Thursday, July 31, 2008


It's the big debate in Australia at the moment. Four current articles below

Australia is a climate irrelevance

The most difficult thing for an Australian to get right, especially psychologically, is a sense of our relative standing in the world. We are important, but we are not that important. We are about the 15th biggest economy, which is not negligible, but we are a minnow compared with the great powers. We have the sixth largest land mass. We have a small population and, despite recent growth, it is becoming proportionally smaller compared with the rest of the world, particularly our region. We tend to fall into the competing vices of braggadocio or donning the humble garments of Uriah Heep.

The truth is we are a significant middle power, unable to decide any issue beyond our shores but able to influence, a little or sometimes a lot, almost everything. This is intensely relevant to the climate change debate. Short of war, climate change presents us with a uniquely international problem requiring domestic management. We must do the best for ourselves and our planet. But what that best actually is will be determined by the actions of other international players. If we make policy blind to that fact, we are in danger of making irrational policy. And that could be profoundly harmful.

Those arguing for a very robust response to climate change - that is, severe targets to cut our greenhouse gas emissions - often do so on the basis that it is prudent. There is genuine contention over the science of global warming, whether it is happening at the supposed rate, whether it is caused primarily by human activity and whether changing our activity can halt it. But, it is said, we must act because it may be true or, if you believe the science, it is highly likely it's true. If we act without needing to, we get a cleaner environment anyway. But if we need to act and don't, we may encompass a human catastrophe.

That may very well be true. But there are other scenarios that also may be true. It may be that we act without needing to and produce substantial dislocation in our economy. This would make us much poorer than we are now. Moreover, it may have perverse effects internationally. If we act too dramatically and sustain real economic damage, we may well encourage other countries to avoid our mistakes by acting much more slowly or not acting at all. And if the science is wrong, we may get a wrecked economy for no good reason.

What if the science is right but our own actions nonetheless have no effect? This column is consciously avoiding the usual blizzard of rubbery statistics that all sides use in this debate. But let me give you just three factoids I've come across in the past day or two. By the year after next, carbon emissions from non-Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries - that is, from developing countries - will exceed those from developed countries. Since 2000, China has increased its emissions by 45 per cent to 65 per cent, depending on whether you include land-use changes. And finally, the Tata company of India is planning to produce a motor car that will sell for about $US2500. Even with petrol getting more expensive, that almost certainly means millions upon millions more cars in India. The same of course will happen in China.

Just let those three facts sink in. What are their implications? How should they affect Australian policy? This column has argued before that developing nations, especially the fast-growing nations of Asia, will never consent to carbon targets and will certainly not reduce their emissions.

Those who find that an inconvenient truth tend to just ignore it, taking a fraudulent comfort in the motherhood pro-environment statements of Chinese, Indian or other developing world leaders, without applying the slightest rigour to analysing what they are actually doing. One possible outcome of all the factors in play today is that we could spend countless billions of dollars combating climate change and have absolutely no effect at all.

One important factor is public opinion. The Australian people want something done and they want it to start now. But, rather contradicting themselves, the Australian people get extremely upset about increases in petrol or electricity prices, which are the first thing that any carbon trading scheme tries to achieve. You cannot ignore public opinion on climate change and you cannot really be offside with it. On the other hand, as the years roll by and reality bites, I'm not sure people will enjoy the idea of losing their job or the employment prospects of their kids so that we can be pure on climate change, especially if the rest of the world doesn't follow our lead.

The debate is so confused and general at the moment that a lot of people probably feel that Australia, by its actions alone, can prevent the Australian climate changing, that we can save the Barrier Reef, make the rivers flow.

How would public opinion develop if it is ultimately presented with a choice something like this: these crook environmental outcomes are going to come about anyway, would you rather confront them as rich people or as poor people? It is said that industry in particular wants the certainty of an emissions trading scheme, but it is difficult to see how a scheme with an endlessly shifting carbon price provides certainty. Of course those many sectors of industry, especially the finance industry, which will make money out of trading carbon credits, will want such a scheme. The rest of industry may be less certain.

All of this is not to argue for inaction. It seems to me there are four obvious things we can do. First, we can go along with, as well as trying to influence through persuasion rather than example, what becomes the consensus position of the developed world. Carbon still has no price in Japan or the US and not an effective price in Canada or Europe. We don't want to be laggards but we would be mad to be far out in front. Travelling with the herd here is truly the only sensible option.

Second, we can encourage every bit of useful technological research. All those carbon capture trials are well worth doing. Third, we can encourage efficiency, conservation and green technology. This is to some extent the preferred option of the US and Asia. These really are low-cost options.

I'm quite happy to have the Government interfere, through regulation and modest tax, to encourage these things: the right sort of light bulbs or fuel efficiency standards for cars. Taking measures such as those and changing our land-use patterns have resulted in a big cut in our per capita greenhouse emissions during the past decade.

Four, we should sell uranium to India. All that's a prudent policy. Anything much more is probably irresponsible, with far too much danger for far too little benefit.


Rudd sees trade talks collapse as a blow for climate talks

Gotta agree with Rudd on that. Good to see that he is so strong on free trade

PROSPECTS for global co-operation to tackle climate change weakened yesterday as the collapse of trade liberalisation talks cast doubt on the international community's capacity to act in concert for a common good. A downbeat Kevin Rudd - who had personally stayed up to 2am calling world leaders - was yesterday "deeply, deeply disappointed" that World Trade Organisation talks, which would have reduced barriers to international trade, had been abandoned in the Swiss city of Geneva.

And the Prime Minister suggested the failure of the talks augured poorly for the completion of international negotiations aimed at crafting a global agreement for carbon emissions reductions to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which ends in 2012. The climate talks, due to be finalised at a UN meeting late next year in the Danish capital, Copenhagen, are seen as crucial to creating a global approach to climate change by creating co-operation between developed and developing nations.

Mr Rudd said the climate talks, which hope to include the big emitters who spurned the Kyoto pact, such as the US and China, would be extremely difficult. The finalisation of the talks is important to Mr Rudd, whose proposal to begin an emissions trading scheme in 2010 will be attacked as meaningless without commitments by big carbon emitters. While stressing there was no direct link between trade and climate change, the Prime Minister noted: "I think we have had a huge setback in terms of the political will of the governments of the world to act in concert for what is plainly in the global economic good." He said global climate change negotiations "have a way to run through until Copenhagen at the end of next year". "They'll be tough, they'll be hard, they'll be difficult," he said. "We understand that, we accept that but we intend to be activists in that process."

Mr Rudd said expanding free trade through the so-called Doha Round of WTO negotiations would have provided benefits for all nations, including Australia and its agricultural sector, which, unlike its competitors in the US and Europe, receives no government protection or subsidy. The long-running Doha Round required co-operation between developed and developing nations, with the US and Europe under pressure to bring down trade barriers to give poor nations greater access to their huge consumer markets.

But despite expectations earlier in the week of a breakthrough, the Doha talks were abandoned early yesterday, Australian time, after the US and India failed to compromise to solve a dispute over tariffs on farm products. The collapse sparked an angry response from Australian exporters, as well as accusations from senior Australian trade officials that US trade negotiator Susan Schwab lost her political nerve and deliberately scuttled the negotiations. The US had agreed on Friday to a breakthrough formula that would have allowed developing countries to defend their rural industries against surging imports. Australian Trade Minister Simon Crean had helped negotiate China's support for the formula, which was backed by all the key nations except India.

However, when negotiations resumed on Monday, Ms Schwab shifted her position, saying the formula would be used to deny US farmers access to developing-country markets. Australian officials believe the US administration concluded over the weekend that the proposed deal would be too hard to sell to the US Congress in an election year.

Mr Rudd said the decision was a "body blow" to the global economy at a time when it needed "a shot in the arm" to counter financial instability. He had spent the early hours of yesterday seeking an 11th-hour solution to the Doha impasse. "I last night was ... until about 2am this morning on the phone to various people in Geneva, on the phone to Prime Minister Gordon Brown and others about how this could be rescued. It didn't work. I am deeply disappointed." "What we've got to do now is dust ourselves off and get on with the task of where to next," he said. "I'll be engaged in discussions with various international leaders in the days ahead about how we seek to find a further pathway forward."

Mr Crean said he held no immediate hope the negotiations could be revived. "What has been particularly frustrating is that a deal was clearly well within reach," he said. Mr Crean said there had been an agreement for deep cuts in tariffs for agricultural and manufactured goods, and for an end to export subsidies. Significant gains were made in import quotas, and the world's poorest countries were to get tariff-free access to industrialised countries' markets.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Peter Anderson said Australia must continue to pursue liberalisation. "A bold and comprehensive outcome from the Doha Round could potentially have been worth another $7billion a year to the Australian economy," Mr Anderson said. National Farmers Federation president David Crombie said entrenched positions that led to the breakdown of Doha would undermine global food security.

Aid agency Oxfam blamed wealthy nations. "They defended vested interests and put poor countries under intense pressure to make concessions that have no place in a development round," said acting executive director James Ensor.

Opposition trade spokesman Ian Macfarlane said the breakdown of the talks had exposed the "haphazard, convoluted and politicised" trade policy of the Rudd Government.


