Friday, February 27, 2015

Global warming: Australian deserts to expand as tropical circulation changes

Just modelling, which has so far always been wrong

Australia's deserts will expand southward and dry periods will lengthen as global warming alters key tropical circulations, according to new research by US scientists.

The researchers studied how the Hadley Circulation – the movement of warm air and moisture away from the tropics – will be affected if carbon-dioxide emissions continue to rise at the rate of 1 per cent per year.

They found evidence of a so-called "deep-tropics squeeze", in which regions closest to the equator will experience increased convection as air rises faster.

Conversely, the drier sub-tropical regions characterised by descending air and resulting high-pressure systems will expand, according to the research published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"Our results provide a physical basis for inferring that greenhouse warming is likey to contribute to the observed prolonged droughts worldwide in recent decades," the paper said.

Existing dry zones in Africa-Eurasia, south-west North America and much of Australia will face increased risk of drought, said William K.M. Lau, of the University of Maryland's Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Centre, and co-author of the paper.

"As inferred from the model projections, the global warming effect on expansion of deserts is likely to be already going on," Dr Lau told Fairfax Media.

The paper found that while some components of the Hadley Circulation will strengthen – resulting in increased rainfall in the deep tropics – ther elements will weaken. These findings will aid the understanding of the overall changes under way, he said.

"Detection of changes in the Hadley Circulation has been attempted by many previous authors, with no clear results whether it has strengthened, weakened or [had] no change," he said.

Steve Turton, a climatologist at James Cook University, said the PNAS paper adds to other research indicating the tropical belt is expanding, such as signs that the location of the maximum intensity of cyclone is shifting poleward.

An intensification of deep tropical rainfall would mean more rainfall for regions to the north of Australia, such as Indonesia, Professor Turton said.

A further expansion of the high-pressure belt, on the other hand, means more rainfall missing mainland Australia, and falling in the Southern Ocean instead. "It spells a pretty grim forecast for Australia," he said.

Rainfall is already on the decrease in southern Australia. Important winter rains over south-western WA have reduced by about a quarter since the 1970s, adding stresses to ecosystems and raising doubts about the prospects for wheat farming in the region, Professor Turton said.

Other regions reliant on monsoonal rains, such as the Indian sub-continent, will also likely see a disruption of rainfall patterns, he said.


Muslim Australia:  19-year-old man charged over 'wedding' to 15-year-old

A backyard Islamic marriage between an 18-year-old man and a 15-year-old girl was only discovered when the young bride took herself to a western Sydney hospital believing she had suffered a miscarriage, police allege.

Mustafa Abdel Ghany, 19, was charged on Wednesday with marrying a 15-year-old girl in the backyard of her father's Sydney home in November.

A sheikh allegedly officiated over the ceremony and the couple moved into a granny flat at Abdel Ghany's parents' home in south-west Sydney soon after.

Detectives from the Child Abuse Squad were alerted to the marriage when the 15-year-old attended Bankstown Hospital on January 20 believing she had suffered a miscarriage.

It is the first time the state's Child Abuse Squad has charged a man with marrying an underage girl.

Abdel Ghany was granted strict bail in Bankstown Local Court on Wednesday and ordered not to go near his wife, not to drink alcohol or take drugs and to abide by an Apprehended Domestic Violence Order taken out against him.

His 15-year-old wife, who cannot be identified, had stopped attending high school at the time of her marriage and was not working, police said in documents tendered to the court.

Her parents did not know where she had been living for the past four to five months and had had little contact with her when police spoke to them in January.

When her horrified mother found out about the union, she confronted the couple and was allegedly told by her new son-in-law that he would "finish" her.

"What's done is done. She's my wife. If you want to start a war, I'll finish it," he allegedly told the mother when she questioned why he married her daughter in such a manner.

Police allege that the bride's father, who was present when they married, told police they were simply engaged.

In early February, Abdel Ghany and his parents grew suspicious that his in-laws were speaking to the police.

An intercepted phone call allegedly revealed he planned to harm his bride's parents, police documents state.

In other phone calls, detectives also allegedly heard Abdel Ghany's parents telling him to move his wife's belonging out of the granny flat and into the main house to hide the relationship.

Just days ago, however, Abdel Ghany struck up a relationship with another woman while his young wife was visiting his family in Canberra, police documents state.

"Police allege the accused has stated that he is considering divorcing the victim," the documents state. "The victim is unaware of the extent of the [new] relationship and is hoping that she and the accused will continue to live as husband and wife."

Abdel Ghany, who was 18 at the time of the marriage, denied that the ceremony took place when interviewed by police on Wednesday and has denied having sex with the 15-year-old girl.

A recent report estimated there were around 250 child bride cases across Australia.

NSW police made their first child bride arrest last year.

A 26 year-old man was convicted of several sexual abuse matters after marrying a 12-year-old girl in a backyard ceremony. The imam who oversaw the marriage was also convicted.


Disability Support Pension under fire as bill to write welfare cheques hits $3 billion per year

MOTHERS, young people and women over 65 will be encouraged to get off welfare and into work under proposals being considered by the government.

On the same day he delivered a major report into welfare reform, Social Services Minister Scott Morrison outlined three areas he was keen to pursue in the May budget and beyond.

Parents, especially single mothers, should be encouraged to work by making child care more affordable and simpler, he said.

Minister for Social Services Scott Morrison addressing the National Press Club.

“Because it’s good for their families, it’s good for their income, it’s good for their support,” Mr Morrison told the National Press Club on Wednesday.

And young people should be either learning or earning and prevented from a life of welfare dependency through early intervention programs similar to those in New Zealand.

Mr Morrison said the system needed reform, but would not be drawn on whether he was likely to accept advice to reduce the number of welfare payments to just five.

That is a recommendation of the McClure welfare review which argues for a tiered working-age payment, supported living pension, child and youth payment, carer payment and the age pension.

The minister said long-term reform should not be rushed, but wanted to lay the groundwork for Australians to start thinking about necessary, but hard, changes.

“What we sew now in apathy will be reaped in a future harvest for generations who will not get the safety net provided by those who went before us,” Mr Morrison said.


Queensland moves to bring back homosexual civil unions

QUEENSLAND will reintroduce state-sanctioned civil union ceremonies for gay couples.

As The Australian reported during the recent election campaign, same-sex relationship registrations fell two-thirds in the three years since the Newman government watered down civil union laws by scrapping commitment ceremonies.

Today, Queensland’s newly minted Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath confirmed Labor would honour its election commitment to reverse the policy change.

“It’s something that I’m getting briefings on as we speak,” Ms D’Ath told Fairfax Radio.

“We have made it clear we will change it back. We’re putting in place (measures) to do that now.”

It’s not known when the Palaszczuk government will address this issue. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk will visit Governor Paul De Jersey tomorrow to decide when the first parliamentary sittings will occur, and the rest of the year’s parliamentary schedule.

In 2012, when civil unions were rushed through parliament by the former Bligh Labor government, 466 couples affirmed their relationships.

Following the Newman government changes in mid-2012, another 138 homosexual couples formalised their relationships.

In 2013, 227 gay couples registered their relationship. Last year, that had dropped to 184. To January 13 this year, four relationships were registered.

Throughout the period, 4677 heterosexual couples have also registered their relationships.

During the campaign, Ms Palaszczuk also committed to maintaining laws on altruistic surrogacy and no euthanasia.

The LNP’s changes to Queensland’s civil-union laws meant the state is in line with NSW and Victoria in having no official ceremonial recognition. Couples in the ACT and Tasmania can opt for a ceremony.

The legislative changes followed lobbying from the Australian Family Association during the 2012 election campaign and a private meeting between Mr Newman and the Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, Mark Coleridge, the day before the legislation was introduced.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Training dummies as teachers is not the way to get good teaching

I agree with Christopher Bantick below but he fails to ask WHY dummies are being accepted as teachers.  It's because most really capable people have a fair idea, if only from their own education, that teaching in many government schools is not a pleasant experience.  The low standards of discipline that are allowed to prevail these days can even be dangerous to teachers.  So a requirement for high standards in teachers would simply mean that not enough of them would be recruited.  "Child-centered" approaches sound wonderful but can result in bedlam in the classroom. 

I once taught in a "progressive" (no overt discipline) High School (Chiron College) so I saw what happens. The brighter half of the pupils did well enough -- mainly due to parental encouragement to learn, I gather -- and the less bright half learned nothing at all, though their skill at playing cards improved.  Like so many of its ilk, Chiron college is no longer in business.

I note that the "Summer Hill" school founded by A.S. Neill along "progressive" lines is still surviving -- but as a boarding school only.  So the parents would generally be affluent and like the parents of the students who did well at the school where I taught. So the big lesson is that "progressive" education is not suitable as a mass system but rather something that can work for the children of elite families with a strong interest in education. 

So there are two solutions to low standards in government schools:  Return to traditional standards of discipline and traditional ("chalk and talk") teaching methods.  Only then will the teaching experience once again be positive enough to attract brighter teachers.

In the meantime, there is a tried and proven but mightily resisted  strategy that does work:  Large classes.   There are SOME good teachers and large classes would allow them to spread the benefit of their talents more widely.  Small classes are the holy grail of teaching unions but the research shows that they are beneficial  only at the very earliest ages.  See  here and here  and here and here and here.  By contrast, many Australian Catholic schools in the past had class sizes as big as 60 and yet got results that would be envied today.

ANOTHER report into teaching and another missed opportunity. The report by the Teacher Education Ministerial Advisory Group, tabled last week, repeats the well-worn mantra that teachers are not good enough. The way to improve teaching is to insist on high academic ability on entry. This is not one of the report’s recommendations.

Instead, you have the head of the review into teacher training, Australian Catholic University vice-chancellor Greg Craven, saying the problem is in the university training of teachers. This is disingenuous in the extreme.

Universities can only educate those they accept. If students are admitted with low Australian Tertiary Admission Rank scores to universities, then this is who they educate. Harsh as it may sound, academically, you can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. You can’t make a great teacher out of someone who is not academically excellent.

