Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Antisemitic students at Uni NSW

BDS action at UNSW has turned ugly, with anti-Semitic and Holocaust-denying material appearing on a Facebook page opposing the opening of a Max Brenner chocolate shop on campus. Postings on a Facebook page promoting today's protest have attacked "Jews and Jew lovers" and said the figure of six million Jews murdered by Nazi Germany was an exaggeration.

PRO-PALESTINE student activists will protest outside a chocolate shop on the campus of a Sydney university, claiming it has links to alleged Israeli war crimes.

Tuesday's rally at noon (AEST) has been organised by Students For Justice in Palestine (SJP) UNSW, with 175 people indicating on the group's Facebook page that they will attend.

The group says the Max Brenner brand is owned by the Strauss Group, a corporation which sponsors the Golani and Givati Brigades of the Israeli Defence Force.

"These brigades have committed war crimes against Palestinians in Gaza and are involved in Israel's continual ethnic cleansing of Palestine," the page says.

"Students and staff of conscience demand that the Max Brenner be shut down! We don't want companies that endorse the Apartheid state of Israel and it's Apartheid practices."

In response to the campaign, a rival Facebook page has been set up called Defend Max Brenner at UNSW that includes a petition under the heading "Don't let them take our chocolate".

The rival pro-chocolate store group says they are students who believe Israeli businesses should not be targeted because of their national origin.

They say Max Brenner Chocolate is Australian-owned and most UNSW students support the store being on campus.

By Tuesday morning, the SJP Facebook had 387 "likes" while 335 people had "liked" the pro-Brenner page.


PM's speech paves way for bad news


I GUESS the Prime Minister regards herself as a bit of dab hand at economics, although presumably some loyal staffers wrote the speech she delivered yesterday at the Per Capita forum.

Speech writers are often wont to show off a bit. But when it comes to speeches about economics and budgetary policy, my advice to them is - don't.

Take the reference to Keynes changing his mind when the facts change. A more appropriate reference would have been to Keynes's firm advice that the tax share of GDP in a country should never exceed 25 per cent. Oops, we already have.

And the notion that this government is somehow truly Keynesian because it believes in delivering fiscal surpluses on average over the economic cycle is obviously some kind of joke.

This government will not be delivering any sort of fiscal surplus any time soon, let alone over the course of the economic cycle. And, by the way, that little homily about John losing his income bonus did not make any sense at all.

There were a few other howlers in the speech. Where are Finland, Norway and Chile in the chart on net government debt? And forget resource-rich Canada, with the US as its major trading partner - check out resource-rich Chile, with its high rate of economic growth and budget surpluses.

And, by the way, automatic stabilisers are supposed to work on both the downside and the upside. With economic growth around trend, we would not expect automatic stabilisers to be significant at this point in the cycle.

The economic message is completely garbled - we are doing really well, much better than most other developed economies, but the budget is in the ditch and it is not our fault that we overestimated revenue.

The real purpose of the Prime Minister's speech was to prime us for some bad news come budget night. You know the sort of thing: nothing is off the table, sacrifices will be expected of everyone - individuals, companies, institutions.

The trouble with this sort of shot-across-the-bow comment by the Prime Minister is that it demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the incidence of higher taxes and imposts. Just because a particular party, say a company, pays a tax, the burden of the tax may well fall on other parties. A higher tax burden on companies will reduce the real earnings of workers.

Moreover, if some of the measures being contemplated are introduced - a reduction in the diesel fuel rebate or a cut to accelerated depreciation rates - the mining boom will be coming to an end sooner than this government anticipates.

There are two important messages that the government should heed.

First, the way in which fiscal consolidation occurs is extremely important and it should not be done on the run. Spending cuts are preferable to tax increases in order to avoid perverse effects on investment and work effort.

Secondly, this is not the right time to be introducing two major spending initiatives - the ill-conceived Gonski spending and DisabilityCare.

I expect the government to ignore both messages.

And who ever wrote "our opponents and their friends flaunt the bitter language of the cut throat and the brandished axe" should really look for another job.


The truth on the problem laid bare, but no solution

Gillard and Swan have tried everything else. Now they're trying honesty.

A year ago they locked in permanent increases in payments to families and Australians on welfare worth $1 billion a year to be funded by "spreading the benefits of the boom".

They made no mention of the possibility that the boom wouldn't last, whereas the extra payments would continue for ever.

The legislated increase in lightly taxed superannuation contributions starting in July will cost the government a fortune by the time it is complete at the end of the decade. It was to be funded by a mining tax, one that leading economist Ross Garnaut said on Monday was deeply flawed and might never raise much money.

The national disability insurance scheme - eventually set to cost $6 billion a year - was approved with not a whisper how it would be paid for.

As revenue began to fall well short of the forecasts in October the government fudged things, producing a budget update that attempted to make up the shortfall by one-offs such as making some quarterly company tax payments monthly and hoovering up money in unclaimed bank accounts.

All the while its official line was that nothing much was wrong. The budget was still on track for a surplus.

Until December when Swan admitted the jig was up and told the truth about the futility of cutting for cutting's sake, merely in order to announce a surplus (a view endorsed in the past fortnight by his shadow on the other side, Joe Hockey).

Now the Prime Minister has laid bare the whole truth. The easy days of Mining Boom Mark I are over and will not return. Company tax reached "an astonishing 5.3 per cent of gross domestic product" in the final year of the Howard government. It is now 4.5 per cent. Capital gains tax was 1.5 per cent. It is now 0.4 per cent.

Normally low inflation might be welcome, but right now it is hurting profits, weighing on investment plans and weighing down the company tax take. Normally strong overseas confidence in Australia would be welcome, but right now it is keeping the dollar high and further denting company profits and investment plans.

The Prime Minister has levelled with us. She hasn't said what she is going to do.


See what public thinks on same-sex marriage

Gerard Henderson

The media in Australia is obsessed with same-sex marriage. It is far from clear, however, that this is a priority for many Australians living in the suburbs and regional centres - far away from the inner city where journalists tend to be domiciled.

Take Channel Ten's Meet the Press last Sunday, for example. Queensland mining entrepreneur Clive Palmer, who has stated an intention to form a revised United Australia Party, was a guest.

Palmer agreed to take questions from the panel. First up was presenter Kathryn Robinson who commented: "Mr Palmer, we'd like to get an idea of what policies your party will stand for … Gay marriage, where would your party stand on that?" Palmer dodged the question, declaring that "all social issues are going to be issues of conscience". It is doubtful that many Channel Ten viewers would regard same-sex marriage as a priority issue.

At the ABC, presenters and reporters tend to embrace same-sex marriage with much the same conviction as Southern Baptists in the United States believe in the Second Coming. It's a matter of faith. Commentator Greg O'Mahoney said on Sky News recently that there was no "coherent convincing counterargument" to same-sex marriage. Those who hold a different view are incoherent, apparently.

Amanda Vanstone, the ABC's token conservative presenter who presides over the tellingly named Counterpoint program, seems to be in the same-sex marriage cart. The former Howard government minister is on record as criticising Tony Abbott's refusal to give Liberal MPs a conscience vote in the lead-up to the 2013 election.

Journalist Steve Dow, whose book Gay: The Tenth Anniversary Collection has recently been released, appeared on ABC News 24's The Drum on April 19. It was one of the many debates on the ABC where everyone agrees with everyone else.

During the discussion, Dow acknowledged that the gay movement's support for same-sex marriage has been a recent development. He added that gays have "gone from quite a radical critique of the whole institution of marriage" to support for same-sex marriage in just 10 years.

And herein lies the problem. Australia is a socially conservative nation. In 2002 the radical Australian-born gay activist Peter Tatchell opposed the very concept of "the nuclear family", depicting it as a bourgeois institution. Yet earlier this year he condemned Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott for not supporting same-sex marriage.

It's one thing for Tatchell and many of his fellow activists to change their position. It's quite another for them to expect that the rest of society should immediately alter their views, or simply accept that same-sex marriage will be imposed by legislation.

A decade ago, certain words had clear meanings. A marriage was a union between a man and a woman. A married man had a wife. And a married woman had a husband. Moreover, children had certain expectations, whether or not their parents were married. A child had a father who was male and a mother who was female.

Not any more. On RN Breakfast earlier this month, former US Democratic Party politician Barney Frank told Fran Kelly about the views of his "husband". Then there is the matter of children.

According to reports, Elton John's partner, David Furnish, is cited as the mother on the birth certificate of their second child. This is a frequent demand by sections of the gay community. If it prevails, it is likely that in a decade or more the same problem will arise, as with adopted children in the past. Namely, there will be a yearning by teenagers and adults alike to know who both their biological parents are.

Same-sex marriage advocates see themselves railing against the old-fashioned views of some Christians, including many Catholics. This overlooks the fact that there is considerable opposition to same-sex marriage in the Muslim and Hindu communities as well as among socially conservative non-believers.

When the Marriage Amendment Bill was debated in the House of Representatives last year, it was opposed by three prominent Labor MPs from Western Sydney - Chris Bowen (an atheist), Tony Burke (a Catholic) and Ed Husic (a Muslim).

In the current issue of The Spectator, John Laughland documents the growing opposition to same-sex marriage in France, particularly in provincial areas. If significant social change is to be imposed on Australians at relatively short notice, it would make sense to test community attitudes. After all, in 1977 a plebiscite was conducted on what should be Australia's national song. Many Australians regard the concept of traditional marriage as important as the words of the national anthem.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Gillards's big-spending budget in trouble

Collapsing revenue from lower company profits has blown a $12 billion hole in the federal budget this financial year, Prime Minister Julia Gillard will reveal on Monday.