Wong all wrong: Climate paper clouded with mistakes

By Bob Carter (Professor Bob Carter is a geologist who studies ancient environments and their climate, and is a science adviser to the Australian Climate Science Coalition)

The Government's advisory channels are clogged with rent seekers, special pleaders and green activists who have misadvised the minister. Climate Minister Penny Wong published an astonishing green paper in response to what she perceives to be the threat of global warming. The first sentence of the opening section of her paper, entitled "Why we need to act", contains seven scientific errors - almost one error for every two words.

Here is the sentence: "Carbon pollution is causing climate change, resulting in higher temperatures, more droughts, rising sea levels and more extreme weather." And here are the errors.

First, the debate is not about carbon, but human carbon dioxide emissions and their potential effect on climate. It makes no more sense for Wong to talk about carbon in the atmosphere than it would for her to talk about hydrogen comprising most of Sydney's water supply. Use of the term carbon in this way is, of course, a deliberate political gambit, derived from the green ecosalvationist vocabulary and intended to convey a subliminal message about "dirty" coal.

Next, carbon dioxide is not a pollutant but a naturally occurring, beneficial trace gas in the atmosphere. For the past few million years, the Earth has existed in a state of relative carbon dioxide starvation compared with earlier periods. There is no empirical evidence that levels double or even treble those of today will be harmful, climatically or otherwise. Indeed, a trebled level is roughly what commercial greenhouse tomato growers aim for to enhance growth. As a vital element in plant photosynthesis, carbon dioxide is the basis of the planetary food chain - literally the staff of life. Its increase in the atmosphere leads mainly to the greening of the planet. To label carbon dioxide a "pollutant" is an abuse of language, logic and science.

Third, that enhanced human carbon dioxide emissions are causing dangerous global warming ("carbon pollution is causing climate change") is an interesting and important hypothesis. Detailed consideration of its truth started with the formation of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988. Since then, Western nations have spent more than $50 billion on research into the matter. Despite all the fulminations of the IPCC, 20 years on, the result has been a failure to identify the human climate signal at global (as opposed to local) level. Accordingly, independent scientists have long since concluded that the most appropriate null hypothesis is that the human global signal lies submerged within natural climate variability. In other words, our interesting initial hypothesis was wrong.

Fourth, the specific claim that carbon dioxide emissions are causing temperature increase is intended to convey the impression that the phase of gentle (and entirely unalarming) global warming that occurred during the late 20th century continues today. Nothing could be further from the truth, in that all official measures of global temperature show that it peaked in 1998 and has been declining since at least 2002. And this in the face of an almost 5% increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide since 1998. Spot the problem?

Fifth, sixth and seventh, the statement that human carbon dioxide emissions will cause "more droughts, rising sea levels and more extreme weather" is unbridled nonsense. Such confident predictions are derived from unvalidated, unsuccessful computer models that even their proponents agree cannot predict the future. Rather, a model projection represents just one preferred, virtual reality future out of the many millions of alternatives that could have been generated. Complex climate models are in effect sophisticated computer games, and their particular outputs are to a large degree predetermined by programmers' predelictions. It cannot be overemphasised, therefore, that computer climate projections, or scenarios, are not evidence. Nor are they suitable for environmental or political planning.

Moving from virtual reality to real observations and evidence, many of the manifestations of living on a dynamic planet that are cited as evidence for global warming are, at best, circumstantial. The current rates of sea-level change, for example, fall well within the known natural range of past changes.

Should we adapt to the rise? Of course. Should we try to "stop climate change" to moderate, possibly, the expected sea-level rise? Of course not; we might as well try to stop clouds scudding across the sky.

The first sentence of the "Why we need to act" section of the green paper is followed by five further short paragraphs that are similarly riddled with science misrepresentation and error. In essence, the section reads like a policy manual for green climate activists. It represents a parody of our true knowledge of climate change. Never has a policy document of such importance been released in Australia that is so profoundly out of touch with known facts of the real world.

It is a matter for national alarm that the Government's advisory channels should be clogged with the rent seekers, special pleaders and green activists who have so obviously misadvised Wong on the content of her green paper on climate change. Time for some due diligence, Minister.


Climate mafia has us fooled

By Dennis Jensen (As well as being the Federal member for Tangney, WA, nuclear physicist Dr. Dennis Jensen is a PhD-trained scientist and a former researcher for Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Organization (CSIRO) and the Defence Science and Technology Organization (DSTO)

Vested interests have hijacked the climate debate, and taken Australia's future hostage. The ransom they demand? Simple agreement or, at the very least, compliance. Voices of dissent face derision. Legitimate questions are met with ridicule. But with many of the squabbling forces of power in this country now apparently united in their enthusiasm for an emissions trading scheme, it is more important than ever that we go back and examine the basis of their campaigns.

It has been an article of faith for many years that humans are gradually destroying the environment, and are specifically responsible for global warming via man-made carbon emissions. On Monday, The Australian published results of a poll showing 96 per cent of the population believes climate change is wholly or partly caused by humans. But any detailed scrutiny of scientific data shows that the environment is quite stable. There are even suggestions the world's temperature has decreased in recent years.

Any real climate change in the past century has been at a glacial pace (that is, the speed of a glacier that is not melting because of the globe's supposedly soaring temperatures). Far greater periods of environmental change have been recorded in history without any human intervention. The Ice Ages, anybody?

While it remains almost universally popular (or perhaps just fashionable) to spout the mantra "trees are good, cars are bad" and all the similarly simplistic slogans of the green lobby and those they have seduced, the facts tell a different story. The next time someone tells you that humans are killing the environment and driving up temperatures, ask them to prove it, and demand they disprove the weighty data contradicting such claims.

The same is true of the suggestion that nuclear power be considered part of our future energy mix. The population has been conditioned to equate this incredibly clean and efficient form of power generation with terrifying weapons of mass destruction, and horrific accidents, such as that at Chernobyl. The truth is that hundreds of nuclear reactors around the world have long been efficiently pumping out electricity, with no significant environmental impact. And more are coming on-stream all the time, using cleaner and more cost-effective models. Where is the incontrovertible evidence that nuclear power is a dangerous or unsafe option?

Even the whale-watching club that is the Rudd Government agreed to sell uranium to other countries, most of which have far less scrutiny and monitoring of nuclear power generation than would be imposed in Australia. So the Government also thinks nuclear power is a safe and reasonable alternative. Or is it just hypocritical?

I love a pristine environment as much as the next Australian, but where is the evidence that using a few less light bulbs and riding a bike to work will do anything to improve our surroundings other than in the most token way? How is the belching of coal-fired power stations preferable to the clean air that envelops nuclear plants? Or do we just have to depend on the as-yet-unviable alternatives of solar and wind generation?

If Australia's 21 million people - already some of the most environment-friendly in the world - embark alone on the course set by our climate-change mafia, what real impact will this have? What is the point when the major polluters such as India and China refuse to take part as it would hamper their economic development? If Australia ceased all carbon emissions tomorrow, in just nine months the increase in emissions of China alone would have taken up the slack.

We, too, should be mindful of the impact an emissions-trading scheme will have on our economy. If all carbon in the stationary power sector were to have a $50-a-tonne price of carbon dioxide imposed (as is the case for the European price for CO2), it would mean a cost burden of $660 a year for every Australian, or more than $2500 per household, according to data I have received. These would not all be direct costs from the emissions-trading scheme, but also from higher prices of products that would flow through as a result of increased production costs. Those higher costs would make some businesses unviable, and they would have to close or move offshore. In short, emissions trading will have an enormous effect on every Australian. And glib assurances of compensation for some are no substitute for well thought-out, responsible policies.

Both the issues of an emissions-trading scheme and nuclear energy have been built up to instil and exploit fear in this society, largely based on flawed or questionable data and the promise of a warm-and-fuzzy sense of pride about doing something.

The history of mankind has been marked by repeated cautions against accepting populist claims as truth and is littered with the corpses (both real and metaphoric) of those who failed to heed the advice. And it continues. We laugh today at those who once believed the world to be flat, but see no irony in the widespread acceptance now of equally spurious claims made in the name of science, as in the climate debate. I don't claim to have all the answers, but I do hope the issue can be subject to broad-ranging rational debate so that we do not fall as just another victim of history. The subject is too important for us not to ask questions.


Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG has just offered his take on the immigration reforms of the Rudd government.
Australia must not grow the crop that feeds most of the world??

Let's have swamps instead, apparently. Isn't it wonderful to have "experts" on the case? One reason for the much bemoaned low water levels in the Murray river is that large quantities of dam water have already been flushed down the Snowy and out to sea as "environmental" flows

Drought-hit Australia ["drought-hit"? Dam levels across Australia have been rising for the last year or so] must stop growing rice because it is too thirsty and uses 10 times as much water as other crops, an expert warns. Dr Eric Craswell, from the Australian National University, said rice should no longer be planted in the Murray-Darling Basin, and the water be allowed to flow through the river system to help the environment.

"People have said you shouldn't single out particular industries but I think in the case of rice there is an argument," he told AAP. "Instead of growing rice in the very wet years, let that water go down the river to rejuvenate the wetlands."

Dr Craswell - of ANU's Fenner School of Environment and Society - said most Australian rice was exported and questioned why the nation was growing rice for overseas markets when its own water was running so low. He said rice-growing should be left to countries with monsoonal climates like Thailand.

