Sunday, October 29, 2006


Prominent Labor figures Paul Keating and Leo McLeay "demanded" a ministerial colleague grant residency for Sheik Taj al-Din al-Hilaly. The two party leaders were furious when in 1989 then-Immigration Minister Robert Ray refused their requests, Labor sources said yesterday. The sources said it was at least the second time they had sought to lobby on behalf of the controversial Muslim leader. The sheik has played a walk-on role in ALP affairs since he arrived here in 1982, with Mr McLeay being his strongest champion within the party. Other Labor identities, such as NSW Upper House member Eddie Obeid, had been in the forefront of attempts to get him kicked out.

Sheik Hilaly did not get permanent residency until 1990 when Gerry Hand was Immigration Minister. The sheik's case had been taken to Senator Ray in response to appeals from electorally powerful Islamic communities within Mr Keating's seat of Blaxland and Mr McLeay's seat of Grayndler. The Saturday Daily Telegraph understands there had been moves to deport the sheik in 1989 after one of his anti-Jewish outbursts. "But Keating and McLeay demanded that he be given residency," said one source. Senator Ray effectively put him on probation but was moved to Defence in 1990. Yesterday he said his decision had been made "on the basis of the file, not on the basis of politics".

In 1986, then Immigration Minister Chris Hurford had been asked to deport the sheik and was in the process of doing so when he was shifted to another port folio. He has since told The Australian he believed residency was granted by the Government "because they erroneously believed that this would have some political influence in the particular electorates at a NSW State election".

Even before that, in 1982, the sheik was causing ripples. The Arabic community newspaper El Telegraph in July of that year reported a speech by Sheik Hilaly in which he said "the flesh of Australian women is as cheap as pigs' flesh". The paper attacked his comments and soon had to have guards protect the journalist. Not long after, the El Telegraph office was badly damaged in a suspicious fire. Its owner was Mr Obeid, who spent the next 10 years trying to get the sheik deported.


"Climate change" as a scapegoat

Australia is the dry continent -- with recurrent droughts. But opportunists are blaming the present dry spell on global warming. Writing with particular reference to his home State of Victoria, Andrew Bolt writes that this is just a convenient excuse for governmental failure to prepare for the inevitable drought conditions

The merchants of global warming panic are wrong. Again. No, this is not the worst drought ever recorded. No, it is not so unprecedented that it proves man-made global warming is real. In fact, this may not even be a drought at all. Rainfall figures show we may be simply going back to the just-as-dry weather of the not-so-distant past. And those who shriek that global warming is now frying us like never before are peddling green hype, rather than the cool science we need to keep ourselves well-watered.

I'm referring, of course, to religious zealots such as Deputy Premier John Thwaites, the (No) Water Minister, who declared: "So all the evidence points to a significant involvement of global warming in the present drought." I'm referring also to Professor Peter Cullen, a National Water Commission member and top government adviser, who gloated that, thanks to the drought, "flat earth sceptics who have been in denial about climate change are now realising that wishing it away didn't work and are now berating governments for not building more dams". And I mustn't forget The Age, this cult's Bible, which claimed: "The continuing drought has forced . . . belated recognition by sceptics that climate change is not a fiction disseminated by doomsayers."

Nonsense. Consult not their faith but my facts, and look at the graph on the right, showing Victoria's annual rainfall from 1900 to 2005, as measured by the Weather Bureau. What you see are decades of often dry years followed by decades of often wet ones. And now -- in this past decade of drought -- we've gone back to where we once were. As in dry. Here are the figures that tell that story.

From 1900 to 1945, Victoria's average annual rainfall was 603mm. Then came 50 years of plenty, with average falls of 671mm. But in the past decade our rainfall has dropped back to around the average of those pre-war years -- or 591mm. You might say this still means we're (a fraction) drier than before. But this past decade is not even close to being the driest on record. Our average rainfall now of 591mm is still way above the panting lows recorded from 1936 to 1945 -- an average of just 543mm. And no one back then wailed in the dust about global warming.

So what does all this suggest? Three things. First, as I warned here two years ago, Victoria's patterns of rainfall may have shifted. Second, this change in climate is not at all unusual or extreme, and so certainly not proof of global warming, let alone of the man-made kind. Third, we may not even be in a drought at all, but returning to drier conditions that are perhaps more usual. What may be unusual is not this dry, but the few wet decades before that filled our big new Thomson dam.

None of what I've said will surprise people with a long history of managing the land and its water. Hear it from farmer George Warne, general manager of the giant Murray Irrigation, who says: "It is an overreaction to say this (drought) is climate change. "My family has been farming (in Victoria) since 1888, and we have kept records on weather conditions. I am certain a huge component of the latest drought is cyclical." Or hear it from the boss of water company United Utilities, Graham Dooley, who, like me, does not deny climate change, but says: "About every 50 years we get a drought. This latest dry is part of the typical cycle."

