Saturday, October 31, 2009

Australia's Prosperity Index result down because of poor public healthcare

By Greg Lindsay and Roger Bate. Greg Lindsay is the Executive Director of The Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney. Roger Bate is the Legatum Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C. The 2009 Legatum Prosperity Index is now available. A majority of Australians rely on "free" government hospitals, where low standards and long waits are common

The 2009 Legatum Prosperity Index rates Australia an impressive sixth out of 104 countries surveyed – the top five are all small Northern European countries with populations of less than 10 million.

However, inefficiencies in public hospitals are hurting Australia’s prosperity. While Australia is very strong on the economic fundamentals required for long-term growth, the nation’s ailing health care system is keeping Australia from reaching its full potential, in terms of both economic progress and quality of life. Legatum ranks Australia a lowly 21st in health care, behind countries like Singapore, Spain, and the Czech Republic; 28th in infant mortality; 47th for number of doctors per capita; and behind Slovakia and Hungary on available beds.

The Australian Medical Association recently found that waiting times far exceed acceptable levels. The median wait for hip surgery in Australian public hospitals is nearly three months. For cataract surgery, it’s more than two months. Major public hospitals throughout Australia are bursting at the seams with bed occupancy rates of well over 100% a daily occurrence.

Overcrowding and inefficiency have compromised patient safety. According to the Queensland University of Technology, $1 billion annually is lost in bed days because of hospital-acquired infections. Medical errors cost an estimated $1 billion–$2 billion annually, with half of these errors classified as ‘potentially preventable.’

These health care problems are draining billions from the Australian economy, both directly by taking money away from players in the health sector and indirectly by compromising worker health and undermining productivity.

Australians are among the most prosperous populations on the planet. But the country’s health sector is in need of significant improvement. Cutting away waste and improving quality in health care would go a long way toward making Australia even stronger.

The above is part of a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated October 30. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590. Telephone ph: +61 2 9438 4377 or fax: +61 2 9439 7310

Rudd on the horns of a dilemma over illegal immigrants

Talking about a big Australia and waging a desperate struggle to salvage a tough border protection strategy may appear a contradiction, yet as Rudd knows and John Howard proved, border protection and Australia's high immigration program have always gone together. This compact, pivotal to Australia's progress, is at risk. An unpredictable mix of events on the water, in Indonesia, and worry about Rudd's hard line from within his own constituency has created a diabolical dilemma for Rudd and Stephen Smith. Faced with a limited array of unpalatable options the government's tough border protection stance is at risk. The political centre, it seems, may not hold with Rudd under aggressive assault from opposite positions on the Right and Left.

There are two boats in Indonesia with Sri Lankan asylum-seekers refusing to disembark, the first intercepted by the Indonesians within their own waters with 250 people aboard and the Oceanic Viking, an Australian boat that rescued 78 asylum-seekers at Indonesia's request in Indonesia's rescue zone.

Rudd and his Foreign Minister are standing firm. The plight of the Oceanic Viking has become the most difficult test of Rudd's resolution. The claim that he cannot take a hard decision offensive to his own side will now be determined. Does Rudd have the nerve and patience to prevail or will he crack before the political blackmail of the asylum-seekers and reluctance of local Indonesian authorities?

This week the Australian media seemed unable or unwilling to describe what was happening before its eyes: the Oceanic Viking asylum-seekers, by refusing to disembark in Indonesia, exploited their moral plight as a device to intimidate the Rudd government into a retreat and re-direction of the boat to Christmas Island where they could be processed.

As Smith signalled, this is a case of asylum-seekers trying to decide what country will process their claims and what country will become their new home if those claims are upheld. Asylum-seekers have no such rights under the 1951 Refugee Convention. The situation is exactly the reverse of the interpretation given wide currency this week. Far from Australia ignoring its obligations under the convention, the asylum-seekers are insisting on rights they do not possess under the convention. It is obvious what should happen: if the Sri Lankans are serious about being refugees they should leave the boat immediately and claim refugee status from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Their real purpose, however, is different. It is to self-select Australia and to resist any effort to have the UNHCR process their claims outside Australia. "It's not their choice," Smith told the AM ABC radio program. "It's not a matter for the Sri Lankans on board to choose where they make their application for refugee status. We absolutely defend their right to make that application."

The spectre of an ignominious retreat now overhangs Rudd and Smith that would see them forced to bring the asylum-seekers to this country. Such a move would destroy Rudd's credibility on border protection and represent an Australian submission to the campaign by boatpeople to self-select Australia as their home.

The government has no legal obligation to bring these people to Australia. As Rudd said, Australia took two decisions in relation to the Oceanic Viking asylum-seekers: it engaged in rescue when a vessel was in distress and, having collected the people and in consultation with Indonesian authorities, it decided to take the people for processing in Indonesia.

There is no credible case that Australia should have done otherwise. Rudd and Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono agreed that the people be processed in Indonesia. The problem is that Yudhoyono is struggling to enforce the agreement in the teeth of provincial hostility and resentment against Australia seems to be rising.

On Wednesday Smith was unequivocal about the result. "The President has already made that decision," he insisted. "Now that (going to Indonesia) is what will occur." He was confident the Rudd-Yudhoyono agreement would be honoured. On Thursday, Smith told radio station 2UE that Australia wasn't setting any timetable. "These things always take time," he said. Asked if the government would back down and bring them to Australia, Smith said: "We don't have that in contemplation."

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa told ABC1's Lateline on Wednesday that Indonesia would not use force to remove the asylum-seekers and said: "We have an abundance of patience". Yet he intensified the pressure, saying if the people won't budge then the Rudd government must take that into account. The next day Rudd followed by saying that Australia also had an abundance of patience. It is a polite way of describing a stalemate in which Rudd and Smith hope they can prevail but have limited leverage and only marginal control over a situation vital to their policy.

It is a game of political poker for high stakes. The more the Sri Lankans believe that Rudd may retreat, the more they will stay the course. In the meantime, Rudd will be under growing criticism at home for his inhumanity and hypocrisy.

The deadlock highlights the agonising nature of asylum-seeker policy. There is little doubt the Sri Lankans are genuine refugees yet the Indonesian and Australian authorities have met their obligations and are fully entitled to insist the boatpeople disembark.

Rudd and Smith know they must ensure the one-off Oceanic Viking event does not disrupt the substantial and permanent regional co-operation they seek with Indonesia that will be canvassed at the next Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation meeting. In this sense the resilience of the Rudd-Yudhoyono concord is being tested. It must survive that test for Rudd to have any prospect of salvaging his asylum-seeker policy.


Law to save Australian meat pies drafted by politicians

Meat pies are Australia's national religion. Even people who don't follow the neddies still like a meat pie. And most people have a "church" (pieshop) that they mostly go to for their pies. So we don't need politicians to tell us what is a good pie

A LAW to save the Aussie meat pie has been written by three politicians who argue that consumers are being dudded by misleading food standards. Current standards allow manufacturers to claim a meat pie is Australian-made, even if the meat is sourced from overseas - which will eventually include countries with mad cow disease after the easing of meat restrictions. As long as some of the packaging, pastry and gravy is made locally, products can carry the green and gold "Australian Made" logo.

Outraged federal Senators independent Nick Xenophon, Nationals' Barnaby Joyce, and Greens' Bob Brown said the Rudd Government needed to get fair dinkum with consumers. "This is pathetic. You can have a meat pie that says 'Australian Made' but contains 100 per cent foreign meat," Senator Xenophon said. Senator Joyce said labels should carry a pie graph to show what percentage of the product was actually from Australia.

The Trades Practices Act says products can claim to be made in Australia if they have been "substantially transformed" and have 50 per cent or more of the cost of producing or manufacturing in Australia. The Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling Laws) Bill 2009, was yesterday scrutinised in a Senate inquiry. The senators want greater detail about the content of food products, including imported ingredients. It would mean the word "Australian" would only apply in relation to food that is 100 per cent produced in Australia from Australian products.

But the Australian Made, Australian Grown Campaign, Dick Smith Foods and the Australian National Retailers Association have argued there could be unintended consequences. "Cheese ... made in Australia today is made with imported rennet (a substance that curdles milk). Under this proposal cheese made in Australia from 100 per cent Australian milk could not be labelled Australian cheddar," said the Australian Made, Australian Grown Campaign in a submission to the inquiry.


Queensland becoming as authoritarian as Britain

Both have for some years been run by Leftist governments

With the government recently waging war on everyone from smokers to skateboarders, bikies to binge drinkers, civil libertarians warn Queensland is on the verge of becoming a nanny state.

Queensland Council for Civil Liberties president Michael Cope said the passing of state laws yesterday banning smoking in cars with children recalled the classic Mark Twain cry, "No one's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session." "You can see the justification for [non-smoking laws], but where does it stop?" Mr Cope said.

Further legislation, tabled by Attorney-General Cameron Dick yesterday, designed to dismantle outlaw gangs by tearing down clubhouses and banning members from associating with each other drew more ire from the long-term campaigner for civil rights.

