Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A new set of university rankings has just come out

I am a bit dubious about "diversity" being included as one factor in the rankings and think more emphasis could have been given to publications but the methodology is defensible as a whole.

I also don't fully agree with the Shanghai Jiao Tong methodology.  I think they give far to much eweight to Nobel Prizes -- which disadvantages younger institutuions.

But in the end the results are pretty similar and probably as most people would expect.  The major difference is that British and Australian universities did particularly well.  Four Australian universities (ANU, Melbourne, Sydney, UNSW) made it into the top 50 and eight British (Cantab, ICL, Oxon, UCL, KCL, Edinburgh, Bristol, Manchester).  American universities were the biggest winners, as usual.

Another way of looking at the data is to note that London had 3 universities in the top 50 while Sydney had two. As Sydney is much less populous than London, that is pretty good.

Currumbin mosque: Gold Coast City Council rejects building application

A controversial proposal for a mosque in Currumbin has been rejected by Gold Coast City Council.

The proposal for an Islamic place of worship, which received 3,500 objections, has sparked protests, threats and insults against some councillors.

Ten councillors, including area representative Chris Robbins, voted against the proposal.  Five voted for the development application to be approved.

The council cited issues involving community concerns, car parking and opening hours.

Councillor Robbins said the planning committee had not properly considered the social impacts of the mosque.  "Those residents who live near the site have had some very stringent concerns," she said.  "This was decided by the councillors on town planning grounds."

Earlier today, the council went into a closed session to discuss possible legal issues associated with the plans.

Debate on the development application in an industrial estate had just begun when Councillor Lex Bell raised legal questions.  Councillor Bell argued if council rejected the application it would likely go to court and be approved with fewer conditions than would be imposed by council. Last week the council's planning committee recommended the application be approved - but with more than 50 conditions.

A group of about 30 opponents of the mosque cheered as the vote was counted.

James Darby from the 'Stop the Mosque' group welcomed the decision.  "The mosque should be well away from any person that its amenities are going to disturb," he said.

But local Islamic Society president Hassan Goss said all the guidelines were met.  "Everything that the council required was done — everything we had to do to obtain the approval of that centre was done," he said.  "I believe that because of public sentiment and the climate we're in at the moment, it hasn't gone through."

The developers now have the right to appeal against the council's decision in court.

Two councillors received death threats for their support for the proposed mosque.


Gillard forgetting who her friends used to be

TICKLISH questions remain swirling around Julia Gillard following her appearance at the royal commission into trade union corruption. Not the least of which is the haste with which she sought to distance herself from the two witnesses who preceded her into the witness box on Wednesday and their remarks about her role in suggesting the establishment of a slush fund similar to the one she assisted former boyfriend Bruce Wilson set up in Western Australia — the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association.

Robert Elliott, a former national secretary of the HSU, the union which gave the nation two disgraced former officials, Craig Thomson and Michael Williamson, was quizzed first, followed by his wife, the Victorian MLC Kaye Darveniza. Elliott has known Gillard since they were involved first in university and then union and Labor politics.

“I had been a member of a group formed around Ms Gillard and supportive of her political career,” he said in a document he prepared for a possible legal action against the HSU two years ago

The document, he told counsel assisting the commission Jeremy Stoljar, had been prepared carefully. Elliott agreed he wasn’t proposing to be deceitful and was satisfied it was true and correct when he supplied it to his solicitors in October, 2012.

Yet in September, 2014, his recollection has changed.

Two years ago he believed “Gillard was supportive of a ‘reform group’ of which I was involved in the HSU in the late ‘80s, including assistance with fundraising and legal advice. Ms Gillard and Slater & Gordon became legal advisers to the HSU Vic No. 2 branch and Ms Gillard continued to give not just strictly legal advice but also offered more general political counsel. It was generally understood that success for Ms Gillard’s allies in union elections was of benefit to Ms Gillard’s political career, and, in turn, Ms Gillard’s advancement would benefit those unions.

“Such was the closeness of the political relationship that Ms Gillard felt able, on one occasion, to offer, at a meeting of me, her and another senior HSU official to undertake the legal work to establish a fundraising entity, outside of the union, to raise funds for the re-election in the HSU of the officers of that entity but established for the ostensible purpose of promoting health and safety in the health industry.

“This offer was not taken up by me or others on the basis that it seemed an exotic and suspect arrangement particularly since the promotion of workplace health and safety was the proper preserve of the union itself.”

The other senior union official present was Elliott’s current wife Kaye, then known as Kaye Williams but who has now reverted to her maiden name, Darveniza.

