Friday, January 30, 2015

It's just not cricket

Jenny Lindsay

Is there no escaping the nanny state telling me how to live my life!

The Australian summer holidays is a time to relax, overindulge, forget about the problems of the world and watch some cricket.  If you were, like us, watching sport on television in regional NSW, SA, NT or Queensland you were forced to endure lectures about, among other things, how you should help someone get home safely if they have been drinking, that sexual preference has nothing to do with playing sport, and that alcohol is bad for pregnant women.

The ads were endless and were played during virtually every ad break over the five-day test! there is apparently no money in advertising real products in the country.

In the past year or two, regional television ad breaks were populated with short segments highlighting the beauty spots in various regional towns around Australia.  These ads were the TV equivalent of muzak - banal and mildly annoying - but as least they were not preaching at me.

Every one of the ads this past season undoubtedly had a worthy message, but they are also examples of the subtle undermining of civil society.  It is saying that we as individuals, families and communities are not capable of coming to the right conclusions about what behaviour or action is appropriate.  The constant chiding and advising diminishes us as human beings.

As a parent I knew there was a time when I had to let go and allow my kids make their own decisions, whether I thought they were right or wrong. The state is acting like a parent who never lets go.  It assumes we are incapable of making the right decision in any situation whether it be how we drive, how and where we drink, how we communicate with people and how we choose to live our lives.

I'm back in Sydney now.  The Australian Tennis Open is on and I'm cheering the ads that are trying to sell me fast food, car insurance and phone plans.  Whether I make the right choice or not is not the point.  The point is that it is my choice.


School funding mess no surprise

The key findings of the latest OECD report Education Policy Outlook 2015 - that school funding in Australia is a mess and school performance is stagnant or declining - will be surprising to precisely no-one.

The report says that school funding in Australia "lacks transparency and coherence", and it is difficult to determine how individual schools are funded. This is despite a "comprehensive and independent" review of school funding which led to the development of a new federal funding model embedded in a new education act, and detailed funding agreements with the states.

It is possible, at least, to now work out how schools are funded if you have sufficient time and interest - but it is not easy. And since the current federal government has decided it will not implement the funding model in full, things will change again from 2017.

A certain amount of complexity in school funding is the inevitable result of having two levels of government providing funding to three distinct school sectors in eight states and territories. It is difficult to envisage how it would be possible to make funding more uniform and consistent in any kind of incremental way that tries to appease all interests. A more coherent school funding system will come about only through a brave and radical change to a student-centred voucher system, in which all children are allocated an individual educational entitlement they can use at any school.

Fortunately, improving the literacy levels of Australian students does not depend on funding reform. It requires one thing only - for teachers to use proven, evidence-based reading instruction in the early years of school and to provide effective interventions for struggling readers. Regular readers of ideas@thecentre will be familiar with this argument.

However, one of the most striking things about the OECD report is how strongly Australia features. Australian governments have been very busy with educational policy reform over the last eight years or so, and their efforts have largely been focused on the right things, from the OECD's perspective at least, things like increasing school autonomy, improving teacher quality and developing school leadership.

Whether or not Australia's initiatives to achieve these goals will be effective are, as yet, not known and possibly never will be,  since another key finding of the OECD report is that trillions of dollars have been spent internationally on education reform without rigorous evaluation to determine whether they have worked.  Australia is no exception.


Stop the state 'playing Dad'

Gary Johns has argued that compulsory contraception is needed to stop women having children and relying on the state to support their families.

A better way to address this form of welfare dependency is to bring the outdated parenting payment system into line with modern ideas about women, work and family.

Prior to the 1970s, there was no welfare for single mothers. Having children outside of marriage was considered socially unacceptable, and traditional social values were upheld by the draconian policy of forcing unmarried mothers to give up their babies up for adoption.

The presumption was that women without breadwinning husbands would be unable to combine child rearing with paid work. Forced adoption was therefore intended to prevent unmarried mothers and their children inevitably requiring public assistance.

The social revolution of the 1960s rapidly altered social attitudes to sex, marriage, and children. This led to the introduction in 1973 of the 'supporting mothers' pension, which meant unmarried mothers no longer needed to give up their children for financial reasons.

The right of single mothers to receive welfare was hailed by the feminist movement for liberating women from the patriarchal institution of marriage and eliminating economic dependence on men.

But, ironically, the state was called on to step into the place of absent husbands and fathers because the sexist presumption remained that women could not combine paid work and motherhood.

These days it is increasingly common for women with children - whether married , divorced, or single - to work outside the home.

We no longer think that a mother's place is in the home... unless they are on parenting payment!  Why should only some mothers choose not to work and receive a guaranteed taxpayer-funded hand out until their youngest child turns eight?

Parenting payment is an anachronism. Sole parents should only receive the family tax and childcare benefits that all families qualify for. Those who do not work should receive Newstart and be subject to the mutual obligation requirements designed to encourage the unemployed into work.

Stopping the state from 'playing Dad' would remove the incentive to have children - an incentive created by the more generous, and activity-test exempt, parenting payment. This, in turn, would encourage women to take a more responsible attitude to their fertility.

A policy that made combining work and motherhood mandatory would promote Johns' objective of ending welfare-dependent parenting without getting into the messy business of compulsory contraception.



Three current articles below

How a garden pest is slowing Sydney’s progress: Projects stymied by green tape protecting frogs, bats and snails

GREEN tape protecting endangered plants and animals is delaying projects worth billions across the state, with contractors forced to search for snails, count bat colonies and protect pygmy fish.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal green tape delays will impact the north coast’s Pacific Hwy upgrade, while preparations of the Badgerys Creek airport site are likely to be affected by a list of 45 threatened species ranging from eastern bent-wing bat to the red crowned toadlet.

North West Rail Link contractors were told to search for the cumberland plain land snail before construction on the $8.3 billion rail link began.

The snail — which looks similar to the exotic garden snail — has already been identified as a “high risk” threatened species on the Badgerys airport site.

Endangered plants are also afforded high priority on major road and rail projects, with buffer zones put in place, while seeds are being collected on the North West Rail Link for replanting.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt last year slapped 26 conditions on the 155km Woolgoolga to Ballina Pacific Hwy upgrade that’s already four years behind schedule. Mr Hunt imposed strict conditions to protect the pygmy perch and giant barred frog.

He also ordered the RMS to implement a Ballina Koala Plan despite three separate reports already compiled by experts on fauna, fish and flora. Mr Hunt said the Abbott government was working with NSW to deliver a “one-stop shop for environmental approvals”.

Under the proposed new structure, duplication and red tape would be phased out, but as the months drag on and with no timeline on when the streamlined process will be in place, major projects are expected to be delayed under the old system.

Mr Hunt’s spokesman confirmed the Badgerys Creek Environmental Impact Statement would include threatened species such as birds and bats, which have already been identified as being vulnerable to plane strikes.

NSW Planning Minister Pru Goward said the government was frustrated efforts to “streamline approvals” had been blocked in the Senate.

National Roads & Motorists’ Association president Kyle Loades said the group was concerned the highway upgrade’s 2020 deadline would not be met.

Mr Loades said protecting the environment was important but there was a community “expectation that it is done within reason”. He highlighted the danger of delays to key road projects surrounding Badgerys Creek, saying while it was appropriate to investigate the impact the roads may have on “local colonies of bats and birds”, western Sydney residents should not have to experience the same delays that has slowed down the Pacific Hwy upgrade.

Business Council of Australia CEO Jennifer Westacott said high environmental standards were important but should not “unnecessarily hold up major projects”.

“Governments at all levels need to redouble efforts to reduce overlap and inefficiency in planning approvals laws, including environmental approvals,” Ms Westacott said.

A Transport for NSW spokesman said three North West Rail Link environmental impact statements were approved between 2012 and 2014 and as part of that process there was no change to the route alignment and construction of the rail project was “ahead of schedule”.

A WestConnex spokeswoman said EIS documents for the M4 widening and M5 interchange pledged to conduct “pre-clearing surveys” prior to construction.

The WestConnex project had searched for threatened species including bats and the green and golden bell frog.


Greens slam conservative Qld  government's casino plan

One wonders what this has got to do with the environment.  Just another anti-people push

THE Newman government's decision to green-light three new casinos for Queensland reeks of backward thinking and a "third world" approach to development.  THAT'S according to the Greens, who have slammed the Liberal National Party on the scheme, two days out from Saturday's election.

The state government is fielding expressions of interest from parties interested in securing approval for one of three new integrated resort developments.  One site is slated for the Queen's Wharf precinct in Brisbane, with two more proposed for regional Queensland.  The government announced last year these approvals would come with casino licences.

Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters said extra casinos would turn Queensland into "the problem gambling state" of Australia, and instead the government should look at creating jobs in fields like renewable energy and eco-tourism. "Let's actually invest in Queensland's brains and capitalise on our natural beauty," Ms Waters said.

She says if Queenslanders want to gamble they are more than welcome to do so at the state's four existing venues.

Ms Waters' federal colleague Richard Di Natale says the Newman government's commitment to casinos and coal industries, rather than new sectors and technologies, has hallmarks of a "third-world dictatorship".

Local candidate Kirsten Lovejoy says art shows, festivals and new parklands - not poker machines - should be brought in to revamp the Queens Wharf entertainment zone.

Expressions of interest for the Integrated Resort Developments close on March 31.


Peer-reviewed study shatters claims that wind turbines are “safe”

Australia’s leading acoustical engineer Steven Cooper found that a unique infrasound pattern, which he had labelled “Wind Turbine Signature” in previous studies, correlates (through a “trend line”) with the occurrence and severity of symptoms of residents who had complained of often-unbearable “sensations”.

These include sleep disturbance, headaches, heart racing, pressure in the head, ears or chest, etc. as described by the residents (symptoms generally known as Wind Turbine Syndrome (WTS), or the euphemism “noise annoyance” – ed). (1)

The acoustician also identified “discrete low frequency amplitude modulated signals” emitted by wind turbines, and found the windfarm victims were also reacting to those.

The Wind Turbine Signature cannot be detected using traditional measuring indexes such as dB(A) or dB(C) and 1/3 Octave bands, concludes his study. Narrowband analysis must be used instead, with results expressed in dB(WTS).