What she will categorise as a "significant fiscal gap" has forced a Hobson's choice on the government as it crafts the budget to be delivered on May 14: either trim or delay expensive recurrent programs, including the $14 billion disability insurance scheme and the $6 billion school education reforms or, hand down an even larger deficit in place of what only months ago was confidently forecast to be a small surplus.

Faced with a near unnavigable pre-election scenario, Ms Gillard will choose the latter path, explaining that big social spending represents "wise investments that will make us a stronger and smarter nation". She will use a significant economic speech in Canberra to frame the problem, setting out the scale of the shortfall according to the latest Treasury forecasts.

Her address as part of the Per Capita Reform Agenda Series will outline the sharp revenue decline resulting from the contraction of so-called "nominal gross domestic product", where companies are continuing to produce goods and services and are maintaining sales but are doing so at lower prices and thus for lower profits.

Declaring the challenge for Australia to respond to "the huge reductions in revenue growth over the next four years", Ms Gillard wants to prepare voters for the bad news, while laying the political groundwork for a new era of deficits extending beyond the out years of the budget.

As recently as October 2012, Treasurer Wayne Swan was sticking to his surplus promise, forecasting a tiny but politically significant surplus of $1.1 billion.

In a budget preview on April 18, ANZ economists examined a range of scenarios and tipped a probable deficit of $16.6 billion this year, as part of an overall plan to reach a

$2.2 billion surplus by 2015-16. The bank said this would allow Australia to maintain its AAA credit rating and increase net debt only slightly to peak at 10.5 per cent of GDP over the coming five years.

Ms Gillard will blame the deficits on the long-term revenue writedown from lower company profits.

"Those things add up to business making less profit than planned (and) that puts pressures on our stable and resilient economy," she will say.

She will explain that the shift from higher to lower ratios of revenue appears to be structural, a feature of the persistently high dollar, a soft global environment and increasingly competitive international markets.

"That's the big challenge for the nation in this budget - and it defines the decisions the government's confronting as we put the budget together.

"The bottom line for the budget is this: the amount of tax revenue the government has collected so far this financial year is already $7.5 billion less than was forecast last October.

"Treasury now estimates that this reduction will increase to around $12 billion by the end of the financial year." Economists have warned of a horror deficit next month with some suggesting it could be $19 billion.

But with the pre-budget period notorious for disinformation as governments try to make things seem worse than they are so as to get positive critiques on the night, some voters may see Ms Gillard's warnings in this vein.

The economy has stormed back to centre stage as the election gets closer, with both sides eager to wind in expectations and neither prepared to predict when the national balance sheet will be back in the black. One argument Ms Gillard will put is that the problem is not one of spending but purely of how much money is flowing into Canberra.

"Put simply, spending is controlled," she will say, "but the amount of tax money coming to the government is growing much slower than expected. As we make those decisions, let me be crystal clear about what we will and won't do.

"We won't, during this time of reduced revenue, fail the future by not making the better school funding, and school improvement will not be jeopardised.

"Our nation cannot afford to leave children behind or to leave our nation's future economy limping behind the pack, unable to attract the high-wage, high-skill jobs of the future … DisabilityCare must not be jeopardised."


Windsor calls for gay marriage referendum

Clever!  Referenda are almost always lost in Australia

Australians would vote in a referendum on gay marriage as soon as September under a radical proposal by independent MP Tony Windsor, supported by the Greens and other crossbenchers.

Mr Windsor will call on Prime Minister Julia Gillard to take the issue of same-sex marriage "out of the hands of politicians" and let the public decide on election day - September 14.

Fairfax Media has learnt the government is set to announce that a referendum on recognising local government in the constitution will be held on election day, at a cost of $80 million.

But Mr Windsor, whose deal to support the minority Labor government included the promise of a local-government referendum, will call for a second question, on marriage equality, to be included.

As New Zealand and France finalise same-sex marriage laws, Mr Windsor said the message he got from Australians was to "let us have our say and get it away from you idiots [politicians]".

"Polls on gay marriage say it's what the population wants. A way to resolve it is through a referendum," he said. "It's a bit like the gun debate in America - the politicians appear to be out of step with the people."

He said it was up to the public to force the issue. "You get a million people on Facebook and Twitter saying they want a referendum and it will catch fire. The politicians would have to listen," he said.

Mr Windsor, who voted against the most recent same-sex marriage bill, said a civil union ceremony he attended last year had been "possibly the most sincere and meaningful occasion" he had witnessed and, as a result, his opposition had softened.

"If it came down to my vote [in Parliament] I'd have to have a really hard think about it. But that ceremony had an impact on me. I'd probably vote for it," he said.

Greens leader Christine Milne said she was "certainly in favour" of a referendum. "I've been saying for some time that both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott are on the wrong side of history with this."

Independent MP Rob Oakeshott said he favoured a plebiscite question attached to the local-government referendum, to allow politicians to "read the tea leaves".

"It would lower the temperature of the political debate and would provide some back-up support to any politician who takes this thing on in future," he said.

George Williams, a constitutional lawyer, said that in his view a referendum would be better than a plebiscite because any law change that stemmed from a plebiscite - which he described as a "giant opinion poll" - could still be open to a High Court challenge.

A referendum - which needs the support of a majority of people in a majority of states - could allow a line to be inserted in the constitution clarifying that a marriage can involve partners of the same sex.

Ms Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott are tied to positions against same-sex marriage.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the most appropriate way to consider such an amendment was through a conscience vote in Parliament since any change to allow same-sex marriage would occur by amending the Marriage Act, not the constitution.

Mr Abbott, whose sister Christine Forster is lesbian, has sought to shelve the matter as an election issue, promising Liberal MPs a conscience vote after September.

Political experts say Mr Abbott will be desperate not to "muddy the waters" of an election he wants to fight purely on Labor's alleged failures.

Former Liberal minister Peter Reith chided Mr Abbott for giving his in-principle support for the local-government referendum, saying Mr Abbott's "one priority is to terminate the worst Labor administration in living memory".

In return for their support for the minority Labor government, the Greens and Mr Windsor extracted a promise for a referendum on local government. Local Government Minister Anthony Albanese has been trying to lock in the support of the states since taking over the portfolio from Simon Crean.

Recognition of local government has become a more pressing concern since a successful High Court challenge to the Commonwealth's school chaplaincy program raised fears that schemes such as the $3.5 billion Roads to Recovery program could be challenged.

An announcement on the local-government referendum is expected within days.


Melbourne doctor's anti-abortion stance may be punished

A MELBOURNE doctor who refused to refer a couple for an abortion because they wanted only a boy has admitted he could face tough sanctions.

Dr Mark Hobart fears he could be punished for refusing to give the Melbourne couple a referral after discovering they were seeking an abortion because they didn't want to have a girl.

By refusing to provide a referral for a patient on moral grounds or refer the matter to another doctor, Dr Hobart admits he has broken the law and could face suspension, conditions on his ability to practice or even be deregistered.

But he was willing to risk punishment in pursuit of principles. He said he did not believe any doctor in Victoria would have helped a couple have an abortion just because they wanted a boy.

"I've got a conscientious objection to abortion, I've refused to refer in this case a woman for abortion and it appears that I have broken the rules," he said.  "But just because it's the law doesn't mean it's right."

The Sunday Herald Sun yesterday revealed the couple had asked Dr Hobart to refer them to an abortion clinic after discovering at 19 weeks they were having a girl when they wanted a boy.

Victoria's Abortion Law Reform Act 2008 specifies the obligations of registered health practitioners who have a "conscientious objection" to abortion.

Under the Act, if a woman requests a doctor to advise on a proposed abortion and the practitioner has a conscientious objection, he or she must refer the woman to a practitioner who does not conscientiously object.

"That is the letter of the law," he said. "It leaves me in limbo.   "It's never been tested ... it is a very complicated area."

Medical Practitioners Board spokeswoman Nicole Newton said doctors were bound by the law and a professional code of conduct.

"The board expects practitioners to practise lawfully and to provide safe care and to meet the standards set out in the board's code of conduct," she said.

Another doctor who was brought before the Medical Board in January for airing his views against abortion was cautioned and warned he could be deregistered if it happened again.


I'm backing Tom!

Controversial bookmaker Tom Waterhouse has met with his lawyer to discuss a defamation action against John Singleton after his remarks about the fitness of More Joyous before and after the All Aged Stakes at Randwick on Saturday.

Waterhouse said he was disappointed after Singleton alleged he had advised friends of Singleton that More Joyous "had no chance” in the race, and at the complete breakdown of the relationship between his mother Gai and Singleton, a friendship that had spanned over 30 years.

"John has known mum for a long time and for him to say those things about her was extremely disappointing and upsetting,” Waterhouse said. "I don't know if an apology will be enough in this situation. I have spoken to my lawyers about it.”

Waterhouse said he did not know if he would have to front the stewards when the inquiry into the spat continues on Friday afternoon.

"I was consistent with what I said about the race in all my interviews leading up to the race, and never said or told anyone that More Joyous couldn't win. In fact, I backed the horse,” Waterhouse said. "I lost $300,000 on the race.”

On Sunday morning, rugby league immortal Andrew Johns addressed a Fairfax report that suggested Waterhouse had told him More Joyous couldn't win.

Speaking on Channel Nine's Wide World of Sports, Johns said that although he and Waterhouse had discussed horses on Friday night, Waterhouse had not told him More Joyous had a problem. Johns said he backed the champion mare himself.

In an interview on TVN, Waterhouse initially denied he had spoken to Johns about More Joyous but, when pushed by Bruce Clark, admitted they had discussed the race.