"These days politicians have this great urge to be seen to be fixing everybody's social ills ... inevitably the minute you do that you reduce people's liberty," he said. "Every time a problem arises a politician passes a law to fix it - that is why we are creeping towards a nanny state. [The government] is slowly chipping away at people's freedoms; there is no doubt about that."

He said the State Government was ignoring the follies of outright bans. "The problem with any law is that it may cover problems B, C and D but it does more harm to people's liberty than what's intended."

Civil libertarians have widely opposed greater paternalism of "health and safety", but a spokesman for Premier Anna Bligh today maintained the government had introduced new legislation to "protect people".

In August this year the State Government banned skateboarders and rollerbladers riding after dark. The government cited safety reasons for the crackdown on riders of "wheeled recreation devices", claiming they became almost invisible to motorists after sundown.

Less than one month later Premier Anna Bligh announced the use of regular glass would be banned in bars deemed high risk by the end of the year. The government cited safety and health reasons, saying the glass ban would strip people of the "weapon of choice" in pubs and clubs. Glass is expected to be banned in at least 74 late-night watering holes throughout Queensland as the Government fine-tunes its list of high risk venues. Forty-one venues have until the new year to justify why they should not be made to serve drinks in plastic cups.

The Government's legislative reach may be further extended as a parliamentary inquiry seeks to curb the increasing incidents of alcohol-related violence in entertainment precincts in Brisbane and the Gold Coast. The Queensland Police Union this week proposed shutting down Brisbane's entertainment precincts at 2am and suburban hotels at 12pm. Fortitude Valley venues were quick to slam the ambitious proposal arguing the call signalled a return to the Joh Bjelke-Petersen era. "We're dangerously heading down the path of becoming a nanny state," chairman of the Valley Liquor Accord Danny Blair said.


Friday, October 30, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG has an idea about how to discourage illegal immigrants

Australian banks 'don't need fixing'

ANZ Bank is pushing back strongly against the rising tide of global regulation, with its outspoken chief executive Mike Smith cautioning the local prudential regulator against "fixing something that's not broken". Mr Smith's comments came the day after Australian Prudential Regulation Authority chairman John Laker said local banks would not be spared from tighter global standards, even though they have withstood the ravages of the financial crisis, The Australian reported. "It would be curious indeed for our financial institutions to promote their strengths to the marketplace while at the same time shying away from global benchmarks; investors will not allow that to happen," Mr Laker told a Finsia financial services conference in Sydney on Wednesday. "There can be no unilateral declaration of independence from global reform."

But Mr Smith told analysts in a conference call yesterday that people were quick to jump on the regulatory bandwagon after a crisis. He pointed to a proposal emerging from the Basel Committee, the global standard-setting body for banking regulation, for a leverage ratio to put a floor under the build-up of leverage in the financial system. While such an initiative might be appropriate for a more leveraged operation, for example UBS, Mr Smith said, a commercial lender like ANZ had a "totally different make-up" and a different portfolio of businesses. "I think there is a real danger of fixing something that's not broken," he said. "We have to say our piece on this; there's not one size that fits all."

ANZ chief financial officer Peter Marriott said such proposals would affect everyone, because they represented an additional cost that would inevitably be passed on to customers.

Mr Smith said it was imperative APRA considered the effect of such regulation, noting there was a limited amount of government-issued paper available for stocking up bank liquidity.

The Basel Committee, apart from looking at a leverage ratio, is also examining the introduction of capital buffers that can be drawn down in periods of stress, strengthening the quality of bank capital, and the development of stronger liquidity buffers.


Conservative politicians lose faith in Warmist laws

LIBERAL Party frontbenchers have begun to dump their support for carbon emissions trading after receiving party research showing voters are increasingly skittish about putting a price on carbon. Despite Malcolm Turnbull's ongoing attempts to broker a deal with Labor that would clear the way for Kevin Rudd's proposed ETS, political hardheads among the Liberals are moving closer to the Nationals' view that endorsing carbon trading is political poison. They are now urging the Opposition Leader to take a harder line in negotiations and to reject Labor's legislation unless the government accepts the Coalition's proposed amendments in full. And they believe their best chance in next year's election is to attack Labor's proposals as leading to higher costs for consumers.

The shift has been on for the past few weeks and has gained pace since Liberal MPs were briefed on Tuesday on party research indicating voters overwhelmingly want action on climate change but do not understand the detail of the ETS proposals. Several sources said party director Brian Loughnane told the meeting that when interviewers explained the implications of an ETS to survey respondents, they were negative about the proposed scheme.

News of the shift emerged yesterday before today's launch by Liberal ETS opponent Cory Bernardi of a highly critical assessment of the European Union's emissions trading scheme which estimates it has cost consumers up to E116billion ($190bn) since 2005, with little environmental benefit.

The study, prepared by Britain's Taxpayers' Alliance, says climate change policies there form 14 per cent of household electricity prices and that electricity generators have made windfall profits at the expense of low-income earners and the elderly.

The Coalition has been negotiating with the government for more than a week on proposed amendments to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. Kevin Rudd told parliament this week the bill would be introduced in the Senate on November 23, before the UN's global climate change conference in Copenhagen in December. If it is rejected the Prime Minister can use the Senate vote as the basis to call a double-dissolution election for both houses of parliament next year.

Mr Turnbull, a strong supporter of the need for a properly designed ETS, wants the government to amend its scheme to provide greater support for industries affected by a shift to carbon trading to adjust to the change.

Yesterday, the government rejected a Coalition bid to force an early vote on the scheme in the House of Representatives.

While Mr Loughnane refused to comment on party research yesterday, accounts of his briefing to MPs were broadly similar from sources on all sides of the ETS debate, with their differences relating to conclusions about the meaning of the findings. Some said the research made clear that the party should not back Labor's legislation unless the government embraced all of its amendments -- an unlikely prospect. "There is a move afoot in our party, depending on what happens, to say we should actually dump an ETS as a policy and go with something better and more effective," one source said.

But another shadow cabinet source said the research demonstrated that the party could not afford to accept the Nationals' approach of an outright rejection of carbon trading, and therefore must press hard for its amendments. "The message he was sending was that this is a dangerous zone but that because of the public acceptance that something must be done on climate change, doing nothing is simply not an option," the MP said.

Whatever the interpretation, Liberal frontbenchers who previously supported the idea of passing an amended ETS and then holding the government accountable for the outcome have shifted their view, insisting that only a "wholesale capitulation" from the government to Coalition demands would stand any chance of winning Coalition backbench endorsement.

Senior Liberals are now saying the party polling, and public polls, show increasing concern about the costs of an ETS. They believe the best political option is to run a campaign against the government based on increased costs to households and industry. Another MP said voters were starting to doubt the seriousness of climate change. It is also understood backbench pressure is growing from marginal seat holders who fear they will lose their seats. The Taxpayers' Alliance says the EU's ETS "has failed to perform and is imposing serious costs on ordinary families".

According to the EU's own figures there were only minor reductions in most European countries in greenhouse gas emissions between 2005 and 2008. Senator Bernardi, who is leading the Liberal revolt in the Senate and running a direct opposition campaign, said yesterday the British report showed an ETS was "a massive economic impost that has no real environmental benefits". "An ETS in any form is bad for business, bad for families and bad for our economy," he said. "With clear evidence of how ineffective and expensive it has been in the European Union, there is no way an ETS should be introduced in Australia."

Last night the author of the report, Matthew Sinclair, said from London that the European ETS had failed to "produce a stable carbon price, leaving consumers with an unpredictable addition to their bills".

Nationals Senate leader Barnaby Joyce said he was not surprised by the Liberals' research, which reflected his long-standing position.


Uncontrolled Muslim influx a threat

A FEW weeks ago in London, British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told me that 75 per cent of the terrorist plots aimed at Britain originated in the federally administered tribal areas of Pakistan. Some 800,000 Pakistanis live in Britain. The vast majority, it goes without saying, are law-abiding citizens. But there is a link between uncontrolled Muslim immigration and terrorism.

The real historic significance of the illegal immigration crisis in our northern waters is that this could, if things go wrong, be the moment Australia loses control of our immigration program, and that would be a disaster.

It is extremely difficult to talk honestly about Muslim immigration. All generalisations about it are subject to countless exceptions. Muslims are very different from each other. Most are reasonably successful. But a much bigger minority end up with social, political, extremist or other problems resulting from a lack of integration than is the case with any other cohort of immigrants in Western societies. A lack of honest discussion about this results in bad policy.

The most enlightening book you could possibly read on this is by US journalist Christopher Caldwell, "Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West". It is by far the best book on public policy of any kind I have read for a long time. It is wittily written but attempts to be neither provocative nor politically correct. It is dense with data but its greatest strength lies in laying bare the intellectual, political and social dynamics that have led to the mess in Europe. The way the Australian debate is reprising what were profoundly destructive and misguided European debates, dominated by moral sanctimony and a failure to grasp reality, is eerie.

Caldwell is enlightening on the way asylum assessment processes are so easily scammed, and the sophisticated, intense exchange of information that means the slightest change in attitude by a receiving country is instantly relayed throughout illegal immigrant networks. He writes: "An easily game-able system was in place that made admissions automatic to prospective immigrants who understood it. Various immigrant advocacy NGOs in Europe made sure they understood it... migrants knew the best countries to claim to come from. They also knew the best countries to go to ... (There was an) incredible sensitivity of prospective migrants to shifts in immigration law, and to countries' moods towards immigrants."

