Saturday, September 30, 2006

Greenie politician disses sport, praises arty-farties

The arty-farties are overwhelmingly Leftist anyway so it is little wonder that conservative politicians give them little heed

The Howard Government MPs are philistines obsessed with sport at the expense of the nation's art and culture, says Labor MP Peter Garrett. He singled out PM John Howard, Treasurer Peter Costello and Health Minister Tony Abbott as the worst offenders. Ministers regularly turned down invitations to attend art and cultural events, he said, preferring instead to bask in the reflected glory of football and cricket stars.

The PM was a cricket tragic, but the Government did not have an equivalent theatre tragic, Mr Garrett said at Monash University. "Can you remember the last time the Prime Minister or the Treasurer offered up their view on the value of creativity, of encouraging expression, of the importance of telling our own stories," he said. "It is no secret that the number of unmet invitations to senior government ministers to arts events continues to pile up to the roof. "Yet attendance at the various football codes is de rigeur for pollies of all persuasions."

A spokeswoman for Mr Costello, an avid Bombers fan, rejected the former Midnight Oil singer's critique. "The Treasurer is a man for all seasons -- the cricket season, the football season, the racing season, and the literary season," she said.

Mr Abbott came in for special mention over his comment several years ago that parliament house's art collection was avant-garde crap. Mr Garrett said it was "as good an expression of philistinism as you'd ever see". The recent Picasso exhibition in Melbourne drew enormous crowds and showed up Mr Abbott's ignorance. A spokeswoman for Mr Abbott said he visited galleries from time to time. Although Mr Abbott was not a ballet goer he did recently attend a live performance of Dancing on Ice.

Mr Garrett, Labor's spokesman for the arts, said many artists earned as little as $17,000 a year and had to live hand-to-mouth, week by week.


"Pommy" Still Allowable -- Just

It's OK to call a Pom a Pom at the cricket this summer - as long as it is in good humour. Cricket Australia has given the green light to Aussies chastising the enemy during the Ashes series, but not if it's nasty. According to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, the word Pom or Pommy itself is not offensive -- it depends on how it is used. The origin of the word Pom is unclear, with theories ranging from a short form of pomegranate to an acronym for Prisoner of her Majesty.

Cricket Australia anti-racism officer Peter Young said he did not expect Test fans to be kicked out of the MCG for calling the English Poms. "But if it was used to denigrate, demean, disparage or be offensive to another person on the basis of their race or culture, then it is a problem," he said. "People will use the word Pommy, players will use the word Pommy. But our view is, and has always been, that we take a zero-tolerance approach to racism in cricket, whether it is on the field or off the field, whether it is at an elite level or whether it is in the local school yard. "There is no place for racism in cricket."

A Barmy Army [English fans] spokesman said they didn't feel there were any problems with being called Poms. "As long as being called a Pom isn't accompanied by anything abusive then the Barmy Army has no problem whatsoever," he said. "We have been called it on the last three tours and we see it as a bit of harmless banter. "The Barmy Army likens it to calling Australians convicts, it is just a bit of fun and humour."

Under the International Cricket Council anti-racism code adopted this week, fans found guilty of racial abuse at matches could face lifetime bans.


Destructive drug

The head of the nation's biggest police service has warned that Australia risks losing a generation of young people to the drug ice. New South Wales Police Commissioner Ken Moroney believes ice, an amphetamine in crystal form, is a bigger problem than heroin and the greatest scourge faced by the community that he has seen in his 41-year career.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Australian, Mr Moroney spelt out his priorities for his final 12 months as head of the world's fifth-biggest police force. He blamed Sydney's outbreaks of anti-social behaviour such as the Cronulla riots on a lack of manners and values among the young. And while terrorism was a priority for him, Mr Moroney believed ordinary people were more worried about mundane crimes such as assault and robbery.

Mr Moroney will retire at the end of August next year after five years in the job. He believes his last year will be his busiest as he attempts to establish a new state-of-the-art command college modelled on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation's elite training facility, Quantico.

Mr Moroney also wants to do more to reduce crimes that create fear in the community, which he does not believe mean terrorism. "I don't think those things are at a higher order than, say, those ordinary things that worry the public, and that's where I've got to concentrate," he says. "The things the mums and dads want me to concentrate on, the safety of their homes, their vehicle and the safety and security of their immediate family."

Despite race issues being highlighted in the aftermath of rioting in Sydney in recent years, particularly at Redfern and Cronulla, Mr Moroney says alcohol abuse and a lack of manners among young people were to blame. "What I see is an absence of common courtesies," he says. "There's been an enormous shift in the Australian values of respect for each other." With summer approaching, Mr Moroney says there would be another increase in anti-social behaviour through to March. He says he is focusing on reducing the fear of crime, particularly for the elderly and young.

However, Mr Moroney says the greatest challenge facing NSW police is the ice epidemic. "I don't know, in all of the time I've been a policeman, which is 41 years, of a greater scourge on the community," he says. "The physical and mental manifestations of this drug are absolutely horrific. It has the potential to destroy generations." He says he believes one could draw a link to ice in a majority of personal violence and robbery offences.

His comments follow a joint parliamentary inquiry into amphetamines and other drugs which warned in June that Australia would continue to lose the war on drugs while policies kept targeting users instead of suppliers. The inquiry heard that ecstasy use had almost tripled in the past 13 years, with 3.4 per cent of Australians having used the drug in the previous year, while users of amphetamines increased from 2 per cent to 3.2 per cent. The Australian Federal Police said most amphetamines were made domestically, but agencies were seeing increased imports of concentrated forms of the drug, such as ice.

As Commissioner, Mr Moroney says he likes to go out in public as much as he can. He says he has walked down to St Vincent's Hospital in Sydney where there is a special ward for drug-affected patients having ice-induced psychotic episodes. "It's just frightening, it's just absolutely frightening," he says.

As he goes into his last year in the job, Mr Moroney says his greatest disappointment is the recent scandal at the NSW Police College involving lecturers fraternising with students. "I've never been so personally disappointed in my life," he says


Drawing the line on cross-border rivalry

Despite occasional banter about banana-benders and cockroaches, members of a joint NSW-Queensland team are getting on famously in their historic survey of the border between the two states. The modern survey is a far cry from the original expedition more than 120 years ago when the team leaders from each state were at each other's throats, and the Queenslander quit in disgust.

When the 21st-century expedition began its trek on Monday through the scrubland at the Queensland border town of Hebel, 550km southwest of Brisbane, one of the NSW surveyors turned up in a blue State of Origin rugby league jersey. "He copped a lot of flak from the Queensland fellas," said Bob Jenkins, the senior Queensland surveyor with the expedition. "But it was all just friendly banter," his NSW counterpart, Graeme Stewart, added quickly.

The survey team is using a mix of traditional methods and satellite technology to redefine the original border set by NSW surveyor John Cameron and his Queensland counterpart, George Watson, between 1879 and 1891.

The relaxed camaraderie shown by the team leaders when The Weekend Australian caught up with the expedition this week was a vast improvement on the poisonous relationship between the 19th-century surveyors. "The Queensland Officer and I don't hit it very well," Cameron wrote shortly after the joint team set off from the NSW town of Barringun, 200km west of Hebel. Things got so bad that Watson withdrew his team 160km into the 450km journey to the South Australian border. In a letter to the Queensland surveyor-general before he pulled out, Watson wrote that Cameron had "a supreme regard for his own reputation". Cameron and his NSW team pushed on, battling drought, floods and scurvy until they reached the South Australian border at the spot now known as Camerons Corner. They then returned to Barringun and headed east, surveying the 320km stretch to Mungindi.

The modern team is now on its fourth two-week survey since 2001, when they set out from Barringun. They hope to reach Mungindi by the end of next week, and will start surveying the Barringun-Camerons Corner stretch next year. Mr Jenkins said the modern survey was necessary because many of the border posts erected by the 19th-century surveyors had rotted away or been lost in bushfires and land-clearing. "In some areas there's uncertainty about where the border actually is," he said. Mr Stewart said the survey's main benefit would be to give landholders on both sides of the border greater security of tenure. "It's also important for the two state governments to know the exact boundaries of Crown land and national parks on both sides of the border," he said. "With modern technology, we can fix the border for all time."

Asked why there were six NSW surveyors and three Queenslanders on the team, Mr Jenkins couldn't resist a dig. "It only takes one Queenslander to do the work of two New South Welshmen," he said. Queensland Premier Peter Beattie has entered the fray, claiming NSW has stolen land that his surveyors will reclaim for the Sunshine State. But while Mr Beattie often boasts how 1500 people a week move to Queensland, he was not expecting the border changes to involve residents shifting states.


