Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Former Leftist leader slams fake history

Some historians have been guilty of "political correctness" in romanticising nomadic Aboriginal life before the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, according to former NSW premier, Bob Carr. Speaking last night on ABC radio's Sunday Profile program, Mr Carr said that some historians had "eliminated unattractive features of nomadic life of our accounts of pre-1788 Australia" out of a desire to avoid offending Aborigines.

Mr Carr's comments come just days before a national summit on history teaching in schools, revisiting the decade-long culture and history war over how Australia views its past. He will take part in the summit, along with others such as leading conservative historian Geoffrey Blainey, who coined the phrase "black armband" view of history - for the views that lament Australia's past rather than recognising its achievements.

In an article in the Education supplement of The Age today, Professor Blainey says that Australia is one of the success stories of modern history. "You would not gain that impression if you read some books used in schools and universities," he writes. Professor Blainey said too many university courses taught "handkerchief-size" topics based on lecturers' own research, rather than broader areas that might be helpful to future history teachers.

Thursday's summit comes in the wake of Howard Government criticism of the way history is taught in schools. In this year's Australia Day address, Prime Minister John Howard called for "root and branch renewal" of the way history is taught. Last month, Education Minister Julie Bishop called for a renaissance in the area, arguing there was too much political bias and too few pivotal dates and facts were taught.

Mr Carr, who made studying Australian history compulsory for secondary school pupils during his time as premier, also said last night that history was not just a matter of dates and facts. "History should . have controversy and confusion and argument and bloodshed," he said. "Haven't you got to know that Australia once had a White Australia policy? And that it was changed?"

Professor Blainey told The Age that historians were more conscious of how they viewed the past than a decade ago. "(Historian) Keith Windschuttle's writing has shown that the people who were most interested in the areas he was writing had too much agreement amongst themselves, therefore tended to run a line, which . was stronger than the evidence supported," Professor Blainey said. Mr Windschuttle has claimed that the frontier massacres of Tasmanian Aborigines were exaggerated.

But Monash University historian Bain Attwood said it was unhelpful to frame the history summit around "black armband history" or the history wars. "This (summit) is an attempt to put the history wars aside," he said. "Anybody who does not put those history wars aside, including Geoffrey Blainey, is not contributing to the process."


Part of the reality behind government hospital statistics

On the day Premier Peter Beattie called an election, this picture is a reminder that one of Queensland's most pressing problems - its health system - is far from fixed. Mr Beattie was pressing the flesh at The Ekka yesterday, and presided over what was probably his last Cabinet meeting before announcing a snap poll today. This while the parents of one-month-old Deisha Magic-Stevens were hoping their gravely ill baby did not become the latest victim of the state's health system.

Baby Deisha needs an urgent operation to repair a hole in her heart, but three times in the past two weeks doctors at Brisbane's Mater Children's Hospital have had to cancel her life-saving operation because of a lack of intensive care beds.

In desperation, her father David Stevens, 42, has written a letter on Deisha's behalf to Mr Beattie expressing dismay at the current state of Queensland public hospitals. In his letter Mr Stevens said another seven babies have "had to have their operations cancelled this week for the same reason". "They now tell me that may be next week, but they just don't know. I have been told I am a priority because I need heart surgery. Priority must have a different meaning in your state," Mr Stevens wrote. "One thing that has been positive is the support and care factor from the nurses and doctors who, I might add, quite often have to work double shifts due to staff shortages. Mr Beattie, this is not a good way to bring a new Queenslander into the world," Mr Stevens said in his letter.

He said he had read about the problems in the state's public hospitals but "it is not until it affects you that you realise how bad it is". "The doctors and staff have bent over backwards. The frustration is in their face each time the surgery is put off."

In March, The Courier-Mail revealed the unnecessary deaths of several infants because of inferior pediatric cardiac services in Queensland. A review identified shortcomings in the intensive care facilities of the three major public hospitals providing the service. In response, Health Minister Stephen Robertson set up a taskforce to assess the review. Queensland Health yesterday confirmed a further eight pediatric cardiac procedures had been postponed in recent weeks.