Caldwell also shows that once an illegal immigrant route is established as reliable it becomes immensely popular. This is what the struggle in the waters to Australia's north now is really all about. He further demonstrates how completely subjective and plastic the asylum-seeker assessment procedures are. In 2001 Denmark approved a majority of asylum applicants. By 2004, when the mood had changed, it approved only one in 10, though of course in Europe rejected applicants basically don't go home.

At times Caldwell seems to be arguing against immigration in principle, although all the problems he adduces relate specifically to Muslim immigration, and he acknowledges the success of other immigrants in Europe. He frequently acknowledges the success of immigration in Canada, the US and Australia. In Canada and Australia, the governments choose the immigrants. In the US, most illegal immigrants come from Latin America and don't have the Muslim problems.

But in so far as he makes a general case against immigration, I strongly disagree with Caldwell. What he is really concerned with is uncontrolled Muslim immigration. The facts he produces are very disturbing. No European majority ever wanted this to happen. There are 20 million Muslims in western Europe and this number will double by 2025.

How did this mass immigration of people with few relevant job or language skills, and a culture deeply alien to Europe, come about? Caldwell argues that the post-World War II period saw a radical disjuncture in European attitudes. Europe had just been wrecked by an enemy, the Nazis, who were avowedly racist. The unimaginable disaster of the Holocaust haunted every discussion of morality or policy. Europe was in the throes of decolonisation and felt guilty about its relations with non-white people. This made an ideology of anti-racism - which itself became extreme and distorted, detached from reality and in many cases downright intolerant - the more or less official state religion of Europe. This had little to do with really combating racism.

In one of history's countless ironies, Muslim immigrants benefited from the legacy of the Jewish Holocaust. The determination initially to extirpate anti-Semitism didn't help many European Jews because they were almost all gone, but it offered a template for Muslim immigrants to find and exploit an ethnic victim status. This set up profoundly destructive dynamics and, in another irony, reintroduced serious anti-Semitism to Europe, carried with the Muslim arrivals.

Caldwell suggests a welfare state makes a bad marriage with mass, unskilled immigration. Welfare rather than opportunity becomes the attraction. More importantly, welfare becomes a lethal poverty trap. At the same time, satellite television, the internet and mass immigration from a few countries means the old culture is always on hand for Muslim migrants. They don't need to integrate if they don't want to or find it difficult. In many cases Caldwell cites, the second-generation of Muslim immigrants is less integrated than the first, and the third less than the second.

The demographic figures he cites are familiar but still shocking. Native Europeans won't have babies at anything like replacement level while the fertility of Muslim immigrants does not decline through time, as is the case with other immigrants. Religion is the strongest predictor of fertility in Europe. By mid-century Islam will be the majority religion of Austrians under the age of 15. In Brussels, most births are to Muslims and have been since 2006. In France, one in 10 people are Muslims, but they are one in three of those entering their child-bearing years, and Muslims have three times as many children as other French.

Caldwell writes: "Europe finds itself in a contest with Islam for the allegiance of its newcomers. For now, Islam is the stronger party in that contest ... when an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident and strengthened by common doctrines, it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter."

Uncontrolled Muslim immigration is a change to Europe so great it makes all the treaties and bureaucratic falderol of the EU look footling and transitory by comparison.


More media amnesia about the sins of the Left

Hal G.P. Colebatch

IT is a graphic demonstration of the political skew in Australian culture that the killing of a group of journalists, probably but not quite certainly, by anti-communist Indonesian troops at Balibo in Timor in 1975 has been the subject of ongoing agitation, including two books, a recent film and countless articles, ever since as well as demands for reparation and the punishment of the guilty. East Timor President Ramos Horta has recently awarded Balibo director Robert Connolly and producer John Maynard the Presidential Medal of Merit for the film.

Meanwhile, the killing of a group of Australian journalists by communist Viet Cong in the Cholon district of Saigon during the 1968 Tet Offensive has been almost completely forgotten. In contrast to Balibo, there has been a complete absence of any indignation by the Australian Left over the Cholon massacre. No chance of a movie there. This is despite the fact that, unlike Balibo, the circumstances of the Cholon killings are known in detail.

There was one survivor, journalist Frank Palmos, who has written a detailed account, Ridding the Devils, published in 1990, including an account of how he came to meet one of the killer-squad members after the war.

In the Australian section of the London Spectator of September 26, Eric Ellis fulminated over the Timor killings: "It would be correct and just, if the word were so, for Jakarta to offer up the military officers who murdered the defenceless Balibo Five, the biggest single-incident killing of media personnel in any war anywhere, killed simply because they were journalists in the right place at the wrong time. But Balibo agitators will be disappointed if they expect Indonesia to offer up the killers."

The voluminous writings on the Balibo killings have a hole at their centre: the lack of witnesses and of facts. We do not know if the journalists at Balibo were murdered - that is, killed deliberately by people who knew they were non-combatants - at all. Fighting was going on between the then communist-aligned Fretilin and Indonesian or pro-Indonesian Timorese forces. It is not even certain which side killed them, let alone what individuals.

I was at Balibo in early 1973, in the last days of Portugese rule, writing a script for a travel film. The area was thickly grown with semi-jungle vegetation and bush, in many places more than man-high, often right up to what primitive roads there were. On much of the terrain nothing would have been easier, during fighting, than for someone moving in this dense bush to be mistaken as an enemy target or to walk into a burst of gunfire.

John Whitehall, writing in the October Quadrant, has repeated an earlier statement that at least two of the journalists, who he saw shortly before, had then actually been wearing military uniforms, the equivalent of painting a target on oneself.

On the other hand it seems plain that the killing of the Australian journalists in Cholon by communist forces was the killing of obviously unarmed non-combatants. On May 5, 1968, at the height of the Tet Offensive Palmos, then aged 28, was driving through Cholon in a civilian jeep with fellow Australian journalists Bruce Pigott, 23, John Cantwell, 29, Michael Birch, 24, and British correspondent Ronald Laramy, 31 (Michael and I read poetry together in Perth coffee-shops when we were junior reporters on The West Australian).

The journalists were watching US helicopters firing rockets at guerilla positions. Fleeing Vietnamese civilians shouted warnings to them: "VC, VC, beaucoup VC. Di di mau (get away quickly)! Go back, go back!" They turned a corner into a lane with a roadblock of oil drums. Suddenly several Viet Cong guerillas stood up and started firing. Four of the journalists were killed or wounded.

The communist commander, wearing tiger-pattern jungle fatigues and not the usual black pyjamas of the guerillas, walked forward. Birch, already wounded, cried: "Bao chi, bao chi." ("Press, press.") The commander repeated "Bao chi!" derisively - apparently no question of mistaken identity there - walked towards Birch and shot him at point blank range with a Chinese K54 pistol, before firing bullets into Cantwell who was lying on the ground nearby. "The man shot and missed," Palmos said, "then shot again and again, hitting. He seemed to enjoy his work. Not only did he ignore all pleas of innocence, killing Westerners seemed to appeal to him."

Palmos, who had played dead while the Viet Cong officer was reloading, ran and hid among the fleeing Vietnamese civilians, who sheltered him at risk to themselves. He returned to Vietnam after the war, and, oddly enough, the communist authorities and Vietnamese journalists co-operated with him in finding the killers. They located one of the few surviving men who had been in the Viet Cong squad, Nguyen van Cuong, in 1989. The Vietnamese government in 1988 had offered a statement expressing "profound regret" and said the killings "were clearly a case of mistaken identity". It added, somewhat backhandedly: "We regard the Western journalists as very important in our struggle because they were telling the truth of the war to the world outside."

An interview was arranged with Nguyen van Cuong, after he had apparently been assured the authorities would protect him. Shooting the unarmed and wounded men, he told Palmos, was "carrying out normal procedures". He was close-mouthed. When asked: "How do you feel, sitting opposite the man you tried to kill?" he froze. And there, apparently, the story simply came to an end, save that it emerged that Palmos had unintentionally been the instrument of revenge for his colleagues.

Apparently the officer in charge, Minh Pung, who had actually fired the pistol shots into the journalists and had pursued Palmos when he fled, had been taken by the chase into an open street where he had been blown to bits by fire from a US helicopter. Palmos concluded of Minh Pung: "It was without any thought of innocence that he shot my friends, and would have shot me. And it was with plain murder in his mind that he chased me down the road to kill me. "He knew even then that we were not armed. Our Jeep was not followed by any other attacking vehicles. We were white, we were Westerners, and we had to be blown away with the smallest risk and the greatest number of heroic points accrued."

The point is not to establish degrees of guilt here: the Viet Cong, as communist authorities in Vietnam said later, may have thought the journalists in Cholon were enemy agents, even though the killer's derisive cry of "Bao chi!" and the fact that both the men and the Jeep were obviously unarmed tell against this. Both massacres might be ascribed to the heat of battle and the fog of war. There is probably little to be gained by picking over either of them further.