He suggests medical studies be conducted using infrasound measurements in dB(WTS) in order to determine the threshold of what is unacceptable in terms of sound pressure level.

The findings are consistent with the official Kelley studies published in the US more than 30 years ago, which showed that infrasound emitted by early, downwind turbines caused sleep disturbance and other WTS symptoms (2). These studies were shelved, upwind turbines were designed, and the regulatory authorities simply trusted the wind industry’s assertion that the new models did not emit dangerous infrasound. The Cooper study now proves they were wrong.

Another conclusion of his study is that the Danish method used for measuring low-frequency “noise annoyance” near wind farms is inadequate. So are the wind turbine noise standards applied to wind farms in Victoria, Australia and New Zealand, known as New Zealand Standard 6808. Just as inadequate are all other standards regulating “annoyance” near wind farms around the world. They simply don’t take infrasound into account.

The Waubra Foundation, Dr Sarah Laurie, Dr Nina Pierpont, Dr Robert McMurtry, Ms Carmen Krogh, Dr Michael Nissenbaum, Dr Chris Hanning, Dr Jay Tibbetts, Dr Sandy Reider, Dr David Iser, Dr Amanda Harry and scores of other medical practitioners and researchers from around the world are vindicated by this benchmark study, as are the residents reporting WTS symptoms themselves, many of whom have had to regularly or permanently abandon their homes.

Regarding the future, Steven Cooper recommends that further studies be conducted in order to establish “a threshold to protect against adverse impacts.” (1)

He also writes: “the vibration surges described by some residents as disturbance during the shutdown could be attributed to wind gusts exciting resonances of the blades/towers and requires further investigation“. (1)

This is a turning point. The wind industry can no longer claim that their machines do not emit enough infrasound to affect residents, nor that health professionals publicising the problems and calling for further research are causing the suffering, nor that wind farm victims are causing their own woes (the often-used argument that “it’s all in their heads” – i.e. the “nocebo effect”). Yet the wind industry and its abettors had clung to that straw despite the numerous accounts of ill-effects on animals. (3)


Thursday, January 29, 2015


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is having a laugh at Al Gore and the freezing weather on the American East coast

Wild speculation masquerading as research

No regard for the facts at all below

AUSTRALIA’s two biggest science and weather bodies, CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology have released new climate change data and information on how it will affect Australia.

“There is very high confidence that hot days will become more frequent and hotter,” CSIRO principal research scientist, Kevin Hennessy said.

“We also have very high confidence that sea levels will rise, oceans will become more acidic, and snow depths will decline.

“We expect that extreme rainfall events across the nation are likely to become more intense, even where annual-average rainfall is projected to decline.”

According to the CSIRO report, in Australia specifically, oceans will become much warmer and more acidic [Impossible.  It's one or the other]. Cyclones will decrease, but when they do occur they will be significantly fiercer and occur further south.  Droughts will become more intense and ‘severe’ bushfire ratings will become more common.

Water temperatures will also continue to rise, which means storms can suck up more moisture resulting in heavier rain and snow fall.

Dr Karl believes there are also two lesser-known phenomenons that we should all get our heads around because of their impact on the future: permafrost and arctic meltdown.

“Permafrost is defined as any ground that has been frozen for at least two years, with one quarter of all the land mass in the northern hemisphere being permafrost,” he says.

The problem with permafrost is that with temperatures rising and more permafrost thawing, enormous amounts of harmful [??] carbon contained within the ice are being released into the atmosphere. About 1.7 trillion tonnes of organic carbon, or four times the amount humans have dumped in modern times, could be released, says Dr Karl.

Since 1980, 80 per cent of the Arctic summer ice has been lost which is resulting in more extreme weather across the world and new areas for oil and gas companies to drill.

How will this affect us?  Homes will be destroyed, food will become more expensive and lives will be lost.

According to the National Climate Council, hundreds of thousands of coastal homes are at risk, with 80 per cent of the Victorian coast and 62 per cent of the Queensland coast at risk of being wiped out by 2100.

One of the hardest hit areas could be the Gold Coast, a massive tourist drawcard and an economy worth $1.5 billion per year.

With droughts intensified, farmers will struggle to grow crops, resulting in them losing their livelihoods. But on top of that, our food will become much more expensive, for everything from meat to Weet-Bix.

The government’s Australian Climate Change Program warns that an increased number of bushfire days could result in more homes and lives lost as they become harder to fight.

Dr Karl points out that in Australia, our biggest issue will come from heatwaves caused by rising temperatures.  “Heatwaves have killed more Australians than all other natural hazards combined,” he says. 

“In the European heatwave of 2003, some 70,000 people died. The Russian heatwave of 2010 killed around 55,000 people.”

“Back in 1961, heatwaves with temperatures significantly above average covered 1 per cent of our planet’s land area. By 2010, this had risen to about 5 per cent. By 2020, it’s expected to rise to 10 per cent — and for 2040, to 20 per cent.”

What can we do about it?

“We have to move to a 100% renewable energy based country,” says Matthew Wright, the Executive Director of Zero Carbon Australia and 2010’s Young Environmentalist of the Year.

“We need more resilience on our buildings so they consume energy more efficiently and also move towards using electricity in its place.”

Our government also has more work to do. “We need to make sure governments put in legislation that make sure energy companies don’t block people from installing solar panels,” says Mr Wright.

“It’s also risky for the Australian people that our government has clearly steered towards an economy for coal producers.”


Qld. ALP all at sea over spending

QUEENSLAND always had a reputation for being a fiscally conservative state. In 2003-04, Queensland’s general government debt was only $2.7 billion and the debt held by the government owned corporations was just above $10 billion.

General government debt is now close to $50 billion and another $30 billion is held by the GOCs. That’s more than $17,000 for every man, women and child in Queensland.

The Queensland Opposition’s Fiscal Strategy isn’t so much a strategy for paying back debt, but a recipe for a Fiscal Magic Pudding.

It is designed to prove that Labor has a plan, while justifying its opportunistic opposition to asset leases and keeping key public sector unions happy. But electors should not take it seriously.


To start with, it double counts income, proposing to direct already-committed dividends to repaying debt. If it is going to repay debt, where is the money going to come from for already-committed programs as well as the promises Labor is making to increase spending in other areas?

Either promises will be broken, cuts made or taxes raised. If the document were serious, these possibilities would be detailed.

It also relies on the unlikely proposition the Opposition, should it be elected to government, will run surpluses in each of the next 10 years amounting to $12.142 billion.

There hasn’t been a budget surplus in Queensland for 10 years under the Bligh, and now the Newman governments, and this year’s projected surplus is a tenuous $188 million.

So impossible was the situation, the last Bligh government itself privatised $18 billion worth of assets. But here’s the thing – the debt continued to rise because Labor, in government, found it impossible to rein in spending.

Labor’s plan doesn’t address the issue of whether the Government should be in these businesses or not.

At a time when Labor is spruiking “new green industries” it seems quaint that they are proposing to fund Queensland’s future using what is effectively a geared sovereign wealth fund based on legacy assets in only one industry subject to environmental and financial risk. Ironically, the Queensland government will be one of the biggest carbon emitters in the country.

If your investment adviser suggested you should put all your eggs into the one high-risk basket and borrow heavily to do so, you should probably call the corporate cops, because they could be another Storm Financial. But this is the course local Labor is “seriously” suggesting that Queensland take – and without any attempt to look at alternative returns that might be available, or the risks that they are undertaking.

Labor also has an extraordinarily optimistic view of the course of dividends from the GOCs. Treasury, by contrast, regards the dividend flow to be highly uncertain and subject to potentially unmanageable risks, particularly given the concentration of the assets in electricity. If Labor were serious about the government running investments to pay back government debt, then it would set up a structure like the QIC or the Future Fund, have transparent arms-length management and reporting, targeted returns and a conservative attitude to portfolio risk.

What they wouldn’t do is hold on to assets, just because they are the assets they hold now. With capital markets the way they are, it is likely that, second rate as these assets are, they would find a buyer at top dollar who would be prepared to back their ability to make the organisations more flexible and efficient and get a good return on their investment.

They can also do this whilst reducing costs for consumers. Queensland, with government owned power, has some of the highest bills in the country, higher than states such as Victoria with privatised power generation. The sale of Medibank Private at the top range of estimates shows just how hungry capital markets are at the moment.

The Opposition also discounts the flexibility they would gain by paying down debt now in the event that another financial crisis were to occur.

As the biggest per capita debtor state in the country Queensland is dangerously exposed if lending conditions tighten.

And as the Government is demonstrating, there are alternative community investments, such as transport infrastructure, which some of the funds raised from privatisation can fund.

In reality, Labor’s plan to repay the enormous government debt will not work. There is no way that two thirds of dividends can be quarantined while running operating surpluses. And bear in mind, there is absolutely no scope to make needed investments in the state other than by raising more debt.

Higher taxes might be part of the mix but that would kill the growth prospects that Labor is so keen to promote.

The end result would be taxpayers left holding unprofitable assets, paying much higher taxes for the privilege and with debt again on the ascendant.


In Index of Economic Freedom, U.S. Is only 12th Freest Economy

Australia (4th), New Zealand (3rd)  and Canada (6th) much freer.  USA only just pips bureaucratized Britain

There is no single formula for overcoming challenges to economic development and maintaining economic dynamism, but one thing is clear: Around the globe, governments that respect and promote economic freedom provide greater opportunities for innovation, progress and human empowerment.

The 2015 Index of Economic Freedom, released today, tracks policy developments affecting economic freedom across the world by looking at four primary areas: rule of law (property rights, freedom from corruption), government size (fiscal freedom, government spending), regulatory efficiency (business freedom, labor freedom, and monetary freedom), and market openness (trade freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom).

Here are five key points you should take away from this year’s Index:

*    The United States continues to be only the 12th-freest economy, seemingly stuck in the ranks of the “mostly free,” trailing such comparable economies as Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland. Although the downward spiral in U.S. economic freedom since 2008 has come to a halt with modest gains in six of the 10 economic freedoms, the 1.6-point decline in overall economic freedom over the past five years reflects broad-based deteriorations in key policy areas. Increased tax and regulatory burdens, aggravated by favoritism toward entrenched interests, have undercut America’s historically dynamic entrepreneurial growth. As Americans more than ever look to their future with growing frustration, 2015 should be the year of action to put America back on the path to freedom and revitalize its entrepreneurial pulse.

