Monday, June 24, 2013

Another government computer boondoggle

When will they ever learn?  Tailor-made computer programs rarely work.  Buying "off the shelf" is the only hope

The disastrous $180 million Victorian school intranet could be scrapped at the end of the month prompting fears that months of student work and reports would be lost.

The four-year contract with NEC to run the troubled network has not been renewed days before it expires on June 30, with a decision yet to be reached on its future.

Victorian Education Minister Martin Dixon said the government was committed to protecting the Victorian education system from the "Ultranet debacle", which he said the Auditor-General had confirmed was "botched from conception to implementation by the former Labor government".

Mr Dixon said the Ultranet had already cost Victorian taxpayers at least $180 million – three times its original budget – despite being used by only 4 per cent of the intended 1.5 million teachers, parents and students.

"While it is unfortunate that current negotiations are now public, we will continue to work towards extracting whatever value we can for Victorian schools from this failed Labor program," Mr Dixon said.

Ian McKenzie, the principal of Alkira Secondary College – one of 18 schools to pioneer the Ultranet – said he had a teacher desperately archiving material from the Ultranet to ensure it was not lost.

"What about the student work sitting there, the teacher observations ... I'm scared what might happen to all the information on it," Mr McKenzie said.

"The blood, sweat and tears that has gone into the Ultranet and the work teachers put in – it's soul destroying. I have to face parents who took me on face value when I said: 'This is the best thing since sliced bread – every school is going to be using it in the future."

Troy Moncur, the leading ICT teacher at Nichols Point Primary, has started an online petition urging Premier Denis Napthine and Mr Dixon to save the Ultranet.

He said 52 schools now used the Ultranet to provide parents with fortnightly updates on their child's progress instead of generic outdated report cards in June and December. Four thousand reports had been published on the Ultranet in the last week alone.

"Staff are worried about the stuff they have put up – photos, comments ... if it's going to be terminated at the end of the financial year that wipes off 18 months of history of kids' work and activities. We are not sure what to do."

"NEC Australia is working with governments across the globe, particularly in China and the Middle East, who are interested in adopting the Ultranet," NEC Australia spokesman Heath Caban said.

The Ultranet, promised by the former government before the 2006 state election, was designed to provide a state-wide secure network that would enable parents to view their child's timetables, school work, academic progress and attendance and teachers to share curricula.

The project was dogged from the start by inadequate planning, cost blow-outs and failed tenders. A disastrous training day in 2010, which left 42,000 teachers unable to log on when the system crashed at 9am, also delayed the rollout of the Ultranet in schools.

A scathing Victorian Auditor General's report late last year found it had failed to deliver the promised benefits and had been shunned by schools.

The audit also revealed serious "probity lapses" surrounding the tendering of the Ultranet, with the budget expected to blow out to three times what was first intended in 2006.

Victorian Auditor-General Des Pearson said it was difficult to understand how the Ultranet went ahead when the Education Department was advised the project should cease or be delayed.

He recommended the Education Department review its internal tendering, probity and financial management practices in light of the serious issues identified by the audit.

The debacle is the latest in a string of government IT projects gone bad. Victoria's CenITex agency was found to be riddled with nepotism and black cheque misuse last year, while Queensland Health's payroll system debacle is still the subject of a parliamentary inquiry.

However, Australian Government's Chief Information Officer Glen Archer has said government IT projects are "not well understood" by the wider community.


Judges wiping young repeat offenders' criminal records clean

YOUNG offenders who repeatedly commit serious assaults, break-ins and other crimes are having their records wiped by higher courts.

Magistrates are recording convictions against offenders given numerous chances, but their decisions are being overturned on review.

In one case this year, a teen involved in a brutal bashing of a man lured through a fake Facebook profile of a woman had his conviction removed.

The cases raise more questions about whether laws are too heavily weighted against the recording of convictions for juvenile offenders.

They come as Attorney-General Jarrod Bleijie gave his strongest indication yet that he would make all juvenile criminal history admissible in adult courts for the first time.

"Some young people make stupid mistakes and do deserve a chance to turn their lives around but I believe serious, repeat offenders shouldn't be able to hide behind their age like they can now," he said.

"I am considering making all criminal juvenile history admissible in adult courts, whether a conviction was recorded or not."

