Saturday, May 31, 2008

Warmist guru misrepresents the climate projections that he relies on

Kevin Rudd entrusts Ross Garnaut with Australia's long-term response to global warming, but the economics professor is in a tangle over how climate change will hit his own back yard. In a bid to build a sustainable second house behind his home in inner-Melbourne Princes Hill, Professor Garnaut has told the City of Yarra Council that global warming will lead to more hailstorms in Melbourne - a claim, it now emerges, at odds with those of leading climate change scientists.

In a letter to the council, the economist uses his expertise to argue that heritage traditions, including a slate roof, should not apply to the property when defending what objectors say is an ugly, curving steel roof set to dominate the streetscape at the rear of the property. He points out the greater resilience of a steel roof over slate given the increasing hailstorm threat. He says he has consulted the insurance industry in the course of his climate change work to back up his argument. But the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's fourth assessment report, Climate Change 2007 - Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability - says in chapter 11: "Decreases in hail frequency are simulated for Melbourne and Mt Gambier." It does not back up Professor Garnaut's letter, which says: "Severe and more frequent hailstorms will be a feature of this change."

Professor Garnaut was quizzed about the letter at a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra on Thursday night. Victorian Liberal senator Mitch Fifield asked Professor Garnaut about an article in The Weekend Australian on May 10. Senator Fifield asked Professor Garnaut: "Were you seeking to use your position as a climate change adviser to influence a council decision for your private benefit?"

Professor Garnaut replied: "I should first point out that I did not have any role with the commonwealth at the time of those events. That relates to submissions to the Yarra Council last year. I can assure you and the committee ... that I was not trying to use my position to 'heavy' anyone."

Senator Fifield said: "Professor Garnaut, have you had any progress with the council?"

Professor Garnaut replied: "Senator, so that there will be no suggestion I am seeking to influence anyone, my wife is now handling this matter." The professor went on to tell the committee: "We instructed our architect to design a building that was exemplary in sustainability in every respect."

Ten neighbours in Park Street, Princes Hill - where Professor Garnaut wants to build the new home behind one he owns with his wife Jayne - have objected that the development does not meet heritage and residential codes. The dispute will be resolved in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal next week.

Professor Garnaut, who is due to hand down his final climate change review this year, was not available to comment yesterday, but his spokeswoman said the dispute was "a private matter".


Traditional views about women are now a "disease"

A footballer as a hero of free speech: For readers not resident in Victoria, Sam Newman is a TV commentator on Australian Rules football. He is now in his 60s but was once a distinguished footballer himself. Comments below by Andrew Bolt

Don't like Sam Newman? Then argue back. Abuse him if you must. Take away your advertising, or - even better - just turn him off. Hell, Channel 9 can even sack him from The Footy Show if it figures his act is stale. But send him to a re-education camp? Which Maoists at the station thought of that particular "cure" for inconvenient opinions? That was Nine's executive director, Jeffrey Browne, actually.

With women switching off the boofy Footy Show and advertisers pulling ads to placate women offended by Newman's ways, the boss panicked. It's two months since Newman caused uproar by groping a half-dressed mannequin he doctored to look like Age football writer Caroline Wilson, but only now has Browne decided Newman did what he did because he is actually sick. But Browne doesn't just think Newman is sick in body, needing an indefinite break "to return to full health" after two big operations, one to remove his prostate. He seemingly also figures Newman is sick in the head, and has ordered "as a component of this rehabilitation" that he "undergo counselling to address, with professional assistance, the behaviour and issues that have attended what I now believe to be his premature return to the program". How offensive and absurd.

What is this "behaviour" that Newman must be counselled out of? It is not just the fondling of that mannequin, which was indeed plain nasty and boorish. It is that Newman genuinely holds - and has expressed - certain views that some influential people in particular do not like and think it a sin to hold. A sign of poor mental hygiene. One such opinion is that some women with powerful jobs in football were "liars and hypocrites" in their criticisms of him. Another opinion is that women in top football jobs have had little to contribute and, "for very little input they demand a lot of clout".

Such comments have made Browne as jumpy as a TV executive who's just learned he's lost his parking spot. "The Nine Network, in its entirety, is respectful of women," he protests.

And Newman will now be counselled - with that grim "professional assistance" - until his own thinking on women is "rehabilitated" to the standards Browne thinks healthy.

What makes this so offensive is that Newman is already in no doubt that a lot of people object to his views. After all, The Age has lashed him hysterically from its front page to its back, devoting to his alleged sins the kind of oh-my-god coverage it normally reserves for global warming.

Lawyers have sent him stiff letters demanding satisfaction, talkback jockeys have climbed on his back, co-host Garry Lyon has fronted him, his boss has disowned him, football executives have bounced him, and all in all it's been the most wonderful lynch party. So many professional denouncers have got their rocks off on Newman that you could build a pyramid over his body to rival Giza. That's called debate. And Newman, having gone through it, will either modify his opinions or stick to them, having considered the counter-arguments and rejected them.

His opinions may be right or, more likely, wrong - matters best left to each of us to decide for ourselves. But I am sure those opinions are sincerely held by an intelligent man, who should be allowed to hold them without now being deemed to be sick and in need of treatment. Bad opinions are best countered by arguments, not cures and counsellors.

But such is the militant temper of these group-think times that lawyers and men in white coats are called in by the powerful to do what their reasoning cannot. Some opinions must now be held by everyone - or else the treatment begins. What arrogance. What an abuse of power.

See how hard it is already for people to speak their frank mind, with so many cause-pushers so ready to denounce, abuse and sue, and so many battalions of thought-police ready to help them punish bad thinkers with fines or even jail - to win by force arguments they could not win by words.

To think we've even had Christian pastors dragged through months of hearings and mountains of legal bills for having simply quoted the Koran in ways that made some people laugh. Heavens, if I didn't have a rich boss behind me, paying lawyers, I'd probably have to shut up, too.

That's why Newman is still so loved even when so widely deplored. He reassures us there is still some freedom to say what the hell we think, and damn the consequences. But to be accurate: Newman reassures us most of that freedom when he is actually at his most outrageous - because he'd prove nothing by just baa-ing, would he?

Yet even Newman seems about to fall. Counter-arguments haven't swayed him, so it's off to the re-education camp. Excuse me, Mr Browne. Newman needs none of your "counselling" or "rehabilitation". He simply disagrees with his critics. If you don't like it, sack him. But pay him the respect of treating his views as the product of his reason, not as symptoms of bad "health". Or must I send some "counsellors" of my own around to "rehabilitate" your own unhealthy thoughts?


Obesity epidemic 'a myth'

Target antifat messages at the fatties only! Whoda thunk it? Though what the government has to do with it at all needs to be questioned

AUSTRALIA'S childhood obesity epidemic has been "exaggerated" and government-led national prevention efforts may be misdirected, with childhood obesity only increasing in lower-income families. Controversial new research into childhood obesity rates has called into question whether the millions of dollars allocated by the Federal Government for obesity prevention programs should be targeted to the highest-risk groups, rather than focused at the general population.

The findings, based on measurements taken from thousands of Australian children in two nationally representative samples in 2000 and 2006, found that the growth in childhood obesity overall has slowed to a crawl, and the only statistically significant increases are now among boys and girls from low-income homes, The Australian reports.

Last night, Health Minister Nicola Roxon said obesity was "a significant challenge in health and a cause of several major chronic diseases - and will remain a priority for the Rudd Government". The overall obesity rate rose only slightly, from 6 per cent in 2000 to 6.8 per cent in 2006 - an increase researchers said was not statistically significant.

Among low-income boys, obesity almost doubled from 5.4 per cent in 2000 to 9.3 per cent in 2006. The increase for wealthier children was much less, rising from 4.9 per cent to 6.8 per cent among middle-income boys and from 3.7 per cent to 4.9 per cent for the wealthiest. Among low-income girls, the obesity rate increased from 3.9 per cent in 2000 to 6.8 per cent in 2006, whereas the rate stayed flat at 5.5 per cent for middle-income girls, and increased from 2.4 per cent to 3.9 per cent among high-income girls.

Australia's health ministers in 2003 labelled obesity "an epidemic". In this month's Budget, the Government said it would spend $62 million under its National Preventative Health Strategy to fight obesity, including nearly $13 million to fund a kitchen garden program in 190 schools nationally. But Jenny O'Dea, associate professor of child health research at the University of Sydney, will tell a Nutrition Australia conference next month that obesity in children "has not increased overall" between 2000 and 2006. In comments that have already drawn fire from some other obesity experts, Professor O'Dea told The Weekend Australian there was "no doubt that it (childhood obesity) has been exaggerated". "Some kids are more at risk than others, and that's where the prevention efforts need to go," she said.


Too bad if you need "elective" surgery

Almost 2700 Queenslanders who had elective surgery at a public hospital last financial year waited more than a year before they had their operation. And those patients needing surgery for painful hip, knee and varicose vein conditions had among the longest delays, a report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says. The new data follows the release of the State Government's own figures this month indicating its elective surgery waiting lists have blown out by 15 per cent in less than three years.

Doctors recently warned the already long queues to get into operating theatres could worsen soon, with Queensland Health now forcing some of the state's top surgeons to take their backlog of holidays. And Health Minister Stephen Robertson was under pressure again earlier this week after revelations cancer patients were waiting up to three times longer for life-saving treatment than they should be at some of the state's biggest hospitals.

But the AIHW report, to be released on Friday, May 30, revealed Queensland had among the shortest waiting times in the country for elective surgery at a public hospital in the 2006-07 financial year. The report found half of the state's 108,000 public hospital elective surgery patients that year waited 25 days or less for their operation - a better result than any other state. Only 10 per cent of Queensland patients still had not been seen by a surgeon after 142 days. Nationally, half of all elective surgery patients waited 32 days or longer and another 10 per cent had yet to be admitted for surgery after 226 days.

The AIHW report found the surgery delays varied widely depending on the type of operation. In Queensland, public hospital patients needing treatment for varicose veins faced the longest queues, with only half getting their operation within 77 days and 10 per cent still waiting after two years and 40 days. There also were backlogs for Queenslanders needing knee replacements - with half of those patients waiting 74 days or longer and 10 per cent still not seen after 343 days.

Patients wanting hip replacements in the state's public hospitals also fared badly, with only half of those patients going to hospital within two months and 10 per cent still waiting after 245 days. Nationally, orthopaedic and ear, nose and throat surgery were the specialties with the highest proportion of patients facing delays of more than a year for surgery. There were 7.6 million hospital admissions for the year.


Friday, May 30, 2008

Your regulators will protect you -- in their usual bored way

Complaints about a mad doctor since 1986 but he was not deregistered until 2004. And he hurt lots of people in those 18 years of official sleep

The NSW Health Minister, Reba Meagher, has twice told Parliament no background checks were done on the rogue doctor at the centre of the Butcher of Bega scandal, despite a Government report confirming a month ago the Health Department knew of an issue with his obstetric practice when it hired him. Ms Meagher - who had refused to make the report public until yesterday - repeated in Parliament two weeks ago that no background checks were done on Graeme Reeves before he was employed as an obstetrician at two South Coast hospitals in 2002 despite being banned from the specialty in 1997. Police are investigating hundreds of serious allegations against Mr Reeves of sexual assault and botched procedures, including genital mutilation.

On May 15, Ms Meagher insisted no checks were done by the Greater Southern Area Health Service after the Herald revealed documents that showed a senior health executive hired Mr Reeves despite making a diary note of a referee telling him Mr Reeves was "not meant to do obstetrics". A report by the judge Deirdre O'Connor, dated May 2, stated that the Health Department should have directly contacted the NSW Medical Board to check his registration after the referee's warning and that its failure to do so was "the main oversight". The department had conducted a criminal record check.

The Opposition health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, called for Ms Meagher, who is overseas on holidays, to apologise for misleading Parliament. "Health Minister Reba Meagher has twice misled Parliament . where she said there's been no checks done . this report from Deirdre O'Connor clearly shows that there was a document among the papers that showed there'd been a reference check where it was pointed out that Dr Reeves was not supposed to do obstetrics," Mrs Skinner said.

The Health Department yesterday refused to discuss the diary note, as did a spokeswoman for Ms Meagher. "I'm just not going to have this conversation . she has not misled Parliament. She said from the beginning that no appropriate background checks have been carried out and the matter is now being investigated so we'll leave it there," the spokeswoman said. Both shunted blame for the delay in releasing the report onto the Garling health inquiry.

The O'Connor report confirmed executives at GSAHS knew Mr Reeves had been illegally practising obstetrics at Bega and Pambula hospitals as early as November 2002, and again twice in January 2003, but allowed him to continue in gynaecology until July 2003. The report shows the full extent of complaints made against Mr Reeves by medical staff and patients dating back to 1986 at Hornsby Hospital, and demonstrates a spectacular failure by NSW Health organisations to communicate. Mr Reeves was not deregistered until 2004.

Ms O'Connor's report recommended a review of information sharing and giving the Medical Board and HCCC greater powers to pursue and monitor doctors.


19th century medicine in a 21st century public hospital: Four days to diagnose a broken bone!

X-rays? Who cares about x-rays? That's all too hard!

Wide Bay mother Sharon Eggmolesse says it's not good enough that Bundaberg Hospital took four days to diagnose a painful break in her son's foot. Ms Eggmolesse told The Courier-Mail she had taken Jaeden, 9, to hospital on May 12. "His foot had swollen up and he couldn't walk on it at all," she said. After X-rays were taken, Ms Eggmolesse was told Jaeden could have jarred ligaments. He was sent home bandaged and on crutches with a direction to see his general practitioner in three days.

Ms Eggmolesse said that while they were at their GP, with Jaeden "in considerable pain", the hospital advised her husband it had now received an X-ray report from a radiologist saying a bone in Jaeden's foot was broken. She said she was told by her GP, who sought a second opinion, that Jaeden should have had his foot plastered straight away.

When she queried the delay with the hospital, she was told there was no radiologist on site and that Jaeden's X-rays, like those of all patients, had been sent off site. A radiologist in Victoria had detected the broken bone.

Queensland Health said the delay was not a symptom of the worldwide shortage of radiologists, which has prompted a private imaging clinic in Townsville to offer a salary package just shy of $1million in an effort to attract a radiologist. Rather, a Queensland Health spokesperson said only nine Queensland Health sites were staffed with radiologists. Nine other hospitals, including Bundaberg, used private providers; in Bundaberg's case, Medical Imaging Australia.

Ms Eggmolesse said her son had follow-up X-rays at a local private hospital, where the results were available the same day.


Emptyheaded Greenie politician gets business offside

Tensions are emerging between major greenhouse emitters and Climate Minister Penny Wong after a number of hostile meetings before the release of the Government's green paper on emissions trading in July. Senator Wong has told small groups of chief executives from major power and other energy-intensive companies that the Rudd Government's election promise of a renewable energy target was "not negotiable".

One of these meetings in Melbourne last Tuesday completely broke down, with Senator Wong reportedly furious at the way she was being treated by the eight business leaders present, telling them "you wouldn't treat (former Treasurer) Peter Costello the way you are treating me". Those present at the meetings, described by a spokesman for Senator Wong as "frank and robust," included Rio Tinto Australia managing director Stephen Creese, International Power executive director Tony Concannon, Alumina Limited chief executive John Marlay and senior executives from Exxon Mobil, CSR and BHP Billiton.

Big business and economists are growing concerned about the Government's refusal to budge on its 20 per cent renewable energy target by 2020 on top of an emissions trading scheme. The target was announced by Labor during the election campaign last year but has been widely criticised by economists and industry, claiming it will only drive in 10,000 new wind turbines at the expense of cheaper gas-fired power but not reduce greenhouse emissions any further.

Labor's promise was political but uncosted: the only estimates have come from the renewables industry, which said it would cut power costs by 5 per cent, and the gas industry, which says it will cost $1.8 billion by 2020. The Productivity Commission last week launched a scathing attack on the proposed targets in its submission to the Government's Garnaut review on climate change policy.

When flagging their concerns about the renewable energy target at the recent meetings, some industry representatives were told it was government policy and therefore not part of the negotiations about the design of an emissions trading scheme.

The value of the renewable energy certificates produced by renewable energy generators has more than doubled since the election. This suggests hoarding by some traders who believe their value will increase in the future caused by a shortage of new renewable energy generators to meet the increased target.

Members of the solar panel installation industry yesterday met Environment Minister Peter Garrett to raise their concerns over the introduction in the budget of a means test on the $8000 rebate.

Senator Wong is also understood to have signalled the Government's reluctance to compensate owners of coal-fired power stations for the multi-billion-dollar losses in asset values they face with the introduction of an emissions trading scheme in 2010. Sources from the meetings have reported disquiet from industry over the lack of transparency in the assumptions used by Treasury to model different trading scheme models and greenhouse gas abatement trajectories.

Treasury is due to report in August on the results of its economic modelling being conducted for both the Rudd Government and the climate change review led by professor Ross Garnaut. It is understood some of the frustration at these meetings arose after Senator Wong asked unprepared chief executives for more detailed data on their business costs. The Rudd Government is pushing ahead with its aggressive program to have a green paper ready by July and draft legislation finalised by the end of the year.


Appalling: Toddlers prescribed ADHD drugs

TODDLERS as young as two are being diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed drugs including Ritalin. Figures obtained by The Daily Telegraph reveal 311 children in NSW aged five and under depend on controversial medication, including 58 four-year-olds and 13 three-year-olds. Health Department figures show that, nationally, doctors have prescribed ADHD drugs to five toddlers aged only two, despite possible side effects.

The mother of one four-year-old who has been on Ritalin since the age of three said she knew there could be long-term effects but the change in her son's behaviour was worth the risk. "At first I was hoping he didn't have ADHD and I didn't want to put him on medication but I thought I should give it a go and there has been a big improvement," the single mother of two told The Daily Telegraph.

But the disturbing figures tell only part of the story. They cover scripts subsidised under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme - only a proportion of the young children on ADHD drugs. With Australia's ADHD rates among the highest in the world, the federal Department of Health said prescriptions paid for without PBS subsidies "are a significant portion of the total scripts". It has no corresponding data for them.

The most widely prescribed drugs for the youngest children, according to the figures to March this year, continue to be Ritalin and the longer-lasting associated drug, Concerta, which was added to the PBS last year. Dexamphetamine is the next most popular while Strattera, a longer-lasting non-stimulant, is less popular and prescribed mainly for children aged six and older.

As well as the three and four-year-olds, there are 240 five-year-olds on subsidised ADHD drugs in NSW. There are 6692 6- to 10-year-olds, 9006 11- to 15-year-old and 2584 16- to 18-year-olds. The figures follow the State Government's ADHD review which found there was no overprescribing of drugs. But child psychiatrist Jon Jureidini said he was disappointed at the number of preschoolers on the list. "I would be confident that they (the drugs) are being inappropriately used in most cases of preschool children," Dr Jureidini said. "ADHD is not a good explanation for putting these children on drugs. "I have seen children of that age displaying very disturbed behaviour but it is usually a medical problem or significant family circumstances that are undermining their well-being."

However paediatrician Dr Michael Kohn, the treating doctor for the four-year-old, said he was not surprised at the number of children on ADHD medication. Dr Kohn, a senior staff specialist in paediatrics at The Children's Hospital at Westmead, said the prescribing of ADHD drugs to children aged four and less was strictly controlled in NSW. Specialists needed the permission of the state's Stimulant's Committee with the committee having to meet on each individual case.

Source. Commentary here

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Phony "surplus" budgeting by the Rudd government

If you are spending it, how is it a surplus?

If P.J. O'Rourke is right that giving money and power to government is like giving whisky and car keys to a teenager, then the Rudd Government has just been handed the finest whisky money can buy and the keys to a Maserati. It is a delicious problem that must make other countries green with envy.

Coming to power with a hefty budget surplus that is set to rise to almost $22 billion next year, enjoying the country's biggest boost to its terms of trade for almost 50 years, the question is how will the Government spend the spoils? While the Government has promised virtuous nation building, early signs of its intentions raise fears that its real model is closer to the Japanese Liberal Democratic Party, which built roads to nowhere in order to protect its political hegemony.

Treasurer Wayne Swan apparently prefers a locked box for surplus cash. Well, he did in Opposition. He supported the Howard government's 2005 decision to establish the Future Fund on condition that taxpayers' dollars were safely stored away from politicians' hands in what he called a locked box. He said there could be public confidence in the Future Fund only if "it is in a locked box that can't be raided by the (Nationals), Peter Costello or anybody else". He said it over and over and over again. The phrase "locked box" was Swan's 2005 equivalent of today's mantra, "working families".

Fast forward to 2008, Swan is Treasurer and singing a different tune about what to do with excess cash. He has set aside $41 billion of taxpayers' dollars into the Building Australia Fund, the Education Investment Fund and the Health and Hospitals Fund. While the money will be given to the Future Fund for investment, none of it is in a locked box. Given Swan's stance in 2005, it is disappointing this piece of hypocrisy appears to have escaped a fawning press gallery.

Unlike the Future Fund, where only earnings can be used to assist future Australian governments to meet the cost of public sector superannuation liabilities, the capital of Swan's three funds is not preserved. Unusually, the Rudd Government will be able to draw on both the capital and the earnings, which raises the question of what advice cabinet received from Treasury on this score. Did Treasury advise the Government to place limits on capital expenditure? The Treasurer is not saying. If we are looking for signals as to the real purpose behind these funds, these are telling ones. Especially when one considers that, unlike the Future Fund, decisions about how the money will be spent will ultimately be determined by cabinet.

Neither has the Government yet limited itself with such trivia as project definitions, criteria for use of the funds, an investment mandate to guide the Future Fund on investing pending allocations to specific projects, requirements that there be returns on the investment or timetables (except that the Government has reserved the right to spend funds during election campaigns). Maybe the Government will get around to specifying all these things, but the early signs are very disturbing indeed.

The Government appears to be using the reputation of the independent Future Fund to give these funds a veneer of respectability, to assure us that our money will be wisely spent, but with none of the Future Funds' safeguards to instil public confidence to this end. Similarly, it is possible that the boards of these funds may simply provide a camouflage of respectability. Will their recommendations on spending be made public? If their proposals to cabinet are rejected, will the reasons be made public?

Details are scant. What we do know only raises suspicions that short-term political motivations will drive cabinet decisions. Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government Minister Anthony Albanese, from the Labor Party's Left faction, has said the Government would not insist on commercial rates of return for its infrastructure fund. Instead, it might accept lower rates for projects that achieved "social goals". Albanese and the Treasurer have said the money could start flowing early next year for "nation-building" projects.

When trying to decode Labor speak about nation building and social spending, let's refer to former leader Mark Latham. While Labor would prefer we relegate Latham to the dustbin of history, he plays the useful role of whistleblower about the ALP's hankering for a more muscular, interventionist industry policy. Latham warned that the Building Australia Fund might be used to support the Government's preferred industrial projects, siphoning money to favoured companies and unions. "Always remember," Latham said, "that ministers who talk about nation building have interventionism and favouritism in the back of their minds."

Spending does not become wise spending by calling it nation building. More likely the opposite. Just as tariffs are no more than a tax on working families to support uncompetitive industries and the unions that feed on them, public spending on infrastructure can (if not watched like a hawk) become simply a redirection of taxpayers' money to projects and groups that could not convince real investors to back them. The other fear is that spending will be implemented with all the class envy that Labor ministers can muster. You only had to see the glee with which Albanese axed the upgrading of the North Bondi Surf Club last week to wonder whether infrastructure spending will not necessarily be sent where it will do the most good, but rather in directions that reward old friends and punish old enemies.

There is a particular risk in the present political environment that the federal Government will simply use these funds to prop up incompetent state Labor governments, who are already squealing for their cut of the loot. The money looks as secure as schoolboy Kevin Rudd's lunch money. ("Hand it over, Rudd. Let's keep this clean.") In NSW, for example, the Iemma Government is, at last, desperately trying to break free of union control to sell an inefficient power industry in order to fund hospitals, schools and trains. However, it is easy to see power and other public sector unions demanding that future federal funds be used for state infrastructure so that the states can use their money to maintain featherbedded public service employment.

It is of course possible that none of these scenarios will come to pass. It is possible that when the boards of these federal government funds are actually formed they will be able to fend off the depredations of marauding nation builders. But as we have been told so little about these funds, that is more pious hope than legitimate expectation. Having jemmied the locks of the boxes, the Rudd Government is unlikely to leave the contents undisturbed.


Some NSW teachers to be paid on merit

THOUSANDS of teachers are set to be judged partly on the academic performance of their students under a ground-breaking accreditation scheme to recognise excellence in the classroom. In an Australian first, the state's most outstanding classroom teachers will be able to apply for merit promotion to newly created advanced level positions. To qualify, teachers will have to demonstrate their students' achievements, provide work samples, submit references from parents and others and allow inspectors to assess their classroom performance.

The new positions - professional accomplishment and professional leadership - will eventually attract higher pay after negotiations with the Government or school authorities. The changes provide a new layer of seniority over the decades-old system of grading teachers automatically on length of service, and gazump the Rudd Government's agenda to reward classroom excellence. They also open the floodgates potentially for an even more comprehensive overhaul of teacher quality aimed at retaining the best teachers and weeding out duds.

Education Minister John Della Bosca said yesterday NSW would have the first comprehensive scheme in Australia to recognise excellence across the whole teaching profession in the state. All schools in the state will come under the new merit scheme judged on standards laid down by the NSW Institute of Teachers. "Outstanding teachers in NSW public, Catholic and independent schools will now have the opportunity to be formally recognised by the profession and the community by meeting high level professional teaching standards," Mr Della Bosca said.

Teachers yesterday welcomed the opportunity to gain recognition at an advanced level and said it would encourage many to remain in the classroom. The Teachers' Federation said it had a range of concerns about how the scheme would work and called for talks with the Government. It is now mandatory for all new teachers to be accredited at the level of professional competence but it is voluntary to apply for the two higher levels. Mr Della Bosca said the Institute of Teachers had developed standards setting out whole of career pathways for teachers in Government and non-government systems.


Cancer patients kept waiting for life-saving treatment

CANCER patients are waiting up to almost three times longer for life-saving treatment than they should be at some of the state's biggest hospitals. A leaked Queensland Health memo shows patients are being put at risk from radiation oncology unit delays at the Royal Brisbane and Women's, Princess Alexandra, Mater and Townsville hospitals. The patients are expected to wait an average of 27 days despite the "maximum acceptable limit" of 10 days. "Patients for whom delay in starting will have a significant adverse affect on outcome," the QH Radiation Therapy Services memo warns radiation oncologists.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson was unavailable Monday, May 26, but his department admitted treatment facilities were under pressure. The figures have prompted the Opposition to refer Mr Robertson for allegedly misleading State Parliament after he claimed last month there was no centrally collected data for waiting times.

Liberal health spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said the memo was further evidence the Minister was failing to contain waiting list blow-outs. "It is simply not good enough because this is important treatment for very sick people and lives are being put at risk," Mr Langbroek said. "People are dying in our system because of these poor services."

Townsville Hospital was expecting the worst delays with next appointments 28 days away for category two patients, followed by RBWH and the PAH on 25 days. Category three patients were waiting as long as 55 days in Townsville despite a maximum recommended wait of 20 days. The department said all category one patients were cleared immediately.

Queensland Health cancer control chair Euan Walpole said the memo was used to help clinicians plan appointments, adding some patients may be treated sooner. "The Government has provided an extra linear accelerator both at Townsville Hospital and the PA Hospital, and staffing has been increased to extend the operating hours of the available machines, providing additional treatment shifts," Dr Walpole said.

The Courier-Mail has recently highlighted problems with waiting lists for other treatments such as breast cancer due to a shortage of radiographers. Australian Medical Association Queensland president Ross Cartmill said the figures again illustrated the poor planning and chronic underfunding of health. "If these people are being treated for malignancies with radiation, they are suffering very serious problems and must be treated quicker," Dr Cartmill said.


"Hobbit" discoverer unrepentant

Despite widespread skepticism in the scientific community, he still believes that the hobbit is a new species. He is right about relatives in Australia, though. He should research the pygmy people of Kuranda in North Queensland. One walked right past me last time I was in Kuranda

A scientist who believes he has discovered the "Hobbit'' on an Indonesian island says a relative of the species may have existed in the Top End. Professor Mike Morwood has created an international storm since his discovery of Homo floresiensis -- dubbed the Hobbit because of its small size and big feet -- on Flores in 2003. He presented a lecture on his findings at Charles Darwin University yesterday.

The archaeologist said the Hobbits, who were only about one metre tall and weighed just 30kg, existed on the remote island until about 12,000 years ago. And he believes they could have had relatives living in northern Australia.

Professor Morwood is leading a team of scientists tracking the spread of Homo floresiensis. They are working in Timor and Sulawesi and will soon extend their research to the NT and northern Western Australia. "We are searching for relatives and ancestors of the Homo floresiensis,'' he said. "I think there are a few surprises in store yet, especially for northern Australia.''

Indonesian seafarers on their way to Australia to collect sea cucumbers between 1720 and 1900 are believed to have scattered pottery along the Kimberley coastline. Professor Morwood believes the ancient Hobbits may have used the same sea currents to reach Australian shores. He said his team had found the bones of several Hobbits at Liang Bua cave on Flores. Among the creature's unique features were an incredibly small brain -- just one-third the size of a human brain -- and remarkably long feet. He believes the Hobbit may have existed on the island up to 100,000 years ago.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Police goons at work

Very low expectations of the Queensland police have always been wise

A Queensland woman is suing the state government over an alleged assault by police in Brisbane's central business district last year. Lawyers for Suzanne Williams today launched legal action seeking damages from the Queensland Government after she suffered "physical and psychological injuries" from the incident on the night of July 22 last year.

Ms Williams was outside Caesar's Nightclub on Adelaide Street with her two daughters' boyfriends when they were set upon by police officers, lawyer Roger Singh said. CCTV footage of the incident was aired on the Seven Network earlier this month, with Ms Williams telling the Today Tonight program the two males had been drinking. Ms Williams claims she was sober at the time.

Her head was smashed into the footpath when a police officer threw Ms Williams to the ground, Mr Singh said today, and she is still suffering debilitating headaches as a result. "Ms Williams is traumatised by the events of that night and continues to suffer flashbacks and nightmares - symptoms that are consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder," he said. "She has become reclusive, not venturing out as much as she previously did, and one of her daughters describes her as a shadow of her former self".

A charge of obstructing police against Ms Williams has since been dropped. Police officer Michael Anthony O'Sullivan, 35, has been charged with common assault for allegedly attacking Christopher Ahovelo, one of the males with Ms Sullivan. He faced Brisbane Magistrates Court two weeks ago, where the case was adjourned for six weeks. O'Sullivan was stood down from frontline duties in April.


Official police fraud

Sounds like hush money

Chris Hurley - the policeman acquitted of manslaughter over a Palm Island death in custody, only to face a civil claim from the victim's family - received a confidential $100,000 payment from the Queensland Government after the incident.

When autopsy results revealed on November 24, 2004, that Cameron Doomadgee, known in death as Mulrunji, had died of "an intra-abdominal haemorrhage caused by a ruptured liver and portal vein", Palm Islanders rioted and burnt down the police station, watchhouse and officer-in-charge's residence. The officer, Senior Sergeant Hurley, was not on the island at the time. Having arrested the drunk and abusive Mulrunji and hauled him into the watchhouse, Sergeant Hurley was handling Mulrunji when the islander suffered his fatal injuries.

Two weeks after the riots, Sergeant Hurley lodged a claim with the Queensland Police Service for reimbursement of the cost of replacing belongings lost in the fire. Details of the claim were never publicly released. The documents, released to The Australian after a Freedom of Information request a year ago, show that two weeks after the riots, on December 10, 2004, Sergeant Hurley sent his superiors a memo with a list of personal property believed to have been in the three-bedroom residence when it was burnt down. "This list is as exhaustive as possible from memory alone," Sergeant Hurley wrote. The total of the items on the list came to $102,955, but the items were exempted from release under FOI and will remain secret.

Sergeant Hurley sent a similar memo to the district office the same day, with a smaller list of police property and some personal items, including a Parker pen he valued at about $100, a torch valued at $80, two coffee mugs and a 2004 hardcover diary. "In relation to my personal property, as you area (sic) aware the OIC residence was also totally destroyed during the riot hence I have no proof of purchase for my personal items," Sergeant Hurley wrote. "I am prepared if necessary to complete a statutory declaration. "I respectfully request permission to replace these items and have the Queensland Police Service meet the cost," Sergeant Hurley said.

The claim went as high as a deputy commissioner and was paid in full on February 11, 2005, with the QPS expenditure voucher declaring the payment to Sergeant Hurley to be "loss of property compensation".

Andrew Boe, who is representing Mulrunji's family in the civil case against Sergeant Hurley, was outraged when told of the payout. "The ex-gratia payment to Chris Hurley, by government, for his material losses in the riot should be contrasted with the losses sustained by Mulrunji's spouse and family as a result of his death at Hurley's hands, which presently remains uncompensated," Mr Boe said. "It is difficult not to be offended by the irony."

The average sum of household contents insured in Australia - by singles, couples and families of all socioeconomic levels - is $70,000. Palm Island is considered one of the poorest areas in Australia, and has a high crime rate. A police spokesman yesterday revealed the other 10 officers who lost property in the fire were paid only $17,579.90 in total.

The spokesman again refused to list the items claimed for compensation by Sergeant Hurley. "Senior Sergeant Hurley did not provide a statutory declaration and the service had no concerns with the claim," the spokesman said. Sergeant Hurley and the other officers who lost property in the riots benefited from a public appeal run by the Queensland Police Union.

The Australian applied under FOI a year ago for access to documents related to the case. While the QPS recommended certain documents be released, Sergeant Hurley had his lawyers demand an internal review and then took the case to the Office of the Information Commissioner. The Office of the Information Commissioner has now backed the original decision by the QPS, also endorsing the original exemptions used to delete certain information from release.

The QPS payment was made shortly before the start of a coronial inquest into the death, which led Deputy State Coroner Christine Clements to find: "Hurley caused the fatal injuries." The then director of public prosecutions, Leanne Clare, opted not to lay charges, but after political intervention and a review of the case by former NSW chief justice Laurence Street, Sergeant Hurley was charged on February 5 last year with manslaughter and assault. He was found not guilty by a jury in the Townsville Supreme Court on June 20, and has since taken legal steps to have Ms Clements's findings struck off the record. A QPS spokesman was unable to comment on the case last night, and Sergeant Hurley's lawyer, Glen Cranny, declined to comment.


Australia's public broadcaster lets its contempt for ordinary people show a little more clearly than usual

The fact that most Australians watch commercial channels most of the time must rile these elitists

An ABC website has been accused of portraying farmers and forestry workers as evil, and telling kids how much carbon they can produce before they die. The Planet Slayer website, which can be accessed via the science section on the ABC home page, also demonises people who eat meat and those involved in the nuclear industry, a Senate estimates committee heard.

The site has several features including a cartoon series, Adventures of Greena, and a tool called Prof Schpinkee's Greenhouse Calculator to help kids work out their carbon footprint. The calculator lets users compare their own carbon output to the "average Aussie greenhouse pig" and estimates at what age a person should die so they don't use more than their fair share of the Earth's resources. Too much carbon production causes a cartoon pig to explode, leaving behind a pool of blood.

Victorian Liberal senator Mitch Fifield today questioned the accuracy and appropriateness of some of the imagery and content on the website. "I know there's a little bit of goth in all of us, but this might be taking it just a little too far," Senator Fifield said of the quasi life-expectancy calculator. "Do you think it's appropriate that the ABC portray the average Australian as a pig and is it appropriate for a website obviously geared towards kids to depict people who are average Australians as massive overweight ugly pigs, oozing slime from their mouths, and then to have these pigs blow up in a mass of blood and guts?"

Senator Fifield said the Adventures of Greena cartoon series, which follows the exploits of a young female activist, also raised questions. He said episode two of the 12-part series, Fistful of Woodchips, portrayed a logger as "rough and evil". "I don't think that it's a particularly helpful way of depicting hard-working Australians who are trying to go about making an honest living, as though they're these rough and evil dudes out to do bad."

Senator Fifield said other episodes in the series portrayed people who eat meat, those involved in the nuclear industry and farmers who grow GM crops as evil. "I'm not sure if it's helpful to portray struggling farmers who are looking at GM technology to help them improve their yield in a period of drought as some sort of evil promoters of (these) products."

ABC managing director Mark Scott said the site was not designed to offend certain quarters of the community but to engage children in environmental issues. "The site has been developed to appeal to children and its been done in an irreverent way ... to make it engaging," Mr Scott said. "It's not an attempt to write public policy ... it's an attempt to educate school students on the impact of the modern Western lifestyle on carbon emissions and the whole issue that we are dealing with." Mr Scott said the ABC would review the content on the site.


Toddler's surgery cancelled three times in a row by public hospital

A two-year-old girl with cerebral palsy who requires surgery to stop vomiting six times a day has had her surgery cancelled three times, her father has said. The last cancellation, yesterday, happened after the girl and her parents were forced to wait at Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick, from 10am until 3.45pm, said the girl's father, Nick Thomas.

The toddler, Zara , was told last year she needed corrective surgery to fix a reflux problem, Mr Thomas said. "We were told last year that she needed it because she's been in hospital twice with pneumonia," he told Radio 2UE. "When she vomits ... she can't move [her] head around [and it] ends up back in her lungs, [causing] pneumonia."

After meeting with doctors in January this year, Mr Thomas was told there was a three-month waiting list for the surgery, which was booked for April 22. But the hospital cancelled the surgery because the doctor was away, Mr Thomas said. "They rescheduled and rung us two days before she was meant to go in and cancelled again," he said. Yesterday was the third time the surgery was cancelled, but only after Zara had to wait at the hospital most of the day, Mr Thomas said.

"We got there at 10am, we had to stop her feeding at 7am, and we didn't take any milk with us thinking she was going to have the operation. "They came in at 3.45pm yesterday afternoon and they said they didn't have enough time to do the surgery. "They want us to come back on Thursday and they can't promise it."

Mr Thomas said the hospital staff told him they had complained to the Health Minister Reba Meagher that they needed more theatre time. The minister's office has been contacted for comment. "We're a first world country, this shouldn't happen," Mr Thomas said. "You go there and see all the kids and it's not fair [that] they have to wait."

A doctor at the hospital said Zara's surgery was postponed because more critical cases had arisen. "The hospital sincerely regrets the distress caused by the rescheduling of her previous surgeries," Michael Brydon, director of clinical operations Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick, said. "The surgeon was required to operate on more seriously ill patients that he deemed to have a higher clinical need than Zara. As is always urgent critical or emergency care must take priority,'' Dr Brydon said. Surgery for Zara had now been scheduled for tomorrow, he said.

Mr Thomas said he did not have private health insurance. But the head of one of Australia's biggest health insurance funds contacted 2UE after hearing Mr Thomas's call, and pledged to cover the full cost of Zara's treatment, the radio station said. The fund did not wish to be named. "I don't know what to say ... that's great, that's awesome," Mr Thomas said, after 2UE called him to inform him of the fund's promise.


Australian troops want to fight

The exclusion of Australia's infantry troops from frontline conflicts, including in Iraq, has left many feeling ashamed of wearing their Australian uniform, an army major says. Major Jim Hammett, who has served in East Timor, Iraq, Somalia and Tonga, also said the policy had exposed Australian troops to "near contempt'' from other foreign soldiers now serving in Iraq, Fairfax has reported. "In the opinion of many infantrymen, the lauding of their contributions to recent operations does not ring true,'' Major Hammett writes in the Australian Army Journal. "Many within its ranks suspect that the role of the infantry has already been consigned to history ... the ongoing inaction (in Iraq) ... has resulted in collective disdain and at times near contempt by personnel from other contributing nations for the publicity-shrouded yet force protected Australian troops.''

Major Hammett said the infantry, which makes up about a third of the army's combat forces, had not been assigned offensive actions since the Vietnam War despite steady overseas deployments since 2001. It was only Australia's special forces, including the SAS, that were sent on offensive operations, he said. "The restrictions placed on deployed elements as a result of force protection and national policies have, at times, made infantrymen ashamed of wearing their Australian uniform and regimental badge,'' Major Hammett wrote. ''(They) have resulted in the widespread perception that our army is plagued by institutional cowardice.''

In a separate article cited by Fairfax, Captain Greg Colton, second in command of the Sydney-based 3rd Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment, said infantry morale had deteriorated in the past 10 years as regular infantry units were given only "second-rate operational tasks''. "There is a growing sense of frustration,'' Captain Colton wrote. "The government and army hierarchy seem to favour special forces for deliberate offensive operations and tasks ... at a lower level the diggers, NCOs and junior officers are starting to question the infantry's role and their part in it, which is having a tangible effect on morale.''


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Aboriginal activist condemns Aboriginal bureaucrats

The part-Aboriginal stirrer below is both right and wrong: Right about the useless bureaucrats and wrong in thinking that there is actually something that they could do if they tried.

The implicit goal of the do-gooders is to make whites out of blacks. It is an absurdity. All sorts of policies have been tried with that as the implicit aim but nothing works, of course. I have been watching the permutations for 50 years and the least destructive policies were the ones of the missionaries of now long bygone years. They were "paternalistic" but the blacks were undoubtedly healthier and less self-destructive then. And some blacks back then DID make a fairly successful transition to mainstream white society. The coming of welfare payments was the real knell of doom for blacks, however. They have now lost their own culture without acquiring the white man's culture. They are truly lost souls and I can see no way forward for them in the present political climate -- or perhaps ever.

Meanwhile the organizations devoted to Aboriginal welfare are just providers of cushy jobs for Leftists with second-rate academic qualifications. And about all they do is sit on their behinds and suck tea.

Tackling indigenous disadvantage was being hindered because tens of thousands of people employed in the "Aboriginal industry" were simply collecting their salary and serving out time instead of tackling the hard issues, according to a leading Aboriginal academic. Queenslander Stephen Hagan made the claim in his weekend Rob Riley memorial lecture in Perth, during which he questioned whether remote communities should continue to exist or should be shut down.

Mr Hagan, a lecturer at Toowoomba's Southern Cross University, said domestic violence in communities, which had led to increasing killings of Aboriginal women in remote parts of central Australia, required "a seismic shift in attitude". "We all need to pool our collective thoughts on how we can best tackle this insidious problem afflicting our communities that has obviously been allowed to fester unchallenged by people in positions of responsibility for far too long," he said.

"This skinny latte ideology suggests that many public figures, indigenous and non-indigenous, working in the indigenous industry have taken a lighter option to heavy lifting when tackling indigenous disadvantage - safe in the knowledge that results in their field are not aspirational outcomes that governments expect to see. "So instead of being proactive in the task at hand, many sadly are simply going through the process of ensuring their adherence to their duty statement is not brought into question, while accumulating their superannuation entitlements through the passage of time. "Many simply wait their turn for a comfortable middle-management job to present itself, without a worry in the world about the plight of the most marginalised in society."

"A bit like drinking a skinny latte, thinking you're addressing a weight issue - the more you drink it, the more you believe it. "Those who fall into this category know who they are because they must number in the tens of thousands - as the problems at the grassroots level continue to escalate unabated."

Mr Hagan put to the audience that a possible answer to solving the problems of child abuse and domestic violence in rural and remote communities was to "shut them down". But he warned that most Australians would probably support the view adopted by senator Chris Evans in June 2006 that shutting down remote indigenous communities would only relocate the problems of violence and abuse. "Could it possibly be that indigenous Australians are a product of their inability to adapt, restructure and re-educate?" he asked.

Mr Hagan said he often marvelled at the way mainstream Australians openly assisted waves of immigrants from overseas "with empathetic outstretched hands". "Yet they (mainstream Australians) steadfastly brush us aside when we seek commensurate assistance for basic services," he said. "However, I do believe many of our mob are doing themselves a disservice by routinely singing the 'poor bugger me' tune, while apportioning blame to non-indigenous people for their insufferably slow progress in gaining social and economic parity."


No excuses for indigenous students

This guy is right but he is pissing into the wind. What he wants "aint gunna happen" -- though there are always individual exceptions, of course

The indigenous community has to discard the misguided notion that gaining an education makes them less Aboriginal. One of the nation's most respected indigenous educators, Chris Sarra, has called on the Aboriginal community to ensure children take their rightful place in the Rudd Government's education revolution. Ahead of his address to the National Press Club today to mark Sorry Day, Dr Sarra said Australian society had to stop making excuses for Aboriginal students being chronic under-achievers who failed to attend school, and expect the same of them as any other student.

He said the Aboriginal community had a responsibility to embrace the education revolution and discard any idea that it threatened indigenous culture. "We have to stop making excuses now and stop thinking schools are turning our kids into being like white kids," he told The Australian. "We have to understand the more educated we become, the greater the scope for us to enhance our culture and sense of Aboriginal identity."

Dr Sarra is a member of the federal Government's Australian Social Inclusion Board, announced last week, and director of the Indigenous Education Leadership Institute in Queensland. He was principal of Cherbourg State School, with a predominantly indigenous student population, where he introduced initiatives that cut absenteeism by 94per cent and brought literacy and numeracy results to the state average.

Dr Sarra said the perception that school was bad for indigenous culture stemmed partly from the older generation's memories of school and how Aborigines were represented. But the feeling was sustained by non-indigenous people holding the "romantic view" that remote communities should be left to their own devices to follow their own culture. "That's fine for tourists who are driving through and want to see them as museum pieces," he said.

In his speech today, Dr Sarra intends to present a way forward for indigenous education and says the Government's education revolution must include Aboriginal Australians. "If we lift the education standard for indigenous Australian children, we lift the overall education standard of all Australians," his speech says. "We must demand that indigenous Australian children have access to that which we would consider quality education outcomes for any Australian child."

Dr Sarra outlines what he says are the five most fundamental strategies to ensure Aboriginal children perform at the same level as other school students: developing a positive Aboriginal identity in schools, embracing Aboriginal leadership in schools, high expectations of Aboriginal students, innovative schools and innovative staffing models.

But the biggest challenge is providing schools Aboriginal children want to go to, and that requires rethinking the way things are done outside the traditional school day of 9am to 3pm. Dr Sarra says secondary school education for remote students needs to be redesigned, with options such as residential or boarding facilities in bigger regional centres considered. Also required was greater flexibility in the school calendar to better address the wet-dry seasonal issues in northern Australia and more flexibility about teaching hours to better engage and meet the needs of students.


U.S. Memorial Day

The world of blogs picks up lots of stuff that you would never read in the old media. An excellent example is a post by John Rubery who has marked Memorial Day by a tribute to the Australians who have fought alongside Americans in America's wars since 1900 -- even in Vietnam and currently now in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Australians celebrate their equivalent of Memorial Day on April 25th. And our ANZAC day is undoubtedly our most solemn national day. So it is easy for Australians to understand how Americans feel on their similar occasion. You can read what I wrote last April 25th here.

John Rubery is a "blogging friend" of mine so I think I should warn him about the Australian sense of humour if he ever comes to Australia. Australians have great fun with nicknames. There is a short stocky Australian mining magnate who is referred to even in the media as "Twiggy" (after a very thin British model of yesteryear); Redheads are commonly addressed as "Bluey" and I have even heard German immigrants with the Christian name of "Heinz" referred to as "57 varieties". So if he were ever here for long John Rubery would undoubedly be addressed by his friends as "Rubbery".

Pay more for modern drugs and live longer?

Oh dear! I would have expected better than this of economists. The finding that people who use expensive modern drugs live longer is entirely to be expected from the fact that such people are undoubtedly richer. High social class people live longer generally

AUSTRALIANS can add almost 15 months to their lifespan by using the latest drugs - if they can afford it. A study has confirmed the benefits of new-generation medicines, but finds they come at a cost of $10,585 for every extra year of life. The study, published this month by the US National Bureau of Economic Research, compared the average age at death from 1995 to 2008 with dates of registration of 113 drugs being sold in Australia. It found a link, with later-version drugs, rather than older ones, associated with longer lifespans.

"This implies that using newer drugs has reduced premature mortality - especially mortality before age 65 - in the Australian population," it says. The study suggested older medicines still offered benefits, noting that even in the absence of the most recent pharmaceuticals, average age at death would still have increased by about eight months.

Health economists have paid increasing attention to the cost of drugs as spending on Australia's Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme has risen. The PBS, which costs taxpayers about $6 billion a year, subsidised 80 per cent of the 170 million prescriptions that were filled in 2004-05. The agency's budget grew by 12.9 per cent a year from 1997-98 to 2002-03, before growth rates slowed due to pricing reforms.


Coke safer than water!

But still not safe enough for the attention-seeking fanatics. Given the vast amount of Sodium benzoate that has already gone down throats worldwide with no demonstrable harm resulting, the whole thing is a crock, anyway

Coca-Cola Australia has no plans to phase out a controversial additive in its drinks, despite moves in Britain to remove it. Sodium benzoate has been linked to damage to DNA and hyperactivity in children [For the crap that passes for reseach on the connection between food additives and hyperactivity see my post of 25th], and is used as a preservative in Diet Coke in Australia. Coca-Cola in Britain said it had begun withdrawing the additive from Diet Coke in January in response to consumer demand for more natural products.

Sodium benzoate is used to stop fizzy drinks going mouldy. It is found naturally in some fruits, including bananas, but is used in greater strengths in the soft drink industry. A statement from Coca-Cola revealed there were no plans to change the formulation of the popular drink in Australia. "The use of food additives is strictly regulated under Australian law," it stated. "All of the ingredients used in products of The Coca-Cola Company are safe and approved for use by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand."

A survey by FSANZ in 2006 found levels of benzene and sodium benzoate in soft drinks were well below World Health Organisation guidelines for levels in drinking water. Even so, they have been working with the food industry to reduce the level of benzene in drinks.


Global warming has not killed off the frogs after all

QUEENSLAND frogs, feared to be on the path to extinction, have defied the experts by making a comeback. Frogs from rainforest mountain streams in north and southeast Queensland are returning to areas where they have not been recorded for many years. "There is a ray of light at last for these animals," said Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service herpetologist Harry Hines.

In a phenomonon that started in the late 1970s, six Queensland frog species became extinct when the chytrid virus invaded their pristine habitat in the rainforest streams. The fungus infects frog skins, destroying the animals' breathing and nervous systems. Experts believe infection is triggered by a factor such as pollution from agricultural chemicals, increased exposure to ultraviolet radiation, or temperature rises from climate change.

The Queensland extinctions, which included the unique platypus frog, coincided with a worldwide crash in amphibian populations, feared by some observers as the harbinger of impending environmental disaster linked to climate change.

Mr Hines has noted recent increases in numbers of the tiny Kroombit tinker frog in the forests of the Kroombit Tops, near Gladstone in central Queensland. Three species of closely allied tinker frogs were among the extinction victims of the chytrid virus. The Kroombit frogs have reappeared at one monitoring site from which they had vanished, and as many as 40 of the amphibians were found at each of several other sites.

Mr Hines said that at several places in the state's southeast and north, species such as the cascade tree frog have returned to areas from which they had long disappeared. "While some species have taken a fair whack, we have gotten to a point where things are reasonably stable," hesaid. Mr Hines said it was possible frogs were building up immunity to the fungus, or that the disease was becoming less deadly. Alternatively, factors that triggered fungal infection might no longer be present.

He cautioned that populations of some species, while stabilising, were low compared to what they were 20 or 30 years ago. The Kroombit tinker frog was still at risk from the destruction of its rainforest habitat by feral pigs and bushfires.


Monday, May 26, 2008

Girl, 12, in sex change 'brainwashed by mother'

Australia has an age of consent for sex but not an age of consent for sex change??

A 12-year-old girl who a court has allowed to begin sex change treatment has been vindictively "brainwashed" by her mother into making the decision, a relative says. A cousin who stayed with the girl's family for two and a half years from 1999 says that after a bitter break-up the mother has used the girl to get back at the father. "She's been brainwashed from an early age," the cousin, who cannot be named to preserve the girl's anonymity, told

On behalf of the father's side of the family the cousin is appealing to the legal fraternity for pro bono help in fighting the case after the father ran out of money to afford representation in opposing the sex swap request. The girl has begun hormone treatment in the first step toward a complete gender switch after the Family Court in closed session last December gave permission for the mother's request, with the girl being represented by a lawyer paid for by the Victorian Government.

The court was told girl that the girl had always considered herself a boy and was at risk of self harm if she continued to develop into a woman. "There is more to the story than what has been put to court," the cousin said. "I just don't think it is right. The court affidavits only present the mother's point of view in everything." The cousin says he observed from the time he lived with the family that the girl had always been strongly influenced by her mother. "The mother drilled into the girl from an early age that she would have preferred a boy."

He said he had observed the girl was "a bit of a tomboy" who liked playing with boys' toys and the father had mildly disapproved of this but had given way before the mother's insistence the girl should do what she wanted. The girl had only expressed the strong desire to be a boy since the parents had a bitter break-up, according to the cousin. He alleges the mother has sent text messages to the father gloating about the court ruling, which was also supported by a state government observer, an endocrinologist, a psychiatrist and a family counsellor. "This is just one of the many things in her arsenal to inflict pain and suffering on him, " the cousin said. "It seems like she's (the girl) been brainwashed without being given the alternatives." "They've just been lucky enough to get doctors' evidence that she might commit self harm."

The cousin says a psychiatrist employed by the father's legal representation was unable to get access to the girl. Hormones implanted under the 12-year-old's skin every three months will stop her menstruating and prevent her hips and breasts growing. The court heard the hormone therapy was reversible and would give the family "breathing time" with progresive sex change treatments and operations requiring further court orders.

The cousin questioned how "reversible" the treatment was. "There will be psychological consequences that are not reversible," the cousin said. "I don't think the side effects have been adequately considered. How people threat her will have an effect. "She will never have this time in her life again."

He questioned whether the girl was really confused about gender identity or just about her sexuality. "This procedure is being used as a blunt object." The cousin says the father's side of the family was not opposed to sex change procedures for adults. "In these circumstances we just don't think it is appropriate, " he said. "This was the option presented to her and it was so easy to say yes. "If I felt the girl was capable of consenting to this I would say fine."


RailCorp managers 'dangerously incompetent'

Governments never have been any good at running railways. Think British Rail and Amtrak

INCOMPETENT managers at RailCorp are putting the lives of NSW train passengers at risk, a confidential audit says. A leaked document shows more than 50 per cent of RailCorp areas under audit - 63 out of 117 areas - are deemed high risk, with the other 54 areas regarded as medium risk, The Daily Telegraph reports.

The state-owned body is responsible for the safe operation, crewing and maintenance of passenger trains and stations. But the audit reveals every aspect of information it has made public about dangerous driving - on-time running, customer satisfaction, and disrupted or cancelled services - may be inaccurate or unreliable.

The Rail Tram and Bus Union has called for the secret document, on which the claims are based, to be released immediately. "These revelations are astonishing, revealing a rail system in crisis and a culture of buckpassing by managers who are paid big dollars but continually fail workers and commuters," union secretary Nick Lewocki said in a statement today. "Rather than continually cutting frontline staff the Iemma Government needs to take control of senior management. "At a time when rail workers are struggling to get pay increases we now see RailCorp management incompetence in addition to massive corruption that has cost taxpayers millions of dollars."

NSW Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell said if the Government had nothing the hide, the document should have been released when it was finished eight months ago. "This document listed almost half of all RailCorp activities as high risk and failing to comply with all the expectations," Mr O'Farrell told Fairfax Radio Network today. "It's outrageous commuters first learnt about it through a leak to the media."

Last week former Railcorp boss Vince Graham told an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) inquiry the cover-up of fraudulent activities at the agency would probably continue for some time. "The culture of not reporting and the culture of cover-ups is certainly an issue I would agree with," Mr Graham said. "And I have no expectation that the cultural issue is going to be dealt with in a week, or a month (or) even a year." Conditions at RailCorp worsened when the reliability of passenger rail services "fell in a hole" in 2004, Mr Graham said last week.

The leaked document, RailCorp Three Year Strategic Internal Audit Plan for 2008-10, on which the latest claims are based, says many high-risk areas will not receive attention for another two years.

A spokesman for Transport Minister John Watkins has denied the document is a comprehensive audit of RailCorp, instead describing it as a blueprint of at-risk issues for future audits. But the union said safety issues were routinely raised by RailCorp staff and ignored by management. "The hardworking staff on Sydney trains and in our stations are doing all they can to keep the system operating but the abject failure of management makes this job near impossible," Mr Lewocki said. "The most concerning part of today's revelations is not just that these risks exist but that in several cases it appears RailCorp management intend to take no action to fix the problems and ensure the safety of workers and the community."


A new rail boondoggle coming up

Despite the recent experience of the hugely expensive but totally useless Darwin link! It's just "playing trains" on a huge scale

The inland rail route from Melbourne to Brisbane is a bad idea whose time may have come. With $20 billion burning a hole in his pocket, Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese has signalled that the link is close to the top of his list of priorities for his new statutory authority, Infrastructure Australia.

Leading transport economists employed by the Government fear it will be the death knell for rail in Australia. Not only will traffic fail to meet the ambitious projections they expect to be made for it, but it will also destroy what is left of the marginal viability of the Melbourne-Sydney and Brisbane-Sydney rail links.

If the Alice to Darwin rail link somehow encapsulated the Howard government's preparedness to spend a dollar in pursuit of a vote, regardless of the economic cost, the Melbourne-Brisbane rail route exposes the folly of treating infrastructure as an end in itself.

With the exception of the bulk ore lines, the rail industry as a whole is in a parlous financial state. The dismal performance of the leading rail operator, Asciano, which has dropped 60 per cent in value since listing in June last year, is symptomatic of the industry's problems.

It is senseless for the public to be funding massive expansion projects for it until the industry's structural problems have been tackled. However, this falls well beyond the brief of Infrastructure Australia, which is cast as judge in a beauty pageant of grand visions. After more than 11 years of talk, promises and press releases from the Howard government and its various National Party transport ministers, the Rudd Government had taken just a little over 100 days to push the inland rail proposal to the next critical stage, Albanese said when committing $15 million to the feasibility study in March. It is the biggest project which the Government has resolved to advance, and fits the nation-building ambitions outlined in its first budget.

The idea has indeed been around for a long time and is borne of the frustration of business getting goods through Sydney. Former transport minister and National Party leader John Anderson commissioned a study led by Ernst & Young. It found that trains travelling north from Melbourne were on time 60 per cent of the time by the time they hit the outskirts of Sydney. But this dropped to 40 per cent reliability by the time they reached their Sydney terminal. Travelling south from Brisbane, 80 per cent of trains were on time at the outskirts of Sydney but only 30 per cent got to the centre of town on schedule. For traffic trying to get from Melbourne to Brisbane and vice-versa, only 40 per cent of trains make it on time.

The problem is that commuter trains have priority, there are limited passing bays and there are curfews during peak commuter periods. A 10-minute delay that puts a train into the curfew zone can easily make it three hours late.

The rail industry has often argued that the reason it is steadily losing market share to road on routes where there is competition is because of its belief that road is unfairly subsidised. However, the Productivity Commission's study says that on the trunk routes where road and rail are most competitive, there is no demonstrable subsidy. Rail's loss of market share has rather been a result of its inability to get goods to their destination on time.

The advocates of the Melbourne-Brisbane route also argue that it is on the long hauls that rail is most competitive. Certainly, it is the case that the Melbourne-Perth route is the most profitable, carrying about 70 per cent of freight between the cities. So the idea is to bypass Sydney altogether. The cheapest route is deep inland, through Parkes in NSW. This would allow trains that are 1.8km long and double-stacked, which is deemed the ideal for long hauls, and was costed in the study at $3.1-3.6 billion.

It is a basic principle that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of nodes. Stripping Sydney from the route between Melbourne and Brisbane destroys value. Based on Ernst & Young's numbers, there are about 3.05 million tonnes of rail freight on the Melbourne-Sydney-Brisbane route a year, of which 1.35 million tonnes is travelling all the way. On the Melbourne to Sydney leg, traffic to Brisbane makes up 60 per cent of the volume. On the Brisbane to Sydney leg, traffic to Melbourne is 64 per cent of the volume.

Economies of scale in the Melbourne-Sydney and Sydney-Brisbane routes will be lost, while it is doubtful that the Melbourne-Brisbane route alone would have the traffic to warrant a new line. Of course, the feasibility study being conducted by the Australian Rail Track Corp may come to that conclusion, although it would appear to be an interested party.

Rail networks are challenged worldwide by the technological advances in trucking. However, both Canada and the US have profitable rail networks. In the US, this is the case for the first time since the 1920s.

Part of the problem in Australia is the fragmented ownership, with the track generally owned by state government bodies, while privatised operators of rolling stock have struggled in what remain largely state-based franchises. The US-controlled Westrail failed to make a go of it in Western Australia and sold to Queensland Rail. Asciano is under fire because of doubts about its profitability under the weight of more than $3 billion in debt. It is doubtful that profitability on existing routes would be sufficient to warrant renewal of rolling stock.

Whereas in the US and Canada, the operators own the track and will run a train if it covers the marginal cost, in Australia the operators generally have to pay an average cost to the track owners.

The Government's priority should be to identify the barriers to profitable rail operation in Australia and, to the extent these fall within the province of state and federal authorities, facilitate consolidation. There should be investment to make passage of rail freight through Sydney easier, but trying to build rail routes with the objective of taking market share from the roads, which carry 80 per cent of freight between the east coast capitals, is not a sensible use of public funds.

Unfortunately, however, the Melbourne-Brisbane link is a bad idea with bipartisan support. Labor likes rail because it is a unionised industry, the Greens like it because they believe it to be less polluting than road, and the National Party likes it because it goes through their electorates.

Nationals leader Warren Truss claims Labor's support for the project is a case of policy theft. "I have to admit I was initially shocked by the minister's bare-faced cheek and plagiarism, and I likened him to infamous great train robber Ronald Biggs," he said, after Albanese announced the feasibility study.


This is the infrastructure that the Federal money SHOULD be spent on:

Cruise ship giant Carnival Australia has joined the coal miners and other bulk commodity shippers in urging government action to ease port constraints, especially in Sydney and Brisbane. Carnival yesterday used the results of a company-sponsored economic study to support its claim that the investment was needed to prevent cruise operators from being lured to better-credentialled Asian ports.

According to Access Economics, "cruise-related activity" bolstered the local economy by $734 million in 2006-07 -- $522 million directly from days at port and a further $212 from activity such as maintenance, marketing and travel agents. "The cruise industry in Australia has grown strongly in recent years and is projected to continue to do so over the next three years," Access Economics says.

Carnival Australia, which owns the Cunard, P&O and Princess Cruises operations, boasts a 65 per cent market share. Carnival Australia chief executive Ann Sherry said the historic berthing of Cunard's QE2 and Queen Victoria in Sydney last February only came about because Carnival "begged" the Navy for use of its Garden Island (Woolloomoloo) facility. Ms Sherry said Sydney's facilities were full for next year's cruise season peak in April-May.

Local ports risked losing business to Asian cities such as Shanghai and Singapore, which had upgraded cruise terminals, she said. "If action isn't taken soon, the cruise industry in Australia could be swamped by lost opportunities that will only benefit overseas ports and hurt the local economy," she said.

Heading Carnival's specific wish list is a purpose-built cruise ship facility at East Darling Harbour/Barrangaroo as part of the Iemma Government's redevelopment plan for the precinct. However, this would not entirely solve the problem, since mega-liners Queen Mary 2 and Sapphire Princess cannot fit under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay was inadequate because of overcrowding and limited landside access, Ms Sherry said.

Ships experience similar problems with Brisbane's Gateway Bridge, which, along with a narrow swing basin, impedes access to the mixed-use Portside Wharf complex. Ms Sherry said these factors, as well as Portside's "steep" fees, meant Carnival would "carefully assess our commitment to using Brisbane as a key hub in the long term".

Ms Sherry said the company's message was mainly for the state governments, but the custodians of the Rudd Government's newly announced $20 billion infrastructure fund were also a "target group". Carnival Australia, owned by the Florida-based Carnival Corporation, was not interested in a co-investment arrangement because it would not have exclusive access to any upgraded facility.


Sunday, May 25, 2008

Melanomas gone in just seven days

AUSTRALIAN researchers have discovered a range of new treatments for melanoma which could save up to 1500 lives a year. The Sydney Melanoma Unit at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital is conducting a clinical trial in which individual tumours are injected with a red dye called rose bengal.

Unit director John Thompson said within seven days the tumours become necrotic and die, and within 14 days they simply lift off the skin. Professor Thompson said an earlier trial of 20 patients showed between 60 and 80percent of tumours were successfully treated with one injection. The trial also found that rose bengal didn't affect healthy tissue and seemed to induce a beneficial immune system response that killed off other tumours that hadn't been injected.

"It has been interesting to observe that not only injected tumour deposits undergo involution [reduction] and necrosis but non-injected 'bystander' lesions sometimes undergo involution as well," he told the Australasian College of Dermatologists annual meeting last week. Rose bengal has been used for 50 years to diagnose liver and eye cancer. It has also been used as an insecticide.

Professor Thompson said phase one of the trial had proved the treatment was safe, although one woman ended up in intensive care with a serious reaction after driving for 1 hours in the summer sun after having her injection. For another study, Professor Thompson is hoping to recruit 65 patients who have melanomas that can't be treated with surgery.

Australia has the highest rate of melanoma in the world, with 9500 cases diagnosed annually. One in 19 Australians can expect to be diagnosed with a melanoma in their lifetime. If detected early, there is an excellent chance of survival. However, standard chemotherapy is not highly effective once the melanoma has spread.

The development of a vaccine has been elusive but researchers at the Newcastle Melanoma Unit have made a surprising breakthrough. Professor Thompson said about 120 patients were given an injection made from materials from their own tumour. The procedure was designed to stimulate the body's immune system to reject the tumour. The patients had metastatic (widespread) stage IV disease and an average life expectancy of six to nine months. The trial showed those who got the vaccine had a 40percent chance of surviving for five years, compared to 22 per cent for those who weren't vaccinated. "It surprised us greatly - there was a fairly substantial benefit in the patients who received the vaccine," Professor Thompson said.

At Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Diona Damian has treated three patients with extensive widespread melanoma with diphencyprone (DPCP), a chemical used to treat warts and hair loss. Associate Professor Damian said two patients are disease-free three years and one year later respectively, while in a third patient, the application of DPCP appeared to slow the progression of the disease but he died 18 months later.


A bureaucrat gets the boot!

Sort of. Bureaucrats are almost totally protected from accountability, for some reason

THE senior health executive who employed the "Butcher of Bega" Graeme Reeves, despite being warned he was banned from obstetrics, has become the first head to roll over the scandal. The Greater Southern Area Health Service has suspended Dr Jon Mortimer from duty on full pay "pending the outcome of further inquiries" into the appointment of Mr Reeves, who is accused of mutilating hundreds of women while working as a gynaecologist and obstetrician.

A handwritten diary note by Dr Mortimer, who at the time was deputy director of medical services for Southern Area Health Service, shows an unnamed referee warned him that Mr Reeves "was not meant to do obstetrics". The discovery, tabled in the NSW Parliament, contradicted statements from Health Minister Reba Meagher that the health service failed to perform background checks, when it in fact did. "The [documents] show that background checks were carried out, but were then ignored or dismissed," Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said.

Dr Mortimer is the first executive to be publicly reprimanded by NSW Health following the scandal which has rocked the health system since it was exposed by Channel Nine's Sunday program in February. Hundreds of patients have since come forward with claims of sexual assault, mutilations and botched procedures, including at several South Coast hospitals in 2002-03. Director-general of population health and chief health officer Denise Robinson, who was chief executive of SAHS at the time of Reeves's appointment, resigned this month, citing career opportunities elsewhere. Dr Mortimer's boss, Dr Robert Arthurson, remains in his position.

Mr Reeves was appointed as a visiting specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist at Bega and Pambula district hospitals after meeting Dr Mortimer and his colleague Kym Durance in January 2002. Dr Mortimer then chaired the five-member committee which recommended he be hired in March 2002. A handwritten note made by Dr Mortimer on the minutes of that meeting said "rego check" with a large tick over it. Yet Mr Reeves's registration with the NSW Medical Board was conditional and he was banned from practising obstetrics in 1997 following the death of a woman and a baby under his care.

It is unclear if his false assertion about holding current Visiting Medical Officer (VMO) appointments at Hornsby Ku-Ring-Gai and Sydney Adventist hospitals were checked at the time. The Medical Error Action Group has received 575 complaints about Mr Reeves, and its founder Lorraine Long welcomed Dr Mortimer's suspension. "It's absurd the people in public service are not doing their jobs," she said. Dr Mortimer did not return calls last week. His voicemail message said he was on leave.


Restrictions on how Australian blacks may be portrayed?

Free speech, anyone?

A LAWYER this week will seek "substantial damages" for an Aboriginal woman who believes she was racially vilified in a PhD student's film. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission accepted a racial hatred complaint filed on behalf of May Dunne, 52, a grandmother from Boulia in central-western Queensland.

In the controversial PhD film Laughing at the Disabled: Creating Comedy that Confronts, Offends and Entertains Mrs Dunne was depicted as an intoxicated Aboriginal woman in a stereotypical manner, the complaint says. The film - renamed Laughing at the Disabled - by Queensland University of Technology PhD student Michael Noonan, showed Mrs Dunne in a hotel and cuddling a disabled man. The commission has named QUT; Mr Noonan; the Spectrum Organisation, which partly funded the film; its chief executive officer, John Hart, who helped film the footage; and Disability Services Queensland as respondents to the complaint.

On Thursday, the commission will hold a conciliation session with all the parties concerned and a possible settlement will be discussed. If no settlement is reached, Mrs Dunne could take the matter to the Federal Court. The controversy over the film project already has cost QUT, with the university last year reaching a substantial out-of-court settlement with senior academics Gary MacLennan and John Hookham. They were suspended without pay for six months after criticising the film for what they saw as a demeaning portrayal of two disabled men.

Ted Watson, an advocate acting on Mrs Dunne's behalf, accused Mr Noonan and QUT of breaking all protocols for conducting research involving Aboriginal people. Mr Noonan claims Mrs Dunne signed a release form after she was filmed but Mrs Dunne has signed a statement denying it. Lawyer Steve Kerin, appearing for Mr Watson and Mrs Dunne, said he would be seeking substantial compensation for Mrs Dunne on Thursday.

He said the film also breached recognised protocols for the filming of Aboriginal people. Mr Kerin said he hoped the university and Mr Noonan would "see sense" and they would be able to reach an agreed outcome. Mrs Dunne will travel from Boulia to attend the mediation session.


Public Hospital 'a fire risk'

An audit of Mareeba Hospital and its nurses' quarters has exposed a litany of fire safety breaches that could force it to close. The Cairns Post reveals Queensland Health has been given until June 20 to make urgent repairs on Mareeba Hospital buildings described as fire hazards. Safety problems identified by the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service include faulty smoke doors in the hospital and inadequate fire safety signs, problems with locks and the lack of a fire safety management plan at the nurses quarters.

Of most concern is the nurses' quarters, with a source telling Cairns Post maintenance problems in the 60-year-old building breached the Building and Other Legislation Amendment Act, which was brought in as a result of the Childers Backpackers fire in 2000. Fifteen backpackers were killed in a horrific arson attack after they were unable to exit the burning building. "The accommodation for the nurses was not up to regulation," the source said. "It's a fire hazard."