Singleton, who wore a microphone as part of a television promotion for the All-Aged Stakes, said in a number of interviews on Channel Seven and TVN that he had been informed by close friends that Tom Waterhouse was saying More Joyous couldn't win.

The drama of situation was played out on live television as Singleton and Waterhouse argued in front of jockey Nash Rawiller before the race when giving instructions.

Singleton's fury only grew when More Joyous put in one of the worst performances of her career, coming second to last in the All Aged Stakes, won by All Too Hard.

Singleton indicated it was the final straw and all his horses would be leaving the Waterhouse stable because "there were too many conflicts of interests”. His horses in the Waterhouse stable were picked up at dawn on Sunday and taken to his Strawberry Hill farm on the Central Coast.

Singleton repeated the claim when stewards opened an inquiry into the incident that was played out in front of nation-wide audience on television.

"I was told this morning by a friend of mine, a close friend, who is [an ex] group 1 jockey that he was with Tom Waterhouse, Gai's son and bookmaker, last night with close friends of mine that are internationally known figures," Singleton said in the stewards' room.

"Tom Waterhouse advised them last night that the horse had no chance. She had problems and that surprised me because I intended to have a six-figure sum bet on the horse because my advisers said it was a certainty."

Tom Waterhouse took to television for a series of interviews defending himself and his mother.

"No one works harder than mum and John knows that. It was unbelievable for him to say those things about her because he knows her so well,” Waterhouse said.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Students face weekend detention and community service in crackdown on behavioural problems in Queensland schools

SATURDAY detentions and community service will be handed out to unruly children in the biggest shake-up of school discipline since the banning of the cane.

Education Minister John-Paul Langbroek said the measures were part of his Government's bid to crack down on behavioural problems in Queensland state schools.

A ban on detentions of more than 20 minutes at lunchtime or 30 minutes after school will also be lifted and work is under way to fast-track the exclusion process. It can take principals up to 25 days to exclude a child.

"This is about reducing the number of exclusions by giving principals more tools to nip poor behaviour in the bud before it escalates," Mr Langbroek said of the new measures, which are expected to be in place by January.

"I reckon some are going to get a shock the first time the principal says 'well, you're in for lunch' or 'I expect you to be here on Saturday morning'."

The move is part of the Newman Government's $535 million education reforms and comes after figures released earlier this month showed Queensland schools handed out more than 64,000 suspensions and exclusions last year.

The number of exclusions have jumped more than 50 per cent since 2008, from 804 to 1331 in 2012, the figures showed.

Mr Langbroek said schools would also be encouraged to partner with councils and community groups to enable problem students to undertake community service.

"It gives students a different perspective and maybe helps them to learn a bit more respect for others," he said of the community service interventions.

"The principals can decide exactly what it is they are going to do."

Teachers will be paid for the extra time they may need to spend supervising children handed a Saturday detention but Mr Langbroek said the cost would be covered within the department's existing budget.

"It's not going to be like The Breakfast Club. We don't expect there to be a lot of Saturday detentions happening around the state," he said.

Principals will also be encouraged to establish Discipline Improvement Plans or contracts of student behaviour with parents.

While the government is handing schools more power to discipline their students, Mr Langbroek said they would be audited this year and next to ensure the powers were not being abused. He also expected the number of exclusions to fall.

"We want to give the principals more tools . . . but we also need to make sure they are doing it correctly," he said.

The number of alternative learning centres for students with complex behaviour needs will also be expanded but Mr Langbroek said it was yet to be determined how many extra centres would be rolled out.

The Queensland Teachers' Union has called for more positive learning centres.

Queensland Secondary Principals' Association president Norm Fuller said earlier this month he would welcome "greater flexibility around student detention", but it is unknown if he would support Saturday detentions.

Mr Langbroek said he hoped the state's principals and teachers would embrace the changes.


Education: NSW Premier's bad decision on a bad policy was bad politics too


O'Farrell's decision to sign up to Julia Gillard's Gonski deal - indeed, to be the first major player to do so - tells us he has no grasp of education policy, he's poorly advised and he takes the zeitgeist and Sydney Morning Herald editorials far more seriously than they deserve.

It's all of a piece with his recent posturing on the question of same-sex marriage: he simply hasn't thought the issues through and expects to be rewarded by the electorate for his delinquency.

It may be that the easiest way of holding on to power in NSW is to be a rather cleaner and more competent clone of state Labor, but it's short-term thinking and the public deserves better.

There are three compelling reasons why NSW should not have agreed to the Gonski proposal. The first of them is fiscal prudence. There is just not enough money to go around and at heart most people know that it is an unaffordable scheme. It gives the teachers' union what they want, but whether it can deliver what school-age kids most need is a very different question.

Sometimes the facts speak for themselves. Anyone who has been paying attention to the debate about education knows that in concentrating on reducing class sizes, rather than boosting teacher salaries, Labor has backed the wrong horse.

It led to hiring a lot more teachers, which swelled the union's revenue base and impressed some parents. However, it also meant a lot of the extra teachers who'd been recruited were either not very bright or were in other ways unsuitable, which goes a long way towards explaining why literacy and numeracy standards have been going backwards, despite all the money ploughed into schools in the past 20 years.

What's more, hiring extra staff meant states couldn't afford to pay an extra $30,000 or thereabouts to give committed teachers with real vocations a proper professional salary. It is a vicious circle, in which the students most likely to volunteer to take up teaching are the dopiest, most complacent and least ambitious.

The second reason O'Farrell should not have embraced Gonski is that there are far better ways to improve school performance. Gonski provides the Prime Minister with opportunities for multiple photo-ops in schools with smiling kids, but does nothing substantial to reform the system.

Greater accountability at local school level is a proven winner in raising education standards. The Barnett government in Western Australia has been exemplary in this regard. It also bears repeating that in the private sector students achieve excellent results without the state system's fixations on class sizes and "student-centred" learning.

Finally, it is a fundamental mistake to hand more control over schools to the commonwealth. Gillard is of the dreamy-eyed, Whitlamite generation, scorning the Hawke-Keating tradition and determined to create her own Medibank or national rail system, an institutional legacy. This means diminishing state responsibilities and entrenching commonwealth power. It's been a trend since Federation. All the more reason not to cede control over one of the few important areas of influence the states have left to them.

This was a bad decision on a bad policy, and bad politics to give Gillard a victory at a time when the government is increasingly seen as marking time before it gets put out of its misery.

Non-Labor premiers need to be banding together and holding firm against a reckless government that now seriously endangers the country's credit rating and its long-term interests.


Software pirates:  An Australian police force!

NSW Police incurred a $1.8 million legal bill defending itself against a multinational software company that sued for wide-scale copyright piracy, figures obtained under government information access laws show.

Software company Micro Focus alleged in 2011 that the NSW Police Force, Ombudsman, Police Integrity Commission, Corrective Services and other government agencies illegally used its ViewNow software, which is used to access the intelligence database known as COPS.

The company alleged police and other agencies were using 16,500 copies of its software on various computers when police were only ever entitled to 6500 licences. The group initially alleged $10 million in damages but later increased this to $12 million after reviewing the results of a court-ordered, $120,000 KPMG audit of the NSW Police Force's computer systems.

The police force maintained during the court proceedings that it had paid for a site licence that entitled it to unlimited installations of the software for all of its officers.

Despite this, it settled the matter out of court last year for an undisclosed sum. The other agencies previously settled the matter out of court, also for undisclosed sums.

No internal documents were handed over to Fairfax Media as part of its government information access request.

Darren Brand, Senior Sergeant co-ordinator at the NSW Police information access and subpoena unit, denied a request for documents relating to how much was paid to Micro Focus as part of the settlement, and why the matter was settled out of court.

Mr Brand did however divulge that no one was sacked as a result of the legal action by Micro Focus and the legal costs for the case totalled $1,829,709.29.

''To put these costs in context, Micro Focus has claimed as much as $12 million in damages,'' he said.

Mr Brand said there was a stronger public interest against releasing all of the information requested. He said it would ''breach'' the NSW Police Force's obligation to maintain the confidential terms of the settlement.

Mr Brand also believed the release of that information ''could result in further legal action against [the police force], which would incur further expenditure of government funds''.

But Sydney piracy investigator Michael Speck said it "beggars belief" that the NSW Police Force had continued to pursue the case even after all other government agencies had settled.

"One can only assume [the police force's settlement] was motivated by ready access to the public purse," Mr Speck said.

"They have settled the case after fiercely resisting it on commercial terms that include the settlement being confidential. You'd have to wonder how the confidential settlement sits with the obligation that police have to properly investigate and report on alleged misconduct."

Mr Speck said the public deserved to know if police had properly investigated the matter internally, if they had taken steps to ensure something like the matter never happened again, and if action would be taken against the individual who allegedly set it on the path of software piracy


Australian research suggests that tea is good for blood pressure

It is hard to reconcile the claims in the article below with Prof. Hodgson's actual research findings, as published in 2013.  The first article of the year here showed no difference in day/night variability in BP but the second article, later on in the year here found that blood pressure was slightly less changeable at night among tea drinkers.  It looks like Prof. Hodgson squeezed his data until he got what he wanted. The data underlying the two contradictory articles  appear to be the same!

Furthermore a 2012 article, also by Prof. Hodgson, here showed a long-term difference between tea drinkers and controls of between 2 and 3 mmHg.  Totally trivial, in other words, close to the error of measurement.

The claims below are BS, to put it plainly.  Prof. Hodgson could throw away his teapot with no adverse consequences for his health

You might have thought you were simply satisfying a thirst in that most British of ways.  But drinking three cups of tea a day may also stabilise your blood pressure, researchers say.  It not only reduces blood pressure, but also minimises the variability of readings taken at night.

