Monday, October 30, 2006

Christianity Returning to Australian Schools

Chaplains will be posted in schools across Australia under a federal Government plan to provide students with greater spiritual guidance. Prime Minister John Howard will today unveil details of the $90 million national chaplaincy program, which also aims to give support to students during times of grief. The initiative, which was immediately criticised for discriminating in favour of Christians, was approved by Cabinet earlier this month.

Today's announcement follows last weekend's fatal car crash near Byron Bay which killed four teenagers from Kadina High School. It also follows the tragic death of a Sydney high school student who was found dead the night before her first HSC exam.

Under the plan, government and non-government schools will be able to apply for a grant of up to $20,000 a year to employ a chaplain. The federal Government wants to encourage schools to spend more time developing the ethical and spiritual health of students. While not necessarily requiring to have a religious background, the chaplains will be expected to provide religious support. The chaplains will also be required to work with existing schools counsellors in supporting students dealing with issues such as a family break-up or the death of a fellow student. The program will leave it up to individual schools to decide on whether to employ a chaplain on a part-time or full-time basis.

Andrew Macintosh, of political think tank The Australia Institute, condemned the proposal as "ridiculous". "The money would be far better spent on teaching resources," he said. "And it is overtly discriminatory if you are only talking about Christian chaplains." It would be more appropriate to appoint professional counsellors without religious affiliations to provide support to students in times of grief, he said.


The usual defence equipment purchasing disgrace

Surveillance equipment needed for the light armoured vehicles used by Australian troops in Iraq will not be delivered until 2008, five years behind schedule, a damning audit report has found. The Australian National Audit Office uncovered a litany of embarrassing mistakes in the $280 million Australian Light Armoured Vehicle project, including the Department of Defence's failure to pay a $12 million GST bill. And after overpaying $7 million to the contractor - which the company returned - the department was forced to pay $350,000 to accountants to find out exactly what it had spent under the contract.

The extraordinary revelations about the acquisition and upgrade contract for 257 vehicles were another blow in a bad month for Defence. Other examples of bumbling and mismanagement included a $625 million blow-out in the cost of a fleet of 22 new Tiger helicopters due to a poor tender process, and a plague of problems besetting a multibillion-dollar upgrade of four navy frigates.

The most embarrassing finding was that a major upgrade had not included an essential part of the army vehicles' surveillance capability. In 2004 Defence committed the vehicles to operations in Iraq, following deployments of the vehicles in East Timor and Kuwait. Multispectral surveillance systems were to be installed in October 2003, but are now scheduled for July 2008.

Another embarrassing finding was that no up-to-date contract existed for the multimillion-dollar project and that it had broken Australian Accounting Standards across a range of bookkeeping practices. Defence was also criticised by the audit office for failing to take up an offer of a 10 per cent discount on as many 150 of the armoured vehicles, which would have reduced their price from $1.3 million to $1.15 million each. Defence's procurement agency, the Defence Materiel Organisation, managed the contract in a "less than satisfactory" manner, the audit office said.

Labor's defence procurement spokesman, Mark Bishop, slammed the agency for its continuing bad record on major projects. "This is the fourth audit report this year which has major criticisms of the way Defence does business - a bad record of economic mismanagement on the Government's behalf," Senator Bishop said. "The Opposition wants an inquiry into the whole way Defence conducts its procurement [process] and essential projects."

But No delays in fraudulent bonus for negligent officials

The top officers in the Defence Materiel Organisation have been earmarked for performance bonuses totalling more than $300,000. In response to questions on notice in Parliament from the Opposition, the agency said 20 top officers would share in bonuses of about $300,000 in 2006-07. The bonuses were awarded for "meeting or exceeding stringent performance targets, for example bringing projects in ahead of schedule and under budget", the agency said.

Labor's defence procurement spokesman Mark Bishop said he was staggered by the payments, as costs had escalated and projects experienced average delays of 3.3 years.


An antisemitic university press in Australia

An article by Michael Danby, MHR:

In July last year I learned that Louise Adler, publisher of Melbourne University Press, had commissioned Antony Loewenstein, a little-known online journalist who has his own far-left blog, to write a book about the Australian Jewish community and its attitudes to Israel. Mr Loewenstein sent me a questionnaire asking my views on various subjects.

After making some inquiries about him and reading the extreme anti- Israel views at his website, I decided not to participate in this project, knowing that my participation would give it a credibility it didn't deserve. I wrote to the Jewish News urging readers to have nothing to do with Mr Loewenstein's book.

Ever since, Mr Loewenstein has painted himself as a heroic dissident being persecuted by the "Jewish establishment" for daring to criticise Israel and the Jewish community. It is sometimes perfectly obvious what is going to be in a book before it is published. If a leading publisher commissioned Pauline Hanson to write a book about multiculturalism, or Fred Nile about the gay and Lesbian Mardi gras, no doubt all the commentators at the AbC and The Age would have plenty to say, because it would be obvious what such books would be like.