Why teachers fail in the classroom is because they are not, bluntly, bright enough to cope with academic subjects and able students. To this end, the universities have not failed in their preparation of teachers, but they have failed spectacularly in permitting teachers to be trained with substandard ATAR scores.

Only NSW has set a benchmark for teacher entry of at least 70 per cent in three subjects including English before they can qualify for registration.

The Australian Education Union, the peak representative body of teachers nationally, has argued sensibly for a clear lifting of entry requirements. The AEU’s criticism of the review’s failure to recommend high ATAR scores is wholly correct.

“An ATAR score is not the only thing that makes a good teacher, but we need to recognise that a teacher’s academic ability is important and that we need some minimum requirements,” AEU federal president Correna Haythorpe says of the review’s shortcomings.

The AEU is not alone in sharing its disquiet. The Australian Primary Principals Association — a long-time critic of low reception academic standards for teachers — says in a submission to the review that the applications for education degrees need to be “in the top 20 per cent of the population” in terms of academic performance. In other words, a minimum ATAR of 80 before admission is considered.

Moreover, the Office of the Chief Scientist, in a submission to the TEMAG review, was explicit, saying — rightly — that “teaching was not an attractive option” for the “top school-leavers”.

The comparison is damning when teacher applicants with ATAR scores of more than 80 are compared to science and engineering. Teaching draws less than a fifth of Year 12 offers to top ATAR achievers. Science and engineering achieve upwards of 70 per cent.

If this was not enough evidence, an Australian Council for Education Research report found the top-performing systems internationally depend on the entry cohort: “All high-performing education systems recruit their teachers from the ablest students.”

It makes no sense that outstanding teachers can be produced if they are academically incompetent. It also makes no sense that the TEMAG review recommends new teachers “pass a national test placing them in the top 30 per cent of the country for literacy and numeracy”.

This is absurd. If ATAR scores were high, then clearly the students accepted into teacher training would already be adequately literate and numerate.

But what worries me as a teacher heading towards four decades in the classroom is the federal government’s persistence in blaming teachers for its own failings in handling teacher education.

Teachers are the easy beats of education policy. It is an emotive argument and a good one — if your main game is to divert attention away from issues such as funding and family breakdown, and a generation that has difficulty reading anything longer than a tweet.

No matter, the TEMAG review has put accountability squarely back at the universities’ door and has threatened closure of substandard courses. It is quite comfortable about substandard students applying.

Craven, palpably avoiding the critical issue of entrance requirements, says: “We are laying down a huge gauntlet here. There is no doubt that some courses are substandard and will have to improve to survive.”

Craven is chairman of the review and vice-chancellor of the ACU, which has one of the lowest entry requirements for teacher education in the country.

This in itself raises a significant concern. Teaching has become a milch cow for commentators and critics who have either never spent time in a school or whose experience of schools is outdated and ossified.

Everyone has a view, but few have actual present classroom experience.

Independent schools, the system where I work, have always looked for the best teachers academically. It is no accident that independent schools dominate university entrance in courses such as law and medicine.

It is an indictment on Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s competence to handle his troubled portfolio that he has endorsed the review’s recommendations and simply ignored the pressing and obvious need for higher ATAR scores for teachers who enter universities.

It beggars belief that Pyne, at the Australian Council for Educational Leaders’ inaugural Hedley Beare Memorial Lecture, said he is demanding “more rigorous selection” to teaching courses but this does not include minimum academic standards. So misguided is the Minister for Education in his ideas on teacher education that he has sullied Hedley Beare’s place in educational thinking, saying standards are “just not good enough” and that some teaching courses “lag way behind in quality”.

The central issue for both the review under the misguided chairmanship of Craven and the recommendations parroted by Pyne is just how they are going to produce not just good teachers but truly great teachers who are dumb bottom feeders on ATAR scores.


No voters prosecuted despite 7000-plus cases of suspected voting fraud in the 2013 federal election

Not a single person will be prosecuted for multiple voting at the 2013 federal election – even those who admitted to casting more than one ballot paper.

Australian Electoral Commissioner Tom Rogers said he was "disturbed" that of the nearly 8000 cases of suspected voting fraud passed to the Australian Federal Police, not a single case has been forwarded to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Of the 7743 suspect cases referred to the AFP, just 65 were investigated and not one will progress to conviction.

Mr Rogers told a Senate estimates committee that the file passed to the AFP included voters who had actually admitted to voting at more than one polling station and cases where the offence had been denied but there was supporting evidence that they had.

Mr Rogers told senators at a hearing on Tuesday night that the legislation enabling the prosecution of voting cheats needed to be overhauled to protect the "perception of integrity" of Australia's voting system.

"I'm the commissioner and I'm disturbed by the numbers I'm telling you this evening," he said.

"I'm uncomfortable with the current situation."

He said the AFP had advised the commission that it would require greater evidence, such as closed circuit surveillance cameras in polling places, to secure prosecutions.

"The main inhibitors are the lack of corroborative evidence available … I've done about as much as I can do with the issue of multiple voting. We've referred more multiple voters to the AFP than, I think, ever before in the history of the AEC," Mr Rogers said.

"There is clearly an issue with the process and it does concern me."

He said it would cost an extra $60 million per federal election to introduce electronic technology that flags when someone has already voted elsewhere, trialled in the 2014 Griffith byelection.

Senator Dean Smith said the integrity of the voting system was of paramount importance and referred to the "raw anger" among his Liberal Party colleagues when a bungle by the commission forced a fresh Senate vote in Western Australia following the 2013 federal election.

The stuff-up ended the career of Mr Rogers' predecessor, Ed Killesteyn. The WA vote resulted in the return of Greens' senator Scott Ludlam and a third Palmer United Party senator, Zhenya 'Dio' Wang.

Special Minister of State Michael Ronaldson said the Electoral Commission had briefed him on the problems with prosecuting multiple voters and the matter will form the subject of a submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters.


Islamic State: Australia poised to send additional troops to Iraq for joint training mission with New Zealand soldiers

A commitment of additional Australian troops to Iraq, likely to number in the hundreds, is imminent, sources have told the ABC.

Australia already has 200 special forces personnel in Iraq and it is understood the extra troops will be part of a joint mission with New Zealand to train Iraqi soldiers.

New Zealand prime minister John Key announced on Tuesday the deployment of 143 personnel to Iraq.

This morning, the Chief of the Australian Defence Force Air Chief Marshall Mark Binskin said Australia had not yet decided the nature of a further commitment.

"I and my New Zealand counterpart have worked very closely on developing options that were put to both governments," he told a Senate committee.

"The Government of Australia is yet to make a final decision."

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said there had been talks about an additional contribution from Australia.

"It's been well known for some time that we have been talking to our allies, we've been talking to the Iraqis about what more we could do to assist the Iraqis to reclaim their own country," he said.

"We are talking to our friends and allies.

"Obviously that includes the New Zealanders about what more we can do to help the Iraqi security forces and I'll have more to say in the next day or so."

In an address yesterday to the New Zealand parliament, Mr Key told his countrymen the deployment would be alongside Australian soldiers.

"This is likely to be a joint training mission with Australia, although it won't be badged an ANZAC force," he said.

We are looking at this very closely, it is under review by our National Security Committee but I won't pre-empt any announcement.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop
Officially, the Australian Government has remained tight lipped.

However, Mr Key's announcement of extra troops would not have come as any surprise to the Government or Defence officials.

My Key's speech to Parliament was widely flagged as long as two weeks ago, and the New Zealand defence minister has been in Australia in recent days.

The ABC understands Mr Key phoned Mr Abbott on Monday night ahead of his announcement.

Defence Minister Kevin Andrews welcomed the New Zealand decision during Tuesday's Question Time.

Asked by the ABC if it would mean sending additional Australian troops, a spokesman for Mr Andrews said that Australia's commitment was "always under active consideration".

"Australia continues to talk to Iraq, the US and our other partners about what we can do to support the Iraqi government," the spokesman said.

"No decisions have been taken by the Government to deploy additional personnel."

But the cat may have been out of the bag long before New Zealand's announcement.

In early February, after visiting Australia for the Australia-UK ministerial talks, British foreign secretary Phillip Hammond flew on to New Zealand.

Asked there by reporters about whether the Kiwis should send troops, the New Zealand Herald reported that Mr Hammond said Australia was keen to have New Zealanders join a training mission.

"They are looking at now engaging a training mission – which they are committed to do – which would need another 400 people," he reportedly said.

"They are desperately keen that a contribution to that 400 is coming from New Zealand."

The United States welcomed New Zealand's decision to send troops to Iraq.

"As one of our partners in the coalition, New Zealand has already provided substantial humanitarian assistance to Iraq and Syria," state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.

"We value the contributions and efforts of all partners in the mission as we work together on a multifaceted and long-term strategy to degrade and defeat ISIL."

Mr Key's announcement makes for awkward political timing for Mr Abbott.

Mr Abbott is due to make his first visit to New Zealand as Prime Minister on Friday.

It would be highly unusual for the Prime Minister to commit to sending troops abroad while himself on foreign soil.

If, like Mr Key, he is to make an announcement in Parliament, he has two sitting days remaining.


Anger as Bill Shorten claims ‘injustice’ for David Hicks

DAVID Hicks trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and described Osama bin Laden as a brother — and yet Opposition Leader Bill Shorten labelled what he did as “foolish” and said he suffered an “injustice”.

With the terror alert at its highest level, Mr Shorten leapt to the defence of the man who former PM John Howard yesterday declared “revelled in jihad”.

Mr Shorten’s comments were also slammed by Liberal MP Andrew Nikolic, who served as a brigadier in the Australian Army in Afghanistan.  “I am appalled by Mr Hicks’ ­actions,’’ he said. “I am also troubled by the failure of the Leader of the ­Opposition to call him out on it.”

Mr Shorten said yesterday: “David Hicks was probably foolish to get caught up in that Afghanistan ­conflict, but clearly there has been an ­injustice done to him.”