*    The global average economic freedom score has advanced to its highest level ever. Despite the continuing challenges that confront the world economy, the global average economic freedom score has improved over the past year by one-tenth of a point, reaching a record 60.4 (on a 0-to-100 scale) in the 2015 Index. Although the rate of advancement has slowed in comparison to last year’s near record 0.7-point increase, the world average has now reached a level a full point higher than that recorded in the aftermath of the financial crisis and recession.

*    101 countries, the majority of which are less developed or emerging economies, showed advances in economic freedom over the past year. 37 countries, including Taiwan, Lithuania, Georgia, Colombia, Israel, Cabo Verde, Montenegro and Côte d’Ivoire, achieved their highest economic freedom scores ever in the 2015 Index.

*    Competition for the top spot in the Index rankings has intensified more than ever. The 2015 Index has recorded a number of noticeable realignments and achievements within the top 20 global economic freedom rankings. For example, although Hong Kong has maintained its status as the world’s freest economy, a distinction that it has achieved for 21 consecutive years, the gap between that territory and Singapore, the second-freest economy, has further vanished.

*    Countries with higher levels of economic freedom continue to outperform others in reducing poverty, achieving greater prosperity, and ensuring broader progress in many dimensions of social and human development. As the Index has catalogued, nations with higher degrees of economic freedom prosper because they capitalize more fully on the ability of the free-market system not only to generate, but also to reinforce dynamic growth through efficient resource allocation, value creation and innovation. Policies that promote freedom, whether through improvements in the rule of law, the promotion of competition and openness, or suitable restraints on the size and economic reach of government, turn out in practice to advance practical solutions to a wide range of economic and social challenges.

A recurring theme of human history has been resilience and revival. The country profiles in the 2015 Index of Economic Freedom include many examples of countries that have accelerated their economic and social progress in the face of difficult challenges and a sometimes harsh international environment. Their successes can be emulated by others. The Index charts not just one path to development, but as many as the ingenuity of humans can produce when they are free to experiment and innovate.


Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): A Game Changer?

In 2013 the University of Queensland joined edX, the international consortium led by Harvard and MIT whose goal is to create and deliver learning through MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses. UQx, the University of Queensland's title for its MOOCs, was born. By the end of 2014 there were nearly a quarter of a million enrolments from more than 250 countries and regions in UQx courses. That is nearly five times the University's current regular enrolment.In MOOCs all content, exercises and assessment are delivered on-line on the Web. The courses are free and available to anyone anywhere. They provide a marvellous way to showcase the University's teaching, and to help the University reach of the implied goals in its name: a universal learning resource.

But MOOCs also constitute a challenge to existing teaching and learning practices. Around the world many leading university teachers are putting their current course content on-line in mini-MOOCs, exploiting the "flipped classroom" to secure contact time with the students for discussion and tutorial work.

There is a broad shift towards student-driven "active" learning. Some MOOCs are now available for university credit. And there are degree courses taught entirely through MOOCs.

These are potentially disruptive influences. The University of Queensland is among an elite international group of universities leading the exploration of the possibilities of edX and online courses. But what will our University look like if the lecture is effectively replaced by online learning, and if students can study from anywhere on the planet?


Wednesday, January 28, 2015


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is amazed at the Qld. Leftist leader pandering to the Greens at the expense of jobs

NSW Leftist leader shafts rogue union

The ETU is a very thuggish union

Opposition leader Luke Foley has put himself at odds with the union representing NSW electricity workers by backing deep cuts to state-owned power company revenues over the next four years which could mean the loss of up to 4600 jobs.

On Monday, Mr Foley reiterated support for a draft determination of the Australian Energy Regulator that slashes electricity company revenues between 2014-19, arguing the cuts would lead to lower electricity prices.

Mr Foley said he backed the draft AER determination "because I support lower power prices for households and businesses across NSW."

But the statement puts Mr Foley sharply at odds with the NSW Electrical Trades Union, which has been been lobbying against the draft revenue cuts which could spell the loss of as many as 4600 jobs.

Asked about Mr Foley's support for the cuts, NSW ETU secretary Steve Butler said it was the wrong position.

"The ETU's position is that we are opposed to the draft determination and would be critical of anyone who supports it," he said.  "Obviously, we believe [Mr Foley's] view is the wrong one."

Mr Butler said the draft determination "jeopardises safety, reliability and job security".

Asked if he shared the union's concerns about job losses, Mr Foley said: "I'll leave negotiations to the electricity businesses and the unions.

"For me, the aim of the state's energy policy has to be delivering affordable electricity to consumers."

In November the AER flagged cuts of around 30 per cent to revenue that may be earned by the state-owned electricity companies Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy, Essential Energy and Transgrid between 2014-19.

But on Friday, Mr Foley attacked the NSW government after the businesses responded to the AER's draft determination by proposing much smaller revenue cuts.

Mr Foley said this would mean higher electricity bills. He accused the government of trying to "push and cajole the AER into backing off their draft determination so NSW can get a better sale price for [the] businesses".

Premier Mike Baird has said he will lease Transgrid and 50.4 per cent of Ausgrid and Endeavour to the private sector if the government is re-elected on March 28.

When the draft determination was released in November, NSW Energy Minister Anthony Roberts welcomed estimates that it would lead to annual cuts of up to $210 for households and $360 for businesses.

But if the AER abides by the companies' proposals the savings would be considerably less. On Monday, Mr Roberts declined to endorse the revised proposals by the electricity businesses.

However, he said "the timeframe for delivering further savings is a crucial part of this determination process, a point which the network businesses will be further discussing with the AER."


Climate alarmists all choked up without reading the fine print

By MICHAEL ASTEN (Michael Asten is a professor of geophysics at Monash University, Melbourne.)

LAST week delivered for the global warming debate, the most anticipated data point of the decade. The year 2014 was declared the hottest of the past century, by a margin of 0.04 degC. The news has been greeted with enthusiasm by those who attribute all warming to man-made influences, (notably in the Fairfax press in Australia), but few commentators have qualified their comment with the observation that NASA put an error margin of +-0.05 C on their result.

The figure below shows global surface temperature as compiled by NASA for the past 134 years. Single data points (years) are unimportant. The 5-year moving average in red is a more useful indicator of temperature trends, and its slope shows clearly the steady rising trend from 1980 to 2000, and the temperature pause from 2000 to present. Anyone with a high-school science education can look at such a graph and form their own conclusions, but four of the most important are that

 *  The slope of the rise from 1980 to 2000 is about 0.19 degC per decade (the rate consistent with current warming models for “business as usual” CO2 emissions)

 *  A closely similar rate of rise in global temperature occurred from 1910 to 1940, pre-dating current high CO2 emissions

 *  Pauses in the rate of rise occurred from 1880 to 1910, from 1940 to 1970, and from 2000 to present.

 *  The model trend as computed by the IPCC continues upwards from 2000, but the pause is a clear break of observed earth behaviour away from the models.

The pauses are regarded by the majority of scientists (both within and outside the conventional anthropogenic global warming camps) as being attributable to natural cycles in global climate, although the two groups favour different causative mechanisms.

What is surprising is that, instead of reading the multiple patterns in such a graph, enormous global publicity has followed on that single point of 2014 — even though we won’t know for a decade whether it represents a break from the current “pause” trend. Thus John Connor, CEO of The Climate Institute, greeted the 2014 result with the comment “This data shows not only a series of alarming years but decades of warming to make an undisputable trend”, which suggests a lack of awareness on his part of the steep warming trend which occurred from 1910-1940 without significant man-made assistance, and the pause from 2000 which occurred despite current CO2 emissions.

Will Steffen of the Climate Council also finds cause for alarm in the 2014 data point, using the occasion to release a document titled “Off the charts: 2014 was the world’s hottest year on record” in which objective graphical analysis as we teach in high schools is replaced with poetic subheadings personifying the climate as “Angry Summer”, Abnormal Autumn” and “Scorching Spring”.

We can also look back to 2007 for a fascinating morsel of history; the figure shows at that year there is a clear hint of the start of the pause, although not statistically significant at that time. When Bob Carter, a former head of the Department of Earth Sciences at James Cook University, called attention to the discrepancy between the changed temperature trend versus the modelling predictions, Andrew Ash (then acting director of the CSIRO Climate Adaption Flagship), stated “Professor Bob Carter claims that ‘no ground-based warming has occurred since 1998’. This is an unethical misrepresentation of the facts”.

I suggest this is an incredible accusation to make against a scientist who has read (correctly, as history shows) a trend in a global temperature data set. When comparing Carter’s observation with pronouncements prompted by the single 2014 warm temperature point, we see a disturbing double standard in how scientific commentary is received. (In defence of the management of CSIRO I note that CSIRO has not issued a media release related to the 2014 temperature data point).

Some climate scientists will counter my views with claims that 21st century temperatures are cause for great concern because they are “the hottest ever”. Multiple lines of geological and historical data show they are not. Observations of past surface temperatures constructed from chemical composition of clam shells as far apart as Iceland and the south China Sea point to global temperatures of medieval times (800-1300AD) being warmer than those of today, and those of Roman times even warmer. The message is, the Earth can and does cool and warm on time scales of decades to millennia, and CO2 emissions are not the dominant driver. Our grandchildren will be best served if we devote our Direct Action strategies towards robust protection of communities from effects of drought, fire and floods. All have been a part of our history. And history guarantees all will be a part of our future.


Jo Nova comments

"We skeptics get excited about unusual things. The Australian published Michael Asten today in the Op-Ed pages, and took the extremely rare step of publishing a scientific graph (!) with a few error bars and everything. Newspapers publish economic graphs all the time, so it’s nice to see the scientific debate getting a bit more sophisticated than just the usual “deniers are evil, government climate scientists speak the word of God” type of stuff. (In the Enlightenment, data was a greater source of authority than any human; how we pine for those days.) The only thing the story should have added was a note that reminds us that the not only was the “hottest” record not beyond the error bars but that it did not occur in satellite measurements. I’m sure a lot of people mistakenly think that NASA might use satellites, but they prefer highly adjusted ground thermometers next to airport tarmac instead.