Farmers vs. Greenies

My mother is from a West Australian farming family, so we all grew up believing farmers to be the ultimate environmentalists. They know the land better than anyone and are motivated to care for it because they depend on its health for their livelihood. True to her roots, my mother was recycling, conserving and composting for years before it became fashionable. She walks around the house turning off lights and wears layers of jumpers before turning on a heater. She can't venture into the street without picking up litter and pulling up stray weeds. And yet she is completely alienated by the big city green movements.

It has dawned on me, from talking to green group spokespeople over the years, that the feeling is mutual. Greenies feel towards farmers the way Hezbollah does towards Israel. No mercy, no compromise. Farmers are environmental vandals who must be driven off their land - compensated, if need be, with taxpayer money, like the loggers driven out of once thriving timber towns.

There is no better example of this attitude than the Wilderness Society's campaign on land clearing, complete with heart-tugging posters of trees and the slogan: "It's like bulldozing Waltzing Matilda". It claims farmers are damaging the environment by illegally clearing the equivalent of six cricket grounds every hour in western NSW. It has been pressuring the Government to introduce increasingly draconian regulations controlling native vegetation, to the point at which farmers can't work their land any more. The result has been an effective state seizure of private land on the western plains to create cheap national parks.

Apart from the injustice to farmers, the problem is that much of the native vegetation is invasive scrub, what farmers call "woody weed", which has smothered other species, including native grasses that had held the soil together for thousands of years.

Aborigines used to manage the land by periodically burning it, to keep the invasive scrub at bay. But now, with the greenies in charge, the weeds are on the march. So instead of buying a new tractor this winter, the farmers and small businesspeople of Nyngan and Cobar have hired a Sydney public relations firm to run a counter-campaign they hope will save their farms.

The Wilderness Society shows aerial photos of the western plains showing what looks like thriving new tracts of native vegetation, while, on the ground, the farmers respond with press releases and photos to show the reality - parched, bare and badly eroded soil. As Cobar farmer Alastair McRobert told Channel Nine's Sunday program last week: "They're not forests. They're weeds. They have encroached on beautiful native grasslands and taken it over, smothered them out and they're degrading the soil."

Farmers such as McRobert have to fill out 70-page forms and work through all sorts of bureaucratic green tape to beg for permission to rehabilitate their own land and stop the soil erosion. It is a surreal situation, but the purpose of the native vegetation regulations was never really about the environment. It was all about winning Green preferences in inner-city seats. And as long as they get rid of farmers, true greenies don't care if they wreck the environment in the process.


DNA tests bank up in Queensland

Justice delayed is justice denied

About 12,000 DNA samples are languishing in freezers at the state's main forensic lab, Brisbane's John Tonge Centre, almost one year after the State Government promised to fix the backlog. Health Minister Stephen Robertson said last October that drug and DNA cases would be dealt with by the end of this year after an $8.7 million cash injection. He also promised to hire more staff and outsource some testing.

But Queensland Health yesterday admitted it still had 11,920 DNA cases awaiting testing, down only 700 on late last year, because of skyrocketing demand. "Current projections are that the DNA backlog will be eliminated by the end of 2007," a QH spokesman said. "There are currently 57 clandestine laboratory cases that are greater than three months old, which has reduced from 92 cases in December 2005." He said staff numbers had risen 50 per cent since last year to nearly 100. But demand for DNA services had grown 23 per cent a year, twice its forecast.

The outsourcing plan was axed in October last year on advice from an evaluation committee because it thought it would present an "unacceptably high level of risk". Money was instead spent on John Tonge. Queensland Police Union acting president Denis Fitzpatrick said the union was "shocked and dismayed to hear it (the situation) has not substantially improved". Opposition health spokesman Bruce Flegg said the situation was leading to constant delays in court cases and the risk of some court cases being thrown out.


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