Mr Nikolic, who served as a ­brigadier in the army, said: “By his own admission, David Hicks trained and fought with Islamic terrorists such as al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.  “Why is Bill Shorten giving ­succour to David Hicks as someone who he says was merely ‘foolish’ to get ‘caught up’, as if he was some ­wide-eyed innocent abroad rather than a trained terrorist?”

Mr Shorten’s comments came after a US military court quashed a ­terrorism conviction against Mr Hicks on a technicality because his ­actions were not a crime under US or Australian law at the time.

When asked if Mr Hicks was due an apology, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he would not apologise for doing “what was needed”. He said Mr Hicks “was up to no good on his own admission”.

Attorney-General George Brandis said Mr Hick’s actions would today “fall within the scope” of terror laws.

Mr Hicks was detained in US ­detention camp Guantánamo Bay in Cuba from 2001 until 2007 and was convicted of supporting terrorism.

Liberal backbenchers pounced on Mr Shorten’s comments, prompting him to clarify his view late yesterday.

“There’s no doubt Mr Hicks was associating with known terrorists, and that’s absolutely deplorable,’’ he said.

Mr Howard, prime minister at the time Mr Hicks was held in Guantánamo Bay, said the US decision to quash the conviction did not alter the fact Mr Hicks was involved with al-Qaeda.

“The US verdict is about the legal process in that country,’’ a spokesman for Mr Howard said in a statement. “Nothing alters the fact that by his own admission, Hicks trained with ­al-Qaeda, met Osama bin Laden on ­several occasions describing him as a brother. He revelled in jihad. He is not owed an apology by any ­Australian government.’’

Asked yesterday why he was in ­Afghanistan Mr Hicks replied: ­“Having a holiday.”


Lies about wind turbine safety from Leftist public broadcaster

ACOUSTIC expert Steven Cooper is considering launching legal action against the ABC’s Media Watch program for its portrayal of him and his research on the effect of the Pacific Hydro wind turbines on local residents.

On the February 16 edition of Media Watch host Paul Barry dished out a stinging criticism of Mr Cooper’s seven-month study conducted at Cape Bridgewater in southwest Victoria — and the ­reporting of it by The Australian’s environment editor Graham Lloyd and Network Seven’s Today Tonight.

However, in damning the report, the Media Watch team hand- picked a group of pro-turbine ­“experts” — with no real expertise in the field — ignored submissions from genuine acoustic experts, misrepresented Mr Cooper, ­selectively and incorrectly quoted the National Health and Medical Research Council, ignored balancing quotes in the newspaper ­reports and made a number of factual mistakes.

Following his utter disbelief at Media Watch’s misrepresentation, as well as pending legal action, Mr Cooper has also sent a letter to the ABC demanding a retraction.

“Media Watch should be investigating themselves because in that very article they presented so much information that was incorrect and not factual,” Mr Cooper told The Australian.

Media Watch opened its attack on the first paragraph of Lloyd’s January 21 front-page story which states: “People living near wind farms face a greater risk of suffering health complaints caused by the low-frequency noise generated by turbines, a groundbreaking study has found.”

Barry said: “Well, not according to several eminent scientists we talked to and, remarkably, not according to Steven Cooper, the study’s author, who told Media Watch: ‘No, it’s not correct ... You can’t say that noise affects health from this study’.”

Media Watch’s blatant misrepresentation of Mr Cooper is one of the key reasons for his letter ­demanding a retraction and ­pending legal action.

Media Watch selectively quoted the Cape Bridgewater report author to give the impression he rejected certain things in both the Today Tonight report and The Australian’s article when in fact he does not.

Mr Cooper told The Australian his comments were completely taken out of context by Media Watch.

Mr Cooper said by giving his answer in isolation and not explaining the broader context, Media Watch had deliberately misrepresented the facts.

He said that when you looked at all the evidence — not just his report — Lloyd was completely right in his opening.

What the Cooper study found was that sensations, including sleep disturbance, were occurring with specific wind conditions leading to acoustic results.

So despite Media Watch’s nicely edited and manufactured contradiction between the pair, Mr Cooper actually believes Lloyd “is the best journalist writing about wind turbines in Australia”.

In a written response to The Australian, prior to the Media Watch episode, Mr Cooper said: “The study does shows a link between the operation of the wind farm and the disturbances reported by the residents. There is a trend not a correlation (because there is not enough data and that wasn’t the brief). However, one can take the reports of the residents who form the view there is a link to their health impacts.”

Media Watch next marched out it’s so called experts to the tune of, “So how come The Australian and Today Tonight got it so wrong?”

Today Tonight wasn’t given much of a chance to defend itself against that allegation as it was not contacted for comment by the show. Today Tonight Adelaide producer Graham Archer told The Australian he was disgusted at the way Media Watch conducted itself and the way it misled the public.

“They didn’t contact us and I would have thought that was the very minimum of journalistic ethics to call somebody to at least give them a chance to respond to whatever the allegations were, I thought that was pretty shoddy,’’ he said.

“Media Watch were taking a particular point of view that went beyond a critique of the media and they were actually pushing a particular barrow and I’m not sure that’s their role.”

Media Watch’s first “expert” was the head of medicine at Adelaide University, Professor Gary Wittert, who said: “The way The Australian reported this study was really the antithesis of good science reporting. I think a newspaper like The Australian should know better.”

Mr Cooper, and other properly qualified acoustics experts, have said The Australian’s reporting of the study was correct in every ­respect.

What Media Watch failed to report was that Professor Wittert has repeatedly given expert evidence to court cases stating that the ­nocebo effect rather than infrasound and low-frequency noise are directly causing the reported symptoms but Mr Cooper’s data from his acoustic investigation suggests Professor Wittert’s ­expert opinion is wrong.

Other experts lined up to slam the report included the Australian National University’s Jacqui Hoepner and Will Grant, who wrote about it for The Conversation. Grant has a PhD in politics and Hoepner is a journalist and neither has either acoustic or medical training.

Then came the most damning of them all, Sydney University’s professor of public health, Simon Chapman. Professor Chapman is also neither an acoustician nor a medical practitioner.

Professor Chapman has declined to ever directly investigate or visit people immediately affected by wind turbines and, despite this, is happy to refer to them very publicly on Twitter as “anti-wind farm wing nuts”.

He is, in fact, an expert on cigarette advertising, a sociologist and a vocal advocate for the wind ­industry.

And this is the supposedly unbiased “expert” Media Watch lined up to say: “Scientifically, it’s an absolutely atrocious piece of research and is entirely unpublishable other than on the front page of The Australian.”

When The Australian’s Gerard Henderson wrote to Media Watch to ask why it had chosen Professor Chapman in support of the view that “scientifically” there was no proven causal link between wind farms and illness, Media Watch producer Timothy Latham replied: “I am comfortable quoting a professor of public health on the matter, who has previously written on wind farms and health concerns and has, according to his CV, a PhD in medicine.”

Chapman is not a medical practitioner. He has previous told people his PhD is in sociology. It was on the topic of “Cigarette Advertising As Myth: A Re-Evaluation Of The Relationship Of Advertising To Smoking”.

When Henderson pointed this out to Latham he replied: “I outlined in my previous email as to why I believe Simon Chapman is qualified to talk about health and wind farms. Therefore no correction or clarification is required.”

The opinion of Media Watch’s “experts” is in stark contrast to those actually trained in the field who understand the significance of what the Cooper study found.

The Cooper study has been reviewed by some of the world’s most highly qualified acoustic experts who were quoted by The ­Australian.

Dr Bob Thorne, a psycho-acoustician who is qualified to assess health impacts from noise and is considered an expert witness in court, said in a written statement that the Cooper report was “groundbreaking” and had made a “unique contribution to science”.

US acoustics expert Robert Rand, the principal of US-based Rand Acoustics, said in a peer review of the Cooper study: “The correlation of sensation level to wind turbine signature tone level in the infrasonic and audible bands brings wind turbine acoustics right to the door of medical science.’’

And after the broadcast, in a line-by-line appraisal of The Australian story, Ray Tumney, principal acoustics engineer with RCA Acoustics, told Media Watch every aspect of it was “true and ­accurate”.

This is some of what he said: “None of the above in the Lloyd article is misleading or inaccurate nor is it overly emotive by ­comparison with current media practice.

“So the only reason for Media Watch to take this on is if Media Watch is simply unable to accept the outcomes of the (Cooper) study and presumably believes that the study is flawed and Mr Cooper is incompetent. This was certainly the impression given by the MW presentation.

“I submit that MW is not qualified to make such a judgment in such a complex technical area and has gotten carried away with itself in this instance because of its own paradigms and beliefs. My view is that for whatever reason MW has lost its objectivity in this case.”

But what is particularly alarming about the program was that Media Watch researcher Flint Duxfield deliberately ignored the large pool of positive reviews about Mr Cooper’s study.

The Australian has written evidence Duxfield was made aware of the significance of the Cooper report in direct interviews with Mr Rand, but did not make that information available to Media Watch viewers.

In an email to colleagues following the Media Watch program, Mr Rand said he had told Media Watch that after the Cooper findings: “It would be unethical of me as a member of Institute of Noise Control Engineering to wait for the years required for such careful medical research work to be ­completed. I have sufficient correlation already from the neighbours’ reports and affidavits and the measurements done thus far to inform others for designing properly to be good acoustic neighbours.” Media Watch did not disclose this information.

Media Watch ’s attempt to discredit the study — and prove why it should not have been headline news — was also riddled with ­errors.

Barry attacked the tiny sample — three households and six ­respondents. But in his peer review of the Cooper research, Dr Paul Schomer, director of acoustics standards and chairman of the American delegation to the International Standards Committee, said: “It only takes one example to prove that a broad assertion (that there are no impacts) is not true, and that is the case here.

“One person affected is a lot more than none; the existence of just one cause-and-effect pathway is a lot more than none. The important point here is that something is coming from the wind turbines to affect these people and that something increases or decreases as the power output of the turbine increases or decreases.”

Barry didn’t bother reporting Dr Schomer’s comments or professional qualifications but said there was what scientists call selection bias, because all those people already had health problems which they blamed on Pacific Hydro’s wind farm at Victoria’s Cape Bridgewater, 1.6km or less from their homes.