The headline on that graph could have been “Climate scientists don’t know what caused most of the big moves on this graph”. Some mystery effect caused the warming from 1910-1940. In ClimateScienceTM it is OK to call that “natural variability” and pretend to be 95% sure whatever it was has now stopped.

S.A.: Police Complaints Authority report found Constable Norman Hoy was unprofessional bully who was rude, arrogant and harsh to drivers

Nasty old goat got let off a charge because his form was not revealed

CONSTABLE Norman Hoy was a threatening, harsh, unfair, arrogant and rude bully whose insulting, unprofessional behaviour breached regulations, according to a damning Police Complaints Authority report.

The Advertiser today can reveal details of 11 Police Complaints Authority inquiries into Const Hoy, who was acquitted by a District Court jury last Friday of assaulting millionaire Yasser Shahin.

Within hours of the not guilty verdict being handed down by a jury, Const Hoy’s legal team, accompanied by SA Police Association President Mark Carroll, served an injunction on The Advertiser banning publication of the complaints.

That gag order was to remain in force until a hearing in the District Court today — however Const Hoy’s lawyers advised, just after 8am, they would not be pursuing their action.

Judge Paul Slattery formally dismissed the injunction just after 11am. He ordered Const Hoy, through the Police Association, to pay The Advertiser’s legal costs.

The injunction temporarily stopped The Advertiser from publishing details of a 2009 Police Complaints Authority report which concluded the “common theme” of complaints from members of the public against the 59-year-old traffic cop were descriptions of him as:

THREATENING, harsh, unfair and unfriendly.

ARROGANT and rude, someone who looked down on drivers.

A POLICE officer who made drivers feel like second-class citizens.

A QUITE aggressive, frightening bully.

ANGRY, confronting and intimidating while yelling at and embarrassing drivers.

One complaint, in 2008, arose from Const Hoy pulling over and defecting a luxury car because its front passenger window’s tint was too dark — two years before his clash with Mr Shahin over the tinting of his Rolls Royce.

In a sequence of events similar to those involving Mr Shahin, Const Hoy told the driver to “shut your mouth” and “don’t have a hissy fit”.

Last week, a District Court jury cleared Const Hoy - described by SA Police Association President Mark Carroll as a “hero cop” for preventing a serious crash on the South Eastern Freeway - of assaulting Mr Shahin, one of South Australia’s most successful business figures.

Prosecutors had alleged he exceeded his lawful authority by grabbing Mr Shahin while defecting his 2008 Rolls Royce for apparently having windows which were too dark.

Mr Shahin’s family company, Peregrine Corporation, owns several of the state’s most profitable retail businesses, including On the Run, Smoke Mart and Krispy Kreme.

During the trial, Mr Shahin told jurors Const Hoy was “hostile” and “hellbent” on bullying him, and had “shoved and grabbed” him during the traffic stop in the Adelaide CBD in September, 2010.
Mr Shahin denied he did “everything in his power” to ensure he was charged.

In his evidence, Const Hoy said he had “no choice” but to grab Mr Shahin because the “intimidating, threatening” businessman would not obey his directions.  He denied he engaged in “a power play” with Mr Shahin to show that he “was the boss”.

After 75 minutes’ deliberation, the jury found Const Hoy not guilty.

It can now be reported Mr Shahin’s complaint, to the Police Complaints Authority, was the 12th matter filed against Const Hoy.

The PCA report did not form part of the evidence against Const Hoy in his trial.

According to the report, another driver recalled an encounter with Const Hoy in 2008 where he felt the “rudeness and aggression” displayed toward him was “totally unacceptable”.

“Const Hoy said ‘look, do you want me to explain this to you or not?’ and when the driver said ‘no, I don’t’, he replied ‘well shut up then!’”.

The PCA report, written in 2009, says that when Const Hoy felt the driver was showing “further agitation he said words to the effect of ‘don’t have a hissy fit, let me finish what I was saying, will you?’”

Const Hoy told the authority he was merely seeking to “control” the driver, who was “verbally bullying me”.  He said he “made a deliberate choice” of those words to “have him (the driver) comply”.  “I believe (the driver) was rude to me and verbally trying to bully me,” the report quotes Const Hoy as saying. “He showed no respect for my position and I believe he was trying to influence my decision by his actions.”

The PCA disagreed.

“I find it ironic that Const Hoy should accuse (the driver) of using bullying tactics,” its report says.

“This is the very thing that (the driver) and numerous other, quite separate independent members of the public have accused Const Hoy of over the past 18 months.

“I recognise that not all of these complaints have been substantiated, but I also recognise that SA Police management have concerns that there may be a performance problem underlying this series of complaints.  “I share those concerns.

“In the past 18 months, Const Hoy has been complained about on 11 occasions ... most, if not all, of these complaints (describe him) as rude, threatening and/or aggressive.”

The report is critical of Const Hoy’s handling of the 2008 matter.

“Having considered the evidence, I have formed the view that Const Hoy handled this situation poorly and that his use of the words ‘shut up’ and ‘shut your mouth’ were both unnecessary and unprofessional,” it says.  “In my assessment, (his) conduct breached Police Regulation 17 in that it was both insulting and disrespectful to this complainant.”

The report notes SA Police management had advised Const Hoy would be counselled and receive further training.

“I propose to simply reinforce and support the need for the speedy development and implementation of an appropriate intervention strategy,” it says.  “In the event he continues to generate complaints of this kind, then any future recommendations I make will be more punitive in nature.”

The report seen by The Advertiser was obtained from a complainant to the Authority, not from Mr Shahin, his family nor anyone connected with them or their business interests.

When Const Hoy was approached for comment last week - through the Police Association - his lawyers responded with a letter warning they would sue for defamation.  Const Hoy’s legal team then applied for the interim injunction, which prevented publication of the story until today.

The Advertiser has again approached Const Hoy, through his lawyers, requesting his comment on the 2009 PCA report.

In a statement his afternoon, Police Association president Mark Carroll said it was “quite common” for police to receive complaints from motorists. “Drivers who commit traffic offences hardly relish receiving fines for their transgressions ... high emotion often accompanies their reactions,” he said.

“For this reason, and in the interests of full transparency, many traffic officers like Const Hoy purchase and use their own body-worn video or audio devices - as he did after he was the subject of complaints to the PCA.”

Mr Carroll said the evidence gathered by such devices was “usually compelling”, as “was the case” in Const Hoy’s trial. “It was surely a huge reason for the jury’s not guilty verdict,” he said.

“Cases like this illustrate why the Police Association has, for many years, lobbied strongly for body-worn video to be standard issue for all frontline police.  “We shudder to think what the outcome of this case would have been without Const Hoy’s audio evidence.”

Mr Carroll also urged the public keep “perspective” about the matter.  “Let’s remember that Const Hoy was shown by the unanimous decision of a District Court jury - and the subsequent comments of Judge Paul Rice - to have conducted himself entirely lawfully in his interaction with Mr Shahin,” he said.


Gillian Triggs warned against reliance on foreign rulings

THE federal government has warned Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs that it “fundamentally disagrees” with the way her organisation has ­relied on foreign rulings that have no legal force in Australia.

The warning is contained in a letter that also accuses the commission of adopting “an expansive reading” of its own jurisdiction that “overlooks its legislative underpinnings”. It says the government is particularly concerned about the commission’s “reliance on jurisprudence from other states’ domestic legal systems and other documents which are not binding on Australia”.

The concerns are in line with last week’s criticism of the commission by Deakin University law dean Mirko Bagaric, who believes the commission was wrong to base a decision in favour of Indonesian killer John Basikbasik on an international treaty that does not have legal force within Australia.

Professor Triggs had recommended that Basikbasik, who has been assessed as a danger to the community, should be released from immigration detention and paid $350,000 compensation for a breach of his rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The government’s letter to the commission came three months after the Basikbasik case when the commission was about to conclude another case in which it proposed to rule against the government over what it said were breaches of the ICCPR.

The Australian Human Rights Commission Act requires the commission to protect all human rights but parliament has not enacted a law making it possible to enforce rights outlined in the ICCPR. The government’s letter says the commission can arrive at its own views on the nation’s obli­gations under international treaties but it “fundamentally disagrees with the commission’s interpre­tations of Australia’s international human rights obligations”.

The government’s letter indicates that Professor Triggs is likely to face a broader range of questioning at Senate committee hearings next month. Liberal senators have already said they plan to ask her to explain the Basikbasik determination as well as the commission’s “whole agenda”.

Coalition senators are expected to again ask about a decision to delay the commission’s inquiry into children in immigration ­detention until after the election.

The growing criticism of the commission is at odds with the views of 25 human rights lawyers and academics who last week published an open letter supporting Professor Triggs and stating that the “relentless attacks” on her had been based on a misunderstanding of the commission’s role.

The case that triggered the latest flare-up concerned four Aboriginal men with disabilities who were being housed in a Northern Territory prison. Three had been unfit to face trial and the fourth had been found not guilty by ­reason of mental impairment.

The government’s letter accuses the commission of trying to hold the federal government responsible for the actions of the Northern Territory government and this failed to pay due regard to the allocation of responsibilities under the Constitution between commonwealth and states and territories. It also “overlooks the legislative underpinnings of the commission as a creature of commonwealth law and as such attempts to bring any human rights matter within the jurisdiction of the commission”.

This meant the commission’s report on the Aboriginal men was “glossing over the allocation of powers between the commonwealth and the government of the Northern Territory to arrive at a view that the commonwealth is responsible for the government of the Northern Territory. As we do not accept such an expansive reading of the commission’s jurisdiction, we have not ­addressed the merits of the arguments raised in any detail,” the letter says.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG criticizes Leftist support for penalty rates (Higher pay for weekend and night vwork)

You can't makes whites out of blackfellas

Successive governments of all stripes have tried everything To get blackfellas to behave like whites -- but nothing works.  Despite all efforts, blackfellas remain welfare dependent, violent towards their women and children, prone to alcoholism and in poor health.  The only people who really had any effect on them were the missionaries -- but nobody in government wants to know about that.  I knew some of the older generation of blackfellas who grew up under the missionaries and they had their limitations but were real gentlemen

Australia's native people mostly call themselves "blackfellas".  Interesting that only the Latin term "Aborigines" is used below

ALMOST 1½ years into the initial term of Tony Abbott’s Coalition government and the latest drastic overhaul of indigenous affairs policies and programs, the great mystery overhanging remote ­Aboriginal Australia has only deepened.

