Tuesday, January 06, 2015

A sweeping triumph for Greenies: Cyclist liberation in Queensland

This is dream legislation for Greenies.  They hate cars (except their own, of course) and this facilitates an alternative to cars.  But it goes way too far.  Cyclists should always be obliged to use cycle lanes where they are available.  I wouldn't be surprised if angry motorists knocked a few of them down over unnecessary but now legal obstruction.  Whoever put this legislation through must have bypassed all consultation

Since January 1, cyclists have been allowed to ride in any lane on a multi-lane road, ride across pedestrian crossings without dismounting and are no longer required to ride inside designated cycle lanes.

Cyclist Stewart Moore of Tarragindi said riders and drivers needed to learn how to better share the road.  “As soon as people start getting aware (of the rules) the whole road culture changes, and that has to happen over a period of time where we learn to better share the road,” Mr Moore said. “Cyclists have to understand their role, and it goes the same for cars.”

Mr Moore said many cyclists were not clear on the previous road rules, and the new changes have helped to formalise the situation.

Cyclist Tony O’Brien of Sunnybank Hills said the changes to cycling rules were “common sense”, including allowing cyclists to ride their bikes across pedestrian and children’s crossings.

“We don’t make people get out of their car and push it across the road,” he said.

However, RACQ executive manager of public policy Michael Roth said the rules had cleared up common misunderstandings about what cyclists were allowed to do.

“The new rules have made it clearer to understand what cyclists can do,” Mr Roth said.

“But it’s important for the government to educate the public on the cycling rules.”


* Cyclists are NOT obliged to ride in the bicycle lane, and can ride on the road instead.

* A cyclist is able to ride across a zebra or children’s crossing as long as they come to a complete stop before doing so.

* Cyclists can choose to take up the whole lane at a single-lane roundabout.

* Cars must give a minimum passing distance of at least 1m in a 60km/h zone, or 1.5m in a speed zone of above 60km/h.


Why halal certification is in turmoil

I put up yesterday Kirralie Smith's objections to the article by Chris Johnston below.  The first paragraph is largely untrue and would in my view support an action for defamation.  He supplies a nice picture of her though.  The issues concerned over Halal certification have at least now made it into the mainstream press -- JR

Kirralie Smith is a permaculture farmer from northern New South Wales and a mother of three. She is also the public face of the virulent campaign to boycott halal food and products.

Halal means permissible for Muslims to eat or use, and the Facebook page "'Boycott Halal in Australia" has 41,000 supporters.

Smith speaks at events organised by "Islam-critical" groups such as the Q Society, which has also been involved in local campaigns to stop mosques being built. Her "Halal Choices" website, she says, gets 80,000 visitors a month.

She says her objection is not to Islam itself but the extra cost she thinks is imposed on Australian consumers by companies paying to have products – everything from milk to pies and shampoo – certified halal.

Halal products are certified as being free from anything that Muslims are not allowed to eat or use (such as pork and alcohol). The products must be made and stored using machines that  are cleansed according to Islamic law.

Large processing plants will have Muslim staff members who are accredited in some instances to bless the factory. Halal slaughtering of animals in Australia is done after they are stunned.

Smith and her supporters claim halal certification is a scam by Muslim interests to raise money for mosques and therefore for "jihad." They base this assertion on media reports in France, Canada and the United States claiming certification funds had been paid to organisations linked to Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Yet neither Smith nor her unofficial patron, the Q Society, could elaborate on the Australian situation. "To the best of our knowledge no one has yet undertaken similar research," says Q Society's national president Debbie Robinson.

Mohammed Eris, the treasurer of the Supreme Islamic Council of Halal Meat in Australia, says he is "saddened" to hear regular accusations that Muslim halal certifying bodies funnel money to terrorism. His organisation has the contract with Coles to certify supermarket products. "We are Australians," he says. "I love my footy, my cricket, my meat pies. Halal pies of course."

He says the council has funded youth groups and non-Muslim youth cancer organisations such as the Starlight Children's Foundation Australia which supports children with cancer and their families. "We practise our beliefs but with respect for the others around us."

The Australian Crime Commission told NewMatilda.com  recently that no links were found between the "legitimate halal certification industry" and the "financing of terrorist groups".

Still, Smith maintains halal certification is a religious tax and jihad is more subtle than terrorism.

A significant amount of products in Australian stores are halal certified including food from SPC, Sanitarium, Cadburys, Nestle, Kelloggs, Master Foods, Mainland, La Ionica and Kraft. Supermarket chains such as Coles, Woolworths, IGA and Ritchies pay for certification for some products, as do dairy factories and meat processors.