Experts say the benefits of tea are largely due to the flavonoid content - antioxidant ingredients that counteract cardio-vascular disease.

Now wide variations in blood pressure are also recognised as an important risk factor compared with readings that show little difference over a 24-hour period.

Professor Jonathan Hodgson of the University of Western Australia said: `There is already mounting evidence that tea is good for your heart health, but this is an important discovery because it demonstrates a link between tea and a major risk factor for heart disease.

`We have shown, for the first time to our knowledge, that the consumption of black tea can lower rates of blood pressure variation at night time.'

A high blood pressure reading is one that exceeds 140/90 millimetres of mercury (mm Hg).

The first figure, the systolic pressure, corresponds to the `surge' that occurs with each heartbeat.

In the latest study 111 men and women consumed three cups of black tea daily or a flavonoid free, caffeine containing beverage for six months.They had systolic blood pressure between 115 and 150 mm Hg.

The rate of blood pressure variation was assessed at three time points, on day one and at three and six months.

At these three time points, black tea consumption resulted in 10 per cent lower rates of blood pressure variability at night time than the flavonoid free drink.

These effects were seen immediately on the first day of tea drinking and maintained over the six months.

The study team believe coffee boosts the effects of the drug.

As the caffeine content of the two beverages was the same, the improvement in blood pressure variability would appear to be the result of a black tea component other than caffeine, says a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

This is likely to be the flavonoid content, say the researchers, whose previous work found drinking three cups of tea daily led to a cut in blood pressure of between two and three mm HG.

Although black tea was drunk in the study, other research suggests adding milk does not affect the benefits.

Dr Tim Bond, from the industry-backed Tea Advisory Panel, said `High blood pressure is a well-recognised risk factor for cardiovascular and total mortality. Traditionally the level of blood pressure has been equated with risk but the variability of blood pressure is now also thought to contribute to risk.

`Black tea and its constituent flavonoids are increasingly associated with improvement in blood pressure and cardiovascular health. The regular consumption of black tea has been shown to lower blood pressure.

`With its flavonoids, black tea packs a powerful punch with many health benefits particularly for the heart and recent studies show the flavonoids work their magic whether or not we choose to add milk. Drinking four or more cups of black tea each day is quite simply very good for us.'


Friday, April 26, 2013

Australian Defence Force disciplines Reserve Intelligence Officer for discussing Islam

The Australian Defence Force (ADF) has charged an Army Reserve Intelligence Officer, Bernard Gaynor, for discussing links between Islam and terrorist activity.

The charges were laid today, despite an internal investigation by the ADF’s Investigative Service finding that there was no basis for disciplinary action.

Mr Gaynor says that the charges are proof that political correctness is hampering the ADF's ability to fight against Islamic violence.

"It is outrageous that the Australian Defence Force is charging me for discussing Islam," Mr Gaynor said.

"In the last week, ASIO has confirmed hundreds of Muslim Australians are joining violent Islamic groups in Syria and a radical Australian Islamic cleric has been linked to the Boston bombers."

"Yet the Australian Defence Force is sending a message that intelligence officers cannot discuss Islam in any way, shape or form, unless they pass judgment that it is a nice, peaceful religion."

"How the hell are you supposed to have an objective view of Islam if you are not allowed to examine links between Islamic beliefs and terrorist activity?"

"This kind of stupidity will lead to a misunderstanding of why threat groups targeting the Australian Army conduct violent activity and, at worst, could result in the death of Australian soldiers."

"It also explains the logical inconsistency between fighting a war against people who espouse violent Islamic beliefs while at the same time having an immigration policy that allows people with the same ideology to settle into Australia."

"It begs the question: what, exactly, have Aussie Diggers been shedding their blood in Afghanistan for over the past decade?"

“This question is especially vexing considering that the Afghan government’s constitution is based on Sharia Law and it has laws that allow the execution of people who convert from Islam. The Afghan President has even called for the Taliban to run for parliament.”

“With laws and views like that, Afghanistan will continue to be a hotbed of Islamic terrorism long after Australia’s military commitment ends.”

Mr Gaynor was also charged for bringing the ADF into disrepute for pointing out that it paraded with various groups conducting sexually-explicit activity at the 2013 Mardi Gras in front of children.

“It saddens me that the ADF believes marching with groups that conduct sexually-explicit activity in front of children is ok but that it is somehow disreputable to point this out,” Mr Gaynor said.

“However, the ADF hierarchy have shot themselves in the foot on this one. If, by pointing out the unacceptable nature of ADF participation I have brought the ADF into disrepute, those who approved and marched in this parade are guilty of a far worse offence.”

“I will defend all charges and I am confident that I will be acquitted of them all,” Mr Gaynor said.


Dandenong Hospital nurses may take action

NURSES may take industrial action over unresolved safety concerns at Dandenong Hospital's emergency department since a 2011 state inquiry into the problem.

Australian Nursing Federation state spokesman Paul Gilbert says a patient recently bit a ''chunk'' out of a nurse's breast, the wound requiring plastic surgery. Two weeks ago, a nurse was threatened with a knife.

During a night shift on March 29, a senior nurse allegedly tackled an aggressive male intruder ''shaping up to him'' in the supposedly secure treatment cubicles.

The nurse, who has served at Dandenong Hospital for 16 years, was immediately disciplined and demoted from his supervisory and triage duties after the incident.

Mr Gilbert said the hospital's internal review of the incident on April 19 found the nurse acted reasonably, found a security breach and staff lacked training to calm potentially violent situations.

"The nurse has been made a scapegoat,'' Mr Gilbert said. "The hospital has criticised him for not following a Code Grey policy that doesn't exist. He shouldn't be criticised; the hospital should be ensuring a safe workplace.''

At a union meeting last week, the hospital's nurses called for their colleague's reinstatement and a properly run Code Grey policy protocol  - an emergency management response to a threat from violent patients or visitors.

The union claims the lack of protocol is  noted in one of 12 recommendations from a 2011 state inquiry report into hospital violence and security arrangements that have not been implemented at the hospital.

Mr Gilbert said Monash Health, which runs Dandenong Hospital, was the only hospital network in the state not to have clear Code Grey protocols. He said there had been no ''beefing up'' of security since the inquiry.

"The security remains the worst we've seen. There's no security guard inside the department. They place security in an area where they can't see 90 per cent of the department's cubicle area.

"The hospital's own report [on the March 29 incident] shows organisational problems but there's been no acceptance of these problems by the management, only blame for the nurse.''

At the state inquiry, a Dandenong Hospital emergency nurse submitted her and colleagues were bitten, punched, slapped and had objects thrown at them by patients.

"They pull their IVs out and throw bloodstained cannulas, sharps - any kind of weapon they can get their hands on, such as chairs - at the nursing staff."

A spokeswoman for Monash Health rejected the union's claims about the March 29 incident.

She said it was inappropriate to comment further because the incident was being investigated internally and by Fair Work Australia.

Victorian Emergency Physicians Association member and emergency specialist George Douros said emergency staff would feel safe if there  were adequate numbers of specifically trained security personnel in the department.
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Allan Whitehead, president of Victorian Emergency Physicians Association, said emergency doctors were disappointed in the lack of government funding to improve hospital security since the inquiry.

Opposition health spokesman Gavin Jennings said the state government should re-invest the $21 million set aside for its abandoned proposal for armed guards in hospitals.

''The Labor party thought [armed guards] was a bad idea but if you're going to invest the $21 million it could be used for additional security staff not armed but trained to support the staff, or for training and protocols for hospital staff.''

A spokeswoman for Health Minister David Davis did not respond by deadline.



Three current articles below

New paper finds global sea levels will rise only about 5 inches by 2100

A new peer-reviewed paper by sea level expert Dr. Nils-Axel Morner concludes that Australian government claims of a 1 meter sea level rise by 2100 are greatly exaggerated, finding instead that sea levels are rising around Australia and globally at a rate of only 1.5 mm/year. This would imply a sea level change of only 0.13 meters or 5 inches by 2100. Dr. Morner also finds no evidence of any acceleration in sea level rise around Australia or globally.

From the conclusion of the paper:

In view of the data presented, we believe that we are justified to draw the following conclusions:

(1) The official Australian claim [2,3] of a present sea level rise in the order of 5.4mm/year is significantly exaggerated (Figure 3).

(2) The mean sea level rise from Australian tide gauges as well as global tide gauge networks is to be found within the sector of rates ranging from 0.1 to 1.5 mm/year (yellow wedge in Figure 3).

(3) The claim of a recent acceleration in the rate of sea level rise [2,3,12] cannot be validated by tide gauge records, either in Australia or globally (Figure 3). Rather, it seems strongly contradicted [19,21,24,39-41]

The practical implication of our conclusions is that there, in fact, is no reason either to fear or to prepare for any disastrous sea level flooding in the near future.
Present-to-future sea level changes: The Australian case

By Nils-Axel Morner & Albert Parker

We revisit available tide gauge data along the coasts of Australia, and we are able to demonstrate that the rate may vary between 0.1 and 1.5 mm/year, and that there is an absence of acceleration over the last decades. With a database of 16 stations covering only the last 17 years, the National Tidal Centre claims that sea level is rising at a rate of 5.4mm/year.We here analyse partly longer-term records from the same 16 sites as those used by the Australian Baseline Sea Level Monitoring Project (ABSLMP) and partly 70 other sites; i.e. a database of 86 stations covering a much longer time period. This database gives a mean trend in the order of 1.5 mm/year. Therefore, we challenge both the rate of sea level rise presented by the National Tidal Centre in Australia and the general claim of acceleration over the last decades.