It is the besetting question no one in the circles of administrative power wants to ask clearly, or answer squarely: Why aren’t the men and women of indigenous communities across the deserts and the north sending their children to school, seeking out jobs and training opportunities, engaging with the scores of programs under way in their midst? Why, given the vast social engineering efforts launched for their benefit, are the people of the remote bush townships and outstations failing to thrive? And what more, beyond the measures tried already in the past decade of large-scale interventions, can be done?

Among the architects of new policy initiatives, the standard assumption is that the legacy of passive welfare is to blame for this persistent failure of response in the target populations of the centre, the Kimberley, Cape York and the Top End. Simply design the right combination of constraints and incentives, they argue, and human nature being what it is, all will improve in time.

But the emerging picture of policy fiasco is disquietingly stark. Despite the blizzard of despairingly tweaked official statistics and assessments of progress, the “gap” persists; even though measures of indigenous wellbeing are routinely presented so as to blur the distinctions between the remote bush and the towns and more settled regions, the landscape is plain. Across the country, remote community schools are empty and ineffective, grog and drugs loom large, health is poor, preventable illnesses rampant, feud and family violence pervasive; even the make-work jobs for locals tend to go unfilled.

The dramatic change expected in the wake of the 2007 Northern Territory “Emergency Response” and allied programs around the remote bush has simply not materialised. For a range of expert observers, there is now a dark conclusion to be drawn. Remote Aboriginal Australia is more than merely indifferent or disengaged: it is pursuing a mingled strategy of noncompliance and resistance to outside authority — and from this diagnosis several consequences flow.

The way the commonwealth bureaucracy and successive governments have reached the present impasse is instructive. By 1999 the new native title system had been launched and bedded down. Attention turned to the worsening condition of the bush. Cape York reformer Noel Pearson put forward his argument that passive welfare was the chief factor behind remote community anomie, and that alcoholic drinking should be treated as a cause, rather than a symptom, of social collapse.

These views won converts in the government of prime minister John Howard, whose activist indigenous affairs minister Mal Brough based the Territory intervention on the three principles of enhanced child protection, alcohol bans and welfare income management. This was a stripped-down version of the reform recipe being tested in four Cape York communities in concert with the Queensland government, and it would be extended, retouched and widened in its geographic scope by Labor under minister Jenny Macklin between 2008 and 2013.

Pearson’s schema won the day not only because of its upscale presentation and strong media support but because it came with a prescription, a cluster of linked programs to change behaviour: if parents failed to send their children to school their welfare income would be quarantined after review by a local panel, the Family Responsibilities Commission. The logic was straightforward: welfare simply paid without reciprocal obligation was sapping the autonomy and judgment of remote communities. They needed the guidance of a penalty-and-incentive model.

This became the ruling paradigm, with bipartisan political support. Welfare quarantining and close surveillance were enshrined as the mainstays of remote community administration in the Territory: a network of outside overseers is still in place, backed by trainers, job skills instructors, community capacity builders and engagement officers. From Mount Isa to Kalgoorlie, public servants now report and assess all signs of community advancement. These are well advertised by governmental media: upbeat spin and announcements of transformative new schemes have become the order of the day.

So things stood when Abbott took the reins in September 2013. In his opposition years he had made a habit of sitting down with traditional leaders and working alongside community members, and all this was more than show, it was a statement of intent. The Prime Minister was also close to the Territory’s centrist chief minister Terry Mills, who had recently won office with the solid backing of Aboriginal bush voters and was just beginning a redesign of the Territory’s relations with its remote communities.

It felt like a new dawn in Canberra, at close to midnight. A good four decades had gone by since the welfare net came down on remote indigenous Australia, the “sit-down” money times began, the outback cattle industry was modernised and station life for Aborigines vanished in the dust; four decades since drinking in town camps first became entrenched. Two full generations, in indigenous life. The last chance had come to cut into welfare dependency while senior remote community members who remembered another system were still living.

Abbott had given undertakings that he would consult and listen to Aboriginal voices in crafting his approach. Of course, when the maelstrom of office hit he found he had no real time to give to such a marginal portfolio. How to proceed? He held one simple truth fast: education was the key. Bush children had no hope without schooling. Abbott selected as his minister Nigel Scullion, from the same party as his Territory ally, Mills. But within months Scullion’s faction had deposed the elected chief minister in Darwin, torn up his program of reforms and brought in a group keen to break the political power of the large Aboriginal land councils and gain easy access to indigenous land: it was a change of course felt in the bush as a shock betrayal.

As a check to Scullion, Abbott had singled out Alan Tudge, a former associate of Pearson. He also looked for some blue-sky thinking: philanthropist Andrew Forrest, abetted by Melbourne academic Marcia Langton, produced a report on training in the bush that recommended a steroid expansion of compulsory income management’s scope and the creation of a largely cashless remote area economy to fight the scourge of drink and drugs. Abbott brushed these draconian plans aside when they were first presented to him, but the bureau­cracy in Canberra smiles on them and is keen to implement some of Forrest’s recommendations.

It is clear enough, by now, what happened to the Prime Minister’s indigenous affairs dream. When he came to office he had no seriously developed or fine-grained blueprint for transforming the bush, despite his feeling for its plight and the length of his waiting time as leader of the opposition. He swiftly brought the entire indigenous affairs bureaucracy into his own department and charged Scullion with prosecuting his one big idea, the compulsory school attendance agenda. And he adopted the cause of the constitutional referendum on Aboriginal recognition as his grand symbolic issue.

Only now, halfway into his initial term, is Abbott poised to commit the government to a new set of practical reform measures. What course will he choose? Advice comes to Abbott from a tight circle, including favoured members of the indigenous political class, but he has no real access to community-based voices, and his impulse to involve bush leaders has evaporated. His counsellors all believe in the primacy of economic signals as the most effective agents of social change. As a result, the commonwealth is now on the verge of adopting an intensification of approach — more stringent management of welfare income, more reciprocal obligation to work for transfer payments, more controls on substance abuse, more concerted action on parental neglect and domestic violence.

A milder version of this policy set has been in place in remote north Queensland, the Territory, parts of desert South Australia and much of the outback west for seven years. As a result, the impact of such top-down controls has been much studied and the outcomes tabulated.

The school attendance project being run by Abbott’s department provides the latest example. It covers 30 target schools in the Territory and a handful elsewhere, and has enlisted and paid some 300 community members to get children to go to school, at a cost of more than $30 million. An increase of 15 per cent in attendance has been claimed by the program managers, but this is a fiction: numbers have actually fallen in many schools, the reporting method is flawed, the numbers are grotesquely padded.

The record of the north Queensland “direct instruction” schools in boosting attendance has been more promising, yet the broader impact of Pearson’s long-running Cape York reform project in its four trial communities is much more ambiguous. The landscape there is one of stabilisation, at best, rather than revolutionary behaviour change. But the most telling research has been carried out in the Territory’s swath of intervention communities.

The largest of these evaluation reports, examining all aspects of the intervention, was released late last month, after long delay and with much reluctance, by the Department of Social Services. The study had been run over four years by an expert team; the sample was large, the range of data broad. For those who had put their faith in controls as triggers for behaviour shifts, its conclusions were startling. It found that compulsory welfare income management had not promoted “independence and the building of skills and capabilities”, nor had it changed patterns of spending on food, tobacco or alcohol. Rather, it had increased a sense of dependency on welfare and removed the burden of personal management from community people.

The take-out was pretty clear: the intervention’s flagship measure had been a costly waste of time. But government ministers promptly seized on the review’s findings as evidence of the need for much stricter income management. They argued that if remote area Aborigines were not responding to the sanctions placed on them, they had too much welfare cash on hand, and therefore 60 or 70 per cent of the welfare payment should be restricted to the “basics card”, rather than the present 50 per cent.

The idea was simple: disempower to empower; limit economic freedom to set free people’s minds. The parliamentary secretary assisting Abbott in the indigenous field, former management consultant and Cape York expert Tudge, gave the strong version of this thesis in The Australian last month, citing a Mornington Island study showing half of all welfare payments were spent on drink: a level that would defeat the present setting of the basics card.

This study, carried out in the 1990s and published in 2002, was the pioneering work of the profound and humane anthropologist David McKnight, whose constant focus was the colonial encounter. He saw no simple solution to the alcohol plague. He traced the despair and social breakdown on Mornington to the coming in the 70s of the local government shire, which stripped autonomy from the local Lardil people and gave them in its stead the welfare benefits that tore apart traditional ways of life.

Can the sharp remedy now being proposed by Tudge, Forrest and the government’s coterie of advisers make inroads, and reverse the long decline and fall of the Aboriginal bush? The commonwealth is the last authority willing to engage. The state government in South Australia has given up on social remediation projects in the Pitjantjatjara communities, and wants to adopt full-scale welfare income control. The West Australian government has canvassed a sharp reduction in remote support funds that would see a number of smaller communities and outstations shut down. And the Territory’s priorities are clear: it has just opened a $500m jail and launched a mandatory rehab scheme that has already recorded its first death in care; a new courthouse and new police stations are under way; it has assembled a crack team of lawyers for its bid to have the Aboriginal land rights act watered down in the coming year.

On the ground, signs of positive behaviour change are increasingly hard to find. Broome is flooded by remote community dwellers from the Kimberley and desert who gather there in camps to drink; in Alice Springs, there are 15 thriving sly-grog sale outlets unknown to the police, who pride themselves on their effective bottle-shop controls. The towns to the south of Cape York are fringed by seasonal drinking humpies, all currently occupied.

What is the group psychology underlying this pattern? Can it be that the remote population is not susceptible to economic pressure, or that intervention is proving counterproductive? What if the control programs are now generating defiance and sabotage?

In all the long official debate on the bush communities and their condition, there has been a blanket reluctance to take the harsh politics of the frontier seriously, or consider the impact when two distinct worlds and their perspectives meet. But close, committed observers free from governmental ties and consultancies and keenly aware of the indigenous thought-world have come to a contrarian position: one that demands attention as policy lines are hardened for the years ahead.