Friday, September 29, 2006

No-one who knows the Queensland police well will be surprised by the report below

Drunken Aborigines can be hard to take but the police are supposed to be professionals, not goons. The black must have copped a hell of a hit to rupture his liver. Two official Commissions of Inquiry into Queensland police misbehaviour -- the Lucas Inquiry and the Fitzgerald Inquiry -- did not lead to any permanent change that one can see. As ever, almost all complaints against police are investigated -- cursorily -- by the police

A senior Queensland police officer lost his temper and repeatedly punched a drunk Aboriginal man before putting him in a police cell where he was left to die from his injuries, a coroner has ruled. After two years of investigation into what killed 36-year-old Palm Island man Mulrunji, Acting State Coroner Christine Clements yesterday found the island's top police officer Snr Sgt Christopher Hurley was responsible for the death. She also ruled Hurley was "callous and deficient" in not properly checking on Mulrunji's welfare in the island's watchhouse, where he died from internal bleeding due to a ruptured liver and portal vein at about 11am on November 19, 2004.

Attorney-General Linda Lavarch has referred the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider whether anyone should face charges. The State Government also has announced a "high-level response team" to advise Cabinet on the 40 recommendations of the report.

In delivering her findings, Ms Clements was scathing of the Queensland Police Service's initial investigation into the death, which she described as "lacking in transparency, objectivity and independence". She said the integrity of the investigation had been compromised by the involvement of local officers, some of whom knew Hurley personally and who dined at his home during the investigation.

The death sparked a violent community backlash and riots on the island during which the police station burnt to the ground. Hurley - a decorated officer credited with reducing crime on the island and helping locals - has vehemently and repeatedly denied he assaulted Mulrunji, who he met for the first time that day. But Ms Clements said she was not convinced Snr Sgt Hurley was telling the truth about events inside the station and accepted a witness account that Snr Sgt Hurley said "Do you want more, Mr Doomadgee, Do you want more?" during the incident.

Mulrunji, who had a blood alcohol content of 0.292 at the time of his death, was arrested for public nuisance after mouthing off at a police liaison officer who was helping Snr Sgt Hurley arrest another man. He resisted arrest and punched Snr Sgt Hurley in the jaw as he was being led from the police van to the watchhouse and the pair fell as they were walking through a doorway.

Ms Clements urged mandatory first aid training for watchhouse staff following evidence that Snr Sgt Hurley was not qualified in first aid and no officer attempted to resuscitate Mulrunji after it was discovered he may have died.

Multiple recommendations were also made to beef up training for officers in the area of watchhouse safety and arrest procedures. Ms Clements also found that Mulrunji's initial arrest by Snr Sgt Hurley was "not an appropriate exercise of police discretion" as he could have been dealt with by a caution or summons to appear in court. It is reprehensible that the detailed recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody should have to be referred to, so many years after the Royal Commission. The evidence is clear however that these recommendations are still apt and still ignored," she said.

Despite the damning findings, Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said there were no grounds to suspend any of the officers named in the report. [Extraordinary!!]


Aborigines: need for INtolerance

In the Cape York town of Hopevale, where Noel Pearson grew up, there is every kind of gambling except one - cards. There is a social taboo against card gambling that lingers from the days when the Lutherans ran Hopevale mission, back when Aboriginal children like Pearson's father and grandfather were taught to read the Bible back to front and to write beautifully. "They never do card gambling at Hopevale," Pearson said on Friday. "They gamble on pokies, drink, fornicate, everything else, but there is a remnant social norm about card gambling."

Pearson, 41, the director of the Cape York Institute, likes the card gambling example because it "just illustrates the strength of social norms", the often invisible glue that creates social order and civility and protects the vulnerable. "That's why advantaged middle-class people don't have to worry about things like school attendance and school readiness," he says. By school "readiness", Pearson does not mean whether a child can recite the alphabet, tie shoelaces and cut along a straight line. He means the basic daily readiness of being fed, washed and well slept before coming to school.

Pearson aims to rebuild social norms that have disappeared over the past two generations from Cape communities. It is part of his plan to dramatically reform the way welfare is delivered, and tie it to behavioural benchmarks such as school attendance and responsible parenting. The Federal Government has contributed $3 million for a pilot project and he has just returned from a trip around Cape York to ensure the voluntary participation of the four communities of Aurukun, Hopevale, Coen and Mossman Gorge.

Pearson laments the situation in which the sacred bond of love between mother and child has been broken by substance abuse and the collapse of social norms. He openly declares he wants to reintroduce "intolerance" into his communities: intolerance of drugs, intolerance of alcohol, intolerance of sexual abuse, intolerance of domestic violence, intolerance of not sending your children to school every day.

Pearson's critics - mostly middle-class, progressive-left and social-justice romantics - say his plans to tie welfare payments to behavioural benchmarks are draconian. But they don't understand what it is like to live in a community without social norms, he says. He is determined that his welfare reform project will address the horrific abuse of indigenous children which has been reported this year with sickening regularity.

If parents are drug users, for instance, he asks why authorities hand back a child into such a known dangerous environment. He wants instead to take control of welfare payments as the tool to force irresponsible parents to clean up their act, to say: "If you don't agree to regular drug testing for two years and satisfy other benchmarks [such as school attendance] you will be on income management and you will not have the freedom of spending your money as you want." Instead, welfare payments will be managed for the parent and used to pay for rent, food, school supplies and other necessities. "It is a carrot and stick approach," Pearson says.

The welfare reform project complements the institute's work on education. Pearson outlined some of those achievements at an advisory group meeting on Friday in Cairns for the Every Child is Special project. It includes a successful pilot project at Coen primary school, in which the 15 least proficient readers were given intensive, systematic instruction in phonics for a year by specialist teachers from Macquarie University's MULTILIT (Making Up Lost Time In Literacy) program. The results, unveiled on Friday, were encouraging; the children, whose reading ability was three to four years behind the Australian average, gained an average 21.4 months in reading accuracy. The Higher Expectations program identifies the brightest primary school children and "works aggressively" to send them to elite boarding schools, Pearson says. The first candidate is at Brisbane Grammar this year, "and he's survived and done well". Another program supports indigenous students at university. This year there were 10 candidates, and next year another dozen. Pearson is proud that both programs are "completely privately funded".

Ann Creek, a Coen elder and mother of five who has been a driving force in improving literacy at Coen school, said at the meeting on Friday: "Kids absorb knowledge; they want to be part of it, they want to learn more. If given the chance they'll grasp it . We all want our kids to achieve so they can go on to further education. They want to make a name for their family, for their clan group and for their community."

Pearson's "Cape York Agenda" of economic and social development aims to build the "capabilities" of indigenous people, freeing them from the yoke of welfare passivity, empowering them with proper education so they have at least the same knowledge of Western culture and proficiency in English as their peers in the rest of Australia. He says he hopes to transform communities within a generation. But first he must re-establish social order, and that requires a "hard bottom line". "Enforcement of the Education Act, [taking control of the] family benefit payment is the draconian bottom line we think is part of the process. We have an escalation in place that means we hopefully never have to get to the bottom line. But without the bottom line there is not much hope of re-establishing social norms." And as Bernadette Denigan, the director of the Every Child is Special project, reminded the group: "The ultimate draconian bottom line is the removal of children by government and that does happen."


"Healthy" food turns out to be pretty ordinary

Children would be better off sitting down to a big fry-up for breakfast than eating some commercially produced muesli bars, so loaded are they with fats and sugars. A test found seven were so laden with kilojoules that a Mars Bar presented a healthier breakfast alternative.

The analysis of more than 150 different cereal bars by Choice magazine found that seven - including three types of Kellogg's K-time muffin bars - contained more kilojoules than the much-maligned Mars Bar. Two varieties of muesli slices produced by Sunibrite contained more saturated fat than a breakfast of two bacon rashers. Many others, including a range of Uncle Toby's muesli bars and a collection of cereal bars with the words healthy, fit or natural featuring prominently in their names, were at least 20 per cent sugar.

Of the bars tested, only 13 met all the analysts' healthy nutrition requirements, based on kilojoules, sugar, saturated fat, dietary fibre and wholegrain content. On the other end of the scale, the Nice & Natural yoghurt natural nut bar met none of the requirements.

While the healthy connotations associated with the words cereal and muesli were dubious in many of the bars, the definition of fruit in others was also suspect. "The fruit often found in some bars was more likely to have come from a laboratory than an orchard," said Choice's media spokeswoman, Indira Naidoo. She said parents should think again if they thought their children were getting part of their daily serving of fruit by unwrapping a bar containing what appeared to be dried strawberries, apples, pears or plums. The chances are that they are snacking instead on maltodextrin, glucose, fructose, humectant, vegetable fat, modified maize starch, flavours, colours, vegetable gum, food acid, firming agent and emulsifier.

The findings led Choice's analysts to conclude that despite often being labelled with "healthy" names, many of the bars really belonged in the supermarket confectionery aisle. Ms Naidoo said that rather than snacking on cereal bars, children would be better off eating an apple, which gave plenty of fibre, less sugar, and no fat.


