Friday, August 11, 2006

Unemployment drops to low of 4.8 per cent

But Howard is cautious about claiming the credit he deserves

Australia's unemployment rate has slipped to a generational low of 4.8 per cent, new figures show. The Australian Bureau of Statistics said the total number of people in work increased 50,000 to almost 10.25 million during July, pushing the unemployment rate down 0.1 percentage point. Total unemployment fell 14,100 to 513,900. The number of people looking for full-time work fell 8,200 to 363,900. The improvement in the jobless rate came even though the participation rate - the number of people looking for work - increased to 65 per cent.

Among the states, unemployment was down in NSW (to 5.1 per cent from 5.4 per cent), Queensland (to 4.5 per cent from 4.6 per cent), Western Australia (to 3.1 per cent from 3.5 per cent), Tasmania (to 6.1 per cent from 6.5 per cent), the Northern Territory (to 4.7 per cent from 5 per cent) and the ACT (to 2.8 per cent from 3.0 per cent). It remained steady in Victoria at 5.1 per cent, while it rose in South Australia (to 5 per cent from 4.7 per cent). Total full-time employment soared by 20,000 positions in WA alone and another 10,000 full-time jobs were created in Victoria.

Low jobless rate shows strength of IR laws: Howard

Prime Minister John Howard said the fall in the unemployment rate showed the strength of the Government's industrial relations laws. Seizing on the figures, which showed an extra 50,000 jobs created in July, Mr Howard said it showed a campaign against the Government's IR changes were simply wrong. "Whilst I'm not at this stage able to claim, and I won't claim, that the new jobs are directly attributable to the abolition of the unfair dismissal laws, it's too early to make that claim," he told reporters.

"It is not however, too early to refute completely on the basis of these figures the outrageous claims that were made by the Labor Party at the time and by the unions at the time, that this new legislation would lead to mass sackings. "We now have unemployment at 4.8 per cent. It's the lowest since August of 1976. It's a wonderful thing that the key social economic indicator in Australia should be so strong."

Mr Howard said the low jobless rate was a reflection of the overall strength of the economy. Mr Howard said he had no more plans for sweeping changes to Australia's industrial relations system. "Don't try and ... suggest to me that I have further industrial relations reforms in mind,'' Mr Howard told reporters. "I regard these industrial relations reforms as very much the needed package and I don't have any more in contemplation so let me make that very clear." His comments come after he announced Human Services Minister Joe Hockey had been appointed to help Workplace Relations Minister Kevin Andrews sell the Government's WorkChoices law.


Abject failure of "modern" primary schooling

Fewer than half of all Year 7 students could identify verbs or adjectives and only 7 per cent could spell "definitely" in a literacy test sat by all NSW students entering high school this year. The results of the English Language and Literacy Assessment, run in March, show that a majority of students have difficulty with spelling, punctuation and grammar. Only 27 per cent of students knew where to put the apostrophe in "children's excitement" and 35 per cent were able to put the apostrophe in "can't".

When asked about the phrase "made Nick's eyes water", only 40 per cent of students identified the word water as a verb and just 44 per cent knew the words "calm", "still" and "unexpected" were adjectives. When given misspelt words to correct, one in four students was able to spell "accommodation", 37 per cent could spell "scaly", 47 per cent could spell "razor" and 53 per cent could spell "paid". But almost one in five students was unable to correct the sentence, "Then Ron and me had lunch", while only 35 per cent corrected "could of" to "could have".

Senior lecturer in the school of languages and linguistics at Melbourne University Jean Mulder said the specific teaching of grammar had been dropped from school curriculums around the nation and the poor literacy results showed that this approach was not working. Dr Mulder designed the English language course in Victoria for Year 11 and 12 students, which teaches grammar as part of a study of literature and language. Dr Mulder said most students who were familiar with grammar had learnt it from studying a second language, where grammar was specifically taught. "It's time to rethink the way grammar and language is taught, but not just simply repeating the traditional grammar approach of being taught by rote," she said. "It needs to be taught in context, by looking at the way words are used, not just their function, and in doing that to be able to name things, like this word is a verb, this word is a noun."

