Friday, August 31, 2007

Howard attacks religious `insults'

John Howard last night condemned two entries in the nation's top religious art competition, labelling them "gratuitously offensive" to Christians. A statue of the Virgin Mary shrouded by a Muslim burqa and a holographic image of terrorist Osama bin Laden that morphs into Jesus Christ submitted for the Blake Prize have drawn a furious response from politicians and church leaders.

Yesterday, Mr Howard said the pieces were insulting and lacked any artistic merit. "The choice of such artwork is gratuitously offensive to the religious beliefs of many Australians," Mr Howard said. He was backed by New South Wales Premier Morris Iemma who said the inclusion of the artworks was extremely questionable. "I haven't seen either of these pieces but from what has been described to me, it's a pity they were not stolen instead of the Dutch masterpiece," Mr Iemma said, referring to the recent theft of a painting from the Art Gallery of NSW.

Last night, the Uniting Church minister who chairs the Blake Society defended the pieces. The Reverend Rod Pattenden, who awarded the $15,000 prize to the competition winner in Sydney yesterday, said his mission was to spark debate about spirituality in a world that was "cynical, degraded and in crisis". Mr Pattenden said he did not expect controversy to result from the exhibition at the National Art School Gallery "because the Christian community doesn't look at art a great deal".

Artist Luke Sullivan's entry, The fourth street of Fatima,which is on display at the gallery in Darlinghurst in Sydney, is a statue of the Virgin Mary with a rosary and a burqa - for many, a potent symbol of female oppression. Priscilla Joyce Bracks' Bearded Orientals, Making the Empire Cross is a lenticular image in which the viewer can flip between portraits of Jesus and bin Laden by shifting slightly from side to side.

Mr Pattenden said the Virgin statue embodied "iconic representations of two different religious traditions". "He (the artist) is making a comment about gender in a religion dominated by men," Mr Pattenden said. "I find it unsettling and unfamiliar and I think that's always an opportunity for new insight." As for Bracks' double image of Christ and bin Laden, Mr Pattenden said the artist was questioning "the idea that you can have absolute good and absolute evil. Life's a bit more complicated than that".

The Australian Christian Lobby said placing Jesus in the same artwork as Osama bin Laden was "a big mistake". "Jesus brought a message of love and forgiveness that has nothing to do with terrorism," spokeswoman Glynis Quinlan said.


Small businesses want more immigration

Small businesses in Western Australia and other parts of the country are being forced to close because they can't find enough skilled people with trade and technical experience, reports Perth's Sunday Times. Both local authorities and the federal government recognise that immigration is the only answer to the labour shortage. The owner of a steel security company, Ian Saggers, told the Sunday Times he was closing his business because he has not been able to find anyone to train his staff to use the equipment. This is despite owning what is potentially a multimillion-dollar turnover business. Skilled tradespeople such as machine operators are being lured to the high-paying jobs offered by mining operations in the north. Many trades are on the Migration Occupations in Demand List (Australian MODL), entitling applicants for an Australian visa to extra points.

Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews recently acknowledged: "The reality in Australia today is we've got the lowest unemployment rate for 33 years, in states like Western Australia and Queensland in particular, it's almost impossible to find some workers, in particularly skilled areas, and we're crying out for workers, without which we wouldn't be able to continue to run the economy of Australia."

Western Australia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCI) chief executive John Langoulant told the Sunday Times they are calling for increases in the number of skilled workers being brought in from overseas. "The chamber has been working with government and employers to develop innovative ways to solve the problem,' he said. "The chamber advocates the use of skilled immigration schemes to help industry and business meet their growing short-term labour needs. However, improvements can be made to the present system by allowing more overseas skilled workers to enter the country.'


Making an ambulance service "free" has caused huge over-use

How surprising! Result: Really urgent cases are slow in being attended to

FRUSTRATED ambulance officers say lives are still being put at risk despite taxpayers pumping more than $400 million into state coffers through a levy on electricity bills. The crisis, which has been exacerbated by a massive increase in the number of call-outs, is so severe that ambulances with less urgent patients on board are diverting to more serious cases.

One northside paramedic, who defied a media ban to speak out, revealed it took almost 20 minutes to answer a recent top priority call-out. And he claimed one major Brisbane station was left unattended on a Sunday night because of staff shortages. "I don't want people to get hurt or die," he said. He said it was not unusual for several stations to be unattended on any given night.

Taxpayers hand over $97.99 a year for a special levy, collected through electricity bills, which replaced an old subscription service that raised about $80 million in its final year. The levy raised $99 million in its first full financial year, in 2003-04, but the total ambulance budget that year rose by only $27.8 million.

Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said QAS funding had grown significantly in recent years. "The ambulance levy replaced a very unreliable subscription scheme," he said. Both ambulance officers and the State Government say the situation has been exacerbated by a huge jump in demand. Overall, call-outs have increased about 10 per cent every year since the introduction of the ambulance levy in 2003, with a record set this year.

Queensland Ambulance Union's Steve Crow confirmed response times were getting longer as crews struggled to attend as many as 700 code-one call-outs a day. "It used to be 68 per cent of cases took under 10 minutes, but now it's more like 62 per cent and that figure's even worse in the regions," he said. Prebs Sathiaseelan, president of the Emergency Medical Service Protection Association, which represents paramedics, said the ambulance levy was behind a jump in trivial calls. "We go to things like stubbed toes," he said. "People have got an appointment at the doctor's - they want the ambulance because it is covered under this levy. It's being abused." But Mr Sathiaseelan said the levy was not behind code-one increases. He blamed that increase on an ageing population and "phenomenal growth" in Queensland.

Mr Roberts also blamed Queensland's "growing and ageing population" for the increased demand for services. "In the 2006-07 financial year, the Queensland Ambulance Service attended 10,757 (or 9.7 per cent) more code one incidents than for the 2005-06 financial year," he said. But he said the extra demand was being addressed with the recruitment of 250 new ambulance staff this year and the purchase of 16 new vehicles. He was not concerned that some stations were unattended at night, describing the QAS as a "mobile service delivered by paramedics in vehicles".


Empty talk on climate policy from Australia's Left

NEXT week's Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum meeting in Sydney won't be its last, but if we accept Kevin Rudd's view of the world then, like John Howard, its days may be numbered. The press release accompanying Rudd's speech to the Australian Institute of International Affairs on Monday bore the headline, "APEC'S Future: Confront the Economic Challenge of Climate Change" . According to Labor's Great Helmsman, if it fails to embrace "real action" on climate change, APEC has "little future".

What does real action mean? To quote Rudd: "APEC must set concrete emissions targets, as it languishes behind the European Union and the G8 on tackling the economic impact of climate change." This is an interesting comparison, for reasons I will come to in a moment. But we already know that setting action plans in concrete is not APEC's modus operandi. China and the other Asian developing economies don't want anything to do with Kyoto-style targets, which would cripple their economic growth. Bringing their living standards up to those of the West is their greatest economic challenge, not climate change.

A leaked draft of the Sydney Declaration to be released at the end of next week's APEC meeting speaks only of a long-term aspirational target for emissions reductions. So presumably one of the early actions of a Rudd government will be to withdraw from APEC, an institution with little future. Or is Rudd just bluffing? His speech implies a readiness to compromise his policy ideals. After all, as he says, a Labor government helped create APEC.

The ambiguity is typical of the approach to climate change by all governments, for which we may be duly grateful when it becomes apparent the planet isn't on the brink of becoming uninhabitable without immediate, drastic action to stop global warming. The European Union and the G8, Rudd's exemplars of climate action, fall decidedly short when it comes to meeting commitments they have undertaken, notably in the Kyoto treaty (the US, of course, never ratified it). And several of the new eastern European members of the EU are refusing to accept emissions caps imposed by Brussels, for the same reason China and India don't want a bar of them: they inhibit economic and social development.

Yet on Monday, Rudd repeated that one of his first acts if he becomes prime minister will be to ratify Kyoto. This is just one more illustration of the fact that when deliberately created global warming hysteria takes hold, silliness isn't far behind. Kyoto is dead. It was never going to make any real difference to global warming anyway, and its most vociferous supporters will miss their emissions reduction targets, or meet them by fraud. Two weeks ago The Guardian newspaper reported a secret briefing to ministers that Britain had no hope of meeting the EU's target of 20 per cent energy from renewables by 2020. Former prime minister Tony Blair, an ardent climate change believer, signed up to the target only a few months ago.

However, the problem isn't missing these targets but that efforts will be redoubled to impose harsher ones to make up for backsliding, because despite claims of a scientific consensus, the science of climate change is not settled. For a start, the predictions of what is going to happen to the Earth's climate over the next 100 years are based on climate change models that are the subject of considerable dispute. Reputable climate change scientists such as Richard Lindzen and economists who specialise in forecasting have strongly criticised them.

For example, Scott Armstrong from the Wharton School in the US and Kesten Green from the Business and Economic Forecasting Unit at Monash University checked a set of forecasts by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change against 88 principles of sound forecasting and found the scientists had breached 72 of them.

The assumptions underlying the climate forecasts have also been frequently challenged. Critical assumptions about the role of clouds and water vapour, for example, are disputed by other scientists.

The economic modelling used to predict the economic costs and benefits of curbing greenhouse emissions, most notably in the British Stern report, has been widely challenged by leading economists. William Nordhaus, a world expert on the economics of climate change, has recently looked at the proposals by Al Gore and Stern to dramatically cut emissions of greenhouse gases. He found that the costs in both cases substantially exceeded the benefits. In the case of the Stern proposals for deep cuts in carbon dioxide emissions, Nordhaus found the benefits totalled $US13 trillion and the costs $US27 trillion.