The point is now not what happened in Cholon or Balibo then: the point is the completely different sets of reactions to the two massacres in Australia: one ceaselessly dwelt upon (and at a time when Indonesian goodwill is important in the anti-terrorist campaign), the other virtually ignored.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Conservative politician calls for debate on Muslim enclaves

Liberal [party] MP Kevin Andrews has called for a debate on Muslim "enclaves" in parts of Australia, blaming political correctness for a failure to discuss the issue. Mr Andrews, a former immigration minister who is heading the Coalition's policy unit in the lead-up to the next election, told radio broadcaster Alan Jones this morning that to "have a concentration of one ethnic or one particular group that remains in an enclave for a long period of time is not good".

And Mr Andrews told The Australian Online that it was clear that some Muslims were not "dispersing" into the community as other ethnic groups had in the past. "I don't think it's happening as rapidly as with other communities in the past. I think it's desirable," he said.

Mr Andrews coincided with a call from outspoken Liberal MP Wilson Tuckey this morning for Australia to call in the army to get asylum-seekers off the Oceanic Viking customs vessel and onshore to an Indonesian detention centre.

Asked about the growth of Muslim population in Australia, Mr Andrews said it was a topic that had to be discussed. "You should be able to talk about it ... It's ridiculous if you can't talk about any subject," he said. "When a subject becomes politically incorrect to talk about, then it ends up with a backlash. "I think part of the (Pauline) Hanson movement in the early 1990s was because some subjects were simply said to be off the table, they couldn't be discussed and a lot of Australians wanted to discuss them. "Whether they were right or wrong is not the point. In a democracy you should be able to discuss them."

Mr Tuckey said today the Prime Minister should send in the army if the asylum-seekers onboard an Australian customs vessel after 11 days at sea refused to disembark. "He can ask the army to go up there and take those people off," Mr Tuckey said. "He can send that vessel back."

Senior Liberal senator Eric Abetz said the Government would be embarrassed if it had to use force to end the stand-off. "If you're soft on border protection you then become hostage to situations like this," he said in Canberra.


Army brass knew armour was defective

Risk to Australian soldiers fighting in Afghanistan

DEFENCE chiefs were told more than a year ago about serious safety concerns with combat body armour worn by Diggers in Afghanistan. Federal Government documents obtained by The Daily Telegraph confirm troops were issued with armour with "known defects". The documents also show that top brass knew in April this year that troops were forced to use split pins and nails to prevent quick release catches on the armour from failing.

The military ordered 14,688 sets of the suspect armour under a $24 million project and by May this year more than 8400 had been delivered. Despite two years of field testing by the army, the body armour, known as the modular combat armour system (MCBAS), will now be replaced by a lightweight system called American Eagle that is worn by special forces troops.

The documents show serious failures in the original armour were identified in September 2008 and in February and April this year. Amid concerns about the impact of weight and a dodgy quick-release mechanism, the armour put soldiers at risk as they attempted to drag the body of Corporal Mathew Hopkins to safety during an ambush in Afghanistan in March this year.

An official report said the armour "did contribute to the difficulty in recovering Cpl Hopkins from an exposed position and evacuating him" to a medical post. According to one document dated September 23, 2008, the armour's quick-release system had opened "without the wearer's intent" when "simulated" casualties were dragged by the shoulder straps by two personnel.

However, despite the numerous documented complaints, Defence Materiel Organisation official Brigadier Bill Horrocks told a Senate inquiry in June "the feedback we have ... is that they are very happy with what we delivered to them; however, it is certainly heavy".

Another Defence document dated April 6, 2009 said that one inspection had found that 15 sets of the armour had failed. "Some MCBAS issued to units and members has shoulder straps with single loop brown plastic buckle. These buckles are a known defect," the document said. Another report dated February 17, 2009 said quick release could not be operated by a single hand pull if the armour was wet or submerged. Troops in Afghanistan patrol through channels and streams.


There are dangerous Tamil Tigers among illegals heading for Australia

By Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe

THE debate in Australia over the influx of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka should take into consideration the nature of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the Sri Lankan conflict that ended on May 19.

Since the LTTE's defeat, the Sri Lankan government has been weeding out hardcore LTTE fighters to ensure that the group cannot regenerate. So far, according to Sri Lanka's Ministry of Defence, out of nearly 272,000 internally displaced persons, 9818 LTTE fighters have been identified and interned. Nonetheless, the government remains cautious, as suggested by Disaster Management and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe: "There are still some persons among the IDPs who have not disclosed their former affiliation with the LTTE."

In early August, the Sri Lankan government suspected that about 10,000 unidentified LTTE fighters were hiding in IDP camps, posing as civilians. However, in early October the leader of the Tamil United Liberation Front, Veerasingham Anandasangaree, claimed that most, if not all, of the remaining undetected LTTE fighters had fled overseas.

Sri Lankan military officials believe that two categories of refugees are fleeing: those who are fighters or who have collaborated with the LTTE; and those who are fleeing for economic reasons. Many of these civilians are known to have been strong supporters of the LTTE and constitute maveerar (war hero) families whose children fought in elite LTTE units.

In September, reports emerged that since May about 20,000 IDPs have escaped from dozens of these camps; many of them are suspected by the Sri Lankan government of being former LTTE fighters.

Conditions in these camps have been the subject of considerable media debate, but recent visits by senior foreign officials suggest that significant improvements have been made. For example, IRIN News quotes Walter Kaelin, the UN Secretary-General's representative on the human rights of internally displaced persons, as saying: "Certainly people do get food, they do get medical assistance and there is education in the camps. So from that perspective, the government and international community have done a lot."

The Indian daily The Hindu reports that 41,685 IDPs have been released and resettled and the government is engaged in the process of resettling another 58,000 in line with its target of releasing and resettling more than 70 per cent of the IDPs by January 31.

The LTTE in the diaspora is engaged in a process of reorganisation and there are no credible indications that it will move away from terrorism, a view affirmed by Canadian terrorism expert Tom Quiggin, who says: "The LTTE has not given up its program of an independent homeland, and they will continue their campaign of violence from wherever they can re-establish themselves."

It is beyond doubt that hardcore LTTE fighters have infiltrated the Tamil refugees who have arrived in Australia, as noted by Victor Rajakulendran, who represents the Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations: "There will ... definitely ... be (LTTE) in these boats. The ex-combatants are in danger in Sri Lanka so they will have to flee somewhere."

Australia needs to be aware that many LTTE combatants were involved in serious acts of terrorism against Sri Lanka and its citizens, including suicide bomb attacks, other forms of bombing, torture and murder. For instance, there was a sustained LTTE campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Sinhalese and Muslim populations of northern and eastern Sri Lanka, which from 1984 to this year involved an estimated 257 attacks that killed 4485 civilians, wounded 5897 and displaced close to 200,000 Sinhalese and Muslims. Furthermore, according to Dharmalingam Siddharthan, leader of the anti-LTTE People's Liberation Organisation of Tamil Eelam, at least 10,000 dissident Tamils were eliminated by the LTTE during the conflict.

Rajakulendran claims that LTTE combatants "are not going to be fighters here. They were fighting for a cause, even if some of the tactics are unacceptable ... They are not going to fight for a cause here. They are not like Islamic terrorists." However, evidence of LTTE activities in the West suggests otherwise. For instance, a 2006 Human Rights Watch report, Final War: LTTE Intimidation and Extortion in the Tamil Diaspora, reported serious LTTE infringements of law and order in the West, including extortion, wanton intimidation, violent repression of dissenting Tamil voices and even homicide.

Canadian-Tamil journalist D.B.S Jeyaraj has written that "the activities of pro-Tiger elements in the West have often been provocative and blatantly defiant of Western laws governing terrorism. In spite of the LTTE being banned under anti-terrorism laws, the diasporic Tiger supporters have flagrantly flouted them."

Examples of serious LTTE infractions of the law in the West include: the murder of a French policeman; suspected murder of dissident Tamil journalist Sabaratnam Sabalingam; death threats to the dissident Tamil Broadcasting Corporation in Britain; assault and intimidation of dissident Norwegian-Tamil journalist Nadaraja Sethurupan; and, according to the Asian Tribune, alleged death threats against Selliah Nagarajah, a political columnist and law lecturer at the University of Western Sydney. In addition, dissident liberal Sri Lankan Tamil group University Teachers for Human Rights-Jaffna claims that the LTTE was responsible for the murder of Subramaniam Muthulingam, an Australian citizen who was on holiday in Sri Lanka and was known to have refused to co-operate with LTTE attempts to streamline fundraising from a Hindu temple in Perth.

Hence, based on its actions in Sri Lanka and abroad, it is not surprising that the LTTE is outlawed in 31 countries. Indeed, the US FBI website states: "The Tamil Tigers are among the most dangerous and deadly extremists in the world (and their) ruthless tactics have inspired terrorist networks worldwide, including al-Qa'ida in Iraq."

The FBI goes on to say: "(The LTTE) perfected the use of suicide bombers, invented the suicide belt, pioneered the use of women in suicide attacks, murdered some 4000 people in the past two years alone and assassinated two world leaders (former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi and Sri Lankan president Ranasinghe Premadasa), the only terrorist organisation to do so."

