Thursday, February 15, 2007

Police corruption in Victoria

Despite allegations of corruption in the Victorian Police Force, no one seems to be taking them seriously, much less doing anything about it. Welcome to Victoria, the State of Denial. If you believe the bosses, the Police Association and the Bracks government, Victoria has the cleanest police force in the country. But Bluestone has been speaking to police who say otherwise. They say the media has been asking the wrong question. The issue is not corruption per se, but management incompetence and a lack of will to attack issues deemed as "too hot". Right now, you could easily mistake the Yarra River for the Ganges, so numerous are the sacred cows grazing on her verdant shores.

If the chief commissioner Christine Nixon covers her eyes and keeps reciting rubbery crime stats (which show crime is falling in most categories) she will only delay the moment when the depth of the ethical crisis facing Victoria Police dawns on the public. The collective efforts of government, senior police and the Police Association in avoiding scrutiny and controlling the pace of reform in Victoria -- that is the real corruption here.

The bent coppers selling dope, running guns and hookers, do so because their managers have been asleep on the job. What accountability was there for the senior managers of the the Drug Squad while corruption ran rife on their watch? Here's a typical example of the management culture. Former Ethical Standards Division investigator Simon Illingworth was having a Christmas drink in a pub while in the midst of an investigation of a senior AOS officer, former Detective Sergeant Glenn Saunders, when the officer walks into the pub in the company of a known gangland figure, Nick Ibrahim. (Ibrahim was later convicted of the murder of standover man Sam Zayat.) Ibrahim walked straight up to Illingworth and glared right in his face. Illingworth believed there was a message here - pull up Simon, if you know what's good for you. Illingworth makes a report on the incident to his superiors. Nothing happens.

The same cop and villain pair are pictured on the front page of the Herald Sun newspaper from CCTV footage socialising together in a pub and still nothing happens. Saunders was later acquitted of corruption charges, unrelated to Illingworth's allegations. The fact remains that in all cases the possibility of a marriage between police and organised crime is an insidious problem unless all such allegations are properly investigated.

There has been no copper over the rank of detective sergeant jailed for corruption or any other dirty deeds in this great state. Nor have there been any senior officers sacked for failing to address allegations of corruption.

It's hardly surprising that the state government, Force Command and the Police Association do not support any form of judicial review of policing in Victoria. Police want to handle any allegations of corruption themselves through the semi-independent Office of Police Integrity, which senior officers have consistently and laughably described as having the power of a standing royal commission.

The Bracks Government is perfectly happy to do nothing about corruption, particularly as it has indulged in its own ardent embrace with the Police Association. The Police Association, arguably the most powerful police body in the state has thrown its weight behind the government. The Police Association publicly backed the Bracks government in the recent state election and the Bracks government agreed to equip the force with semi-automatic Glock pistols and Tasers. This deal was reportedly done without reference to the chief commissioner. This was the same government that stood by as gangsters murdered each other in broad daylight on public streets and suburban footy grounds, the same government who has stood helpless as corrupt police flourished.

Unlike the force itself, the Police Association has no explicit statement in its articles of association committing it to ethics, professionalism and honesty in the conduct of its members. It has been reluctant to publicly condemn corruption.

Good luck to the Police Association's secretary Paul Mullett for romancing government; he has won significant victories on behalf of his members. But when Mullett speaks in the media now, he sounds like a management spokesman on behalf of Force Command, not the lobbying of a police union boss who is unrestrained by the ethical code guiding the chief commissioner.

It's arguable whether Mullett speaks for all officers anyway. Detectives have traditionally comprised about 70% of the executive of the nation's police unions, while only making up 10% of force personnel. Detectives have been over-represented in the small number of coppers prosecuted for corruption in Victoria so far. This is partly because of the nature of detective work but also because they have been poorly supervised, allowed to defend cultures at odds with the organisation as a whole. The Association has doggedly defended certain of these officers using its $16m war chest to fund their legal fees.

On the Nine Network's Sunday program this week, this columnist looks at what happens to officers who investigate allegedly corrupt officers. We also tell the tale of an executive member who dared to oppose the legal funding for one popular detective, himself a former union vice-president, who was charged with corruption offences. Just as in corporate collapses like Enron or HIH, there comes a point where management culture becomes so rotten that telling the truth is the greatest sin.

Victoria Police cannot and will not examine itself now, exposing its dark inner recesses. A standing crime and corruption commission must now take hold of its sturdiest proctoscope, flick on the high beam and have a long lingering look at the places in Victoria where the sun don't shine no more


The Warming religion in Australia leads to amazing academic dishonesty

Scarier than global warming is that even -- even? -- our top academics exaggerate so wildly about it. No, I'm not talking again about Tim Flannery, our Australian of the Year, but of his former friend and colleague, Mike Archer. Read on, to see again how recklessly even our men of science now feed you hype.