He pointed out that using a litre of water to grow vegetables or grapes produced 10 times as much revenue as using that water to grow rice. There has not been a significant rice crop in five years because of the drought. "The rice mills have been in mothballs for the last year," Dr Craswell said.

However Les Gordon, president of Ricegrowers' Association of Australia, said the commodity should continue to be grown because many countries were running out due to the world food shortage. "If we don't grow rice, you won't see rice on your supermarket shelves," Mr Gordon said.


Spanking 'causes mental illness'

What rubbish! More likely the lack of it causes psychological problems. But the study noted below allows no causal inferences either way. It says that children who are smacked more are more badly behaved. It does not seem to have entered the addled heads of the do-gooders who wrote the report that maybe the kids who are smacked more are smacked BECAUSE they are badly behaved. Ignoring the obvious is no problem if you have ideological blinkers on

Smacking and yelling at children is causing a rise in mental health problems, with three-year-olds suffering from depression and anxiety. At least one in seven children are affected by a mental illness. Some psychologists are reporting a 60 per cent increase in the number of youngsters displaying anxiety and social issues.

A study from the Murdoch Children's Research Institute has found that harsh discipline and parental stress is increasing the risk of mental health troubles in young children. Stressed parents lashing out at their kids are behind the growing problem. Study author and child psychologist Dr Jordana Bayer said constant smacking and yelling at a child was fuelling abusive behaviour. "We are not talking about a parent who smacks just once," she said. "Remember when parents smack or hit their child, they might learn to do that as well. When parents are stressed, it's more challenging to be relaxed and respond to their children in ways they would like to respond to them."

Researchers have been following more than 700 toddlers, aged between seven months and three years, to reveal the risks of parenting practices. Children subjected to physical punishment are more likely to kick, hit and bite others and become socially withdrawn. Parents who continue to smack their abusive children could be setting them on a path of alcohol and drug abuse, crime, unemployment and suicide.

Dr Kimberley O'Brien, of the Quirky Kids Clinic at Woollahra, Sydney, said stressed parents were placing too much pressure on their children. "We have seen a 60 per cent increase in demand for our child anxiety classes in the past six months," she said.

Mental health has become one of the nation's biggest health issues. Psychologists are seeing toddlers biting their nails, while older children are wetting the bed and pulling out their eyelashes as a result of anxiety. Despite a push by experts to ban smacking, some adults are still using the "traditional" method to discipline children. Childhood Foundation CEO Joe Tucci said hitting youngsters had become outdated.


Crookedness goes to the top of Victoria's police force

As it did in Queensland in the days of Terry Lewis

Explosive was the word usually used to describe the hearings that led to yesterday's charging of police union boss Paul Mullett and two others. Bombshell after bombshell was dropped through secretly bugged conversations that ignited debate about police corruption and power struggles at the very top of the force. The Office of Police Integrity hearings last November resulted in State Parliament being told of plans to install a puppet chief commissioner. An OPI report named former assistant commissioner Noel Ashby as the puppet and police union boss Paul Mullett as the puppet master. Both men were charged yesterday, along with former police media director Steve Linnell.

The damning OPI report, which was tabled in Parliament in February, was called "Exposing corruption within senior levels of Victoria Police". It claimed Mr Linnell was "Mr Ashby's enthusiastic henchman" in the conspiracy to get Sen-Sgt Mullett's man into the top job. "Mr Mullett believed that if he could use his contacts to install Mr Ashby, he would have a puppet chief commissioner," the OPI report alleged.

It claimed Sen-Sgt Mullett and Mr Ashby had joined forces to oppose Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon and Deputy Commissioner Simon Overland. The report accused Sen-Sgt Mullett and Mr Ashby of being prepared to compromise the murder investigation into the 2003 death of gigolo Shane Chartres-Abbott during the power struggle.

"Both Ms Nixon and Mr Overland were viewed as outsiders," the report claimed. "They are proponents of a reform agenda that challenges the old style of policing to which some within Victoria Police cling. "The common rallying point provided Mr Mullett and Mr Ashby with a common purpose. "Working to destabilise and undermine senior police in Victoria Police command, the end goals of this alliance were to install Mr Ashby as commissioner of police and to provide Mr Mullett with a puppet commissioner. "Motivated to gain personal power, both men fostered the alliance without regard to the impact on either the Victoria Police or the Police Association. "Even the prospect of compromising a murder investigation appears to have had secondary consideration. "Neither Mr Mullett nor Mr Ashby could have achieved their aims without a willing, and, at times, gullible supporting cast."

The report also alleged:

MR LINNELL fed Mr Ashby confidential material to help him to undermine Mr Overland, who they saw as Mr Ashby's rival for the chief commissioner's job.

MR ASHBY tipped off Sen-Sgt Mullett that he and Chartres-Abbott murder suspect Det-Sgt Peter Lalor had probably been bugged during a damaging telephone conversation.

SEN-SGT MULLETT was able to manipulate Mr Ashby at will.

MR ASHBY agreed to a request from Sen-Sgt Mullett to try to intervene to save the job of a factional supporter who was facing discipline charges.

Mr Ashby quit immediately after appearing at the OPI public hearings. Sen-Sgt Mullett revealed in February he was planning to quit his $180,000-a-year position with the union and said his decision was not linked to his suspension from Victoria Police. Mr Ashby and Sen-Sgt Mullett have both repeatedly denied the allegations made against them.

Counsel assisting the OPI, Dr Greg Lyon, SC, claimed during the OPI hearings that Mr Ashby passed information to Sen-Sgt Mullett that led Sen-Sgt Mullett to the conclusion that Det-Sgt Lalor's telephone was being intercepted. Dr Lyon alleged Sen-Sgt Mullett then asked Police Association president Brian Rix to tip off Det-Sgt Lalor. Evidence was produced during the OPI hearing that Det-Sgt Lalor rang former detective David "Docket" Waters, who was also a suspect in the Chartres-Abbott murder, immediately after an urgent meeting with Insp Rix in the Police Association car park. But no evidence was produced as to whether anyone had warned Det-Sgt Lalor or Mr Waters they were murder suspects.

Insp Rix denies doing so and no charges have been laid or recommended against him. Former Federal Court judge and OPI delegate Murray Wilcox, QC, said in the February report to State Parliament there was not enough evidence to prove Sen-Sgt Mullett warned Det-Sgt Lalor he was being investigated over the Chartres-Abbott murder. But Mr Wilcox said the inference could be drawn that the alleged warning was over a serious criminal offence and that was sufficient to consider a charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice against Sen-Sgt Mullett.


An orgy of climate self-satisfaction

A mocking comment from Stephen Matchett

The world is heating up because people are running their airconditioners too high, driving their four-wheel drives too fast and turning on TiVo. As the planet warms up, tide and tempest, flood and fire, plague and - you get the idea - will engulf us. Already global gloomsters are inviting the four horsepersons of the apocalypse to come and punish us for our conspicuous consumption, the way we use coal-fired power stations to run toasters, that sort of thing.

So it's fortunate that when it comes to doing something we have a Prime Minister who tells us what he is going to do, in many languages. And this time he actually remembered to stop talking long enough to act, commissioning economist Ross Garnaut and a bunch of brainy bureaucrats to work out how we can slow global warming.

And what they say is we must cut our carbon emissions in ways that only economists and the experts who blog at will ever understand. (Before I get an aggrieved email from Climate Change Minister Penny Wong's office I know the Government's response to Garnaut was a green, not a white paper, which means they have put all the politically poisonous bits in it they will later take out; but as nobody appears to have read the document they may as well have called it a puce paper for all the colour scheme signifies.)

Still, even though few have a clue what it all means everybody is delighted that Australia is leading the way in saving the planet. Everybody that is, except aggrieved industrialists and annoyed unionists who think the Government plans to do too much and greens who are convinced it is not doing enough, because only alternative energy isn't evil.

Still, the rest of us seem pretty pleased. After years of people demanding that somebody does something about the weather, somebody is. The problem is that we do not have a snowflake's in the global greenhouse chance of doing anything effective about the world's slide to ecological oblivion. While we use more energy than people whose primary power comes from dried cow dung, there are not very many of us. Australia could cut carbon emissions to zero without moving the global warming weather vane.

But let's not allow a little thing like reality to get in the way of cutting carbon. It's time we were punished for our acts of power profligacy, such as the environmental vandalism of forgetting to turn the outside light off at bedtime. So it's generous of the Government to make us - well, some of us - feel better by slugging us for the cost of carbon. And you know the pain will do us good, because emitters are upset. People who own power stations are demanding carbon credits on the grounds that change is so stressful.

There is outrage in the LNG industry because a carbon tax will make it harder to boast about ever increasing annual profits. Then there are the unions and the inevitable activists in the welfare industry who are demanding compensation for, you guessed it, working families, basically because this is their standard response to every event, from global warming to the price of potatoes.

And because the Government's green-ness does not extend to its electoral instincts, emitters, unions and activists will get the carbon compensation they demand. The chance of anything other than a carbon tax on petrol before the next, or for that matter any, election is as likely as Brendan Nelson abandoning aphorisms for English in his speeches. It's also the reason why the puce, sorry green, paper proposes parliament will decide our annual carbon emissions.