While the Australian government ponders whether to outlaw the LTTE, as practically every other Western country has done since 2006, it should take an uncompromising view of LTTE combatants and operatives and ensure that a thorough screening process is conducted.

Clearly, not all the Tamil refugees coming to Australia fit this category, but those found to be members of the LTTE should be treated no differently from the way Australia would expect other countries to treat operatives of Jemaah Islamiah and al-Qa'ida.


The story behind Melbourne's famous Shrimp

Caught short with fabric

It may have been 44 years ago, but time has not clouded Jean Shrimpton's recollections of the stir she caused on Victoria Derby Day in 1965. The British model shocked Melbourne's conservative racing crowd when she wore a white mini-dress cut 10cm above the knee. Melbourne's establishment matrons were left reeling not only by the high hem, but also by the beauty's daring decision not to wear a hat, stockings or gloves.

Jean Cox - as she is now known - said she blamed herself for the controversy. "It was my fault, I suppose I wasn't very professional," said Cox. "I got asked to go to the Melbourne Cup and didn't do any research." Despite being, arguably, the world's first supermodel, she said she presumed she was being asked to attend the races because of who she was rather than what she would wear.

"People think because you are a model you are interested in fashion, and I never was," she said. She said she had no intention of upsetting the racing hierarchy -- it was merely a matter of metrics. "The fabric company who sent me the material for the dress never sent me enough material," she explained. "I said, `Nobody's going to take any notice so just make the skirt a bit shorter -- it was as simple as that. Then it caused this huge furore, which was really rather surprising."

Cox, who stopped modelling in 1972 and is the owner of chic Cornwall hotel the Abbey, run by her son Thaddeus, said she was more than happy to be out of the spotlight. "I much prefer architecture to fashion," she said.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

We were very wrong on closing bank branches, says Westpac executive Peter Hanlon

Back to the past for the latest wisdom! It sure took a long while for that penny to drop. I was a Westpac customer for decades but when they closed their local branch, I had to go to a back street in a distant suburb to find another one -- and the staff there were useless anyway. I now get much better service at a smaller bank, not that any bank is good at handling anything beyond the basics

A BOSS at one of the big four banks has admitted its two-decade policy of shutting branches has cost it - and consumers - dearly. In a classic mea culpa, Westpac group executive Peter Hanlon said removing customer-orientated bank managers and centralising operations was a massive mistake. He said the banks had failed to care adequately for customers by morphing into an automated and faceless service that account holders were increasingly fed up with.

"Closing branches has been a complete failure. We have closed branches in places we simply should not have closed them. This is an admission we made a mistake," Mr Hanlon said. In attempt to redress those mistakes, Westpac has revived a key role long thought extinct - the true bank manager focused on local customers and their communities....

Mr Hanlon said the focus on "short-term cost-cutting" had led to a reduction of service. "Banks have done a range of things in the name of profitability. "No one can argue with that, because we have closed hundreds and hundreds of branches, and we have shrunk our workforce by tens of thousands, so it’s undeniable that we’ve reduced services," he said.

Mr Hanlon said Westpac had hired 400 new bank managers this year, telling them to be more hands-on, giving them more autonomy, and requiring them to be more active in their local communities. "Over the last 20 years we've taken away the capabilities of bank managers to get involved in any lending decisions, we've taken away their ability to hire their own people, we've even taken away their ability to sponsor the local bowls club," Mr Hanlon said. "The bank managers now decide who they hire, when they open and close, they decide where their sponsorship dollars go, they decide on what to do with specific customer inquiries.

"I want us to be respected again. I want bank managers to be respected members of the local community and I think the work people like me have done over the last 20 years, while not on purpose, has engineered the drop in respect of the local branch manager. The bank has also committed to opening at least 200 new branches in the coming years, many in locations where Westpac closed its doors barely 10 years ago.


Note that NAB seems to be in rather better shape. Despite their problems, both banks have been pretty good sharemarket performers. I have shares in both

How lacking in perspective can you get?

No wonder the guy below is "controversial". He ignores the fact that the overwhelming majority of studies on the subject show no risk. Outside his own field he appears to know nothing more than the layman and it is popular but poorly substantiated beliefs that he echoes

BRAIN cancer surgeon Charlie Teo has urged people to put mobile phones on loudspeaker, move clock radios to the foot of the bed and wait until microwaves have finished beeping before opening them.

The controversial Sydney specialist told a Melbourne fundraiser that although the jury was still out on mobile phones and other forms of electromagnetic radiation, we should not take risks. "Even though the jury's not in, just to err on the side of safety I would try and limit the amount of electromagnetic radiation that you're exposed to," he said. "The American government, for example, recommend that all electrical appliances should be put at the foot of the bed and not the head of the bed.

"Electric blankets should be turned off before you get in bed and definitely wait for those five beeps before you open the microwave. "With the mobile phone I encourage you to put it on loudspeaker and step outside rather than sticking it up to your brain."

Dr Teo, who tackles tumours other surgeons deem inoperable, said some hair dyes, particularly red, could also cause brain cancer in people with a predisposition. "The body needs some genetic predisposition. The hair dye, the mobile phone, they're just catalysts but you probably need some sort of genetic aberration to get the cancer in the first place," he said.

Dr Teo said while breast cancer doubled its cell numbers in weeks or months, the quickest brain cancers took just 16 hours. No age group was immune and the incidence of brain tumours was growing. [Because the population is getting older, mainly] "It's increasing in frequency both in this country and developing countries and it used to be ranked out of the top 10 but it's just joined the top 10 most common cancers," he said.

Recent studies have raised alarm bells about mobile phones. An unreleased World Health Organisation study reportedly found "a significantly increased risk" of some brain tumours related to use of mobile phones for 10 years or more. A Suleyman Demirel University study in Turkey also found wearing a mobile phone on your belt may lead to decreased bone density in an area of the pelvis commonly used for bone grafts.

Dr Teo said there had been some advancements in treating tumours, like microwave therapy and putting chemotherapy directly into a tumour. A healthy diet, meditation and positive thought could also be beneficial. "We believe that they probably boost the immune system," he said.


Journalistic dirty tricks against a Christian conservative

News Limited was willing to pay dearly for this story not to be published. It first offered a $110,000 payment, plus a private apology, to avoid going to court. But the price it demanded was that the matter be kept confidential. The company was told to take a jump. See you in court.

The Daily Telegraph had published four stories about Michael Towke which he believed had defamed him, destroyed his political career, and caused untold stress to his family. "These stories sent my mother to hospital," he told me. "They demonised me. I wanted to confront them in court."

But a court was not where News wanted to see Towke. "They spent a lot of money fighting me," he said. "Their lawyers made me jump through every hoop. They asked me 30 pages of questions."

Near the eve of the court date, lawyers for the subsidiary which publishes the Telegraph, Nationwide News Pty Ltd, offered the confidentiality package, which Towke emphatically rejected. On the eve of the trial, Nationwide came up with another offer: $50,000, plus costs, plus removing the offending articles from the internet and dropping the confidentiality requirement. On the advice of counsel, Towke accepted. He was never willing to accept any settlement that was confidential, despite the risk that entailed. "I was willing to bankrupt myself to clear my name," he said.

Here is his story.

Michael Towke is 34. He attended Marcellin College, Randwick. He is a Lebanese Christian, a practising Catholic and the eldest of eight children. He has a first-class honours degree in engineering and a BA, both from the University of Sydney, and won the Alan Davis Prize, the top prize for sociology.

He has an MBA from the Australian Graduate School of Management. At 17, he joined the Army Reserve and served for 20 months. He is president of the Sylvania conference of the St Vincent de Paul Society and has been volunteering for Vinnies since he was 15. He works as a telecommunications engineer. He has lived in the Sutherland Shire for 10 years.

Towke is also a long-serving member of the Liberal Party. In July 2007 he won preselection for the then safe federal Liberal seat of Cook. He was set to replace the outgoing member, Bruce Baird. The contest attracted a large field, including Paul Fletcher, who recently won Liberal preselection for Bradfield (vacated by the former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson), and a former state director of the NSW Liberal party, Scott Morrison.

Towke won easily. On the first ballot, he polled 10 times as many votes as Morrison, 82 votes to 8, who was eliminated in the first round. His victory meant that a Lebanese Australian would represent the Liberal Party in the seat where the Cronulla riot and revenge raids had taken place 18 months earlier, in December 2005. "The campaign against me started four days after preselection," Towke said.

Two senior people within the Liberal Party, whose identity is known to a widening circle within the party, went through Towke's nomination papers to find every possible discrepancy and weakness. Then they started calling selected journalists to tell them Towke was a liar. The first story appeared in The Daily Telegraph on July 18, 2007, under the headline, "Liberal ballot scandal in Howard's backyard." Three days later, on July 21, a second story appeared in the Telegraph: "Towke future on hold." The next day, in The Sunday Telegraph, a third story: "Party split as Liberal candidate faces jail."

"That was the story that sent my mother to hospital," Towke told me.