The most prominent exponent of this viewpoint is the Territory’s leading public intellectual, Rolf Gerritsen, a professor at Charles Darwin University’s Northern Institute. He knows the Roper Gulf region closely; he also knows the political economy of the centre and the north. He was for four years director of social and economic policy in the Chief Minister’s Department. After his resignation in 2006 he blew the whistle on the Territory’s large-scale diversion of commonwealth funds earmarked for remote areas to its own metropolitan priorities. Gerritsen believes that remote settlement Aboriginal men and women have adopted a strategy of covert resistance to the intervention and its associated programs.

At the heart of his analysis is an awareness of the persisting difference between the values of “our” mainstream society and the traditional Aboriginal world, with its emphasis on reciprocal responsibility and its strong belief in individual autonomy. Thus “we” are inevitably seeking to re-engineer “them”. For Gerritsen, bush Aborigines are not merely Australian citizens: they are also a dispossessed people, conscious their world is occupied by outsiders. They collaborate with the occupiers, and acquiesce, and also resist, and the strain of resistance strengthens when their limited free agency in life is infringed. They have two quite separate modes of expression: one for when white people are around, one for themselves.

Hence the school attendance puzzle, and scores of others like it. When asked, or “consulted” in public, Aboriginal parents all say they want their children to go to school, but that commitment may be insincere, or may waver, or be countermanded by dislike of the school, or the teachers, or the actions of the government and its local figureheads. Constraint is still the chief weapon of the state: Aborigines are being asked to adapt — “we are requiring them to become like us” — and they object, and fail to comply. This is what social policy observers then tend to describe as “dysfunction”.

There are several ways this pattern manifests itself in the bush. The resistance can be overtly political. Black votes were responsible for removing NT Labor in the 2012 election; when the conservative regime broke its promises to the bush, voters swung and gave Labor a rare good result in the Territory regional seat at the 2013 federal poll.

Individuals also act this disobedience out. Young Aboriginal men between the ages of 15 and 35 are the “zealot” resisters who engage in substance abuse, drive unregistered vehicles unlicensed, are fined repeatedly and then go to jail, thus “confirming the significance of their rebellion”. Their behaviour becomes “a resistance to what the white society has in mind for them”. Illegal card gambling is a form of rebellion. So is littering in communities, and in towns. Drinking, which the authorities prohibit or seek to limit, is itself a weapon — a deliberate gesture of “rejection of the conqueror and all he stands for”.

The rebel withdraws from the victor’s realm: and it is very striking how many well-trained community men and women refuse to work. Trained teachers don’t teach, builders don’t build, while more than 30,000 young Aboriginal men from remote areas have forgone their benefits and refused to submit themselves to the job search discipline of Centrelink.

This analysis of conflict between two cultures leads to a dark concluding point: self-­neglect, poor health and social harm are also expressions of what Gerritsen sees as the veto Aborigines hold in their hands over Australian society and its representatives: “Governments think they have power over Aboriginal welfare recipients, but Aboriginal people, in their failure, in their covert resistance, can place pressure on government.”

This version of the remote community context is in diametrical opposition to the consensus position of the indigenous affairs establishment, which likes to present a map of constant slow progress in the bush as newer and more enlightened strategies are brought to bear on the hapless native population. The upturn in outcomes is always just ahead, or just beginning to be visible in the reports and statistics.

Can Gerritsen be right? The evidence is suggestive — and bush Aboriginal people tend to smile quietly when asked their view. Resistance shades into pure reserve, and into indifference. Damian McLean, president of the Ngaanyatjarra shire in the far western desert, places the weight in the seven ultra-remote communities he represents on withdrawal as much as on defiance. He has watched aghast over the past half-decade as official policy blow after blow has damaged the resilience and capacity of the indigenous bush: “Successive Australian governments have been increasingly dismissive of the collective and individual indigenous identity, and insistent on compliance with social norms: school attendance, transition to work, home ownership and economic participation.”

These norms coerce, but have little transformative impact. In fact the world of the far western desert is still very internal to itself, McLean contends: “Its people are aware that they have limited interest in the things that engage the white world and they know that the outside world would find the practices at the heart of desert life quite confronting. And the intimidating impact of welfare reform drives people further into their own world, and makes them less confident and safe to feel out the wider world.”

Such sketches of the attitudes in the remote bush fit precisely with the outcomes: it is hard to point to a single top-down social reform or employment or home ownership project in any part of the centre or the north that has taken off. This may well be because the intervention has never been “owned” by the communities it affects.

In the Cape, a mounting hostility towards the Family Responsibilities Commission is palpable in the four trial communities. Social and medical workers on the front line know that wellbeing in their host communities is on the decline and that agents of the outside world are increasingly viewed with suspicious eyes.

What might be done to change this picture, and enlist the support of remote Aboriginal Australia’s men and women in a journey towards a fuller, easier participation in the mainstream? An article in next week’s Inquirer will seek to outline a fresh approach.


ABC uses "Have you stopped beating your wife" question to imply that mining is allowed on the Barrier Reef

COMMUNICATIONS Minister Malcolm Turnbull says an ABC survey question about mining in waters near the Great Barrier Reef “does not appear to be accur­ate” but placed responsibility on the broadcaster’s board of directors.

The ABC was accused last week of “push polling” with a “mischievous” question in an online Queensland election survey, which asked voters how much mining activity they thought should be permitted in the waters around the reef.

The possible answers included “much more”, “somewhat more”, “about the same as now”, “somewhat less”, “much less” or “don’t know”.

The question was included in the broadcaster’s Vote Compass poll — an online venture with the University of Queensland and Canadian research firm Vox Pop Labs — which matches respondents’ policy leanings with the parties’ policies.

“The policy about mining on the Great Barrier Reef is quite clear and the way it was described or summarised in that question does not appear to be accurate to me,” Mr Turnbull said.  “But the responsibility for ensur­ing the ABC news and information is accurate and impartial is up to the board of directors.”

The Whitlam government ruled the 344,400sq km Great Barrier Reef Marine Park off-limits to mining in 1975.

Mr Turnbull said he did not want to give a “running commentary” on the ABC but told The Australian: “Their act is very, very clear. “Under Section 8, the responsi­bility of ensuring that the ABC’s news and information is accurate and impartial lies with the board of directors.

“The ABC is a government broadcaster, it belongs to government, but we don’t control the editorial line.”

Last week, Liberal National Party senator Matt Canavan demanded the “mischievous” question be removed and accused the ABC of “push polling” by using the survey to influence votes.  “That question-and-answer set indicates to any reasonable person that the Queensland government allows mining in the waters­ of the Great Barrier Reef,” he said.  “It’s a bit like asking a question on public urination. Should you do it somewhat less, somewhat more, much less, much more? The question is absurd.  “That behaviour is prohibited, the way mining in the GBR is ­prohibited.”

The ABC has declined to change the question, claiming “mining activity” includes more than actual mining.

Vox Pop Labs director Cliff van der Linden supported the ABC’s position, saying the LNP was sent the questions ahead of time to provide its answers and it was “implicit” the party could have challenged the wording of the questions.

In an opinion piece for the ABC’s The Drum, Mr van der Linden said the “fundamental shortcoming” with Senator Canavan’s argument was there was no acknowledgment of mining activity near the Great Barrier Reef that “extends well beyond drilling”.

“This includes but is not limited to shipping lanes through the reef for coal exports, demands by mines on the local water supply, and the recently scrapped proposal to dump dredge from coal port developments on the Great Barrier Reef,” he wrote.

“Asking Vote Compass users about how much mining activity should be permitted in the waters around the Great Barrier is thus a perfectly legitimate question.”


Education expert supports university deregulation

A FORMER key policy adviser to Labor has blasted both sides of politics for the stalemate on higher education, urging the party to abandon its opposition to fee deregulation and “get over its sentimental attachment to the Whitlam legacy of free educatio­n’’.

Professor Peter Noonan, one of the nation’s leading education policy experts, also wants the Abbott government to back down on its holy grail of full dereg­ulation by appointing an independent body to advise on the best model to prevent excessive tertiary student fee increases and rein in the risk of taxpayer-funded bad HECS debts.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne is working to lock in Senate crossbench backing for the government’s higher-education changes, including offering a compromise which could trade away $2 billion in budget savings to win support for dereg­ul­ating the tertiary sector.

The government has won praise from Universities Australia and vice-chancellors for being prepared to move on its proposal for a 20 per cent cut to university course funding in order to allow to institutions to set their fees.

Key independent senator John Madigan revealed last week his willingness to continue negotiating on the reforms, joining a number of his colleagues in declaring the current funding level “unsustainable’’.

But the government faces fierce opposition from Labor, the Greens and other crossbenchers, including the Palmer United Party.

Professor Noonan — who was on the Rudd government’s 2008 Bradley review, which uncapped student numbers, and served as a key policy adviser to former Labor education minister John Dawkins when fees and the Higher Education Contribution Scheme was introduced in 1989 — said Labor couldn’t afford to run a scare campaign on the reforms and had to be constructive.

He told The Australian parliament could endorse “fee variability” in a two-stage process, starting with parliament agreeing to establish a body that could recommend a model with the right market constraints within months. The model could then be voted on in parliament in time to meet the start date of the government’s higher-education reforms next year.

Professor Noonan said the government’s commitment to full fee deregulation was bad economics given the market was distorted by cheap student loans that blunted price signals, and it had no accountability on how universities spend fee money.

“To call that micro-economic reform would be heroic,” said Professor Noonan, a professorial fellow at the Mitchell Institute in Melbourne. “Anyone who thinks that a system that blunts price signals can simply underpin price deregulation doesn’t understand economics.”

He said the government’s plan to make universities use some of their premium fee revenue for scholarships risked inflating fees and would be used by universities as simply a marketing tool. Student disadvantage should be addressed by the welfare system.

He also attacked Labor, saying fee variability was logical, would make the system financially sustainable and would boost quality if done right. Professor Noonan said it was also unfinished business for Labor after it began deregulating student numbers in 2010: “Labor has to get over its sentimental attachment to the Whitlam legacy of free education.”

He warned that if Senate negotiations allowed full fee deregulation, any Labor government wouldn’t be able to afford to wind it back and the party therefore needed to be constructive to ensure the market design was right.