The Courier-Mail revealed in March that three in every four juveniles sentenced for assaults and sexual offences in the past three years did not have convictions recorded.

Queensland Chief Justice Paul de Jersey said at the time that there was "legitimate community concern" about how convictions were recorded against juveniles.

The Courier-Mail can today detail a series of cases where repeat or serious offenders had their criminal records scrubbed clean.

Childrens Court judges have deleted convictions imposed by magistrates in at least 14 published decisions since last year.

In one case, a Far North Queensland teenager had convictions recorded against him on his fifth and sixth appearances in court.

The youth went on to commit other offences but a judge removed the original convictions from his record.

Another case involved a Mackay teenager who had convictions recorded on his third court appearance, for offences including car theft and burglary.

He went on to face court a further five times, but a judge removed the convictions from his record.

A Mt Isa teenager claimed he was unaware convictions were recorded against him for break-ins and had them removed by a Childrens Court judge on review.

Glen Cranny, chair of the The Queensland Law Society's criminal law section, yesterday said there was "good reason" for a different criminal justice system for youths.

"That is, that they should be considered separately to adults in terms of their vulnerability and continuing emotional, cognitive and physical development, so different considerations do apply," he said.

"The society's view is that children do deserve special consideration.  "That is obviously a challenging proposition sometimes when some of the most disgraceful child offending is considered. 

"But in those instances convictions can be recorded of course, subject to judicial officers' discretion.  "We say it's a matter that should be really left by and large to the judge who has all the facts of the case at his or her disposal."

The default position of courts under the Youth Justice Act and appeal decisions is convictions are not recorded for juveniles.

If a youth offender is later in court as an adult, their juvenile criminal history can only be taken into account where convictions are recorded.

Employers asking for criminal histories also do not have to be told of any juvenile offences unless convictions are recorded.

Magistrates and judges considering convictions must take into account the nature of the offence, the child's age and impacts on rehabilitation and future employment.

Mr Bleijie is conducting a major review of the state's juvenile justice system as part of a promised crackdown on youth crime.

Under one reform being considered, all juvenile history would be made admissible in adult courts regardless of whether convictions are recorded.

He yesterday said 68 per cent of 3159 respondents to a government Safer Streets crime survey in March believed the measure would be effective or very effective.

Judges had "wide discretion" to vary sentences, including the power to revoke or record convictions, he said.

"It is important that magistrates and judges maintain their discretion when recording convictions as the circumstances of each case can vary significantly," Mr Bleijie said.

"The recording of convictions can also be relevant to future employment prospects."

In other possible reforms, young offenders in detention could be automatically transferred to an adult prison when they turn 17.

More "naming and shaming" of young offenders, the removal of detention as a last resort and a new offence for breaching bail are also being considered.

Mr Cranny said the society had raised concerns with the Attorney-General about many of the changes.

"We haven't seen any empirical evidence to suggest that there is a trend of concern or increasing reason for concern," he said.

"The society's view always is that law reform in this area, in all areas, should be based on proper research, empirical evidence and not based on anecdotal evidence or nebulous concepts like community feedback.

"For that reason we don't share the same belief that there needs to be substantial changes to the youth justice framework as it currently stands."

Justice de Jersey and Childrens Court president Judge Michael Shanahan declined to comment yesterday.


Politically incorrect food names in Australia

IS a Redskin an indigenous American or something to chew over and do little chocolate baby lollies offend you or are they simply delicious.

The racial overtones of Redskins lollies, featured as an ingredient on last night's MasterChef lollybag cake challenge, revives debate over the naming conventions of some of our favourite chewy treats.

The original Redskins wrapping featured a feather-bonneted indigenous American with a bright-red face, but that disappeared long ago.

The chocolate-flavoured and brown-coloured jelly babies we call Chicos, would also be unlikely to see the light of day in the politically conservative US.

"Public standards, apart from politics, in civility have changed dramatically over the years," said social historian Professor Janet McCalman, from the University of Melbourne.

Professor McCalman rejects the term political correctness, preferring community standards of civility, which she says extend across a whole range of things.

"If you really want to dig, there are all sorts of stereotypes which exist in advertising," she said offering attractive blondes, red-headed children, "cheap" Scotsman and public health dangers "caused" by Asiatics as examples.