Archer is dean of science at the University of NSW, where, you'd hope, he teaches students to stick to the facts. But this week he wrote an apocalyptic piece on global warming for the Sydney Morning Herald, warning of a Noah's flood: "For example, if the Greenland and Antarctica icesheets melt (which they are doing in spectacular fashion), sea levels could rise, as they have done many times in the past, by 100m. If that were to happen, forget the metre-in-a-century mantra, and forget half of Sydney, along with most of the world's coastal populations."

Got it? Forget the seas rising a metre by 2100. Says Archer, the melt of Greenland and Antarctica is so "spectacular" our beach by then will start at Eltham. Except for this. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has whipped up most of the warming panic, but even its latest report -- out today -- will challenge every claim Archer makes. As Reuters reported yesterday, a draft of that report, the work of 2500 scientists, concedes that, no, Antarctica may well gain snow cover, even Greenland may not be melting overall and the seas will rise not by 100m in the 100 years, but at most by 43cm.

It continued: "More snows could also offset any thaw of the vast Antarctic ice cap and the smaller cap on Greenland. If both melted over thousands of years world sea levels would be about 65m . . . higher . . . (emphasis added). "In a warmer climate, models suggest that the ice sheets could accumulate more snowfall, tending to lower sea level," the draft says. But "rapid thawing at the fringes has probably outweighed any such trend in recent years."

Confirming what I wrote on Wednesday, Reuters added: "The IPCC is . . . set to predict sea level rises this century of between 28 and 43cm . . . a lower band than forecast in the 2001 report." So, how could a dean of science at a top university exaggerate so recklessly? Answer: because global warming is a religion, so facts don't count. Beware.


Snobbish Leftist "intellectuals"

Late last year that scholarly Stakhanovite Richard Nile surveyed expert readers of his Australian Public Intellectual websites for their pick of Australia's arguers and influencers. The result will confirm everybody's prejudices. For people who believe the Left long ceased its march through the institutions, having occupied all the best bits in the universities, there is ample evidence. Some of the founding Howard haters are on the list, such as Robert Manne, who is top of the pops.

Others will be upset that conservatives such as Geoffrey Blainey and Keith Windschuttle got guernseys. But there is no doubting the list leaned to the Left. Based on their writings, I counted 23 declared opponents of Howard Government policies and/or a market economy (often both), 12 who keep their politics to themselves and three likely to vote Liberal.

But what is interesting is the way some participants decided that the true mark of the public intellectual was obscurity. It demonstrates the way the academic establishment and its camp followers who write for websites and in small magazines are interested only in agreeing with each other. As one put it in commenting on Nile's project: "We live still in a deeply anti-intellectual culture, increasingly driven by the populism of politicians and the journalist (as) celebrity. The lack of intellectuals in the current crop of political leaders in Canberra is particularly noticeable. Apart from Kevin Rudd and one or two others, there would be more chance of starting a prayer group in Canberra than a discussion group. We also live in a time when nationalism (particularly Anzac) -- simplistic, feel-good and sometimes ugly -- is on the rise. In this climate, there is a great need for intellectuals."

Apart from the snobbery (why are ostensibly intellectual chitty-chats superior to prayer?) and the dishonesty (the times may be patriotic but, sport aside, Australians are not given to triumphalism), this sort of statement ignores the obvious question: Precisely what sort of intellectuals do we need? Those who interpret society through their own ideological paradigm, or experts whose disciplined expertise allows them to point to problems and suggest solutions across the spectrum of society?

That it seems we have an awful lot of the former and far fewer of the latter writing for general audiences illuminates a great deal more than the tyranny of academic orthodoxy, it demonstrates how the intellectual tastemaker dismisses all sorts of disciplines.

While there were a couple of economic commentators on Nile's list, there were no professional economists capable of interpreting a Reserve Bank of Australia bulletin for the rest of us. Certainly pediatrician Fiona Stanley got a go but there were no neuroscientists able to explain the way everything from psychiatry to economics is being revolutionised by new understandings of the brain. Most telling, although there were ample individuals who like to lament Australia's culture of consumerism and deplore the damage done to the planet featured on the list, which included 10 cultural commentators and three politicians, there were no actual scientists with an informed idea of what is going on.

Perhaps this is not surprising. As Drusilla Modjeska pointed out in her introduction to the modestly titled anthology Best Australian Essays: 2006, she had searched in vain "for the well-written, well-shaped essay with that personal signature by architects or astronomers, physicists or lawyers".

Modjeska has a point, of sorts. She is wrong to assume that because health economists and riverine ecologists are not writing finely crafted essays based on an 18th-century ideal of entertainment for an intellectual elite they are not contributing to the national life of the mind. In fact the commentary pages of The Australian and The Australian Financial Review demonstrate the state of debate on issues that matter is strong (although Modjeska could find only one domestic newspaper piece worth including).

But her argument demonstrates how narrow are the interests of the self-appointed opinion leaders, of the sort who responded to Nile. And how they do not much care that many of the people they think dominate debate do so from a stance that is uninformed by scholarship in fields on which they comment.

The debate over Windschuttle's estimate of the numbers of indigenous Australians killed by settler society is a classic case in point. Instead of just arguing over his evidence, some critics started from the assumption that because they did not like his politics in the present, his conclusions about the past were not only wrong, they were immoral. Certainly the various experts in cultural and postcolonial studies will say their research work qualifies them to speak as experts. But often what they offer appears as informed by personal politics as academic expertise.