As for the science, it is evolving and some assumptions made in the exercises carried out by the IPCC are being questioned and found wanting. One example is the so-called hockey stick, which was at one stage at the centre of IPCC findings on global warming, but has since been discredited. Recently, earlier findings that the behaviour of Atlantic Ocean currents, which climate change was reportedly causing to alter in ways that would bring a mini ice age to Europe, have been overturned. There are other examples.

Equally disturbing, there is evidence that some key IPCC scientists have been witholding data from independent reviewers wanting to look at their work, which goes right against the idea of how good science is done. There have also been cases of discrimination against scientists who don't toe the IPCC line.

In some ways most damning of all, there is a deliberate attempt to close down any public debate on climate change issues and brand those questioning the orthodoxies of the IPCC as climate change deniers, comparing them with Holocaust deniers or painting them as in the pay of big oil, big coal, or some other vested interest. While the suppression of dissenting views by the scientific establishment is hardly new, the increasingly shrill tone in the face of growing questioning of the work of the IPCC and the data and models it relies on is disturbing.

In the face of this, whatever its faults, Howard's cautious approach to climate policy looks much more sensible than the alternative, however unpopular it might be in the opinion polls.


Thursday, August 30, 2007

New Leftist workplace policy to wrap economy in red tape


WORKPLACE Relations Minister Joe Hockey yesterday hit back at Labor's new policy, labelling it "a disaster for the economy". Mr Hockey said the policy was confusing, tangled in red tape and detrimental to real wages and employment levels. "The red-tape burden, including the transitional arrangements, means that an employment arrangement for eight people could end up with eight different employment contracts," he said.

Speaking from Hermannsburg in the Northern Territory, John Howard joined the attack and said the announcement offered "no hope" for small business. "If reports are to be believed, and I have not seen the detail, then there is no hope for small business in it because they are going to bring back the unfair dismissal laws that will produce higher unemployment in the future," the Prime Minister said. Mr Howard also predicted that Labor's policy would "fall a long way short of what is needed, to maintain the very low levels of unemployment we have at the present time".

Mr Hockey said Labor failed to offer anything more in real terms than what was announced at the party's national conference in April. He also said the policy demonstrated the extent to which the Opposition was under the thumb of the unions. "Nothing was added today in real terms to what the Labor party expressed in April, (and what) the business community and employers of Australia reacted so strongly against," Mr Hockey said. "All he did was set off a smoke machine, hoping that Australians would not see the ugly side of his industrial relations policy. "What this policy says is that Mr Rudd wants to keep the union bosses happy but at the same time ensure that the people of Australia are not aware of the damage his policy will do to the economy.

"The union bosses don't need to worry about going in the back door because they'll be coming in the front door under Kevin Rudd. "Kevin Rudd will be reversing the formula that has delivered a strong economy, not just today, he'll reverse it in 2010 and even in 2012 after what he's announced."

Vocational Training Minister Andrew Robb extended the Government's criticism, saying that a Labor government would exacerbate the skills shortage. Speaking at the Skilling Australia Summit in Melbourne, Mr Robb said the 21 new technical colleges established by the Government had faced serious denigration by the Labor Party and would be undermined by the education union movement. "It's a disgrace what the Labor Party has done for crass political purposes: they are trying to destroy these colleges," Mr Robb said.


Bureaucrats want to curtail cardiac surgery in private hospitals

Even though there are no nearby government hospitals to do it! They hate private hospitals because the private hospitals show them up

The Gold Coast's 600,000 residents could be stripped of any cardiac surgery services, forcing locals with heart conditions to travel to Brisbane for treatment.

Queensland Health has advised the Coast's two private hospitals it could withdraw their approval to offer cardiac services. Queensland's chief health officer Jeannette Young is considering withdrawing approval because neither hospital performs the amount of work required under official guidelines to maintain staff competency and patient safety. Residents will not be able to turn to the public system because the local hospital has not been funded for cardiac surgery.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said while no decision had been made, the review was about ensuring cardiac services were safe and sustainable.


Rural Australians are climate atheists

Because climate is important to them, rural people know from experience and tradition that climate fluctuations are normal

ABOUT 98 per cent of rural people do not believe climate change exists, according to engineer Steve Posselt. He is paddling a canoe through inland waterways from Brisbane to Adelaide. Mr Posselt, who is delivering a message about the impact of climate change to rural communities on his nine-month adventure, said yesterday the strong anti-climate change beliefs might in part explain the lethargy of conservative politicians to the issue.

"About 98 per cent of adults I've met along the river say there's no such thing," Mr Posselt said. "They think it's just a short-term cycle and everything will soon be back to the way it used to be. "I've suggested to some councillors that maybe they should learn about the issue but they just say it's a load of crap. "They say, 'how can scientists get that right when they can't even tell us when it's going to rain'."

Mr Posselt, an Australian Water Association convener, sensed the beliefs were tied to the inherent conservatism of bush people who liked to work things out for themselves. The exceptions were schoolteachers and children.

Mr Posselt said his trek, which had taken him to Wentworth, at the confluence of the Murray and Darling rivers near the Victorian border, had also taught him that the level of water harvesting in the system was unsustainable. "There's not enough understanding of science behind things," he said. "To a man they think all you have to do is divert the Clarence River inland and everything will be all right. "It's just like in Queensland you get people saying the old Bradfield scheme (of diverting rivers inland) should go ahead. "Even people on the land do not make enough of the link between what you do on the surface and how this affects underground water supplies."

Four months into his trip Mr Posselt has so far walked 1011km, dragging his wheeled canoe, and paddled more than 1300km. Wentworth is 590km northwest of Melbourne and was once NSW's busiest inland port. He said he would be able to paddle the rest of the way to Adelaide.


Pressure on Australian PhDs to meet grade

STUDENTS may have to defend their PhD theses orally and examiner panels could be audited for quality under reforms being considered by elite universities. The ideas floated by Group of Eight executive director Mike Gallagher come amid claims that the once respected qualification lacks relevance, suffers from dubious quality and gives candidates false hope of employment. These claims have dominated a lively debate on the HES website after Curtin University of Technology academic Richard Nile declared the PhD "a dinosaur from a previous age of elite education" in an HES online article.

Mr Gallagher told the HES that the PhD had undergone so much change it was high time for a fundamental review. "There are a lot of PhDs going into universities that don't have much of a performance record in research, and that's a worry," he said. "I don't know what level of confidence there is in the community any more." The Go8, not expecting much help on standards from politicians or the Australian Universities Quality Agency, was carrying out its own fact-finding survey.

Yesterday, federal Education, Science and Training Minister Julie Bishop said it was the responsibility of universities to work with industry to give graduates the skills they needed and to "focus on the quality of their programs, including their PhD programs, to ensure the sector is able to compete internationally for students and academics". "It is up to individuals to decide whether a particular qualification has relevance for their career prospects, whether in the private sector or academia," she said.

AUQA executive director David Woodhouse said: "Just like the Go8, we are concerned about standards." Although AUQA looked at processes for enrolling, supervising and examining research students, the agency had not yet carried out "a sample check" on the standing of overseas examiners. This might be done during a 2008 second-cycle audit. But as yet no institution had suggested the relevant audit theme of research training, despite the advent of the research quality framework.

Mr Gallagher said it was possible the Go8 would audit examiners to make sure they represented centres of strength in the fields examined. This would underpin quality and include an element of public accountability. "If your PhD examiner panels are made up of people from second-rank institutions in that field (under examination), then that will be known," he said. "There's (also) a lot of discussion of panels reverting to the viva voce, (which would mean) you have to demonstrate that you can actually defend your propositions."

As part of a broad review of the PhD, the Australian National University was looking at a logistically manageable viva, according to pro vice-chancellor Mandy Thomas. Professor Thomas said it would not be feasible to fly in all the international examiners. (ANU had about 500 PhD completions a year.) A few months before they submit, candidates might defend their work before a panel of supervisors and experts in the field. But if this practice were adopted it would be as an "internal quality measure" and not part of the examination.

Nigel Palmer, president of the Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations, said: "Students are always going to be cautious about anything that looks like a viva. "Particularly towards the end of their candidature, PhDs are close to exhaustion. It's a very daunting proposition to come out and give a stunning presentation. Also, (a viva) disadvantages international students." Mr Palmer said a key issue was the unrealistically tight time frame for PhDs imposed by the federal research training scheme and scholarships. "The pressure of shorter completion times has had an impact on quality," he said. "The message from supervisors is: forget this being your life work, forget this being an original contribution to the field, it's just got to be good enough to get you across the line and ... in time."

Mr Gallagher also criticised the research training scheme: "The Government's timing of 3 1/2 years is at least one year tooshort." Professor Thomas said it was possible completion times might get longer as the university put more emphasis on skills. "We're boosting professional training within the PhDs; that is useful for people who will become academics as well as for those who will leave the university and join industry or government," she said. This training might involve dissemination of research results, commercialisation, journal editing or conference organisation.

Within the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Australia had very short completion times; the longer PhDs of the US were thought to be one reason for a decline in domestic candidates. It was possible that the duration of PhDs in Australia and the US would converge. Mr Gallagher said Australia's leading universities were struggling to find domestic PhDs in essential fields such as mathematics. He was not a critic of trends such as the professional, work-focused PhD; it was a matter of striking a balance between depth and breadth and re-establishing the relevance of the qualification. "You hear reports where people say: 'I didn't disclose in my job application that I have a PhD.' In the labour market it's seen as a nerdy thing to have," he said.