Related: NOAA 2012 report finds sea levels rising at less than half the rate claimed by the IPCC


Businesses don't want carbon tax: Abbott

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says businesses will be better off without a carbon tax, as power companies warn the coalition's climate policy will be tough to implement.

Power companies say the coalition's alternative "Direct Action" policy will be more difficult to run than Labor's carbon pricing mechanism, which Mr Abbott has vowed to repeal if elected prime minister.

The Energy Supply Association of Australian supports an emissions trading scheme (ETS), and says falling electricity demand will force the coalition to review its climate change policy if elected, The Australian Financial Review reports.

A number of business groups, including Wesfarmers Ltd and the Australian Industry Group, have recently called for the carbon tax to be scrapped and replaced with an ETS with a floating carbon price.

Mr Abbott said no business wanted to pay more tax than less.

"Obviously, every business that is currently paying the carbon tax, either directly or indirectly, will be better off without it," he told reporters in Victoria.

Scrapping the carbon tax and four agencies associated with it would make "life more affordable and more simple for everyone", he added.

The coalition insists its climate policy uses the market to tackle global warming via a carbon buyback approach that rewards innovation and initiative while meeting Australia's climate targets.

Its Direct Action Policy is designed to directly funds activities that reduce CO2 emissions - known as abatement - at the lowest possible cost.


Business bogged down by a dud carbon tax

Greg Hunt

AUSTRALIANS are being dudded by the carbon tax and the crash in the European market last week confirms it.

Sadly, the consequences are felt in lost jobs and increasing power prices while Europe heads in the other direction.

And here is just one example. Last Thursday morning I met with a cafe owner and the owner of a small local supermarket just south of Ulladulla. Both said the 15 per cent increase in their electricity prices due solely to the government's carbon tax was coming straight out of their pockets because they couldn't pass on the increases.

So in order to try to cut costs, the cafe owner had reluctantly let one young staffer go and was instead coming in at 5.30am and staying late into the evening to make up the gap.

The other had deferred hiring a staff member and was increasing his already long hours.

These are the real consequences of the carbon tax for people's lives - working longer and laying off staff - that the Prime Minister and Treasurer have ignored. Now however, they must finally take their heads out of the sand and acknowledge the real world impact of the carbon tax.

With the collapse of the European carbon price, to what The Economist called junk bond status, the Australian carbon tax is now about six times higher than the European price. While the European price has plummeted to $3.50, the Australian tax is $23. And while the European price is plummeting, Labor has locked in two more carbon tax rises. So the carbon tax goes up again on July 1 and then again next year. Two simple messages come out of this.

Firstly, the Australian tax is completely out of line with the rest of the world. Secondly, Treasury's own modelling assumes the carbon tax is set to soar to $37 per tonne by 2020. In the meantime the government has spent this money - in the same way it spent the mining tax before it was received.

Either government modelling is correct and we will be even more out of line with the rest of the world, or the carbon tax will face a multi-billion-dollar black hole and the deficit will get much worse.

The government's own figures show the carbon tax doesn't even reduce our emissions. At the cost of $9 billion a year it doesn't even achieve its policy objective.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

The diggers know reality

Brisbane Anzac Day dawn service crowds pack Anzac square

THOUSANDS of people have gathered in the darkness to pay their respects to the past and present Australian service men and women.

Up to 18,000 people filled ANZAC Square in Brisbane's inner city. All but about 100 ignored the invitation to beat the crowd and watch the event live on screens in King George Square.

Bundled in jumpers, spectators congregated on Adelaide St near the Anzac Shrine of Remembrance for the 4.28am service - the precise time the Anzacs landed at Gallipoli almost a century ago.

Sarah Hussey made the trip from Rochedale South with her husband and two sons as she felt it was important to "keep the memory alive".  "My grandfather fought in World War 2 and my husband's father went off to the Borneo War. We've been to the marches before but this is the first time we have all come to the dawn service," she said.

In her address, the Governor of Queensland Penelope Wensley reminded the crowd that Anzac Day was, in the midst of sorrow, to "celebrate the Anzac spirit" 98 years after the legend was born on the shores of Gallipoli.  "It is curious - and, perhaps to outsiders, unusual - (that) mix of sorrow and regret, pride and celebration," she said.

She went on to say that with each new conflict, the Anzac spirit has "grown and strengthened," with those standards carried on by our current defence forces in the War on Terror and peace-keeping.

"Good humoured tenacity in the face of adversity . . . always camaraderie and mateship . . . and taking that and blending it into a powerful and motivating force," she said.

She quoted a war correspondent: "They were men their countries could ill afford to lose, but they set for all time a standard of conduct for all Australian and New Zealand soldiers."

At 5am, a hush fell over the crowd as a bugler sounded the Last Post. Children clasped onto their parent's hands as all paused to remember.

As daylight broke, wreaths to commemorate the fallen were laid around the Eternal Flame in the Shrine of Remembrance.

As a young helicopter crewman, Dennis Olsen OAM was posted to the Malaya border in 1965 , "where the communist terrorists had made it up to".

The 72-year-old said he has attended many ANZAC services since and was glad that the level of public involvement and recognition has swelled in the last decade.

He said his lost mates would be at the forefront of his mind.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard laid a wreath at the dawn service in Townsville and will attend the garrison city's Anzac Day march this morning.

At 4.07am, the crowds were told over the loud speaker that Anzac Square had reached capacity and were re-directed to King George Square for the simulcast.


Qantas to fight claim Aboriginals removed

Qantas says it will not tolerate behaviour that could compromise passenger safety after facing legal action for allegedly kicking a group of Aboriginal men off a plane.

The eight men were on their way home to Kempsey, on the NSW mid-north coast, from an indigenous leadership program in Cairns, three years ago.

They claim they were thrown off the plane before it left Sydney, and are suing Qantas for damages, accusing the airline of false imprisonment.

The airline would not comment on specifics of the case but confirmed it would defend the claims in court.

It also denies any discrimination.

"Qantas has a zero tolerance policy towards behaviour it believes could compromise the safety of anyone on our aircraft," Qantas said in a statement.  "This policy is applied equally to all passengers."

The men were allegedly locked in a bus parked on the tarmac for an hour-and-a-half, before being escorted back to the terminal.

It's alleged the men were told they could not travel as a group and would have to catch separate flights, in pairs, the following morning.

A hearing for the case is set to take place in a Sydney court in August.


Violence forces Victorian schools into lockdown

VIOLENT students, abusive parents, custody battles, trespassers and police operations are locking down Victorian schools.

Last year, there were 73 lockdowns at 67 Victorian state schools, seven more than in 2011.

There was a lockdown at one school every three school days in 2012 - a 59 per cent increase since 2008.

Aggressive behaviour was the No.1 problem for schools, resulting in 45 lockdowns, data obtained under Freedom of Information showed.

Police operations were the next largest category, resulting in 10 lockdowns.

Confidential information obtained by the Herald Sun shows the most alarming cases that led to lockdowns at public schools last year were allegations:

A PREP student physically assaulted several staff and students;

A SEVEN-year-old student threatened staff and students with a knife;

A STUDENT stabbed a staff member with a fork;

A MALE approached a grade 2 girl in school toilets;

A PARENT made threats against the principal over the phone;

A PARENT was assaulted by her partner outside the school grounds; and

A STUDENT climbed on the roof and threw objects at staff.

A swarm of bees, a kangaroo, a gas leak, loiterers, trees falling on staff cars and a house siege also locked down schools in 2012.

Already this year, schools have gone into lockdown after claims a grade 3 student struck a principal with a shovel and a man was found in a schoolyard taking photos.

The Department of Education said during a lockdown students were required to stay indoors, with windows and doors locked and staff posted at key locations.

Department figures previously published in the Herald Sun reveal that in 2008, there were 46 lockdowns, 38 in 2009 and 53 in 2010.

Department spokesman Stuart Teather said the lockdown process was a pre-emptive strategy often used when the risk level was not fully known. "Lockdowns can be implemented in cases where it turns out there is no actual risk at all," he said.

"Every school has an emergency management plan and a lockdown can be implemented as part of that plan to immediately secure the school from potential or perceived threats. They are not exclusively the result of incidents that occur within schools and can be implemented on police advice."

Opposition education spokesman Colin Brooks said the Government was losing control of student safety. But Ashley Gardiner, a spokesman for Education Minister Martin Dixon, described the claims as "ridiculous".


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

They're determined to get young Tom

A new code of conduct will stop advertising of live odds during play, but still allows bookmakers, such as Tom Waterhouse, to advertise odds during breaks and before play starts.

Live betting odds are set to be banned during sports broadcasts after the industry's peak body, Free TV Australia, said it would draft a new code of practice.

In a move that would restrict the ability of bookmakers like Tom Waterhouse to promote odds during matches, the new code aims to bans commentators and guests from promoting live betting odds during play and for 30 minutes before and after play.

It was designed to "reduce and control the promotion of live odds during the broadcast of live sporting events", FreeTV said in a statement this morning.

However, the code does not restrict promotion of live odds for other sports events that occur at the same time, such as interstate matches, and allows live odds to be advertised during breaks.

Commercial radio has already drafted a new code that is awaiting approval, and subscription television is expected to released a draft code shortly.

According to Free TV's draft code, which is open to public comment until May 20, the ban does not cover live horse, harness and greyhound racing.

It also does not cover any contracts signed before May 27, 2011, or material that is incidental to coverage, such as advertising around on barriers around a field.

Further, live odds can be advertised in commercials during scheduled breaks, such a tea breaks in cricket, half time in rugby matches and breaks between each quarter of an AFL match.