The ELLA program was introduced in 1997 as part of the NSW Government's literacy strategy and is compulsory for all Year 7 students, with a voluntary follow-up test in Year 8 that is normally taken by about 97per cent of students. Students are assessed on their writing, reading and knowledge of language, and are required to write two passages, answer questions after reading a piece, and identify grammatical components, correct spelling and punctuation mistakes. The NSW Education Department said this year's results were "exceptionally good", with the overall results for reading, writing and language combined the best since the test was introduced. In the language assessment, the results were comparable with previous years. The tests are marked within a range of 45 to 120, and the average score this year was 88.8, the same as last year's average and equivalent to the high point of 88.9 in 2004. [Which shows how dumbed-down the testing is]


Medical Board faces multi-million-dollar payouts over bogus psychiatrist

About time

The advisory board that allowed rogue surgeon Jayant Patel to operate is now facing multi-million-dollar lawsuits over the treatment of hundreds of patients by a bogus Russian psychiatrist. In the first court case against the Medical Board of Queensland arising out of the so-called Dr Death scandal, three patients of Vincent Berg are seeking damages over his counselling and the medication he prescribed for their conditions. The lawsuits were filed this month. Mr Berg, 54, is undergoing treatment at a psychiatric ward on the Gold Coast.

A teenager who is one of the claimants in the civil action was diagnosed as having a mental condition by Mr Berg during a home visit to his mother. Mother and son have claimed they were prescribed dangerous and inappropriate drugs by Mr Berg, who treated 259 patients during his year's employment at Townsville hospital in 2000.

Despite hospital authorities learning that Mr Berg's Russian qualifications were fake in late 2002, his former patients were informed only through the Morris and Davis inquiries that arose out of the Dr Death scandal. The inquiries heard that authorities took the decision not to tell patients about Mr Berg because they feared it could lead to them stopping their medication and counselling or even attempting suicide. A Queensland Health spokesman said an immediate review was launched of "all of MrBerg's patients that could befound".

The three former patients - one of whom claims she has attempted suicide three times as a result of Mr Berg's treatment and medication - are seeking more than $1 million in damages. It is understood more of Mr Berg's former patients are also considering legal action. Any payouts would come from Queensland Government's insurance fund. The patients have been forced to file the court actions after being excluded from the special mediation process extended to former patients of Dr Patel, who is now living in the US.

Earlier this week, Queensland Attorney-General Linda Lavarch said 86 claims for compensation by patients of Dr Patel had already been settled. Almost three hundred patients are understood to be involved in the out-of-court mediation.

In the court action, the Medical Board has been accused of failing to check that Mr Berg's qualifications, purportedly from a Russian university, were "true and not forgeries". The Medical Board is charged with checking doctors' qualifications before registering them for practice. A spokeswoman for the board, which is funded by registration fees, declined to comment because the matters were now in "the hands of the insurer". The lawsuit claims that Queensland Health also failed to supervise Mr Berg adequately. Tia Cox, whose firm Connolly Suthers is representing all three alleged victims, declined to comment.


No duck-hunting in Queensland?

Long-awaited legislation banning duck and quail hunting was introduced to State Parliament yesterday and hailed as a victory over animal cruelty. It will bring Queensland into line with NSW, Western Australia and the ACT, although the Bill is likely to be stalled by Premier Peter Beattie calling an election as early as next Tuesday.

Activists had hoped the Liberals would also oppose hunting on animal cruelty grounds, thereby isolating Nationals who had opposed a ban. But new Liberal leader Bruce Flegg yesterday joined the Nationals in opposing the legislation. A spokesman said the legislation would be appropriate only if there was a threat to bird populations.

Environment Minister Desley Boyle told Parliament her decision was based mainly on animal welfare grounds, with RSPCA advice that up to 90 per cent of shot ducks suffered slow and painful deaths.

Sporting Shooters Association state president Geoff Jones said Ms Boyle had no scientific evidence to support her position. There had been no consultation and he hoped an election would be called to allow time for the decision to be reviewed, he said.

Ms Boyle said the issue was investigated by the Primary Industries Department animal welfare advisory committee, which found the likely rate of wounding, instead of direct kills, was unacceptable. RSPCA chief executive Mark Townend said the move was an animal welfare breakthrough. "It's not just a victory for animal welfare and conservation; it also proves that ordinary Queenslanders can make their feelings known and that the Government will listen," he said. Wildlife Preservation Society spokesman Des Boyland said he was elated at the win after a three-year battle.

The amendment will not affect the rights of primary producers to shoot ducks under permit to protect crops. Hunting of feral animals such as pigs, deer, foxes and rabbits would continue as it was considered more humane because of the higher number of direct kills. Ms Boyle said there also was a conservation dimension to ending duck shooting because of a drop in bird numbers from land clearing, lost wetlands, the extent of existing shooting and drought.


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