Even if the thesis were given less weight by examiners to make room for more coursework, the essential nature of the PhD had to be preserved. "I think the capacity to undertake original research and to demonstrate that you are in command of your field, that you can critically evaluate the literature, that you can construct a hypothesis and defend it, the discipline of it, in the old academic sense, is fundamental," Mr Gallagher said.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The last of Australia's pygmies?

At 3'7" tall, she sure is a pygmy

IN a "heartless" move, the 105-year-old elder of Australia's "lost tribe" of Aboriginal pygmies faces eviction from her far north Queensland home. Lizzy Woods - who relies on a wheelchair, is blind and suffers dementia - is the mother of 10 children and the oldest surviving matriarch of the Jirrbal rainforest people. She has been classified as a "living treasure" and is the sole surviving link to the pygmy "white cockatoo" tribe - most of whom stood less than 122cm (4ft) tall - of the Misty Mountain region near Tully.

Sitting in the humble three-bedroom Ravenshoe house she has called home for nearly 25 years, she told The Courier-Mail yesterday she was angry at the impending eviction. "They are making me homeless," said the 110cm-tall elder, surrounded by some of her five generations of offspring. "I was born in the rainforest. I grew up chasing kangaroo and picking berries off the trees. I belong here. This is my land. "The pygmy tribe - that is my mob. And this is the place I have chosen to die."

Outraged locals have condemned the move as "heartless". The Cairns and District Regional Housing Corporation, which owns the house, served notice on Mrs Woods and her carer son, Warren, to leave by August 6. But that has been stayed, pending a complaints panel decision, until September 4.

Corporation chief Jack Szydzik said Mrs Woods was living in a "high-risk" environment. "This is one of those horror-story drunken brawling party houses and, after three years of warnings, we have had enough," Mr Szydzik said. He said up to 25 people stayed and partied at the house, where $90,000 had been spent on maintenance in four years. "It's a terrible thing for the old lady; but we can't get the others to modify their behaviour. And it is not fair that the rest of the whole neighbourhood is held to ransom," he said.

Anthropologists of the 1930s investigated reports of a lost pygmy-like tribe living in the Misty Mountain rainforest. Photos emerged of child-size adults, carrying wooden swords and shields. Experts have been divided as to whether the tribe are true pygmies, with prehistoric links to African rainforest dwellers, or simply small people.


Rudd to keep ban on union site visits

A RUDD government would keep all of John Howard's tough limits on unions entering worksites, as part of a commitment to be business-friendly if Labor wins the federal election. The Australian has confirmed that full detail of Labor's industrial relations policy will include no change to the existing laws on the union right of entry to workplaces. Labor affirmation of the Howard Government's policy -- to be released with other details later this week -- is certain to upset many unions, which say restrictions on access to worksites have seriously disadvantaged them.

But according to sources connected to policy negotiations, Labor wants to quash business fears that militant union officials such as Western Australia's Joe McDonald could once again have carte blanche to enter worksites, causing disruption and jeopardising investment. Restrictions on union access to worksites were introduced last year under the Coalition's Work Choices laws. Confirmation that there would be no change to union right-of-entry rules comes as ABC Radio's PM program claimed last night that workers earning more than $100,000 a year would be excluded from the minimum conditions contained in awards under Labor's policy.

Following similar speculation last week, the program said all awards under a Labor government would have a "facilitative provision" allowing individual work arrangements for employees to exclude specific award conditions, providing the overall result met a "no-disadvantage test" for the workers. The ABC's report was disputed by Labor sources last night. But setting a threshold for high-income earners above $100,000, if correct, would be Labor's way of trying to satisfy mining industry concerns about the party's promise to abolish Australian Workplace Agreements, the Howard Government's legislated individual employment contracts.

Labor is proposing individual common-law contracts if employers do not want to make collective agreements, but such contracts are currently underpinned by the awards. Under Labor's policy to maintain the Coalition's workplace-entry rules, a union official would have to be judged a "fit and proper person" to be granted an entry permit allowing access to work premises. Union officials would be allowed entry in three circumstances: to investigate breaches of industrial law, to hold discussions with employees who were union members or eligible union members, and to investigate alleged breaches of occupational health and safety. At all times, union officials would be required to follow "reasonable directions" from employers while visiting sites, including arrangements to meet eligible workers. While union officials would not be allowed to abuse the process, responsibility would also fall on the employers not to hinder them when permits had been granted. Judging union officials as fit and proper, and the issuing of entry permits, would be left to the existing Industrial Registry.

Labor deputy leader Julia Gillard first flagged that Labor might be willing to keep the Government's restrictions on union worksite access in late June, after an address to the Melbourne Press Club. Ms Gillard admitted then that the Government's existing right-of-entry provisions recognised "in some ways" the balance needed between the rights of employers and the rights of the unions. She said at the time that a Labor government would not want to see changes that brought disruption to work performance.

Kevin Rudd and Ms Gillard released the main planks of Labor's industrial relations policy at the party's national conference in April, declaring that collective bargaining would be at its "heart" and unions would play an "important" role. But the policy was silent on the Government's rules for union rights of entry, apart from a union role in keeping workplaces fair and that employees should be free to seek their advice. While employers will almost certainly welcome Labor's promise to remain tough on union access, they will be keen to see how it is implemented in practice. The concern of many employers is that unions could once again have a green light to enter worksites where they have few or no members and press for collective negotiations that put the unions centre stage. They also fear that health and safety inspection provisions of union access rules might be abused by unions as a tool to recruit members.

New Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary Jeff Lawrence and his predecessor, Greg Combet, now a Labor candidate, are among leading union figures who have bitterly complained about the Howard Government's right-of-entry rules and how they have seriously constrained union operations. The key details still to be spelled out by Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard this week are Labor's concessions for high-income workers on AWAs, details of its "fair dismissal code" and proposed sanctions for illegal strikes and secondary boycotts.


American pollster shocked at Australian bluntness

JOHN Howard says things about Kevin Rudd that George W.Bush would never even think of saying about his Democratic opponents, says American conservative academic and pollster Frank Luntz. In fact, Mr Luntz finds the Prime Minister's rhetoric so aggressive, he rates him as a world leader for invective. "He is using the most blunt terminology that I have ever seen a leader use," Mr Luntz told The Australian yesterday. "Howard is almost Nixonian."

Mr Howard was a polariser in his language and while it worked with lesser opponents such as Kim Beazley, Simon Crean and Mark Latham, Mr Luntz said it was harder to see the strategy succeeding against the Opposition Leader. "What Rudd has tried to do is bear-hug Howard on so many issues: 'We agree in principle but I'll do it better'." "He is absolutely blurring the lines so that it becomes a choice of personality rather than a choice of policy. Rudd is the Bill Clinton of Australian politics."

Mr Luntz will gauge the mood of swinging voters in Australia this week using his so-called perception analyser in a four-episode series, The Voters' Verdict, on Sky News. The series, co-sponsored by The Australian, runs from tonight through to Friday. The Luntz device is his version of the worm, the people meter that registers when a word, phrase or mannerism from a politician registers a response, either good or bad, from a voter.

While careful not to prejudge what his research will show, Mr Luntz felt Mr Howard was finding it difficult to get Mr Rudd's measure. He said it was too late for Mr Howard to reinvent himself, "which is why I believe he is going after Rudd as personally and directly as he is". "The question is not what you think of John Howard. He is trying to make (a vote for Labor) an unsafe vote."

The paradox is that Australians don't take their politics as seriously as Americans or Europeans. Our leader, it seems, does not reflect the temperament of the nation. Yet he is the second-longest-serving prime minister in history. Mr Howard still enjoys, after 11 1/2 years in office, a robust approval rating when compared with his American counterpart. Mr Bush has only 32 per cent of voters satisfied with the job he is doing, compared with 63 per cent who are dissatisfied. Mr Howard, by contrast, is near break-even, with 43 per cent in favour and 45 per cent opposed, according to the latest Newspoll.

Mr Luntz observed that Australians worried more about interest rates, and were less exposed to the shock of the September 11 terror attacks than voters in Britain. "Interest rates are so important here; in America, we don't follow them. An interest rate rise in the States is on the front page of the business section. An interest rate rise here is on the front page of thenewspaper."

Mr Luntz worked on successful Republican election campaigns in the 1990s. And his polling technique was credited with helping David Cameron win the leadership of the British Conservatives in 2005.


More faulty military equipment

Australia's Steyr could not be as bad as the jam-prone American M16, though. I have seen reports from Iraq saying that American troops who have seen it regard the Steyr as better

AUSTRALIAN troops are being sent to war in the Middle East with faulty weapons that malfunction under extreme conditions, army reports reveal. Dozens of Australian-made F88 Steyr assault rifles have also been fitted with incorrect parts that cause them to misfire, further placing Australian troops in jeopardy. Reports on defective or unsatisfactory materiel (RODUMS) between March 2005 and March this year show 44 serious failures of war stocks of ammunition during the two years from March 2005 to March this year. These included faulty smoke grenades, hand grenades, bullets and rockets.

In another case, six out of six main weapon mounts on SAS long-range patrol vehicles were faulty and eight 50 calibre machine guns were supplied to SAS troops with key parts missing altogether.

Documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws by Channel 7 News reveal fault rates of up to 20 per cent for the Steyr and other weapons. They also show that snipers were provided with incorrect cleaning fluid that degraded the accuracy of their rifles. The weapon problems come despite record defence spending and the Howard Government's commitment to provide troops with the best equipment money can buy. In December 2005 Prime Minister John Howard said: "It is just not acceptable for a country as wealthy as Australia to send men and women into the field without them having the best possible equipment - and we certainly intend to ensure that happens."