You can imagine the outcome after lobbyists get into the ears of members and senators. We will have industry exemptions and concessions for working families and farmers. And of course government MPs with marginal seats will all want headlines in thelocal papers, of the "MP saves area fromwhatever this carbon thing is all about"variety.

By the time the snouts rise from the carbon trough emissions are likely to have increased: after all, saving the planet is one thing, saving the Government's hide is entirely another.


Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Schwarto and Queensland police indifference to car theft

Rob Schwarten is a long-standing Labor party member of the Queensland parliament who has served in various ministries. He has a reputation for being aggressive -- even physically intimidating. So I was amused to receive from him a letter that was typically Schwarto -- a sort of verbal punch. Before I show you the letter, however, I need to tell you what led up to it:

In a nutshell: My car was stolen and the Queensland police showed not the slightest interest in apprehending the thief or thieves, despite the ID of one of them being handed to them on a plate.

More detail: Someone reported my abandoned car to the Redcliffe police about a week after it was stolen; the Redcliffe police checked their reports of stolen cars and notified me accordingly.

When I got the car back, most of the contents that I had in it were missing. This bothered me greatly as some of the contents were of considerable value to me. On checking through what remained, however, I found a library card belonging to someone I had never heard of. It was for a library in the Redcliffe area. It seemed clear to me that one of the thieves had inadvertently dropped it while they were in the car. Eureka! Just trace the person and I might get my stuff back!

So I took the card to my nearest cop-shop -- at Dutton Park. I was greeted at the counter by a dickless Tracy by the name of Turgeon. I told her my story, she listened and said she would look into it. I had no sooner stepped outside the building before I realized however that she had not taken a single note or asked for any details, let alone fill out a proper report.

I went back in and urged details upon her -- registration number, dates etc. She grabbed a torn-off scrap of paper and jotted a few things down. That was it. I left in great doubt about whether I had been taken seriously.

So I followed the matter up in the following weeks and months. In the course of that I was told two things by various police persons:

1). The card could have been dropped by anyone so was no proof of anything. Police logic, I presume. They seemed to think that I might have been driving around with people unknown to me in my car.

2). The person on the card had been checked and found to have no "form" (no criminal record) so there was no point in pursuing them. More police logic. How one ever gets form in the first place under those circumstances was never expained.

I was of course not remotely impressed by those pearls of wisdom but they came from more than one police officer, including a rather senior one. It stood out like dog's balls that the Queensland police were not remotely interested in catching car thieves -- unless of course you could catch them at the end of an exciting high-speed chase. No wonder Queensland has the highest rate of car theft in Australia. If you don't catch the baddies they will continue doing it.

So I started writing to the politicians in order to get some action. I got some very ill-considered replies from them too but it emerged that by that time the ID card had been "lost" and they could not therefore investigate the matter even if they wanted to.

That was quite appalling. There are of course strict police rules about the recording and preservation of material evidence and those regulations had obviously been ignored. It's not much of a guess to conclude that the Virgin Turgeon threw it straight into the bin, in fact.

I asked for disciplinary measures to be taken and Inspector Volk of Dutton Pk. station assured me that they had. For all I know that was just hot air, however. Clearly, Constable Turgeon had simply been following informal police rules.

I was rather stumped at that point but eventually made what was probably the only move left to me: Sue for compensation for my loss of car contents. I accordingly wrote to the Minister in charge of police with a claim for $500 in compensation for the loss of car contents that police negligence had prevented me from recovering. I got the usual ill-considered reply -- presumably written by a junior ministerial assistant. So I wrote again to point that out.

It was then that I got my amusing letter from Schwarto:
Judy Spence MP
Member for Mount Gravatt

Office of the
Minister for Police and
Corrective Services

Ref: 5627 F6 GM

23 May, 2008

Dear Dr Ray

Thank you for your further letter of 19 March 2008 concerning your dealings with police regarding the theft of your motor vehicle and property stolen from the vehicle.

I note you have received several replies from the Honourable Judy Spence MP since 2006 regarding associated issues.

While I have noted your further comments, as the Acting Minister for Police I am unable to intervene in any particular police investigation or operational decision, or interfere in the Police Service's handling of any particular complaint against its officers.

In the circumstances, your correspondence has been forwarded to the Police Service for consideration and you should take up direct with the Service on any further issues of concern.

Neither Ms Spence nor I am can assist you further in this matter and therefore do not intend corresponding with you in future on this issue.

Yours sincerely
Robert Schwarten MP
Acting Minister for Police, Corrective Services and Sport

He appears to think he can shut me up!

No further correspondence from the Police Service has arrived in the two months since Schwarto wrote so I suppose that an action against the Constable in the Small Claims tribunal will have to be my next step.

I have put this post and most of the letters I wrote on the matter up on a special blog called "Queensland Police Negligence". You will see there that I even wrote to the body that is supposed to act on complaints against the police but that they simply referred the complaint back to the police -- as they usually do.

What I would most like to see at this stage is a public enquiry resulting in visible disciplinary action against the police officers primarily responsible for the unofficial policy of not investigating car stealing.

Labor reverses John Howard's tough immigration policies

These were the policies that stemmed the flow of boat people. Now that they have nothing much to fear, the illegals will start coming again

Mandatory detention for asylum-seekers has been eased under changes to immigration policy announced by the Government today. "A person who poses no danger to the community will be able to remain in the community while their visa status is resolved," Immigration Minster Chris Evans said. Mandatory detention would apply only to those arriving by boat for health, identity and security checks, or those considered a risk to national security or health.

Legal assistance would be offered to those arriving by boat and they could have an independent review of unfavourable decisions. Children would also not be detained in immigration detention centres.

"The department will have to justify why a person should be detained," Senator Evans said. "Once in detention a detainee's case will be reviewed every three months to ensure that the further detention of the individual is justified.

Senator Evans said the Government would still retain its right to deport refugees. "People who have no right to be here and those who are found not to be owed protection under Australia's international obligations will be removed."


Public hospital bungle covered up

A whistleblower was bullied and information was covered up when a crucial cancer treatment went wrong, critics say. On Friday, SA Health revealed a radiation machine at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, used to treat 720 people between July, 2004, and July, 2006, was delivering the wrong dose.

Yesterday, the hospital was accused of bullying and harassing an employee who tried to expose the error, and of covering up the mistake, which only came to light last week. While working as the Employee Ombudsman, Gary Collis said he dealt with a hospital employee who was bullied after taking his concerns to management. The whistleblower also said up to three machines were not working properly. Mr Collis said whistleblowers in this situation had "very little protection". "Until there is genuine protection the individuals are going to think more about their own survival careerwise rather than just keep on banging their heads against the wall," he said.

SA Health chief executive Dr Tony Sherbon said RAH management discovered the error in 2006 through a quality assurance check but chose not to inform the department, prompting accusations of a coverup from the State Opposition. Dr Sherbon was only made aware of the problem on July 16 this year after someone filed a formal complaint.

"In 2007, the Central Northern Adelaide Health Service completed an investigation of an allegation of bullying and harassment," he said. "It found there was no bullying. This person suffered no retribution." He added that as far as he knew only one machine was affected.

The calibration error meant people received a dose up to 5 per cent lower than prescribed by their doctor. It is not clear what effect, if any, this would have on their survival. SA Health has launched a review into the error and has contacted all patients affected.


Public transport not much of a solution to anything these days

PUBLIC transport is often recommended as a solution to congestion in our cities and as a way of reducing the fuel costs of working families. Two cautions are needed regarding this suggestion. First is the increased cost to governments from any increase in public transport patronage. Victoria has been successful in increasing annual passenger trips from 351 million in 2001 to 383 million in 2005, but the public transport budget has also increased from $1.34 billion to $1.92 billion over the same period. This works out to a cost of $19 for every trip increase, and is much higher than the average public transport subsidy for the entire Melbourne network of trains, trams and buses of about $4 a passenger trip.

The second caution, and this sounds counter-intuitive, is that increased public transport patronage will probably decrease social equity. Australian Bureau of Statistics surveys of household expenditures have found that the upper 20 per cent income group spend about three to four times more on public transport than the lower 20 per cent income group, probably because most of the present public transport infrastructure is located in high-income inner and middle suburbs and most public transport trips are made into the central business district by higher income managerial and office workers. In other words, the subsidies state governments provide to public transport are going mainly to higher income groups, whereas other expenditures on education and health are much more equitably based.

Given that governments have only limited budgets, any increase in public transport expenditure would lead to lower expenditure on health and education, and thereby to reduced income transfers to lower income groups. There is also the social inequity of residents in country areas paying taxes to subsidise further increases in huge metropolitan public transport expenditures in Australia, which are already of the order of $4.5 billion a year.

It may surprise some, but public transport was a profitable business for governments in the 1950s, when passenger trips reached 1500 million journeys a year. The rise of the motor car, mainly because of a tenfold decrease in vehicle operating costs, meant public transport trips dropped to just over 800 million journeys in the '80s, despite a doubling of the population. They have increased slightly in total numbers during the present decade, but not on a per capita basis. This shift away from public transport was a classic case of a newer technology providing a cheaper and quicker transport mode that took market share from the slower transport mode, just as railways took away market share from the horse and carriage and planes are taking market share from cars on interstate travel. The decline in public transport share has been even more noticeable for rural passenger travel: the quantity of rail trips has decreased from 60 per cent in the '50s to 2 per cent today.