“There is no doubt there are risks for Labor in this and it would be seen as a backdown … but trying to pick up the pieces after it has happened will be a bigger problem,” he warned. “Labor can’t afford to run some scare campaign. They need to be constructive.”

Professor Noonan dismissed proposals for a full review of fee deregulation, saying there had been enough reviews, going back decades. He warned that if the process dragged on the opportunity for good policymaking could be lost in the noise of the next election.


Cairns to get new CQUniversity campus

Not quite sure of the rationale for this but it does look like an upgrade for my old home town

Mock-up of future new campus building

Cairns’ elevation to the status of a two-University city is being confirmed today (FRIDAY) following the major announcement of CQUniversity’s much-anticipated CBD campus, CQUniversity Cairns Square.

Located on the corner of Abbott and Shield Streets, the multi-million dollar campus will attract thousands of domestic and international students, create over 50 jobs, and generate an economic spin-off worth almost one-quarter of a billion dollars to the local economy.

The social, cultural and economic potential of Cairns is set to flourish with a wave of new course offerings, research facilities, international students, skilled graduates and competition brought about by the arrival of the CQUniversity CBD campus.

Vice-Chancellor Prof Scott Bowman said the time was right to expand into a multi-story, full-sized, face-to-face campus following the phenomenal growth of its Distance Education Support Centre in Florence Street.

“For a number of years we’ve been overwhelmed by the community’s response to our Study Centre, but we’ve always been limited by how much we could offer because of its size. We’ve been busting at the seams there for quite some time - it’s been incredibly popular with students,” Prof Bowman said. 

“A full-sized campus is the next logical step for us in Cairns.

“We run incredibly vibrant, multicultural CBD campuses in the heart of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne along a very similar model to what we will be building here. In many ways Cairns has an even stronger global brand than these cities, and certainly a more exciting future, so we know the model will work,” Prof Bowman said.

Today’s announcement is supported by a $1M commitment for engineering labs at CQUniversity Cairns Square earlier this week by the Queensland Premier and local MP Gavin King. This will allow the introduction of Cairns’ first four-year, on-campus engineering degree.

Fit-out of CQUniversity Cairns Square will begin in March, with the campus operational by Term Two 2015, and with a comprehensive roll-out of new courses ready for the 2016 student intake.

New campus facilities will include engineering labs; research facilities; high-tech classrooms, theatres and teaching spaces; meeting rooms; library; student recreational and social spaces; and staff offices


Monday, January 26, 2015

Childcare costs on the rise

The story below is from the SMH so you are not told that the ivory tower mandates driving these costs were put in place during the last ALP federal government.  There is great doubt that the mandates (more staff per child; Higher qualifications for staff) will deliver any tangible benefit

Families will have to pay up to 60 per cent more for childcare services, because of greater demand for staff and higher staff qualifications, Child Care NSW has warned.

Its president, Nesha O'Neil, said changes to government legislation have increased childcare prices significantly in the past decade, ultimately leaving families who require child care services significantly out of pocket.

But prices are set to again rise steeply in 2016, driven by increased staff numbers and higher costs, she said.

"Staffing costs make up about 80 per cent of operation costs, so even a slight increase will affect costs," Ms O'Neil said.

"By increasing the number of staff required to look after children, and the qualifications of those staff, the price to families increases."

Almost 257 000 families use approved childcare in NSW and Ms O'Neil said the increase in costs would force families to make alternative decisions such as relying on "back yard care" or quitting work and relying on welfare payments.

Principal research fellow at the University of Canberra Ben Phillips, said parents would remain short-changed despite government subsides, as childcare prices continued to climb.

"The trend we have seen over the past five or six years is a strong increase in childcare prices and there has been no requisite increase in the childcare benefits or childcare rebate and that affects everybody across the board it leaves plenty out-of-pocket costs for families."

The most recent Productivity Commission identified childcare as one of the greatest factors preventing women from participation in the workforce.

"It does mean a very difficult decision for the mother when considering whether to return to work or whether to increase her hours, given that the financial payoff is really quite slim," Mr Phillips said.

With the maximum amount of Child Care Rebate totalling $7500 per child per year, parents with children in Long Day Care often run out of government-assisted funding months before the end of the financial year with some childcare rates as high as $170 a day.

"It is pretty quick that families meet that cap so it tends to mean that after about three days of childcare a week you are paying for all of your childcare out of pocket and that's probably why a lot of woman don't work more than three days a week," Mr Phillips said. 

He said there wasno easy solution to making childcare more affordable but that he believed child care subsidies were the best option for mothers.

"Increasing childcare subsidies will be difficult in a tight budget for 2015-16, however, re-directing some of the proposed expanded paid parental leave scheme would be desirable."

"Child care subsidies are more effective in helping women return to work than a very expensive payment for leave."

Ms O'Neil said the cost increases directly impacts on affordability for families and their investment in early childhood education.

"Women want to work, parents want the best for their kids, and study after study shows that investment in early childhood education reaps rewards for years afterwards for society and the economy – so it is a mystery as to why the government would draw the purse strings tighter."


Pauline Hanson gets it only partly right

In the past Hanson has tapped into worries about Asian immigration and entitlements for indigenous Australians, and now she has identified Muslim Australians as her next bogeyman.

On the back of our recent freedom of speech debate, rebooted by the fallout from Paris’s Charlie Hebdo massacre, Hanson presents a challenge. Rather than attack her we should challenge her where she is wrong and welcome a debate about any real issues she identifies.

A touchstone for Hanson’s new crusade is Halal registration. She says it should be illegal for companies to pay for Halal certification of their food products.

“When I see 2.2 per cent of our population are Muslim in this country and yet the other 97.8 per cent are paying for this,” she rants. “I reject this.”

This is the reason for her “I will not buy Vegemite,” pledge.

If Hanson wants Muslim immigrants to assimilate you’d think she’d favour smoothing a Halal path to Vegemite on toast. Even aside from that silly paradox the anti-Halal campaign is ridiculous.

Perhaps these registrations can sometimes be a rort but if companies are prepared to pay the fee for Halal labelling there is no problem. It can help them market to Muslim customers at home and can be essential for exporting to Muslim nations.

The anti-Halal movement seems to be classically xenophobic and should be dismissed on logical grounds. Some of our supermarkets have kosher aisles and brands seek approval for all kinds of labels, from organic or gluten-free status to heart health and environmental ticks.

Halal certification ought to be welcomed as another marketing tool.

Hanson says Muslims “come here for a new life and I have no problem with that” but complains “we can’t sing Christmas carols because it offends others”.

She also is “totally opposed to the burka”, claiming many women are forced to wear it.

This is where her anti-Muslim rant comes up against the stifling effect of political correctness. We have seen attempts to downplay Christian references at Christmas but this is hardly the fault of Muslims — more likely it stems from the activism of bureaucratic secularists.

But while most Australians would not be as strident as Hanson on the burka there is little doubt many worry that the covering of Muslim women is an open form of oppression.

This is a legitimate issue for discussion, especially among feminists and Muslim communities, and Hanson shouldn’t be condemned simply for raising it.

It also goes to her core complaint about lack of assimilation or how Muslims “will not change their ways but want to change our ways”.

Again, most of us wouldn’t be so confrontational but a discussion about assimilation should not only be tolerated; it is desperately needed.

The radicalisation of young Muslim men, born in our suburbs and educated under our freedoms, who have then gone overseas as ­jihadist Islamic State recruits, is of grave concern, especially to the majority of Muslims who are politically moderate.

Shouting down Hanson, or demonising anyone who echoes her views, will not help. It will only confirm an unwillingness to confront the issues, and we have seen plenty of this national squeamishness lately.

The contortions performed by many to deny the Islamist extremist motivation behind the Martin Place siege were extraordinary.

This jihadist denialism suggests to the mainstream that the political class is incapable of handling obvious challenges — so it only fuels the fear Hanson aims to harness.

The best way to combat One Nation fearmongering is to inject more frankness into our public debates.

One person who did that this week was Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith in his compelling Australia Day address. He explained: “the freedoms and rights we’ve always fought for and won at great cost to our own are again under serious and continuing threat.”

Roberts-Smith, now working in business, explained how our military are in the frontline of a battle against the “lethal forces of terror” and that Martin Place showed we were “neither remote nor immune” as he matter-of-factly listed it with 9/11, Bali, Paris and other attacks.

“As Australians witness these things in the midst of our ordinary lives … reading about young people leaving the country to join a raging, borderless jihad,” he said, “the outlying world of Australian soldiers fighting Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and Iraq seems to come within touching distance of domestic, civilian life.”

He is right and, unsurprisingly, brave.  Courage is not just needed on the frontline but in mustering the confidence to speak honestly against Islamist terrorism while simultaneously embedding our tradition of tolerance.


Charming multiculturalist going to jail at last

He is an Algerian Muslim.  Background on his obnoxious behaviour here

QUEENSLANDERS were outraged by footage of his racist attack on a train security guard but, after a series of second chances in the court system, Abdel-Kader Russell-Boumzar will finally see the inside of a jail cell.

The 17-year-old from Paddington was refused bail in the Brisbane Magistrates Court yesterday for his part in an allegedly violent bashing at a skate park in The Gap on Wednesday.

Russell-Boumzar was charged with two counts of assault occasioning bodily harm in company and for breaching the strict bail conditions granted to him in October after he was charged for a rant at train security guard Josphat Mkhwananzi, 56, that went viral on social media.

It’s not the first time Russell-Boumzar has appeared in court since October. He was fined $350 for breaching bail and being intoxicated in a public place during Schoolies at Surfers Paradise in November and charged with indecently dealing with a child after he allegedly dropped his pants in front of a 12-year-old at The Gap on December 4.

He was also ordered to do community service this month after pleading guilty to being a public nuisance and narrowly avoiding an assault charge for hitting a French backpacker.

Police prosecutor Sgt Matt Kahler said the teenager was a very high risk of committing further violent offences if granted bail.

He said Russell-Boumzar and two co-accused allegedly confronted other young men at the skate bowl in The Gap as he was returning from the police station to report as per his bail conditions.

The court was told the teenager allegedly pushed one of the two complainants in the throat during the exchange.

Lawyer Ed Whitton said his client had the support of his parents and grandparents and recently commenced treatment on a mental health plan.