Live odds can also be advertised if play has been suspended for rain or if players ‘‘are yet to enter the field or area of play".

However, commentators cannot promote live odds at all during play, or scheduled breaks, or 30 minutes before and after play starts.

The proposed code also bans the promotion of live odds that are directed towards children, that portray ‘‘betting as a family activity", that promote betting on live odds ‘‘as a way to success or achievement" or that associate betting on live odds with alcohol.

And all promotions for live odds must conclude with a responsible gambling message.

"The proposed amendments to the code reflect an agreement reached between the government and commercial radio, commercial television and subscription broadcasters to reduce and control the promotion of live odds during the broadcast of sporting events," FreeTV stated.


Tom shoots back here

Black who raped toddler NOT  a 'dangerous sexual offender'?

The leniency given to a person with dark skin had nothing to do with it, of course

The attorney-general has lost an appeal to have a man who raped a toddler as an act of revenge classified as a dangerous sexual offender.

Hans Lester Watt raped the three-year-old girl when he was drunk in order to get back at the girl's grandmother who he claimed had insulted his dead mother.

On the day of the 2001 incident, the girl went missing from her grandmother's Mornington Island home where she had been playing alone.  Her grandmother found the 42-year-old raping the child in another house.

She was so seriously injured in the attack that she was hospitalised and needed surgery.

Watt, who was found to have a low IQ, was sentenced to 11 years' jail for the crime.

And last year, ahead of his release, the attorney-general's office applied to have him classified as a dangerous sexual offender, which would mean his detention could be extended or he would be released with a supervision order.

However, the court found the circumstances of the rape were "unique" and one of the three psychiatrists to examine him said Watt represented a low risk of re-offending if he did not drink, and that risk rose to "moderate" if he consumed alcohol.

The judge was not satisfied there was an unacceptable risk Watt would reoffend and did not put him on a supervision order.

The attorney-general appealed the decision on the grounds the judge had ignored psychiatrists' advice but the Supreme Court upheld the original decision...

One of the psychiatrists who examined Watt said his best chance of rehabilitation was in a dry Aboriginal community.

In dismissing the appeal three Supreme Court judges agreed the initial judge had made the right decision to not classify Watt as a dangerous sexual offender.


Woman driver wants to have her cake and eat it too

She wants to do a man's work but then complains because she is not up to it

COMCAR driver Lynette Prater says she is still suffering from a shoulder injury she suffered carrying eight heavy bags for Defence Minister Stephen Smith while the senior cabinet member sat and waited in the car.

The workers' compensation authority Comcare refused to pay out for the injuries Ms Prater says she sustained while lugging the heavy bags of the Labor minister 15 months ago.

Mr Smith's office says the minister has no memory of the event and that he or his staff would usually offer to help lift their bags and heavy document cases.

According to papers lodged in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), the then 49-year-old COMCAR driver picked up the minister at Canberra's RAAF Fairbairn airfield late on the night of November 20, 2011, as Mr Smith disembarked from a VIP flight.

Ms Prater's official incident report recalls; "Mr Smith came out and had two small silver cases with him, I then went to pick up the cases, they were extremely heavy and I could only manage to take one up to the car, he said he had a few more cases.

"Mr Smith put something else in the boot and then went and sat in the car, whilst I loaded the remaining cases in the boot." When they arrived at Parliament House, Ms Prater was left to unload the cases from the vehicle.

"Arriving at the basement Mr Smith went and got a trolley for him to take the cases inside and left me to take them out of the boot unassisted," the report reads.  "Left arm a bit tingly, I put this down to being a sore muscle."

The driver said she hoped the severe pain that developed in her shoulder after the incident would go away, but when she was diagnosed with a muscle tendon sprain she claimed for workers' compensation. Her claim was denied by Comare, which cited the delay between sustaining the injury and lodging the claim.

Now Ms Prater, who has not returned to her job and says she cannot afford to have her injury treated privately, is fighting Comcare's decision in the AAT with the case listed for a conciliation conference.

She told Fairfax that she accepted the task when it became clear she was expected to lift the minister's bags on her own. "I just shrugged my shoulders and thought 'oh well, I'm going to have to do it'," she said.

A spokesman for Mr Smith said he had not been aware of the issue until questioned by Fairfax.

"The minister and his staff regularly travel with secure briefcases and assist in the movement of them, without the need for a request for assistance."


Testing times for education

There's a case for INCREASING class sizes

IN 1902 Frank Tate became head of Victoria's Department of Education and established a reputation as a progressive reformer. He argued primary school class sizes should be reduced from the usual 60 or 80 to about 50 to improve the quality of education.

"The best progressive opinion at the time was that 50 was acceptable, and obviously classes were typically bigger than that," renowned Australian historian John Hirst tells Inquirer.

"In the 1950s, in my first year at Unley High, I was in a class of 60," he adds.

In Australia today, class sizes have fallen by almost two-thirds since then, the culmination of a worldwide trend fanned by teachers unions swelling their ranks by propagating the fallacious argument that smaller classes improve education outcomes.

"Class-size reduction has been a costly policy that has not translated into a commensurate improvement in overall student outcomes," the Productivity Commission concluded in a report in May last year, which canvassed ways to improve teacher quality without spending a cent.

Andrew Leigh, federal Labor MP for Fraser, studied expenditures and outcomes at Australian schools between 1964 and 2003, during which time class sizes fell by about 40 per cent, and found "no evidence that the test scores of Australian pupils have risen over the past four decades, and some evidence that scores have fallen".

Undeterred, Julia Gillard's latest plan to boost school resources by an extra $14.5 billion across the next six years, based on recommendations by the 2011 Gonski review, will most likely help fund smaller classes still.

The Prime Minister's 1100-word press release, which stressed the huge increase in public spending without explaining how it would improve standards, said only the new funds "would pay for specialist teachers and modern resources".

Andrew Coulson, director of the Centre for Educational Freedom in Washington, DC, sympathises with Gillard's plan, "but the evidence shows we tend not to get what we pay for in education", he tells Inquirer, pointing to a new chart that tracks large increases in real per-pupil spending on government schools alongside stagnant changes in educational outcomes.

"Employment doubled in the public schools without improving student achievement," he says. "If the US went back to the pupil-teacher ratio of 1970, taxpayers would save $200bn annually.

"Successive Australian governments increased the real per-pupil cost of public schooling faster than any other nation during that period and its educational achievement also fell," he adds, referring to a landmark 2000 international study that compared expenditure on schooling and student performance from 1970 to 1994 across 22 OECD countries.

Far from extra spending leading to better outcomes, the study by Erich Gundlach et al concluded "the quality of schooling output tends to have declined in those countries with the highest increase in the relative price of schooling".

The gobsmacked academics politely concluded "educational resource allocation is mainly determined through rent seeking, and not through competitive markets".

As federal opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne points out, education spending, even accounting for inflation, has increased by 40 per cent during the past decade. Even before the new funding announcement, federal spending on schools has been growing four times faster than student enrolments.

The relentless rise in public spending on schools, ever smaller classes and constant or even dwindling outcomes are inextricably linked.

In NSW 64 per cent of the $10bn spent annually on government schools comprises wages for teachers, rising to 77 per cent when school administrators are included. The smaller the classes, the more teachers are required for a given student population.

Analysis by Inquirer estimates that lifting the average primary and secondary class size from about 23 to 27 -- about where they were in 1980 -- would save the NSW government more than $1bn a year, easily more than enough to cover the extra funding the Prime Minister proposes to be spent in that state.

Perhaps worse than the financial cost is the potential slump in teaching quality. Class sizes cannot be reduced in a vacuum.

"Lowering class sizes lifts the number of teachers but inevitably reduces the average quality of teachers because state governments will have to pay individual teachers less because public funding typically can't keep pace," says Moshe Justman, a professor of economics at the University of Melbourne specialising in education. Lower wages for teachers lessens the attractiveness of the profession to other workers.

The economic corollary of lower class sizes and vastly higher real spending is a systematic and intentional assault on labour productivity in one of the fastest growing sectors of the Australian economy. This is perverse, given the relentless national conversation about lifting productivity.

Teaching is not alone; a similar trend is evident in childcare, wherever tighter child-staff ratios have a similar effect.

Declining productivity in teaching is to some extent inevitable, a product of massive increases in productivity throughout the rest of the economy. Teachers -- like concert pianists, butlers and hairdressers, and unlike workers in manufacturing -- are little more productive today than they were a century ago, but their wages still need to rise to attract people to these professions. Swapping chalk and blackboards for pens and whiteboards does nothing to lift standards.

Australian students' flagging performance in global league tables -- dropping between 2000 and 2009 in mathematics and literacy -- prompted the Gonski review.

But Justman points out Australia dropped down the international standardised test rankings mainly against Asian countries. "Asian nations (which are poorer to begin with) typically spend less on education as a share of their national income, but their curricula attach a great deal of importance to standardised tests," he says. "They have larger class sizes and stricter discipline," he adds.

Justman says the PM's focus on global rankings is narrow anyway.

"Becoming one of the top five countries in global PISA rankings is probably as relevant a goal for the future of Australia's economy or society as regaining the dominant position it once enjoyed in international tennis," he says.

If spending ever more on education and reducing classsizes have been so wasteful, why does the trend continue, even accelerate? In 1958 Kim Beazley Sr, a future education minister in the Whitlam government, observed: "The publications that we receive every month from the teachers, especially that of the NSW Teachers Federation, are nothing but propaganda about money; there is never anything in them that would improve a teacher's technique."

