Friday, December 31, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG has repeated his New Year cartoon from last year -- on the grounds that we still have all the same problems

Julia Gillard faces backlash on "clean" power

THE government's push to mandate clean power stations could backfire as electricity generators threaten to delay upgrades to dirty coal-fired plants.

In a submission to the government obtained by The Australian, the power generators say tough new carbon pollution standards could apply to expansions to old power stations.

This is despite Julia Gillard's vow during this year's federal election that the standards would not apply to existing projects and were aimed at ensuring a dirty power station was never again built in Australia.

The electricity generators have joined Australia's big miners and banks in warning that the government is raising sovereign risk concerns that could spook investors. "Owners could be deterred from improving the performance of existing plant if an expansion could trigger new and costly regulatory requirements," the National Generators Forum states in the submission.

The forum - whose members produce 95 per cent of Australia's electricity - warns that the plan for cleaner power stations repeats mistakes made in the US, where a crackdown on emissions from new power stations has deterred investors from building them and led to greater use of coal-fired plants that are, on average, 44 years old.

They also complain that the plan is based on technologies that are highly uncertain and say it is probably doomed to fail in Western Australia.

The backlash from the generators adds to the government's woes over its handling of climate change policy. The government wants to put a price on carbon next year and has maintained this is a crucial economic reform to encourage cuts to pollution and provide greater certainty for business investment.

A multi-party climate change committee is expected to make recommendations on a carbon price by the end of next year.

But the National Generators Forum warns that policies such as an emissions standard for coal generators are redundant when the government has promised to a carbon price.

The group says it is "alarmed by the proliferation of ad hoc policies, at all levels of government, which distort otherwise efficient electricity markets for what are often ill-defined or marginal environmental aims". "These policies are rarely complementary to a future carbon price and are usually token policies announced by governments in order to be seen as 'doing something' to address climate change," it says.

The Prime Minister promised the draft emissions standards for new power stations during the election in a bid to restore Labor's climate change credibility, which had been damaged after Kevin Rudd shelved his plans for an emissions trading scheme earlier in the year.

The plan also includes requirements to prepare new power stations to capture and store the pollution caused by burning coal. At the time, business warned that the plan could inflate power prices and would do little to address a lack of certainty that has delayed power generation investment.

Since then, a discussion paper on the plan for cleaner power stations has angered the energy sector as it contains options that appear not to have been foreshadowed by the Prime Minister. Specifically, the industry is upset by suggestions the standards could apply to future expansions and upgrades and wants a clear exemption to this.

Submissions on the discussion paper, produced by a high-level interdepartmental committee, closed on Christmas Eve.

Power generators will need to invest up to $120 billion in new electricity assets over the next 20 years to cope with increased demand and a carbon price, according to the Australian Energy Market Operator. Queensland is expected to be the first state to require new investment, and could need it in 2013-14.

The generators say the plans for cleaner power stations will need to take account of Western Australia's special power needs. While WA uses natural gas to produce two-thirds of its electricity, contracts between generators and gas suppliers start expiring in 2015. With gas producers pursuing lucrative exports, generators are finding it difficult to lock in long-term gas supply contracts. Compounding the situation in WA is the fact that new coal-fired technologies often require a minimum size of operation, which the WA market is too small to support.

The generators are also critical of the plan to require new coal-fired power stations to be "ready" for carbon capture and storage as this is still an unproven technology, saddling investors with a significant but unpredictable cost.


S. Aust. public hospital doctors 'too slow to operate' -- woman dies

A WOMAN who died on the operating table could have survived if potentially life-saving surgery had not been "pointlessly and undesirably" delayed, a coroner has found.

Deputy State Coroner Anthony Schapel today handed down his findings into the death of Antonia D'Agostino, 59. She died on the operating table at Western Hospital, Henley Beach, on Sunday, March 25, 2007, as doctors attempted to repair her bowel which had been perforated during earlier keyhole surgery to remove an ovarian cyst.

She had been re-admitted on Saturday, March 24, nine days after the original operation, feeling bloated and in pain. During surgery the next morning to repair her bowel, Mrs Agostino suffered two heart attacks and died.

In his findings, Mr Schapel said doctors had "failed to appreciate fully and adequately take into account the risks that might be posed to Mrs D'Agostino as a result of delaying her surgery".

He said the need for further surgery could have been identified immediately after she returned to hospital about 6pm on Saturday, March 24. Instead, she waited 14 hours until 8am the following morning.

He said her "acute deterioration" about 6am on the Sunday "may have been avoided if Mrs D'Agostino had been operated on at a time prior to that". "The delay in conducting Mrs D'Agostino's surgery exposed Mrs D'Agostino to the risk of further deterioration to a point where surgery was not only immediately urgent but was very likely to jeopardise her life in and of itself.

"By the time Mrs D'Agostino underwent the further surgical procedure her condition had descended to a point where her life was being placed in jeopardy by that very procedure."

Mr Schapel said that delay was "pointless and undesirable" and she should have been operated on "before midnight on the Saturday night or in the early hours of the Sunday morning at the latest", before her condition had acutely deteriorated. "It is difficult to escape the conclusion that her chances of surviving the operation would have been significantly better if she had been operated upon in a much more favourable clinical state."

He said Mrs D'Agostino could have been operated on sooner and had better care at a hospital with an intensive care unit - which Western Hospital did not have.

In his findings, Mr Schapel made three recommendations, including advising members of the medical profession and Department of Health about the need to avoid or minimise delay in surgery.


Bosses attack populist agenda

LEADING company directors have called on big business to ramp up a public campaign in the new year. Their calls are against populist new laws that unnecessarily increase the regulatory burden on companies.

In the wake of Greens leader Bob Brown's push to toughen the government's proposed mining tax legislation and moves to give shareholders new powers to challenge executive pay and claw back bonuses, big business fears that worse is to come.

Australian Institute of Company Directors chief executive John Colvin said business no longer had a choice but to speak out on ill-conceived public policy because "the world has changed". "It is no good just indicating you have done a good job for shareholders and consumers because there are vested interests that will want to change the way businesses are working and they will want legislation," Mr Colvin said.

"We have a situation now with a hung parliament that could be dangerous for business if it is not handled properly. "Businesses have taken a view that governments in this country have traditionally been rather benign and positive. I don't think that assumption can be made going forward. There is a far more interventionist role by government and some of that is done either naively or without going through the proper consultation procedures."

Mr Colvin said many of his members believed that governments were now far more intrusive and interfering in the workings of businesses. A recent AICD survey found five of the eight states and territories failed its annual score card for business friendliness.

The annual report of the Office of Best Practice Regulation in the Department of Finance also revealed that a growing number of regulations were avoiding the government's mandatory screening process, which was introduced to cut unnecessary red tape.

The Business Council of Australia wants the government to review the regulatory impact statement process to ensure that new laws are not pushed through without review.

"One of the issues facing us in Australia at the moment is that business cannot afford not to be part of the debate, and when you have such a low number of politicians coming from business, it is a big problem," Mr Colvin said. "That is an important issue for business and I think business is just going to have to get more involved. Business can no longer stay away and say they are apolitical and don't want to get involved in the political process."

Business leaders are also concerned that the Greens are due to take the balance of power in the Senate from July, making them critical to the passing of government legislation that is opposed by the Coalition.

But NAB and Woodside chairman Michael Chaney said the real challenge in the new year would be for the federal opposition to maintain its commitment to reform. "This should not be a difficult parliament to get reforms through, because if the opposition votes with the government they'll swamp any minorities," Mr Chaney said. "The question is whether the opposition will be prepared to do that, in the interest of the nation, or whether they'll take the easier, populist route. "This assumes, of course, that the government is genuine about effecting real reforms -- and the jury is out on that."

Over the past month, the government has released a raft of reforms relating to superannuation, executive remuneration, the National Broadband Network and the mining tax. However, Senator Brown has already vowed to oppose the mining tax reforms, reiterating his support for the original version of the tax, which was tougher on the miners than the government's latest compromise.

A new national consumer protection and product safety framework is also set to begin tomorrow.