Public transport is still economically viable in some markets, such as radial journey-to-work trips to the CBD and for education trips, while cars have their own particular passenger markets, such as circumferential journey-to-work trips and shopping, social and business trips. It is difficult to see that this market differentiation will change by either mode capturing market share from the other in the future. In fact the experience of Seattle is that significantly increasing public transport facilities and patronage does not reduce car trips or congestion but increases the total amount of urban trips taken.

One of the inevitable trends when new technology triggers the development of a new infrastructure network for trains, cars, planes or, most recently, the broadband network, is that the substitution of one mode for another follows a particular model that is independent of different political and economic systems. Like sailing ships and the horse and carriage, public transport will not come back to regain market share and we will probably see public transport trips in Australia continue to decline as a percentage of all trips taken.

The most promising avenue for decreasing fuel costs for working families and reducing congestion costs lies in new technological developments that will provide us with a cheaper and quicker method of communicating with each other. The transport substitute of telecommunications has allowed many of us not to visit banks (internet banking), libraries (Google), shops (internet sales), entertainment centres (broadband) and people (Facebook). Telecommuting saves journeys to work while salesmen's visits are abbreviated because of websites with details of every companies' wares. Reducing urban congestion and family fuel costs will probably depend on how quickly the broadband infrastructure network takes market share away from rail, road and airport networks.


Monday, July 28, 2008


Conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG has just offered a cynical take on arctic oil and alleged space visitors

Drought threatens water supply of more than a million Australians

I guess this is why it rains nearly every day where I am -- even though winter is supposed to be the dry season. We've just had a shower as I write this, in fact. Dam levels throughout Australia are in fact rising. The only adverse thing happening is that too much water is being drawn off the Murray/Darling river system for long-term sustainability. In 1901 (Yes. 1901, not 2001) the Murray was just a chain of waterholes so it is very variable naturally. For a laugh, compare the report below with the one immediately following it

More than a million people in Australia could face drinking water shortages if the country's seven-year drought does not break soon, a government report has warned. The bleak report into the future of the Murray-Darling river system found the situation had become "critical".

The system, which runs from Queensland in the country's north east to Victoria in the south, irrigates Australia's vast food bowl and drinking water to more than a million people. However, due to rising temperatures and a desperate lack of rain, inflows to the basin are at their lowest ever recorded levels. Climate change minister Penny Wong yesterday said the Murray Darling was "in real trouble". "We've had very low inflows, we've had a very dry June and the focus absolutely has to be critical human needs, that is the needs of the million-plus people who rely on the basin for drinking water," she said. "It just reminds us, yet again, the way in which this country is particularly vulnerable to climate change."

Australia is in the grip of the worst drought in a century, with water restrictions in place in most major cities and a forecast for more dry weather. The report said the parched Murray-Darling system should provide enough drinking water until the middle of next year. But the document, compiled by senior federal and state government officials, warned there could be difficulties supplying drinking water after that if rains did not arrive. "Work is continuing on contingency planning in order to protect critical human needs for 2009-10 should inflows remain at or below record minimums through winter," it said. "Governments would also need to consider how they would set aside water early to protect critical human needs for 2009-10."

More than 40 per cent of Australia's food comes from the Murray-Darling Basin. It would take years of above-average rainfall to return water levels in the basin to normal, but "the long dry" is expected to continue. A recent report predicted a tenfold increase in the frequency of heat waves as climate change continues to push up temperatures on the continent.


Brisbane's dams fill as the chill bites

(Brisbane is Australia's third-largest city)

WATER kept flowing into Brisbane's dams yesterday as the Somerset reservoir hit 89.19 per cent - the most it has held in the last seven years. Continuing showers and strong southwesterly winds brought chilly conditions to the southeast and border regions, with a minimum of 7C and a top of just 16C predicted for Brisbane today.

Minimum temperatures were below average over most of the state. Cooktown in the far north plummeted to 12C, which was six below normal, while Nambour on the Sunshine Coast was 6C (3C below average) and the Gold Coast dipped to 7C (5C below average). Queensland's coldest recorded temperature was at Stanthorpe, where temperatures dropped to -3C.

Weather Bureau forecaster Bryan Rolstone said it was difficult to say whether the cold snap would force temperatures to record-breaking levels. "But we're expecting strong blustery winds, showers, sleet and a possibility of small hail in some places which sounds more like Victorian than Queensland weather," Mr Rolstone said. Brisbane's record maximum low was 10.6C in 1938. Stanthorpe's coldest July day was in 1984 when the temperature managed only a maximum of 2.9C.

Weatherzone meteorologist Matt Pearce said there was a prospect of snow down to 900m in NSW and in Queensland's border regions. Rain was expected to clear early in the southeast today, although there remained the possibility of showers and thunder.

The aggregate water level in Somerset, North Pine and the huge Wivenhoe Dam was 40.53 per cent yesterday after five days of scattered falls. Dam managers hope it might hit 41 per cent by the end of the week. As with previous good flows, most of the water has come from the Stanley River catchment, part of which rises in the wet Sunshine Coast hinterland. SEQWater spokesman Mike Foster said North Pine was on 35.42 per cent and Wivenhoe 25.61 per cent. "It's not bad given this time last year we were on an aggregate 16.5 per cent," Mr Foster said.


NSW Ambulance staff dread return of boss

Vicious "Health" bureaucrats at work again. They seem to be as bad in NSW as they are in Qld.

The former boss of an ambulance station in western NSW is being returned there as an officer despite an external investigation largely substantiating more than 50 allegations of bullying and harassment made against him over the past 10 years. Several former officers at Wellington station have either resigned, transferred or gone on stress leave, saying they could no longer work there while Rodney Althofer, 63, was manager. The Herald understands a six-month external investigation by Kamira Stacey Consulting found more than 50 allegations against him were mostly substantiated.

Today marks the final hearing day of a parliamentary inquiry into the NSW Ambulance Service, which has been inundated with submissions on bullying and harassment and complaints about poor handling of grievances. Investigators interviewed about a dozen officers who had worked at Wellington for the report, which was completed midway through last year. However, the service has kept that report secret and did not act on the matter until last week. The chief executive of the service, Greg Rochford, has also refused to release to staff the service's response to the report.

The Herald spoke to seven former and serving Wellington ambulance officers, as well as the partners of two others, all of whom alleged bullying by Mr Althofer. Three alleged that he told them not to bother buying property in the area because he would run them out of town. The officers described Mr Althofer, a warrant officer in the navy for 20 years, as a "military-style", micromanaging authoritarian who screamed at, and publicly humiliated, staff. They are also furious at management for failing to deal with the problem for so long.

They were devastated to learn at a staff meeting on Tuesday that Mr Althofer would be returning within two weeks - although as an ambulance officer and not in his original job as station manager. They were told an external mediator would be available to work through any problems. One ambulance officer immediately went on stress leave upon hearing the news and another is seeking a transfer. There are only six full-time ambulance officers at the station.

An email from a former western division officer, sent to the parliamentary inquiry last month, said it was "one of the most investigated and documented accounts of bullying and harassment that I have seen in my experience". The email, which has been seen by the Herald, said "[The manager] has previously been stood down for harassment of staff over the years and has also been sent to anger management courses, this you will find in the [Kamira] report". The Herald understands the Kamira investigation was prompted after the service received three formal complaints of bullying in one week in late 2006 - two from Wellington officers and one from a doctor at the local hospital.

A former officer, who worked there for 18 months until mid-2000, said he went on workers' compensation due to stress from being bullied by Mr Althofer. The final straw was when Mr Althofer "chased me across the road yelling at me . in the main street of Wellington", he said. "They found that he needed to attend an anger management course and he refused to do it." Another former Wellington officer said Mr Althofer would hide behind trees near the station on his days off and check what time staff turned up for work.

Mr Althofer denies any bullying and harassment of staff. "I've always tried to get ambulance officers to do what they are supposed to do and because of the culture of the ambulance service they simply don't do what they're supposed to do. "They breach the code of conduct on a daily basis and all I ever did was to try and get people to do what they're supposed to do," he told the Herald. He said he offered to return as an ambulance officer, and not the manager, because of "all the stress of trying to manage people who don't want to do their job". "I was bullied and harassed," Mr Althofer said.

The service would not comment except to confirm there had been an investigation at Wellington "involving interpersonal dealings between colleagues".


Kevin Rudd fails as a nanny

He thought he could reduce the amount of alcohol young people drink! Ha!

AUSTRALIANS knocked back an extra shot of hard liquor for every man, woman and child the month after the alcopops tax was introduced. New figures showing an increase in hard liquor consumption following the tax are being used by the industry to demand the tax on ready-to-drink liquor be scrapped. Family First Senator Steve Fielding also claims the figures confirm his view the 70 per cent alcopops tax simply pushed drinkers into buying cheaper spirits.