The fact is that I and many other people knew Mr Loewenstein's views on Israel and on Australian Jews long before his book appeared. This is the point that Mr rodgers and his ilk persistently fail to acknowledge so they can misrepresent criticism of Mr Loewenstein. After all, he stated them openly at his own website a year ago, where he called Israel "fundamentally undemocratic and colonialist" and "a terror state", and described the Australian Jewish community as "vitriolic, bigoted, racist and downright pathetic." He also said that "so-called Western `values' deserve to be challenged and overthrown." I give Mr Loewenstein credit for honesty - he stated his views quite openly, so everyone knew what would be in his book long before it appeared.

Of course, when the book appeared, my anticipation about its contents was proved to be correct. The book is shallow, predictable, trite and obvious, as well as riddled with factual errors. This was not my view alone. Dr Philip Mendes of Monash University, author of Jews and Australian Politics (and himself a frequent, but fair, critic of Israeli policies), said: "The majority of the text [of Mr Loewenstein's book] is overwhelmingly simplistic and one-sided. This could have been a serious and objective examination of the role of local lobby groups in influencing Australia's Middle East policies. Unfortunately, that book still waits to be written."

Dr Michael Fagenblat, of Monash University's Centre for the study of Jewish Civilisation, says: "There's nothing new or interesting here and several things that seem patently false. These remarks seem completely one-sided; they overlook the complexity and manifold responsibility that has contributed to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." (both these comments appeared in the Jewish News of 28 July) since his book came out, becoming a hero of the anti-Israel commentariat seems to have gone to Mr Loewenstein's head. Despite being lionised at writers' festivals around the county, he still complains that the "zionist lobby" is working to silence him. His attacks on Israel are growing more strident. In brisbane, debating Phillip Mendes, he said: "Israel's behaviour in the West bank and gaza are the tactics of a rogue, terror state. Enough with the Holocaust, alleged Palestinian `terror' and victimhood. Take some responsibility for the parlous state of Israel in the international community. For all of us who want a safer Middle East, today's Israel is currently the problem, not the cure."

In August I was given a chance to confront Mr Loewenstein faceto- face on AbC radio, and I must thank the Jon Faine program for setting up this debate, which was ably moderated by gerard Whately and gideon Haigh. The debate was conducted in a civil manner, but I made a point of taking Mr Loewenstein to task over a comment of his which I considered particularly offensive. speaking of the comedian sandy guttman (Austen tayshus), he said at his website: "Jews are often their own worst enemies. It might help if tayshus didn't look so much like those awful caricatures we know from the 1930s!" so Mr guttman is to be criticised because he looks too Jewish for Mr Loewenstein's sensibilities!

Mr Loewenstein is, of course, entitled to his views - ignorant, offensive and superficial though they are - but I don't apologise for my decision to launch a "preemptive strike" against his book last year. Nor do I resile from my view that a person who thinks that a Jewish state is "a fundamentally undemocratic and colonialist idea from a bygone era," and that the Australian Jewish community is "vitriolic, bigoted, racist and downright pathetic" was not a suitable person to be commissioned by a major publisher to write a book about our community and its attitudes towards Israel.

This is not MUP's first excursion into anti-Israel polemic under Louise Adler's direction. In 2005 she published Jacqueline rose's The Question of Zion, a tract so blatantly anti-Israel that even a self-professed anti-zionist reviewer, simon Louvish in The Independent, called it a work of "overriding shallowness" which showed "a lack of basic understanding" and "overreliance on certain dissident Israeli historians, and avoidance of others."

Ms Adler is, of course, free to publish as many bad books as she likes, but why do they all have to be anti-Israel bad books? Why does she lend the prestige of the MUP imprint to a one-sided rehashing of all the usual anti-Israel propaganda?


Vegemite retrospective

Hold onto your hats. The biggest story of the week strikes at border security, US-Australia relations, good taste and pride in the nation. Never mind Iraq, Guantanamo Bay and Paris Hilton, this time the US had gone too far.

The web lit up with news the Stars and Stripes had banned Vegemite. Customs officials were even searching Australians for jars of the national spread when they arrived, it was said. Not since Bazza McKenzie had his Fosters confiscated at Heathrow had there been such an outrage.

Well, it was good for a couple of days. Dismissing media reports and the frenzy it created, the US Food and Drug Administration soon declared there was in fact no ban on the folate-carrying expat's delight. In true US-style perhaps they were instead leaving it to the "free market" in a country where a tiny jar of the patriotic delicacy leaves the shelves for around $US4.80 ($6.33).


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