that of school girl Caitlin Hanrick, 13, in 2006.

Mr Barnett said Commissioner Ian Stewart had "committed in the past to having a review of the policy within the next six months once we have sufficient data".


Sunday, May 26, 2013

Gillard huffs and puffs over Tom

Empty threats.  She threatens action if what is already broadly agreed does not happen.  Just bandwagon hopping

Tom Waterhouse

SPORTS broadcasters face a complete ban on the promotion of betting odds during live sports matches in Australia.

Facing a growing public backlash over the rise of gambling advertising, Prime Minister Julia Gillard will today announce TV, radio and internet broadcasters must agree to the ban or legislation will be rushed into parliament before the September polls. Bookmakers, including the high-profile Tom Waterhouse, will be banned from appearing in the commentary team at any time and identified if interviewed outside of the venue.

Broadcasters could face a complete ban on gambling advertisements during live broadcasts if they breached the new code with the government warning that if the intensity of advertising continues to rise, it "will impose a total advertising ban". Under the proposed changes, all generic gambling broadcast advertisements will also be banned during play.

Advertising to promote gambling would be allowed before or after a game or during a scheduled break in play, including at quarter-time and half-time.


Quack medicine taught to doctors

General practitioners are receiving government-mandated training by doctors who claim vaccines are linked to autism and temper tantrums can be treated by delaying immunisation.

The body that oversees doctors will investigate how the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP), which represents more than 20,000 GPs, could have approved the course as part of its "continuing professional development" program.

Ongoing education is supposed to protect patients by ensuring practitioners are trained in the most up-to-date medical evidence. But experts fear the system is failing because of inadequate oversight.

The GP training course is run by the Australasian College of Nutritional and Environmental Medicine, which says it "does not have a policy on immunisation", and doctors should "make informed decisions determined by evidence-based science".

Its four-day course perpetuates long-discredited misinformation about immunisation, including claims childhood vaccines contain mercury. It also references researcher Andrew Wakefield, whose work was found to be wrong and tainted by financial conflicts of interest.

Australian Medical Association head Steve Hambleton said the accreditation of training courses should be reviewed.

"Clearly, this is concerning and it's not something the college or the AMA can be comfortable with, and neither can the parents of children," he said. "Colleges have a great responsibility to ensure they are doing their job."

A hospital doctor who discovered the anti-vaccination course, Martin Tio, said patients could be put at risk by misinformation. "If you are going to delay vaccination or, to use the example from the vaccine-specific course lectures, to make a case vaccines are linked to autism … it could easily discourage them from getting vaccinated."

He feared the acceptance of unscientific claims was becoming more widespread in the medical community.

Ken McLeod, from Stop the Australian (Anti)Vaccination Network, said he was aghast to see such dangerous misinformation given to doctors. "You have to wonder who let these discredited cranks in," he said.

Professor of public health at Bond University Chris Del Mar said doctor training was often influenced by vested interests and lacking an evidence base.

"There are very serious flaws in the way continuing medical education is conducted," he said. He was particularly concerned about courses run by drug companies.

Medical Board of Australia spokeswoman Nicole Newton said it would be concerned about training that was inconsistent with good medical practice. "The board will follow this up with the college," she said.

The Australian Medical Council accredited education requirements set by colleges, she said, but left the examination of individual courses to the colleges.

A spokeswoman for the RACGP would not comment on the course while it was under investigation. "The RACGP endorses and actively supports immunisation," she said. "Temper tantrums are not a recognised reason for delay of immunisations."

She emphasised there was no link between vaccines and autism and said using Mr Wakefield's research would "constitute serious academic misconduct".


Rural gamblers need the wisdom of Solomon

One man responsible for 450 hectares.  That would be a wonder in most of the Old World

Agronomist Andrew Daley and grain farmer James Bowman are smiling at the silver beads of rain water dribbling down broad leaves of a new canola crop near Harden.

The gentle patter of rain and soft cries of sheep over the hills beyond burnt stubble paddocks are in sharp contrast to farmers' nervous calls to Mr Daley about whether to risk sowing during a bone-dry autumn.

"I usually sit on my arse in autumn, but I've had every farmer ringing, very indecisive. I just say, 'keep going'," Mr Daley said.  "Ninety per cent of my farmers have put in crops.

"That extra 10 days you get from having it in early in the warmth, it makes a huge difference. Unlike out west, where some crops are not sown in a dry autumn, from about Stockinbingal (near Cootamundra) , the crops go in regardless.

"You are pretty well guaranteed some winter rain. You will get a crop of some sort. If you can't harvest it you get enough to at least cut hay."

James Bowman is one of Mr Daley's clients confident enough to invest in a 450-hectare canola crop, which needs more nitrogen than wheat.