Commonwealth Bank chief executive Ralph Norris has said the bank spent $100 million complying with the new laws and has warned about the impact on smaller players in the sector. The major banks have also warned that the government's banking reform package, designed to increase competition in the sector, will force banks to recover their costs by imposing higher establishment fees or charging customers higher interest rates.

Company directors are also concerned about the slow pace of reform of more than 700 state and territory laws that impose personal liability on individual directors for corporate misconduct. The planned harmonisation of workplace safety laws is designed to simplify a complex system in which companies operating across borders face time and expense in dealing with different systems in each state. But the NSW government is holding out on the reforms.

"There is nowhere the view among politicians and bureaucrats that companies, owned by their shareholders, just need to get on with the game of making profits with as few impediments as possible," Westfield director Judith Sloan said. "And all this stuff plays into the hands of private equity that doesn't need to worry about all this box-ticking and legal advice just to operate."

KPMG chairman Michael Andrew said a number of pending government decisions would affect the investment decisions of companies, including the resource tax and a potential carbon tax or emissions trading scheme. "With a hung parliament, it is going to be very difficult to get policy decisions and you are increasingly going to see people looking for populist issues that are not in the national interest." Mr Andrew said.

But he expected business would have a greater voice in the year ahead. "I think you will see something of a seachange, though," he said. "I think everybody is so disillusioned with the last federal election and the lack of policy debate that people are now firm that it won't happen again, and that you will have to dictate an agenda for issues going forward."

However, one director of a major bank said the group had a good behind-the-scenes working relationship with the government, highlighted by the move to introduce covered bonds to help stimulate a corporate bond market in Australia. "We have been pushing for that for a long time," the director said.

Pacific Brands and Mirvac chairman James MacKenzie said business should be involved in public policy debates and that the key to sound reform was good consultation. "It is clear business wasn't properly involved in the first round of the resources super profits tax, but it is easy to see that business is involved in the latest round of the resources tax discussions," Mr MacKenzie said. "Good public policy and therefore good government comes from good consultation."


Victoria: Revolt looms over health shake-up

THE Baillieu Government says it will fight Julia Gillard over her health reform plan if Victorians oppose it. And it is demanding the Prime Minister explain how the reforms are in the state's interests. Health Minister David Davis said the public had so far been ignored, and the State Government would open the issue for debate.

Maps of the 46 primary care networks - down from former PM Kevin Rudd's original 150 - would be released, and Mr Davis said Victorians should examine them. "They look far too big to me," Mr Davis said.

Gisborne is classed in the same region as Deniliquin; Nhill is bundled with Bacchus Marsh; and Wonthaggi and Mallacoota are grouped despite being 455km apart.

"The Commonwealth needs to explain to Victorians exactly what these Medicare Locals will do," Mr Davis said. "It is hard to see any genuine community of interest between Gisborne and Deniliquin. "Valuable Victorian health services need to be protected in any change, and my job is to stand up to make sure that happens."

Medicare Locals and Local Hospital Networks are central to the nationalised plan. They would allow providers of primary, GP and community healthcare to be administered locally and paid directly from Canberra for services. All other states, except Western Australia, have agreed to the boundaries.

Former premier John Brumby signed a deal for the Commonwealth to provide 60 per cent of financing for the state's health system, in return for 30 per cent of Victoria's GST revenue.

But Victoria's deadline was extended until the end of January after the Coalition's election victory. The State Government is organising community forums from January 4-21 to gather feedback, before giving Canberra its answer.

Mr Davis said he was "very willing" to work with Canberra on health reform, but he was determined to stand up to Canberra if the community believed the deal was not in Victoria's interests. "There is a risk that Victorians will lose many of our unique health and social services, built up over many decades, through the wholesale reorganisation of primary care by the Commonwealth," he said. "Local communities should look at these maps and see if they meet their aspirations. "Will services improve when administered at such a distance and over such massive populations?"


Thursday, December 30, 2010

Christianity not mentioned in proposed national history curriculum

The draft national curriculum for history opened an exciting prospect. Here was a chance, I thought, to defend the honour of Christianity amid the cut and thrust of educational theory, pitting myself against the intricate arguments of those who would deny, or at least downplay, the greatness of the influence of Christianity in the unravelling of the great events of the ages.

Yet the compilers of the draft curriculum have chosen the simplest strategy of all: deliberate, pointed, tendentious and outrageous silence. In its 20 pages, the draft ancient history curriculum mentions religion twice. There is no reference to Christianity anywhere in the document.

The draft modern history curriculum is 30 pages long. Christianity is simply never mentioned, at least not explicitly. The word religion appears twice, the first occurrence in the context of Indian history, the second in the context of Asian and African decolonisation. However the precise phrase in which it is found discloses the agenda of the compilers: "The effect of racism, religion and European cultures." This, surely, is an oblique mention of Christianity and a judgment upon it at the same time.

The English philosopher Roger Scruton took the word oikophobia and gave it a new meaning. Oikophobia literally means fear of one's own home, but Scruton nicely adapted it to mean "the repudiation of inheritance and home", the contemptuous rejection of everything that one's parents and grandparents respected, fed by the vanity of a new and supposedly enlightened way of looking at the world.

The name of Christianity is particularly odious to those oikophobes for whom the hope of a multinational and God-free world stands in the place of the dream of a promised land. For such people Christianity has brought more misery than relief, more gloom than joy, more war than peace, more hatred than love.

And - let us be honest - they can produce evidence to support all those opinions. They can point to the massacres of the Crusades, the use of torture and connivance at capital punishment by the Inquisition, the ruthless eradication of the Albigensians, the Thirty Years War, apparent indifference (in some places) to slavery, the treatment of the Jews throughout European history, the fighting in Northern Ireland, the brutish behaviour of certain clergy towards children.

But against that - if they are honest - they will have to acknowledge that all the evil deeds done by men professing themselves Christian have been counterbalanced by all the good things that have been done in the name of Christ.

The systematic care of the poor, the relief of prisoners, the establishment of hospitals, schools and universities, the self-sacrificing saintliness of many clergy, active resistance to the bullying of civil authorities, the amelioration and ultimately the prohibition of slavery, and the improvement of the lot of women (yes, that too) . . . all these things have emerged within a society that has been predominantly Christian.

Even today, in the shadow land of the post-Christian era, there are many who insist on calling themselves Christians still who have abandoned the faith but maintain a firm commitment to what they rightly regard as the "Christian ethic".

Yet the draft curriculum in history avoids all of this. It is almost completely silent on the whole matter of Christianity. It chooses to ignore a worldwide religious movement that has marched with civilisation for 2000 years, infusing it with a morality that has shaped the thinking of the whole of society, including the minds of those who lost the faith but clung to the moral view. This omission is not just careless, it is staggeringly inept and profoundly dishonest.

What would an honest and inclusive curriculum look like? It would recognise the enormous influence of religion in the world since late antiquity.

Moreover, being an Australian curriculum, intended for students in Australian schools, it would not pretend to the possibly laudable but utterly impossible task of giving all the world's cultures and religions equal coverage, but will acknowledge that, like it or loathe it, Christianity has been the dominant faith and moral mentor for our nation since white settlement began, that many indigenous people have embraced it too, and that the more recent waves of settlers - including Muslims and Hindus - have scarcely been unaffected by it. It would be good to see our society honestly facing up to the implications of its own heritage, and mature enough to recognise the good alongside the bad, and wise enough to see that amid the imperfections of any human organisation there is much to take pride in.

For believers, though, the reality is that the incarnation of Christ was and is the greatest event in human history, and that this greatness is not simply a matter of degree, but it is a kind of an absolute and ultimate truth by which alone the significance of all other events must be judged.

Many unbelievers cannot but be angered by such assurance, and we should not be surprised or disappointed by a savage response to such claims.

Many of those most bitterly opposed to Christianity have perhaps sensed that we are on the ropes, utterly nonplussed by this apathy, and are determined to continue to wage that kind of war of attrition in the hope that we shall simply and finally melt away. My suspicion is that some of the framers of the curriculum are driven by such a plan, perhaps consciously, perhaps by instinct.