"We are a lot more sensitive about what you can or cannot say."

But before falling victim to political-correctness in the late 1970s, American sweets included Cherry Chan Candy and Candy Crafter Peppermint Coolies featuring a Chinese face under a conical hat.

A Canadian tourist was shocked to discover Eskimo lollies on sale in New Zealand, saying the word Eskimo was unacceptable in her country and the indigenous people of Canada preferred Inuit. Meanwhile, while they are not food, Maori cigarettes are sold in Israel.

Scottish shortbread, Welsh rarebit, Irish cream, Kiwifruit are a whole other debate.

* Redskins - considered an offensive term by native Americans.

* Chicos - a chocolate-flavoured and chocolate-coloured jelly baby some consider has racist overtones, offensive to people of Latin-American descent.

* Fags - the fake lolly cigarette was renamed and rebranded as Fads. The name was also considered offensive by homosexuals.

* Jewfish - now know as mulloway. In WA they fish for a species known locally as dhufish.

* Long or short black - What we know as a strong shot of coffee, most commonly found in Australia, New Zealand and Brazil, is know in the US as Caffe Americano.

* Coon cheese - While the term is highly-offensive in the US, ironically it's creator is one Edward William Coon of Philadelphia, who patented a fast maturation method for cheese.

* Scalliwag biscuits - formerly known as Golliwogs, images of blackfaced, curly-haired cartoonish characters have been offensive for decades, but were revived in a skit on the now-defunct Hey! Hey! It's Saturday.

* Gaytime - Sydney chef and gay icon Christine Manfield deliberately chose the name of this ice-cream and re-created it as a dessert at her now-closed Universal restaurant in Darlinghurst.

* Kaffir lime - Kaffir is a derogatory Afrikaans term for black Africans or whites who associate closely with blacks. For this reason, some South Africans refer to the fruit as K-lime.

* Coles changed the name of its own-label biscuit Creole Creams after a Queensland academic advised the word Creole had been used in a racist way to describe a person of mixed European and African ancestry.


University corruption over admission of VC's stepdaughter to medical school continues

THE University of Queensland has not released a Crime and Misconduct Commission report into UQ's handling of internal misconduct complaints it first received almost a year ago, angering university staff who helped bring it about.

UQ refuses to reveal the content of the document, received in final form in April, even as its Chancellor, John Story, told The Courier-Mail how keen he was to see the CMC's long-awaited full report into the 2011 nepotism scandal that claimed the jobs of a former vice-chancellor and his deputy.

That report, which the CMC has been promising to table in Parliament for months, is expected to include elements of the "Quality Assurance Review" that UQ won't release.

The Courier-Mail can reveal the CMC provided a draft of the quality assurance report to then vice-chancellor, Debbie Terry, in July or August 2012 after interviewing more than a dozen University staff about their experiences of bringing complaints of misconduct against UQ management.

One senior academic interviewed for the review, who did not want to be named, said a CMC officer had told him in July 2012 the report was about to be provided in a publishable form "and it would be up to UQ whether it made it public".

UQ management's behaviour "suggests they're not prepared to abide by their statements that they will be accountable and transparent", the academic said.

A former senior UQ administrator said he and other staff had expected the report to be published and had been ``very disappointed" when they realised last year it would not see the light of day.

UQ said former chair of Universities Australia, Emeritus Professor Gerard Sutton, and former parliamentarian, Dr David Watson, had "made themselves aware of the content of the draft CMC Quality Review" as part of their independent review.

But a spokeswoman said any questions about publishing the CMC report were a matter for the crime-fighting body.  "It's a CMC report," she said.

The CMC, which launched the review of UQ's internal complaint-handling processes on its own initiative in April 2012, declined to comment other than to confirm it had delivered the final report a year later.

UQ Chancellor John Story said this week: "It has been 17 months since the CMC announced that it was reviewing the (nepotism) matter. The matter has dragged on for far too long, and it is in everybody's best interests that it be resolved. We are looking forward to the finalisation of (their) report, and we are willing to accept any fair criticism of our handling of the matter and any reasonable suggestions for improvement."

The Courier-Mail revealed this month how the CMC had helped UQ deal with the reputation fallout from the nepotism scandal by tipping it off about media inquiries.


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