"We've been lucky," Mr Bowman said. "We had five millimetres in a storm. Once the crop came up we knew we'd be right because the tap roots would get into the moisture."

NSW Department of Primary Industries technical specialist Peter Matthews said no useful rain fell throughout most of autumn causing growers to either delay or dry-sow early season crops such as canola.

"This year most growers don't have any subsoil moisture, so moving forward, even if we manage to get the crop in and growing, it is high risk. We are going to be very dependent on rainfall through winter and spring.

"For growers who didn't dry sow, we see a lot of growers shift out of canola, and go for lower-risk crops like wheat and barley."

The Bureau of Meteorology says there is a higher chance of a wetter than normal winter for south-east Australia.

But the bureau won't commit to either a wet La Nina or dry El Nino pattern, saying all atmospheric and oceanic indicators are showing neutral values.

Mr Daley and Mr Bowman believe growers in the Harden district de-risk crops by grazing stock on them and conserving moisture.

Better sowing technology that needs minimal tilling and relying on herbicides to kill competing weeds also helps.

Mr Daley said a new winter variety of canola needed 40 days of below 3degrees temperatures.  "That's all right, we had 50 frosts last year," he said.

Next week Mr Bowman will let out lambs on this canola crop, and expects them to put on 300 grams a day. Stock will feed on the crop until August, then it will be locked up until harvesting when it's chest height in December.



Three current reports below

Many conservative Federal politicians opposed to windfarms

Outspoken Liberal MPs plan to defy publicly the official party line by attending a Tea Party-style anti-wind-farm rally at Parliament House, widening the rift in Coalition ranks over renewable energy targets.

The Canberra rally on June 18 is being promoted through a clandestine group using a website called, which conceals the identity of many of its supporters.

Broadcaster Alan Jones is named on the site as master of ceremonies for the event, which is being touted as the "Wind Power Fraud" rally.

NSW Liberal MPs Craig Kelly and Alby Schultz are among the line-up of speakers, as is West Australian Liberal senator Chris Bach. The Coalition's star candidate to replace the retiring Mr Schultz in the seat of Hume Angus Taylor has also been recruited.

The boldness of the Liberal wind-farm opponents is raising suggestions the Coalition is about to backflip on the renewable energy target, a bipartisan commitment to source a fifth of Australia's power from renewables by 2020.

The shadow environment minister Greg Hunt recently confirmed the party's commitment to the target and chose not to chastise the MPs who had begun speaking out against it.

"The Coalition is aware of the community concerns regarding wind farms," Mr Hunt said. "We have committed to a full medical research into the potential impact if elected. It is important that MPs listen to their communities … there is no change to our support for the 20 per cent target."

During a post-budget interview with Mr Jones, shadow treasurer Joe Hockey would not be drawn on the issue, saying only that he would have to consult with his colleagues.

The rally's organisers are goading Mr Hockey to "come clean" over renewable energy.

Victorian senator John Madigan (Democratic Labor) and independent South Australian senator Nick Xenophon will also speak. The pair has co-sponsored of an excessive noise bill in relation to wind farms.

Senator Xenophon said he was invited through Senator Madigan's office and didn't really know who was behind the rally.

"I don't look at all my invitations that closely," he said. "But I am happy to talk at the event and I will say that, while I do believe something should be done about climate change, the economics of wind farms don't stack up and neither do the environmental benefits."

Senator Madigan's office confirmed he was scheduled to address the gathering.

Environmental groups did not wish to comment, but it's understood plans are being considered to stage a Canberra event in support of renewable energy on the same day.


Wildlife guru is a people hater

It figures, I guess.  The USA has 300 million people.  Australia has 22 million.  The USA and Australia are about the same size geographically.  It takes a Greenie to see no room for expansion in Australia's population

ONE of the world’s leading naturalists, Sir David Attenborough, has cautioned Australia against pursuing further population growth, labelling an unlimited expansion a kind of madness.

Speaking to the Sunday Canberra Times ahead of a national tour of Australia in June, Sir David questioned why the country still found itself from time to time actively debating whether it needed to grow its population.

“Why would you want to do that? I don’t understand that. The notion that you could continue to expand and increase and grow in an infinite way on a planet which is finite, is a kind of lunacy. You can see how mad that is by the expression that you can’t believe that you can grow infinitely in a finite place – unless of course you’re an economist.”

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Australia’s population is estimated to grow to between 30.9 million and 42.5 million people by 2056.

The first Sustainable Australia report released earlier this month said the nation’s population was growing at 1.7 per cent, one of the fastest rates in the developed world.

In 2009 former prime minister Kevin Rudd called for a ‘Big Australia’, but his successor Julia Gillard has rejected that notion and called instead for sustainable growth.

Sir David said his tour next month was to discuss highlights of his six decades of nature filmmaking, not to speak out on environmental issues. “I’m not on a proselytising tour. On occasions I speak on these issues where it’s appropriate and where the subject has come up,” he said.