Many other people of goodwill, non or anti-Christian in their orientation, are willing enough to face us on the field of debate and controversy. Such people may indeed admire and respect aspects of Christianity, while rejecting all or most of its metaphysical tenets.

In many such men and women I think I can see - excuse the presumption - the characteristics of the unconverted St Augustine: all too often they bark against a faith they have not troubled (or have not been able, through the scandal of our failings and our own poor example) to understand.

Clearly it is the best interest of the Christian religion boldly and confidently to face the challenge of those who would with equal confidence contest the veracity and integrity of our claims.

To take the battle vigorously to the critic's gates, to emerge thus from the slough of indifference that now threatens to swallow us, is our best hope.


Federal government plan to liberate schools

Any decentralization of power should be good. A bit surprising from a Leftist government, though

SCHOOLS will become self-governing under a Labor plan that hands responsibility for budgets and hiring teachers to principals and school councils. The plan would also hold them accountable for student performance.

In a move that would comprehensively reshape the nation's education system, the federal government is proposing a model of school governance based on the way independent schools operate, turning government and Catholic schools into "autonomous" institutions.

In a briefing paper submitted to a meeting of state education ministers at the beginning of the month, the federal government outlined a plan for autonomous schools to become the standard by 2018 in the government and non-government sectors. "The aim of the initiative is to facilitate systemic national reform to establish autonomous school operation as the norm across all Australian education sectors, with schools predominantly being self-governing," it says.

The paper says increasing school autonomy will "improve student performance by providing principals, parents and school communities a greater input into the management of their local school".

The plan goes further than the model outlined by Julia Gillard in the election campaign that proposed "empowering local schools" by giving principals and parents a greater say over selecting and employing teachers, and identifying funding priorities.

The idea of self-governing schools resembles the charter school movement in the US of publicly funded, but privately run, schools open to all students.

The plan is yet to be considered by education ministers. A spokeswoman for School Education Minister Peter Garrett, who is on leave, said the briefing paper was noted at the ministerial council meeting and a working group would be established in the new year, with members from states and territories, which would consult widely. "The government remains committed to delivering greater autonomy to school communities and won't pre-empt the work to be completed by the working party," she said.

But the Australian Education Union, representing public schools, yesterday accused the government of privatising the public education system.

AEU federal president Angelo Gavrielatos said school autonomy was just a slogan and there was no evidence that increasing the control of principals and school boards improved student achievement. "Why is the government hell bent on taking the word public out of education?" he said.

"Make no mistake, this is a privatisation agenda. "When I hear the words 'local autonomy' uttered by governments, I can't help but think that what they are granting principals and teachers is nothing more than the freedom to obey. "They want to give us the autonomy to do the plumbing and fix faulty powerpoints while dictating that when reporting on student achievement, we can only use five letters of the alphabet, A to E."

The brief provided to the ministers outlines a two-phase implementation process, with 1000 schools to participate in an initial rollout in 2012 and 2013, with the selected schools to come from every state and territory and a third from regional areas.

In the second phase of the proposal, the rest of the nation's schools will be "offered the opportunity to increase their level of local independence" as part of a national rollout by 2018.

The proposal envisages a nationally agreed statement of criteria defining the "essential elements of autonomous school operation" and an assessment process by which schools are selected to participate.

A similar approach has been adopted by the West Australian government, which introduced independent public schools, with 34 starting this year and a further 64 to start next year. Boards are established to govern the schools, with principals having control over the hiring of staff and a one-line budget, allowing them to decide how to spend their money. The ACT is moving to a similar system and Victoria has operated a system of self-managed schools since the late 1990s.

Victoria's reforms, introduced by the Kennett Liberal government, were intended to go further and allow self-governing schools, which would have made them the employer - not just the selector - of teachers and responsible for industrial negotiations. But only 50 of about 1600 schools agreed to the proposal and it was dropped by the Bracks Labor government. Former premier Jeff Kennett said yesterday "the unions got to Bracks" and stopped the rollout of his original scheme.

Mr Kennett said he still believed it was the best way to run schools in the public system, by giving principals and school councils full control.


NSW Premier's shocking abuse of power

The face of a Leftist crook

Public servants have been gagged from giving evidence to the parliamentary inquiry into Labor's power privatisation in Premier Kristina Keneally's latest desperate bid to stymie scrutiny of the sale. The move follows her attempts last week to scuttle the hearings by closing Parliament two months early.

Committee chairman Fred Nile accused Ms Keneally of using "brutal force" to shut the inquiry but vowed he would not be stopped from finding the truth about the $5.3 billion sale.

Ms Keneally said yesterday the Auditor-General had started his investigation into the midnight electricity sell-off. But voters won't see that report until after the March election because the Auditor-General's reports must be tabled in Parliament, which Ms Keneally closed early.

And that is where Mr Nile's inquiry could embarrass the Government - it reports back on January 31, possibly giving the Opposition and Greens ammunition leading into the state election.

Ms Keneally yesterday referred to Crown Solicitor's advice - given in 1994 - that witnesses would not be offered parliamentary privilege if they appeared at Mr Nile's inquiry because it had no legal standing. "That would not be a situation in which we would have public servants attending an inquiry," she said.

But despite relying all week on that legal advice, Ms Keneally has now gone back to the Crown Solicitor's office to ask if it was still relevant and correct. Depending on the response, which won't come until after January 10, the inquiry could be ruled legal.

In the meantime, Ms Keneally said the Auditor-General had broad powers to consider whether the "activities of government are being carried out effectively, economically, efficiently and in compliance with all relevant laws. I am quite confident this transaction stands up to that scrutiny," she said.

Mr Nile, who is determined his committee will meet on January 17, asked what Ms Keneally was "afraid of". "If she has nothing to hide or nothing to fear, then why did she prorogue Parliament early and why is she gagging public servants from giving evidence?" he said. "It's like she is using brutal force to try to stop the inquiry."

Mr Nile said he was aware that the eight directors who quit the boards of Delta and Eraring over the sale were "ready and willing" to speak.

Public Servants Association assistant secretary Steve Turner said he was not happy with the sale. "We would welcome an inquiry to look into it and if a proper inquiry occurs then public servants should legally be able to give evidence," he said.


More proof of global cooling

"Unprecedented" floods in Queensland. Warmists say that warming causes drought so ....

The "unprecedented" floods inundating cities and towns in Queensland may not recede for up to 10 days, evacuated residents have been warned. And with hundreds more evacuations to come today, the focus of concern is turning to the central Queensland city of Rockhampton, where a peaking Fitzroy River could threaten 500 homes.

The flooding has also claimed its first victim, with the body of a 50-year-old man found in a swollen creek at Mareeba in north Queensland. Police say he may have drowned on Christmas Day.

Premier Anna Bligh said today 12 communities were currently isolated by flooding and more water is on the way.

Mass evacuations will be carried out today in Emerald, with 80 per cent of the town affected, while floodwaters have split the coastal city of Bundaberg in two, inundating 120 properties and forcing about 400 evacuations.

Ms Bligh said the damage would cost governments and insurance companies billions of dollars, and appealed to Australians to “dig deep” and donate to an emergency relief fund. “It's an enormous disaster,” Ms Bligh told ABC television, noting that the early forecasts had not predicted the scale of the disaster.

“What we've never seen is so many towns, so many communities, so many regions all affected at once. It is a miserable and heart-breaking event.”

Ms Bligh said the disaster was unprecedented. “It's not isolated to one part of the state. We've got communities, both large cities and very small towns, that are now affected,” she told the Seven Network.

Vast amounts of rain have fallen in catchments that feed into the Fitzroy River, which is expected to reach major flood levels above 8.5 metres in coming days. Levels could remain at about eight metres for up to 10 days, the Bureau of Meteorology says.

In Emerald, flood levels in the Nogoa River today exceeded all previous records, rising beyond the 2008 level of 15.36 metres when almost 3000 people were forced from their homes. It's expected to peak beyond all earlier expectations at 16.2 metres tomorrow, and Central Highlands Mayor Peter Maguire said a dire scenario awaited the town. About 200 people spent the night in evacuation centres in Emerald, with hundreds, possibly thousands, more expected to head to the safe havens today, ahead of the flood peak.