Greenie propaganda unpopular in the schools

School geography aint what it used to be. Now it is mainly Greenie indoctrination

Teaching geography as part of social studies courses alongside subjects such as history, economics and citizenship has overseen a halving in the past decade of the number of students selecting the discipline in their senior years. Figures gathered by the Australian Geography Teachers Association show the extent of disenchantment with the subject among year 11 and 12 students brought up on a diet of Studies of Society and Environment. Even in NSW, the only state to have maintained geography as a stand-alone and mandatory subject from years 7 to 10, students are eschewing the subject.

Teachers and professional geographers fear high school geography curriculums are failing to attract students, particularly in years 9 and 10. Australian Geography Teachers Association president Nick Hutchinson and Sydney University lecturer Bill Pritchard argue for a re-energising of geography curriculums based on the principles of the International Charter for Geographic Education. Under the charter, students should study among other things locations and places, to enable them to set national and international events in a geographical framework, and the major biophysical systems, such as landforms, soils and climate.

The plethora of subjects from which students can choose and the rise in vocational education are cited by geography teachers as major reasons for the discipline's fall in favour. The proportion of HSC students sitting geography has fallen from 14 per cent in 1997 to 7.5 per cent last year. Victoria is reintroducing geography as a separate subject under its humanities umbrella this year after watching the number of students studying the subject fall from more than 4000 in 1992 to just over 2500 in 2004. In South Australia, the decline - from about 2200 in 1996 to 1500 in 2004 - coincided with a rise in the number studying tourism (837 to 1856).

Mr Hutchinson said some of the fundamentals of geographic learning had been lost, with school curriculums instead focused on solving problems. What should return to the classroom was the basics of physical geography, such things as how soils, glaciers, rivers and coasts were formed and their effects on humanity. "We're no longer teaching a fundamental understanding of people and place and how things work, how cities work, the basis of our post-industrial society," he said.

Queensland University of Technology associate professor John Lidstone believes students should be taught the "awe and wonder" of the natural environment, not just its problems. Dr Lidstone, the former secretary of the International Geographical Union's commission on education, said schools should teach geographic thinking by teaching the subject as patterns, such as patterns of happiness, or of wealth and poverty. Also key were enthusiastic and skilled geography teachers who would incite excitement in students about the subject.

The Institute of Australian Geographers has written to federal Education Minister Julie Bishop calling for a national review of the geography curriculum along the lines of the recent history summit. Ms Bishop yesterday said the push by geography teachers and professional geographers revealed the failure of state governments to develop appropriate curriculums.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

PM defends the Brethren

The Brethren have rightly identified and publicized the Green Party as anti-Christian far-Leftists and the Greens hate them for it

The beliefs of the Exclusive Brethren Christian sect, which includes a refusal to vote, should be respected, Prime Minister John Howard said today. The sect has been criticised, particularly by the Greens, in recent times for its alleged activities in elections but Mr Howard says he has seen more fanatical groups in his time.

"The Exclusive Brethren as an organisation within the law, a Christian sect, is entitled to put its view," Mr Howard told ABC Radio. "I did make the observation that I've met a lot more fanatical people in my life than the Exclusive Brethren. "They have a different, a more disciplined, perhaps some would say a more narrow interpretation of the Christian religion than others, but I respect their right to have (this interpretation)."

Mr Howard, who yesterday said he had met with the group, said the more unorthodox views of the sect, such as not voting, did not means its members should be vilified. "I have to say that strikes me as what you might call an unorthodox Christian ... it strikes me as a little unusual, but that is their right and it should be respected," he said. "It shouldn't be the subject of some vilification campaign against them."


Obese suffer 'discrimination, depression'

And constant government condemnation of them does not exactly help. Why are fatties the only ones you are allowed to condemn these days? What about Muslims? Let us hear more governments condemning them. They certainly do more harm to others than fatties do

Depression, discrimination and humiliation, not just excess weight, are burdens for people who are obese, a Melbourne professor said today. Monash University Professor Paul Komesaroff is leading a study into the emotional burdens of being overweight. He said the physical risks of obesity were well known, but little had been done on how overweight people felt about themselves and society's attitudes to them. "Overweight people are often reviled and humiliated their whole lives," Professor Komesaroff said. "Public debates and comments often don't help ... they project an image of overweight people as lazy, fat slobs who, if they used some willpower, would not be overweight," he said. "The reality is that obese people often battle with weight their entire lives."

Professor Komesaroff said that overweight people often suffered depression. He said the study would also examine the nature of the relationships that developed between people living with obesity and their health professionals. The outcomes of the study would be used to develop new public health and clinical strategies to combat depression in obese people.

Researcher Dr Samantha Thomas said the study would initially involve interviewing 100 Victorians who were overweight, but may eventually be expanded nationally. "This research will give them the opportunity to tell their stories about what it is like to be overweight in Australia today," Dr Thomas said. Bellberry Ltd, a not-for-profit human research ethics company, has contributed $40,000 to the research.


Political correctness harms abused black kids

Welfare workers are too frightened to take neglected and sexually abused indigenous children into care, carers have said. The Northern Territory News was last night told by people who work with children that NT Family and Community Services feared being accused of creating a new "stolen generation". "Black kids have to be suffering 10 times more than white kids before being taken away from their no-good parents," a source said.

Community Services Minister Delia Lawrie denied the allegation. "We don't take Stolen Generation concerns into account," she said. "And whether a child is indigenous or not doesn't come into play." [Believe that if you want to!] She said the number of Aboriginal Territory children taken into care had doubled in the past few years.

Elliott, a community on the Stuart Highway, 415km south of Katherine, was held up by concerned welfare sources as an illustration of the problem. The sources said several children in the township were believed to have been sexually abused. One girl had told nurses she had been molested by a man who still lives in the community. The girl has developed behavioural problems, nurses claimed. Many community children are also undernourished and are being fed by the school and health clinic.

The Tennant Creek FACS office has been given several notifications of suspected sexual abuse and neglect. Sources said children were being put at even greater risk by the department refusing to remove them quickly enough from bad homes. "The situation has to be extreme before FACS will step in," said the source, adding the problem had been created by the "stolen generation", the alleged removal of part-Aboriginal children from their parents last century.

Ms Lawrie said only a court could order a child being taken into care permanently.


The decline of grammar

Lynne Truss is a professional pedant. Her 2003 book Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation sold 3 million copies worldwide. Truss has now followed up with a picture book for kids: Eats, Shoots and Leaves: Why commas really do make a difference. But should such a book be necessary at all?

Truss is avowedly fed up with poor teaching - or non-teaching - of punctuation, grammar and spelling in English schools. Her message is as relevant here as it is in Britain. Grammar and punctuation need to be taught well. It cannot be absorbed through the act of reading alone. Truss, in an interview in July with The Times Education Supplement, pithily summed up her frustration: "It's similar to music. You don't just pick up how to play the piano. I feel kids are being let down. In a communications age, knowing how to write is a life skill."

Formal grammar is not a usual part of most English courses in Queensland schools. This has been the case since the 1970s when it went out of fashion and creativity at all costs was the preferred approach. The results have been ruinous. Although it is encouraging that Queensland Education Minister Rod Welford indicated in March that state schools would put increased emphasis on reading, grammar and spelling from prep to Year 9, this will take time.

The problem lies with the way teachers are prepared. In one sense, teachers who have gone through training courses since the 1970s are not to blame. They have not been taught grammar during their school days or in teacher training institutions. They enter the classroom not knowing any. It is, however, their unavoidable responsibility to learn how to teach the structure of language.

The consequences of virtually no grammar instruction for three decades are plain to see. In September 2005, a study of 660 Defence Force Academy students - who had achieved a tertiary entrance rank of 80 per cent or better to gain admission - found that students presented with a poor level of expressive technical accuracy. ADFA associate dean of education Stephen Yeomans noted at the time: "What I particularly notice is improper sentence construction, inappropriate or no punctuation, lack of conjunctives, misuse of apostrophes, poor spelling and so on."

In February, 124 businesses polled by the Australian Association of Graduate Employers highlighted poor communication skills in prospective employees. The lack of grammar featured strongly. "The focus is now on the instantaneous. It's all about speed, it's quick responses and short messages and abbreviations and shortcuts. That's leading to people not knowing how to spell a long word, or writing in text message-speak rather than traditional, grammatically correct English," president Bill Reeves observed.

This is mirrored in Queensland. In May, Commerce Queensland president Beatrice Booth drew attention to employer dissatisfaction with the quality of young employees' English skills. "There are no remedial programs for young people at that age, yet we have a plethora of young people who can't spell, comprehend what they're reading or write a proper sentence," Ms Booth said.

Identifying the problem is relatively easy. There is enough research showing that spelling, grammar and punctuation are in decline in Australian children. To attempt to stem this, Premier Peter Beattie recently announced that children who struggled with English skills would be given up to 15 hours, at a cost of $1000 each, of one-on-one instruction. The students concerned are in the bottom 10 per cent of Year 5 and 7 - about 11,200 children.