While he did not believe bureaucrats should meddle in a family’s right to have children, he said had China not introduced its controversial one-child policy in 1979 the consequences for the planet would have been catastrophic.

“One thing you can say is that in those places where women are in charge of their bodies, where they have the vote, where they are allowed to dictate what they do and what they want, whether it’s proper medical facilities for birth control, the birth rate falls,” he said.


Solar price rise to end power divide

"Investors" in government promises to lose their dividends.  LOL

AUSTRALIA'S one million rooftop solar households could be forced to pay new fixed charges to help recover billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies and make electricity prices fairer for all consumers.

A series of electricity industry reports has highlighted the inequity in existing power pricing where customers without solar panels are unfairly subsidising those with them.

Queensland Energy Minister Mark McArdle has warned that existing rooftop solar contracts will cost the state more than $2.8 billion over the next 15 years and is preparing a major submission to cabinet within a month recommending more user-pays charges. Electricity tariffs could be changed to include a higher network access charge and lower unit prices per kilowatt hour, a move that would increase the cost for rooftop solar users.

A national meeting of electricity executives in Sydney this week discussed a potential "death spiral" for the industry as high electricity prices force more people off the grid, increasing costs further for those who remained.

Mr McArdle said the number of households with rooftop solar had continued to grow despite a cutback in government subsidies and the gap between the haves and have-nots in electricity widening.

"If one group of consumers enjoys a benefit in excess of the true savings they make, other electricity customers have to pay the price of those excess benefits or lower prices," he said.

"When those doing the paying are likely those least able to afford it, and those enjoying the benefits are those likely to be most able to afford to meet their true costs, then something is truly wrong."

The problem was compounded because power companies were forced to buy high-priced electricity from rooftop solar when there was no demand for electricity from customers.

And baseload power generators were forced to run inefficiently to be ready for when "intermittent" solar power was not available.

Renewable industry lobby groups have rejected calls for a new fixed charge.

Clean Energy Council deputy chief executive Kane Thornton said: "It would be like telling early adopters of email that they need to chip in to pay for stamps."

The Greens said yesterday they would spend $405 million a year on a new federal government agency to cut spending on electricity infrastructure, improve energy efficiency, and set higher prices for renewable energy produced by households which generate solar power.

Leader Christine Milne said the Greens were the only party with innovative ideas to help Australians live a fairer, cheaper and cleaner future.

The cost of the new agency would not include the higher charges paid by electricity companies from rooftop solar under the Greens scheme. An investigation by the Queensland Productivity Commission found that, by 2015-16, most Queenslanders would be paying $276 a year or 17 per cent of their annual power bill to subsidise other residents having solar power on their roofs.

Mr McArdle said this did not include the cost of upgrading the electricity network to cope with widespread power flowing back into the grid.

A report by consultancy ACIL Tasman for the Electricity Supply Association of Australia said solar customers were overcompensated when they generated electricity and used it on site because they were not making a contribution to the cost of providing network services.

There were also issues of equity and fairness, as some customers were unable to install rooftop solar systems because they were renters or lived in an apartment.

Fairness was an issue because one customer's choice to install rooftop solar forced other customers to pay more for network service.

"The distortion could give rise to a 'price spiral' where the rising cost of electricity, driven by the ongoing reallocation of network costs, made solar increasingly attractive to customers," ACIL Tasman said.

The ESAA discussion paper, Who Pays for Solar Energy, said more than one in 10 households were generating electricity from solar panels on their roof.

"Subsidies for solar systems have to be paid for somehow," the paper said.  "Basically, households who don't have solar help pay the power bills of households who do.  "The cost of these transfers from non-solar to solar households now runs to many millions of dollars per year."

Like Queensland, all state governments have cut back their generous feed-in tariff schemes, but are likely to seriously consider the ESAA reports to move towards a fixed network access charge. Solar has posed significant problems for electricity companies in Western Australia and NSW.

The discussion paper said a new way was needed to charge consumers for the cost of the networks to make sure everybody paid their fair share.  "We have to find a more equitable way for charging for electricity that does not unfairly benefit some households because they can afford the latest technology," the discussion paper said. "Electricity consumers should pay their fair share of network costs.

"One way to make the way we pay for electricity more equitable is to change network tariffs so they better reflect underlying costs."

This could include a higher proportion of fixed network charges and a lower percentage based on the amount of electricity consumed.

Mr Thornton said calls for higher fixed charges for households with solar panels were "ridiculous".

"Similar claims that solar drives up bills because network upgrades are required to accommodate the extra electricity fed into the grid are also incorrect," he said.  "All new solar systems in Queensland are required to go through an assessment process with the distribution business to ensure they do not adversely impact on the grid."