So if this drought -- or dry spell -- is not unusual, you should ask some hard questions of a few powerful people who don't seem to be facing these facts. Here's one: Why didn't the Bracks Government prepare the state for a big dry that's actually a normal part of our ever-changing climate? Why didn't it build a new dam for growing Melbourne, say, and find new supplies for Ballarat and Bendigo, when we still had time on our side?

The Government still hides behind the excuse that this drought came out of nowhere -- a sudden catastrophe caused only by this spooky and unexpected phenomenon of global warming. But these rainfall figures show that the only thing spooky is the way the Government is using a seemingly natural change in the weather as proof of the rightness of its green faith that humans are ruining the world. But the figures show something more serious besides -- that blaming the drought on man-made global warming is actually just a miserable excuse for failure. Why didn't our leaders do more long ago to save our parched cities from a normal drought that any fool could have seen coming? Even a fool like me.


Literacy tests dumbed down too

Grammar and spelling mistakes? No problem! Now the literacy tests are "a measure of students' ability to participate in the community". I guess even an armed robber "participates in the community", though

The international OECD test cited as proof that Australian students have one of the highest literacy rates in the world does not test spelling and grammar. The Program for International Student Assessment of 15-year-old students in more than 40 countries assesses their ability to understand written texts and apply that knowledge but fails to examine correct use of language.

"The concept of literacy used in PISA is much broader than the historical notion of the ability to read and write," the report says. "It is measured on a continuum, not as something that an individual either does or does not have. A literate person has a range of competencies and there is no precise dividing line between a person who is fully literate and one who is not." Head of the Australian Council for Educational Research Professor Geoff Masters, which leads the consortium that runs PISA, said the test was a measure of students' reading, not writing.

But reader in English and head of humanities at the Australian National University Simon Haines said a solid foundation in reading implied "a foundation of knowledge of what words and sentences are". "Spelling and grammar are part of this knowledge of what a word fundamentally is, what written construction fundamentally is," he said. "Relatively trivial one-off spelling and grammatical errors probably shouldn't be marked down, but repeated errors of the same type, or errors indicating more fundamental misunderstandings, probably should be. "This is part of teaching students how to use language."

The PISA reading literacy test is conducted every three years, with the first held in 2000. In that test, the best of Australian students scored second to Finland. The study defines reading literacy as "understanding, using and reflecting on written texts in order to achieve one's goals, to develop one's knowledge and potential and to participate in society". In its analysis of students' answers, the report says that spelling mistakes were very common but incorrect spelling had no bearing on the marking. "Answers with mistakes in grammar and/or spelling were not penalised as long as the correct point was made," it says.

Professor Masters said the definition of literacy had changed over time and once meant an inability to write one's name. But PISA took a broader attitude, saying literacy was a skill developed over a lifetime and a measure of students' ability to participate in the community.

The study also found that Australian students performed relatively poorly in their comprehension of continuous texts, such as narratives, and coped better with non-continuous texts, such as diagrams and maps. Boys in particular struggled with continuous texts, and were generally outperformed by girls. Professor Masters said the results indicated that teachers should make sure students read continuous texts such as books.

Literacy expert Bill Louden, head of the graduate school of education at the University of Western Australia, said PISA tested reading comprehension and was not a writing task, so "spelling and grammar errors don't come into it". "It wouldn't do in an English classroom, where you have continuous long works that needs to score kids on their capacity to write grammatically, write coherently and spell correctly," Professor Louden said.


An outspoken husband for a political lady

Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pru Goward has revealed her "disappointment" at her husband, David Barnett, for making derogatory comments about Aboriginal women. She also agrees with British Prime Minister Tony Blair that Muslim women wearing burqas are "confronting", but does not believe they should be banned. Ms Goward, who is leaving her job to run for the NSW state Liberal seat of Goulburn, said on ABC radio that her husband's comments angered her and questioned Aboriginal women's ability to mother.

Mr Barnett, a journalist and former media adviser to Malcolm Fraser, said recently that Aboriginal women "wipe themselves with a rag in the lavatory, and hang it up to dry for next time". "We must ask ourselves whether it is right to condemn Australian children to be brought up . by mothers who don't know enough about rearing children to wipe their noses and where the baby bonus sends a town on a drunken binge," he wrote in The Canberra Times. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission is investigating him.

"I was too cross to yell (at him)," Ms Goward told the ABC. She said she had a challenging and rewarding marriage with Mr Barnett despite his Liberal Party ties complicating her career. She said her sacking from the ABC when she was a former journalist was a result of their relationship. "I think the day I married him I probably signed my death warrant."

When speaking about Muslim dress, Ms Goward said Western women were also subjected to oppressive dress codes. "I have to admit that the burqa is very confronting - its blackness, the net over the eyes. It's hard to know how much of it is religious and how much of it is tribal or . cultural. "(But) we wear high heels. We torture our feet. Women all over the world have dress codes that, either willingly or unwillingly, they impose upon themselves that are ugly and distorting and unhealthy and it's part of the oppression of women all over the world . People are entitled to wear the clothes that they want to wear." Ms Goward said she had never received a sex discrimination complaint from a Muslim woman.


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