Wednesday, December 20, 2006

New Leftist leader ignores the Greens

Kevin Rudd has infuriated green groups by shutting them out of a key national environment debate, the formation of Labor's Tasmanian forest policy, and pledging strong support for the island state's forest industry. In one of his biggest policy moves since assuming the Labor leadership, Mr Rudd has rejected the party's previous position on Tasmanian forests and backed existing deals between the Howard Government and the pro-logging Lennon Government. Stopping in Tasmania on his national "listening" tour, Mr Rudd declared that former Labor leader Mark Latham had got it wrong with his pledge on forestry conservation before the 2004 election - which was blamed for Labor losing two seats. In rejecting the Latham policy, Mr Rudd confirmed that there was no place for the conservation movement in shaping Labor's new policy on Tasmania's forests.

Green groups reacted angrily, with the Wilderness Society saying Mr Rudd had paved the way for a sell-out on forests. Mr Rudd also came under fire from Australian Greens Leader Bob Brown and conservationists for not taking new Labor environment spokesman Peter Garrett with him on his trip to Tasmania.

But the local forest industry warmly welcomed Mr Rudd's pledge to support the existing Regional Forests Agreement and Community Forests Agreement, negotiated between the state and the Howard Government. Mr Rudd's statement on forests came days after he pledged to push for relaxation of Labor's restrictive policy on uranium mining - a move that has put him at odds with Mr Garrett.

On Tasmanian forests, Mr Rudd said Labor's guiding principle was that it wanted to see a long-term sustainable industry, based on three pillars:

* Close consultation with the State Government, unions and forest industries.
* No overall loss of jobs.
* Consultation with the State Government over conservation and protection of old growth forest areas.

Mr Rudd said he was in Tasmania to listen carefully to local communities, but confirmed that he had spoken to no-one in the forest industry on his visit. He said he would talk to the conservation movement from time to time. "But when it comes to the architecture of our forests policy here in Tasmania, it is as I've described before, based on those three principles and two sets of agreements which we support." Labor's loss of two seats in Tasmania at the last election, Bass and Braddon, was attributed to Mr Latham's $800 million package that would have secured [locked up] nearly all remaining contested old growth areas.

Industry and unions instead backed the more modest Howard conservation package in what was widely portrayed as a poll-eve political coup by the Prime Minister. Mr Rudd followed his predecessor, Kim Beazley, in distancing himself from the Latham policy. "Labor got it wrong. Part of the reason it got it wrong was that it didn't listen to the local community," he said.

His statement yesterday was welcomed by the Forest Industries Association of Tasmania. "We support and endorse the approach that Kevin Rudd has outlined," said executive director Terry Edwards.

The conservation movement, which has fought for more than 20 years for the protection of the state's old growth forests, came out swinging. "The policy Kevin Rudd is set to adopt is the one endorsed by the Lennon Labor Government which is destroying our forests," said the Wilderness Society's campaigns manager, Geoff Law. "It is desperately ironic that it comes almost 20 years to the day after Peter Garrett came to the Lemonthyme forest in Tasmania, and stood beside Bob Brown and said these forests must be saved."

The Australian Conservation Foundation said it was surprised that Mr Rudd was closing doors during a "listening" tour. "I think he should be certainly talking to the wide range of environmental stakeholders to get a full picture of issues as complex as these," said Matt Ruchel, Manager of Land and Water for the ACF.

Mr Rudd deflected questions about Mr Garrett, the former rock star and ACF head who now holds the Climate Change and Environment portfolio on Labor's front bench. In 2004, Mr Garrett described the Tasmanian timber industry as logging gone mad and carnage in the forests. Mr Rudd said that he was now leader of the party, and Mr Garrett had a job to do on climate change. Mr Rudd was speaking on a visit to bushfire-ravaged areas of Tasmania's east coast, where he said he had seen no indication of any gaps in the federal response to the fires. The main east coast fire has burned more than 20 homes and 25,000 hectares of land.


Science courses mystify teachers

School science curriculums are poorly written, unnecessarily complex and so laden with jargon that experienced science teachers and academics struggle to understand the intent of the courses. Education researchers from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia argue that science curriculums are overwhelming for newly qualified science teachers and the growing numbers of non-specialist teachers forced to teach science because of the shortage in expert teachers.

In an article published in Science Teacher, the journal of the Australian Science Teachers Association, Grady Venville and Vaille Dawson compared science curriculums for Years K to 10 in every state and territory. Professor Venville and Dr Dawson say the benefits of having tailor-made curriculums for each state and territory "were not immediately apparent". They were surprised by the complexity of the curriculum documents. "Although we are both experienced science teachers and academics in science education, some of the documents were extremely long (over 200 pages), the language dense, jargon-laden and exclusive," they said. "The documents were complex and difficult to interpret without assistance."