The Liquor Merchant's Association of Australia, which collects sales data from across the nation, said between April (when the tax was introduced) and June there was a 46 per cent increase in the volume of alcohol sold in full-strength bottled spirits - the equivalent of an extra 48 million standard drinks. At the same time there was a reduction in ready-to-drink (RTD) alcopops to the tune of 27 million standard drinks. Australians had effectively consumed an extra 21 million shots of hard liquor in the wake of a tax designed to stop binge drinking, the association said.

Previous sales figures from April 2007 to June 2007 show there appears to be a seasonal uptake in harder spirits as the winter months come on. But the 2008 figures still show a dramatic increase in hard spirit consumption which Stephen Riden, information and research manager for the Distilled Spirits Industry Council of Australia, says are solid proof the RTD tax trial has failed. "It's just not working as a public health measure," he said. "The unintended and serious consequences of the tax are clear. "Far from reducing the amount of alcohol consumed, the tax has turned many RTD drinkers to drinking bottles of spirits at significantly higher alcohol content levels."

While Health Minister Nicola Roxon remains committed to the tax, Senator Fielding says the Government is clearly trying to dress up a revenue grab as a health measure, and it's not working. The Government's taskforce on binge drinking, the Ministerial Council on Drug Strategy, now wants to wipe out numerous inconsistencies across Australian jurisdictions affecting minors and alcohol. In some states for example restrictions on supplying alcohol to minors relate only to licensed premises, or to public venues and state penalties vary from $550 to $20,000. But Ms Roxon said there were no plans to introduce a British-style ban on under-21s buying alcohol from liquor stores and supermarkets.


Sunday, July 27, 2008

More diet nonsense

There is no basis for any of this in the double blind studies. It is all just attention-seeking behaviour based on epidemiological speculation. And the "low-fat=good" assumption underlying most of it is KNOWN TO BE FALSE. See here, here and here. As for the water myth, there is no basis in nephrology for that either. It's just an old wive's tale. And if the Australian diet is so unhealthy, how come Australians have exceptionally long lifespans? But who cares about evidence when you have "official" wisdom to guide you?

Only one in 10 adults drank enough water to maintain their health, a study of Australians' dietary habits has found. And many Aussies were failing to hit most targets set by dietitians, according to a new healthy eating "index". Melbourne scientists have devised a 15-step checklist - called the dietary guideline index - by combining the latest recommendations from health authorities. The DGI was designed to make healthy eating easy by using scores of between 0-150. People could use the index to rate themselves in 15 categories - including fruit, vegetable and fast-food intake - worth up to 10 points each.

And by applying the DGI to the most comprehensive survey of Australians' eating habits, research leader Dr Sarah McNaughton, from Deakin University, has exposed the nation's diet secrets. Dr McNaughton said women aged 50-64 were the healthiest eaters in the country - and men aged 18-29 the most likely to neglect their health. "If you score 150, that means your diet is pretty much perfect and nobody in the survey has a perfect diet," Dr McNaughton said. "Younger people, particularly men, tend to have less healthy diets. "That can be for a whole variety of reasons, but it's often because younger people take less time to cook for themselves."

Results published in The Journal of Nutrition showed 10 per cent of Australian men and 14 per cent of women were drinking enough fluids (low-calorie soft drinks were accepted in the guidelines). However, Dr McNaughton said the most concerning result was the "very low" vegetable consumption. Just 15 per cent of men and 22 per cent of women ate five serves a day.

More than half of Aussies were also eating too many foods high in saturated fats, salt and sugar and not enough cereals and dairy. Women scraped over the line for daily fruit intake with 55 per cent eating the recommended two pieces, but only 46 per cent of men. Dr McNaughton said adults could improve their diet and enjoy better health if they identified their weaknesses using the DGI.


Pollies 'suffer mental problems'

Why am I not surprised?>

Many Australian politicians are suffering from mental health problems but are reluctant to seek help, New South Wales Treasurer Michael Costa says. Mr Costa said a number of state parliamentary colleagues approached him about their mental health problems after he publicly revealed his battle with bipolar disorder in 2001. Bipolar is defined as a mental condition involving extreme mood swings. "Once the article (on his disorder) was written, I had people come up to me, independent politicians, and I won't name them, and they said: 'I read that article and I've got such and such a problem. What do you think?'," he told a Black Dog Institute function at Sydney's Prince of Wales Hospital today.

Mr Costa, who manages his disorder with medication, said he gave them advice and told them to seek professional help about their problems. He said many politicians with mental disorders were often unwilling to reveal them. "People are very reluctant in political life to come forward with their issues relating to mood disorders," he said. "The reason for that is politics is a contact sport where aggression and arguments are par for the course, and there is a temptation too great to use any weakness as part of an argument to deal with a policy issue."

Mr Costa said opponents to his stance on electricity privatisation in NSW had used his bipolar disorder, previously referred to as manic depression, against him. "(They said) my views on this were characterised as being a function of my manic depression," he said. "You talk about stigmatism ... we have a long way to go, particularly in the realms of politics."

He said he wished more high-profile people would open up about their condition to help abolish the stigma attached to illnesses such as bipolar. "There is a tendency for many people to misassociate mood disorder with intellectual impairment, and I find that incredibly frustrating," he said. Mr Costa said he used to suffer badly from bipolar but had now found the right combination of medication to manage the condition. "I sought treatment. Anyone that seeks treatment for depression clearly has a bad case of depression. But the good news is that there are medicines, there are strategies," he said.

Mr Costa said his family had a history of mental illness. "My sister is a schizophrenic and my mother suffered from bipolar disorder," he told the audience. Mr Costa was at the Black Dog Institute, a facility dedicated to mental health disorders, to launch the book Managing Bipolar Disorder. Edited by psychologist Kerrie Eyers and University of NSW psychiatry professor Gordon Parker, the book is a collection of case studies and diary entries from people with bipolar who talk about their experiences in a light-hearted and non-clinical way.

Mr Costa said the book would be a welcome resource. "If we are going to get on top of this issue, particularly for our younger people, we need people who have suffered from mood disorders to come forward and tell their story and say that there are good treatment regimes for these problems," he said.


Rudd needs to stop diplo-babble and Bureaucratese

A TELLING exchange occurred between Kevin Rudd and an ABC journalist, Louise Yaxley, at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April. Yaxley asked Rudd if NATO leaders had changed the rules of engagement that applied to NATO soldiers. Rudd responded, "You mean RoEs." Yaxley replied, in a tone dripping with sarcasm, "Yes, I mean rules of engagement."

Prime ministers in the Westminster tradition have a duty to communicate (without dumbing down) a whole range of issues, especially the big ones, such as global warming. And that's where we have a problem with Chairman Kevin. Consider these gems from a joint press conference Rudd gave with European Commission president Jose Barroso in Brussels on April 2: "I'll reverse engineer and start at the third and move back to the first. On the question of security in the Asia-Pacific region, I think it's quite clear that if you look at the post-'45 history of East Asia that you see an absence of multilateral security mechanisms.

"What you saw even prior to the end of the Cold War here, of course, was the evolution of a series of confidence and security-building measures coming off the back of CSCE, OSCE and the Helsinki accords. There has to be a greater synergy between, let's call it our policy leadership in this, which has been focused so much, legitimately, on targets and global architecture, almost reverse-engineered back to the means by which you can quickly deliver outcomes, and on the demand side in our economy we're looking at potential advances in terms of 20 to 25 per cent range if you do this across the board. It all takes cost, but let me tell you it's probably the quickest lever you can pull given the challenges we face."

At a meeting of global heavies at the Grove Hotel in Hertfordshire three days later, Rudd repeated one of his rhetorical atrocities: the undefined acronym. The head-scratchers at the Grove were regaled with the EWS (early warning system), IFIs (international financial institutions), RTPs (rights to protect) and CCS (carbon capture and storage).

Now let's jump across the pond to Rudd's famous (or infamous) speech to the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC, on April 20: "Seventh, it has timely deployed the ASEAN Regional Forum for the purpose of developing confidence and security-building measures across the region. The ARF has spent far too long as a regional talkfest. One practical area where we can begin building CSBMs is in the development under this ASEAN Regional Forum umbrella of a regional counter-disaster co-ordination authority, an Asia-Pacific disaster management organisation." (CSBMs, for you and me, are the aforementioned confidence and security-building measures.)

The Plain English Campaign in Britain each year awards a Foot in the Mouth award for the most baffling comment by a public figure and the Brookings speech of Chairman Kevin has been nominated, which must make all our hearts swell.

Rudd's other vices are nominalisations and the passive voice. In the jargon of linguistics, nominalisation means turning a verb into a verb plus noun combination, which makes for long sentences. Instead of saying "I discussed (verb)", the phrasing becomes "I undertook (verb) discussions (noun)". In the passive voice, a simple phrase such as "I love you" becomes "you are loved by me".

Consider the Prime Minister's interview with Chris Uhlmann on ABC radio's AM on June 27. Rudd averaged 21.7 words a sentence while Uhlmann used 14.4. (Tony Abbott has tracked Rudd speeches with sentences containing more than 30 words.) Rudd used passives 6 per cent of the time compared with Uhlmann's 4 per cent. On a readability index, Rudd clocked in at 10.1, Uhlmann at 7.1. Readability is a concept developed, primarily by US linguists, to determine the complexity of language. There are various versions: Flesch-Kincaid, FOG (frequency of gobbledegook), SMOG (simplified measure of gobbledegook). Most of them try to measure text difficulty in terms of how many years' education you need to understand it. The average reading age in the US is presumed to be seven or eight, with Australia not far behind. Also, recent research by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development indicates that about one-fifth of adults in countries such as Australia have difficulty reading labels on medicine bottles and finding a plumber in a telephone directory. (The readability of the previous paragraph, by the way, was Flesch-Kincaid, 10.5; FOG, 15.5; and SMOG,13.6.)