He said Russell-Boumzar “strayed” into the skate park and denied pushing one of the alleged victims in the throat.

Magistrate Tina Previtera remanded Russell-Boumzar in custody to appear in court again on March 16. She added the charges against the teen were serious and that they were allegedly committed while he was subject to a strict bail regime.


‘We must have the freedom to offend anyone’

Australian cartoonist Bill Leak on satire, censorship and mocking Muhammad

Since the massacre of the Muhammad-mocking cartoonists, we’ve heard a lot about French satire, and about how it differs from other national satires. Apparently it’s rougher, cruder, more soixante-huitard in its scattergun spirit than, say, British satirists’ pops at the powerful. Where we’re all gentle prodding and occasionally garish caricatures of Cameron and Co, the French take a merde on anyone and everyone. But what about non-European professional piss-takers? What about those on the other side of the globe, say, in that land where women glow and men chunder, where, believe it or not, drawing Muhammad has also become a risky business of late?

‘It’s getting a lot easier to offend people because they actively seek out offence. The self-righteous these days like nothing more than taking affront.’ So says Bill Leak, Australia’s bawdiest, and ballsiest, cartoonist. Resident drawer at The Australian — Oz’s only national broadsheet, set up by Rupert Murdoch in 1964 — Leak has aimed his masterful pen at all sorts over the decades. He infuriated then Labor PM Kevin Rudd by turning him into Tintin (he also infuriated Herge’s estate), and he upped the cartoonish ante against Rudd’s successor Julia Gillard precisely when she started moaning about the Murdoch-owned media being too harsh on her (and, outrageously, like a female, flame-haired version of Charles I, set up a judge-led inquiry to ‘do something’ about what she saw as the biased, ie. Gillard-critical, press). But recently, Leak, like other cartoonists around the world, has found that those of a furiously Islamist bent ‘like to take affront’ more than most.

Three days after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, on 10 January, he drew a pic of Muhammad for The Australian. ‘I woke up the next morning and could feel a fatwa coming’, he says. His cartoon, which was reported on in news outlets around the world, many of them clearly startled that a cartoonist would rib the prophet so soon apres Charlie, showed Jesus having a go at Muhammad. Jesus is holding up the Koran and saying, ‘I’ve told you this needs a sequel!’, a reference to the fact that the Bible has both an Old and New Testament. Muhammad tells Jesus he can’t go back to Earth and sort out a sequel now because he’ll get ‘crucified’. It ended up being Leak who felt that a crucifying might be in the offing. Odd things, or rather odd people, started appearing around his home. The police were called. Leak drew them a brilliant cartoon of what one of the odd people looked like. Precautions were taken. But Leak has no regrets. ‘I think it’s worth the hassle because I’m one of those strange people who’s as optimistic as I am cynical, and I think a lot of good will eventually come of all this.’

But Leak didn’t only deride the religion whose adherents had taken such ostentatious offence at Charlie Hebdo. He also fired his ink at a newer religion: the ‘Je suis Charlie’ moment, when vast numbers of people, including politicians who can’t spell the word liberty, marched in solidarity with the French mag. The day after his depiction of the prophet, he produced a cartoon depicting ‘A right bunch of Charlies’, showing a crowd of people, including some of Oz’s illiberal leftish politicians, saying in unison: ‘Free speech! Free speech! Aslongasitdoesn’toffend!’ It’s not surprising Leak would lay into those who pay lip service to free speech yet who balk at, and try to muzzle, anything offensive; after all, his motto, as outlined in UnAustralian of the Year, his 2013 collection of drawings and thoughts, is: ‘Freedom of speech is the freedom to offend and that means the freedom to offend anyone.’

Leak is stinging on the ‘Je suis Charlie’ fashion. Of the million folks who marched in France he wonders about the thinking of the ‘970,000 of them who never bought [Charlie Hebdo] and wouldn’t be rushing out to buy copies now if they hadn’t suddenly turned into fashion accessories’. As for the politicians who marched for Charlie — ‘it wasn’t a demonstration in support of free speech, it was a celebration of freedom of hypocrisy’, he tells me. ‘They were delighted that sanctimony had survived the carnage unscathed. To have the courage of your convictions, you need two things: courage and convictions. If you don’t have any of either of them, go out and march in solidarity with someone who does and people will think you’ve got both.’

Born in 1956 and celebrated for his serious portraits as much as his contrarian cartoons — he’s painted Gough Whitlam, Robert Hughes, Barry Humphries as Sir Les Patterson — Leak is in a good position to make fun of both Islam’s offence-takers and the seemingly more secular, progressive policers of offence who pepper mainstream Western politics and activism. For he’s a possessor of what he calls the ‘larrikin streak in the Australian character’. Larrikin is an Australian-English word which first emerged in the nineteenth century to refer to ‘young urban roughs’ (of which there were many Down Under) but which is now used to describe those who fart in the general direction of political and moral convention. Given that Oz was once described by DH Lawrence as a place where ‘nobody is supposed to rule, and nobody does rule’, given that one of its national heroes is a thief and cop-killer (Ned Kelly), and given that much of this hot nation still remains so stubbornly un-PC that the poor Guardian has had to set up shop there just to teach the sunburnt natives a thing or two about their ‘poisonous political climate’, it’s not surprising that this massive country of very few people has produced more than its fair share of mickey-ripping cartoonists over the decades. And, to my mind, Leak is at the top of this estimable pile of pisstakers.

Leak’s larrikinism means he doesn’t restrict himself to puncturing the most obvious forms of authority, as many a Western cartoonist does — he also lampoons newer, more insidious forms of often progressive-painted authoritarianism. He describes some of the people he likes to rile — ‘those who refer to themselves as progressives [but] are united by their hatred of progress… Keyboard warriors who have names beginning with @ and don’t differentiate between emotions and ideas’. He recognises that it isn’t only angry men in beards and cloaks who want to shut down — or even shoot down — offensive material these days; so do implacably Western, university-educated purveyors of political correctness, which Leak tells me is ‘a means of imposing totalitarianism by stealth, perfectly suited to the cowardly’. He wonders how the architects of the Enlightenment itself might have fared if they, like us, had been surrounded by armies of shushers and censors saying ‘You can’t say that!’. He says: ‘The iconoclasts, rabble-rousers and ratbags who thrived in the milieu enlivened by satire and invective that gave birth to the Enlightenment were exactly the sort of people the purse-lipped prohibitionists of the green-left intelligentsia militate against today.’

Rudd, Gillard, Abbott, the leaders of Iran, the mad Islamic state, greens, the PC, the pseudo-progressive, even Mother bloody Teresa — no one is safe from Leak’s larrikinism. (One of my all-time favourite Leak cartoons was his tribute to Christopher Hitchens upon his death in 2011, which showed Hitch horrified to find himself in Hell and thus clearly wrong about there being no God. But he finds himself shovelling hot coals next to Mother Teresa. ‘Oh well, at least I was right about you…’, he says.) Leak regularly rips new ones for climate-change alarmists; what he calls ‘baby doomers’ (young-ish adults who think everything on the planet is going to shit); bossy new authoritarians; pretend progressives. Of that last category, he says they ‘consider themselves radical [but] are anything but’: ‘They love to label as conservatives and sneer at people who believe the world was a better place when their ancestors lived in neat bungalows and had standards while they themselves believe the world was a better place when their ancestors lived in slime and had gills.’ Yep, we have our fair share of those here, too, Bill.

Leak’s devotion to sticking one in the eye of convention extends beyond the pages of newspapers. A couple of years ago, he designed cardboard covers for cigarette packs so that smokers would have something nicer to look at than the gangrenous limbs and rotting hearts our contemptuous public-health overlords love to plaster fag boxes with. Leak’s covers celebrated the pleasant, post-coital and manly aspects of smoking. ‘Smokes for blokes’, one of them said. But he was advised to ditch the covers because he might have faced a legal challenge from the Aussie government, which was then forcing through its plain-packaging law. As a then Labor health minister said of Leak’s lark: ‘Everyone likes a laugh, but when so many people die from smoking, it doesn’t seem so funny anymore.’ See? It ain’t only Islamists who think some things mustn’t be made comedic.

But Leak thinks that even in Oz, birthplace of larrikinism, once renowned for its innate, maybe convicts-derived disrespect for authority, the satirical edge is being blunted. ‘You’d think the last people to succumb to the contagion of PC would be our cartoonists, but the fact is most of them have positively embraced it, while revelling in the popularity they’ve been afforded as a result’, he opines. ‘Most of them are now so PC your average Islamist fascist wouldn’t regard them as offensive enough to shoot.’ It’s a similar story here in Blighty. I had to laugh when, after Charlie Hebdo, the Guardian cartoonist Martin Rowson stood up for the right to offend and listed some of the people he has offended: Zionists, Republican Americans, Catholics, Russians, Serbs. It was like a roll-call of the British political elite’s own pet-hate foreigners! You’ve offended Zionists? How brave! And Serbs? Those people the armies of the West demonised and bombed for 20 years? What were you, cartoonist-in-chief of Western imperialism? As is the case with so many modern cartoonists, even the grotesqueness of Rowson’s drawings cannot disguise the fact that they embody the dinner-party prejudices of the most influential sections of society. Too much satire today strokes received wisdoms and flatters easy political stances rather than really lighting the fire of ridicule under the arse of authority. Even Charlie Hebdo mainly went for relatively easy targets: right-wing and racist politicians loved by few, and, of course, the Catholic Church, bete noire of the right-minded everywhere.

Leak is different: he rails against those who want to ban racist words as much as he does against racists, against killjoy greens as well as hypocritical politicians, against nutty Islamists as much as our own leaders who kill off liberty in the fight against nutty Islamists. (A recent cartoon showed a ‘Radical Without A Cause’, a spotty youth in an ISIS t-shirt telling his mum and dad he was off to ‘join his brothers in the war on Western freedoms’. ‘No need for that, son — they’re giving them away’, reply the parents.) And he thinks we need to recover the old stab of satire, its once glinting, unforgiving edge. ‘Most people adopt ideologies in preference to thinking for themselves because it takes courage, as well as a certain level of audacity, to express views of your own that run contrary to popular opinion’, he says. ‘And no one wants to be unpopular these days — except for weirdos like me.’