According to the Q Society, 75 per cent of poultry suppliers, the four major dairy companies, 60 per cent of sheep abattoirs and more than half of Australian cattle abattoirs produce certified goods.

Still, the Australian Food and Grocery Council says halal certification costs are "negligible" and "highly unlikely" to change pricing.

One of the main things that Smith and the anti-Halal movement objects to is foods or products that are deemed intrinsically halal  – such as white milk, honey and nuts – having halal certification.

She claims certifiers put undue pressure on companies, blackmailing them with the threat of being branded anti-Islam or racist if they don't comply.

So far, South Australian dairy company Fleurieu has dropped its halal status – due to perceived negative publicity on anti-Halal social media pages – losing a big deal with Emirates Airlines in the process. It paid only $1000 to be certified. The costs of certification vary between $1000 for a small company to $27,000 a month for a large abattoir.

Prominent brands such as Four 'N Twenty, Kelloggs, Byron Bay Cookies, Cadburys and Pauls have been targeted in online anti-Halal campaigns but have stood firm, all stating that halal certification means they can export their product to Muslim countries.

Yet, behind the headlines, the booming halal certification industry is wracked by upheaval and recriminations both domestically and in export markets, with allegations of bribes paid by Australian certifiers to an Indonesian Halal agency.

The new Indonesian government has dismantled Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI) – the country's main Islamic body and halal controller –  which approves halal imports, shifting the goalposts significantly in a highly competitive $12 billion export industry.

The MUI has held a stranglehold on Australian halal exports by being able to dictate which Australian certifiers are favoured. But in one of the former Indonesian government's last acts, a new body – the Halal Product Assurance Organising Agency – was set up. It will be phased in over the next three years.

"The full impact on Australian exports will emerge only once detailed regulations are developed and implemented," an Australian department of agriculture spokesperson said. "The department will continue to work with the relevant halal-approving bodies in Indonesia to support Australian exports."

The bribery allegations were initially aired in Indonesian news magazine Tempo this year. Fairfax Media has established a Melbourne whistleblower wrote to three Australian government departments including the Federal Police in March telling them of corruption allegations between the MUI and Australian halal certifiers trying to firm up the lucrative export market in Indonesia.

The allegations include bribes paid to the MUI. Fairfax Media has seen an MUI contract sent to Australian certifiers requiring them to "contribute in activities for the halal product service in Indonesia".

A Department of Agriculture spokesman said: "The department is unable to comment on any investigation that may currently be underway."

Halal certification in Australia is dominated by four big Islamic groups – one in Melbourne and three in Sydney. They are the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, the unofficial peak body; the Halal Certification Authority Australia, the Supreme Islamic Council of Halal Meat in Australia and the Islamic Co-ordinating Council of Victoria.

There are 21 Islamic groups approved by the federal government to issue halal certificates but many – in regional areas – service only small meat processors. The big four, all classed as not-for-profit enterprises, do the bulk of the work across meat and non-meat products. 

Internationally, the halal market is valued in the trillions with 20 per cent annual growth, fuelled by a rising Muslim middle class in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia and the increasing reach of affluent Muslim travellers.

Big Australian certifiers are heavily regulated by the Australian Quarantine and Export Service (AQIS; a federal government body within the Department of Agriculture) but this covers only export products. Halal certification for domestic products, restaurants and butcher shops is unregulated. This is estimated to be about 10 per cent of the total halal market.

"I can make cheese in my little factory and get a local organisation to certify it halal," says Ahmed Kilani, who runs a Sydney halal consultancy and co-founded the website Muslim Village.

 "I could set up tomorrow to certify butchers and restaurants. I can charge whatever I want. Who certifies the certifier? It should be written into the law but it isn't."

Mohammed Khan, of certifiers Halal Australia, says he has been pushing the government for tighter domestic halal standards since 2008 with no traction. He says certain certifiers enjoy a state-by-state monopoly at the expense of other hopefuls.

In contrast, the big export certifiers are audited by the Australian government and also by Islamic governing bodies in countries that receive the products.

"These are mainstream organisations. They are not start ups," says Ahmed Kilani. Just "one local scandal," he says – misuse of funds or non-halal products being certified – could have a major economic impact.

"If a product is exported to say Indonesia or Saudi Arabia then the governments of those countries have whole departments full of scholars and food scientists looking closely at what happens. They are not going to give a backyarder permission to certify."

Under Islamic law, the money the certifiers earn is supposed to cover costs and if there is any left it goes to the Muslim community organisations that the certifying company is aligned with – mosques, schools and welfare groups.