But the The Australian has written advice from a professor of epidemiology that selection bias was irrelevant when the study design is identical to a prospective case series with a crossover component, where people are their own controls, and what varies is their exposure to operating wind turbines.

Media Watch was advised of this but did not disclose it on air.

Barry said all those involved in the study knew if the wind farm was operating because they could see the blades. Here again he is wrong. Mr Cooper said the subjects could not see the blades — especially when they were inside their homes, in their beds, and woken up from a sleep.

This is at best a pointer to Barry and his team not reading the research and at worse false reporting to make a point. Duxfield has admitted to Mr Cooper he “skimmed” the report.

If misrepresentation, hand-picking evidence, dodgy reporting and industry-invested “experts” with no qualifications were not enough, the less than 10 minute segment was littered the errors.

Media Watch blankly asserted that Mr Cooper’s theories were dismissed by a Senate inquiry into wind farm noise in 2011.

Wrong — Mr Cooper didn’t give evidence in the 2011 inquiry.

He did give evidence to the 2012 inquiry chaired by Doug Cameron which had two dissenting reports.

Media Watch pointed out that Today Tonight and The Australian “also omitted to tell us that, as Professor Chapman puts it, there are 24 high-quality reviews about wind farms and health, and overwhelmingly they have been found to be safe”. Again any thorough research would find this is not true. Many of the reviews Professor Chapman cites state there is not a lot of scientific evidence.

The National Health and Medical Research Council recently reviewed 4000 pieces of literature and found only 13 were suitable for evaluation and said none could be considered high quality. As a result it said the impact of wind turbines on health remained an open scientific question and that it would call for targeted, high quality research. A priority area is low frequency and infrasound.

But to bend the facts even further to its cause, Media Watch then selectively quoted the NHMRC to give wind turbines a clean bill of health.

The program failed to tell viewers the NHMRC position is that the quality of existing research is poor and that it will fund more high-quality research.

The show chose only to say the NHMRC had declared: “There is no consistent evidence that noise from wind turbines ... is associated with self-reported human health effects.” In fact what the NHMRC statement said was “there is currently no consistent evidence that wind farms cause adverse health effects in humans”.

It is a subtle but very important difference and the NHMRC went on to conclude: “Given the poor quality of current evidence and the concern expressed by some members of the community, there is a need for high-quality research into possible health effects of wind farms, particularly within 1500 metres.”

NHMRC chief executive Warwick Anderson, in a conference call with journalists, said: “It is important to say no consistent evidence does not necessarily mean no effect on human health.

“From a scientific perspective I see the question as still open.’’

Media Watch admitted an error with its reporting of the NHMRC statement but “stands by it’s story and the expertise on those quotes”.

The program said the Pacific Hydro Cape Bridgewater wind farm acoustic study was just that, an acoustic study.

In its presentation Media Watch failed to make available relevant and available information that would have allowed viewers to arrive at a conclusion other than one predetermined by it.

It misquoted authorities, bent facts, wheeled out pro-industry experts and hand-picked evidence in a report full of mistakes.


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Newspoll: Abbott Government primary vote rises; Bill Shorten’s personal approval rating drops to new low

UPDATE: PRIME Minister Tony Abbott says he feels young and vigorous and at the height of his powers after the latest Newspoll showed support for the Coalition has risen to a four-month high, while Bill Shorten has crashed to his lowest ever personal approval rating.

Newspoll taken for The Australian shows the Coalition’s primary vote rose three points in the past fortnight to 38 per cent, while Labor’s fell three points, also sitting at 38 per cent.

On a two-party-preferred basis, Labor still leads but the Coalition has closed the gap.

Two weeks ago the Coalition trailed 43-57; today’s Newspoll show a tightening to 47-53 per cent.

Mr Abbott was asked by the Nine Network’s Today host Karl Stefanovic if it felt good to be alive this morning.

“Well, look, Karl you know what it is like to be young and vigorous and at the height of your powers, and that’s exactly how I feel,” he said.  “There are some mornings we don’t feel like that but that is certainly how I feel this morning.”

The percentage of people who were satisfied with Mr Abbott’s performance as Prime Minister rose slightly to 25 per cent, while his high dissatisfaction rating was unchanged at 68 per cent.

But Mr Shorten took a big personal hit, with the percentage of people satisfied with the way he was doing his job as Opposition Leader falling to a record low of 35 per cent, down from 42 per cent.

Those dissatisfied rose to 49 per cent.

The poll was taken over the weekend, when Mr Abbott was in the news talking about his response to terrorists.

It comes two weeks after a vote in the partyroom to spill Mr Abbott’s leadership was defeated 39-61.


Rogue cop admits unlawful assault, dangerous driving and making a false report

But prosecutors want only a slap on the wrist for him

A ROGUE police officer who slammed his patrol car into a motorist, roughed him up, falsely imprisoned him and then lied about it in official reports should only be fined, according to the OPP.

The Melbourne Magistrates’ Court today heard award-winning police officer Kieran John Atkin, 32, had a “brain snap” when he rammed his patrol car into the car of Hillside motorist Anthony Vittori in August 2013.

Former senior constable Atkin — who joined Victoria Police in 2003 — was initially charged with perjury, perverting the course of justice and assault, but today pleaded guilty to reduced charges of unlawful assault, dangerous driving and making a false report.

Atkin and his partner Brennan Roberts began following Mr Vittori when they noticed him driving an unregistered vehicle and followed him home.

Vittori accidentally backed into the patrol car outside of his home, then tried to drive in to his driveway when Atkin drove the patrol car into the right rear side of the car, spinning it around and destroying a post box.

Vittori was then roughed up and falsely arrested for conduct endangering life, spending about five hours in the police lockup.

“Atkin’s false version of events has resulted in the man’s false imprisonment for a number of hours,” said magistrate Charlie Rozencwajg.

The incident was filmed on Atkin’s own dash-cam, and the footage was seized after internal affairs investigators raided his office.

Atkin — who was awarded the Tynan Eyre Medal for highest achievement at the Police Academy, resigned from the force last November and has since been stacking supermarket shelves.

He plans to move to Byron Bay.

Mr Rozencwajg said he was “extremely surprised” the Office of Public Prosecutions was seeking only a fine and conviction given the serious nature of the offending.

Mr Rozencwajg also criticised police for taking so long to lay charges.

Atkin will be sentenced next week.


Why parents should stop helping their kids with homework

I am not sure about the "research" reported below but there do seem to be some sensible suggestions

Homework is the cause of many suburban screaming matches and thousands of grey hairs. Many parents feel like they’re going through school a second time around as they sit down with their children each night and help with their homework.

The average Australian 15-year-old spends six hours a week doing their homework, according to the OECD. And a recent Australian Childhood Foundation survey found that 71 per cent of Australian parents feel like they don’t spend enough quality time with their children, because they spend too much time running the household or helping with homework.

Now several education experts are urging parents to stop helping. They say it will give their kids more independence, give parents back their free time and help reduce the number of homework-related arguments at home.


There is extensive research proving that homework has little academic benefit, says associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Sydney and author of Reforming Homework, Richard Walker.

“There isn’t much academic benefit in homework for primary school children. There are some benefits for junior school students and around 50 per cent of senior high school students show some benefit when it comes to academic achievement. But not for primary school kids,” he said.

Psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg agrees: “Homework provides absolutely no academic benefit for younger students.

“And parents are demanding it in larger and larger doses, despite the fact that it does nothing. It’s a completely different ballgame in secondary school, but not in primary school.”

But research does show that doing homework helps kids develop “self-directed learning skills” — in other words — initiative, independence and confidence.

Also, homework helps to solidify a sense of belonging and autonomy. It gives kids a sense of control over their lives.

Homework has minimal academic benefits for primary school children.

Homework has minimal academic benefits for primary school children. Source: Getty Images


Associate professor Walker says this sense of autonomy is taken away when parents get too involved in homework help.

“If parents are over controlling and interfering then that really has a negative effect,” he said.

“Some involvement is good for self-directed learning, but if they get too involved and the kid loses their autonomy then it becomes a problem. I think parents have to pull back.”

He says many parents are exerting too much of what he calls “emotional labour”.

“Parents are often tired after a long day at work and having to put in the emotional labour to assist their kids with homework can be quite a burden.”


Education expert from, Ciaran Smyth, says parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.

“You don’t have to be the ultimate expert in everything. Children need to put their hands up for help and parents also need to ask for help. There’s no reason to be stuck. Use your resources — teachers, tutors — just ask.”

Online tutoring services such as — where students can seek help from accredited teachers in a live typed chat from 3pm after school — can help take the pressure off parents.

“I’ve seen so many arguments between parents and children about homework. By removing the burden of having to be the homework help the whole time, parents can reduce the number of arguments, the tension and the bad feelings that come from having to hound your kid all the time.”

If someone else is doing the hard yards helping out with homework, that leaves parents free to do other things and spend more quality (read: argument-free) time with their children, Mr Smyth said.

Parents who get too involved in their child’s homework are doing more harm than good.

Parents who get too involved in their child’s homework are doing more harm than good. Source: Getty Images


Given the lack of evidence to support the academic benefits of homework in primary school, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says primary schools should stop giving kids traditional homework exercises and instead equip them with important life skills.

Some schools are already getting on board.

St Michael’s Grammar in Melbourne asks students to play board games such as Scrabble with an adult and photograph the board as proof.

“Or they choose and cook a recipe for dinner and photograph the results — all of which helps with literacy and important life skills,” Dr Carr-Gregg said.

“These are much more pleasant family interactions than homework. Childhood is hard enough as it is without putting the stress of homework on them.”

Dr Carr-Gregg urges parents to “rise up against the tyranny of primary school homework”

“I’m frustrated that schools aren’t responding to the research. I would be putting it on the parents to educate the schools about what is the current thinking around homework. Homework is not being set correctly at the moment. It’s very poorly coordinated.

“If the school is consistently not receptive to the idea, I would write over my kid’s homework, ‘Sleep was more important, I gave them permission to do this’. I really do want parents to act as their kids’ advocates.”