So what? Well, even when we make allowances for the approximateness of such scores, Rudd's Brussels speech about synergy and architecture rates at Flesch-Kincaid, 18.5; FOG, 22.4; and SMOG, 15.2. That means that 50 per cent to 80 per cent of Australians would have difficulty understanding what their leader was saying.

To be fair, recent speeches by Rudd in parliament on mundane topics hit quite acceptable fours and eights. But therein lies the problem: Rudd's speech complexity varies with his audience and he seems to have difficulty in understanding just what an audience is. When Rudd speaks to select audiences in Brussels, he seems to think that he is operating under Chatham House rules, where what is said in the room stays in the room. Among chums in a think tank such as Brookings, he thinks everyone is conversant in dippospeak or tankese, and when he uses management buzzwords such as "low-hanging fruit" he does not realise that he has to speak to the electorate through the medium of journalists or, even worse, directly through cameras and microphones.

His prissy pedantry comes out when in interviews he uses words such as extant, disparate and trajectory. And his use of triplet phrases such as "responsible, clear, consultative", "calmly, coolly, methodically", and "it's difficult, it's hard, it's complex", does not have the climactic kick that was present in the speeches of Margaret Thatcher, who pioneered the technique (all quotes from the Uhlmann interview).

Rudd's non-verbal repertoire is too vast to canvass here, but there is a worrying consistency about it: the counting of arguments on the fingers; the hula-moving hands to emphasise a point, a gesture that often remains out of view on a bust camera shot; the crucifix of the two hands, especially the right one; the head tilt and the look down when making a point, a strange mix between a smarmy and unctuous vicar and a patronising and contemptuous lecturer.

As Barry Cohen has noted in these pages, Rudd is the logical culmination of a funnelling effect, a trend that began with Ben Chifley and John Curtin and continued through Bob Hawke. Once caucus had members from a wide range of professions. Now there is hardly one business person or farmer, but instead a plethora of apparatchiks, former research assistants and union bosses, all considerably younger.

Rudd has been a public servant for most of his career (with a short spell as a consultant on matters Chinese) and he speaks Chinese, bureaucratese and diplo-babble. If he is to cut through to the people, and not be a one-hit wonder or the victim of a Gillardista putsch, he must learn to talk to the people in language they understand.


Teachers strike over decaying government houses

The Torres Strait is a long way from the State capital and most of the people there are black, so who cares? -- apparently

Teachers living in leaking, mouldy and flea-infested houses could be pulled out of their schools for their own safety if a strike in the Torres Strait, Cape and Gulf scheduled to take place over the next two weeks is unsuccessful. Around 500 teachers from 28 schools will be involved in the 24-hour stop-work action to protest against the State Government's chronic neglect of teacher housing in remote areas.

Hundreds of reports of leaking roofs, electrical faults and mouldy living conditions have reached the Queensland Teachers' Union and it is a problem which president Steve Ryan said must be addressed swiftly and properly. "We've literally got teachers living in houses that are falling down, where doors are missing and broken, termites are taking over and up to one third of air-conditioning units are broken," Mr Ryan said. "If we cannot get the funds required to fix these uninhabitable properties - which the Auditor-General estimated to be around $37.2million - then we will be forced to take more drastic action and withdraw teachers from their schools. "Obviously this will adversely affect students and our teachers do not take these actions lightly, so this shows how huge the problem is."

Mr Ryan said he had hoped one-hour stop-work meetings held in April would force the state government to take notice of the situation but that the 2008/2009 Budget announced in June failed to deliver the funding levels required to provide adequate housing, falling short by $20.2million. "We cannot wait until next year's budget to get this funding. There is such a backlog of work to be carried out that by then these houses will have fallen down," Mr Ryan said. "Our plan is that the government takes this strike seriously and sees some sense."

A report by the Auditor-General's found that the sub-standard living conditions directly resulted in difficulties securing and retaining staff, consequently "affecting the ability to provide services in remote and regional areas".


Saturday, July 26, 2008


Two articles below but there are more -- e.g. here

Kevin Rudd's climate charade

It's just more of his renowned tokenism

The conjunction of the launches of ABC television's The Hollowmen and the Federal Government's response to climate change is spooky. The latter is starting to look a lot like the former, a "bold" response that will produce much activity but do little to address the problem or offend anyone too much. In public relations terms, this will make it a considerable success.

A few weeks ago, I suggested that the sort of prescriptions advocated by Ross Garnaut's draft report might harm the economy. But with the subsequent release of the Government's green paper by Senator Penny Wong, all of us - citizens and businesses - can sleep easy. There will be an emissions trading scheme, but, as some environmentalists have convincingly shown, it now looks like it will do little to reduce Australia's carbon emissions. The proposed measures are too modest, the exclusions and compensations too generous.

That's not to say there won't be a lot of talk and argument over the details: there will be enough marginal winners and losers for that. Indeed, the whole thing is a feast for the media and business lobbyists and parts of the legal and finance industries. But this activity should not be confused with reducing carbon emissions. The Government's policy is clear: do as much as is necessary to create the illusion of progress, but no more.

Not the least interesting thing about this is the shifting role of Professor Garnaut. He was brought onto the carbon train before the election to demonstrate Kevin Rudd's passionate commitment to fighting greenhouse emissions. But now Rudd is in government and Garnaut is pushing major action that might upset industry and voters, the professor is starting to look like an extremist. Before long, the Prime Minister will be able to position himself as the moderate and talk about saving us, not from climate change, but from Garnaut. It's a beautiful sidestep, in a technical sense, and one hopes the writers of The Hollowmen are paying close attention.

If the above seems a little cynical, consider two large pieces of circumstantial evidence for the insincerity of the Government's professed high concern for climate change. Kevin Rudd prides himself, perhaps above all else, on his respect for process in policy development. But in this case, good process is being ignored. Public discussion of the green paper will effectively stop in September, when submissions have to be lodged. Yet two of the key inputs into that discussion will not be available until October: Treasury's and Garnaut's calculations of the economics of climate change reduction. Professor Jeff Bennett, an economist at the Australian National University, has noted, "What that means is that the permit policy [already announced by the Government] is, at least to date, completely unjustified by any economic consideration of its benefits and costs." That doesn't sound like a Government genuinely committed to a logical and effective policy response.

Nor does the huge contradiction that exists between the Government's positions on climate change and immigration. Writing in the latest issue of People And Place, the demographer Bob Birrell points out that population is the factor over which government has by far the most control if it wants to slow down the increase in greenhouse emissions. The politics of reducing energy use significantly (for example, by making voters pay more for petrol) will generally defeat any government, but reducing immigration would be much easier. And yet net immigration is running at 180,000 a year, at which rate the population will rise to 31.6 million in 2050. The implications of this for Australia's carbon footprint are enormous, yet almost never discussed. Australians produce more greenhouse gases than any other nationality. Therefore on average, every immigrant, no matter where they come from, will increase their emissions by moving to Australia. Birrell notes there is a "dissociation between government aspiration and action", and he's not wrong.

We've seen this dissociation before. John Howard's government often used high rhetoric to proclaim its belief in the need to stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States in the war in Iraq, a conflict of global importance. But our actual commitment to the great cause was (without any disrespect to those who did fight) embarrassingly slight. A reminder occurred this week with the publication of Running The War In Iraq (HarperCollins), a memoir by Australia's General Jim Molan, who spent a year as chief of operations of the allied forces in that unhappy country. At one point he reminds us there were 411 Australians out of a force of 160,000. At another he notes that the Americans have suffered about 4000 military fatalities. (Australia has suffered none.)

Molan told The 7.30 Report this week: "The Americans used to say [of Australia's modest involvement], 'if you're not here in Iraq to fight, what are you here for?"' The rules of engagement for our troops were, he said, "designed to minimise what the force did, the consequence of which was to keep the casualties down. And government makes that decision". In his book, Molan writes, "We in Australia luxuriate in what I describe as wars of choice and choice within wars: we choose the wars we will fight in, we choose the timing of our participation, . we choose the kind of operations we will conduct, and we choose when we come home."

The way things are unfolding, the war on carbon will be another war of choice. And it's the hollow men who make those choices.


Lonely voice of climate dissent declared valid

There is something odd about the ferocious amount of energy expended suppressing any dissent from orthodoxy on climate change. After all, the climate cataclysmists have won the war of public opinion - for now, at least - with polls, business, media and Government enthusiastically on board. So, if their case is so good, why try so fervently to extinguish other points of view? There is a disturbingly religious zeal in the attempts to silence critics and portray them as the moral equivalent of holocaust deniers.