In Bundaberg, the Burnett River peaked at 7.9 metres overnight, it's highest level since 1942 when it reached 8.4 metres. “Bundaberg is now split in two,” acting Mayor Tony Ricciardi said. “This is a one-in-100 year event. We won't see this again in our lifetime. Well, I hope.”


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Children can't get enough science lessons

ALMOST half of 12-year-olds have a science lesson less than once a week, even though most think the subject is interesting and would like to learn more.

A survey of Year 6 students conducted for the first time last year as part of the National Science Tests reveals 21 per cent of students reported having a science lesson "hardly ever" while 19 per cent said they were taught the subject less than once a week. Yet three-quarters said they would like to learn more science.

The survey of students' interests and experiences revealed generally positive attitudes towards science.

More than 80 per cent of students agreed science was "important for lots of jobs" and that learning science would be more important in high school.

About 67 per cent agreed it would be interesting to be a scientist and only 40 per cent agreed that "science is too difficult for most people to understand".

But when asked how often they had science lessons at school, only 6 per cent said every day and 54 per cent said once a week, while 48 per cent said lessons were mostly held in the afternoon, when students are typically less alert.

At the same time, the national test results show students' scientific understanding is falling, with the average score dropping during the past decade, primarily among the top students.

The tests, comprising a written exam and a practical task, have been conducted every three years since 2003 among a representative sample of Year 6 students, with about 5 per cent - or more than 13,000 - sitting the most recent tests last year. The results show the average score has dropped eight points since 2006 and while not statistically significant, it continues a trend of declining marks. Changes in the tests between 2003 and 2006 make the results not strictly comparable, but the trend is a drop in the national average of 17 points between 2003 and last year.

The average score of Year 6 students in Tasmania did fall significantly over the past three years, by 20 points.

Lower scores were recorded around the nation, except in Western Australia, where the average score rose 12 points, which is not statistically significant, and in the Northern Territory, where the average rose one point.

ACT students achieved the highest scores, followed by Victoria, which overtook NSW, and Western Australia, which rose from seventh to fourth over the past three years.

Students are also marked against five levels of proficiency, with almost 52 per cent deemed to have met the standard last year compared with 54.3 per cent in 2006. But while about 10 per cent of students scored in the top two levels in 2006, this proportion had dropped to 7.3 per cent last year. The proportion of students in the bottom level had increased from 8.6 per cent to 9.1 per cent.

The difference between the scores achieved by girls and boys was negligible, but indigenous students scored about 100 points lower on average, and about two-thirds of students in remote and very remote areas did not meet the proficiency standard. The difference between metropolitan and provincial areas was small.


Business revolt on parental leave red tape

JULIA Gillard faces mounting pressure from business groups ramping up their campaign over parental leave payments. Business groups want the government to administer parental leave payments beyond July 1 next year.

As Families Minister Jenny Macklin yesterday promoted the rollout of the government's paid parental leave from January 1, the head of the Australian Chamber of Commerce & Industry warned that small business would be drowned in red tape. ACCI chief executive Peter Anderson said he planned to "mount parliamentary pressure" to make sure small and medium businesses do not come under undue pressure from administering the payments. "The government is running the risk here of spoiling a good idea and a good policy with implementation mistakes," he said.

Parental leave payments will be administered by the federal government for the first six months of the year, but after July 1 businesses will be responsible for making the government-funded payments directly to employees.

"This is a government payment scheme, and businesses should not be asked by the government to administer the payments," Mr Anderson said. If the government did not continue to assume responsibility for making the payments after July 1, the ACCI would take the issue to parliament and lobby the independents to support a private member's bill to force the matter, he said.

Ms Macklin yesterday disputed claims that administering the national scheme would place an unfair load on employers. "We understand that it's important to support small business, in particular, so we'll make sure that the money is in their bank account before they have to start payments, and they can use their regular pay cycle," she said in Melbourne yesterday. "We'll continue to work with small business to make sure that the scheme works for them."

Ms Macklin said by administering the government-funded leave, employers would maintain strong links with their employees' caring for newborns. She brushed off concerns companies would scale back their paid parental leave schemes as the government-funded benefits came in. "We'll be very closely monitoring this," she said. "I'll be very disappointed if we have any employers dropping their own schemes."

The new national scheme is expected to cost about $260 million annually for 18 weeks leave at the minimum wage of $570 a week.

"What we've seen is many employers saying they're going to keep their paid parental or maternity leave scheme and allow their employees to take this scheme on top," Ms Macklin said. "They know paid parental leave is good for their employees, good to be able to keep their employees who they've spent money and time training."

Ms Macklin reiterated the government had no plans to scrap the baby bonus, and said she had received no reports of full-term pregnant women deliberately delaying birth until New Year's Day in order to qualify.


Pressure on Australia as Japan stalls plans for Warmist laws

JAPAN'S decision to postpone its plans for an ETS by 2013 has increased pressure on Julia Gillard over her goal of pricing carbon next year. The postponement has also set back efforts for a global market to cut global carbon pollution.

Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt called on the Prime Minister to rule out an emissions trading scheme by New Year's Day in the wake of the Japanese move.

The decision by the world's fifth-largest greenhouse gas emitter and Australia's second-largest trading partner to postpone the scheme for a year comes after the US also stepped back from a national emissions trading scheme and as international firms remain concerned about lax pollution controls in China, which has no obligations under the Kyoto Protocol.

The Labor and Greens-backed climate change committee is looking at ways to cut carbon emissions and the Productivity Commission is examining carbon reduction regimes around the world.

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet has repeatedly argued that Australia is "locking our economy into failure" without a carbon price. Two weeks ago, he defended the Rudd government's carbon pollution reduction scheme, dumped by the former prime minister. He said it had included an emissions trading scheme that would have "provided the greatest certainty that Australia would meet its emissions reductions targets".

But, Mr Hunt said, the government's plans were "now in tatters". "First Canada, second the US and now Japan have all determined that there is a better way to cut emissions than a massive electricity tax. "The Prime Minister should drop this electricity tax before New Year's Day."

The government should look at the Coalition's approach of market-based incentives for emissions abatement, he said. "The choice for Australia is now a massive new tax or emissions reductions by focusing on our strengths."

Mr Combet has repeatedly argued that a price on carbon is an essential economic reform that will create an incentive to reduce pollution, stimulate investment in low-emission technology and provide greater certainty for business investment.

"It will also enhance our ability to influence the direction of the international climate change negotiations and provide encouragement for a binding agreement including all major emitters," Mr Combet told the Investor Group on Climate Change this month.

"We either grasp this opportunity for an orderly, planned and gradual transition, or face the later prospect of economic adjustment at greater cost and dislocation - in circumstances where other countries have taken the lead and the competitive advantage."

The Japanese government move came after pressure from business, which was concerned an ETS would add to costs and limit their ability to compete against rivals in China and India who would not face the same restrictions.

The Japanese government remains committed to levying a tax on CO2 emissions from fuel in October next year and to the expansion of a pilot plan for renewable sources of electricity.

At the global climate change meetings in Cancun, Mexico, Japan opposed extension of the Kyoto Protocol, calling it unfair because it did not include 70 per cent of the world's emissions, with top polluters China and the US absent.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan's government had planned to launch an ETS, under which companies would essentially buy and sell licences to pollute, in the fiscal year beginning April 2013 but had postponed it until at least 2014. The environment and other ministers decided to postpone the plan, saying the country would first "carefully consider it".

A carbon-trading system sets a cap on the pollutants companies can emit and then requires heavy polluters to buy credits from companies that pollute less, creating financial incentives to cut emissions


SAS burdened with $50m dud

As they say in the army: SNAFU (I won't translate)

NEW fighting vehicles for Australia's elite soldiers have been condemned as white elephants that are plagued by dodgy electronics and are too heavy for army helicopters. And they are still not used in Afghanistan, despite being bought more than two years ago for nearly $50 million.