Monday's 'pension increase' a side show to the real reform needed

 Age pensioners woke on Monday morning to the news that 770,000 of them would be getting a pension increase. Scott Morrison, Minister for Social Services, was on ABC Radio National claiming "...part-pensioners will receive an average increase in their payments of $3.20 a fortnight, $83.20 a year".

While one would have thought that a modest pension increase would be welcome news to the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), Executive Director Cassandra Goldie, said "It is extremely disappointing that...the government appears to be prioritising people with investment assets".

The truth is that the $200 million pension increase to begin later in March is neither middle class welfare nor part of the Abbott government's "...plan to support pensioners deal with rising costs of living...", it is nothing more than the routine operation of the pension means test.

It is not the dividends and coupon payments earned from financial assets such as shares and bonds that are means tested. Since 1996 these assets are 'deemed' to earn a rate of return and it is this 'deemed income' that is included in the income test -- regardless of the amount that was actually earned.

The advantage of deeming is that it provides pensioners with some certainty regarding their pension payments rather than leaving them exposed to short-term fluctuations in market returns. By treating all financial investments in the same way, pensioners are encouraged to choose investments on merit rather than on their implications for their pension entitlement.

Under current deeming policy, a single person's financial assets of less than $48,000 are deemed to earn 2%, while assets over this amount are deemed to earn 3.5%. For couples, the rates are the same but the threshold is $79,600.

As of March 20, both deeming rates will be lowered by 0.25%. Lower deemed income means higher pension payments for part-pensioners.

While the deeming threshold is indexed to the Consumer Price Index the rates are set at the discretion of the Minister of the day, on advice from the Department of Social Services, and "reflect rates of return available on a range of financial products".

Since the last revision of the deeming rates in November 2013, the yield on 10-year Commonwealth bonds has fallen by just under 1.5% and, despite recent growth, the All Ordinaries has been trending sideways for much of this time.

It is therefore difficult to argue that Monday's announcement was aimed at "prioritising people with investment assets" though Goldie's assertion that "Those affected are by and large better of...than those relying on the full pension" is correct -- in as far as 'better off' refers to those with greater (assessable) assets.

With the Age Pension projected to account for 12 per cent of the growth in total spending over the medium term there can be no doubt that there is need for pension reform. Unfortunately, Monday's events have shown how the least controversial aspects of pension policy are so easily politicised.


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Prime Minister Tony Abbott vows to crack down on terrorism in Australia and overseas

AUSTRALIANS who attempt to join up to death cult terrorist groups abroad will be stripped of their citizenship under dramatic new laws to be brought before the Parliament within weeks.

In the first national security address by an Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott this morning warned that the risk of domestic terrorism was unprecedented in the country’s history and now posed a clear and present danger.

Announcing controversial changes to citizenship laws in light of the 110 known Australians to have joined the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the PM said dual nationals would be stripped of their Australian citizenship if found to be involved with terror groups.

Australian nationals would also face losing citizenship privileges including being allowed to return to Australia, access to consular services and prohibition of travel.

“Today, I am announcing that the Government will look at new measures to strengthen immigration laws, as well as new options for dealing with Australian citizens who are involved in terrorism,” the PM said in an address made at the Australian Federal Police headquarters in Canberra.

“We cannot allow bad people to use our good nature against us. “The Government will develop amendments to the Australian Citizenship Act so that we can revoke or suspend Australian citizenship in the case of dual nationals.

“It has long been the case that people who fight against Australia forfeit their citizenship.  “Australians who take up arms with terrorist groups, especially while Australian military personnel are engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq, have sided against their country and should be treated accordingly.

“For Australian nationals, we are examining suspending some of the privileges of citizenship for individuals involved in terrorism.

“Those could include restricting the ability to leave or return to Australia, and access to consular services overseas, as well as access to welfare payments.”

The PM also confirmed that the extremist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir would be outlawed.  “Organisations and individuals blatantly spreading discord and division — such as Hizb ut-Tahrir — should not do so with impunity,” he said.

“Today, I can confirm that the Government will be taking action against hate preachers.  “This includes enforcing our strengthened terrorism advocacy laws.  It includes new programs to challenge terrorist propaganda and to provide alternative online material based on Australian values.  “And it will include stronger prohibitions on vilifying, intimidating or inciting hatred.

Releasing the findings of a review of the country’s national security architecture, Mr Abbott confirmed that ASIO was now monitoring 400 “high priority” national security cases with several thousand “leads” being investigated.

As revealed by The Daily Telegraph, Mr Abbott announced a new counterterrorism taskforce and co-ordinator to bring the various spy and policing agencies under one umbrella.

“Australia has entered a new, long-term era of heightened terrorism threat with a much more significant homegrown element,” he said.

“On all metrics, the threat to Australia is worsening. The number of foreign fighters is increasing, the number of known sympathisers and supporters of extremists is increasing, and the number of potential terrorists, including many who live in our midst, is rising as well.”

“We have seen the beheadings, the mass executions, the crucifixions and the sexual slavery in the name of religion.

“We know that these are testing times for everyone here — and for everyone sworn to protect democratic freedoms.

“We have seen our fellow Australians — people born and bred to live and let live — succumb to the lure of this death cult.

“Last September, the National Terrorist Threat level was lifted to High, which means a terrorist attack is likely.

“Critics said we were exaggerating.  “But since then, we have witnessed the frenzied attack on two police officers in Melbourne and the horror of the Martin Place siege.

Mr Abbott confirmed that at least 110 Australians have travelled overseas to join the death cult in Iraq and Syria.  “At least 20 of them, so far, are dead,” he said.

“I can’t promise that terrorist atrocities won’t ever again take place on Australian soil.  “But let me give you this assurance: “My Government will never underestimate the threat.  “We will make the difficult decisions that must be taken to keep you and your family safe.”


Let Baldwin speak: #Gamergate chalks up a victory in Australia

On US campuses, disinvitations are all the rage. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), calls to disinvite allegedly controversial speakers have increased fourfold since 2000 - a sad reflection of the intolerance of our times. Little wonder, then, that some young zealots are trying to extend their mania for censoring views they dislike beyond the realm of universities.

The most recent target of this was Adam Baldwin, the sci-fi and action star, who is due to appear at the Supanova Pop Culture Expo in Sydney and Perth this summer. An online petition calling on the organisers to revoke Baldwin’s invitation hit the news in Australia last month after it gained over 5,000 signatures.

The petitioners had plenty of reasons to dislike Baldwin. He is famous, not only for his acting roles, but also for his disdain for the professionally offended, a group he likes to call the ‘insects of the hour’. Most infuriating to his opponents, however, is the fact that he coined the term #Gamergate, a Twitter hashtag which has become the rallying point for one of the most effective fightbacks against cultural authoritarianism in recent memory. Gamers, united by the hashtag, have chalked up a string of anti-censorship victories over the past few months, beating back boycott attempts, reversing bans on ultra-violent games and ensuring blacklisted titles met their fundraising goals.

Now, it seems #Gamergaters can chalk up another victory. In response to the call to disinvite Baldwin, they created a counter-petition urging Supanova not to cave in to the professionally offended - and it worked. Writing on the Supanova Facebook page, event director Daniel Zachariou stated categorically that ‘excluding someone for their views, even if we don’t share them, goes completely against the spirit of the expo that we’ve presented all these years’. The post also acknowledged the importance of the rebel gamers, noting that, as well as the original petition, there was a ‘second group call[ing] just as loudly to make sure [Baldwin] remained our guest’. In a subtle swipe at the intolerance of political bigots, Zachariou added that ‘inclusiveness is at our very heart’.

Naturally, the bigots took to social media, creating the #SupaNoThankYou hashtag to voice their displeasure. But Twitter is no longer the sole property of the professionally offended, and gamers quickly took over the hashtag. It only took a few hours for the gamers to change the tone from stern outrage to nonsensical mirth-making.

It’s a shame that Supanova had to feel the pressure of a counter-petition before making its final decision. Political tolerance should always be the default option, and should not be overridden by the whims of vocal minorities. That said, the organisers should be applauded for their strong statement against political bigotry - it is an important message that will now serve as a healthy precedent.

And we must also, of course, applaud the gamers - that digital anti-censorship army that continues to impress. Who would have thought that hashtags and online petitions, the chief weapons of the new authoritarians, could be so easily co-opted?


Morrison should reconsider charities backdown

New facts have vindicated Kevin Andrews's strong position on abolishing the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission (ACNC), just as his successor as minister for Social Services has backed away from that Coalition election promise. 

The ACNC boasts that it has deregistered more than 6,000 charities in its first two years of operation. But according to the Guardian Australia this week, only six charities have had their charitable status revoked for illegal activity or for failing to comply with regulations.

The rest-the vast majority-either chose to be removed from the charity register voluntarily or were deregistered because the commission could not locate them. The latter case usually means that the charity in question has ceased to exist. Charities go out of business all the time, and if a charity has no assets to dispose of, it often simply dissolves without bothering to notify the federal government of its closure.

The ACNC was an unprecedented intrusion on the part of the federal government into the realm of civil society. Never before had the not-for-profit sector been subject to its own dedicated federal regulator. You might assume, therefore, that this new regulator was created in response to some particular problem that indicated to the federal government that the sector was not sufficiently regulated before. But no such problem was ever pointed out.

As far back as 2012, Kevin Andrews asked proponents of the new charity commission to explain "the mischief that requires this new monolithic regulatory structure". My 2014 paper Independent Charities, Independent Regulators expressed the same scepticism.

The revelation that only six charities have been deregistered for bad behaviour proves that this scepticism was well warranted. If fraud and wrongdoing are such minor problems in the sector, surely we didn't a multimillion-dollar new regulator with unprecedented powers over charities' internal operations in order to police it.

Scott Morrison has announced that he has "no immediate plans" to continue his predecessor's push to replace the ACNC with a less burdensome body. He should reconsider.