Take the British Channel 4 documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle, which aired on the ABC last year with an extraordinary post-show panel of debunkers assembled to denounce it. The one program which actually questioned the consensus on man's contribution to climate change, it has been singled out for condemnation and forensic dissection in a way no other program has, least of all Al Gore's error-riddled An Inconvenient Truth. This week, the British communications regulator, Ofcom, published a long report dealing with 265 complaints about perceived inaccuracy and unfairness in Swindle.

Despite crowing from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the ABC and others, Ofcom does not vindicate Swindle's attackers. In fact, while it declared itself unable to adjudicate on the finer points of climate science, it found the program did not mislead audiences "so as to cause harm or offence". Further, Ofcom defended the right of Channel 4 and the much-vilified producer Martin Durkin to "continue to explore controversial subject matter. While such programs can polarise opinion, they are essential to our understanding of the world around us and are amongst the most important content that broadcasters produce." Amen.

Ofcom also noted: "Although the complainants disagreed with the points made by the contributors in the programme, they did not suggest that the overall statements about climate models were factually inaccurate." It identified one factual error - a mislabelled axis of a temperature graph - which the program had already changed in later versions and which Ofcom described as "not of such significance as to have been materially misleading so as to cause harm and offence".

Ofcom nitpicked as hard as it could and Swindle emerged virtually unscathed. I wonder how a Four Corners episode would fare under such scrutiny. The two principal complainants, the oceanographer Carl Wunsch and Sir David King, Britain's former chief scientific adviser, were found to have been wronged - but only partially.

King claimed to have been misquoted by the atmospheric physicist Fred Singer, who told the program: "There will still be people who believe that this is the end of the world - particularly when you have, for example, the chief scientist of the UK telling people that by the end of the century the only habitable place on the Earth will be the Antarctic. And humanity may survive thanks to some breeding couples who moved to the Antarctic." Ofcom found King had not said the Antarctic would be the "only habitable place on Earth" but "the most habitable place on Earth". Big deal. However, he had not made the "breeding couples" comment, which was the invention of another cataclysmist, Sir James Lovelock.

As for Wunsch, Ofcom found the program's producers had not "sufficiently informed" him of its "polemic" nature, although they had told him their aim was to be sceptical and "to examine critically the notion that recent global warming is primarily caused by industrial emissions of [carbon dioxide]." In any case, after he complained, his interview was removed. Ofcom dismissed Wunsch's more serious complaint that his views on the "complicated" relationship between carbon dioxide and atmospheric temperature had been misrepresented. But it acknowledged "unfairness" to him in the way his comments were placed "in the context of a range of scientists who denied the scientific consensus about the anthropogenic causes of global warming".

Ofcom also dismissed all complaints about impartiality in most of the program dealing with science. But it found the final section on Africa lacked impartiality when it claimed Western government policies "seek to restrain industrial development [in the Third World] to reduce the production of carbon dioxide", thus restricting the availability of electricity in Africa and causing health problems.

As for the climate change panel's barrage of complaints, Ofcom found the program makers did not give the UN body adequate time to respond to allegations it was "politically driven"' and other claims, but the audience was not "materially misled so as to cause harm or offence". The Ofcom report (worth reading in full at is an embarrassment to the panel.

The fact is that, regardless of the definitive pronouncements made by politicians and economists, the science on global warming is far from finalised. Dr David Evans, a consultant to the Australian Greenhouse Office for six years to 2005, is one of many insiders who have reversed earlier positions. "There is no evidence to support the idea that carbon emissions cause significant global warming," he wrote this month in The Australian.

Ultimately, the integrity of the scientific community will triumph, Evans has said. "The cause of global warming is an issue that falls into the realm of science, because it is falsifiable. No amount of human posturing will affect what the cause is. The cause just physically is there, and after sufficient research and time we will know what it is."

Until then, open debate is important. It is also wise to maintain a healthy suspicion of the zealots, who insist they have all the answers - and that Australia, which is responsible for 1 per cent of the world's carbon emissions, ought to wreck its economy to prove a point.



Two articles below:

Surgeons pulling out of pennypinching public hospital system

SURGEONS are pulling out of public hospitals' on-call rosters because of the "pathetic" pay - leaving patients waiting days for operations. Royal Australasian College of Surgeons president Ian Gough, himself a Queenslander, said Queensland surgeons were increasingly reluctant to be on-call because they felt under-valued - and that included pay issues.

Queensland surgeons say the issue is putting increasing pressure on public hospital beds and nursing staff because some patients, particularly those with trauma-related injuries, are having to wait longer for operations.

Professor Gough said that under Queensland Health's visiting medical officer agreement, the hourly on-call rate was between $7 and $11, depending on the frequency of on-call rostering. "During that time you may receive lots of telephone calls and have interrupted sleep. It has an effect on your family and social life," he said. "There has been a great deal of disenchantment among some surgeons and as a consequence, an unwillingness to continue to be on-call."

If a surgeon in Brisbane is called back to the hospital, the hourly rate increases to between $186 and $212 and relates to a doctor's seniority. Those working outside Brisbane receiver higher rates.

Professor Gough conceded that on-call surgeons were remunerated "reasonably well" when they were called back to hospital. However he said the overall on-call rates were insufficient incentive for many surgeons and called for a fee-for-service system to be considered. He said Queensland Health was relying on surgeons' altruism to be part of on-call rosters. "Surgeons don't have any incentive to be on-call other than their goodwill and wanting to care for the patients," Professor Gough said. "The money that's offered is actually very poor."

His comments were echoed by Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital trauma services director Cliff Pollard, who said that not paying surgeons sufficiently for being on-call was a false economy. "It's a big cost in terms of beds," he said. "Surgery can be delayed and patients spend longer in hospital. "We're not talking about time-critical patients, they get treated in Australia very well. "But with things like single limb fractures, you may have to wait sometimes a few days (to be operated on)."

An RACS spokeswoman said about 60 per cent of all surgeons in Australia operated only in the private sector. "The more who leave the public sector, the more pressure there is on the people who stay," she said.

Professor Gough raised the issue with Queensland Health reform and development division executive director Stephen Duckett at the RACS's annual Queensland branch meeting at Coolum recently. Professor Duckett accepted at the Sunshine Coast meeting that public hospital surgeons had "punishing" on-call rosters and said the pay issue was being examined. He said yesterday that Queensland Health did not have central data that reflected whether senior surgeons were pulling out of on-call work at public hospitals. Professor Duckett said Queensland Health was about to enter into enterprise bargaining with public hospital medical staff over pay rates. "Details of Queensland Health's position are not yet finalised," he said.


Some patients have to wait just to get on a hospital waiting list

More than 33,000 sick Victorians are waiting just to get on an official waiting list for treatment at public hospitals, the Opposition claims. They are in addition to almost 40,000 people already waiting for elective surgery on the State Government's official waiting lists. Documents obtained by the Opposition under Freedom of Information, and seen by the Herald Sun, show that in December last year 33,869 Victorians were waiting for an outpatient appointment. People must be assessed in hospital outpatient clinics before they can be put on a waiting list for surgery - meaning those who are yet to be assessed do not show up on the official elective-surgery waiting lists.

Liberal health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said public hospitals were being forced to manipulate waiting lists to avoid being penalised by the Government. "There are literally tens of thousands of patients languishing on the Government's secret outpatient waiting lists and thousands more who don't have appointments who are waiting to get on to these lists to see a doctor," she said. "We are now in the unconscionable position of having people waiting to get on to these lists in order to join the queue for elective surgery. In many cases these people are waiting years." The documents show that the "secret waiting list" grew by 8722 patients in just three months leading up to December 2007.


Stupid "safety" laws stop charity handing out food leftovers

FRESH food that could be redistributed to charities overwhelmed by needy families will continue to be wasted because of a state law. OzHarvest, a charity that operates food rescue programs in NSW and ACT, wants to expand into Brisbane but can't until the Civil Liabilities Act 1995 is amended to protect them from potential legal action. Business development manager Julie Claridge said the law - also known colloquially as the Good Samaritan Law - protects people who donate food to community organisations but does not cover OzHarvest as the distributor.

Ms Claridge said she had been in talks with the Department of Justice since January but would be increasing pressure with the aim to be in Brisbane by early next year. "We've had a favourable response and understand (the amendment) should go ahead, it's just a matter of when," she said.

A spokeswoman for Attorney-General Kerry Shine said the matter was still being considered but could not say when it might be resolved.

Victoria was the first state to introduce the provision in 2002, followed by NSW, and then Tasmania in July this year. SA and the ACT introduced Bills last month, which were expected to be passed soon.

Ms Claridge said an "incredible amount" of surplus food was available in capital cities that was otherwise destined for land fill and that could benefit disadvantaged people. "In Sydney we tap into such a small amount - just 1 per cent of the food that would be thrown away, we use to supply 140 charities," she said. "After World Youth Day, we collected 3000kg of food - apples, mandarins, lunch packs, fruit buns and pre-prepared meals like chicken tikka masala, that would otherwise have been dumped."

OzHarvest has five refrigerated vans in Sydney that collect excess fresh food daily from retail outlets, corporate offices, caterers and function centres, and redistributes it to charities such as youth shelters, women's refuges and those helping the homeless. An average of 75,000 meals are delivered each month.

Ms Claridge said the organisation hoped to start with one van and team with a community service in Brisbane, using their infrastructure and contacts to target areas of need.