Thirty-one Nary patrol vehicles were bought in August 2008 under the watch of the then defence minister Joel Fitzgibbon. The purchase was made without a tender for "reasons of operational urgency". But despite the rush to have them by the start of last year, none has been sent to Afghanistan and none has been earmarked for deployment.

The next-generation vehicles were bought for the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan as replacements for the ageing Land Rovers. In November 2007 the British Ministry of Defence bought the same vehicles from the manufacturer Supacat and had them in Afghanistan within months.

Australia's Defence Department has said the deployment of the first batch of Narys is on track and that some will be in use in the second half of next year. But a defence industry source close to the project said: "One would like to think that this is a capability that should have been [in Afghanistan] by now."

Industry insiders have criticised army engineers and Defence's procurement arm, the Defence Materiel Organisation, because they struggled to merge two "off-the-shelf" purchases - the British vehicles and their US-designed electronics and communications systems.

One problem for the vehicles has been interference between transmissions from different pieces of equipment. One industry source said: "If you have one system operating on a particular radio frequency, it might interfere with your satellite communications equipment, which is operating on different frequencies."

It is understood these problems extended to secret systems used to stop eavesdroppers obtaining classified information.

Next year the government will ask manufacturers to bid to supply 50 new patrol vehicles. But it is understood that the tender has been delayed by a logjam of requests before the top-secret National Security Committee.

Manufacturers are so dismayed they are pushing the government to issue an extra tender, a separate contract to integrate the onboard electronics with the next batch of vehicles. One source condemned the Defence Materiel Organisation, saying: "What they love to do is interfere, and do this Australianisation of stuff."

The department did not respond to questions about the delayed tender, and about whether there had been electrical problems. A statement from Defence says the Narys' onboard systems are now "functional and the electrical system provides adequate power".

Many elite soldiers have completed their driver training on Narys but the vehicles still have not received their initial operational certificates because of what one source said was "limited functionality" of the onboard electronics.

The vehicles' computers are designed to show an array of information from remote bases and drone aircraft. But army technicians have been unable to transmit information consistently.

To protect soldiers from improvised explosive devices, Defence has given the Narys nearly 1000 kilograms of extra armour. But at more than 10,000 kilograms, some of the vehicles exceed weight limits on the rear doors of the army's ageing Chinook 47D transport helicopters, so cannot be driven into them.

The British Army relaxed the weight limit on its Chinooks so the vehicles could enter. The Australian Army can make do by suspending the large vehicles beneath the helicopters, but this is considered more difficult and dangerous and uses more fuel.

Defence says there was no requirement to carry Narys inside cargo helicopters and they can be transported on cargo planes.

The Narys carry heavy-calibre machine guns and grenade launchers but are heavier and have more complex technology than Land Rovers and Bushmasters, used for everything from reconnaissance to "capture-or-kill" missions.

The vehicles' new system promises to integrate satellite communications, video surveillance and radio communications with electronic warfare counter-measures designed to set off improvised roadside bombs before the vehicle is on top of the explosive charge.

A special forces source said not everyone would be unhappy with the delay in using the Narys. "In some ways, command is happy not to deploy them because they cost too much. If you lose one of them it's worth two or three Bushmasters."


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Cruel results of Labor party "compassion"

AS the nation was shocked by news of the Christmas Island tragedy, Sarah Hanson-Young issued a statement via Twitter. The Australian Greens' immigration spokeswoman expressed horror at the "terrible tragedy" and said this day was "for expressing sorrow for what has happened, and for providing support and compassion for everyone involved".

A few hours later, while rescue teams would still have been scouring huge seas for survivors, the senator tweeted again: "Sharon Jones at the Gov. [Governor Hindmarsh Hotel, Adelaide] Brilliant!"

That moment crystallised for me the core of the problem with those who argue about border protection from a standpoint of moral superiority and self-declared compassion. It is all care, no responsibility.

The border-protection issue highlights the difference between the emotional self-aggrandisement of the progressives and the hard-headed pragmatism of the conservatives. It's the difference between displaying empathy and attempting to solve a problem.

The Howard government took hard decisions and deliberately designed them to appear even tougher than they were. This sent an unambiguous message to places where the prospective customers of people-smugglers were gathering: if you attempt an unauthorised arrival you may never get to Australia, and if you do make it into the country you may not receive permanent residency.

Cruel, claimed many. But to the extent that it was cruel, it was cruel to be kind. We will never know how many lives it saved by removing the incentive for dangerous voyages.

And here's the rub: while it stopped the people-smuggling trade, it did not reduce the number of refugees who received sanctuary in Australia. We still filled our humanitarian quota; only the refugees were chosen through orderly process, not self-selected by access to a people-smuggler's fare or a willingness to take terrible risks.

When it came to power, Labor set about unravelling this tough regime. It was a way to be popular, to appease the emotive pleadings of people such as Hanson-Young and other potential Greens voters. Labor was warned as it did this that it would restart the people-smuggling business. Then opposition immigration spokesman Chris Ellison said: "The weakening of Australia's strong immigration detention policy will send a clear message to the region that we are relaxing border control. The intelligence we have demonstrates there are still people-smugglers in the region."

Proclaiming the end of the so-called Pacific Solution, Labor shouted to the world that most of the asylum-seekers the previous government had sent to Nauru were resettled in Australia anyway. This, they said, betrayed the futility of the Pacific Solution.

On the contrary, it demonstrated the genius of that arrangement. Refugees eventually and quietly were provided with the new life they sought. But the hardline perception was maintained to dissuade more asylum-seekers.

Since the policy softening in 2008, boat arrivals have accelerated, detention centres have filled and two fatal tragedies have taken more than 50 lives.

Throughout this period, conservative politicians have argued for the reinstatement of a tough regime and warned of lives at risk. For their trouble they have endured constant accusations from Labor, the Greens, activists and the media of being heartless, racist and opportunistic.

Even in the wake of the Christmas Island horror, the abuse continued with claims of "dog whistling" and "demonising" asylum-seekers. Yet the opposition's focus on saving the lives of asylum-seekers is largely ignored by the media.

In November last year, then opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull called a press conference to explain how Labor's softening of the border-protection regime would have to be reversed: "We are determined to keep our borders secure, to prevent and discourage asylum-seekers from risking their lives in perilous journeys and to protect the integrity of our generous immigration program."

Almost six months earlier then opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone told Radio National: "What we're worried about, though, is that you actually put your life in the hands of criminals who have no interest in your safety, who are of course interested in getting you in the cheapest boat, one-way route possible."

In October last year, frontbencher Scott Morrison, who has since assumed the immigration role, was asked on Canberra's Radio 2CC why he was creating "hysteria" about small numbers of asylum-seekers.

"Because people can die, literally, by coming by boat," he replied. "It is the most risky and dangerous way to come here. So I have a real serious concern about the wellbeing of these people who are being encouraged to take this massive risk and risk their lives and those of their families in this way."

Even before he became opposition leader, Tony Abbott warned on ABC1's Lateline in October last year that "once the flow starts, who knows how many of them might end up perishing at sea".

A few months later, as leader, he told a news conference: "What endangers lives is contracting out Australia's immigration program to people-smugglers. What endangers lives is doing anything that encourages people to take to the sea in leaky boats." This is just a small sample, but you get the picture.

With stunning audacity, Julia Gillard has now effectively called for a bipartisan truce on this issue. Such calls for calm were not made in 2001 after the tragic loss of 353 lives in the sinking of the SIEV X. Back then, distasteful conspiracy theories accused the Australian defence forces of complicity in the deaths. Labor luminaries, such as senator John Faulkner and even Gillard, fuelled the SIEV X fury, pushing for inquiries and hinting at government cover-ups.

And so, within hours of the Christmas Island disaster, the same conspiracy theorists were at it again, with David Marr and Tony Kevin suggesting Australia could have done more to save these lives. Gillard and Labor were on the receiving end of the madness they once cultivated.

They couldn't stop even the dangerous stupidity of one of the independents who keeps them in power. Rob Oakeshott went into print and on the airwaves repeating malicious rumours about Australian complicity while demanding they be refuted. Such incendiary nonsense from our politicians should not be tolerated.