Climate change will halve inflow to SA's biggest reservoir Mount Bold, Goyder Institute warns

More baseless prophecy.  The graph below shows that, if anything, rainfall has been INCREASING in recent years

The flow of water into the biggest reservoir in South Australia is expected to halve over the next century, scientists say.

The Goyder Institute has released climate change modelling for South Australia which paints a bleak picture.

The data includes modelling that Mount Bold reservoir, the state's largest water catchment just south of Adelaide, will see a big reduction in inflow.

As a changing climate brings hotter weather and less rainfall by the end of the century, the scientists say the reservoir will be dry at times.

Institute director Michele Akeroyd says the Onkaparinga catchment which feeds Mount Bold reservoir will change significantly in the next few years.

"The worst-case scenario indicates a halving of inflows into the Onkaparinga catchment over the century. That is against the high emissions scenario, and if you look at the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) data, we are actually tracking on that scenario at the moment," she said.

The SA climate change projections are the product of a five-year study. Previous reports took a statewide view, but the latest report details likely effects for various regions.

Goyder report warns:

SA average annual rainfall could decline 7.8 - 17.4 per cent by end of century.

The Goyder Institute said the changing climate would see the Goyder Line move further south.  The Goyder Line is a line drawn across maps of SA to indicate a rainfall boundary beyond which the inland is considered unsuitable for agriculture.  Rainfall north of the line is considered unreliable for cropping and only suitable for grazing.

The Goyder Institute said the modelling's best-case scenario was carbon emissions maintained at current levels. That would still reduce the inflow to Mount Bold reservoir by one-third by the end of the century.


Monday, February 23, 2015

The BOM bombs

They've got global warming assumptions built into all their models so are bound to get things wrong

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has defended the Bureau of Meteorolgy's forecasting after the rapid escalation of Tropical Cyclone Marcia caught most by surprise.

TC Marcia had been forecast to be a Category 1 or 2 as it approached the Queensland coast but quickly gained power and was a Category 5 – the most powerful classification – when it crossed the coast near Shoalwater Bay.

Ms Palaszczuk said the Bureau had been monitoring the situation and providing regular briefings as TC Marcia intensified as it made its way to the coast.

"This is something that they have never seen before as well, going from a low pressure system to a (Category) 1 all the way up to a 5," she said in Yeppoon on Saturday afternoon.  "They'd never seen this in their lifetime, so this was a rare event.  "Now, they're going to go back and look through all the research and try to work out how that happened so quickly.

"But can I just assure everyone, the Bureau of Meteorology, they did everything that they possibly could and they were getting that information out to residents as soon as that information came to hand."

Ms Palaszczuk travelled to central Queensland on Saturday afternoon to receive briefings from emergency responders and inspect the damage.

Standing outside a ruined house in Yeppoon, the Premier said she had spoken with Prime Minister Tony Abbott and requested army assistance, as the rebuilding effort was beyond local capabilities.  "What we can see is right up and down this street and around this community, is the absolute complete devastation," Ms Palaszczuk said.  "These families just want to rebuild their homes and get back in and that's what we have to do. "We need to make sure that we do that as quickly and as thoughtfully as possible."

Ms Palaszczuk said it was likely that power would be restored to the region earlier than first thought. "What we are seeing is some early signs that the power will start coming on very shortly, so that is encouraging," she said.  "But, it will be gradual, so once again people do need to be patient, because it may not be their home that comes on straight away.

"Our priority is to make sure that we've got the generators coming in to both of the communities, to make sure that they can get those essential services up and running."

Localised flooding was reported across south-east Queensland, but Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk said the city was fortunate to have missed out on the forecast 120km/h winds.

Still, the Queensland capital was not completely unscathed.  "We have had very little trees and vegetation come down," Cr Quirk said.  "…We are on the tail end of these cyclonic conditions and Brisbane has coped pretty well.  "There has been some pretty high creek levels, but by and large, we have coped pretty well."


Solar experts claim multi-billion dollar subsidies wasted on cheap and dodgy panels

More Australians are buying cheap rooftop solar panels that fail long before their promised lifespan, prompting claims a federal rebate scheme needs to be overhauled to prevent dodgy systems receiving public subsidies.

Solar industry experts say lax rules covering the scheme – which provides incentives of up to $4350 for a $5500 rooftop system –  mean it is not always delivering the environmental benefits promised.  

They blame an explosion of cheap, mainly Chinese-produced solar panels that have flooded the market over the past five years that are failing to provide the 15 years of clean power expected. Installers in four states told Fairfax Media that the worst systems stopped working within 12 months, with others "falling apart" within two or three years.

Problems reported include silicon that cannot stand up to the Australian sun, water egress in panels, fires and defective inverters. The term "landfill solar" is used in the industry to describe dodgy solar systems of uncertain origin.

A recent Choice survey found, while more than 80 per cent of solar system owners were satisfied with what they had bought, 17% of owners of Chinese-made solar systems and 11 per cent of those with a German inverter had experienced problems of some kind.

Peter Britten, technical director at Brisbane-based Supply Partners, said he logged a complaint with the Clean Energy Regulator last May alerting authorities to "blatant loopholes" in the system, but he said his complaint had been brushed aside.

Jarrod Taverna, of Adelaide Electrical Solar & Security, said Chinese manufacturers like Yinglit, ET Solar and Trina were reputable producers, but much of the production that ended up in Australia was outsourced to other factories.

"The quality has gone down in the last few years. The market is more competitive and they are cutting corners to protect profitability," he said.

"Most of them you're lucky to get 10 years, but some of them are falling apart after 12 months. We're seeing a lot more faults now because Chinese-made panels are becoming more prevalent."

The rebate system, backed by both major parties and overseen by industry body the Clean Energy Council, pays the same amount regardless of the quality of the system. A rooftop system in Melbourne attracts a $3705 rebate whether it is a low-quality "tier 3" product or a European-made "tier 1" system made to last 25 years in extreme conditions of Australia.

The rebate is higher in areas with greater sunlight, reaching $4350 per unit in Sydney and Brisbane.

Australia now has more than 1.3 million households powered by solar, making it the biggest market for small-scale systems. Since 2009, $1.6 billion has been paid out to encourage take up through what are known as "small-scale technology certificates".

The certificates have to be purchased by electricity retailers, which pass the cost on to all consumers. Last year the solar scheme was responsible for about 2 per cent of household electricity bills.

Installers say the faults in the system include that the rebate is paid upfront and does not have to be paid back if a system only produces a few years' power, and that there is no limit on the number of rebates a consumer can access.

They say it has encouraged some installers to offer cheap systems of questionable quality at prices that are virtually free to the buyer once the rebate is factored in.

Clean Energy Council chief executive Kane Thornton played down the scale of failures and warned against blaming production faults on systems from one country.

He said the "Chinese success story" had led to prices for solar tumbling dramatically, allowing more households to invest in green energy.

"If someone is getting a subsidy there is an expectation that the benefit to the environment and society equals or outweighs that cost. There are cases of systems not running for 15 years and people have got rid of them, but from our point of view most will run for 25 years," he said.

"There are cases that come up just like in any industry, but failure rates are low."

Bill Yankos, from Bexley in Sydney's south-west, bought a solar system and encouraged seven members of his family and friends to do so. Of those, inverters in five of them had failed within 18 months.

"We were lucky that the electrician replaced them but I know some people have been left with a warranty and no one to honour it," he said.

Matt Vella, of MPV Solar in Gladesville, said: "The tier two and three guys shouldn't be allowed into the scheme unless they have runs on the board. There should be more regulation about which systems are allowed to claim the 15-year rebate."

Melbourne solar installer John Alberti, who installs top quality systems that cost his customers up to $12,000 and also works as a trouble-shooter assessing panels installed by others, said the industry had been "all but destroyed" by shoddy operators.

"You find corrosion, rust, they're flimsy," he says. ``The lamination on the back of the panel has come away and water gets in. But most of the time they're not generating the kind of wattage that was promised."

After Mr Alberti or one of his four staff conduct an investigation on failing panels, they write a report and advise the consumer to contact the panel supplier "to see if they will stand by their performance guarantee and replace the panels. But generally, because the warranty is held offshore, what are your chances? Next to none".

Mr Alberti suggests consumers ask suppliers for a flash test report on their panels  to indicate the wattage for which a penal is rated. He said consumers also needed to establish where the warranty for a product was held. ``If there warranties are held in Australia and there is a problem, you can lodge a complaint with the [consumer watchdog]... otherwise, there is nowhere to go."


Trans Pacific Partnership. What's the deal being negotiated in our name?

Unlikely to get through the current Senate without big carve-outs

When The Lancet and the Australian Medical Journal editorialise against Australia's next free trade agreement it's a fair bet they are concerned about more than just trade.

The Trans Pacific Partnership is the biggest free trade agreement hardly anyone's ever heard of. Bubbling along below the radar for half a decade, it's about to become solid. It is set to deliver much more money and power to US pharmaceutical companies, to criminalise the use of technology in ways that presently don't attract jail time and to set up outside tribunals to reconsider decisions already made by Australian courts.

Taking part is almost 40 per cent of the world's economy - the industrialised nations of Australia, Canada, Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand, Chile, Mexico, the United States and Japan and the less developed nations of Malaysia, Peru, and Vietnam. If China joins later (as expected) it'll be nearly 50 per cent.

It has reached the point where Australia's trade minister Andrew Robb is prepared to put a date on it. "I think it could be ready next month," he says, before adding that there have been slippages before. It was meant to be signed in 2011.

"The meeting we held in December was the first time I witnessed a change from people being predominantly exercised about their own sensitivities to being prepared to find middle ground," he says. "A lot of decisions at the last two meetings were made in areas we previously hadn't been able to touch."

Increasing the pace is the imminent US election season. If there isn't an agreement within the next few months before it starts, political positioning will prevent the US sealing a deal until 2017 when the new president is in place.

Mind boggling in its complexity (the US takes 80 specialists to each negotiation, Japan 120, and Australia 22) the negotiating text is secret. Robb says even most of the negotiators don't know what's in the whole thing. Each knows about little more than the chapter they are working on and there are more than 20 chapters. The text won't be made public until after the leaders shake hands, as is typical in international trade agreements.