Dr Dawson said yesterday the language used to describe the science to be taught was understandable; the problem was the jargon associated with education that was difficult to understand. "There's a need for a single national curriculum, but not in the sense that we want all schools to teach the same thing because that's unrealistic," she said. "But a national curriculum would be easier to work with." The comparison says that all curriculums are structured around discipline-based learning areas, including science, except Tasmania, which lists essential learnings as desired outcomes of education in a "distinct move away from disciplines".

The Tasmanian Government is in the process of revising its essential learnings curriculum, and Education Minister David Bartlett has said disciplines with syllabuses for specific subjects, including science, will form the basis of the new curriculum framework.

The NSW curriculum was also substantially different from the other states and territories, particularly in the K-6 syllabus, which includes technology in the science curriculum.

The researchers remarked that while the curriculum documents gave guidance to teachers, "the nature of the document cannot guarantee good teaching".

Professor of education at the University of Canberra, Denis Goodrum, who is heading a report for the federal Government to identify the key issues facing science education, said 90 per cent of science curriculums across the states and territories were the same. Professor Goodrum said the main differences were within states rather than between states. "The differences between a school in Killara on Sydney's north shore and City Beach in Perth is less than the difference between a school in Killara and one in Wilcannia in western NSW," he said.



It's a lottery what you'll get when you go to a public hospital. The "regulators" say almost anyone with some sort of medical degree is OK. It's the only way they can find "enough" doctors. Paying more and training more are too hard

Coroner Tina Previtera, inquiring into suicides, will report the actions of an overseas-trained doctor to the Queensland Medical Board. Coroner Previtera said yesterday she would provide information to the board on Errol Van Rensburg, who discharged a severely depressed patient, Patrick Lusk, from Cooktown Hospital in April 2005 without adequate assessment. Lusk, 66, a taxi driver, committed suicide two days later.

Ms Previtera, who inquired into the deaths of Lusk, Yarrabah resident Charles Barlow and Kuranda teenager Emily Baggott (Dr Van Rensburg only treated Lusk), also made strong recommendations that Queensland Health, as a matter of priority, "actively implement" its own policies and guidelines for reducing the incidence of suicide. "What the situation now dictates is that everything cannot stay the same," said Ms Previtera. She said Barlow, 36, who hanged himself an hour after being refused a transfer to the Cairns Mental Health Unit, had not been assessed at all "due to pressure on resources". Baggott, 16, and Lusk had been inadequately assessed.

Ms Previtera said Lusk had gone to Cooktown Hospital with his ex-wife, Cheryl Prigg, on the advice of his GP who also provided Cairns Hospital records of his treatment for a previous major depressive illness. "Not only was Dr Van Rensburg's assessment inadequate, but no written referral to the mental health service was made or actively pursued," Ms Previtera said. She also said Dr Van Rensburg had been unable to recall Lusk's death in a sentinel review less than a month after the death. Ms Previtera said Dr Van Rensburg, appearing in the coroner's court, had been observed to be "disoriented, confused, evasive, obtuse, avoidant and vague during his evidence".

She said Dr Van Rensburg had been granted "special purpose registration" by the Queensland Medical Board after moving to Australia in 2002. He had relocated from Cooktown to Cairns on June 14, 2005. On June 30, a doctor wrote to the Cairns Base Hospital medical director expressing "significant concerns" about Dr Van Rensburg's capacity to practise "competently and safely". A Cairns Base Hospital spokesman said Dr Van Rensburg continued to work there under supervision.



The ACT [Canberra] Government is considering resettling five Sudanese refugee families spurned by Tamworth City Council, whose mayor has refused to resign over comments that residents and politicians have called racist.

Weeks before welcoming hundreds of overseas musicians and fans to its country music festival, Tamworth's mayor, James Treloar, told the Herald the council had rejected the families partly because of community mistrust. He said eight of the 12 Sudanese people already living in Tamworth, which was recently awarded a "friendly town" prize, had been before the courts "for everything from dangerous driving to rape".

Community leaders have questioned the accuracy of his claim, and Tamworth police have reportedly denied any Sudanese people have been charged over a matter of a sexual nature.

Cr Treloar went on to say that the Sudanese people did not respect authority or women. By accepting more of them, the town risked a repetition of the Cronulla riots.

A spokeswoman for the Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, Jon Stanhope, said he had been disappointed by Tamworth's decision because "it had been made on race grounds rather than resource grounds". "If those Sudanese families wanted to come to Canberra, they would be very welcome. Refugee families have settled here very successfully in the past."

Residents have written to the local newspaper, The Northern Daily Leader, demanding that Cr Treloar resign, but the mayor has refused to comment. The town's church leaders have also denounced the council's decision, which three councillors will attempt to overturn with a rescission motion in the new year. The Reverend Ken Fenton of St Peter's Anglican Church in Tamworth said he knew of at least one family of six that had had no problems with the law, "so how [Cr Treloar] got eight out of 12, I don't know".


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