Teachers unions in Australia and worldwide have been astonishingly successful at hoodwinking the public into thinking smaller classes matter. The recent "I give a Gonski" campaign in Australia, complete with little, hapless children fitted out in campaign garb, tug at the heartstrings of politicians and parents alike. Who wouldn't want to help the children and support a better education?

Gundlach et al conclude: "The structure of decision-making and the incentives within the education sector have to be changed in order to improve productivity." This is also what our own Productivity Commission recommended last year. It said teachers' strict remuneration structure needed to be freed up to pay those with rarer skills (such as maths and science), for instance.

"Money plays only a small role in creating high-performance organisations," says a senior management consultant for private and public organisations, who prefers not be named.

"In education, as much as in other areas, how you evaluate performance, how you set targets, how you make people accountable for outcomes, how people interact with their boss and how people are coached and mentored is usually far more important than how much money is sloshing around the system," he says.

"Schools can only do so much; ultimately family background, discipline and culture play a huge part," says Justman.

All Australian governments will soon be grappling with grave fiscal challenges as public spending spirals upward at an increasing rate, while revenues flag.

However popular shovelling more taxpayer money at schools may be, governments soon may have to think about how to lift the productivity of schools as they do in other sectors.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Crackdown on unions in Qld.

THE Newman Government's war with unions has hit workers' desks with a proposal to ban the display of political messages during election periods.

New laws will also give the Director-General of Justice and Attorney-General the power to investigate unions with maximum penalties for "dishonesty" lifted from $22,000 to $340,000.

The legislation will restrict union access to government offices, force union officials to ballot members on any political expenditure above $1000 and make unions declare political affiliations in any advertising.

Salaries paid to a union's top 10 officials will have to be made public along with details of any gifts or hospitality provided.

A ban on political posters or stickers on public servants' desks is also being considered, with offenders to face disciplinary action.

Together Queensland union state secretary Alex Scott said it highlighted the "paranoia of the LNP" about what happens in an election campaign.

But Premier Campbell Newman made no apology for the union crackdown saying officials should have to meet the same standards as others in public office.

"I think it's fair to say, it's very similar to public money when you're receiving contributions from your members (and) you should have to comply with standards of openness and accountability," Mr Newman said.

He cited allegations against Federal MP Craig Thomson, a former Labor member accused of misusing union funds, as justification for tougher laws.

Mr Thomson has repeatedly denied the claims.

Mr Scott said he also wanted to improve union transparency but most of the legislative changes appeared to be more about reducing public servants' access to industrial representation, and providing "financial obstacles" at a time they were protesting privatisation plans.

"It would be very inappropriate for department officers such as the Attorney-General's Director-General to interfere with (union) activities," Mr Scott said.

Together was planning to escalate its public service pay rise campaign by targeting the "one person who can give it to them", Premier Newman.

"That is why we will campaign in public sector workplaces and the electorate of Ashgrove to force the Premier to stand by his word and deliver a pay increase for public servants," Mr Scott said.

Last month the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission found it did not have the authority to grant an interim pay rise of 2.35 per cent for the state's 60,000 core public servants. Together is appealing.


A win for individual responsibility

A court decision to award a morbidly obese man more than $350,000 from his doctor because the GP failed to refer him to a weight-loss clinic or send him for lap-band surgery has been overturned on appeal.

Emmanuel Varipatis, a Manly GP, said he was relieved the Supreme Court ruling had been overturned.

The medical fraternity had been concerned that holding doctors legally responsible for their patients' failure to shed weight would become an "intolerable burden".

The case involved Luis Almario, a Colombian-born revolutionary who once stood for state parliament.

He was in the care of Dr Varipatis from 1997 to 2011. The court found in February that Dr Varipatis had been negligent in not sending Mr Almario, 68, to an obesity clinic or arranging for a surgeon to assess his suitability for gastric-band surgery. Mr Almario weighed 140 kilograms and was 154 centimetres tall. Justice Stephen Campbell found Mr Almario had terminal liver cancer as a result of liver disease linked to his obesity and awarded him $364,000.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Appeal has dismissed the judgment. It found the evidence of GPs did not suggest a doctor was obliged to do more than "take reasonable care" of a patient by advising weight loss - which Dr Varipatis had done. "The duty of care stopped short of requiring an exercise in futility."

Medical insurer Avant, which led the appeal, said the original decision had caused significant concern in the industry because it might have forced GPs to "practise defensively".

Dr Varipatis told GP industry journal Medical Observer he felt exonerated but was sorry for Mr Almario's state of health: "I realise that he and his family will be very disappointed and upset right now."

Mr Almario, of North Parramatta, has been given less than a year to live and is being cared for at home by his wife. His solicitor did not return calls.


A Coalition government would look to change national history curriculum

THE FIRST education priority of a Coalition government would be to rip up the current national history curriculum and restore Anzac Day to its "rightful" place of respect.

Shadow Education spokesman Christopher Pyne said if Tony Abbott wins the September 14 election, rewriting aspects of the curriculum that present "a black armband view of Australia's history" would immediately commence.

"The coalition is committed to revising the national curriculum, its appropriateness and its implementation," Mr Pyne told News Limited.

"History is what it is. We should know the truth about it and we shouldn't allow it to colour our present and our future."

A national curriculum was introduced in 2011 for English, Science, Maths and History, with the remainder of the syllabus currently being reviewed by the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority under Federal Government plans to implement all subjects in 2016.

Critics say a trend towards political correctness sees history classes place undue emphasis on indigenous culture, Asia and sustainability, with Anzac Day mentioned in the context of other national days such as Ramadan and Buddha Day.

"This would be a priority for us. The coalition doesn't have a black armband view of Australia's history," Mr Pyne said.

"Having a robust curriculum is a priority of the coalition, alongside principal autonomy parental engagement and quality teaching."

Dr Kevin Donnelly from the Education Standards Institute says the current curriculum downplays the impact Anzac Day and the Gallipoli legend have had on forming an Australian identity.

"Australia and our character is ignored in the history document, because it's all about diversity and difference and multiculturalism and different perspectives," he said.

"It's a very one sided, politically correct view of Australian history and I would argue we need to get back to a stronger sense of what has made Australia a unique nation."

Mr Donnelly said it was ironic Anzac Day was underplayed in classrooms at a time when increasing numbers of young people were travelling to historic battlefields in Turkey and France to commemorate the event and more children than ever were taking part in dawn services.

"Young people are wanting to affirm that sense of us being uniquely Australian and celebrating the heroic ethos, yet it is being all but ignored in schools," he said.

A spokesperson for ACARA denied Anzac Day was underplayed in the curriculum.

"History students have opportunities to learn about Anzac Day and Australia's experiences in wartime at the following year levels: 3,6, 9 and 10 and in the senior secondary subject Modern History," ACARA said in a statement.


NSW urged to follow Qld's lead in building up gas industry

A FAILURE to embrace coal seam gas has prompted the Federal Opposition to accuse the New South Wales Government of destroying its major economic hope.

Speaking to an energy conference in Sydney on Thursday, Opposition spokesman for resources Ian Macfarlane said the state had to follow Queensland's lead in building up the industry.

Mr Macfarlane also criticised NSW for imposing too many restrictions on the gas sector.

He reportedly told the conference how NSW had dithered while Queensland had thrived.

"Instead of drilling 1000 wells each year, (NSW) built just one well in two years," he said.

Mr Macfarlane said the NSW government needed to spruik the industry and warn the public of potential job losses.

NSW has imposed stringent restrictions on the emerging CSG sector in the state after fierce opposition, particularly along its northern coastline.

CSG opponents claimed victory after two major gas companies Metgasco and Dart Energy stalled plans to develop in the region.


Monday, April 22, 2013

Abbott says no need for Gonski funding reforms

Coalition leader Tony Abbott says the federal government’s proposed education changes are too expensive and unnecessary because there is no fundamental problem with the way schools are funded.

Mr Abbott said the changes were too costly in the current budget context and that many things could be done to improve education without spending "vast dollops of new money".

“In the absence of anything which is clearly, dramatically better and affordably, dramatically better, I think we are better fine-tuning the existing system rather than trying to turn the whole thing on its head,” Mr Abbott told Sky News on Sunday morning.

Mr Abbott listed greater autonomy for principals, higher teaching standards and a smaller education bureaucracy as some of the cheaper changes that could be made.

But Mr Abbott said he would maintain the changes to university funding which the government announced earlier this month as a way of paying for the increased money that it wants to give to primary and secondary schools.

"I don’t think anyone should expect those cuts to be reversed," Mr Abbott said.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, told Fairfax Media that Mr Abbott was locking children into "being left behind".

"Mr Abbott stands for cuts to school funding. In backing the current funding system he is backing children being left behind and trapped in schools without resources to give them a great education," Ms Gillard said.

"He is also backing our nation falling behind the educations standards of our region and losing the high-skilled, high-paid jobs of the future to Japan, Korea and China."

Ms Gillard failed to reach agreement with the states and territories last Friday about the $14.5 billion education package based on the recommendations of a taskforce headed by Sydney businessman David Gonski.

Ms Gillard wants state governments to increase education budgets by three per cent a year in exchange for a 4.7 per cent rise in federal funding.

After Friday’s meeting state leaders expressed concerns about giving the Commonwealth a bigger say in education while some are worried the proposed new funding model gives greater weight to independent and Catholic schools.

The Queensland Premier, Campbell Newman, said Ms Gillard could have made a deal on Friday.  "In my view because she is refusing to properly negotiate, she actually pushed people away," Mr Newman said.

Ms Gillard will put her plan directly to parents and principals this week in a bid to create a groundswell of support for the Gonski reforms.

Ms Gillard has given state and territory leaders until June 30 to sign up to the new funding deal.