But what is known, from draft chapters leaked to Wikileaks and from the generally more open US political system, suggests that it's about far more than trade.


When the US negotiated its 2004 free trade agreement with Australia it pushed to eliminate "price controls", by which it meant the prices set by Australia's Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. What it got was an independent review process which had no authority to overturn decisions. Public health expert Dr Deborah Gleeson of La Trobe University says it's only been used twice. For the TPP the US wants something much stronger, the right to appeal against decisions and have them overturned. It would apply to decisions about both the prices charged for drugs and which drugs to include in the scheme (and in similar schemes in other countries).

Among Australia's most expensive medicines are so-called biologics - drugs or vaccines made from living organisms. They are used to treat conditions including breast cancer and multiple sclerosis. To get approved in Australia the manufacturer needs to submit data from clinical trials which remains confidential for 5 years, and is then available to competitors to use in seeking approval for much cheaper versions. The US wants signatories to the TPP to lift the period of exclusivity to 12 years, which is what it is in the US. It would mean up to 7 more years of very expensive biologic medicines in Australia before the prices drop. Gleeson and colleagues reckon the extension would cost Australia more than $205 million a year. Most of the money would go to US owned pharmaceutical companies.

A relatively rich country such as Australia can afford to send more money to the US for its medicines. Poorer nations such as Malaysia, Peru and Vietnam would find it harder.

Robb responds by saying the critics don't know what will be in the final agreement.

"They might know what the US position is but there are 11 other countries, right? A lot of us are waiting to see what the rest of the package looks like. We're not going to give up on something unless we get something somewhere else."

It's that flexibility, the fear that health protection measures could be traded away to get something else that worries organisations such as the Australian Medical Association.

It says the US wants "industry" to have a guaranteed right to contribute to national nutrition policy making in member countries. It would mean letting the food industry help draft anti-obesity campaigns.

If the tobacco industry had been given the right to help draft anti tobacco campaigns they would have taken place later and been less effective.


Australia is currently being sued in an international tribunal by Philip Morris Asia after the tobacco giant lost its case in the High Court against Australia's plain packaging law. It is only able to do that because of an investment treaty Australia signed with Hong Kong. Philip Morris moved its Australian business to Hong kong to take advantage of it.

So-called investor-state dispute settlement procedures are common in international treaties. The US has insisted on them in all its free trade agreements but one. Australia is the exception. The Howard government said no in 2004 arguing that Australia's legal system was good enough to resolve any disputes it would have with the US without the need for an outside one.

This time the US wants a universal system. The previous Labor government refused to have them in any of its trade agreements and believed it was on the verge of getting a carve out for Australia in the TPP because of its strong judicial system. But shortly after taking over the new trade minister, Andrew Robb said he would instead consider agreeing to them on a case by case basis, depending on what he got in return. The statement weakened Australia's ability to get a carve out.

High Court Judge Robert French has complained that the judiciary is being frozen out of the decision making process. It knows more than any other branch of government about what allowing outside appeals beyond the High Court would do to the legal system, but he says as far as he knows, he hasn't been asked.

Intellectual property

The US is demanding extreme extensions in copyright terms. Already in the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement it secured an extension from 50 years after the author's death to 70, something former productivity Commission economist Philippa Dee believes cost Australia $88 million in extra copyright payments. Now it wants to make 70 years universal in those countries that don't have it and to extend the copyright on movies and sound recording from 70 years after publication to 95 years. And it wants to turn into criminal offences breaches of copyright that presently attract only civil penalties.

Robb says none of this is known, in part because the decisions haven't yet been taken, but leaks from inside the negotiations suggest that most of the intellectual property chapter has been finalised.

What's in it for us?

An Australian National University study of the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement found there was very little in it for Australia. A recent US department of agriculture study found it would deliver a zero economic benefit to Australia and a zero economic benefit to the United States. For smaller nations the economic benefits are bigger which may explain why they are eager to join and why the US is driving a hard bargain on intellectual property and the rights of its pharmaceutical industry.

Robb is more optimistic. He says we'll like the agreement when we see it. It'll have to go to parliament. Until then he says we'll have to trust him.


Sydney Siege Review Calls for Tougher Laws

Review says Sydney gunman ‘consistently misled immigration authorities’

An Australian government review into a siege at a Sydney cafe in December has recommended tougher visa rules and gun laws, while also declaring there were no notable shortcomings by authorities in the lead up to the event.

Two hostages were killed after a lone gunman took control of the Lindt Chocolate Café, just a few minutes from Sydney’s Opera House and Harbour Bridge, sparking a massive police operation that shut down large swaths of the city. A total of 18 people were held captive during the siege.

A joint review of the incident by the state and federal governments decided “measured changes to laws and government processes,” from tighter visa and citizenship rules to tougher firearms regulations and bail laws, were needed to mitigate risks to public security.

“The review found that there were no major failings of intelligence or process in the lead up to the siege,” said a joint statement by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Mike Baird, the premier of New South Wales state. Still, “we must do everything we can to prevent anything similar happening in future,” they said in the statement Sunday.

An inquest last month heard cafe manager Tori Johnson was killed moments before armed police stormed the building in Sydney’s central business district in the early hours of Dec. 16, bringing to an end the 17-hour siege. Initial evidence also indicated that another hostage, Sydney barrister and mother-of-three Katrina Dawson, was killed by fragments of a police bullet or bullets when officers stormed the building, it heard.

In September, Australia’s government raised the national-terror-alert level to high, from medium. At the time, Mr. Abbott warned of potential threats against lawmakers and the Parliament building in Canberra.

Gunman Man Haron Monis, a 50-year-old self-proclaimed Shiite cleric with a history of run-ins with Australian law enforcement, held hostages at gunpoint and forced them to put up an Islamic flag in the cafe window during the Sydney siege. Mr. Monis, who was also killed as police stormed the cafe, had earlier entered the cafe as a customer.

While Mr. Monis was on the radar of police and national agencies, he was never deemed a security threat, the review found.

“Mr. Monis consistently misled immigration authorities, including when he secured the initial visa he used to come to Australia,” the statement by Mr. Abbott and Mr. Baird said.

“Because it is possible this could still happen, the review recommends tightening up visa and citizenship processes and laws, including improving the risk assessment policies and information verification processes which inform revocation of visas or citizenship.”

It also recommended counterterrorism officials step up work to recognize signs of radicalization and improve identity proofing procedures.

Mr. Abbott ordered the review after it was found Mr. Monis was free on bail despite a long history of violent behavior and extremist views, and was in possession of a weapon despite stringent gun controls.

He had earlier been granted bail after being charged with accessory to murder in connection with his ex-wife’s death. He had also been found guilty by a court on charges related to offensive letters he sent to the families of deceased Australian soldiers, and had also been charged with sexual and indecent assault.

Last month’s inquest heard that, throughout the siege, Mr. Monis carried a sawn-off pump-action shotgun. The review, which found he never had permission to own a gun in Australia, consequently called for the strengthening of the National Firearms Agreement—laws that restrict legal possession of automatic and semiautomatic firearms in Australia and demand people who keep firearms be licensed.

The state government will meanwhile also look at ways to reduce the number of illegal firearms in New South Wales, it said.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

School nurses in Queensland

It has just come to my attention that Annastacia Palaszczuk made a big thing during her election campaign of her intention to reinstate the school nursing service.  See a report from 29 January below. She was silent about who axed the service but all the commentary on the matter that I have been able to find implied that it was the conservative Newman government who abolished the service.  But it was nothing of the sort.  The axing was in 2011 and who was in charge then?  Anna Bligh, a Labor party premier.  She was defeated in 2012. See here for what I wrote about it at the time. 

Leftists very rarely take responsibility for their stuff-ups.  All follies are blamed on the other side and the other side's triumphs are claimed by them.  Note how the abolition of the White Australia Policy is routinely attributed to Gough Whitlam when it was in fact abolished by the Liberal Party's Harold Holt. And in the eulogies accompanying the death of Whitlam, I saw nobody admit that  Whitlam's eulogized free university policy was abolished not by the conservatives but by Bob Hawke, a Labor party Prime Minister.  And so on ...

And here's some fun: the 2011 floods in Brisbane were clearly caused by bureaucratic mismanagement of Brisbane's  big flood-control dam -- Wivenhoe.  And that mismanagement happened under the Bligh Labor government.  The resultant huge claim for compensation has been wending its way through the courts for some time now so should come to a head under Annastacia's time in office. Where will she find the money to pay the billion-dollar bill?  It's going to be amusing.  Major backflip on asset sales predicted

Campbell Newman had been faced with the unpleasant task of defending  Labor party folly.  He is now off that hook.  The Labor party will have to face the consequences of its own mismanagement.   Background:  To save  money, the Bligh Labor government was using the dam for water storage -- thus leaving little reserve capacity for flood control.

The vacant Anna Bligh had lots of money to pay an army of bureaucrats but for water storage and flood control, not so much

State Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk has blitzed eight electorates in one day, releasing one policy and promising another will be unveiled on Thursday.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, meantime, has rolled out more promises in the lead-up to Saturday's state election, pledging to spend $295 million on level crossing upgrades.

Ms Palaszczuk said a Labor government would spend $12 million on hiring specialist school nurses over four years if elected.

She said the nurses would help identify any hearing and vision problems in schoolchildren.

"These are specialist nurses so they are not just your standard nurses that you would have in the hospital, so they are specialist, they provide testing in relation to hearing and vision, also provide advice on nutrition and some stages can provide early diagnosis that then can be referred to the hospital," she said.

"This is about getting in early, this is about tackling the issue to make sure our kids get the best start in life.

"We have been listening to what the parents have had to say and they have been absolutely furious that the school nurses have been axed in this state."


Lessons from the David Hicks case

There's some things David Hicks could teach other "foolish" young men who fancy heading overseas to a conflict zone for military training.

That they could end up being cleared of a terrorism offence isn't one of them.

Indeed, if Mr Hicks trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan now, instead of in 2001, he would end up caught in a stronger web of counter-terrorism laws.