Apart from anything else, it grossly impugns the quality of our defence force personnel and wildly misjudges our national character. No matter how baseless, such claims trigger distress, resentment and even violence in detention centres and suburbs.

Much vitriol was directed at commentator Andrew Bolt for saying Gillard had "blood on her hands". But his strident language was backed by a clear, important and rational argument: that is, the government was repeatedly warned that softening the border-protection regime would put lives at risk.

Gillard, Marr, Hanson-Young, the ABC, some church leaders and others who trumpet the so-called compassionate approach must recognise that cessation of third-country processing, coupled with limited detention periods and near-guaranteed permanent residency, gave the people-smugglers a plausible product to sell. This product, the promise of a relatively trouble-free passage into Australian suburban life, is what tragically lured the men, women and children into entrusting their lives to people-smugglers on that doomed Christmas Island voyage.

The day after the tragedy Hanson-Young tweeted again: "Compassion, nothing more to say really." In fact, while Morrison, Abbott and Turnbull share the same feelings of compassion and trauma about the deaths, they did have more to say. Despite the vile abuse it often attracts, they continued to argue for a plan to prevent future disasters.


Labor should just stop meddling with markets

They don't understand them

Gavin Atkins

EVERYBODY has their favourite theory as to why the Rudd-Gillard government has been so dreadful. Kevin Rudd's favourite theory is that there are too many factional bullies in the schoolyard. Julia Gillard's theory is that it's a government that lost its way. In other words, it is the innocent victim of unfortunate circumstances.

Another theory that is gaining popularity is that the government has been hanging around with a bad crowd: the Australian Greens.

I'm not buying this argument. Of the various debacles we have seen such as the on-again, off-again emissions trading scheme, the mining tax, the get-here-and-stay border protection scheme, pink batts, schools stimulus waste, the failure to deliver laptops or build childcare centres, how many were orchestrated by the Greens?

I have another theory. Most of the mistakes made by the government can be put down to a failure to pay attention to some Year 9 economics. The back yard, the concept of supply and demand, seems to scare and titillate the federal ALP in equal measure. Unfortunately for the government, when it comes to interacting with markets, there is a certain inevitability about it eventually running away from the scene yelping.

Just before Rudd was elected, you may recall, he boasted that being an economic conservative was "a badge I wear with pride".

In fact, Kevin proved to be such a deregulation fiend that one of the first things he did was abolish temporary protection visas and a range of other deterrence measures, making it easier for asylum-seekers to stay in Australia.

In response, 5600 asylum-seekers made it to Australia by boat in the last financial year, compared with none in 2004-05.

As asylum-seekers are known to pay about $10,000 to people-smugglers, it is safe to say Rudd created a $50 million a year industry just by deregulating the market.

Confusingly, not long after pulling off one of the most daring acts of deregulation in this country, Rudd put together a near unreadable essay over Christmas in 2008, calling for government intervention in world markets.

Although the global financial crisis was triggered by bad loans held by US government-sponsored financial institutions Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, Rudd attributed the global recession to "extreme capitalism".

It's hardly surprising, then, that so much of Rudd's response to the GFC - always involving more government meddling in markets - proved to be so disastrous.

When billions of dollars were made available for insulation schemes and school halls, the sudden imbalance of demand led to rorts and disasters that are still being picked through today.

In its own way, government meddling in Australian markets as a response to the GFC was just as disastrous as government meddling in the US housing market that started it all in the first place.

Wherever you find money, you will also find scammers. This is understood by every shopkeeper, but seems to have eluded the apparatchiks in the Rudd and Gillard governments every time.

Gillard, God bless her, is less inclined to write a treatise on economics during her holidays, but it would be hard to find someone less qualified to understand markets than a union lawyer who was a member of the Socialist Forum for the best part of her adult life.

With Australia's economic growth figures for the September quarter on a precipice at 0.2 per cent, Gillard wants to introduce a tax on mining, the one thing that kept Australia out of recession these past few years, and then get to work on a carbon price.

Now we hear that the government wants to legislate against exit fees in home loans, a measure that non-banks assure us will make them less competitive.

The truth is that the Gillard government has the same chronic problem that crippled the Rudd government: neither incarnation seems to have the faintest clue about markets.

Watching them blunder through each fresh initiative leaves you with a feeling of helplessness reminiscent of being an audience member at a kids' puppet show.

The idea that meddling in markets has a range of adverse consequences seems to be a source of constant surprise for this government. When this eventually affects our gross domestic product and our power bills, it will undoubtedly see it expelled.


Runaway growth of government must be stopped

This has been a terrible year for Canberra, as expressed in the reputation of the federal public service and the very idea that Canberra should be an imperial power within Australia, constantly expanding its reach into the rest of the nation.

Both Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, separated by a knife-edge in Parliament, need to think about the growth of federal power, the growth and cost of the federal bureaucracy, and the growth and cost of the national capital itself. It needs to stop.

This should be a point of difference between the Coalition and the big-spending Labor-Greens alliance, which is now trying to take 30 per cent of the GST revenue from the states and limit the rights of the states to impose their own taxes. The public approval of the federal government has shrunk to a dire bedrock of 34 per cent, expressed in recent opinion polls. This must reflect the government's dreadful combination of basic mediocrity and soaring ambition.

On average, every week brings a new debacle. In the past seven days we have seen the demise of three different federal interventions. First to go down was the $200 million Green Start energy loans program, which was a replacement for the disastrous Green Loans scheme. The government is stuck with a $30 million compensation bill for unwinding the thousands of jobs eliminated by ending the scheme.

Next to go down the policy chute was the Home Ownership on Indigenous Land scheme, which collapsed under the weight of its own inertia. The only measurable outcome was spending $10 million on public servants, who managed to provide 15 loans under the program, for a cluster of homes in the Tiwi Islands.

The week's third debacle was another backdown on the government's proposed new tax on the mining sector, with Gillard's minerals resource rent tax being dropped. This putative tax was itself a replacement for Kevin Rudd's proposed resource super profits tax, which was abandoned after it turned into an electoral disaster. And that tax was, in turn, part of the completely botched response to the comprehensive Henry tax reforms formulated by the head of the Treasury department, Ken Henry, who last week pulled the pin and announced his retirement.

The infamous pink batts blunder kept rolling along, with the South Australian government revealing that a third of the roof insulation jobs in the state were done illegally by unregistered operators.

That was last week. In the previous week the government's abject handling of the asylum seekers issue imploded in the waters off Christmas Island, while chronic backlogs in processing new arrivals spilled into new detention camps opening around the country.

The Labor-Greens alliance seems impervious to the reality that Canberra's track record of delivering services is not intrinsically better than that of the states, which have done the hard work of delivering health, transport, energy and education for more than 100 years. The federal government still wants to take 30 per cent of GST revenue in exchange for taking control of the hospital system, but has already alienated the states with high-handed demands, unrealistic deadlines and rigid processes. This is exactly the opposite direction – more centralisation and bureaucratisation – to what the hospital system needs.

The incorrigible imperialists of federal Labor have also picked a brawl with the states – specifically the engine room of Australia's exports, Western Australia and Queensland – by proposing to cap their ability to impose higher royalties on mining companies. Canberra wants to control all the extra revenue that can be extracted from the resource boom.

This leads into an unfolding blunder of potentially historic proportions, as great as the combined cost of the gold-plated Building the Education Revolution, the ill-fated home insulation scheme, the multibillion-dollar spending and debt binge of last year, the spiralling costs of the detention centres, the useless green and indigenous loan schemes and the financial black hole known as the national broadband network.

This is Labor's handling of the once-in-a-century resource boom, its suctioning away of revenue to pay for political debts in south-eastern Australia. Western Australia is crying out for revenue to invest in the infrastructure needed to expand and sustain its boom.

Rudd was the architect of this period of imperial overstretch by Canberra. He thought he could transform the federal bureaucracy, within months, into a major service provider. It was not and is not.