But according to army records, as many as 20 per cent of Steyr rifles on operational duty were rated "unsatisfactory". The army owns more than 70,000 of the 5.56mm assault weapons. In one case the working parts of the firing mechanism were faulty because they had incorrect return springs. "In most cases they (springs) are around 30-45mm shorter than the new kits when first installed," a RODUM states. "It is essential that this problem be given a permanent repair method as soon as possible as this problems seems to be affecting peoples' confidence in the weapon."

Defence spokesman Andrew Nikolic said: "No organisation of our size can have a zero fault outcome." The Prime Minister last night denied there were systemic weaknesses or faults with the weapons issued to Australian troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. "It's contrary to what I've been told, not only be the generals but by the blokes on the ground," he said. But Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd said there should be an audit.


Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Invention of Territorium Nullius

by Michael Connor (Pic below)

Land rights were given to Australia's indigenes by the High Court some years ago. In making its decision, the court appears to have been under the impression that the legal authority over Australia originally asserted by the British government (and subsequently passed on to the Australian government) was based on a claim of "terra nullius". That understanding however was sourced only from the work of propagandizing Leftist historians and the court apparently carried out no legal research of its own -- an amazing omission for a body that takes precedent seriously. Michael Connor was one of those who subsequently pointed out that there was in fact no mention of any "terra nullius" doctrine anywhere until over 100 years after British authority was established. The judges, lawyers and historians have been wriggling ever since. Michael Connor replies below to the most recent wriggles

In "Evidence tailored to fit an argument" published in the Higher Education Supplement (March 15, 2006) Sydney University academicAndrew Fitzmaurice challenged my book The Invention of Terra Nullius.

Fitzmaurice made three major criticisms. Firstly, that I have misunderstood, and misused, the terms territorium nullius and terra nullius. Secondly, that in my use of an International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion I have been guilty of a "distortion of history". Thirdly,that I failed to find the first usage of the term terra nullius - which he claims to have discovered.

Of these charges the first especially is a serious accusation.Fitzmaurice accuses me of misunderstanding and misusing the terms territorium nullius and terra nullius, charging me with "fabrication"and "word substitution". Not guilty. Territorium nullius and terra nullius are the same thing. My discussion of terra nullius begins with international lawyers in Lausanne in the 1880s working out concepts of what they called territorium nullius. I point out this use of language and as I proceed I treat this as terra nullius.

Andrew Fitzmaurice objects. He claims these phrases are very different in meaning. In Fitzmaurice's analysis, "Territorium nullius was coined in 1886 to codify rules for the carve-up of Africa. The very different contexts lent the respective terms different meanings, not the least of which is that one refers to territory (a political entity) and the other to land (a material entity). Territorium nullius describes an absence of sovereignty whereas terra nullius describes an absence of property.

"Is he correct? Are territorium nullius and terra nullius different concepts? No, they are not, they mean the same thing and Fitzmaurice points to no international law text to support his inventiveness. The law cases he uses, which he thinks support his argument, deal with sovereignty. Legal writers Elizabeth Evatt and Mark Lindley both wrote texts (much used in discussions of terra nullius) in which they used the term territorium nullius to discuss sovereignty. Justice Brennan in Mabo, and Henry Reynolds in his books, rightly interpreted this as terra nullius. Likewise associate professor Bain Attwood, he noted that Mark Lindley was "the author of an oft-quoted text on the subject [terra nullius]", then cited a page in which Lindley used the words territorium nullius - as Lindley does throughout his book.

Will Andrew Fitzmaurice also accuse Justice Brennan, Henry Reynolds, and Bain Attwood of "fabrication" and "word substitution"? As Fitzmaurice argued that terra nullius is to do with land as property, not sovereignty, he referred to Professor Ernest Scott saying that he "made the much-cited first use of the term applied to Australian history".

In Scott's first paragraph he defined terra nullius as "land not under any sovereignty".Not apparent from Fitzmaurice's account is that the word "invention" in my book title refers to the confused meanings which have been loaded onto the words terra nullius. Terra nullius is not a myth, it is a real term in international law theory, and it means land without sovereignty.

In my book I show that other meanings were invented - land without tenure, unpopulated land, sparsely populated land, uncultivated,"a land where nothing exists", "Captain Cook's law", etc.. I suggest invented meanings have created such confusion that shared understanding and accuracy have been destroyed. Just as confidently as he now puts forward his latest idea on terra nullius, Fitzmaurice told Radio National listeners in 2004 that, "Terra nullius means - or res nullius - refers to - uncultivated. It's as simple as that." Having published my book I hadn't expected that a senior academic would come forward, at this late stage in the life of terra nullius, to give a public demonstration of my thesis.

Fitzmaurice accuses me of misusing the International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on Western Sahara: "It is a strange distortion of history to represent, as Connor does, the ICJ's 1975 western Sahara advisory opinion as the source of modern discussions of terra nullius."

Not guilty. My book is specifically about terra nullius in Australian history. I note earlier usages in this country and my then narrative traces the influence of the ICJ opinion in Australia because it had a clear impact on our law and history writing. - other usages in international law reports were less relevant. Using it I point out that the international judges discussing sovereignty stated that terra nullius had "a very precise meaning".

The progress of the Western Sahara Advisory Opinion through our courts is a fascinating story, with illuminating sub-plots. In 1993 ChiefJustice Sir Anthony Mason said, "the rejection of the doctrine of terra nullius [in Mabo] is entirely consistent with the rejection of that doctrine in the Western Sahara case." Some years earlier he banned its use in his own court because, "it has no relevance to the domestic or municipal law of Australia based on the Constitution which this Court is bound to apply."

Fitzmaurice accuses me of not finding the first use of terra nullius: "What Connor's research failed to turn up was that the term terra nullius was first used in 1909 in the debate over the status of the polar regions."

Not guilty. I traced its origins to the use of territorium nullius in the1880s. But if he is seriously concerned about finding the first use of the exact phrase terra nullius then he has overlooked at least one earlier reference in the nineteenth century. In 1899 the term appeared in The Times in a report on theVenezuela Arbitration then taking place in Paris - and it was used inrelation to sovereignty. The date, and the importance Fitzmaurice attaches to the exact wording in his analysis, negates his claim that the term was invented in the twentieth century - and suggests that more searching of international law cases could prove interesting.

This piece of research is not even my own; my story is about the meanings which have been invented for terra nullius and I did not use it in my book. The citation was sent to me by a non-academic, a person interested in terra nullius, who did a better research job than my academic critic. Fitzmaurice's vivisection of my book was carried out with blunted perceptions of exactly what The Invention of Terra Nullius is about. He says I argue "that the term of terra nullius was never employed in the 18th and 19th centuries and is another case of historical fabrication. For Connor, Reynolds is again the historian the most culpable."

I argue that the term was never applied to Australian colonialism in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries, but I do not apply the word "fabrication" since I show it being used in the 1880s, and I suggest that it has a very real meaning in international law theory. I do criticise Henry Reynolds, in part because the influential definition of terra nullius he gave in his book The Law of the Land is flawed.

Fitzmaurice charges that, "Connor's inevitable conclusion is that if terra nullius were a myth the legal foundations of the High Court's Mabo judgment look wobbly (although this would assume that the term was indeed important for that judgment)." In my Mabo chapter I show that the judges were confused in their usage of the term, and I criticise their handling of it. The historian best known for calling terra nullius a myth is Bain Attwood - he also called it a lie.

Fitzmaurice asserts that "Terra nullius was certainly not reinvented in the 1970s and '80s by Australian historians motivated by the politics of land rights." I don't say this. I demonstrate that terra nullius entered the Australian High Court in the 1970s and then made its way into our history books and public discussion. As it did so I show that new meanings were invented for it.

Many words in Fitzmaurice's article were devoted to the place of natural law in the dispossession of the Aborigines. My book is about two words and the role they have played in modern Australia. In my index there are more page references to "Fitzmaurice, Andrew" than "Locke, John". When I deal with the history of colonialism I do so to disperse the fog of terra nullius, and consider how the newcomers spoke of and justified their enterprise.

Fitzmaurice claims lawyers "coined" terra nullius to summarise "the natural law understanding of property" and "this is why terra nullius, although crude when used historically because it is anachronistic, was accepted by most Australian historians and by the wider community as a description of the arguments employed to dispossess indigenous peoples."

This particular argument is considered in my book. I suggest it was seized on by historians, to protect their earlier work, only after the usages they had made of terra nullius were questioned. Australians were taught that terra nullius was the language of the eighteenth century, used to dispossess the Aborigines. As late as 2002 historian Richard Broome claimed the "pertinent fact" was that theAborigines were dispossessed "by settlers invoking terra nullius". Meanings were invented for terra nullius which have nothing to do with either international law, or natural law notions. A writer, an example among many, who called it a "land of no people", was hardly referring to natural law theory.

Fitzmaurice's new errors compound his old one about terra nullius meaning "uncultivated" and need to be corrected. The saddest part of Fitzmaurice's defence of the indefensible suggests the crippling of academic enthusiasm and curiosity: "The fact remains that the words terra nullius are absent from the 19th-century historical record. Before the 20th century no person would have recognised the term. Should we, therefore, wipe the slate clean and rewrite the story of Aboriginal dispossession as Connor suggests?

Certainly, but any account of the justification of dispossession is not going to look dramatically different. We would be better off dealing with the history of colonialism and Aboriginal dispossession in English, going back to the sources and telling the story again. Professor Greg Melleuish, in an article in the Higher Education Supplement (January 11 2006) which indicated he had actually read my book, suggested the story could be told in terms of "power and land hunger" - which does not seem unreasonable.

Future histories which explore the cultural clashes and the cultural merging of real people meeting throughout this continent will be a different story to the dull narratives the old historians have attached to a misunderstood legalism. Not guilty of the charges Fitzmaurice brings against me may I, politely, suggest they reveal serious problems with his own work -research into terra nullius supported over three years by a large ARC grant, and conducted within the history department of a leading Australian university.


Illegal fishing sunk by new rules

This is something that should even make the Greenies happy -- if there is such a thing as a happy Greenie. Australia's very extensive territorial waters are heavily protected from overfishing by Australian laws and therefore ensure extensive habitat preservation for marine species. But Australia's Muslim neighbours need heavy pressure before they will pay any attention to Australia's right to control its own waters and resources. They have negligently fished out their own extensive waters and see no reason why they should not steal fish from Australian waters. The Australian government does however now seem to have got the attention of most of them

MORE warships and planes, greater co-operation from Jakarta and tough new rules allowing the navy to "shoot to sink" the vessels of suspected poachers has led to a 90 per cent drop in the number of illegal fishing boats this year. And those boats that are spotted are more likely to be seized, with a doubling of the apprehension rate, defence spokesman Brigadier Andrew Nikolic said yesterday.

Operation Resolute -- the name given to fisheries protection -- combines the resources of the Australian Defence Force, Customs and Quarantine and the Australian Fisheries Management Authority. Orion spy planes, mine hunters, a missile-armed frigate and Armidale class patrol boats can be called on to enforce the vast northern fishery zone, Brigadier Nikolic said. In the 12 months to June 30, the navy alone had boarded 235 suspected illegal fishing boats, he said. Area surveillance had increased by about 10 per cent.

The figures indicate new federal government strategies to tackle the scourge of illegal fishing were beginning to work, a spokesman for Fisheries Minister Eric Abetz said. "In the 18 months since the ramped-up budget package came into place with an extra $390 million, we've seen a decline (in illegal fishing boat sightings) of around 90 per cent," he said. At the weekend, three Indonesian boats equipped with sophisticated diving gear were seized off Evans Shoal, 320km northwest of Darwin.

Last year's budget measures paved the way for a big boost in patrol hours and the deployment of additional maritime resources for cracking down on illegal fishing. A total of 365 illegal fishing boats were caught last year, compared with 281 in 2005. Still of concern to authorities were the estimated 6700 sightings last year of illegal vessels in Australian waters. While many of these are likely to have involved the same boat, the number is still high and according to federal Labor justifies its policy of a national coast guard service.

The cost for the (Indonesian) owners of losing their fishing boats has proven a decisive factor in the fall in the number of sightings this year, the minister's spokesman said. Relaxed rules of engagement also allow warships to fire on illegal fishing boats if they fail to heed warnings to stop. Education programs in poor Indonesian fishing communities and better co-operation between Australia and Indonesia since the 2006 Lombok Treaty were also helping stem illegal fishing.


Citizens must score 60pc in Aussie values

A PASS mark of 60 per cent will be enough to became an Australian under the citizenship test to be introduced later this year. The draft Citizenship Test Resource Book released yesterday by Immigration and Citizenship Minister Kevin Andrews contains little that is likely to frighten civil libertarians. To become a citizen, applicants will need to correctly answer 12 out of 20 questions in the test, expected to be introduced later this year after legislation has passed through parliament.

The booklet from which questions for the test will be drawn stresses cultural diversity, freedom of religion, a society governed by the rule of law and a nation of proud sports traditions. Sample questions contained in the 40-page book include: What is the floral emblem of Australia? and, In what year did Federation take place?

"It is important that people wishing to become Australian citizens demonstrate an understanding and commitment to Australia and our way of life," Mr Andrews said yesterday. "A citizenship test provides the means of ensuring that prospective citizens have such an understanding. "Before becoming a citizen it is reasonable to expect that a person will understand the core values that have helped to create a society that is stable yet dynamic, cohesive yet diverse. Respect for the free-thinking individual and the rule of law are the foundations of the Australian liberal democratic tradition."

The new test applies only to those seeking to become citizens, not those migrating and settling in Australia on permanent or provisional visas. Special arrangements will be made for those with low levels of literacy or with special needs.

In a section on freedom of religion, the booklet says: "Australia has secular government with no official or state religion. Religious laws have no legal status in Australia." It also tackles the concept of mateship, saying: "Australia has a strong tradition of mateship -- where people help and receive help from others voluntarily, especially in times of adversity. A mate can be a spouse, partner, brother, sister, daughter, son or friend. A mate can also be a total stranger."

In the section Introducing Australia, the guide describes Australia as a nation of immigrants and says the country's history has been built by the efforts of millions of immigrants from 200 countries. Migrants have added to the rich tapestry of Australia, the booklet says, and have become a vital part of our society.

The ANZAC legend is covered, and so is the vexing history of Aboriginal people and their treatment by European settlers. "There has been great debate about how many Aboriginals were killed in the frontier battles. Many more Aboriginals than settlers were killed," it says.

Intending citizens are warned that Australia is also a "sports-crazy" nation and that of all our sporting heroes Donald Bradman is the best-known. While Australian rules is the dominant style of football in four states -- Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania -- more recently soccer has started to attract a larger following among young people.


Threats as a way to improve hospital standards??

A LABOR government would seek to slash GST payments to states if they failed to improve public hospital standards by 2009, triggering Kevin Rudd's threat of a commonwealth takeover. The Labor Leader's office confirmed last night his plan to wrest control of state hospitals would involve a reduction in commonwealth payments to the states "from all sources" of funding.

The admission sparked a prediction by Peter Costello that the premiers would never agree to part with GST revenue. "They will agree with Rudd for an increase in the GST rate to make up the difference," the Treasurer said. Under current arrangements, states spend up to $25 billion a year on public hospitals, including about $9 billion in commonwealth funding. The remainder is funded from their own income, which includes about $40 billion in GST in 2006-07. This is expected to rise to $47.8 billion by 2009-10.

Although the Opposition Leader's office made no further comment, any push to seize GST receipts from the states would almost certainly spark a serious battle between the two levels of government. When the new tax was introduced in 2000, states were guaranteed the entire proceeds of the 10per cent consumption tax and the rates were legislated into existence after months of wrangling. News of a possible GST clawback emerged last night after Mr Rudd had earlier committed a Labor government to spend $220million to provide incentives to general practitioners, specialists, nurses and other health professionals to establish "GP super-clinics" in areas poorly served by doctors. And it also followed a promise from Health Minister Tony Abbott that a re-elected Coalition Government could take over more state hospitals, using its controversial takeover of Devonport's Mersey hospital in Tasmania as a template.

Health policy has been a key pre-election battleground in the past week, with Mr Rudd promising that if elected he would offer $2billion in incentive payments to states for lifting public hospital standards in accordance with agreed benchmarks to be established in his first 100 days in office. But, insisting voters were sick of the inter-governmental blame game, Mr Rudd also said last week that if states failed to deliver improvements by the middle of 2009, he would stage a referendum in 2010 seeking approval for a commonwealth takeover of all public hospitals.

Mr Costello said last night the states would not agree to hand back the money, which he said was more than $16billion in today's terms. Instead, they would demand that Mr Rudd increase the rate ofGST, which now stands at 10per cent. Mr Rudd was unavailable last night to discuss the issue. But his office released a statement saying he hoped to improve hospitals in consultation with states, making a takeover unnecessary. He also repeated his promise to act if states did not lift their game. "This will involve a parallel reduction in the commonwealth outlays to the states and territories from all sources for these hospitals," the statement said. "This includes the Australian Health Care Agreement, specific purpose payments and other such funding arrangements." The response did not directly mention the GST, despite The Australian explicitly asking Mr Rudd's press secretary whether a takeover would require a claw-back of GST receipts.

Asked to clarify last night, the spokesman said no one was available. Earlier, Mr Rudd said Labor's new GP super-clinics were particularly aimed at regional and outer-metropolitan areas unable to attract doctors. The $220million fund would run for four years and include incentive payments to encourage groups of doctors and other health professionals to put all their services under one roof to enhance patients service and convenience. The centres would include consulting rooms for visiting specialists and teaching facilities for medical students and specialist trainees. Incentives would include grants of between $50,000 and $25million to build the centres or renovate existing buildings, plus payments of up to $15,000 for doctors prepared to relocate to work in the centres. "The criteria mean the clinics are most likely to be located in regional towns and outer-metropolitan areas, which are currently poorly served, particularly for commonwealth-funded services," said Mr Rudd's policy document. "Along with incentives to pay for administrative and nursing support, funds could be used to provide for teaching rooms and facilities to make the super-clinics attractive to new graduates, trainees and GP registrars."

Mr Abbott accused Labor of "making up policy as they go". He said Labor was proposing to replace programs that already existed under current arrangements. Earlier, he rejected Labor criticism that his Government's decision to bail out the Mersey Hospital was piecemeal and aimed at securing the marginal seat of Braddon, rather than improving health policy. If the intervention worked, it could be expanded "quite significantly", he told the Nine Network's Sunday program. "The Mersey is the first step. It's not necessarily the last step," he said.


Monday, August 27, 2007

More Greenie foot-shooting: Must wash clothes in cold water

But you would probably have to use more detergent in that case and we know how evil that is. And to get the extra detergent out afterwards you would probably have to use more water and we know how evil that is! The usual Greenie lose-lose situation

THE Victorian Government has launched a new campaign encouraging people to wash clothes in cold water to help cut household energy use. Minister for Climate Change Gavin Jennings today said it was important to encourage cold water washing, as water heating accounts for about 20 per cent of the average home's greenhouse gas emissions.

"It's small and simple actions like washing full loads of clothes in cold water that can make a big collective difference to our environment," Mr Jennings said. "Energy used for heating water for showers, washing and other household tasks costs the average household about $300 each year. "People need hot water to have a shower, but not necessarily to clean their clothes," he said. "By switching to a cold wash, you can cut 80-90 per cent off the running costs of doing a load of washing, and reduce your water heating by almost 10 per cent."


Government indifference to dangerous school bullying

A BOY bullied to the brink of suicide has seen his tormentor follow him to a new school. The boy, now 14, tried to kill himself in the schoolyard when bullying by another Year 5 student became too much. After counselling and psychologist sessions, he enrolled at a secondary school in Mt Eliza. But this week he discovered the bully had changed schools and joined his class. The teenager has penned a plea for help in the hope his plight will be reconsidered by school officials, police and education authorities.

His mother has pulled him out of class and is seeking an intervention order to keep the boys apart if her son returns to the school. She said the situation had brought years of fears flooding back for her son's safety. "When he was at primary school, every time the phone rang I thought it was someone saying he was dead," she said. "That left when the boys went to different schools, but now that feeling is back again."

The boy's mother said the family was seeking legal advice, but felt "hamstrung" by the lack of help it had received. "The police can't help us, the courts won't help us and the school won't do anything - we're helpless," she said. "It seems my son has to be beaten to death before they will actually help him."

In his letter, the boy says: "I want him (the bully) out of my life forever because I don't want what happened in Year 5 and 6 to happen again. "I want him in the past, nowhere near me, not even talking to me." The school this week ruled out any chance of the bully being removed.


Halal meat for prisoners

What's happened to the advice: Don't do the crime if you can't do the time

ALL prisoners at Brisbane's Wolston Correctional Centre are being served halal meat - whether or not they are Muslim. Halal meat is blessed and slaughtered by a Muslim slaughterman and cooked and stored in accordance with religious laws. "Wolston prison provides all prisoners halal meat as it can be sourced at the same price as non-halal meat," a Corrective Services spokesman said. However, only about 10 of the prison's 570 inmates currently request a halal diet.

Last year a Muslim child-sex offender was awarded $2000 compensation because he was not given fresh halal meat while he was in prison. The Anti-Discrimination Tribunal found that the State Government had directly discriminated against Sharif Mahommed while he was in Wolston and Palen Creek correctional centres. The Government appealed against the decision, with Corrective Services Minister Judy Spence saying it could open the floodgates to prisoners requesting "all manner of special diets". The Government lost its appeal.

Special diets given to Queensland prisoners include vegetarian; no pork, ham or bacon; no seafood; Asian; diabetic; soft food; no mushroom; low fat; low salt; no salt; gluten-free; no curry; no pineapple; no lactose; high fibre; and vitamised.


Testing times for migrants

MIGRANTS will face a tough new citizenship test obliging them to endorse the values of mateship and the fair go, as well as learn the English language. For the first time, the Federal Government has laid out what it regards as the 10 essential Australian values every citizen must embrace.

A draft copy of the pamphlet Becoming an Australian Citizen, which will be given to all new citizenship applicants before their test, will be released by Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews and Prime Minister John Howard today. It describes Australia as a nation at ease with the world and itself, but lays down a firm obligation on aspiring citizens to respect the nation's core values.

Questions in the citizenship test will range from the types of official flag, the national flower and colours, to sporting heroes, national days, military achievements, convict history and the fate of Aborigines. Migrants can even be asked where the origin of the word Digger comes from, along with the well-known expressions such as Anzac and battler. Migrants will face a 20-question test drawn at random from a list of 200. They must correctly answer 60 per cent.


Sunday, August 26, 2007

Don't mention the trousers!

I am told that most people who meet Big Mal have trouble keeping the word "trousers" out of the conversation. I certainly would. I did meet him once but that was when he was still PM

IT'S one of Australia's most enduring and mysterious political scandals. How did Malcolm Fraser end up in the foyer of a seedy Memphis hotel - popular with prostitutes and drug dealers - wearing nothing but a towel and a confused expression? The former prime minister has always refused to comment on his wild night in October 1986, except to offer the Kevin Rudd-like excuse that his drunken American adventure was a blank. Even this week, when questioned about Mr Rudd's 2005 misadventure at the Scores gentleman's club in New York, Mr Fraser would not elaborate on the events of that night.

But 21 years on, the mystery of the Memphis trousers affair has become clearer, with the pants-wearing Fraser -- that is, the ex-PM's wife, Tamie -- speaking for the first time about the scandal. Mrs Fraser says that rather than being angered by her husband's rumoured dalliance with a prostitute, she felt nothing but sympathy towards her "poor old boy". "I wanted to protect him. My heart bled for him. He's such an innocent in some ways," Mrs Fraser says in a soon-to-be released book Stand By Your Man, which profiles the wives of three Australian prime ministers.

Mrs Fraser tells author Susan Mitchell that although she does not believe that her husband spent the night with a prostitute, she would not have been particularly bothered if he had. "He might have gone off with someone here or there at some time but he wouldn't go to a bar to meet someone on the off chance -- they were setting him up. Poor old boy. It's really horrible. He was so embarrassed. And still is."

Mrs Fraser claims that her husband, who was in Memphis in his role as the head of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, was probably "set up" by his fellow delegates. "They were having him on. Poor old boy. Someone must have slipped him a mickey finn as soon as he walked in. He rang me up and told me about it when he got back to his own hotel. There was this awful voice."

At the time, Mr Fraser told a Sydney newspaper he had no recollection of the night, before adding: "I wish I'd never been to bloody Memphis." For his part, Mr Fraser last night declined an invitation to remark further on the incident at the Admiral Benbow Inn. "I'm not making any comment on that," the 77-year-old said.

The Memphis episode has gained mythical status in Australian political circles over the past two decades, ranking alongside the 1987 passing of former Liberal party leader Billy Snedden, who famously died while "on the job", and the long-running affair between the Whitlam government's treasurer, Jim Cairns, and his secretary, Junie Morosi.

Last year, The Weekend Australian revealed that 61-year-old Snedden suffered a fatal heart attack while having sex with one of his son's former girlfriends in a Sydney motel. And while it is yet to be seen if Mr Rudd's trip to a New York strip club retains any kind of notoriety in the years to come, some entrepreneurs are already profiting from the nocturnal adventures of Australia's alternative prime minister. Stand By Your Man, which includes profiles of Tamie Fraser, Janette Howard and Sonia McMahon, is published by Random House and will be released on October 1.


Uluru drink ban hits tourists

Sheer idiocy. Why punish everybody for the alcohol problems of a few?

ENJOYING a cold beer or wine while watching the sunset at Uluru will be banned from next month as part of the crackdown on alcohol on Aboriginal land. The tradition of a chilled "sundowner" will be banned as part of the Federal Government's intervention in Northern Territory Aboriginal communities to stamp out alcohol-related child abuse.

Chairman of the Central Australian Tourism Industry Association Steve Rattray said the ban would spoil the experience for many travellers, thousands of whom gather each day to watch a sunset over Uluru. The ban is sure to prove particularly annoying for the growing number of "Grey Nomad" tourists, who spend much of their time in the Top End and Western Australia travelling through areas similarly affected by the alcohol bans.

"What has happened is that under the restrictions of alcohol on Aboriginal land you will be able to drive through Aboriginal land with alcohol but you can no longer drink it or dispose of it," a spokeswoman for Parks Australia said. "Uluru is on Aboriginal land which is why the bans affect people who are visiting the Rock." The ban will not apply to the nearby Ayers Rock Resort. The new rules come into effect on September 14.


Greenie mythology gets expensive

HOUSEHOLDS will have to pay up to $6.5 billion extra from 2012 to replace their electric hot water systems under a Labor plan to impose an effective ban on the appliances as part of its strategy to cut greenhouse emissions. Under the ban, up to half of all Australian households will have to switch to expensive solar hot water systems when their old electric tanks fail. Each solar hot water system will cost about $2800 more than a standard electric system replacement.

Labor will offset this higher cost by extending the $1000 solar rebate already promised by the Howard Government. It will also offer low-interest loans in the hope that projected energy savings of up to $300 a year will help households pay for the transition. But the Master Plumbers Association has warned that the scheme will need to be backed by a rigorous assessment process before each system is changed to ensure households do not simply install the cheapest possible system, which may deliver almost no greenhouse and cost benefit.

Every year there are about 800,000 hot water system replacements in Australia, with about 45,000 of these new solar systems. About 5 per cent of Australian households have solar hot water installed, while about 40per cent are able to install gas hot water systems that will comply with Labor's new energy efficiency standards. Taking into account homes exempt from the ban -- such as some apartments -- and the solar rebate, it will still cost households up to $650 million a year to switch over to solar energy. It will take about 10 years to replace the entire stock of electric water heaters. The cost to households may be reduced by the extension of existing state and local government rebates for solar systems. The national solar rebate proposed by Labor could cost the commonwealth up to $4 billion over the life of the scheme, with other subsidies only transferring more cost from households to taxpayers.

The switch to more expensive solar systems will be more common in NSW and Queensland because of lower rates of gas reticulation, while electric systems in Tasmania may be exempt because the state's high use of hydro electricity means its mains energy supply is likely to meet the required greenhouse emissions standard.

The ban is also likely to affect some property investors who will meet the cost of shifting to solar energy but will be unable to benefit from lower energy bills paid by their tenants.

The national ban announced this week by Labor environment spokesman Peter Garrett goes beyond the phase-out of greenhouse-intensive electric hot water systems in new homes already introduced in South Australia and Queensland, and in Western Australia from September 1 this year. In Victoria, new homes already require either a solar hot water system or a rainwater tank. Labor's national electric hot water ban will begin in new houses from 2010, with exemptions for multi-storey apartments as part of its Greenhouse and Energy Minimum Standards that will be applied to a range of household appliances. Heating water accounts for about 28 per cent of household energy consumption. Shifting from electric to solar or gas hot water is considered one of the best ways of improving energy efficiency in households, although solar systems still require a supplementary gas or electric heating source.

Master Plumbers Association training manager Gary Workman expects the industry will manage the jump in more time-consuming solar installations after 2012, with about 5000 of Australia's 60,000 plumbers already trained under a green plumbers program.

Mr Garrett said the implementation of the new standards would be done in close co-ordination with industry and state and local governments. "Australians want to embrace climate-friendly solutions and we think that this policy will be well-supported by the public," he said.

Labor has already flagged amore comprehensive energy rating scheme for major household appliances and a tighter review of standards. Its offer of low-interest loans worth up to $10,000 per household can be used to install water and efficiency measures including insulation, rain tanks and solar panels.

In February, the Howard Government announced it would ban the sale of incandescent lightbulbs from 2009 and in May it doubled the rebate for the installation of rooftop photovoltaic cells. Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull last night said the Government had already committed $252 million to help subsidise the replacement of electric hot water systems. He said the Government's existing Minimum Energy Performance standards already apply to hot water heaters, refrigerators, airconditioners and other household appliances. "This is yet another example of Labor playing catch-up on the federal Government's policies," he said.

Mr Workman said the high cost of installing solar systems meant there was a risk a ban on electric systems could see households simply switch to the cheapest compliant system without factoring the longer-term cost or greenhouse benefits. "The reason 95per cent of Australians do a like-for-like replacement is because it's the quickest and cheapest to do," Mr Workman said. He said Labor's proposal needed to take into account specific local conditions that would make the installation of solar systems expensive and inefficient.


Dear Mr Burglar, please be good

This does sound pretty absurd but it has some logic to it

POLICE are set to unveil their latest weapon in the fight against burglary -- asking crooks to stop. In a new scheme to be rolled out statewide, police will visit or write to repeat offenders asking them to come forward and seek help. Acting assistant commissioner of police region five Gavin Barry said the plan was aimed at persuading people to confront whatever caused their offending. He said those who responded could be helped into counselling programs aimed at curbing drug, alcohol, gambling or any other addiction generating their need to steal.

Letters have been sent to recidivist burglars in Frankston, which is part of region five. "It outlines we're aware they've got some issues," Mr Barry said. A high percentage of burglaries in Victoria are caused by offenders trying to get money to feed their addictions. Mr Barry said Victoria Police would always try to catch those who committed burglaries but it was also important to try to stop them happening in the first place. "It's to try to break the cycle of offending or dependency," he said. "It's really a proactive strategy. We can go on locking people up ad nauseam but that's not dealing with any of the underlying issues."

Mr Barry said the strategy had been launched in Frankston six weeks ago and was expected to spread statewide. "It's an example of police taking the initiative to try something different," he said. Mr Barry conceded the idea might not appeal to all recipients of a letter or visit from the police asking them to change their ways. "Obviously, not everyone will take up the offer," he said. Mr Barry said it might have its critics in the wider community but fresh strategies had a track record of success in things such as road toll reduction.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

Stupid accusations of racism from the arty-farties

They are so pathetic that they need to denigrate ordinary people in order to feel good about themselves

NATASHA Puatjimi doesn't fit the script. Well, not the script that's waved at us by film director George Miller. Miller, you might recall, claims there's a very good reason Australian films bomb at the box office. "Australia at its heart is so racist that I don't think we can stomach it." It's odd that being bored through the floor by angsty films such as Rolf de Heer's Bad Boy Bubby - blurbed as the story of "a 35-year-old man-child, confined his whole life by his domineering mother, who uses him for sex, to a two-room tenement apartment" - should be hailed by Miller as proof of racism.

That seems about as strange as .... well, as a Tiwi Islander girl like Natasha this week beating 170 boys to be voted best and fairest of the Yarra Junior Football League under-13 competition.

But the even greater mystery is why Miller and so many other artists and ideologues insist on believing we really are sick-makingly racist. How glibly - and often - that preposterous claim is made. "Racism is as Australian as lamingtons," sneered art critic Robert Hughes, author of the bad-us history The Fatal Shore. We're so racist we "invite the region's contempt", sniffed former diplomat and arts bureaucrat Alison Broinowski.

Racist! What a cop-out that gleeful slur has been for those who'd rather abuse than understand. Who'd rather preen than confront an awkward truth. Here's how it's worked.

Pauline Hanson's one million votes? All racists, you were told. And don't dare ask who those voters were truly rejecting. (Hint: think not poor blacks but powerful whites.)

The "stolen generations"? Oh, just priests, nuns, welfare officials, police and politicians being as racist as always, school textbooks preached. Don't even start to look at what hell those children were "stolen" from.

The Cronulla riot? Yet more racism, you silly person. And if you ask what so provoked the crowd, you must be a racist, too.

And now again, yet more lines from this same tatty Miller script. Listen to them. The National Sorry Day Committee dismisses the Howard Government's $500 million intervention in the Northern Territory's sickest Aboriginal communities as just proof of "the intent for the dog of 'white supremacy' to return to its vomit". Muriel Bamblett, of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care, waves it off as politicians "blowing the dog whistle of racism" because - note - "the Australian public are too racist and too uncaring of indigenous children" to give real help.

As I said: straight out of Miller's script. But now the big question: Is there actually a part in that script for Natasha Puatjimi? Can Miller fit in a part for a girl who is in fact one of those very same "indigenous children" from the Territory, who we are supposedly "too racist and too uncaring" to help? I'm sure you know of Natasha already. After all, we at the Herald Sun thought you'd be so glad to hear of her success that we ran her picture and story on our front page yesterday. As did The Age. The television stations, led by men with an anxious eye on what makes viewers reach for the remote, similarly decided - unanimously - Natasha's was a story the public would love.

Believe me, if these ratings-driven robots shared Miller's venomous view of Australians, they'd never show so much eager footage of a black girl making good. Not to a land fierce with rednecks. But while you've heard Natasha's story, you may have missed some details that help to make my point - that in her trophy we see reflected an Australia brighter than is modish to admit. Take, for instance, how she came to be in Melbourne. A Melbourne woman, Fiona Hogan, met Natasha's parents while working at a Tiwi Islands medical clinic and was asked if Natasha could stay with her in Melbourne to get a better education.

Think, also, of the other goodwill Natasha has been given. Her Ivanhoe club last year offered her an exchange, and now that she's in Melbourne gave her a chance to shine as ruck-rover. How much goodwill? On trophy night, said Natasha, "everyone was looking at me and when they read out that I got 27 votes I heard the most cheering ever". By the next morning she was on radio, confessing that her favourite player was Essendon's Adam McPhee, and within hours she was at Windy Hill, having a kick with him and a chat to coach Kevin Sheedy, who has done so much for Aboriginal players.

Tell me again, Mr Miller, that ours is a country sick with racists and show me in your script where Natasha fits in. How many other signs have there been of our essential good nature? Only the wilfully blind could miss them.

Many of you will have your small proofs, as I have mine - like the day Danny, my best friend at Tarcoola Primary, was made captain of our sports team and carried in triumph on the shoulders of my father and another teacher when he sealed our win in the carnival against Cook and Kingoonya. Oh, I forgot a small fact that was then inconsequential: Danny was Aboriginal.

But almost every day come more stories - usually underreported - to show that for every racist you could drag out to damn, there are dozens of the decent you could instead praise. Here's one of the latest: when the Government said it was going in to help the Aboriginal children of the NT's worst camps, more than 500 doctors, nurses, dentists, psychologists, surgeons and the like rang a hotline to see if they could help. Free. More than 100 volunteers have already now gone to the Outback to serve - in this intervention vilified as a "genocide" and a proof of our "racism".

So a plea: can our artists stop pinning on us this badge of undeserved shame? Can our preachers stop celebrating a wickedness that isn't really ours? Can our writers define us by the many, not the few, and write instead a story that sees us more as we truly are: not perfect, but not that bad, either? In that revised script for Mr Miller, let's have that scene in which Natasha holds up her trophy to a cheering crowd. And let's have Miller, with all his art, shoot it in a way that makes clear the truth of that happy moment. Which truth? That it wasn't Natasha alone who won that trophy for the best and the fairest. A small bit of it - the base, maybe - was shared by us all.


No-debate abortion law changes in Victoria

ABORTION is a divisive issue, and rightly so. It compels us to interrogate matters of life and death. It is silly to say that it provokes just intense feelings. Abortion usually provokes the most intense feelings. It is also wrong to assume that voters are irrevocably separated into two camps. While individuals disagree about what the law should allow, no one can deny that we are at least united in the belief that abortion is important.

However, whether you are pro-choice, pro-life or undecided, if the politicians get their way there will be no choice for voters regarding Victorian abortion law. This is because, pending the outcome of a Victorian Law Reform Commission review announced this week, John Brumby's Government will change the Victorian Crimes Act so as to decriminalise abortion.

The Liberal Opposition supports this attempt. Such a move would represent the most serious disturbance of abortion laws in almost 40 years. We are right to ask, then, what led to this historic shift in policy? Certainly, you would never have known about the proposed changes if you had relied on the Victorian ALP and Liberal websites in the lead-up to the most recent state election. Keyword searches of both returned zero matches. Abortion was also not mentioned in any public campaign material or major policy documents.

Why not? Who decided that one view in this fraught debate was the right view for all voters? The electorate has certainly never unambiguously agreed to a change in the law along these lines. Perhaps it is a pragmatic matter, something like "now or never"? It is not hard to guess why a politician might prefer to attempt radical change by stealth.

The US state of South Dakota voted in February 2006 to ban all abortions, followed by the African nation of Kenya. Isolated instances, sure, but in many places, for the first time since the turbulence of the 1960s and '70s, clear majorities have indicated a deep unease about abortion. Even in liberal New York state, Hillary Clinton, usually billed as a pro-choice warrior, has said that "every abortion is a tragedy".

Many Australians who once supported, or still support, the idea of a "woman's right to choose" now find their certainty challenged by the modern abortion industry. Some cannot believe that at certain large hospitals abortions outnumber live births. Many others are unwilling to accept that abortion is a "routine medical procedure", pointing to its harmful effects on women. Many of these people are feminists. Others are pro-lifers newly sensitive to the suffering of that other putative victim of abortion: the mother.

Also increasingly, voters, especially young Australians, find the argument for the sanctity of human life compelling. Abortion is wrong, they maintain, because it is the wilful murder of an innocent human being. Even pro-abortion advocates usually agree that a move towards less regulation is a step in the wrong direction. Comparable jurisdictions are introducing tighter restrictions. Britain is reducing the time allowable in line with medical advances with premature babies. Other places are adding parental consent and other notifications. In a 2004 interview with the Sunday Herald Sun, Governor-General Michael Jeffery expressed these mainstream sentiments when he said 100,000 abortions a year in Australia were too many and that "we all have to work together to keep it at an absolute minimum".

Whatever your stance, this clearly makes a lie of Brumby's claim to be motivated by the need to bring Victorian laws into step with "community sentiment". The sentiment is against an increase in abortions. Certainly, it would be wrong to conclude, as Brumby's actions imply he has, that the abortion debate has somehow ended. It remains as contentious as ever. Similarly, the fact that senior ministers just this week refused to support a private member's bill that would have wrought a similar change on the law reinforces that public attitudes are not as settled as Brumby's move implies. If they were, no member would be scared of the backlash his vote (either way) might unleash. It also indicates that politicians have serious doubts about the issue on the level of conscience, surely something that must not be arrogantly side-stepped.

If there is indeed growing public sentiment against abortion, or at least against any move that might increase the number of abortions in Victoria, and a majority of parliamentarians are unwilling to vote for the change, why is it still being considered, let alone treated as a foregone conclusion? This situation cannot stand. Brumby must allow the voters to express their will through the ballot box, or at least allow members to vote with their conscience on the private member's bill. If the initiative fails either test, and so far the move to decriminalise abortion in Victoria has failed both, he must shelve his plans. Not least because any shonky Victorian change along these lines would, presumably, provide a precedent for similar changes across the country.

Indeed, at this time, the law in NSW and in Queensland is almost identical to the Victorian law on abortion. The unfairness visited on Victorian voters could spread across borders. Such an outcome would represent, surely, one of the most anti-democratic outcomes in Australian history and it would apply to an issue that most of us consider crucial. This is not a scenario anyone, regardless of his or her views, should prefer.


The Leftist solution to health-service shortages: More bureaucracy

Kevin Rudd has started to show his interventionist side. The toon below notes that the State governments would be glad to unload responsibility for their problematical hospital systems onto the Feds

VOWING to take personal responsibility for fixing Australia's public hospital system, Kevin Rudd has given away his administrative bent, backing it up with a small carrot and a big stick. In dollar terms, a pledge to spend an extra $2billion over four years is small change in the context of the total healthcare budget. The potential meat in Labor's plan is the establishment of a National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission to sort out the cross jurisdictional healthcare mess that allows each level of government to blame the other for its shortcomings. The proposed reform commission will negotiate a framework to clearly define the state and federal responsibilities in healthcare.

On one hand, the Opposition Leader's plan could amount to no more than an election-year promise that lacks substance and is designed to foil John Howard's opportunistic pledge to prop up a small Devonport hospital in Tasmania as part of a strategy to muscle up against Labor state governments. On the other hand, Labor's plan could represent the first concrete evidence of the highly interventionist style we could expect from Mr Rudd.

Mr Rudd has a history of heavy involvement shaking up health and education bureaucracies from his time as former Queensland premier Wayne Goss's top public servant. As well as cutting back public sector spending, Mr Rudd helped create a 10-year plan to refurbish Queensland's major hospital buildings. His process-driven reform pedigree is showing in the proposed reform commission, to be established in the first 100 days of a Labor win. Labor has pledged to provide financial incentive payments to state and federal governments who deliver better outcomes to patients. The big stick is the threat of a commonwealth takeover of Australia's 750 public hospitals if state and territory governments can't agree to a national reform plan by mid-2009.

Mr Rudd has proposed a referendum to secure a public mandate for any takeover, after which local communities would have a direct say in management of public hospitals with responsibility for the quality of patient care and funding resting with the commonwealth. In a Whitlamesque refashioning of commonwealth responsibilities, states would effectively be cut out of the loop on health. Mr Rudd says this would put an end to the blame game between Canberra and the states on health and hospital funding.

Mr Rudd has taken personal responsibility for the plan, declaring that as prime minister the buck would stop with him. While Queensland Premier Peter Beattie was quick to welcome a commonwealth takeover of what has been a continuing political train wreck for his Government, other state leaders were not so quick to embrace it. West Australian Premier Alan Carpenter rejected the plan, saying he did not believe the federal Government could do the job better than the states. South Australian Premier Mike Rann pledged to work with Mr Rudd to eliminate duplication and plug gaps in service delivery but stopped short of endorsing a commonwealth takeover of responsibility. So did Victorian Premier John Brumby, who said it was a good plan but a takeover would not be necessary. NSW Premier Morris Iemma said he welcomed a more results-based funding system.

While another bureaucracy is the last thing Australia's already cumbersome public health industry needs, properly focused, a reform commission might well be necessary to find what has proved to be an elusive solution to an obvious problem. As it is, the commonwealth is accused by the states of avoiding its responsibilities in aged care, leaving elderly people stranded in public hospital beds. The states are accused of shunting hospital costs from hospital budgets onto commonwealth-funded GPs. The public is wise enough to know that however healthcare is delivered, the full cost comes from the public purse.

The sensible thing is to make the healthcare system as streamlined and efficient as possible. This includes encouraging those who can afford it to take out private hospital insurance to take pressure off the public system. It includes making sure the public properly understands that the Medicare levy at its present level funds only a small fraction of the total healthcare bill and that, because of the enormous sums involved, no system will ever be capable of providing full treatment on demand for any ailment.

No one understands the political ramifications of taking the eye off the public hospital ball more than Mr Beattie, which probably explains why he was quick to support Mr Rudd's plan for a commonwealth takeover of responsibility. Queensland's health dilemma is made more acute by the fact it has a rapidly growing population, including many retirees to remote coastal locations where few if any health services are available. The reluctance of other state leaders to lose direct control will hopefully ensure they will co-operate with the reform commission process.

Traditionally, health is recognised as a strong suit for Labor. Mr Rudd appears to have embraced the challenge and deserves encouragement to get it right. It would be disappointing, however, if Labor's promise turned out to be little more than the creation of a new body designed primarily to strengthen Canberra's hand when it comes to indulging in the blame game with the states over health.


Absurd government water-storage failure

Greenie-influenced Leftist politicians have repeatedly backed away from plans to build badly-needed new dams

DESPITE the best winter rainfalls in eight years, southeast Queensland's dams have barely registered an increase in storage levels. The strong winds that have buffeted the southeast coast eased today, but rain continued to fall, particularly on the Sunshine and Gold coasts. Since 9am (AEST) today almost 40mm fell at Maroochydore and over 50mm at Noosa Heads on the Sunshine Coast. However, the Wivenhoe, Somerset and North Pine dams received an average of just 1mm of rain overnight and today, SEQWater said. Since rain began falling in the southeast region on Saturday, the storage levels have risen by just 0.05 per cent to 16.77 per cent. "It appears we have once again got to a stage where our catchment received a solid soaking, but follow-up rain needed to trigger significant inflows has not eventuated," SEQWater operations manager Rob Drury said. Since June 1, almost 150mm was recorded across the three dams, the best falls since 1999.

"On the positive side, this winter has delivered a major unexpected bonus - the best winter rainfall in eight years, adding an extra one-month supply to our dams," Mr Drury said. State Emergency Service (SES) crews are continuing the clean up after this week's strong winds, which gusted to more than 100km/h in some parts. More than 200 SES volunteers spent today clearing fallen trees and debris, and repairing leaky roofs on the Sunshine Coast, although heavy rain in the area slowed their progress. Electricity provider Energex said up to 4000 homes on the Gold Coast remained blacked out today, with crews working to restore power as soon as possible.