There's much to learn from the Hicks case in terms of the challenge Australia will face dozens of times in the future, Monash University professor Greg Barton says.

"We're going to have Australians coming back from the likes of Syria and Iraq and northern Africa," he says.

"And we're going to have to look at young men who like Hicks made really foolish decisions and did some wrong things, but have come to realise that they did something wrong.

"We have to look at how we rehabilitate and bring those people back into the mainstream. That will play a role in preventing others from being radicalised."

The US military points out that Mr Hicks voluntarily admitted he trained at al-Qaeda's Farouq camp and Tarnak Farm complex in Afghanistan, met Osama bin Laden and joined al-Qaeda and Taliban forces preparing to fight US and Northern Alliance forces near Kandahar in September 2001.

"I have met Osama bin Laden 20 times now, lovely brother, everything for the cause of Islam," Mr Hicks wrote to his family in May 2001.

What he did then was not a crime. It is now.

Australia has a more comprehensive legal regime to deal with the types of situations Mr Hicks found himself in, ANU professor of international law Don Rothwell says.

"If Mr Hicks was to find himself in Syria for example at the moment or Iraq and engaging in these types of activities with ISIS or ISIL, the Australian legislation is now much tougher," he said.

"We're looking at a completely changed legal scenario to that which existed in 2001."

Prof Rothwell adds that in 2001 the US was very interested in scooping up people such as David Hicks to gain as much intelligence and understanding of the Taliban and al-Qaeda as they could following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"That dimension of the threat to the US homeland that existed post-September 2001 and the need to detain all of these people in Guantanamo so they could be subject to interrogation and intelligence gathering, a lot of that scenario has now quite significantly changed over the course of the last 10 or 15 years," he said.

Prof Barton says there's a lot more clarity under current legislation about what happens if someone goes to an area controlled by a proscribed terrorist group.

"There is real doubt about what Hicks knew he was doing at the time, what he understood of al-Qaeda, what his motivation was, et cetera," he said.

"That's not to excuse him. But if somebody went back in current circumstances, much more knowing circumstances, it would be very different.

"Even technology - social media, internet connectivity - means that somebody travelling now to Syria or Iraq is not afforded that excuse, for example.  "They should be expected to be held to account for understanding their actions in a way that is quite different in Hicks' case."

It's unclear whether Mr Hicks himself recognises he did anything wrong.  He believes he was a victim of politics.  "It's just unfortunate that because of politics I was subjected to five-and-a-half years of physical and psychological torture that I will now live with always," he told reporters.

His lawyer Stephen Kenny stepped in to answer reporters' questions about what Mr Hicks was doing in Afghanistan.

Yes, he was there. Yes, he did military training there.  "He was not doing it for the Australian army or the Australian government, but it was not a crime," Mr Kenny said.

Mr Hicks later told reporters he was "having a holiday" when he was captured in Afghanistan, and his critics would "never be happy".

Mr Kenny said Mr Hicks had been declared innocent by the US Court of Military Commission Review, which vacated his 2007 guilty plea to providing material support to terrorism, and it wasn't a technicality. 

"It will be the end of people calling him a terrorist," he said.  "Frankly, he should never have been in Guantanamo Bay."

Mr Hicks' successful appeal of his conviction was predicated on a US appeals court's 2014 decision that material support for terrorism was not a legally viable charge in military commissions for conduct that occurred before 2006.

Federal Attorney-General George Brandis notes that Mr Hicks' admitted activities occurred before Australia's 2002 and subsequent counter-terrorism laws.

"The type of activities that Mr Hicks has admitted to, including training with al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations in Afghanistan, would likely now fall within the scope of Australian terrorism laws," Senator Brandis said.

Prof Barton said the treatment Mr Hicks endured while held in Guantanamo Bay and the way the legal case against him was carried out were wrong.

"It's clear that Mr Hicks was a foolish young man who got himself into trouble training in Afghanistan," he said. "He's not without fault on that front. But what he went through for five-and-a-half years can't be justified."

There is a long struggle ahead in countering violent extremism, Prof Barton warns, and that requires a more sophisticated approach than what's been employed until now.

"What is clear now is that al-Qaeda and its derivatives have been very effective in mounting a sustained uncertainty at the global scale.  "Groups like Islamic State are the latest manifestation of that and we will be battling them and battling their recruiters and their radicalisers not just on the fields of Iraq and Syria but in our suburbs."


PM Tony Abbott’s fumbles may see Premier Mike Baird drop his election

NSW Premier Mike Baird strikes a chord with the electorate but an almost irrational backlash against the federal Abbott government is destroying the harmonics.

If current trends continue through to the March 28 state election, the unthinkable could happen. The popular Baird could lose government just as his conservative colleagues in Victoria and Queensland were recently swept from office.

A senior Liberal told me that in the worst case result ­extrapolated from polling suggested the Liberals could lose up to 23 seats, putting them within one or two seats of outright defeat.

NSW Liberal Party director Tony Nutt denies the polls are that bad. He says the Liberals are still on course to win though he admits federal politics in the remaining weeks could affect the outcome.

Assuming Baird holds power but suffers significant damage, the pressure would be on Prime Minister Tony ­Abbott’s leadership. He would inevitably be challenged and he would lose. It is no exaggeration to suggest that the ensuing turmoil would have a catastrophic effect on Australia’s global standing.

Investors are already wary. In Victoria, Labor Premier Daniel Andrews has flung open the door to renewed trade union belligerence with his reversal of public order laws and Queensland’s Anastasia Palaszczuk will soon follow suit. Neither leader has a clue about finance and both have promised to follow the disastrous path followed by the two worst federal Labor governments in the nation’s history, those of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

Baird is the most popular and the most successful Liberal leader in the nation but as Liberal campaigners are finding as they door-knock in electorates around NSW, voters don’t want to hear about his achievements, they want to talk about the federal government and air their views about Abbott.

Labor Opposition leader Luke Foley is almost unknown and probably hopes to remain that way until after the election. He is just another Left-wing Labor apparatchik who began his political career in student politics, followed up with an apprenticeship in the trade union movement, seven years in the NSW ALP’s head office before being given a seat on the Legislative Council.

He is hostage to Labor Left ideology and just as bereft of constructive ideas and policies as his federal counterpart Bill Shorten or his comrades in Victoria and Queensland.

That he is all but faceless is inconsequential to voters however. They aren’t interested in state personalities.

A narrow win by the Baird government might not be enough to save Abbott, and a hung parliament or a loss would seal his fate.

Ironically, these grim findings come at the end of week in which Abbott and his team went a long way to restoring their credibility despite the usual savaging from the Leftist ABC and Fairfax media.

Abbott did manage to make peace of sorts with his divisively frisky backbenchers but then he sacked long-serving former minister Philip Ruddock from the Chief Whip role late on Friday, causing more questions to be asked about his sense of political timing and judgment.

Otherwise he responded with firmness, dignity and compassion as the Indonesians proceed relentlessly toward executing the two Australian drug traffickers, he has ­attempted to highlight the grave concerns about the state of the economy as repeatedly enunciated by the head of the Reserve Bank, Glenn Stevens, and he performed with ­renewed vigour in Parliament.

But the ceaseless denigration of the Coalition by the ABC and the Fairfax media is undoubtedly having an effect.

Their coverage of the long-overdue replacement submarine contract has wholly ignored the reality that both the Rudd and Gillard governments failed to act in a timely manner to ensure that a new generation of submarines would be ready to be phased in as Labor’s hugely ­expensive and largely inoperable Collins-class submarines reached their use-by-date.

Reflecting the adolescent attitudes of their Twitter-­addicted editors and commentators, neither the ABC nor Fairfax has taken the national interest into account.

Abbott owes it to Baird (as he does the nation) to perform at his very best.

South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria are mendicant states. Queensland will soon join them, Western Australia is marginal, but NSW is performing best of all.

The nation simply cannot afford another Labor state.


Water flows to Riverland properties as restrictions expire

The end of irrigation moratoriums throughout the Murray-Darling Basin has the potential to boost economic development in regions that have struggled since the drought, according to Regional Development Australia.

Nearly 300 growers in the Murray-Darling Basin took Small Block Irrigator Exit Grants at the height of the drought in 2009.  They were paid $150,000 to walk away from their crops and were banned from irrigating the land for five years.  As growers moved away, they left a patchwork of unsightly properties many of which became havens for pests and weeds.

In Barmera, 200 kilometres north east of Adelaide, landowner Steve Asimopolous is pumping water again onto his six-hectare block for the first time since he took an exit grant five and half years ago.

The former wine grape grower does not regret taking the Federal Government's grant, but he believes his barren block is wasted without irrigation.

"There was a lot of stress, you had bank managers ringing you up, you had payments and all of that, the drought placed a bit of stress on me at the time," he said.

"I don't want to go back to what I was doing, I don't want to have any permanent plantings.  "My aim is to plant lucerne and an acre or two of tomatoes maybe a bit of garlic to rotate the soil."  Mr Asimopolous will lease water and has no plans to own a permanent entitlement again.

Not all landowners want to return to the land, and many will sell their properties to neighbours with larger operations, according to Regional Development Australia's Nicolle Jachmann.

Ms Jachmann said as blocks are returned to productive use, the region should see an uptick in economic activity.  "The land and fertile soils we have in the Riverland are obviously a scare resource, and there is currently a lot of it we have out of production at the moment.

"The fact that these properties will be able to be used for irrigated horticulture or agriculture opens up a big opportunity for the region to expand its production."

Growers who do want to return are being encouraged to not to go back to growing wine grapes or citrus, and instead look to some of the more niche industries that have emerged since the drought.

Workshops run by the Berri-Barmera Local Action Planning committee have been pushing this message.  "Diversification has been the real the key of these workshops and we're looking a number of industries that these people might be looking at," said project manager Leighton Pearce.  "Things like capers growing in the region, date palms and some aquaponics and hydroponics as well.

"We don't want to see growers exit the industry in the future so we're trying to arm them with the most relevant information on climate and crops so they make the right decisions."