Rudd failed spectacularly and was sacked by his colleagues. His successor government was sacked by the public. The only reason it remains in power, as dysfunctional now as it was before the election, is that Labor was bailed out by the poseur from Port Macquarie, Rob Oakeshott, even as his electorate, in both the House and Senate votes, provided the second-largest anti-Labor vote in the nation. Oakeshott can take credit for every stuff-up by this government because he, more than any other, manufactured its now non-existent mandate for Canberra's expanding imperialism.


Coalition tips more problems for syllabus, warning it may be delayed beyond 2013

THE national school curriculum may not be ready for implementation even by 2013 because of fundamental problems and glaring omissions, the Coalition has warned.

Schools Education Minister Peter Garrett has also copped more criticism over his delivery of government initiatives, with opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne pointing to his management of the bungled home insulation scheme, green loans and solar panel programs.

The Australian reported today that Victoria was joining NSW and Western Australia in opting to delay implementation of the curriculum until 2013, despite the government's preferred timetable for the courses to be introduced next year.

The Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority said in a memo that it would spend the next two tears trialling and training teachers and refining the curriculum before starting to implement it.

Mr Pyne seized on the development, telling The Australian Online the curriculum still had key flaws and was not ready for implementation. “We have been warning for 18 months that the national curriculum would not be ready in January 2011,” he said.

It is cumbersome, overly prescriptive and lacks the resources necessary for the training of teachers and as a consequence it could never begin in January 2011,” he told The Australian Online.

Mr Pyne poured scorn on Mr Garrett who, following a meeting of the nation's education ministers earlier this month, claimed an historic victory after they endorsed the content of the first four subjects - English, mathematics, science and history - to be taught in classrooms. “I can only assume that Peter Garrett, in wanting to cover the back of his Prime Minister, pretended something had been achieved at the ministerial council that hadn't. “Because the real villain in the piece of the national curriculum is Julia Gillard, who of course was the minister responsible for its implementation.”

To ensure a smooth implementation of the curriculum, Mr Pyne said the government needed to listen to the “teaching profession and to the experts about what the curriculum should contain”. He warned its “fundamental basics” had not been bedded down and pointed out the history section didn't “acknowledge that the Vietnam War needs to be taught”. Mr Pyne said he wouldn't be surprised if the 2013 timeline “gets pushed out even further”.

Changes to the curriculum can be made until the deadline of October next year and this has the potential to affect teachers introducing courses in their classrooms next year.

Only the Australian Capital Territory will start teaching the new courses next year, with Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory spending the year familiarising teachers with the new courses and running trials.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Church free to ban homosexual foster parents

This is a big improvement on Britain, where the verdict went the other way. The picture below is of Cardinal Pell outside St. Mary's cathedral. It appeared with the story below but the court case actually involved a Protestant organization. Apparently His Eminence makes a better demon

CHURCH groups are free to discriminate against homosexuals after a landmark judgment in which a tribunal ruled religious charities are allowed to ban gay foster parents.

The ruling, made in the NSW Administrative Decisions Tribunal, has been hailed by the Catholic Church but has outraged civil libertarians, who are demanding religions no longer be exempt from anti-discrimination laws if they receive public money, reported The Daily Telegraph.

The Council of Civil Liberties suggested more children might end up in orphanages because church-based service providers could now knock back couples who did not conform to their beliefs.

Even the tribunal itself, whose judgment came down in favour of the ban, said it was effectively bound to reach the decision because of the very broad exemptions in the Anti-Discrimination Act relating to religious groups. And, it went as far as suggesting that Parliament may wish to revise those laws.

The decision marks the end of a seven-year legal battle for a gay couple who attempted to become foster carers through Wesley Mission Australia but were knocked back because their lifestyle was not in keeping with the beliefs and values of Wesleyanism, a Methodist order of the Uniting Church.

The ADT initially awarded the couple $10,000 and ordered the charity to change its practices so it did not discriminate but an appeals panel set aside that decision and ordered the tribunal to reconsider the matter.

The tribunal then said it had little choice but to find that the discrimination was "in conformity" with the church's doctrine because the test in the law "is singularly undemanding".

Council of Civil Liberties president Cameron Murphy said churches who received taxpayers money to provide services for the state -as was increasingly the case -should no longer be exempt from discrimination laws. "It's outrageous," he said. "If a non-religious organisation tried to do this they would be in breach of the law.

"If they want to run a foster care agency they ought to be looking after the best interests of the child, not trying to push their religion on the community.

Cardinal George Pell welcomed the decision and said churches must be able to choose who they wanted to use in the provision of services.

Greens MLC Cate Faehrmann said it was high time groups were no longer able to discriminate for religious reasons.

A spokesman for Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell said if the matter came before Parliament the Liberal Party would allow a conscience vote.


Christmas Day "asylum" boat will take island's detainee population close to 3000

THE Christmas Island Detention Centre will be one boatload shy of housing 3000 people in coming days after another vessel was intercepted.

A suspected asylum-seeker boat carrying almost 60 passengers is en route to the island after being picked up off Ashmore Island yesterday.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said initial indications suggested there were 57 passengers and three crew on board the boat.

Acting opposition immigration spokesman Michael Keenan said the boat arrival was a poignant reminder that people-smugglers don't take holidays.

"Nothing will stop the people-smugglers; not Christmas Day, not the monsoon season, not life-taking tragedies," Mr Keenan said in a statement.

"It's well past time that the Labor government understood that the only thing that will stop the boats coming and prevent more lives being lost is an urgent change of policy."

The latest arrivals will be transferred to Christmas Island by HMAS Maitland where they will undergo security, identity and health checks.

They will take the number of people being housed at the centre to 2970, despite an official capacity of 2600.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen responded to calls from Christmas Island resident Kane Martin to cap the number of detainees on Christmas Island by acknowledging the system was under strain.

Ten days ago 50 asylum-seekers died when their boat broke up in rough seas on approach to Christmas Island.

The Chief of Navy Russ Crane asserted on Friday that HMAS Pirie mobilised as soon as it received the call for help from the stricken vessel off Christmas Island.

THE Coalition has rejected a push by the Greens to boost the country's refugee intake to 20,000 people a year, arguing it could encourage more asylum-seekers to attempt the dangerous journey to Australia.


'No-fault' model for firings

SENIOR Liberals are ramping up a push for another industrial relations overhaul - including considering a "no-fault" dismissal system that would eliminate the need for arbitration to decide if sackings are fair or not.

Even though the federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has declared that Work Choices is "dead, buried and cremated", a Coalition's post-election review is working on a policy to take to the next election to replace Labor's Fair Work system.

One plan being considered is to replace unfair dismissal laws, blamed for discouraging employment by small businesses, with a radical system modelled on the concept of no-fault divorce introduced in 1975.

The idea has been floated by the industrial relations consultant Grace Collier in a paper to be published next month in IPA Review, the journal of the free-market leaning Institute of Public Affairs.

"Our current unfair dismissal system encourages Australians to behave like greedy whingers," Ms Collier writes. "A no-fault dismissal system would set our heads right on the issue and provide for dignity of exit; allowing people to focus not on legal conflict but on managing departure in the chosen way whilst being encouraged to embrace the future opportunities that are always just around the corner."

Under the proposal, which is being cautiously supported by influential Liberals, employers would be able to sack workers with impunity, provided they offer a reasonable paid notice period, an assistance package and job transition services.

Labor's Fair Work system, which broadened unfair dismissal laws, triggered a 63 per cent increase in unfair dismissal applications in its first year, Ms Collier writes.

"Every working day, regardless of fairness, truth or the merits, of their case, Australian employers collectively pay somewhere between $80,598.50 and $127,804.77 in 'go-away money' simply to avoid government arbitration."

Opposition industrial relations spokesman Eric Abetz said that although he did not want to comment on the merits of the proposal, "it is a concept I would be willing to look at".


All pervasive cronyism in the NSW Labor party

"Jobs for the boys"

WHEN Karryn Paluzzano, the former Penrith MP, rolled over to the Independent Commission Against Corruption back in May, admitting she had fiddled parliamentary expenses, Labor was in trouble and it knew it.

Internal party polling ahead of the Penrith byelection showed voters would abandon the ALP, fed up with the political circus in Macquarie Street while infrastructure and services worsened.