In February, the Productivity Commission's report into government services found that one in five Queensland Year 5 students was not a competent reader. Knowing about the extent of poor language skills is one thing, knowing how to successfully manage it is more problematical. One thing is clear. Grammar teaching has to undergo a major rethink. Any student who learns a language other than English learns grammar so why is English any different? Because grammar is not a central part of English teaching in a majority of classrooms, children who are not taught it are being disenfranchised in their communicative skills.

Then there is the quality of the graduates who want to become English teachers. This is not uniformly high. The uncomfortable reality is that there are English teachers who are poor spellers, know little grammar and are unclear about punctuation. How can the incompetent teach children well? How did they get there in the first place? Some teachers who are going to enter Queensland classrooms in the next four years are being drawn from the lowest bands of OP scores. Universities are accepting students to become teachers with OP scores as low as 19. When it is remembered that the OP score bottoms at 25, this is cause for concern. The reality is that there is a significant proportion of English teachers who were low-achieving students in the subjects they are now expected to teach.

There is a solution. English teachers without grammar knowledge need to undergo rigorous professional development. This could take place within schools and be led by teachers who are confident in grammar. Experienced English teachers with expertise in technical elements of expression could be redeployed as in-house grammar mentors. It would be their responsibility to pass or fail their colleagues and offer additional support. Teachers nearing retirement could meet this need. This depends on the assumption that grammar, spelling, punctuation and sentence construction still matter. It is clear that for too long grammar has lost its glamour and many children do not know how their own language works. It is, clearly, low-skilled English teaching that is failing them


Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Howard: Arab world 'must accept' Israel

The Arab world must recognise Israel's right to exist if the world is to ever live in peace, Prime Minister John Howard said today. But he cautioned that Israel must accept the establishment of a Palestinian state if the region and the world is to move forward. In a keynote speech to a security conference in Canberra today, Mr Howard also warned the United Nations must take a firm line with Iran over the country's push to develop a nuclear capability if the international organisation was to reassert its credibility.

Mr Howard said that the aftermath of the war in Lebanon demanded that all nations refocus on lasting peace in the Middle East. "There must be unconditional acceptance throughout the entire Arab world, without exception, of Israel's right to exist in peace and security behind recognised borders," he said. "The entire Arab world - including Syria, Hizbollah and Hamas and in addition Iran - must give up forever the idea that the Israelis can be driven into the sea."

The prime minister said that Iran's nuclear ambitions must be brought to heel by a united international community. "Iran's behaviour - in defiance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1696 - needs to be met with resolve by the international community," Mr Howard said. "While Australia is committed to finding a diplomatic solution, the UN needs to act quickly and decisively to ensure its credibility."

Mr Howard said that Australia's fight against terrorism would take many years and his government would take the front foot in the war on terror around the world. "The most immediate security threats to Australia in 2006 come from the interlocking networks of terror, arms proliferation and fundamentalist ideology," he said. "The struggle against Islamic terrorism and violent extremism will be a generational one."

Mr Howard said Iraq and Afghanistan were vital battlegrounds for Australia in the war against terrorism, and warned coalition forces had long, hard fights ahead of them.


Citizenship test backed by the people

Australians overwhelmingly support a test for citizenship that includes not only an English language test but also questions about our history and way of life. Despite fears that a proposed citizenship quiz for migrants using English would discriminate against non-English speakers, more than three-quarters of Australians agree there should be such a test. According to a Newspoll survey, taken exclusively for The Australian last weekend, 77 per cent of respondents agreed there should be a test on language, Australia and our way of life. A majority, 53 per cent, supported the idea "strongly" and only 19 per cent were against such a test.

During the past two weeks, when the proposed citizenship test and the issue of "Australian values" have dominated the political debate, the Coalition's support has improved but the ALP still holds a clear margin on two-party preferences. The Coalition's primary vote rose two percentage points to 41per cent and Labor's vote went from 41 to 42 per cent. Although Kim Beazley faced strong criticism from within his own ranks over his support for a citizenship test, the ALP has kept a 53 to 47 per cent lead over the Coalition on second preferences. The Prime Minister and Opposition Leader both supported a citizenship test that involved a quiz on Australian values.

The Government has released a discussion paper, which raises the prospect of doubling the citizenship qualifying period to four years and demanding that migrants sit a quiz that tests English language as well as a knowledge of Australian history and institutions. The Government has not put forward a draft test but Mr Howard said it would not be "a tablet from the mountain" and there would be a commonsense approach taken.

Mr Beazley has backed off from his earlier suggestion that visitors to Australia, including tourists, would have to sign a pledge on their visas upholding Australian values. After being criticised within his own party for the suggestion, Mr Beazley said any such test would apply to people intending to be "permanent residents".

The Newspoll survey found clear majority support for a detailed citizenship test in every demographic group, with the highest levels of support among the oldest voters and Coalition supporters. Nine out of 10 Coalition supporters backed the idea of a test and only 7 per cent were against. The lowest levels of support were among those aged 18-34 and Labor voters, both on 70 per cent. Regional areas showed strong support, with 80 per cent backing a citizenship test with an English component, compared with 75per cent in the capital cities.


Education reform: A clarion call for the sake of our kids

There is a sleeping issue at the next election for a political party with intellectual courage-the corruption of the social sciences curriculum in our schools. The article published in The Weekend Australian by Professor Ken Wiltshire from the University of Queensland (In defence of the true values of learning) should become a clarion call for vigorous intervention by the national government on behalf of the interests of parents and children.

There is a golden lesson from the History Summit held in Canberra several weeks ago-once the truth of what is happening in our schools is documented and tabled on the bar of public opinion, the reform is irresistible. There is no substitute for transparency. Most state governments surrendered this responsibility many years ago. In some cases this retreat assumes epic proportions. As Wiltshire says, Western Australia's experiment in outcomes-based education has failed and Queensland has "absolutely no external assessment in the entire preparatory year to Year 12 spectrum". This means they have "no way of knowing what standards their schools are achieving".

The decision from the History Summit was that history should be re-established in schools as a core academic discipline. This is anathema to progressivist education philosophy and the decision will be fought by the progressive lobby. Yet history should be the start not the end of this cultural conflict, pivotal to the way children are taught. Addressing the impact of the critical literacy movement in the English curriculum, Wiltshire says: "Key aspects of their mantra include deconstructing texts; no longer considering texts to be timeless, universal or unbiased; focusing on the beliefs and values of the composer; and working for social equity and change".

In his assessment of what this movement is providing Australian school students, Wiltshire says: "There is not much of a positive nature in this line-up: it is at best negative and at worst nihilistic. School is for basics and knowledge, certainly accompanied by critical thinking, but not in a milieu where all is relative and there are no absolutes for young people who do not have the intellectual maturity to cope with the somewhat morbid rigour of constant criticism and questioning of motives. If you go on deconstructing for long enough you will become a marshmallow or a jelly".

At heart, critical literacy theory is an ideological construct. It is politics disguised as education. It is rationalised as assisting students to become "active participants in a democratic society". The truth about the critical literacy agenda was exposed 18 months ago when the President of the NSW English Teachers Association, Wayne Sawyer, said the Howard Government's 2004 election win showed that teachers were failing in their mission. The issue here is an ideological disposition that has no place in the schools (nor does any conservative agenda with the same rigidity). The reality is that critical literacy theory survives in the English curriculum only because it is not subject to the transparent analysis valued by a democratic society.

Over the past several years the Federal Government has proposed a series of curriculum changes. It needs to redouble those efforts and propose new mechanisms to review and reform school curriculum. The State Governments are the guilty parties and they know this. The discredited defence mechanisms that this is about Canberra's interference or John Howard trying to impose his own values just won't wash anymore. This is about our kids and it should be treated with urgency and on merit.


A Greenie dictatorship?

Every property in the Waverley local government area in Sydney may be required to install solar roof panels under a plan being considered by the council to make it "a world leader in climate change solutions". The council's sustainability committee "will explore ways to integrate key environmental targets and initiatives throughout the organisation and the Waverley community". The committee will comprise councillors and experts on building sustainability and climate change.

The Mayor of Waverley, Mora Main, put up the idea in a mayoral minute, unanimously supported by councillors, directing the committee to advise on maximising solar energy. "Moving towards a 'solar Waverley' may soon see all our rooftops sporting solar panels," she said. The committee will advise on:

* A brief for a study to assess and characterise the total potential for rooftop solar energy in Waverley.

* The application of solar hot water and space heating, passive solar design and photovoltaics to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

* Changes to the council's planning rules to prevent overshadowing of useable solar-capture space on neighbouring structures.

* Regulation to ensure development applications maximise the uptake of solar power.

The council says each municipality has a responsibility to contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. "As developments in solar technology take it ever closer to cost competitiveness with coal, distributed renewal energy becomes a realistic component of Australia's energy supply," it says in a background paper.