Those who control the certification rights can also fund imams and bring preachers to Australia. Sydney-based Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) set up an Islamic school in Tarneit in Melbourne's west and an Islamic centre on Christmas Island for Malaysian Muslims, says chief executive officer Amjad Mahboob.

"The international halal market is huge," Mahboob says, "and Australia being a primary producer of food items means we are relied upon so it's very important the credibility of what we do is protected at all times."

Yet that credibility has sometimes been brittle. In 2003, a court case involving Shafiq Khan, an influential figure around Sydney's Supreme Islamic Council of Halal Meat in Australia, saw former supporters swear he had diverted without approval more than $1 million to charities, including his own Al-Faisal College, at the expense of constituent charities. Former Prime Minister John Howard opened the college in 2000. Mr Khan negotiated a settlement and agreed to return the money to the council.

In 2009, the Victorian Supreme Court found the Islamic Co-ordinating Council of Victoria (ICCV) had defamed a competitor in the lucrative halal trade, and ordered damages be paid.

Then in 2012 a Sydney Islamic school aligned to the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils was ordered to pay back $9m in NSW government funding after it was found money had been allegedly diverted to the federation the peak body for halal certification in Australia. "It is a matter that is before the court," said Mahboob. "We are disputing the [NSW] minister's findings."

This year, in a Federal Court trademark case it was revealed two Sydney kebab shops got free fake certificates from a wholesaler, which if they'd opted to buy them elsewhere would have cost $5000 each.

In Melbourne and Sydney, the certifying industry has begun to move away from predominantly Middle Eastern interests  towards businesspeople from Turkey and the Balkans.

An investigator familiar with the industry said it was a "highly competitive"  and "very incestuous" market. "It is riven with factions," he said.

Credibility can also be an issue to those seeking a boycott on halal products can also face. Theirs is a campaign that has been hijacked to an extent by extreme right-wing groups such as Restore Australia, the Australian Defence League and the Patriots' Defence League.

Last year, a Queensland woman was charged with food tampering after stickers stating that halal food funds terrorism were attached to coffee in a supermarket. The woman charged bought the stickers from former One Nation candidate Mike Holt -- who has raised funds for a contentious campaign to stop a mosque being built in Bendigo.

Kirralie Smith, meanwhile, says she is being courted by all kinds of small political parties to stand for Parliament.

"All of the minor parties have asked me to represent them. 'You have to be our senator,' they say, 'you have to be our candidate'. The Christian parties, the right wing parties. I really like [right-wing Christian Democratic Party politician in Sydney] Fred Nile, I think he is great. He would love me to join his party."

Early in 2015, Q Society will present a petition to federal parliament demanding the Corporations Act 2001 be changed to mean only Muslims bear the cost of halal certification on everyday products.

When pressed on the lack of evidence that Australian consumers are being ripped off by halal cartels – and that money raised funds nefarious activities – Smith says her  "primary focus" is lack of choices for consumers and she is "happy to be wrong" in her claims.

"I understand it is complex. I felt deceived that companies pay halal certification fees and there was no way as a consumer and an ordinary mum that I knew."


Australia’s future teachers could be lacking basic literacy skills

They already are

A new study has highlighted alarmingly low levels of literacy among undergraduates studying high school teaching, with the results suggesting the graduating teachers could have worse literacy skills than some of their future students.

Some of the would-be teachers who participated in the study did not spell one word correctly out of a list of 20, while only one third managed to get more than 50 per cent of the answers right.

Not one of the 203 student teachers from an unnamed Australian university were able to spell all 20 words correctly.

Published by the Australian Journal of Teacher Education, the study listed some of the more frequently misspelled words. They included 'acquaintance', 'definite', 'exaggerate', and 'parallel'.

The study, conducted by Dr Brian Moon from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, also found the university students struggled with the definitions of particular words.

The word 'candid' was given definitions including 'something hidden', 'burned sugar', and 'cooked in sugar'. Hyperbole was thought to be 'a poem' or a type of Jamaican fruit, and kosher was defined as 'a type of bean' and 'a weapon'.

Dr Moon writes that some of these guesses show "a tendency for subject specialists to make guesses that reflected their narrow knowledge base."

Dr Moon said these poor literacy results are a big problem.  "Analysis of the results showed high rates of error on general spelling and vocabulary tasks," wrote Dr Moon.

"The raw evidence of student performance on spelling, vocabulary and writing tasks still suggests that some graduating teachers have literacy skills below the ability level of the students they will be hired to teach."