Then came a fourth story in the Telegraph, on July 25: "Towke lied, but just by degrees." Four different Telegraph journalists, two of them very senior, wrote those four stories, so the campaign of leaks and smears was assiduous. There is insufficient space to detail all the claims made and disputed. Towke was portrayed as a serial liar, an exaggerator. He disputed every such imputation with factual evidence. After it was obvious his political credibility had been destroyed by these stories, he started defamation proceedings. A year of legal attrition ensued.

Shortly before the matter was to begin in court this month, Nationwide News paid and settled.

It is telling that experienced Telegraph journalists appear to have based their stories on sources they trusted, suggesting those doing the leaking were both senior figures and seasoned in dealing with the media.

Though Towke would eventually win his legal war, the damage had been done. The adverse media coverage set in train a reaction within the party to get rid of him. A second ballot was ordered, in which the balance of power was shifted away from the grassroots in Cook and to the state executive. The second ballot gave the preselection to Scott Morrison. Amazing. He had been parachuted into the seat over Towke's political carcass. Morrison clearly had backers who wanted him to get the seat. "These guys were prepared to ruin my life," Towke said.

Why? There was a view among some senior Liberals that a Lebanese Australian could not win Cook in a tight election.

Two years later, Towke's honour has been restored. His name has been cleared, his standing in the party rehabilitated, and his ties to the electorate broadened. Justice will be served when the two assassins within the party are politically terminated. That process has begun. The circle will only be complete if this Lebanese Australian represents the shire in Federal Parliament.


A much-honoured Greenie nut

Being a crank makes you a "public intellectual" apparently. Comment by Andrew Bolt below

THIS sure is a strange way for Professor Clive Hamilton to spend the few years that he - and we - have left. I mean, if you thought the end of the world was nigh, would you really waste your last moments trying to become the next member for Higgins?

Still, who knows what now goes on in the grim skull of the Greens candidate for the Melbourne seat just vacated by former treasurer Peter Costello. And who understands what dark currents swirl in the brains of the thousands who will vote for him on December 5, in a poll that will measure how mad these times now are.

Hamilton has a CV that might make an innocent reader, impressed by titles, think: "Wow! This man must be smart." He describes himself as a "public intellectual". He's written books and is professor of public ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics. The Rudd Government made him a Member of the Order of Australia. Yet that CV measures not Hamilton's greatness, but this country's idiocy.

His message is just one preached by religious cranks for centuries: "Repent, for the end of the world is nigh!" Here's his new version of this faith: "I think where we're going is to begin to see a Gaian earth in its ecological, cybernetic way, infused with some notion of mind or soul or chi, which will transform our attitudes to it away from an instrumentalist one, towards an attitude of greater reverence." And if we don't repent? "Unless we do that, I mean we seriously are in trouble, because we know that Gaia is revolting against the impact of human beings on it."

In fact, Hamilton fears we're doomed already by Gaia's revolt against wicked us and our greenhouse gases: "It now seems almost certain that, if it has not occurred already, within the next several years enough warming will be locked into the system ... (and) humans will be powerless to stop the shift to a new climate on Earth, one much less sympathetic to life."

So sure is Hamilton of this danger that voters may get just one chance to vote him in - and none to throw him out if the world's temperatures start rising again: "The implications of (a rise of) 3C, let alone 4C or 5C, are so horrible that we look to any possible scenario to head it off, including the canvassing of emergency responses such as the suspension of democratic processes."

Even our freedom to shop offends this embryonic dictator: "Shopping has become both an expression of the meaninglessness of consumer society and an attempted cure for it." But good news: "It has recently been shown that compulsive shopping disorder can be effectively treated with certain anti-depressant drugs ... "

Can't wait to see Hamilton lash the ladies of Higgins out of their fine shops in Chapel St and Toorak Rd. Still, be fair. He actually wants all of us to be poorer, and not just the rich: "We can only avoid catastrophe - including millions dying in the Third World - if we radically change the way we in the rich countries go about our daily lives. Above all, we must abandon our comfortable belief in progress."

Here's how: "Australia, along with the rest of the world, must cut its emissions by at least 60 per cent ... " But how to get people to agree with a target so ruinous? Hamilton's answer: "Personally I cannot see any alternative to ramping up the fear factor." Actually, Clive, consider that fear factor ramped. If you're now the kind of thinker voters prefer, even I will agree we're doomed.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is critical of Kevvy's "Indonesia solution" to illegal immigration

Black gang-rapists get sympathetic judge

THREE men repeatedly gang raped a teenager during a horrific nine-hour ordeal but a judge yesterday ruled the trio were not "depraved monsters". The men, Zambian nationals Tyrone Chishimba, Likumbo Makasa and Mumbi Peter Mulenga, were found guilty of aggravated sexual assault without consent after a 15-year-old was repeatedly raped at a unit in Hurstville in August 2006.

During the three-month trial, the court heard the intoxicated girl, who cannot be identified, passed out at the unit and later woke up to find one of the men having intercourse with her, while the other two watched.

During sentencing submissions yesterday, a judge said the trio were guilty of serious crimes but were not depraved monsters, before sentencing them to at least three years in jail. Attorney General John Hatzistergos last night ordered a copy of the transcript to be sent to him and will discuss the possibility of an appeal with the DPP.


The latest Greenie attack on ordinary people

They want to evict everyone from waterfront properties "for their own good" -- because of allegedly rising sea-levels

MORE than 80,000 buildings on Victoria's coast may be at risk of rising sea levels, but Liberal frontbencher Tony Abbott isn't worried. Mr Abbott says he is unconcerned that beachfront areas of his northern Sydney electorate may be inundated by rising sea levels caused by climate change. Sea levels had risen along the NSW coast by more than 20 centimetres during the past century, the Liberal frontbencher said. "Has anyone noticed it? No, they haven't," he told reporters in Canberra today.

Mr Abbott, whose electorate of Warringah takes in Manly, Harbord, Dee Why Curl Curl and Balmoral, on Sydney's north shore, was responding to a parliamentary inquiry report which canvassed the option of forcing people living near the coast to move from their homes as climate-induced sea levels rose. Australia had the resources to cope with the issue in "the normal way", he said. "Ask the Dutch, they've been coping with this kind of thing for centuries and they seem to manage."

In Victoria, the Western Port region is especially vulnerable amid estimates that 18,000 properties valued at almost $2 billion are in the danger zone. And the effects of storm surges, heatwaves and insect-borne diseases associated with climate change are likely to increase the nation's mortality rate.

The alarming forecasts emerged last night in a new report tabled in Federal Parliament by the all-party House of Representatives Climate Change, Environment, Water and the Arts Committee. Titled Managing our Coastal Zone in a Changing Climate: the Time to Act is Now, the 368-page report urged the Federal Government to take greater charge of protecting the nation's coastline in co-operation with state and local governments.

Australian Greens leader Bob Brown said today a rise in sea levels would cause a big re-alignment of coastal housing and other buildings. "(Climate Change Minister) Penny Wong herself has said that up to 700,000 properties are threatened this century by rising sea levels on the eastern Australian seaboard," he told reporters. The government and opposition should be looking at how they would prevent people settling in areas threatened by rising sea levels in coming decades.

Senator Brown had some advice for people already living in areas likely to be under threat. "Assess your future and become active with the Rudd Government and the Opposition who simply don't get the need for action on climate change."

Greens climate change spokeswoman Christine Milne said the inquiry's finding revealed a "complete disconnect" between science and the climate change policies of Labor and the coalition. "This is not just for people on the coast, people who live on estuaries are extremely vulnerable as well," she said, urging householders to check their insurance policies to ensure they were covered for storm damage and flooding.

It is estimated 80 per cent of Australia's population lives in coastal areas and 711,000 addresses lie within 3km of the coast and less than 6m above sea level.

Expert evidence to the committee estimated one metre of sea level rise this century - the upper limit of expectations - would drive the shoreline back 50-100m, depending on local wind, wave and topographical features....

Today. senior Liberal senator Eric Abetz admitted he had not read the report, but hoped it was based on sound information. Sea levels were unlikely to rise overnight, he said, "So, we've still got some time."

Senate leader Barnaby Joyce said sea levels had been rising for about 10,000 years. "And if you wait around they'll cover the flood plains of the major capital cities," he told reporters, adding that a "massive new tax" from an emissions trading scheme (ETS) would not stop the sea rising. He accused the government of "grossly exaggerating" the effects of climate change to get its package of ETS bills approved by parliament.


Labor party claims credit for work of previous conservative government

NEARLY three-quarters of projects claimed by the Rudd government as evidence of its delivery of major new infrastructure were conceived by John Howard. But Infrastructure Minister Anthony Albanese has defended the government's record, saying its infrastructure investment is on track and has insulated the economy against the effects of the global recession.

Mr Albanese faced opposition ridicule last night after rejecting Business Council of Australia concern about infrastructure provision by saying the government had completed 32 big road and rail projects since taking office late in 2007.

However, Nationals leader and former transport minister Warren Truss scoffed at Mr Albanese's list of projects, insisting at least 22 were the work of the previous government. Mr Truss said one -- the upgrading of the Bruce Highway at Gympie in Queensland -- had been completed in the same month the government took office in November 2007.