Waverley's move will not find favour with everyone. The Productivity Commission recommended in a report on energy efficiency last year that federal, state and territory governments and the Australian Building Codes Board should examine ways to stop local governments creating variations in minimum energy efficiency standards for buildings. The Federal Government has supported this finding. "Determining effective energy efficiency requirements for houses requires specialist knowledge that is more likely to be available to national bodies than to local governments," the commission said. "The effects of such requirements are predominantly experienced outside of the local government area. In addition, the costs associated with local government area-based variations in energy efficiency standards are potentially higher than for state and territory-based ones. This is because they can cause a higher degree of regulatory fragmentation and uncertainty."

In an earlier report on building regulation the commission warned against the erosion of national consistency of building regulation by local governments through their planning approval processes. A feature of an agreement being developed between the federal, state and territory governments on the building code will - "as far as practicable" - restrict any changes to the code to those arising from geographical, geological and climate factors. The agreement provides for state and territory governments to seek similar commitments from local governments. The Federal Government does, however, recognise the role of local government in developing and trialling new approaches to address climate change "in a context of cost-benefit assessment".

Source. For more Greenie nuttiness from Waverley, see here or here

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"Incorrect" fez

Racism complaints have forced Transperth to withdraw taxpayer-funded ads showing a gorilla wearing a fez. The Public Transport Authority confirmed that the campaign, which cost about $7000 and depicted an ape wearing what is sometimes considered an Islamic cap, was stopped after three complaints.

"The gorilla first appeared on July 22. We did not receive any feedback from the public until this week, when three complaints were lodged," PTA spokesman David Hynes said. "The complaints said the depiction was culturally insensitive and offensive. We responded to the complaints by removing the posters immediately. "There was a 2m by 4m poster and two smaller bulkhead posters at the Esplanade Busport and three 1.3m by 1.3m posters at our InfoCentres. "We printed 5000 pamphlets . . . they have also been withdrawn." He said Transperth did not intend to offend with the ads.

The WA Ethnic Communities Council said an apology would have been more appropriate. And passers-by said removing the ads was political correctness gone mad. "They are not offensive and I think there's too much of this type of carry-on about what's culturally sensitive," said Donna, 52, a public servant. Perth florist Natasha, 30, said: "I don't think they are offensive to Muslim people because a fez doesn't have to be a Muslim hat."

ECC president Ramdas Sankaran said the fez-wearing gorilla was not the type of image that should be used in a multicultural society. "Given the current Islamaphobia around the place, it's rather unfortunate that thoughtless ads like this are floating around," he said. "(But) an explanation and an apology for the unintended consequences would have been more appropriate."

The fez, which originated in the Moroccan city of Fez and was popularised by the Ottomans in the 1800s, is often seen as Islamic, even though European soldiers have worn them. Mr Hynes said research had indicated that the fez's origins were non- religious. He said the ad graphic was part of a fantasy campaign that also had a giant squid attacking a ferry on the Swan River and a satellite that had fallen in front of a bus. "(They) are intended to highlight a key benefit of TravelEasy . . . getting up-to-the-minute online messages about unexpected changes in public transport," he said. "Putting a fez on the gorilla was intended to suggest it was an escaped circus animal. No offence was intended."


Above is a picture of some Canadian Shriners wearing fezzes -- as Shriners do. I wonder if the Shriners were offended? They are certainly not Muslims because of the fezzes. (Shriners are a colourful offshoot of the Masons devoted to hospital charities). The fez is in fact mostly associated with Egypt (hence the Shriner interest) rather than with Muslims generally. Putting a rag hat on a gorilla would have been a much clearer Muslim allusion. And the man below is no Muslim. He is the famous British comedian, Tommy Cooper, who almost always wore a fez during his shows. He would no doubt be very "incorrect" if he were still alive today

Fundamentalist Christians under attack

Children at taxpayer-funded schools run by the Exclusive Brethren sect are brainwashed and their basic texts are crudely censored, say former teachers. Several teachers have told The Australian they left Brethren schools in disgust at "excessive control" over what children were allowed to read and study. And they said they were paid $10,000 a year less than teachers at comparable non-government schools because the sect did not allow enterprise bargaining.

The claims have prompted calls from teachers, unions and politicians for tighter conditions on taxpayer funding for Brethren schools, which receive $20.7 million a year in federal money.

A fundamentalist Christian sect, the Exclusive Brethren has created controversy in Australia and abroad for smear campaigns against liberal-minded politicians. New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark accused the sect of hiring a private detective to gather dirt on her and husband Peter Davis, who was pictured in a magazine being kissed by a "mystery man", who turned out to be a family friend.

The sect has 31 schools in Australia - in NSW, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania - teaching 3823 children until the end of high school. As the Brethren do not believe in tertiary education, they must hire non-members of the sect to teach in their schools. A teacher who recently left one of the sect's three Oakwood schools in Tasmania said he did so in disgust at the "complete control" over the children and their education imposed by the Brethren. "I didn't want to contribute to a system in which the control over the children was so complete," the teacher said. "The children are told what jobs they will do and who they will marry. They were not being equipped to live in the outside world. The Brethren were cutting off the children's pathways." Most modern novels were banned, pages were removed even from permitted 19th-century works and entire chapters were censored from science books. "One science book had all the chapters on reproduction cut out," one teacher said. "Most modern texts were banned."

Teachers reported positives, such as excellent reading skills among the children and an absence of violent or abusive behaviour, but said pupils could be difficult to discipline because they did not believe they needed to heed the word of outsiders.

John Saunders, chief executive of the Brethren's Hobart campus of Oakwood School, rejected the criticisms. "'Our school community, including non-Brethren staff and teachers, has an understanding, respect and a commitment to abide by the school ethos," he said. "This ethos upholds scriptural principles, including the teachings of Christ and the apostles. Our school is a Christian fundamentalist school with a secular curriculum. Many modern-day novels are rejected on the basis they are contrary to the truth of scripture. The parents have set up the Oakwood school to protect their children from the rapid moral decline in today's society."

Independent Education Union federal secretary Lynne Rolley questioned taxpayer funding of Brethren schools, saying it was unfair to other non-government schools with full market pay rates.


Geography lessons morph into environmentalism

High school geography is being taught as a series of issues presented in a naive and unquestioning way, often by teachers with no relevant qualifications. Associate professor John Lidstone of the Queensland University of Technology said much of what was taught was "naive environmentalism". And amid calls for a government review, Professor Lidstone said high school students were often not presented with the fundamentals of geography, such as the formation of mountains or glaciers, or the science behind issues, such as the rainfall cycle in Australia when examining drought. "There's an unquestioned acceptance of issues like the greenhouse effect; they're not actually engaging in the debate," he said.

Dr Lidstone, secretary of the International Geographical Union's commission on geographical education for 10 years, said the biggest problem was the subject's integration into social studies courses. "Integrated social studies doesn't do history well, it doesn't do geography well, it doesn't do citizenship-type things well. It very quickly becomes a hodgepodge," he said. "The syllabus lacks coherence and tends to become issues-based. You're asking kids to solve problems that adults and politicians can't solve. "Lost is the awe and wonder of the natural environment, glaciers, how mountains are thrown up, volcanoes and natural disasters."

The Institute of Australian Geographers and the Australian Geography Teachers Association argue that the subject has been bruised by a crowded curriculum that squeezes it into social studies until Year 10 in most states and territories. The institute wrote to federal Education Minister Julie Bishop this month calling for a national review of the geography curriculum along the lines of the recent history summit. "Geography teachers have complained that the subject has been distorted and reduced in rigour by the need to relate it to general statements of educational outcomes, and that the geographical knowledge and skills of Australian students has been significantly diminished as a result," the letter says.

Dr Lidstone questioned whether students were being taught the basics of geography before they were expected to solve the earth's problems. Working with a group of high school students looking at coastal degradation, Dr Lidstone said none could confidently answer in which direction sand moved up the Australian coast. "They didn't know the process of longshore drift. If you don't know what causes it, how on earth do you talk about remedial action, which is what they're being asked to do," he said. "There's too much focus on the issues rather than developing the skills of analysis and how to get data and interrogate it. Often students can only work on the data they're given but learning how to evaluate the quality of the data is pretty difficult."

AGTA president Nick Hutchinson said the desired outcomes listed in curriculums were too vague and imprecise, failing to detail what students should be taught. "The outcomes really destroy content in a sense because they just become such wishy-washy motherhood statements," he said. In South Australia, students are not taught "geography" but a subject called "space, place and environment" while in Western Australia and Queensland, students study "place and space".

There is a national shortage of trained geography teachers, with history teachers shouldering the bulk of teaching in social studies. In the senior years of school when geography is offered as an option, it is forced to compete with environmental management, sustainable futures or recreational and environmental studies - all specialised aspects of geography. Mr Hutchinson said that in Victoria, students must "analyse, organise and synthesise geographical information" while the essential learning statements, since revised, in Tasmania wanted geography students to "create purposeful futures".