The study pointed out while the accuracy – or lack of – in the student spelling tests is an issue, a closer look at how the students attempted to spell showed a range of problems with their 'personal literacy competence'.

"While the occasional near miss is to be expected, many of the errors reported here point to significant - and probably longstanding - deficits in spelling, vocabulary, and punctuation," Dr Moon noted.

"Many undergraduate students appear to have literacy problems so fundamental that remediation in the late stages of their degree program cannot hope to overcome a lifetime of poor literacy performance."

Dr Moon suggests setting a higher - or different - university admission standard for teaching degrees, but also working to fix this literacy problems much sooner in their school and university careers.

The Federal Government is due to release a report on possible improvements to teacher education soon.


The army of death

To a certain extent, Australia’s jihadist contribution to the Islamic State cause in Syria and Iraq is a self-solving problem. Our brave soldiers of Allah are evidently such incompetent warriors that they are being killed at almost the same rate as they arrive.

“The overall number of Australians currently fighting with or supporting Islamic extremist groups in Syria and Iraq has remained consistent over recent months,” ASIO deputy director-general Kerri Hartland told a Senate hearing earlier this month.

“However, this does not reflect a reduction in the number of Australian travellers. Instead it reflects the relatively high casualty rate for Australians, with the numbers of new arrivals roughly keeping pace with the fatalities.”

Keep it up, lads. Danish jihadists may be slightly more intelligent, not only surviving in greater numbers but also running back to Denmark after realising that glorious martyrdom is not a great long-term career choice. This presents obvious problems for Danish authorities, who besides dealing with an already-agitated Islamic minority in their small nation – less than one-quarter of Australia’s population – must now cope with extremists made even crazier by their Syrian frolics.

Police in the Danish port town of Aarhus have opted for the total wimp approach with their jihad returnees. “Rather than jail time, they’re given medical care for their wounds, a therapist for post-traumatic stress, and even help with homework and job applications. Their parents are also offered counseling,” reports Public Radio International.

So they are actually rewarding Islamic State extremists. It’s a “get ahead by removing heads” jihadi cuddle program.

“We see this as crime prevention,” Jorgen Illum, the police commissioner in charge of the ridiculous program, told PRI. “We want to prevent young people from becoming radicalised to an extent that they might be a threat to the society.”

Considering that they’ve already signed up for warfare, it might be a little too late to worry about further radicalisation. They’re already as radicalised as they can be. It might also be doubtful that Danish therapy and homework assistance can overcome some of the education programs being run for jihadists in Syria.

The Wall Street Journal‘s Maria Abi-Habib last week revealed the full horror of Islamic State’s training regimen for new recruits. For example, children as young as eight are given lessons in beheading – using captured Syrian soldiers as practice victims.

Abi-Habib spoke with former Islamic State fighter Jomah, who has since fled for Turkey. The 17-year-old described instructors bringing three terrified Syrians before the class and calling for volunteers to behead them."The youngest boys shot up their hands and several were chosen to participate,"Abi-Habib reports. “Afterward, the teachers ordered the students to pass around the severed heads.”

“It was like learning to chop an onion,"Jomah recalled. “You grab him by the forehead and then slowly slice across the neck.”

Good luck to any western authorities attempting to recalibrate blood-drenched graduates from Islamic State’s killbot colleges, although Jomah himself seems quite unmoved by his introduction to throat-slashing. “I’d become desensitised by that time,” he said. “The beheading videos they’d shown us helped.”

That’s nice of them.

Following 45 days of training and a 15-day post grad course, junior jihais are divided into roles that suit their particular levels of extremist madness: becoming suicide bombers, joining the battlefield, guarding military installations or serving as bodyguards. According to a 14-year-old ex-trainee interviewed by Abi-Habib,"the stupid ones were always chosen for suicide bombers.” Which possibly explains the high Australian fatality rate.

Those Australians who survive their jihadi holidays and crawl back to our country face less friendly treatment than is dished out by the Danes. “Obviously you don’t go off fighting in foreign lands –not as a member of the Australian Defence Force – and come back and think you are not going to be on our radar,” Queensland Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said last week. “And that’s because of the experiences that they have, and the skill set that they pick up by being involved in fighting elsewhere.”

Stewart continued: “There is a potential for those within the community to commit terror, a criminal act and I don’t think we can drop our guard for one second.”

This seems like a realistic approach. Even better, of course, would be to subject all returnees to the long jail sentences available under new counter-terrorism laws. Word of these laws is said to have convinced some jihadists to hide in Syria rather than return home, which is the best outcome of all.

Well, second best.


No comments: