Monday, June 30, 2008

Farm Lobbies abandon Farmers

The Carbon Sense Coalition today accused the big farming lobby groups, government departments, politicians and Ministers representing agriculture of ignoring science and abandoning farmers to unjustified carbon taxation.

The chairman of “Carbon Sense”, Mr Viv Forbes, claimed that there was no justification whatsoever for including emissions from farm animals in any carbon emissions tax scheme.

“Every intelligent farmer can understand the carbon food cycle whereby every bit of carbon dioxide released by farm animals or plants into the atmosphere has previously been removed from the same atmosphere.”

“This simple process is surely not beyond the understanding of all the lobbyists, bureaucrats, researchers and media living off farmers?”

“In the farm sector carbon balance, apart from any fossil fuel used, it is a zero sum game, and all farm animals have ZERO NET CARBON EMISSIONS.”

“Grazing animals have not yet learned to live on coal or diesel fuel, and they cannot create carbon out of rocks, soil or water. Therefore they must extract it, via grasses and grains, from that marvellous gas of life in our atmosphere, carbon dioxide. All foods and organic matter represent carbon that has been sequestered by life processes into living matter. The carbon is simply recycled at ZERO COST.”

“Farm plants and animals are every bit as green as forests. Both farms and forests extract carbon from the air and store it in organic life forms until that organic matter is burnt or decays in the open air, thus returning their borrowed carbon to the atmospheric storehouse.”

“Why then do those who grow forests attract a carbon credit and but those who grow cattle and sheep cop a carbon tax?”

“Australia and New Zealand lead the world in harvesting solar energy and carbon dioxide to produce an abundance of clean green food. Why then are both the New Zealand and the Australian governments proposing to force farm animals into their emissions trading quagmire? And why are they subsidising the conversion of farmland producing food into forests producing nothing but carbon credits or crops producing ethanol motor fuel? What are future generations going to eat?”

Forbes claimed that farmers need to start agitating now or they risk being the only bunnies still paying carbon taxes.

“Motorists who vote and use petrol will escape the carbon tax by sleight of hand – petrol excise will in future be called “carbon tax”. Exporters will get an exemption to enable them to compete with more sensible regimes with no carbon taxes. Other protected species like working families in marginal electorates will get subsidies to cover carbon taxes on electricity bills. Truckies will blockade the roads if politicians add carbon tax to diesel prices. That leaves farmers as the only big group with so few votes and such incompetent leadership that they will pay the carbon tax.”

“Farmers have been abandoned by Ag Force, the Meat and Livestock Authority, CSIRO, the National Party, our “working families” Government and most of the similar organisations in New Zealand. It is not clear whether this is because of a lack of scientific logic or cowardice in the face of electoral hysteria on global warming.”

“But the politicians representing the treasured “working families” in the battling suburbs had better start taking notice of rising food prices or a more soundly based hysteria about the growing shortage of food will sweep emissions trading nonsense from the political landscape.”

Press release above from Viv Forbes, BScApp, FAusIMM, FSIA, Chairman, The Carbon Sense Coalition, MS 23, Rosewood Qld, 0754 640 533, See
Stupid Federal attack on tech colleges

I guess they are not Leftist enough. To attack the most practical part of Australian education is madness

Australian Technical Colleges have urged the Rudd Government to rethink plans to abolish their funding, arguing the states have shown little interest in supporting an apprenticeship program devised by the former Howard government. The colleges claim their model of delivering apprenticeship training to students is more efficient than the federal Government's replacement scheme in which secondary schools can apply for funding to offer their own training centres.

"Our preference would be to remain funded at a commonwealth level because the state response has been less than desired," Nigel Hill, chairman of the Australian Technical College Association told The Australian.

At a time when 40 per cent of first-year trade apprentices are dropping out and exacerbating skills shortages, the Rudd Government has allocated $2.5billion over 10 years for schools to establish trade training centres. The Government is also spending $1.9billion over five years to provide 630,000 new training places, including 85,000 apprenticeships.

But Mr Hill believes the approach of the colleges in attracting students while they are still in school and having them work closely with industry is the key to improving retention rates. An example is the ATC at Sunshine in Melbourne's west, whose chairman Barry McCarthy is also the manager of car giant Toyota's training and development planning centre. Enrolments at Sunshine have this year doubled to 120. "We think this is a good model going forward, but we need to ensure that industry connection," he said.

About 3000 school students are enrolled in the technical colleges, federal funding for which will cease at the end of 2009. The Government is working to integrate the colleges on a case-by-case basis into the existing training education system, which is largely a state responsibility.


Australia: Crackdown on underpaid guest workers

Australia's new centre-Left government seems mad-keen to increase immigration but their union supporters don't like that at all. The measures below are an attempt to placate the unions. The unions have long been the major source of anti-immigration sentiment in Australia so there is no doubt that they will put the brakes on the do-gooder ambitions of their government

Harsh penalties for employers of 457 visa workers and increased powers for immigration officers are part of a shake-up of Australia's temporary skilled migration program to be proposed today by the Rudd Government. Immigration Minister Chris Evans said the new laws would help prevent the exploitation of foreign workers and ensure the wages and conditions of Australian workers were not undercut.

Senator Evans will today release a discussion paper on proposed reforms to the 457 visa regime, as part of a major review promised in April. Proposed changes include expanded powers for immigration officers to enter and search workplaces to determine whether employers are complying with sponsorship obligations.

Employers could also face penalties of up to 10 years' jail or $110,000 fines for providing false or misleading information, and naming and shaming if they fail to remedy breaches. Government agencies such as the Australian Taxation Office would also be able to share information to determine whether visa holders were being paid the correct amount.

The proposed changes, planned for September, come as Australia has dramatically increased its intake of permanent and temporary migrants. For the first time, the temporary skilled migration program will exceed 100,000 over the 2007-08 financial year.

In the discussion paper, the Government also seeks feedback on additional obligations that sponsors may have to temporary foreign workers. Unions have demanded guarantees of market wages for workers on 457 visas and tough requirements for bosses to prove skilled jobs can't be filled locally.


Rudd feels the sting of a self-inflicted wound

KEVIN Rudd has been slapped about by political reality. No one ever seriously expected Labor to win the Gippsland by-election. It's a Nationals seat. But the 8.4 per cent swing against Labor is a stern reminder that voters pay on results, not talk.

Since taking office, Rudd has faced difficult obstacles not of his own making, including the global oil crisis as well as the inflationary pressures that built up last year under John Howard's watch and have continued to push interest rates upwards. But the new Prime Minister has also damaged himself. During last year's election campaign, Rudd led people to believe he could do something about the prices of fuel and groceries. Although it is true he made no specific promises, instead vowing that monitoring would put downward pressure on prices, he used the power of suggestion for political gain. Now he is paying. Grocery and fuel prices have increased.

Then there was Rudd's first budget, with its tax on pre-mixed alcoholic drinks pathetically disguised as part of a fight against binge drinking. It was a revenue-raising measure. People might have respected it had it not masqueraded as something else.

The risk of Rudd's political strategy is that it opens him to criticism as someone who talks a lot and does nothing. Worse than that, he looks mean, tricky and wowserish on the issue of alcohol excise. Such themes are already at the heart of Brendan Nelson's political strategy. Apparently, they have registered with the voters of Gippsland.

In some ways, it's unfair. Rudd is undertaking a huge amount of behind-the-scenes and vital reform in areas such as health, education and inter-governmental relations. This will be highlighted on Thursday when a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments slashes red tape affecting business. Such reforms are meaty and important. In retrospect, they will be universally lauded. But they take time to produce results and they are too obscure to capture the public imagination.

The fat swing in the Gippsland by-election - an 8.4 per cent swing turnaround in only seven months - ought to be a cause for concern in Labor ranks. It should ring alarm bells about Rudd's political strategy. It is too glib - it assumes people are stupid and unable to see through spin. It is time for Mr 24/7 to inject greater authenticity into his style of government.


Australian astronomical Society warns of global COOLING as Sun's activity 'significantly diminishes'

A new paper published by the Astronomical Society of Australia has a warning to global warming believers not immediately obvious from the summary:
Based on our claim that changes in the Sun's equatorial rotation rate are synchronized with changes in the Sun's orbital motion about the barycentre, we propose that the mean period for the Sun's meridional flow is set by a Synodic resonance between the flow period (~22.3 yr), the overall 178.7-yr repetition period for the solar orbital motion, and the 19.86-yr synodic period of Jupiter and Saturn.

Or as one of the authors, Ian Wilson, kindly explained to me: It supports the contention that the level of activity on the Sun will significantly diminish sometime in the next decade and remain low for about 20 - 30 years. On each occasion that the Sun has done this in the past the World's mean temperature has dropped by ~ 1 - 2 C. Oh. Global cooling coming, then. Obvious, really.


Sunday, June 29, 2008

An interesting by-election

An 8.4% swing against the Labor party was more than the normal by-election swing of about 5% but it may be even worse for them than that looks

If the Gippsland by-election result was replicated around Australia, the Rudd government would be in strife, a senior academic says. Dr Nick Economou, a senior lecturer in politics at Monash University, says Gippsland was an excellent result for the coalition, with its strong anti-Labor swing. "Swings against the government in a by-election are not unexpected - that tends to be the norm," Dr Economou told AAP. ``But I draw Labor's attention to the disastrous results in what should be very safe Labor voting areas (of Gippsland) - Morwell, Churchill and Traralgon. "It's dangerous for Labor and it's the sort of pattern observable in 1996 when safe Labor electorates turned against them and Labor lost in a landslide."

He said the result sent a warning to Labor and the collateral damage was that it will lose support in traditional blue-collar electorates. "Labor has a number of those in NSW, Queensland and Tasmania, and if the sort of reaction to Mr Rudd seen in the La Trobe Valley was replicated in those other states Labor would be in a lot trouble," Dr Economou said.

Dr Paul James, a professor of globalisation and social sciences at Melbourne's RMIT, believes Mr Rudd's relationship with the electorate has changed after making some bad decisions. "He's been trying to micro-manage his public relations in a way that prime ministers should never do," Dr James said. Dr James says the fuel tax issue and Mr Rudd's intervention in the Belinda Neal affair from Japan had not done him any favours. "John Howard would never have responded to a minor altercation back home - such as one of his backbenchers doing something crazy," Dr James said. "On a whole lot of issues (Mr Rudd) has shown himself to be petty or increasingly, a kind of school master approach, in how he deals with the public service. "Those things have an effect and the by-election is an example of that."

Ms Neal, the federal MP for the NSW Central Coast seat of Robertson, and her NSW MP husband John Della Bosca, are being investigated after a run-in with staff at Iguanas Waterfront at Gosford.


Rudd, the lone ranger

Rudd's two closest advisers are a pair of 28-year-olds who've risen almost without trace and whose relationship with their 50-year-old boss is more like that of sons to their father. Alister Jordan is his chummy deputy chief of staff and Lachlan Harris his legendarily terse senior press secretary. Sinodinos's notional successor as chief of staff is David Epstein, who worked in the same capacity for Kim Beazley. Paul Keating once described him as someone so indecisive he wouldn't get out of bed in the morning without a poll to work out on which side. Lyons says this sells him short and that he's a political pro, having been in and around politics for 20 years. But, he says, "Epstein's history is largely in spin; in the Hawke and Keating governments he ran the propaganda unit, known as Animals: the National Media Liaison Service." He also credits Epstein with Beazley and Rudd's utter preoccupation with the 24-hour news cycle.

The unmistakable impression is that Rudd, a former head bureaucrat in the Goss government in Queensland, is acting as his own chief of staff. Plainly he's a control freak who doesn't trust most of the people who work for him and can barely delegate tasks even to senior ministers. Nor does it sound as though any of his inner circle can tell him things he doesn't want to hear. This was reinforced by Lyons's anecdote about the Prime Minister sitting in his office at Parliament Office at the beginning of this month, watching Senate estimates, of all things. Apparently he became infuriated by the accusation that he'd broken an election promise to give every secondary student a computer.

Julia Gillard and "the team" were summoned, minions were told to chase down everything he'd said on the subject before polling day, and there was a flurry of meetings. Every transcript was analysed and the day's scheduled appointments were cancelled. This is no way to lead a party -- let alone to govern the country -- and the abler people in caucus all know it.

On any given day, prime ministers always have far more pressing and important tasks to attend to than watching Senate estimates. After all, hardly anyone else pays them any heed. It's beginning to sound like a whim-driven office, run by a Prime Minister with too much time on his hands and no higher priority than trying to manage the 24-hour media cycle. In media management terms, if potentially damaging accusations emerge, a cheer squad of Labor senators is always there to counter them and there are staff galore to sift the evidence, without tying up the Government's two most senior ministers, the people most able to get the Government back on the front foot.

Lyons says that if Rudd keeps governing as he is doing now, "he'll earn the nickname Captain Chaos". He's alluding in passing to Captain Wacky, the nickname former ALP national secretary Gary Gray gave to Keating in the lead-up to the 1996 federal election. Another anecdote from last Saturday's story goes a long way to justifying the prediction.

Last month cabinet's national security committee was scheduled to meet but the meeting was delayed for several hours and Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston and Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade secretary Michael L'Estrange were left loitering in corridors. In the old days Sinodinos would at least have invited them into the cabinet antechamber, offered profuse apologies and asked for their thoughts on the day's agenda. It was widely construed as a snub, although it may simply have been appalling management. In any event, this is no way to conduct matters of state and it's hard to conceive of other business that could plausibly be given a higher priority.

Rudd's management style and his worsening relations with top-level bureaucrats were the subject of another fascinating piece in The Australian on Wednesday by Paul Maley entitled "Yes, Prime Minister". It's worth noting that the two main people quoted in the article were Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Stephen Jones and Australian National University politics professor John Wanna. Neither could be considered as hostile to the new Government, yet it can have drawn little comfort from their conclusions.

Jones voices the complaint of many public servants who are required to produce reams of advice and research papers at very little notice and without much confidence that they're even being read, let alone attended to. "I'm also hearing that everything is centralised. Based on the way I run my own office, there's a limit to how much information you can process, and I'm running a union, not the country."

Wanna agrees, seeing Rudd as presiding over a government that's busy but not particularly effective. "What you hear is that there's not much process, that people don't know what's going on. That a lot of stuff goes into Rudd's office and they're waiting for it to be spat back out again, and that there are time delays."

Will many people outside Canberra care about overworked bureaucrats getting their noses out of joint and feeling under-appreciated? Perhaps not, or at least not yet. However, the level of obsessive micro-management and the chaos in the Prime Minister's office tell us quite a lot about his character and don't augur well. They suggest that he'll be hopeless if he ever has a real crisis to deal with and hard decisions that need to be made quickly.

Wanna also says Rudd seems to have reverted to his modus operandi as head of the Queensland Cabinet Office, where he acquired the nickname Dr Death because of his fractious relations with the public service. He's surprised the Prime Minister hasn't learned from the experience. "He worked 100-hour weeks. "They tried to control everything and the more they tried to control it, the more the public service and the interest groups stepped outside the control."


School has a "plan" to deal with bullying (but does nothing)

As long as the paperwork is in order, who cares about anything else?

A high school student accused of bullying may be legally banned from going near his 12-year-old victim. In a landmark court case, the 13-year-old Year 8 student is facing an application for a peace and good behaviour bond, which could prevent him attending his school on the Darling Downs. In the Children's Court last week, the parents of his alleged victim said the Education Department failed to act to protect their son from daily attacks. They are considering suing the State Government for neglect, arguing the department failed in its duty of care. "The department has been treating (the accused boy) with kid gloves, yet he is running riot," said the alleged victim's father, who cannot be named for legal reasons. "When we complained to the school, we were told our son had anger-management problems. The school is 100 per cent liable, yet will not admit any liability."

The case will be considered at a hearing early next month. The court could ban the student from going within a certain distance of his alleged victim, which could keep him out of the school grounds. The father told The Sunday Mail: "Thousands of parents would go through this every day, and the schools don't want to get involved."

The alleged victim, who has been put on detention himself over the conflicts, says he is subjected to regular threats of assault, including blows to the back of the head.

The mother of the alleged bully has defended her son, despite admitting he had a history of schoolyard violence which included being suspended from primary school for bullying. She said he was recently suspended for five days following an attack. "He is not totally out of control," the mother said. "I am not saying he is 'a home angel and a street devil'. I have had a lot of contact with the principal since the incident and (the boy) has been removed from the class. There is not much more the school can do." She said she would fight a court order, on the grounds her son was too young.

A check of court records shows there is no case in Queensland of a student being granted such a bond over another student for bullying. However, in the New South Wales city of Newcastle, a 13-year-old school bully was placed on an 18-month good behaviour bond in September 2003 after grabbing a small boy by the neck and demanding he give him $5 the next day.

Queensland Education Minister Rod Welford last week defended Nerang State High School, where an alleged bully has avoided suspension despite attacking a former fellow student at a bus stop.

Education Queensland has declined to comment on whether it has breached a duty of care to the alleged victim in the Darling Downs case. A spokeswoman for Education Queensland said only: "Under common law, teachers owe to all students a duty of care to adhere to a reasonable standard of care to protect them from foreseeable harm. The department respects the process of law and will respect the terms of any decision made by the court." [Big of them!] She said the school had a responsible-behaviour plan in place as part of last year's introduction of the state-wide Code of School Behaviour.

Commissioner for Children and Young People Elizabeth Fraser said if students were not satisfied with a school's response, they could raise concerns with the commission's complaints team, which could be an advocate for them.


Another childcare meltdown

The proper place for little kids is in a loving home

A TODDLER went missing from his Strathpine childcare centre and wandered along a busy main road, and nobody noticed for two hours. Tiny two-year-old Tyler Brown - nicknamed "Midget" - walked out of the unlocked fire escape of Strathpine Trainease Childcare Centre and sauntered 500m down Gympie Rd, past an open stormwater drain and the railway line. He ended up in the car park of a small shopping complex where a courier driver noticed him toddling between the cars about 10.30am yesterday.

The driver took the boy inside to a chemist who figured he must belong to a playgroup operating at children's clothing and artwork shop, Patch Place. But owner, Fiona Patching said he was not one of theirs. "He had a Westfield Strathpine balloon so we called them to see if they had any missing children reported but they hadn't. So then we rang Petrie police and advised them," Mrs Patching said.

While waiting for police, Mrs Patching thought she'd try a nearby childcare centre on "the off chance" he belonged to them. "I was told 'no, we're not missing any children', and then the director came on the phone. She said, 'I'll come down and make sure'," she said. The child was quickly identified as Tyler and the centre then contacted his mother, Elizabeth Brown, just before midday. "When I got down there, and police were there with two lady officers I said, 'Right, I want answers'," Mrs Brown said. "I said, 'Have you looked at video surveillance?' and the police looked at Robyn (the director) and she said she didn't know how to work it. There's so many unanswered questions, like how did he get the balloon?"

Mrs Brown said she took Tyler straight home and would not be returning to the centre. "They couldn't explain why he got out, but he obviously wasn't being watched," she said. "He took my hand and showed me how he got out, through a fire escape door. Any child could have done the same."

Director and licensee of the centre Maurizio Pizzato said the incident had been very distressing to staff. "This child has just gone past our guard. It should never have happened and we're trying our hardest now to make sure it never happens again," he said. He confirmed the child had "escaped" through the fire door which he said had to remain unlocked in line with fire safety regulations.

The Commissioner for Children and Young People and Child Guardian, Robin Sullivan, said she had referred the matter to her department to make sure no other children were at risk. Police said the investigation into the incident was now in the hands of the Department of Communities. A spokesperson from the department said the matter was being treated as a "serious safety breach". "Regional officers have already conducted an unannounced inspection of the service this afternoon, and will continue their investigation," the spokesperson said.


Saturday, June 28, 2008

Immigration stressing Australian infrastructure

There are large political difficulties in providing new infrastructure. Just to take a very obvious example: More people increases the demand for water. So build news dams to supply it? Not if the Greenies have any say! And they do. The problems are political, not technical -- but that does not mean that they can easily be overcome

The congestion problems in the news this week have the same cause as a lot of other problems that make the Herald's front page. They're due to our increasing population, or more precisely, our failure to make adequate provision for it.

This might seem obvious, but in fact Sydney is in a state of denial about population increase. We don't prepare for it adequately and seem constantly surprised that public services and infrastructure fail. When they do, we blame politicians, or climate change, or the greed of people (other people) for cars and houses and air conditioning. Anything but what is often the main cause, population growth. This comes from births, migration from other parts of Australia, and immigration, but it's only the last category we have much control over.

This week the Bureau of Statistics announced that last year the nation's population grew at its fastest rate since 1988. The growth rate was 1.6 per cent, or 331,900 people. Net overseas migration contributed 56 per cent of that increase. As is well known, a large proportion of those people settle in Sydney. But for years, Sydney has just pretended it wasn't happening..

Water is a good example because it's so simple. A Water Supply Strategic Review prepared for the Water Board in 1991 noted that since Warragamba Dam had been completed in 1960, Sydney's water storage capacity had been increased by only 2 per cent. This was despite an increase in population from 2.3 million to 3.6 million. The report noted, given the projected future population increase, "if measures are not taken to provide Sydney with additional storage, early in the next century there will be a real risk of serious water restrictions being necessary".

The rest is history, but try to find anyone today who will admit our water restrictions are the result of population growth and the failure by governments to respond adequately. Much easier to blame drought and global warming.

The same thing can be seen with other issues. Just this week in the Herald there's been coverage of a report on road congestion by the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies. Among other things, the report advocates building more roads to keep pace with population increase. The Roads Minister, Eric Roozendaal, rejected the report as the work of "academics in ivory towers". He also rejected a proposal by the institute for congestion pricing of traffic.

So what do the streetwise guys in government propose as a response to population pressure on our roads? In relation to the size of the problem, just about nothing. When you consider the Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics has predicted an 18 per cent increase in car use by 2020 due to population growth, maybe we need something better.

Why has the link between immigration numbers and the above issues been ignored? One reason is that state governments have no say in those numbers. And the Federal Government has no (direct) responsibility for most of the problems they cause. If Kevin Rudd knew that when he bumped immigrant numbers up he'd be responsible for all the extra schools, hospitals and roads that would be needed, he might think twice.

Another reason immigration has been ignored is because to question it is to be seen as politically incorrect, even racist. This could why the environmental movement has largely ignored it, despite its central role in the problems the movement talks about all the time. The Australian Greens' record on this has been documented by author and conservationist William J. Lines. Writing with Natalie Stone in People and Place in 2003, he noted: "Originally promulgated in 1995, the [Green] party's population policy was revised in 1998 and again in 2002. With each revision the Greens altered their principles, lessened their commitment to limiting population growth . [and] replaced concern about population and environmental degradation with a social justice, global human rights platform."

Before the policy launch for the 1998 federal election, "the Greens' immigration policy proposed that 'Australia's voluntary immigration program be reduced as part of a strategy to achieve eventual stabilisation of the Australian population'. Subsequent policies dropped this strategy entirely and made no recommendation to reduce immigration. In fact the [policy] targets now openly encourage immigration". Another rollover occurred in the Australian Conservation Foundation. In his book Patriots (UQP), Lines describes how in the 1990s "each successive leader [of the ACF] displayed an extreme reluctance to discuss population".

Barry Cohen, the former Labor politician, noted recently that it is bizarre to hold apocalyptic beliefs about human-induced climate change while supporting near-record levels of immigration.

It's time for a national conversation about immigration numbers. We'll be starting from a long way behind. At the moment the Government doesn't even have an overall number for immigration for next year, which is strange when you consider the Prime Minister's belief in planning and targets. The issue of population was treated in a trivial manner by the 2020 Summit, which arrived at the following vision: "By 2020 we will have a sustainable population and consumption policy: while the population grows, net consumption should decrease." Let's get real.

Steve Bracks, the former Victorian premier, has called for the premiers' conference to devise a population policy and then look at how the nation will cope with the resultant immigrant numbers. He wants the Commonwealth to give more money for this purpose to the states. Whatever figure is arrived at, this sounds like a sensible approach.


Government child safety agency fails yet again

There are a lot of dead kids to testify to their bureaucratic incompetence

The desperate plight of three children found murdered by their violent father yesterday was known to the NSW Department of Community Services, which gave up on them. Just days earlier, the children's father Gary Bell, 44 was released by police on bail after bashing his wife, with the officers notifying the beleaguered department about Jack, 7, Maddie, 5 and Bon, aged just 18 months.

Last night, hours after their tiny bodies and their dead father were found in a 4WD at the family's home at Pericoe on the Far South Coast, DOCS admitted it failed to reach the family and offered the excuse that staff had tried. It is believed the children and father had been dead for days. The Daily Telegraph can reveal DOCS had been notified twice previously over concerns for the children, once in 2005 when Bell was charged with assault, and again in 2006.

The children's shattered mother Karen was being comforted by her mother in Bega last night, where it is believed she had been staying since leaving her husband. Mrs Bell's father Harold last night told The Daily Telegraph that Bell had "never touched the kids until now". "He shouldn't have killed the kids. He should have just killed himself," the shattered grandfather said. He said his daughter, 33, had an opportunity to take the children and leave following last week's assault "but she didn't".

It is understood Bell was released on bail by police on Sunday because he had just one prior charge of assault in 2005. He was due to appear in court on July 15 on the domestic violence charge.

Neighbours and those close to the couple yesterday described the horrific abuse suffered by Mrs Bell over several years with injuries including black eyes and bruises. Neighbour Tony Boller said he received a desperate call from Mrs Bell last Saturday. "There was a disturbance, there was a lot of screaming and yelling while she was on the phone to the house. She was being assaulted," Mr Boller said. Mr Boller, who lives on the site of the former commune named Two Creeks where the Bells lived, said Mrs Bell fled the property after the weekend assault. Other neighbours said police had hunted Bell in bushland on the property at 3am on Sunday. "She left. I just don't think he was coping with looking after the kids," Mr Boller said.

The children were murdered in a large 4WD which had piping connecting it to a generator. It is believed they were drugged before dying from exhaust fumes. Police made the horrific discovery at 11.15am yesterday.

"He should never have been released (this week)," another neighbour said. "I wanted to ring DOCS, you don't know how much I regret that. They were beautiful, sweet little kids."

Another neighbour, pensioner Rick O'Hara described the area as a "gulag". "It really is the valley of failure. This place is rotten," he said.

DOCS were notified this week by police of the latest assault but in a statement last night the department attempted to defend itself with claims it was unable to reach the family. "In recent days, DOCS was informed that police had taken out an apprehended violence order against the children's father," the statement said. "DOCS staff subsequently made a number of attempts to contact the family to provide support but was unable to reach them." [phone calls only, no doubt] ...

The family had lived at Two Creeks, which has attracted people wanting an alternative lifestyle since the 1970s, for about five years.


Muslim fraud on the taxpayer

Australian Islamic College founder Abdallah Magar and two of his principals have been charged with fraud in relation to $3 million of Government funding. The Major Fraud Squad laid the charges after an 18-month investigation into offences alleged to have occurred in relation to the management of the AIC schools in Thornlie, Kewdale and Dianella. It is alleged the colleges defrauded $653,073 from the WA Government and $2,513,087 from the Federal Government from 2005 to 2006. Mr Magar and the two principals allegedly defrauded State and Federal government student subsidised funding programs by claiming for students who were not attending the colleges.

Mr Magar, 69, of Attadale, was charged today with 10 counts of gaining benefit by fraud for another person and five counts of obtaining a financial advantage by deception. Mark Brian Debowski, 50, of Nedlands, was charged with two counts of gaining benefit by fraud for another person and one count of obtaining a financial advantage by deception. Aziz Magdi, 53, of Alfred Cove, was charged with six counts of gaining benefit by fraud for another person and three counts of obtaining a financial advantage by deception.

Police said this morning that the charges resulted from inquiries conducted into material seized from search warrants executed by state police, helped by the Federal Department of Education and Workplace Relations Investigations Unit, at the three colleges on 30 January 2007 and subsequent interviews with witnesses.

The State Government gave the college $4.3 million in per capita grants in 2004-05. The Federal Government provided $13.3 million in 2006 and $11.5 million in 2005.

Education Minister Mark McGowan said that he hoped the Islamic Colleges would stay open. But Mr McGowan said that new auditing processes had been put in place to ensure that funding was based only on real student numbers as for all private schools. Mr McGowan said if there were a guilty finding, the WA Government would work with the Commonwealth and "pursue all avenues" to recover the allegedly defrauded money. "There's various ways in which we can do that,"" Mr McGowan said. "We can cut back on future grants. We can seek a repayment from the school. They're the avenues we'll adopt if there is a guilty finding." He said the future operation of the school would be determined by its school board.

In January last year, police raided the three colleges and Mr Magar's office in Booragoon in relation to the allegations. A team of six full time investigators were involved in the investigation, with 200 statements taken, and more than 200 archive boxes, 12 filing cabinets and 15 computers examined. Both the State Department of Education Services and the Federal Department of Education and Workplace Relations were involved in the investigation. All three men will appear in the Perth Magistrates Court on July 2, 2008.


GM wheat superior in Australia's dry climate

Will Australia's farmers fall for the charms of drought-resistant wheat, even if it's genetically modified? Faced with climate change and a growing food crisis, enthusiasts certainly hope such traits will help overcome aversion to GM technology.

Of 24 strains of GM wheat tested in field trials, two lines exceeded the yield of the non-GM variety by 20 per cent under drought conditions, according to German Spangenberg of the Victoria Department of Primary Industries in Melbourne, Australia. The results were presented last week at the Bio2008 convention in San Diego, California.

Environmental groups remain unconvinced. "The main driver of genetic engineering is to make it possible to patent crop strains. That won't help farmers in developing countries who need to keep back seeds for their next year's crop," says Louise Sales of Greenpeace Australia in Sydney.

Australian farmers may yet be persuaded. The forecast for this year's wheat crop has just been trimmed by 9 per cent because of dry conditions, although it may still be up by 10 million tonnes compared to last year's drought-devastated crop.


Friday, June 27, 2008

New ambulance computer system still cactus

Maybe they did not oil it enough. See my second post of the day on 23rd for background

For the second time in a week Emergency Services' $6 million computer system has crashed, forcing operators to log jobs on a "big whiteboard". The Emergency Services Computer Aided Dispatch system failed without notice at 11:30am for no apparent reason. It was back online fairly quickly - unlike last week's 90 minute outage - which was blamed on a maintenance issue.

The expensive new computer system went "live" in Brisbane on May 1 despite the concerns of fire service communications operators. Officers who contacted The Courier Mail expressed fears problems experienced in the southwest region would be repeated in the busy metropolitan area with serious consequences. The problems included delays in the system and unexplained outages, like today's crash.

Emergency Services management has previously stated its complete confidence in the escad system which was initially delayed to provide officers with extra training.


Rudd's high-cost global warming policy has already been tried -- and it achieves nothing

By Andrew Bolt

KEVIN Rudd has a plan to cut your emissions that won't work, will hurt and isn't needed. In fact, if the Prime Minister has any sense, he'll check the soaring prices for oil and coal and say his painful plan has been tried on you already, and has failed, failed, failed. Or does he want Labor to lose the next, unloseable election?

Rudd's plan is to cut our greenhouse gases - the ones he claims are heating the world to hell - by making power plants and businesses pay for tradeable licences that let them gas on. You emit, you pay. That means hitting the biggest sources of carbon dioxide the hardest - petrol and coal-fired power in particular - in the hope the pain of higher prices will force consumers (like you) to switch to something less gassy.

Your petrol prices will therefore soar, perhaps by 30 cents a litre, suggest the Liberals. So will your power bills, by as much as double, warn power generators, some of whom may actually be driven bankrupt. Prices of anything trucked or flown to you will also rise, of course, as well as anything made with lots of power, like steel or even food.

And to avoid this pain? Well, you'll need to, say, buy a brand new Prius. Walk to work. Build a smaller house and bunk up. Refit your home with the latest green gadgets, like a $20,000 solar heating system. Stuff that will hurt, unless you're as rich as Rudd.

All this will start just two years from now. In fact, those higher bills will start coming in in the middle of an election campaign, unless the increasingly nervous Government blinks. No wonder Rudd is jittery, repeatedly refusing to admit how much he'll make petrol prices rise and pleading with the Opposition on Wednesday to "consider their responsibilities" and not mount a "scare campaign on petrol".

I had to laugh at the hypocrite. Him, complaining about a scare campaign? This is the bloke who in the same breath went on to warn Parliament that without his grand plan 1400 Australians a year would drop dead of heat exhaustion, while plagues of dengue fever and malaria would ravage our land, and seas two metres higher would flood our towns. Yeah, right. The man should sell snake oil.

Even so, we're still sick with apocalyptis and many Australians still seem to think the pain of Rudd's plan is worth every pang if it manages to cut our greenhouse gases and avert doom. Indeed, there are so many such people that even the timid Liberals have been forced to say they, too, support an emissions trading scheme of the kind Rudd promises, but without yet endorsing his target of slashing gases by 60 per cent by 2050.

But the big question is: could Rudd's plan even work? Let's ignore the basic fact that the world hasn't actually warmed since 1998, according to the Hadley Centre. Ignore also that the seas have actually fallen for the past two years, according to Colorado University's Centre for Astrodynamics Research. Ignore even the 31,000 scientists who last month signed a petition warning there was actually no proof man was heating the world to dangerous levels. And, finally, ignore that Australia's emissions comprise just 1.5 per cent of the world's, and that we could shut off every light and machine and not change a thing, especially while China, the biggest emitter, refuses to take its foot off the gassy pedal.

As I say, ignore everything that screams we're fools for even wanting to slash our gases with an emissions trading scheme that even a too-cheery CSIRO report this week says will cost at least $8 billion a year. Let's focus instead on this: can Rudd's plan work? Will his emissions trading scheme slash our gases by anything close to what he wants? There are two reasons to say that it hasn't the slightest hope. That all Rudd will do is raise green taxes, not cut greenhouse gases.

First, of course, is the fact the European Union has the only such emissions trading scheme in the world - and it's a flop. The European Environment Agency this month reported that emissions from the 12,000 factories and plants covered by its trading scheme actually rose over the past two years. Europe's emissions overall fell just 0.3 per cent last year, thanks to a mild winter and higher petrol prices, and there is little sign it can cut its gases by anything like the 60 per cent it's promising. In fact, the only reason Europe's emissions are still 7.7 per cent below what they were in 1990 is that the old, gassy ex-Soviet industries of Eastern Europe and East Germany collapsed in the 1990s. For developed Europe, the emissions have simply kept rising - by 4 per cent over 1990 levels - and will keep rising still.

But we don't have to look simply to Europe to realise carbon trading is a false hope, richer in rorts than promise. Check the price on the petrol pump, already 40 cents a litre higher than it was just a year ago. Feel that pain? It's the de facto carbon tax that's already been levied on us, even before Rudd gets to work and slugs you even more through his emissions trading scheme. You see, all of our main sources of carbon dioxide emissions have already had huge price hikes imposed on them by the markets, thanks to an economic boom, especially in China and India. Since 2001, oil prices have gone up 700 per cent. Thermal coal, for power, has gone up 400 per cent. Coking coal, for making steel, has gone up 600 per cent.

These are astonishing rises, hitting consumers even harder than Rudd yet dreams of hitting with his emissions scheme. That's your carbon tax, right there. But have emissions fallen as a result? Not at all. World emissions since 2000 have instead risen faster than ever. Even these record prices for carbon-intensive sources of power cannot cut the world's greenhouse gases. Nor have they cut our own. Those top prices you now pay for petrol, air travel, power and the rest may hurt us plenty, but they still haven't hurt enough to make us switch en masse to greener alternatives -- most of which haven't yet been invented. Australia's emissions are instead booming, according to government figures released this week. Our gases are up 6 per cent on 1990 levels - or by 31 per cent once we exclude the largely one-off savings we got from halting land-clearing.

Bottom line: There is no chance any time soon that we can even stop our emissions rising, let alone slash them by Rudd's 60 per cent. So Rudd will hit us with a carbon emissions scheme that will lift prices still more, but do little more than raise him extra taxes - unless he's mad, and cranks up carbon prices so high that he shuts down entire industries.

So I'm not surprised voters are now growing wary of such green plans to "save" the planet from a threat that may well not exist, and which in any case would be best solved by technology - like nuclear power - and not taxes. Only last week, a Galaxy poll in Queensland found 71 per cent of voters were against an extra petrol tax to cut emissions, and that's even with most journalists and politicians still refusing to tell them the full truth about the great global warming swindle.

Such scepticism will only grow, especially while the planet refuses to keep warming - a fact now so unmissable that even The Age may report it this side of Christmas. Already the sweaty Government is thinking of ways to dodge the backlash to come, this week reportedly considering delaying any price rises until after the election (more fool you), or making them so low that you won't feel the pain - but won't cut your emissions, either.

What a farce. For once I'm hoping Rudd will be true to type and be all spin and no substance, giving us a green tax too low to work, but just high enough to make him seem he's Doing Something. A hypocrite is better than a wrecker, after all. Unless, of course, you really, really think another 40 cents at the pump will do for the planet what the last 40 cents couldn't. But then you'd be crazy enough to believe in catastrophic global warming, too, wouldn't you?


Judges who think they can legislate

IF you want to understand the battle under way within the judiciary these days, the US is an ideal place to start. Here, activist judges have a secret weapon in their fight to remake the law in their preferred image without having to bother with getting changes through parliament: the law of large numbers. If enough of them do an end run around the legislature, the appellate courts and the politicians won't be able to keep up with them. The modus operandi was neatly summed up by Stephen Reinhardt from the Ninth Court Circuit of Appeals in San Francisco. Described as the "liberal bad boy of the federal judiciary", Reinhardt hears about 500 cases each year. Even though the US Supreme Court has a propensity to overturn his overtly activist decisions, Reinhardt boasts that "they can't catch 'em all".

In Australia, too, we have lower court judges who like to cook up the odd bit of new law. They chafe under the scrutiny of a High Court that in the past decade at least has generally accepted that new law should be made by parliaments, not courts. Enter Keith Mason. The former president of the NSW Court of Appeal used his recent retirement to spit the judicial dummy, demanding that the High Court stop being so critical of judges on lower courts who aim to improve and expand the law.

In the case of traditionalists v innovators, Mason believes he is on the side of innovating angels. He says he is no traditional black-letter lawyer who defers to precedent. He prefers a sexier judicial role. He is a legal innovator, as Chief Justice Jim Spigelman described Mason in his effusive praise at the Banco Court a few weeks ago. Innovator is code for judicial activist. Still smarting from a High Court case last year that overturned a decision of the NSW Court of Appeal, Mason - the judicial innovator - is incensed that the High Court snubbed his court's attempt to expand the law to his liking. Without boring you with the arcane details of restitution, Mason went on a frolic, trying to extend the scope of unjust enrichment. The High Court refused to join in, basically telling the NSW Court of Appeal to do the right judicial thing and apply precedent.

Behaving like a judicial version of a woman scorned, Mason attacked our most senior court for claiming a monopoly in the development of common law in Australia. "If lower courts are excluded from venturing contributions that may push the odd envelope, then the law will be poorer for it." By refusing Mason's attempt to enrich the law, the High Court was adhering to "blinkered methods". It had an "unduly inward-looking focus". It was "shutting off much of the oxygen of fresh ideas".

Let's tease out the claims of this malcontent. The High Court is the nation's final appellate court entrusted with declaring the law of the land. That aside, if every innovating judge attempts to push the envelope by creating new law, then it follows that precedent - quaintly known as the rule of law - counts for naught. The law becomes a moving, unknown beast. Unfortunately, such mundane matters as legal certainty don't much matter to judges who wish to immortalise themselves by creating law to suit their concept of justice.

Judicial kvetching reached even more ridiculous levels last year when Mason said the High Court was guilty of using personally offensive language when it graded an error by a lower court as serious. He is not alone in that complaint. Perhaps the aim is to have the High Court imitate the misguided teacher who won't tell a naughty kid he flunked a test in case it hurts his feelings and damages his self-esteem.

Toughen up, gentlemen. In the US, Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia fights the march of judicial imperialism with language that would make our precious Australian judges tremble. When Scalia disagrees, he tells you so. He said one majority judgment deserved a "prize for the court's most feeble effort".

Alas, some judges do make grave errors. Some deliberately ignore precedent and the judicial oath to do "justice according to the law". In other words, some judges get it wrong. Sometimes badly wrong. When they do, they deserve to be criticised. Sometimes strongly criticised. However, Reinhardt's law of large numbers is broadly correct. Final appellate courts cannot keep track of every maverick decision by politicking judges. There's just too many of them these days. That's why judicial decisions need constant scrutiny by the press and by parliament.

Take the Aurukun nine rape case that attracted worldwide media attention after The Australian revealed that Cairns District Court judge Sarah Bradley chose not to impose jail sentences on the nine males who raped a 10-year-old girl at the Cape York community of Aurukun. Public criticism exposed a serious judicial error, ultimately corrected on appeal. "These errors were so serious as to produce a clear miscarriage of justice," Queensland Chief Justice Paul de Jersey said. The Court of Appeal sentenced five men to jail for up to six years. The other four, who were juveniles at the time of the rape, will all serve a period of detention.

Consider the British judge at the Special Appeals Commission who last week decided to release from detention Jordanian-born cleric Abu Qatada, who appears to have impressive terrorist credentials. Terrorism experts describe Qatada as Osama bin Laden's right-hand man in Europe. He was convicted in his absence in the Middle East for involvement in 1998 terrorist attacks. The British judge released Qatada on condition that he not hang out with bin Laden or drop into any mosque and that he wear an electronic tag. That must make Britons feel safe. The Conservatives correctly branded the decision as offensive. Home Secretary Jacqui Smith said the Government would be appealing to have Qatada deported.

It's worth noting that the judges who are most vocal in their objections to criticism tend to be those innovating judges who prefer to mould the law to suit their conception of justice. Public outrage is rebuffed as populist nonsense. Critics in the media are described as bully boys. Attempts by parliament to hold them to account are ridiculed as an intrusive attack on their independence.

But the answer for these judges is obvious. If you want a quiet judicial life, stick to the more traditional judicial method. If you prefer to push the judicial envelope, don't be surprised if others will describe your judicial method and decisions as flawed. Even gravely flawed. This tiresome allergy to criticism will only intensify as the battle between innovators and traditionalists over the judicial role continues.


Photo crackdown hits parents' proud moments

ACCORDING to recent reports, parents have been forced to ask for permission to photograph their kids at some children's sporting clubs. Other clubs have prohibited the taking of snapshots altogether. Many parents are understandably distressed at the idea that they cannot provide themselves or their children with permanent and special images of their offspring's athletic accomplishments. But what do these extraordinary measures suggest about us as a society?

What point have we reached when we either have to ask permission or are prevented from doing what parents have done ever since the camera was invented: that is, create pictorial records of our children playing sport? What sort of hysteria is guiding these decisions? Suddenly, any adult with a camera within range of a child is looked at askance, and their motives are not only under suspicion but also their entire character is assassinated. Many adults with cameras at playing fields on weekends have reported being verbally abused, to the point where threats were made against them and accusations screamed, often in front of their own, shaken and confused, children.

Recent debates in the media and interest-group fuelled fears have ensured that no longer are these snap-happy grown-ups able to lovingly capture moments to place in the scrapbook of memories. No. Instead, innocent adult intentions are maligned and these people are branded pedophiles - loudly and publicly by other angry and frightened mothers and fathers.

Some people are attributing this extreme response to the recent Bill Henson photographic exhibition fiasco. But I'm afraid they're off the mark. This same excessive effect has occurred before, such as when bathing children at South Bank were surreptitiously photographed a couple of years ago.

While Henson's provocative images have allowed an important debate about children and sexualisation to continue, we also have to be sensible around these types of discussions and the outcomes they generate. But instead of moderation, we're allowing frenzied desperation, finger-pointing, ugly and unjust accusations, demonisation and panic to govern our responses.

We start to see "peds under beds" everywhere and construe the most benign and innocent of gestures as sexual; the most normal and natural of desires (such as wanting to photograph children) as sick and unnatural. In other words, we start to view other adults through a pedophile's lens.

There's no doubt that pedophiles and their perverted practices sicken most people. But the fact is that pedophiles sexualise children no matter what. They are aroused by images and ideas that bear little or no relation to what would be considered sexual by those with normal, healthy, adult appetites. They delight in the combination of innocence and provocation and seek out that kind of stimulus and generally, no matter what preventive measures we put in place, find or create it, even where none originally exists. They also hide their practices and are, generally, very successful at this - hence the huge police operations to uncover pedophile rings and the shock when one is unearthed.

The overwhelming majority of us are not pedophiles. It may come as a surprise considering the alarmist rhetoric out there, but most of us are decent and caring and appreciate young people and want the best for them. Sometimes, that means hugging them when they're upset or hurting, even when they're not our children. It can also mean taking photographs as significant mementos of childhood experiences. It also means setting reasonable and realistic boundaries around children and those who come into their orbit and organising and monitoring our children's exposure to age-appropriate material throughout their developmental years.

Being aware of and concerned about pedophiles does not and should not mean viewing every adult in a child's life with a jaundiced and unhealthy eye. As Professor of Media Studies at the University of New South Wales, Catherine Lumby, stated in a 60 Minutes segment on Sunday night, "we don't want to raise our children to believe that their bodies are dangerous" or "that they can somehow provoke child sexual abuse with what they wear or what they don't wear".

The one thing we must not do as a community is live our lives or constrict our children's because we're afraid of pedophiles. If we do that, then our children are already victims - and so are we. If we allow this misguided and now misdirected, panic-stricken fear of pedophiles to regulate our actions and reactions, then the pedophiles have already won. Our fear has managed to control us and our relationships, to our children's and everyone's detriment. To label someone a pedophile because they show a "normal" level of interest in children is ridiculous. It is also slander. To hurl abuse at them in public because we're suspicious and judgmental is highly dysfunctional and sad.

Soon, everyone will be a pedophile and we'll end up raising a generation of detached and lonely youngsters afraid of shadows we have created and ashamed of what their little bodies might potentially arouse in a person they will likely (thank goodness) never meet. It is so important that we continue to discuss issues around childhood protection, sexualisation and pedophiles, but not at the expense of those we're trying to shelter.


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Brand-new road closing for maintenance already

This is absolutely typical of government roadworks, sadly. I have seen it often. Just on my drive this morning I found a road half closed that opened only weeks ago. Anybody who wants to put more things into the hands of government reveals his appetite for destruction of the society he lives in.

The Tugun Bypass [connecting Qld. roads with NSW roads] will be closed for three nights from tonight for routine maintenance, despite only having been open for three weeks. The closures will take place between the hours of 9pm to 5am tonight, Wednesday and Thursday, but the new road will remain open throughout the day. Several detours will be in place for drivers, with most having to use the Gold Coast Highway through Tugun.

A Main Roads spokesperson said the maintenance would be carried out as part of traffic management system's commissioning period. ``Our aim was to implement the works at a time which would be less of a hassle for drivers so that's why the operations are being conducted at night,'' she said. ``All the work is concentrated to within the tunnel and we will be looking thoroughly at the intelligent transport system. ``This is being done because we're still in the commissioning process and are making sure that everything is running smoothly."

The long-awaited Tugun Bypass opened a day late on June 3 after heavy rain prevented final line marking work from being completed in time for the scheduled opening. A boom gate malfunction on June 11 left southbound motorists stranded for up to an hour at the entrance to the bypass tunnel, with traffic further back diverted through Tugun.


Crass public hospital management kills little girl

Exhausted doctor didn't notice brain bleed. What was the hospital management thinking of to assume that a doctor did not need sleep? It's a wonder this sort of disaster does not come to light more often. The hospital manager should be sued for manslaughter

DOCTOR fatigue and the safety of bunk beds are among the issues being probed by an inquest into a girl who died hours after she was sent home from hospital. Elise Neville, then 10, struck her head in a fall from a bunk bed while on a family holiday at Caloundra, in Queensland, in January 2002. Bleeding in her brain went unnoticed by Dr Andrew Doneman, who was in the 20th hour of his 24-hour shift at Caloundra Hospital. The hospital had a policy of not admitting children and the Toowong, West Brisbane, schoolgirl was discharged.

She went to sleep on her parents' bed in Caloundra but was critically ill when her family woke at 7am. An unconscious Elise was flown to Brisbane for treatment. and died days later.

The court was told that in 2004, Dr Doneman pleaded guilty to unsatisfactory professional conduct but the issue of fatigue was raised. Health Practitioners Tribunal judge Debbie Richards said then that it seemed "extraordinary" that anyone should be working such long hours. "If this tragedy does nothing else, it should lead to the abolition of such brutally long shift hours," she said.

Queensland Health's acting director of medical workforce advice Suzanne Le Boutillier said an "alert doctors" strategy was being rolled out to help make doctors aware of fatigue. "Focusing solely on the hours of work does not make patients safe," she said. "There are a whole range of other factors that contribute to fatigue." Ms Le Boutillier said the strategy had gained support among doctors. "The great successes are where doctors drive this on the ground," she said.

The safety of bunk beds will also come under the scope of the inquest and how future deaths might be prevented.

Outside court, Elise's parents Gerard and Lorraine, said they hoped the inquest would identify and improve deficiencies in the health system. "There's been changes, that's great, but I need to see more," Mr Neville said. He said many Queenslanders lived in places removed from Brisbane and the bigger centres and they needed care too. "We were only one hour from Brisbane - one hour - and this is what happens," he said. Mrs Neville said: "I want people to see how beautiful she was and she's just always going to be a part of our lives. "We're Elise's voice and we'll see it through."


"Child protectors" lose girl

The Department of Community Services says it will review its procedures after a 13-year-old girl it placed on a train alone from Parramatta to Dunmore, near Wollongong, vanished. Lauren Maree Ryall was reported missing on Monday afternoon after she failed to arrive at her destination. Police today said she had still not been found. DOCS caseworkers had dropped the girl off at Parramatta station about 1.40pm on Monday. She was given a train ticket and lunch money, said Helen Freeland, DOCS executive director for operations. "Lots of 13-year-olds travel on their own on the train," she told 2UE.

But her mother, Judith, said Lauren should not have been left to travel alone. "It should never have happened it should never happen to any child," she told 2UE. "Now my child is missing and DOCS have since told me that they can't do anything to help look for her because it's now in the hands of the child protection agency and police."

DOCS director general Jenny Mason said it was working with police to find Lauren as soon as possible. "Unfortunately she did not go to the agreed destination and in hindsight there may have been a more appropriate response for this child," Ms Mason said. "We are looking at our procedures and policy to minimise the chances of this happening again."

Judith said Lauren had called her on Tuesday night to say she was with a friend in Wyong. But Lauren hung up after less than two minutes when she found out police were looking for her, Judith said. Lauren had travelled to Wyong with a girl, who had also been placed on the train at Parramatta by DOCS on Monday. She had been placed in DOCS' care at the weekend after returning to her Wollongong home from a friend's house and finding her mother missing. "She had gone out on Friday, I'd given her permission to go to a friend's place [and] I'd come to my cousin's house," said her mother. "Lauren didn't realise I was at my cousin's place and gave herself to police on Sunday night." Police were duty-bound to report the matter to DOCS, Judith said.

Lauren's parents were separated, and her father lives in Queensland, 2UE reported. Lauren's mother said she had previously contacted DOCS to help "straighten my family out". But she was upset DOCS had placed her daughter on the train alone. "If I can just save one child or one parent what I've been through in the last 48 hours, all of this would be worth it," she said.

Ms Freeland said: " The choice that our caseworkers have to make is do they spend a whole day either driving her home or taking her by train or do they go out and respond to the urgent cases that have come over the weekend, and these are very difficult choices that we make every day."


Climate policies will increase fuel prices even further, says Kevin Rudd

He obviously wants to lose the next election

KEVIN Rudd has warned that energy prices - including petrol - will rise under his green emissions-trading scheme due to start in less than two years. The Prime Minister told Parliament yesterday that higher energy costs were an unavoidable fallout of slashing carbon emissions. But he said the Federal Government would introduce a comprehensive compensation package to help families and business cope as he accused the Opposition of running a scare campaign. "If you adopt a position of acting on climate change it does have an impact on energy prices. That is just the truth," he said.

Mr Rudd did not say how much petrol prices would increase but the Opposition has claimed they could jump by as much as 30c a litre. A major petrol company has warned of a price hike of 17c a litre. But, as revealed by The Courier-Mailyesterday, one option being considered by the Government is the phased introduction on an emissions trading scheme over two years. This would allow the scheme to start in 2010 but petrol would be left out until 2012 - well after the next federal election.

Mr Rudd acknowledged that petrol had risen sharply in the past year and told Parliament that the Henry tax commission would examine the federal petrol excise of 38c a litre. It came as the nation's consumer watchdog Graeme Samuel strongly defended the Government's proposed FuelWatch scheme and the plan to penalise service stations which lower prices during the day. Mr Samuel said a system of hefty fines would force retailers to offer their best price all day. "They have their backsides up against the Bunsen burner every day," he said.

In Parliament, Mr Rudd seized on a landmark study by the State Government into the impact of climate change in Queensland to argue the need for urgent action. The report, entitled "Climate Change in Queensland - What the Science is Telling Us", said Queensland had more to lose than any other state from global warming. It identified the Great Barrier Reef and wet tropics rainforest as especially vulnerable. Most of the population, which lives on the coast, could face severe flooding from sea levels expected to rise by up to 2m by the end of the century.

"Queensland, because of the structure of our economy and the distribution of our people, has more at risk because of climate change than any other state in Australia," Queensland Climate Change Minister Andrew McNamara said.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Another confirmation of long Australian lifespans

There was a similar finding reported 18 months ago. Pesky that Australians are exceptionally long-lived despite the typical Australian diet being just about everything the food-freaks deplore. There are certainly a lot of nonagenarians about in Australia who grew up on food fried in dripping (animal fat) -- fried steak particularly. Fried steak and eggs was a routine breakfast for many Australian working men up until a few decades ago. And they would only have eaten nuts at Christmas. And to this day, very fatty meat pies (see pic above) and sausage rolls are a great favourite.

Going by the results of double-blind studies (e.g here), however, it is doubtful that type of diet has ANY influence on longevity. The fact that two long-lived populations -- Australians and Japanese -- have radically different diets also supports that conclusion.

The explanations for Australian lifespans given in the news report below are entirely speculative. An equally plausible explanation is that traditional Australian skepticism causes most Australians to ignore food freaks.

The only thing about diet that increases lifespan is restricted calorie intake. Which is probably why the Japanese -- who had very little food for much of the 20th century -- live so long. Restricted calorie intake also stunts growth -- which would also explain why older Japanese are so short. So attributing the high Japanese lifespan to a "healthy" diet is also just a guess that fails to consider other possibilities

Australians are living longer than ever as death rates from the big killers of heart disease and cancer fall and smoking continues to wane in popularity. The Australia's Health 2008 report, released yesterday, shows Australians can now expect to live for 81.4 years - and that we have leap-frogged Sweden and Iceland to claim the No2 spot on the world's life expectancy tables, second only to Japan.

Overall, the latest snapshot of the nation's health paints a mixed picture, showing that while Australians are cutting down on smoking and doing better against cancer and heart disease, we are also fatter, boozier, more likely to catch a sexually transmitted infection, and still likely to end up in hospital for something that could have been avoided.

In 2005-06, more than 9 per cent of hospital admissions were considered potentially preventable. We also too rarely make the diet and lifestyle choices that would ward off diabetes, high blood pressure and other problems, and there are poorer outcomes for people of lower socio-economic status which happens worldwide]. While asthma has receded as a health threat, others such as oesophageal disease, are looming larger.

And the picture for indigenous Australians is also mixed: the gap in death rates between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians appears to be narrowing, but otherwise indigenous adults seem to be slipping even further behind the health of their non-indigenous countrymen. [If you saw the way blacks often live, you would not be surprised. Methanol ("metho") is not a healthy drink]

Launching the report in Canberra yesterday, Health Minister Nicola Roxon said it was a "great achievement" that "highlights both the good and the bad". "We can take heart that an Australian born between 2003 and 2005 can now expect to live 42 per cent longer than those born in 1901-10," Ms Roxon said. "That's an extra 25 years for most people." Once the danger years of youth and middle age are past, men who reach 65 can expect to live to 83, and women to 86 - about six years more than a century ago.

The AIHW said one of the biggest factors in extending life was the drop in smoking rates. About one in six Australians were daily smokers last year, one of the lowest rates in the world. Vaccination also continues to enjoy widespread support, with more than 90 per cent of children fully immunised against the major preventable diseases such as whooping cough, measles and mumps.

As well as asthma affecting an estimated 10.3 per cent of the population in 2004-05 - down from 11.6 per cent in 2001 - other good news is that illicit drug use appears to be falling. The percentage of people aged 14 and over who admitted to using marijuana fell from a high of 17.9 per cent in 1998 to 9.1 per cent last year, while those using methamphetamine or "ice" fell from 3.7 per cent in 1998 to 2.3 per cent last year.

Ecstasy use remained level and only cocaine showed any upward trend, being used by 1.6 per cent of respondents to last year's survey, compared with 1 per cent in 2004.

However, AIHW director Penny Allbon said Australia could do more to tackle the main risk factors for chronic diseases. "In rank order, the greatest improvements can be achieved through reductions in tobacco smoking, high blood pressure, overweight and obesity, physical inactivity, high blood cholesterol and excessive alcohol consumption," Dr Allbon said. "The prevalence of diabetes, which is strongly related to these risk factors, has doubled in the past two decades.

"Excessive alcohol consumption not only brings costs in terms of personal health, but tangible social costs in terms of lost productivity, healthcare costs, road accident costs and crime-related costs that have been estimated at $10.8 billion in 2004-05."

The report shows that alcohol caused 3.8 per cent of the burden of disease for males, and 0.7 per cent for females. Four in five Australians aged 14 and over drank alcohol, and one in 10 did so daily. However, the report said these rates "have been fairly stable since 1993".


Australians have been getting richer

Under a conservative government. What the new Leftist government will bring forth may be another matter

AUSTRALIAN consumers may not be doing it as tough as many believe. With another round of tax cuts due next week, and taking inflation into account, the average person is more than $425 per month better off than six years ago, an analysis by Commonwealth Securities shows. This is despite 12-year high interest rates, record petrol prices and rising living costs.

"While some consumers are indeed struggling, that is by no means the rule,'' CommSec's chief economist Craig James said. "Living costs have certainly been rising, but so have wages. "And in a few days time another a round of tax cuts will be delivered - the sixth consecutive time that either tax thresholds have been lifted or rates have been cut.''

The analysis shows that people who took out a home loan in the past two years may be be struggling under the weight of higher interest rates and rising living costs. But those who took out home loans more than three years ago are more likely to still be in front, despite numerous interest rate increases. An average wage earner, who took out an average home loan back in July 2002, would have seen their monthly salary rise by $1014 since then, Mr James said. However, the interest rate on their home loan had risen from 6.55 per cent to 9.45 per cent, lifting home loan repayments by $299.16 per month. Assuming the same basket of goods and services has been purchased over that time, it would be dearer by $287.20 per month.

"Taking into account all these snakes and ladders, Jo Citizen would still be in front by $427.64 a month, allowing her to save more or enhance her standard of living,'' he said.

The more recently a home buyer took out a mortgage, the more likely they would be experiencing some decline in net income, with cost increases more than offsetting wages and lower taxes. "But interestingly, if Jo Citizen receives a 4 per cent annual wage increase in the next few weeks, it would boost her monthly wage by $138 ... more than covering a couple of rate hikes as well as the high petrol prices over 2008,'' Mr James said. "That means she would be back in front - whether she took out her home loan last year or six years ago.''

Mr James admits the analysis depends on the assumptions used, but the basic point is that higher wages and lower taxes have, over time, put more spending power in people's pockets. While plenty of attention is paid to higher living costs, increases in after-tax wages tend to happen quietly in the background, he said. "Events like rate hikes or soaring petrol prices tend to get plenty of attention, depressing consumers and causing knee-jerk adjustments in household spending. "But once the initial effects have passed, it is the lasting impact on budgets that really matters.''

Consumer spending will remain "fluky'' in an environment where there is significant media attention on rising living costs. ''(But) consumers will gradually filter back into the shopping malls once they realise they can indeed continue to spend.''


A State of steam?

The devious reasoning in the report below is amazing. If the temperature were to increase by 5 degrees, we would be living in a steambath with constant rain -- not drought. Do these lamebrains not know that higher temperures cause more evaporation? And that evaporation off the oceans is where rain comes from? Have they ever seen steam come off a hot kettle? And with increased CO2 as well the crops would REALLY be lush. CO2 is prime plant food

QUEENSLAND's average temperature could increase by five degrees celsius by 2070 - bringing less rainfall and more intense tropical cyclones, a report warns. Entitled Climate Change in Queensland - What the science is telling us, the government report says Queensland's annual temperate had increased at a faster rate than the national average since 1950. Under the current high emissions scenario, Queensland's temperate would rise by 2.8 degrees by 2050 and five degrees by 2070.

The report warned the state would experience less rainfall, more severe droughts, an increase in flooding rains, sea level rises, more intense tropical cycles and an increased risk of storm surge. The Great Barrier Reef and wet tropics rainforest were vulnerable, as were most of the population, which lived on the coast. Even if greenhouse gas emissions were drastically reduced now, the build-up and long life of those gases guaranteed climate change would continue for the next few decades at least, it said. And there was a "growing body of evidence" that emissions were currently tracking above the highest emissions scenarios used in research.

Climate Change Minister Andrew McNamara said the report showed the state had much to lose if action did not"No part of the Queensland community will be untouched by the impact of global warming and climate change," he said. Mr McNamara said Queensland's key industries of agriculture and tourism were particularly vulnerable.


Dole payment plan for illegal immigrants

TAXPAYERS would be forced to pay thousands of illegal immigrants the dole under controversial measures now being considered by the Rudd Government. For the first time asylum seekers and illegal immigrants fighting to stay in the country would be allowed to work and claim welfare benefits while taking the Immigration Department to court.

The proposal will mostly apply to illegal immigrants on tourist visas who fly into the country and then claim asylum when ordered to leave, rather than the stereotype of people who arrive on leaky boats. They are not in detention centres and are given a so-called "Bridging Visa E" until their cases are sorted out. The latest figures show there are 5624 people on the visas but the number often swells to as high as 7000.

Although overstayers would pay taxes if they found a job, taxpayers would have to pay millions in Centrelink and Medicare payments to those unable to find work. As well, taxpayers would have to foot the cost of appeals to the Migration Review Tribunal, the Federal Court, the full bench of the Federal Court and the High Court. Some court cases last a decade or more. Sources have told The Courier-Mail of one case involving a man who arrived in the 1980s and claimed asylum who was finally kicked out last year after exhausting all his appeal options.

The Opposition has denounced Labor's plan, warning that without safety measures taxpayers would bear the brunt of vexatious claims. It also said illegal immigrants would target Australia if the law was relaxed.

But Immigration Minister Chris Evans intends to speed-up the appeals process and close the loophole that enables some illegal immigrants to remain in the country for years while seeking numerous judicial reviews. "The Rudd Government is aware of concerns in the community about the difficulties faced by asylum seekers who are denied work rights or access to Medicare, " Senator Evans said. "The department is currently assessing the issue and will consult with a range of stakeholders when developing any changes to bridging visa policy. "It is also vitally important that the bridging visa regime is not open to abuse."


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Doctor numbers nosedive in Australia

When there are heaps of people wanting to get into medical schools this is just plain government negligence. Why is money being spent on useless "postmodern" courses when funds for medical education are so limited?

AUSTRALIA'S doctor shortage is becoming critical, with new figures revealing a plunge in the number of GPs. A report to be released today shows the number of practising GPs fell 9 per cent between 1997 and 2005.

The release of Australia's Health 2008 will reignite tensions between doctors and the Rudd Government. Health Minister Nicola Roxon said GPs should rethink their roles as medical "gatekeepers" in light of the finding. "Why, when families struggle to see their GP, when people often end up in their local hospital because they can't get frontline care from their local doctor, do we need gatekeepers?" she said.

The Australian Medical Association argues that doctors must be the gatekeepers of the health system to ensure patient safety


Dud medical regulator to be sued

RAPE victims of a deviant doctor are planning to sue Victoria's peak medical watchdog for failing to act on sex assault complaints. The women have engaged Slater & Gordon to investigate suing the Medical Practitioners Board for failing to suspend dermatologist David Wee Kin Tong after two patients said he molested them. Dr Tong was jailed in March for at least 5 1/2 years for sexually assaulting 14 patients. His last victims were assaulted three years after the first complaints were made.

The women claim inaction by the profession's watchdog left Dr Tong free to abuse up to 12 more unsuspecting victims. It is believed the board, a statutory body charged with investigating complaints and protecting the public, did not hold a formal hearing into the allegations after an investigation into Dr Tong. A second complaint to the board in 2005 led to Dr Tong being reprimanded. The board is not required to pass complaints on to police.

After a victim went to police in 2007, investigators were initially refused access to the board's records on Dr Tong and were forced to serve a warrant for the material to be released. Victoria Police's sexual crimes squad raided the board's headquarters, but had to fight a legal challenge in court to use the files. The board has since apologised publicly for its handling of the complaints, but a police source says that the board's actions were tantamount to a "cover-up".

The Herald Sun has learned the wealthy doctor tried to divest himself of his Toorak mansion before it could be confiscated to pay his victims' compensation. Victoria Police restrained Dr Tong's Toorak property, which he had sold for $2.35 million, only days before settlement. The proceeds of the sale were later confiscated. Already gone were antiques and paintings, many of which Dr Tong bought at Sotheby's and Christie's auctions.

Dr Tong, 40, pleaded guilty to seven counts of rape and seven counts of indecent assault involving 14 patients at clinics at Clifton Hill, Malvern, and Preston. The offences occurred between October 2001 and 2007 during examinations. He also lost his right to practise medicine. Another two women have since come forward with allegations against Dr Tong.

During a search of Dr Tong's home, police found 120 pictures of naked women -- some of them patients -- placed in small photo albums. Dr Tong told many of the women, aged between 22 and 34, they could get moles on their genitals and required a full-body examination.

Kay, who was the first victim to come forward, said although compensation was an issue, she wanted the board to change its investigation procedures to ensure the safety of others. "I was the first, but they just didn't follow up," she said. "I felt really violated and they (the board) hadn't listened to anything I said to them and took his word for it."

The MPB has since reviewed cases involving potential sex offences and apologised to victims. "Why the hell didn't they stop it back in 2004 when we complained," Kay said.


Public hospital and its head surgeon facing negligence lawsuit

MELBOURNE'S The Alfred Hospital and its former head of trauma, Thomas Kossmann, are facing legal action alleging medical negligence. Law firm Slater & Gordon has told The Australian it is preparing several cases against the hospital, and possibly Professor Kossmann, for allegedly negligent surgery performed on trauma patients.

The cases come in the wake of a damning peer review into Professor Kossmann's surgical and billing practices, which were first revealed in The Australian in April. The review alleged he had exaggerated his experience on his CV, conducted risky and unnecessary surgery, and rorted government insurance agencies, including the Transport Accident Commission. It also alleged he had put lives at risk with bungled surgery that involved grave errors in more than half of the 24 cases that were examined.

Professor Kossmann has denied any wrongdoing and attributed complaints from doctors about his surgery to competitive jealousy. He condemned the peer review, led by orthopedic surgeon Bob Dickens, as a "witch-hunt", and several of his former patients have come forward to praise his surgical performance.

When the review was released last month, Jennifer Williams, the head of Bayside Health, which operates The Alfred, absolved the hospital of any legal responsibility. But Slater & Gordon medical negligence specialist Paula Shelton said her firm was preparing several cases involving allegedly unsuccessful or unnecessary surgery performed by Professor Kossmann at The Alfred. "They are all people who have got significant problems," she said. "There are certainly a couple of them that I think are serious. It's fair to say they relate to poor (surgical) outcomes." For the cases to succeed, the victim must prove at least 5 per cent physical impairment and that the surgery done was poorer than could be reasonably expected at the time. Slater & Gordon is still investigating the cases and expects to obtain the medical records from the hospital and launch action within a few months if independent advice confirms the alleged negligence.

A spokeswoman for Professor Kossmann said the surgeon was not aware of any claims against him and therefore could not comment. Ms Shelton said she was unable to give details of the cases, but The Australian has spoken with one of Professor Kossmann's patients who is not among the existing cases, but is considering joining any action against the hospital.

The patient, who declined to be named, claimed he had complications after Professor Kossmann operated on him in 2004 following a car accident. He claimed he suffered a post-operative infection following the original surgery. "At the time I found him to be very professional and thought the complications which arose both in the short term and long term just came with the territory; however, reading the reports coming out now makes me wonder about that," he said. "About a year or so later, my leg played up again so I went to a doctor to have a look at it and they found deep-vein thrombosis, which he attributed to the original injury ... X-rays showed that a titanium screw placed in my knee ... had snapped during that surgery and had been left there."


Another negligent "child protection" agency

Two years to act? Gravely ill children as a result

Fourteen malnourished children have been hospitalised and a mother has been charged with neglect after up to 21 starving children were found crammed into one suburban house. The children's plight was uncovered after one boy, aged five, was taken to hospital suffering hypothermia and malnutrition.

The horror inside the squalid Adelaide property shocked authorities, who raided the Parafield Gardens home and a second property at Elizabeth Grove yesterday. Last night, six children - aged between two and six - remained in hospital. The 28-year-old mother of those children - who may be formally taken into care today - was charged with five counts of criminal neglect.

Up to 21 children - aged from 10 months to 16 years - are understood to have lived at the Parafield Gardens home at any one time. Two families whose mothers are sisters were involved in the raids - one with seven children and the other with 12 children. At least 16 children were taken to hospital.

Yesterday neighbours said they had phoned police several times about the welfare of the children, who were often seen wandering in the rubbish-strewn backyard during the evening. "(Children at the house) would be outside late at night playing in their nappies," one neighbour said. "I've got little kids. You just don't let them do that sort of thing."

Welfare authorities admitted receiving three child protection notifications about the family of 12 children since June, 2006. The worries included lack of school attendance, non-payment of rent and the state of the mother's health.

Yesterday South Australian Families and Communities Minister, Jay Weatherill, said he was shocked by the number of children in "such poor health". "It's fortunate the mother sought medical help for one of her children," he said. "We have some very gravely ill children and I am concerned that we could have had a death in this situation. "Given the physical state they're in, I think it would be difficult to imagine them being at school and teachers not being immediately aware of their circumstances and making the relevant notifications." He said the mother of the family of seven children - who has been refused bail - had a history of children protection interstate. The neglect case follows the slow death of twin toddlers in Brisbane last week. [also unattended by any welfare agency] Children protection workers will make a further assessment of the two families today.

Mr Weathergill said the family of 12 children would be monitored and the children removed if authorities were convinced they were "unable to keep those chidren safe". Police involved in the raids described the homes as appalling. Police Superintendent Bertie Pit said "this job was shocking for everyone involved". "There is no evidence of injuries inflicted by anybody. The injuries or illnesses they have result from lack of proper food and general sustenance."

Yesterday the mother-of-12 denied she had maltreated her children. Her sister - who has been refused bail - will appear in court today.