Professional geographers and teachers believe geography should be taught as a stand-alone subject in years 9 and 10, in line with the proposal for Australian history. In his letter to Ms Bishop, geographers institute president Jim Walmsley, from the University of New England, proposes more specific topics such as the effects of European settlement on the land of Australia and how it is managed


Gracious permission to hire older workers granted

Victoria again

A Victorian company has been given permission to aim for older workers in job advertisements. Elite Customer Services is desperate to tap into the baby boomer talent pool and has been granted exemptions from equal opportunity laws to help attract candidates aged over 45. The ruling is thought to be the first of its type at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

The Southbank call centre and financial services firm can now single out over-45s in recruitment pitches for accounting jobs, teams where younger employees dominate, and areas suffering from high turnover. General manager Bev Excell said the best person would always get the job, but the company had struggled to attract older applicants and wanted the chance to choose from a wider age group.

VCAT vice-president Judge Sandra Davis noted discrimination against older job seekers and the benefits gained from experience and skill of older workers in granting an exemption for two years.


Monday, September 25, 2006

"Organic": Nobody can tell the difference

Australia's peak consumer watchdog has called for urgent government action to stop what it claims is a multi-milliondollar organic food rort [racket]. The Australian Consumers' Association has accused the Federal Government of "dragging its feet" while consumers are being misled. The organic food industry is worth an estimated $450 million a year in Australia, and is one of the fastest-growing food sectors worldwide. Association spokeswoman Indira Naidoo said consumers were being ripped off. "There is no government regulation about what defines organic food," she said. "Consumers, in most cases, aren't getting what they pay for."

In many cases, they were paying two or three times as much as the cost of "ordinary" produce. "We are calling for a national government guideline that defines what standards organic food should meet. "Given the amount of organic products being consumed and the number of people being misled by incorrect labelling, we think it's an urgent priority. "We feel the Government has been dragging its feet on this issue. It's very misleading. It's definitely a rort."

Organic food labelling is controlled by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. The self-regulatory system has seven private organic certifying groups in Australia plus several overseas groups. They are all accredited by AQIS, but there are variations on what is accepted as organic. There are also products on the market claiming to be organic that aren't associated with any certifying body. But Organic Federation of Australia chairman Andre Leu disputed the claim consumers were being misled. "I would challenge the ACA very strongly on that," he said. "The vast majority of organic food is reputable. If there's fraud, it's negligible. "I would say to consumers: If food is not accredited, we cannot guarantee it is produced according to our standard. Stay away from products that don't have certifying logos."

Standards Australia is developing a standard for organic food, but the ACA said this needed to be supported by tougher government guidelines. "While an Australian Standard is a step in the right direction, it isn't necessarily mandatory," Ms Naidoo said. "We would like to see it referenced in the Food Standards Code to give it the force of law. "It's very important people know what they are consuming is legitimately labelled organic."

However, Food Standards Australia New Zealand spokeswoman Lydia Buchtmann said the Food Standards Code was not the right place to define "organic". "The Food Standards Code is about ensuring food safety and not so much for descriptions," she said. "We are working with Standards Australia to define organic food, and we feel that is being addressed appropriately."


Greenies hit everybody's pocket

The states should be investigated for anti-competitive behaviour over their restrictive land release policies, a leading housing chief declared. Former Housing Industry Association president Bob Day yesterday said the strategies were creating a new era of lifetime renters. He blamed urban planners obsessed with curbing the size of cities for an "artificial" land shortage that was driving up property prices.

Now chair of the Institute of Public Affairs' Great Australian Dream project, launched last month by Treasurer Peter Costello, Mr Day warned of "horrendous" social consequences linked to the affordability crisis. In a speech to the Australian Christian Lobby's conference in Canberra, Mr Day said families were forking out $300,000 more on mortgages than they should. Until the early 1990s, the median house price had consistently been three times that of average household income. Sydney house prices were now more than eight times the average household income, and it was six times the average household income in the other capital cities.

"For those on middle and low incomes, the prospect of ever becoming home owners has now all but evaporated as they face the prospect of being lifetime renters," Mr Day said. Mr Day, a recently endorsed Liberal candidate for the South Australian federal seat of Makin, urged people to drive to the outskirts of major cities to see the "abundant" land suitable for housing. "The so-called land shortage is a matter of political choice, not of fact," he said. "Perhaps we should be asking the ACCC to investigate the anti-competitive behaviour of state and territory government land agencies, and their association with big land developers."

Mr Day challenged the attitude that the spread of suburbia damaged the environment and encouraged car use. He said planners who demonised urban growth had inflicted enormous damage on the economy without any scientific or intellectually sustainable arguments to support their dogma.


Long delays for cancer diagnosis

Women suspected of having breast cancer are waiting longer than seven days to be diagnosed because of a national shortage of pathologists. Instead of the recommended 24-hour diagnosis, the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) reports that some women are waiting more than a week to be diagnosed. The lack of pathologists also means some women wait as long as four months for autopsy results after a miscarriage.

The Sunday Telegraph revealed earlier this month that some families had been forced to wait a year to learn their loved ones' cause of death because the Westmead morgue had been unable to fill vacancies for forensic pathologists. The college has blamed the Commonwealth and state governments for failing to honour commitments to fund additional training positions to address the problem.

RCPA chief executive officer Debra Graves said the situation had reached crisis point, with patient health potentially put at risk. She said some women with breast lumps had to repeat diagnostic procedures because of the pathologists shortage. Dr Graves said it was advisable that a pathologist perform or supervise diagnostic procedures to ensure the correct cells were taken, but the unavailability of pathologists had resulted in cases where incorrect cells had been taken, forcing patients to repeat procedures. "It is best practice to have a woman with a lump diagnosed within 24 hours, but what we are seeing at the moment is women having to wait for anything up to a week because they've had to come back," she said. "That is a terribly stressful time for a woman, but it's happening everywhere and it's getting worse."

According to the RCPA, there are 70 pathologist vacancies nationally, with the shortage affecting hospitals across Australia. Figures from the college show there are 1290 practising pathologists in Australia, 20 per cent of them aged over 60. In 2003, the Australian Medical Workforce Advisory Committee recommended that an extra 100 training positions be created over the next five years. But since that meeting, only 39 new positions have been funded instead of the recommended 300. The college put forward a budget submission to the Commonwealth for an additional $13.75 million to fund an extra 40 positions. The Commonwealth agreed to fund 10. The NSW Government has provided funding for four pathologist positions.

In the most recent RCPA Path Way journal, the college cites a cancer being undiagnosed by an overworked pathologist as a worst-case scenario if the shortage is not immediately addressed. A spokeswoman for Health Minister Tony Abbott said the training of pathologists was the responsibility of state and territory governments, but added the Commonwealth had a program to train pathologists in the private sector. "In 2004-06, $3.7 million in funding was allocated," she said.


States failing the nation's schools

State Labor governments have ceded control of curriculum to individual schools and have failed to monitor the quality of teaching because they are captives of the teachers' unions. In a vigorous attack on the state of the nation's education system, Australia's representative on the executive of the UN education body UNESCO, Kenneth Wiltshire, said the states had relinquished any effective system of measuring the standard of what is taught in schools and the performance of teachers.

Professor Wiltshire, the architect of the Queensland school curriculum under the Goss government, said school inspectors were abolished long ago but an alternative way of monitoring schools had not been introduced. "Current Labor state governments are usually under the influence of the teachers' unions so it is no wonder that teachers remain one of the very few professions who do not have external reviews," he said. He said Western Australia "with its failed experiment on outcomes-based education, and Queensland, with absolutely no external assessment in the entire P-12 spectrum, have no real way of knowing what standards their schools are achieving".

Professor Wiltshire also supported The Weekend Australian's stance against teaching school students critical literacy in English, saying deconstruction belonged at honours level in university. "If you go on deconstructing for long enough you will become a marshmallow or a jelly," he said. "School is for basics and knowledge." He said Shakespeare was studied by "just about every other Western country and many eastern ones as well, despite the claims of the critical literacy movement that he goes in and out of fashion and is 'censored' by curriculum authorities". "If Shakespeare is too difficult for most students in an English subject, would we perhaps create an alternative subject so students could study the comedies in the 'easier' subject and the tragedies in another," he writes in an article in The Weekend Australian today. "Should the Diaries of Anne Frank be replaced with the Emails of Tom Cruise or the Text Messages of Shane Warne?"

Professor Wiltshire said school curriculums failed to detail the key knowledge students should learn, instead listing competencies called outcomes. This was largely responsible for the exodus of students out of government schools into the independent system. "Our school curriculums have strayed far from being knowledge-based," he said. "Indeed, 'knowledge' has been replaced by 'information'. It is little wonder that the Howard Government's attempted reforms of schooling have gained traction with the Australian public."

While state governments could not agree on a common school leaving certificate - largely because of a squabble "over which minister's signature would appear on the certificate" - the federal Government was talking about greater uniformity, improved accountability and comparing standards.

Professor Wiltshire is the JD Story professor of public administration at the University of Queensland. He recently completed a term as special adviser to the Australian National Training Authority and is a former chairman of the Tertiary Entrance Procedures Authority.

The Weekend Australian's support for neutral, apolitical teaching of English is criticised in the current journal of the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, by high school English teacher David Freesmith. He accuses the newspaper of mounting a "political and ideological" attack on critical literacy and of failing to properly understand it. Mr Freesmith holds a masters in teaching, and has been a teacher for five years, all at Adelaide's Prince Alfred College, where he teaches English in years 8-10, English as a Second Language, French and the International Baccalaureat subject Theory of Knowledge. In his article, Mr Freesmith argues that teaching reading and writing is "inevitably ideological at some level and (has) significant political implications". He refers to writers who argue that "a skills approach to literacy can 'generate failure' among minority and working-class students", can "entrench prejudices" and so is inherently political. He also says formulating a canon of valued literature that includes Shakespeare and Dickens "or any other reading list, is ... an ideological act". "The history of English curricula suggests that the notion of a permanent English canon having been taught across generations is dubious," he says. "For example, Shakespeare, the very centrepiece of the canon, has spent considerable periods of time out of favour, and has even, at times, been heavily censored by curriculum writers. "The notion of the canon is in fact a modern invention, tied to the modern cultural function of defining the nation. Advocacy of the canon in the curriculum may therefore be seen to be tied ... to a nationalistic ideology."

But Professor Wiltshire said the critical literacy movement was "at best negative and at worst nihilistic". "This sort of thinking is a recipe for laziness, indifference and unwillingness to identify standards and common values," he said. "It inevitably leads to a dumbing down of curriculum and therefore the students themselves ... School is for basics and knowledge, certainly accompanied by critical thinking but not in a milieu where all is relative and there are no absolutes."

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop said yesterday the states and territories should listen to the experts and develop "more soundly based" curriculums. She said literacy and numeracy tests revealed an alarming number of students completed their schooling without strong skills in these areas. "There's a need for a greater focus on the fundamentals of subjects like English before students can be expected to deal with more advanced concepts," she said.

Professor Wiltshire said it was not only governments but also the community, including parents and industry, that decided curriculum and the challenge ahead was to define the core knowledge all students should learn. "That's the core curriculum, that's what we should agree upon as core curriculum, certainly the basis of knowledge, what a person needs to function in society, to be a citizen," he said.


Sunday, September 24, 2006

Federal treasurer: Pope's critics 'stifling free speech'

Peter Costello has said Muslim critics of a recent speech by Pope benedict XVI have "lacked proportion" in their angry response and have tried to stifle free speech. The Treasurer, in a speech to be delivered today to a Christian lobby conference in Canberra, will also dismiss Islamic extremists' efforts to create caliphates bound by religious law, saying instead that the creation of a secular Muslim state in Turkey is a model that should be adopted by the modern Islamic world.

Earlier this month, the Pope triggered condemnation when he discussed Islam's tendency to justify violence. The Pope had quoted criticisms of the prophet Mohammed by 14th-century Byzantine Christian emperor Manuel II Paleologos.

Mr Costello says he "will not repeat the sentence because it would thoroughly detract from what I have to say". "But it was said 700 years ago," he says. "Read the speech and wonder at the reaction. In response, we are told, seven churches were set on fire on the West Bank and Gaza, and effigies of the Pope were hung and burned in Pakistan. "No doubt the fire bombers on the West Bank and the demonstrators in Pakistan would claim that their actions were incited by the 'insult' of the Pope's speech. "But one can't help thinking that there are some people who love to find an insult and have no concept of proportionality when they do so. "We are moved to think that there are other agendas here. And one of those agendas is to stifle free speech and legitimate open inquiry."

Mr Costello will tell delegates the Muslim world has an "outstanding example" of a secular state created last century in the nation of Turkey established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who commanded the Turkish victory at Gallipoli. "He should be held out as a model of leadership for the modern Islamic world," Mr Costello will say. Movements such as al Qaeda and its south-east Asian affiliate Jemaah Islamiah are engaged in a violent struggle to create Muslim caliphates, often dominated by sharia law. "They have a vision of a caliphate stretching across the Middle East toppling what they see as corrupt nation states and enforcing a more 'pure' version of Islam," Mr Costello says. "In our own region, the ambitions of Jemaah Islamiah is to create a pan-Islamic state stretching down and encompassing the southern Philippines, Malaya and Indonesia."

But Mr Costello argues the separation of church and state is good for society and should be embraced by the Muslim world. "I believe that a secular national state can be adopted by Muslim societies and, what is more, that doing so will lead to greater economic technological progress," he says. Mr Costello says Jesus Christ rejected any opportunity to seize political power, while Mohammed, who was persecuted for his religious teaching, formed an army, defeated those who had forced him out, made peace and instituted a government. The Treasurer has previously sparked controversy by condemning "mushy multiculturalism" and warning Muslim migrants who want sharia law to leave Australia


Australian Foreign minister hits out at Chavez 'rant'

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez resembled a dictator who lacked class during his "rant" at the UN in which he called George W Bush "the devil", Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has said. Mr Downer, who was at the UN General Assembly when Mr Chavez attacked the US President this week, said his comments reflected badly on Venezuela. He said Mr Chavez had dictatorial tendencies and compared him to Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe.

"The United Nations is a place where you can speak freely and America's a place where you can speak freely," Mr Downer said on US news network Fox in New York. "The irony of all of this is that Venezuela isn't. So here you've got a man who has got dictatorial tendencies ranting to the world. "I think the great mainstream of the international community expect better from political leaders than that."

Mr Downer said he was not surprised Mr Chavez received some laughs and cheers at the General Assembly following his comments. "I've seen it before with Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, and Dr Mahathir the former prime minister of Malaysia," Mr Downer said. "A lot of these people who get up there and denounce the free world and denounce the United States, they get a bit of applause. They get applause from like-minded people. "He can say what he likes but he has to live with the consequences of his words, and I just think in a country like Australia people look at a man like that ranting and it reflects very poorly on the whole of Venezuela that they've got a leader as classless as that in his political behaviour."

The US came under fire from several countries at the General Assembly. The day after Mr Bush defended his attempts to bring democracy to the Middle East, Mr Chavez said: "Yesterday the devil came here. And it still smells of sulphur today." Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attacked the Bush administration's "hegemony". Bolivia's left-wing president, Evo Morales, made a colourful anti-US statement by holding up a coca leaf, which is banned in the United States, to back his protest against the US handling of its war on drugs. Mr Mugabe also railed against the United States and Britain.

"It has been one of the most shrill displays of anti-Americanism in recent years," an ambassador on the UN Security Council said of the speeches. Despite calls from critics in the US to set up an alternative to the United Nations, Mr Downer said the body needed to work better. "It's too hard to set up. I think we've got to try to make the United Nations work a bit better," he said. "But I can understand how Americans feel and I feel for them. "It's easy to take a cheap shot at America."


His Eminence calls time on the Islam row

Cardinal George Pell, whose defence of the Pope's comments about Islam created uproar in Australia's Muslim community this week, has declared the debate to be over. "I think, at least in Australia, it is just rumbling quietly to an end," Sydney's Catholic Archbishop said yesterday. "Throughout the world? I suspect good sense will prevail there also. It's not a major challenge in Australia. The Muslim population here is quite a small population and overwhelmingly peaceful. "I think this Pope will continue to speak clearly and charitably. Very early he spoke about the importance of reciprocity."

Cardinal Pell earlier this week said the reaction of Muslims to comments made by Benedict XVI - in which the Pope quoted a Byzantine emperor using the words "evil" and "inhuman" in reference to Mohammed - showed the link in Islam between religion and violence. And he called on the nation's Muslim clerics to address that link instead of sweeping it under the carpet. Cardinal Pell said the rights Western countries extended to all citizens should be enjoyed by minorities throughout the world, including Christian communities in Muslim countries. He also said Europe needed to radically rethink its relationship with Islam, if it was not doing so already. What was required was "a genuine dialogue rather than just an exchange of pleasantries, so that we can agree to differ without using weapons. But it's quite different in Australia."

Cardinal Pell said his relationship with the Australian Islamic community was continuing as usual and he would be attending Islamic gatherings to which he had been invited. He also said he would be meeting a lawyer associated with the Bali Nine drug mules sometime in the next week or so.


Hands off our Reef

Queensland's tourism industry will fight an influential British think-tank that wants the Great Barrier Reef virtually closed. The Centre for Future Studies says visitors may have to win the right to visit the Reef by a lottery system by 2020. The same group - which claims Australians are not looking after the Reef for the long-term - also wants a host of the world's most popular destinations declared almost off-limits. The entire Greek capital of Athens and Italy's Amalfi coast are among those it says should be far more exclusive.

But the suggestion, contained in a report paid for by a British insurance company, has infuriated the local tourism industry and been outright rejected by Australian scientists and the Federal Government. About 1.8 million people a year travel to the Reef, generating $5 billion and keeping about 800 companies in business. And local experts say the ecosystem which comprises the world's largest living organism is in good shape.

But CFS director Frank Shaw - a man whose biography boasts of him owning a "bolt hole" in a Canary Islands tax haven - claims "economic goals" mean other problems are being overlooked. "There is a conflict between environmental concerns and commercial interests," Dr Shaw said. "Rising sea water temperatures are already damaging the Great Barrier Reef." His group's report also names Nepal's Kathmandu; the Florida Everglades, the Taj coral reed in the Maldives and Croatia's Dalmatian coast as places that should limit their tourism numbers. Tourists could be asked to enter a holiday lottery in which they could win or earn the right to holiday in a particular place.

But coral reef expert Terry Hughes, who directs the biggest coral reef institute in the world at Townsville's James Cook University, said the Great Barrier Reef was a big place and the tourism industry had little impact. "I don't believe there is a conflict between environmental concerns and commercial interests," Professor Hughes said. He said rising sea levels were unlikely to impact on the Reef. "It's already underwater and a few more centimetres, or even half-a-metre over the next few decades is not going to have a huge impact," he said.

Federal Tourism Minister Fran Bailey said tourism operators were ferocious defenders of the Reef's pristine environment. "They rely on the health of the Reef and so have become intimately involved in protecting that environment," she said.

The idea of having to compete for a chance to see one of the great natural wonders of the world - or not see it at all - outraged German tourist Susanne Heiduczek. Ms Heiduczek and her boyfriend Martin, both medical students, said experiencing the Reef was one of the best ways to make people appreciate it. "If people can't see the Reef, what will prompt them to fight for its protection?" she said.

Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said yesterday that tourism operators constantly monitored changes on the Reef in collaboration with groups such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority


Saturday, September 23, 2006

Breaking the Leftist stranglehold on journalism

"Journalism courses run by the University of the Sunshine Coast, the University of Western Sydney and the private Brisbane college Jschool have been judged the best by their students"

JSchool? It's a private journalism school run by the excellent Professor John Henningham, who you might recall is the man whose famous survey established what your ears and eyes already suspected - that most journalists are far to the Left of the public they are meant to serve.

The question now is why Henningham's private school is held in higher esteem by its students than are many of the expensively maintained (by taxpayers) journalism schools run by universities such as RMIT and the University of Technology, Sydney (of which more in the next post).

Are private colleges forced to be more responsive to their students? Are they more likely through necessity if nothing else to understand the society from which they draw their students and livelihood? Are they less likely to be the rigid ideological factories that so many media employers now suspect university schools have become?

And do we really need so many taxpayer-funded journalism schools that produce far, far more graduates than will ever get media jobs and aren't much respected by the students they purport to teach?

Bravo Professor Henningham for shining another light on production of groupthink in the mainstream media.

(Comment above by Andrew Bolt)

Good old government "security" again

The watchers were all asleep

Craig Verrall did not mean to infiltrate the wharf that leads to the Prime Minister's Sydney residence. He was just trying to get to work. But the 35-year-old made the inadvertent entry on Tuesday morning when he was dropped at the wrong wharf. He spent about five minutes trying to get the attention of security staff before using a CCTV pole to climb a barbed wire fence to freedom.

It is the second breach of security at Kirribilli House this year. But a spokesman for the Australian Federal Police was confident "the layered security arrangement in place at Kirribilli House and its surrounds are appropriate".

Mr Verrall, a filmmaker, said he was not approached by any Protective Service officers. This is despite him disembarking from a grey ex-navy inflatable assault speedboat - the yacht's tender - while wearing arctic camouflage pants. He said he was ignored as he waved at the cameras and yelled for help. Mr Verrall had been staying on a 20-metre yacht he had helped sail from Noumea in New Caledonia. The yacht arrived in Sydney Harbour on Monday afternoon. When Mr Verrall was called into work on Tuesday morning, the captain of the yacht agreed to take him to a public wharf at Kirribilli using the tender, Mr Verrall said. However, he was dropped at the private Admiralty Wharf rather than one of the nearby public ferry stops.

"I turned around and first off I saw a pile of security cameras," Mr Verrall said. "I saw three tracks and looked to see which one I was able to use to get out and realised they all kind of went nowhere. The only exit was to go for a swim." He said that there were also large signs warning it was government property and not to enter. "There may be some other exit, but I didn't want to go wandering off in camo gear. I was concerned I would have a SWAT team jump me or get a fine for being in the area. Meanwhile, I've tried to call my mate in the boat to come and get me, but he couldn't hear me over the engine."

Mr Verrall then tried to get the attention of the person manning the bank of security cameras. He said he did not continue calling the captain as he knew the craft was low on fuel. "I waved my arms in front of the cameras and sensors hoping that any minute security would come down to help me out off the property and onto a street or public land to then walk to work," he said. The plan failed, so he had a cigarette and decided to jump the barbed wire fence. "The only option I could see was to scale the fence. I climbed up the camera pole using the cameras as steps to get over the barbwire, drop over into the apartments' front yard and walked across their yard."

The Prime Minister was not in residence. Federal police confirmed "a man" was captured on security footage on the wharf on Tuesday at 10.20am. A spokeswoman would not say when the Protective Services officers became aware of the man or how he was able to leave. She questioned the time Mr Verrall said he was on the wharf. He told the Herald it had been at 11am for about 15 minutes, but later said he had arrived at work at 11am. She said security at Kirribilli House would not be reviewed. The yacht's captain declined to speak to the Herald. Customs would not comment on whether it had a record of boarding the yacht on Monday.


New tanks set for battle

The Australian Army's new tanks are likely to see battlefield action, Defence Minister Brendan Nelson has warned, as the first arrived in Melbourne. The first 18 of 59 Abrams battle tanks - bought from the United States at a cost of $528 million - were unloaded at Port Melbourne today. Each weighs in at 63 tonnes and at full-throttle can hit almost 70 km/h.

Chief of Army Lieutenant General Peter Leahy told a delivery ceremony in a container terminal that the Abrams were much superior to the army's 30-year-old Leopard tanks, which are being retired without ever having seen battle.

Dr Nelson said that while he hoped the Abrams would also never be used in anger, he suspected they would be. "The 59 Abrams tanks that we are likely to be using over the next 30 years, I hope and pray that they will never have to be used in anger," he said. "But I fear that those hopes may be dashed. "The reality is that we are living in a world that is changing very quickly - it has changed enormously over the last five years especially."

The army's Abrams tanks have been reconditioned from a model first built in 1989, but Dr Nelson denied suggestions Australia had bought second-hand goods, saying most components were new. "These are brand new tanks. They are as well-developed as they can possibly be," he added.

Lt-Gen Leahy said the Abrams was combat-proven. "It will deliver superior levels of firepower, protection, mobility and communications," Lt-Gen Leahy said. The US ambassador to Australia, Robert McCallum Jr, described the Abrams as one of the most "effective and lethal" weapons. "We are delighted that our oldest and closest ally in the Pacific will be operating the Abrams tank alongside us, increasing our joint operational capabilities," Mr McCallum told the crowd.

The 18 tanks delivered today will be taken to army bases at Puckapunyal and Bandiana in Victoria. The remaining 41 tanks will be delivered to Darwin by mid-2007.


"Equal opportunity" dictates who can enter a bar???

More craziness in Victoria

A swank city bar wants the right to keep an even mix of men and women within its walls if noisy mobs threaten to wreck its atmosphere. Comme's owner this month applied to delay entry for some patrons to stop either sex swamping his serene wine bar. Renowned Melbourne restaurateur Frank van Haandel lost his bid to be exempted from equal opportunity laws at certain times in the Alfred Place hotel's bar areas. But the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal left the path open for him to try again.

Mr Van Haandel argued that delaying entry to keep an even split of the sexes would help block big rowdy gatherings of men or women invading the venue and ruining the relaxed vibe. The push follows past rulings on gender balance affecting some other bars and nightclubs that promote the mingling of men and women. But it sparked fears of disruptive queues from local residents' group Melbourne 3000 Inc.

Mr Van Haandel, who also owns the Stokehouse, Circa and Prince of Wales Hotel, said Comme's bar suited professionals and he was keen to retain its ambience. Some patrons had complained of groups of raucous men or women encroaching on the CBD after footy and rugby league matches, the tribunal was told. His company Halifex Pty Ltd's legal bid excluded the venue's private function and dining areas.

VCAT deputy president Cate McKenzie was unconvinced that a gender balance was the best way to prevent excessive noise. But in a written ruling she left the option of re-applying open if extra material was presented. Mr Van Haandel declined to comment. The chief executive officer of Equal Opportunity Commission Victoria, Helen Szoke, said: "Comme can deal very simply with the issue of noise and inappropriate behaviour by asking people to leave." [The stupid bitch should try kicking out drunks herself. She might learn something]