Describing Mr Albanese's claims as "astonishing", Mr Truss said: "Labor is bereft of original thought. "No amount of spin covers up the fact that the Rudd Labor government is spending $5 billion less on road and rail than theCoalition committed before the election."

In opposition, Labor campaigned heavily on infrastructure, accusing the Howard government of having failed to reinvest the fruits of the 1990s resources boom in infrastructure, leading to export bottlenecks. After taking office, the government created the independent Infrastructure Australia organisation to audit and prioritise infrastructure needs. Earlier this year, IA announced $22.5bn in funding for a range of major projects, also appealing for greater private sector effort.

Yesterday, the BCA released a report noting that only 14 per cent of government spending on economic stimulus had been devoted to productive economic infrastructure and pointing to its continuing concern about the need to address export bottlenecks.

Mr Albanese said the government and the business community were "talking the same language" and investment in road and rail had been instrumental in insulating the Australian economy.

The minister said the government had completed 32 large-scale projects in its first two years in office, slightly modifying a claim in parliament last week that the government had "announced, built, completed" the 32 projects. Asked yesterday to name the 32 projects, Mr Albanese produced a list of 29 road and rail projects from all Australian states.

But Mr Truss said at least 22 of the claimed projects had been announced, commenced or even completed by the Howard government. "The biggest infrastructure reform that this government has undertaken is to rename a number of successful Coalition programs or shuffle funding around others," Mr Truss said.

Last night, Mr Albanese's spokesman said Labor had never claimed to have originated all of the projects, only to have delivered them. Earlier, Mr Albanese told question time that Labor was spending more on rail infrastructure in 12 months than the previous government spent in 12 years. "During the Howard years, public investment in the nation's infrastructure, as a proportion of national income, fell by close to 20 per cent," the minister said.

He said 70 per cent of government stimulus spending had been dedicated to infrastructure, including $4.7bn towards the national broadband network, $3.5bn in clean energy infrastructure, $16.2bn on schools and $6bn on housing. "The largest growth in social housing in Australia's history is occurring right now," Mr Albanese said. "We also have a longer-term investment when it comes to infrastructure development with the $36 billion we have allocated in road and rail infrastructure through the Nation Building program -- some $9.3 billion is under way right now," he said.

Opposition acting infrastructure spokesman Scott Morrison backed the BCA report, accusing the government of having overlooked "shovel-ready infrastructure projects". "Under Labor and Kevin Rudd, economic infrastructure has taken a back seat to old-fashioned Labor spending on social infrastructure," Mr Morrison said. "Labor's reckless spending has meant they have wasted a once-in-a-generation opportunity created by the economic legacy of the Howard government to invest in our nation's economic infrastructure."



Three current articles below:

Teachers failing the maths grade

STUDENTS in almost 60 per cent of high schools are being taught by unqualified teachers, with mathematics one of the worst-hit subjects. The disturbing number of teachers working in areas outside their expertise has been uncovered in a special survey of 1473 principals across Australia.

One in five schools in NSW said they had at least one maths teacher who was not fully qualified. Other subjects shown to be suffering from a lack of specialists include technology, computer science, languages, science, music and special education.

The shock figures emerged as more than 30,000 Year 12 candidates sat the HSC General Mathematics paper yesterday and a leading maths educator warned Australia was slipping behind other countries.

The Australian Education Union said its survey showed schools faced major problems including serious shortages of teachers qualified in key subjects and difficulties in recruiting and retaining staff. "(It) found that because of the shortages 59 per cent of secondary schools had teachers working outside their area of expertise," AEU president Angelo Gavrielatos said. "We need a long-term plan to address the chronic problems with the supply of teachers. "It is not good enough to have unconnected initiatives that do not go to the fundamental issue of how we value and reward teachers."

Principals were also asked what they believed the Rudd Government's main education priority should be. Twenty-eight per cent said increased teacher numbers. None suggested computers for Year 9-12 students, a policy plank of the Government.

One of the state's top maths students in the 2008 HSC, Ahmad Sultani (Parramatta High School) said maths needed a much better image in the early years of high school. Mr Sultani, now completing his first year at UNSW, said the subject should be promoted more vigorously to students.


School heads to get more control

STATE education departments should hand control of school finances and the power to hire teachers to principals and school boards, reversing a century of bureaucratic stranglehold over the running of schools. A federal government report, released to The Australian, argues that the starting point in school governance should devolve decision-making to the school level, allowing principals to respond to the individual needs of the students and their communities. The only place for centralised control over schools should be in setting frameworks for curriculum and standards and, in exceptional cases, where a school believes it is more efficient for decisions to be made by the department, such as for very small schools and those in remote areas.

Federal Education Minister Julia Gillard yesterday backed the broad directions outlined in the report, saying the Rudd government was already pursuing the measures in its education reforms. "School principals should have the autonomy to make more staffing and salary decisions to help tackle local problems like poor literacy and numeracy," she said. "It is important principals have the support and flexibility they need to respond to the needs of their students. The creation of the first national education authority responsible for curriculum, assessment and reporting provides a solid framework for greater principal autonomy."

The report highlights the need for principals to be trained as managers to run the business of schools, and Ms Gillard said the new Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership formed by the commonwealth, states and territories would fulfil that role in developing the tools and support required.

The release of the report, commissioned by the previous federal government, comes in time for a national forum hosted by Ms Gillard next month, giving individual school principals a rare opportunity to speak directly to the government about its education revolution. Announcing the forum at the weekend, Ms Gillard said she wanted to have a "national conversation with school principals about the challenges they are facing on the ground".

The report identifies widespread support among principals for greater autonomy, with a large proportion wanting greater involvement in the selection and management of staff and their performance and greater flexibility in the allocation of school budgets. "There is a general acceptance of the view that a degree of autonomy is necessary if schools are to respond to the expectations of their communities and the mix of student needs in the local setting," it says. "Principals accept the need for accountability and seek to exercise a higher level of educational leadership. "(But) administrative support for government schools is inadequate given expectations for schools and in comparison to the support for principals in most independent schools."

In Australia, state and territory governments give varying degrees of autonomy to schools within a framework of standards and accountability, with Victoria giving principals the greatest control and NSW the most rigid centralised system.

The report notes that, as a result, there are less innovative approaches to school autonomy in Australia of the kind gaining momentum in other places around the world, such as the charter movement in the US of publicly funded and privately operated schools, usually run by local communities, and the academies in England, of privately run and funded schools operating as public schools. "New governance arrangements should be established to allow federations of schools to be established and greater creativity should be encouraged in the development of new kinds of schools that will have higher levels of autonomy ..." the report says.

"(It) shall provide schools or several schools planning together with a range of options to traditional patterns of governance, including federations of schools to share resources and other innovative governance arrangements. After more than a century of operations in which the 'default position' has been 'centralisation', a new default position of decentralisation should be adopted, with exceptions to be based on local and regional circumstances. "The default position should remain at centralisation in establishing frameworks of curriculum, standards and accountabilities."

It says the most effective model for school autonomy has "direct school involvement in the selection and performance management of staff, the deployment of funds in a budget that covers real costs in all aspects of recurrent expenditure, adaptation of curriculum and approaches to learning and teaching to the needs of the school's community, and choice in determining the source of support required by the school".

But it says autonomy should not permit schools to change the selection of students, such as enrolling only smart students and excluding students in their local catchment area.

The report says any system must allow individual schools flexibility in the level of autonomy they think is appropriate, saying that a one-size-fits-all approach will not be successful. "The extent of autonomy in each instance may be varied according to exceptional circumstances," it says.

The report, commissioned in 2007, calls for decision-making to be simplified and a reduction in the compliance and paperwork demanded of principals. It says school budgets should reflect the actual salaries paid to teachers rather than the average.


Teachers accused of sexual misconduct missed by government screening system

TWO private school teachers under investigation for sexual misconduct against students were able to walk into state school jobs without background checks. One teacher was accused of further misconduct in the state system before Education Queensland learnt of the original allegations, 18 months after the teacher was hired.

The cases, which allegedly occurred at Brisbane and Gold Coast schools, have highlighted flaws in Education Queensland's teacher screening system. The teachers were not required to reveal whether they were under investigation when they applied for jobs in the state school system.

Documents obtained under Right to Information laws show Education Queensland only became aware of the alleged misconduct when the teachers were referred to the Crime and Misconduct Commission by the Queensland College of Teachers in September last year. One teacher has been sacked and is facing court action. The other has resigned. The QCT is investigating six other alleged inappropriate relationships.

The State Opposition has labelled the screening process for teachers a "disgrace", accusing the Government of putting the rights of teachers before student welfare. "It's not acceptable they can slip through (the net) and turn up teaching somewhere else while they're under investigation," Opposition Education spokesman Bruce Flegg said.

The RTI documents show one of the teachers was under investigation following allegations he "inappropriately touched a student, breached the student protection policy, carried on an inappropriate relationship with one of the students, (and) allowed students to engage in behaviour that could have exposed them to physical harm" while working at a Brisbane Catholic school. The Courier-Mail understands the teacher subsequently resigned, before taking up a position at a state high school. This teacher has since been sacked and the matter is before the courts.