Elliott said his recollection of the meeting with Gillard and his wife has changed.

It began to change two weeks ago when he was contacted about giving evidence to the royal commission and he began having discussions with his wife.

In fact, Elliot told the royal commission it was a regret to him that what he now believes is a “false memory” has been the subject of inquiry.

But it shouldn’t be because Elliott, just two years ago, was so proud of his memory he even referred to it in the statement he was preparing for his proposed legal action.

He said then that when he was asked to review the matters relating to Craig Thomson (his successor at the HSU) and his misuse of a union credit card, Michael Williamson (former ALP national president and former HSU general secretary, who pleaded guilty to two fraud charges last year and is currently serving 7½ years), Williamson “told me on several occasions that he particularly wanted me to participate because of what he considered to be my good judgment, my corporate memory, my experience of the national office and my relative sophistication on legal matters”.

That corporate memory and relative sophistication on legal matters apparently evaporated after the recent discussion with his wife.

While Darveniza recalls Gillard offering advice “informally as a friend and political ally with legal expertise” on setting up a fund or account into which branch officials would pay to provide funding for contesting branch elections (a slush fund), she has her own memory problems.

Gillard, however, is in no doubt. She didn’t have any meeting of the type described by Elliott and she never discussed setting up an incorporated association with them. They have vague memories, partially recanted, of discussions of the establishment of a fundraising entity like the Australian Workers Union Workplace Reform Association. She is adamant they are wrong.

What is indisputable is that Gillard’s partners at Slater & Gordon were so concerned about her involvement in setting up a slush fund, possibly corruptly, possibly involving corrupt money, that Gillard abruptly left the firm.


Referendum on indigenous Australians should be conservative: PM

Tony Abbott has signalled his conviction that a referendum recognising indigenous Australians is more likely to succeed if it is "spiritually ambitious" but legally conservative.

Declaring that the timing and process for the referendum will crystallise within weeks, the Prime Minister said he was acutely aware of, and determined to avoid, the consequences of failure.

"There'd be nothing worse than having a go at this and finding that it fails because we've been too ambitious or, in the process of trying to do something wonderful, we've ended up dividing the country," Mr Abbott said in his most expansive comments on the referendum that is supported by both sides of politics.

He said the challenge would be to emulate the success of the 1967 referendum, which was carried with overwhelming support, but was "legally unambitious" while spiritually "very ambitious indeed".

"Sometimes the more legal ambition you've got, the less spiritual and ethical and cultural achievement you'll grasp and I think it's important to carefully weigh and consider these things in the weeks and months ahead," he said after his first discussions on the subject with indigenous leaders in north-east Arnhem Land.

Mr Abbott will discuss the referendum with indigenous leaders including Garrawuy Yunupingu, Noel Pearson and Warren Mundine on Wednesday, amid speculation that 2017 is the likely date for the question to  be put to the people.

Delaying the vote until then would, advocates say, maximise the prospects for building momentum, avoid the vote being politicised and draw of the euphoria of the vote 50 years earlier.

Asked by Fairfax Media if there was a danger that the question would fail to meet the expectations of those who say the question must be substantive, Mr Abbott replied: "We are really still at the beginning of this journey. We're not approaching the end.

"There is a lot of goodwill, there is a firm intention on the part of this government, on the part of the opposition, I think on the part of the Parliament generally, to embark on this journey, but it's got to be a successful one."

While there has been heated debate over whether the question should include a prohibition on racial discrimination, Mr Abbott said he was not going to rule specific proposals in or out.

"Generally speaking, the only proposals that I would rule out at this stage are proposals that would divide our country, and sometimes you only know whether a proposal would divide the country after it's been out there for a while and you've had a chance to gauge the reaction.

"My job here is not to be a private pontificator; my job is to be, as far as I humanly can, a national leader and national leaders do not rush into final decision making, given that the urgent task now is to bring forward a timetable and finesse a process.

"Once that's done, I think we're in a good position to start serious discussions over what the proposal might be."

 Mr Abbott suggested an announcement on timing and process was unlikely after Wednesday's talks, but added: "I do think we can crystallise this to the point of finalisation within a few weeks. I think it's important that everyone knows where our country is hoping to go.

"We shouldn't try to pre-empt the outcomes of this process, but there does need to be a clear process in place with an end point for our consideration."

 An announcement on timing in the next few weeks would coincide with a parliamentary committee that includes Aboriginal MPs Ken Wyatt and Senator Nova Peris releasing its recommendation on the wording of the referendum question


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