Mr Campbell said schools would not support Ms Gillard’s plans because they were worried about an additional layer of bureaucracy being imposed on them.

"They are unacceptable and I know when teachers and principals know what Julia Gillard wants them to do, that they will not be as keen on the whole matter unless that is sorted out," Mr Campbell said.

On Sunday, Mr Abbott also said he was working with the Department of Finance to cut the pay of his director of policy, Mark Roberts, who last week threatened to "cut the throat" of the not-for-profit Australian Indigenous Education Foundation, by cancelling its funding, if the Coalition were elected in September.

Mr Abbott said he did not believe Dr Roberts deserved to be sacked but that he had "paid a price" for his "unacceptable" behaviour.

Mr Abbott also repeated his statements from last week when he said he was prepared to consider giving Coalition MPs a conscience vote on the issue of gay marriage after the federal election.


Canberra Cyclists told to learn etiquette

The alternative seems to be broken glass on cycle paths

MORE Canberra bike riders need to learn cycling etiquette, says the ACT's minister in charge of bike paths.

Territory and Municipal Services Minister (TAMS) Shane Rattenbury said some cyclists were using City Walk in Civic like it was a speedway.

"Some people are using City Walk as a time trial zone - it's not the area to pick up speed," Mr Rattenbury said.  "It's the place where you slow down.

"I think cyclists in Canberra need to improve their etiquette.  "I've seen them not slowing down in pedestrian zones and running red lights."

The Greens MLA made the comments while explaining driver and pedestrian behaviour could also be improved.

He said this could be done by education and by encouraging more people to cycle in Canberra.

"I lived in the Netherlands for 4½ years when I didn't own a car and that's really informed my thinking.  "Even car drivers are cyclists there," he said.  "That changes the way they treat cyclists, they know how much room to give cyclists."

Educational cards will soon be used in Canberra to remind pedestrians about certain rules, such as not walking in dedicated cycle lanes in Civic.

Mr Rattenbury was answering questions put to him by followers of The Lycra Diaries, a community Facebook page set up by The Canberra Times.

After being asked about whether more street sweepers could be sent down Adelaide Avenue, the minister, a cyclist himself, complained about glass being thrown into Canberra's cycle paths.

"There's an extraordinary amount of glass on cycle lanes in Canberra," he said.

"It's hard to believe it's not put there deliberately. I won't ride down Northbourne Avenue on a Sunday. Because of the glass I have to change my route."

Some tweaks will be made to the recently opened Civic Cycle Loop, such as dashed white lines for cyclists at some sets of lights and minor route alterations to avoid jams between pedestrians and bikes.

Mr Rattenbury said every two weeks he asks TAMS staff about the progress of fixing the cycle path next to Morshead Drive, near Duntroon, which was washed away at the start of 2012.

A red bridge from Belconnen will be used to replace the washout, probably by the end of this year, but will be painted grey to fit in with its surroundings.


Climate queries? Ask a paleontologist

by Des Moore

The attempt to portray a picture of ever-rising temperatures continues despite the absence of supporting evidence. It is typified by frequent references to purported and much-repeated "records”, such as “the hottest start to April for eight years” and the supportive claims of “experts” with Nobel Laureate awards in a science, but not necessarily ones awarded for achievements in climate climate science.

For example, The Age recently ran a letter from Professor Peter Doherty denying  a  pause in temperature increases and arguing that a sceptical Spooner cartoon was based on misinformation. Doherty argued that climate scientists are not likely to make errors because they could be subjected to claims of scientific fraud. The professor, it should be noted, won his 1996 Nobel for advancing understanding not of climate or meteorology but the human immune system. (for Spooner's response to Doherty, see the bottom of this column)      

About a month ago Quadrant Online published my analysis of published temperature data, compiled with help from physicist Dr Tom Quirk, showing that the global average recorded a fall in February. The latest data (see the chart below from John Christy, University of Alabama at Huntsville, and drawn from satellite data) shows there was no change in March and confirms there has been no substantive change in annual global average temperatures between 2002 and 2012. I also pointed out that there has been no change worth noting in the 16 years from 1998, while adding that account needs to be taken of the effects attributable to the “high” El Nino activity of that year.

For Australia, following the fall in February, there was an increase in average temperatures in March, but the increase did not fully offset the February fall, and the March level could scarcely be described as “high” (see the chart below). As I have previously pointed out, the failure in recent years to witness a coincidence of temperature and emission increases – supposedly the basis of the scientific consensus -- is nothing new, also having been evident in earlier years.

It remains the case that, while there was an increase in average temperature in the Australian summer (defined as December, January and February), whether that summer temperature was a recent “record” depends on the data source used. Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) data shows that the average temperature in the summer just passed was fractionally higher than in previous summers of the past 25 years or so, while satellite data shows the average was lower than a number of previous summers (see the chart below).

In my earlier Quadrant analysis I drew attention to the Angry Summer report of March 4 by the government’s Climate Commission and to one of the false claims by its head, the paleontologist Tim Flannery, who said: “If you look at the whole Earth system, you can see that strong warming trend”.

Earlier this month the Commission published yet another report with the following heading and introduction:

"THE CRITICAL DECADE: Extreme weather

How quickly and deeply we reduce greenhouse gas emissions will greatly influence the severity of extreme events our children and grandchildren experience. But due to additional greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the climate system now contains significantly more heat compared to 50 years ago. The severity and frequency of many extreme weather events are increasing due to climate change. Extreme weather has always occurred.

This means that all extreme weather events are influenced by climate change.”

The way in which the phrase “climate change” is used here is, of course, nonsensical: extreme or other weather events must reflect some change in climate. The question is what is causing the change? More substantially, is there evidence that extreme weather events have increased over the past 50 years? If so, does this reflects increased emissions of greenhouse gases?

The IPCC published a report in March 2012 on “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation”, but this did not advocate quick and deep reductions in greenhouse gases.  While it concluded that “climate change has led to changes in climate extremes such as heat waves, record high temperatures and, in many regions, heavy precipitation in the past half century”, it also noted that while “some extreme weather and climate events lead to disasters, others do not”. The report suggested that “policies to avoid, prepare for, respond to and recover from the risks of disaster can reduce the impact of these events and increase the resilience of people exposed to extreme events”. In short, its authors advocated policies of adaptation to climate change, rather than the urgent reduction of emissions.

“The main message from the report is that we know enough to make good decisions about managing the risks of climate-related disasters. Sometimes we take advantage of this knowledge, but many times we do not,” said Chris Field, Co-Chair of IPCC’s Working Group II, which together with Working Group I produced the report. “The challenge for the future has one dimension focused on improving the knowledge base and one on empowering good decisions, even for those situations where there is lots of uncertainty,” he said.

“The IPCC released the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) of the report in November, 2011. The full report ... provides the basis for the key conclusions first presented in the SPM. It offers a greater understanding of the human and economic costs of disasters and the physical and social patterns that cause them. It enables policy-makers to delve into the detailed information behind the findings to examine the material on which the IPCC based its assessments.”

In adopting an adaptation approach to extreme weather problems, the IPCC report on extreme weather is clearly not on the alarmist track being followed by the Climate Commission. Could the Commission be accused of committing scientific fraud?

It claims to have been “established to provide all Australians with an independent and reliable source of information about the science of climate change, the international action being taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the economics of a carbon price”. It also claims to be “made up of experts from a range of fields relevant to climate change and is not subject to Government direction. The Commission is also supported by a Science Advisory Panel.”

A case can clearly be made that, at the very least, the Commission is not a reliable source of information even by the low standards of the IPCC. The status of the Commission was discussed last Sunday in an interview by Andrew Bolt with Professor Bob Carter (the transcript can be found here), who pointed out that none of the Commissioners is an expert on climate science.

The best that might be said of their expertise is that they make fit correspondents for the letters page of The Age, which perhaps says even more than their lack of credentials about the degree of seriousness with which their utterances should be taken.

FOOTNOTE: In the following day's Age, Spooner took Professor Doherty to task:

"I am concerned as to why Professor Peter Doherty (Letters, 8/4) does not consult the authorities relied on by the IPCC when lecturing deniers about global warming since 1997. I refer him to an interview with Professor Phil Jones, the director of the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia (BBC, 13/2/2010); James Hansen, the head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in his paper of March 28, 2013; the UK Met office (Hadcrut 4) graph published 24/12/12 and acknowledged by none other than Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the IPCC (Graham Lloyd, The Australian, 22/2/2013)".

None of these sources oppose the possibility of dangerous climate change but they all confirm there has been no statistically significant increase in annual global temperatures for between 12 and 17 years. If carbon dioxide emissions have risen about 8 per cent for the last 16 years, why haven't temperatures risen in line with all the computer model projections?

John Spooner, The Age


Accused but not charged, Rolf Harris is struggling says his wife Alwen Hughes

ROLF Harris's wife has spoken about her husband's distress and devastation at being placed under suspicion by police for sexual offences.

Alwen Hughes, Harris' partner for 50 years, has reportedly told friends of sleepless nights for both of them since Harris was first interviewed by police from Operation Yewtree last November and had his computer seized and was then formally arrested and bailed last month for undisclosed "suspicion of sexual offences".

No charges have been laid.

"My poor husband, it's terrible we've been really worrying about it," the Sunday Mirror has reported, quoting what a friend of Ms Hughes, a Welsh born artist, has said.

"He's really suffering. We've both been having sleepless nights over it all."

Harris has been nowhere to be seen at his river-front home in Berkshire west of London for a number of weeks but a number of friends of the couple visited Ms Hughes at the property in the village of Bray yesterday.