In the second case, the teacher resigned following allegations of sexual misconduct at a Gold Coast Catholic school, only to be given full-time work at two state high schools during which time the teacher was accused of further misconduct. That teacher has since resigned.

An internal investigation by the State Government's Ethical Standards Unit recommended in October last year that the Department of Education and Training "urgently undertake a risk assessment process to determine the appropriateness of retaining these officers in their current teaching roles". It found hiring processes "do not require an applicant to declare outstanding or incomplete investigations". "The department does not have any jurisdiction to investigate the conduct of employees prior to their engagement . . . and cannot be held accountable under the department's Code of Conduct for his alleged behaviour whilst employed in the private school sector."

Education Minister Geoff Wilson refused to be interviewed but said in a statement that he "understands" additional checks were now being undertaken. They include a disciplinary investigation by a past or present employer and police check.


Monday, October 26, 2009

Incredible stupidity from the Australian medical bureaucracy

Yet another boneheaded and useless attempt at computerization. Britain has spent 12.5 BILLION pounds on their system and it still is not working. Let's hope the Australian authorities stop their nonsense long before that point

A FEDERAL scheme to provide thousands of GPs with communications encryption technology so they can send sensitive health information securely over the internet risks turning into an expensive white elephant because hardly any other health workers can decode the messages. A revamp of federal government incentive payments in August meant GPs must be signed up for the secure communications method known as "public key infrastructure" in order to remain eligible for grants worth up to $50,000 per practice each year.

The idea of the system is that it allows doctors to send sensitive patient data, including referrals and test results, to each other without risk of the information being seen by other people.

But Mukesh Haikerwal, one of the 10 commissioners who wrote the recent National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission report, says the scheme is turning into a "superhighway to nowhere" because hardly any hospitals, specialists or allied health workers have the technology, and they have been given little incentive to adopt it.

Dr Haikerwal above. Good to see that he seems fully recovered from the vicious gang attack on him by Melbourne street thugs

"If everybody was connected, it would be a very useful thing to be doing," said Dr Haikerwal, a former Australian Medical Association president who is also a vocal advocate for greater use of information technology in health care. "But it's not (currently useful) -- either you stop the rollout, or you enable everyone to be part of the system. Ninety-eight per cent of us (GPs) are able to send stuff securely, but none are able to receive it in a secure electronic form, and none are able to send us stuff back."

Once GPs have signed up to the scheme, the federal Health Department sends them chip cards that encode a GP's identity, and the readers used to verify the card information and activate the system once a password is entered. Mini chip cards that fit into a USB key that plugs into the GP's computer are also being sent out. The federal Health Department estimates 10,000 GPs are likely to apply for the technology, and says 9000 have done so already.

Medicare sends the necessary equipment free to those who apply, but a Medicare Australia spokesman said the cost of this was commercial-in-confidence. Dr Haikerwal estimated that the cost of extending the technology to specialists could be $7000 to $10,000 a practice for the hardware, software and training, although not all of this would be expected to come from taxpayers.

Dr Haikerwal's concerns were backed by Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Chris Mitchell, who said there was no point in having a secure messaging system "that allows you just to communicate with yourself".

Stephen Johnston, head of national infrastructure services for the federal government's National E-Health Transition Authority, said the "whole health system has to be connected". "GPs are just one part of the story," Mr Johnston said. "But it won't happen overnight." A spokesman for the Health Department said take-up of the technology was "progressing" and predicted others would come on board steadily.


Crimes have gone unpunished after Victoria police failed to lay charges

Corruption is all that they are good at

HUNDREDS of crimes have gone unpunished after police failed to follow through and lay charges. An audit of the Victoria Police database has found more than 5000 cases in which an intent to charge on summons was documented but then not acted upon.

Among them are people accused of drug matters, crimes of violence and traffic breaches. The Herald Sun understands hundreds were cases that went uncompleted as the result of members telling offenders they would be charged then failing to take further action.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman said most of the 5000 cases involved members not updating the system where charges had actually been laid, police being unable to find victims or members resigning or transferring to another office. "This situation is being monitored closely and Victoria Police is committed to resolving this issue quickly and thoroughly," the spokeswoman said.

The audit of the Law Enforcement Assistance Program database was started to reduce the number of matters that had gone unfinished.


Power in those old school ties

AUSTRALIA enjoys clout and access in the Asia-Pacific thanks to politicians and officials in the region who have not forgotten their student days here. This is the claim of a report released last week to talk up the non-financial benefits of the $16 billion industry in international education. "What we've found a bit distressing is that so much attention is given to the economic impact of international education," said Peter Coaldrake from the peak body Universities Australia, which commissioned the independent report. "It's important that we remind ourselves and everyone else of some of the other benefits."

Those benefits include more positive attitudes to Australia, open doors for our diplomats and a better hearing, according to the Hong-Kong based consultancy, Strategy Policy and Research in Education Ltd, which is behind the report.

The report says the son of Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is a graduate of Curtin University of Technology, and the country's top three economic policy-makers have close ties to Australian education. In 2001-02, when the issue of East Timor's independence strained relations between Jakarta and Canberra, the Indonesian cabinet at that point had five Australian-educated members. This helped ease tensions, according to Ric Smith, a former ambassador quoted in the report.

The report makes much of the good work done in Indonesia and China by the Australian National University. Mr Smith said ANU economist Ross Garnaut played a remarkable role in the education of Chinese economists. "For a time those (ANU-trained) economists exerted disproportionate influence in China," he said. Former ANU vice-chancellor Deane Terrell pointed out that ANU's expertise in the region rested heavily on languages, a field under pressure in the education system.

The report attributes the rise of Australia's soft power in the region especially to the elite former students of the Colombo Plan. The report asks why they "appear to shine brightly against those who followed them in the fee-paying era for international students which began in the late 1980s".

It suggests the fruits of the Colombo Plan are well known because its former students have by now reached or passed the peak of their careers. "However, the far larger wave of fee-paying students is still to hit their career pinnacle ... expect to see more eminent Australian alumni emerge soon into senior roles in Asian countries," the report says.

Monash University's Bob Birrell said the report failed to come to grips with criticism of the overseas student industry, its poor standard of English and the "dumbing down" of courses popular with these students, many of them seeking permanent residency. "On outcomes (the report's) rosy assessment relies mainly on research which shows that some 90 per cent of overseas students in our universities successfully complete their courses. This is hardly surprising since the students have heavily invested in the course fees and thus have a very strong motive to finish," Dr Birrell said.


Green 'brainwashing' scaring preschoolers, say experts

PARENTS have accused early childhood centres of "greenwashing" their children by burdening them with the responsibility of saving the world. Tots as young as three have sent letters to Kevin Rudd about their passion for green living and asked companies to reduce their packaging. Others are growing their own food, repairing toys and walking to preschool in an effort to reduce their toll on the environment.

But experts have called for caution in teaching children about climate change because of the potential for fear, anxiety, frustration, anger and despair at catastrophic events.

Mother Paula Driscoll, from Sydney, said environmental disaster was the new nuclear holocaust. "Nuclear war and weapons were our big worry," she said. "This generation, their great worry is green. It is drummed into them everywhere."

Schoolchildren raised running out of drinking water, rising sea levels and the extinction of polar bears in a survey on their views last year. "Children of that age should not be thinking the world is coming to an end," Sydney father-of-three Andrew Potter, 35, said. "It is a form of propaganda."

Youngsters also put the environment at the top of their worry list - along with crime and terrorism - in research for the Australian Childhood Foundation.

"It is the adult world impinging on childhood," chief executive officer Dr Joe Tucci said. Ideally, children's strongest concerns should be about their friendships or toys, he said. He suggested that adults had to deal with the fact that children were exposed to bigger issues by helping them to understand them.

Australian Psychological Society guidelines advise caregivers to avoid strong reactions about green issues in front of preschoolers. In severe cases, climate change worries could escalate into anxiety disorders or depression, said psychologist Dr Susie Burke. "These issues are frightening and upsetting for adults and even more so for children."

Parents should not avoid the topics with their youngsters, but emphasise that they are safe now and that positive efforts for conservation are being made around the globe. "Families can teach children simple things they can do to help," she said.

Dr Lyndall Strazdins, a researcher at the Australian National University, said children needed to be recognised as a "very vulnerable group" in environmental action plans. "They are clearly feeling that there is a problem looming that they have to deal with," Dr Strazdins said.


The airline mayhem never stops

Federal police guard Tiger Airlines staff after passengers told they would be stranded in Hobart for three days

POLICE guarded Tiger Airways staff while they announced to a crowd of angry passengers they would be stranded in Hobart for three days.

Flight TT567 out of Hobart was cancelled on Friday night after a flight attendant became ill, and no replacement staff were available.

A passenger who was to return to Melbourne on that flight said federal police arrived at the terminal about 9.30pm on Friday night before the announcement was delayed.

Passengers stranded in Hobart are due to arrive in Melbourne tonight. Tiger Airways has been contacted for comment and will be issuing a statement shortly.