To argue there is anything wrong with everybody who wants to having their two bob's worth would be absurd in a column of this kind. Thanks to the internet we are in a golden age of argument. The endless opinion pages in online magazines mean that for the first time everybody with something to say can tell the world all about it. The blog empowers all who want to be essayists, and in the real world the marketplace of ideas sorts out who is heard.

But in the protected economy of academe, public intellectuals can easily exist without appealing to much of a public. Of Nile's 40, only Peter Craven and Don Watson represent the freelance in the service of the republic of letters, writers who live by their ability to produce copy people will pay to read. However, many of the people doing the talking -- certainly in the ostensibly intellectual small-circulation print and online media, the sorts of places where participation earns an author's stripes as a public intellectual -- seem disproportionately drawn from disciplines that theorise about the way we live and largely dislike the way most Australians do it.

Certainly Noel Pearson, the epitome of the public intellectual -- a man who acts on his ideas -- is on Nile's list. But so are many others who only lament the state of the nation, mainly to other academics. As one survey respondent put it: "One of the really big problems in Australia is that the best and most important minds in the country are so marginalised, they don't have much influence! Influence is inversely related to the importance of what people have to say." As an explanation of intellectual irrelevance, this is lame. But it does demonstrate how supposedly smart people can talk themselves into anything.



But the Australian Left (like most Leftists worldwide) is still ignoring the obvious with their paradoxical belief in the magical power of money

In Thomas Friedman's bestseller The World Is Flat, he explains how India positioned itself to become an invaluable player in the global economy. It began in the late 1990s with the boom in long-distance fibre-optic infrastructure. This enabled American companies to outsource a lot of tedious code-cutting work in the lead-up to the supposed Y2K meltdown of the world's computers. India had an enormous pool of highly educated English-speaking people who could perform the work at rock-bottom prices. Next, multinational companies began outsourcing ever more sophisticated work to India. Reuters newsagency, for instance, outsources news bulletins to Indian reporters, and US accounting firms sent 400,000 tax returns to Indian accountants in 2005.

The Indian middle class has blossomed, and clever young Indians no longer have to leave their families and migrate to Western countries to make something of themselves. They can do that right at home. We have grown used to speaking to women from Bangalore when phoning Diners Club to report a lost credit card. India was so well poised to capitalise on the technology that enables the "flattening" of the world economy, Friedman says, because it had a huge pool of well-educated workers. For an impoverished country, that was no mean feat, shaming Australian claims that lack of money is the sole cause of our higher-education woes.

In 1951 India's leaders decided to make good-quality education a priority, establishing the first of the nation's seven Indian Institutes of Technology, which became "islands of excellence". "India mined the brains of its own people," Friedman writes, "educating a relatively large slice of the elites in the sciences, engineering and medicine."

But, as Gurcharan Das wrote in Newsweek last year, it's no longer just the elites getting a decent education: "Government-run schools are a mess . . . But private schools - which can range from expensive boarding schools for the elite to low-end teaching shops in the bazaar - are proliferating. "Even the poor now send their kids to private schools, which can charge as little as $1 to $3 a month in fees and are spreading rapidly in slums and villages across India." Two-thirds of children in India's three largest states attend private schools and their reading and maths scores are significantly higher than those of other students.

Which brings us to Federal Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd's education "revolution". He gets top marks for identifying education as his first election issue, crucial to economic growth. And while India's experience shows us resources aren't everything, Rudd's point that Australia's spending on universities has declined 7 per cent since 1995, while spending by OECD countries has risen on average by 48 per cent, struck a chord. In fact, the picture is worse than that, since the money is spread so thinly over a variable array of universities.

Rudd, who beavered through the summer break on his education policy, has already managed to convey a substantial message in a way his predecessors never could, with his clear link between the nation's future prosperity and the education level of its people. He argues that the way to boost Australia's flagging productivity is to invest massively in "human capital": education from preschool to university.

However, Rudd's first fleshed-out policy, a plan to offer universal preschool education, may backfire. While on the committee of the National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy in 2005, I became aware of a powerful desire by the education establishment to push formal education down into the preschool years. The thinking goes like this: if children are having trouble learning to read in primary school, it is not because the methods used to teach them are inadequate, it is because their families have not equipped them with what are called "pre-reading" skills - familiarity with books and the concept that the black stuff on the page has meaning.

While there is evidence that pre-reading skills are useful, especially for socially disadvantaged children, the evidence that intensive systematic phonics instruction is most effective in teaching most children to read is overwhelming. Yet there are still entrenched pockets of influential resistance to phonics-based teaching, in universities and various teacher associations.

As the literacy inquiry found, fewer than 10 per cent of course time in university teacher education departments is spent teaching teachers how to teach reading. But instead of fixing such problems, Rudd's early-education plan runs the risk of shifting responsibility for reading failures in primary school to preschool. That's no way to compete with India.


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