With its back to the wall, Labor needed just the right candidate in Penrith. The right candidate in those circumstances being someone who was under no illusion they could win and who would go to their slaughter with the minimum of fuss. Someone willing to be the face of humiliation.

Up stepped Penrith Labor councillor John Thain, looking like the most optimistic man in Sydney. He did all that could be expected of him, having been abandoned by the Premier who refused to set foot in Penrith during the entire campaign to protect her image from being associated with the defeat. Thain was left alone to wear the biggest swing against a government in the state's history.

It would be tempting to feel sorry for Thain but don't, he's fine. After all, this is NSW. This is Labor. Thain is now an adviser to Housing Minister Frank Terenzini. The job, which was not advertised publicly, comes with a six-figure salary.

He should not be singled out. A glance around his colleagues on the Penrith council reveals that virtually every Labor councillor either has or has had a paying job with a Labor state MP or the party.

Councillor Greg Davies was a staffer for retiring Mulgoa MP Di Beamer, councillor Karen McKeown worked for MLC Helen Westwood.

Councillor Prue Guillaume was employed directly by Sussex Street as training and campaigns co-ordinator until last year. In announcing Guillaume as Beamer's replacement to contest Mulgoa, the ALP preferred to dwell on her current job with the charity MS Australia.

The ALP has been at pains to present the clean-out of Labor's ranks - executed with aplomb by general secretary Sam Dastyari - as a renewal and an injection of fresh faces. Actually some familiar faces will benefit most. With the polls suggesting disaster, Labor can only expect to win seats in March with more than a 15 per cent margin.

The seats in that category include David Campbell's seat of Keira where Ryan Park, a former chief of staff to Campbell will contest. In the safe seat of Shellharbour, union organiser Anna Watson takes over from Lylea McMahon.

Swimming against the tide is Joe Tripodi's replacement in Fairfield: Guy Zangari, a teacher from Bonnyrigg. It's surely only a coincidence that Zangari's brother Peter worked as an adviser to Tripodi when he was minister for housing.

The stench of cronyism in NSW lingers. It's going to take an electoral thumping to bring about any genuine renewal in NSW Labor. Fear not, it's coming.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

More secrecy from a Leftist government

The facts are poison to Leftism

THE Baillieu government says it has found proof the former Labor government politicised and interfered with the Freedom of Information process.

Adviser notes and briefings found in desk drawers in the premier's office reveal that John Brumby blocked the appointment of an FOI officer because he was advised "she has consistently interpreted requests and made decisions to our detriment". The notes are the second instalment of damaging material apparently overlooked and left behind in desks by former advisers to Mr Brumby.

The first, revealed last week, was an adviser's black notebook that detailed dirt unit activities and referred to the emails of then shadow frontbencher David Davis. The Sunday Age understands more damaging material has been found and will eventually be released.

In a 2008 memo to the premier, an adviser named Alison recommended to Mr Brumby that he block two officers from receiving special powers to process FOI requests to his private office. One of Mr Brumby's key advisers was Alison Crosweller, but it is not certain the memo is from this Alison. The two new officers, from the legal branch of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, were suggested to the premier for his approval.

But in the memo to the premier, Alison says: "I am very nervous about delegating authority to one of the suggested officers. She has consistently interpreted requests and made decisions to our detriment. Rather than approve one and not the other, suggest DO NOT APPROVE on the basis the [premier's private office] does not receive many requests and we'd prefer to work with current authorised officers."

Alison then recommends a form of words for Mr Brumby to reject the request for approval. Mr Brumby writes almost an exact copy of these words on the bottom of the brief requesting his approval.

The brief, seen by The Sunday Age, was written by the director of his legal department.

The former opposition and media have long suspected FOI was heavily monitored and influenced by the former government, but this appears to be the first proof of this interference.

The Baillieu government told The Sunday Age the former premier's actions showed he was prepared to disadvantage two public servants because one of them had performed her duties in compliance with the act.

The Minister for Corrections and Crime Prevention, Andrew McIntosh, says the Baillieu government will establish an FOI commissioner, who will be independent from government and political interference.

The commissioner will review FOI requests, develop and enforce professional standards and be an independent officer of the Parliament in the same way as the Ombudsman and Auditor-General, he said. Mr McIntosh said the commissioner would monitor all FOI requests, receive and investigate complaints and could inquire into the decision-making of all government FOI officers.

Opposition spokeswoman EmmaTyner declined to answer specific questions about the 2008 blocking of FOI officers by Mr Brumby. But she said: "Quite clearly, Ted Baillieu thinks it's more useful to spend his time searching through drawers for old documents rather than getting on with the job of fixing the problems, which he promised to do."

The first instalment of revealing information left behind by the former government was a black notebook belonging to Mr Brumby's strategic adviser, Simon Hammersley. It appeared to refer to emails "to and from" Mr Davis and could be the subject of an Ombudsman's inquiry.

The Baillieu government has written to Ombudsman George Brouwer asking him to investigate whether the former government inappropriately accessed the then opposition's emails.


Bullying and incompetence in a Left-run government railway system

Bureaucrats very commonly use bullying of employees to cover up their bungles. Now they are spending big to silence their outside critics as well

A website created by a disgruntled retired train conductor contains lurid allegations of extramarital affairs, sexual harassment, cronyism, safety breaches and workplace bullying - all aimed at the management of NSW's rural passenger train network.

CountryLink and RailCorp have spent close to $1 million in a seven-month effort to shut it down.

Since it appeared in May, the "CountryStink" website has become a lightning rod for disaffected and frustrated current and former staff wanting to vent their anger at top brass. It has had more than 500,000 hits.

The RailCorp Investigation Unit has questioned dozens of staff and seized computers from CountryLink depots in an effort to shut the site down. It also sent investigators overseas to track down the website's server. RailCorp has stopped its employees having access to the site.

The CountryStink creator, "Max", told The Sun-Herald he wanted to stop management's "rampant use of power". Max said people's careers had been ruined, families torn apart and passengers' safety compromised by managers who bullied and threatened workers. He said people who complained were transferred or forced to resign.

The website alleges that drivers of high-speed XPT trains were threatened with the sack if they slowed trains down on potentially unsafe parts of the track.

It alleges young female workers have been sexually harassed and that women have complained about having to sleep with bosses to get a promotion. The site alleges that managers were having extramarital affairs with more junior staff.

Max alleges that senior management has been ordering drivers to keep to the posted speed limits on tracks even though the ballast and soil under the rails had been undermined by heavy rain or flooding. Slowing down would affect on-time running statistics, Max said. "[They] put the safety of passengers at risk," Max said. "As a result some drivers were victimised to such an extent that some resigned, went back to CityRail or took stress leave."

Max also details a management crackdown on train hospitality staff toasting leftover bread from the buffet cars for their own consumption, managers promoting mates into senior positions and a cutback in the number of staff on night services, putting employees at risk of drunken assaults.

Max estimated that CountryLink had spent close to $1 million in trying to shut his website down. RailCorp would not confirm how much it had spent on hunting down Max.

RailCorp said it was investigating the matter and that under no circumstances was harassment of any kind acceptable at the organisation.


Hormone-treated beef off the shelves at Coles supermarkets in 2011

This will undoubtedly segment the market -- with food freaks buying their meat at Coles and others buying cheaper meat elsewhere. Are there enough food freaks to make it worthwhile for Coles? We will see, I guess. Richard Goyder is a very smart man, however, so he has probably guessed right

BEEF pumped with growth hormones will be banned by supermarket giant Coles from New Year's Day in an Australian first, sending shock waves through the meat industry. Industry experts predict higher beef prices as more customers demand hormone-free meat, which makes up about half of all beef sold in Australia.

Farmers have used hormone growth promotants (HGPs) to speed up muscle growth in cattle for more than 30 years, backed by rigorous safety approval from health authorities.

But in a survey of 1000 people by Meat and Livestock Australia, leaked to the Sunday Herald Sun, almost half said they would consume less meat if it had added hormones, while 16 per cent would "never touch it again" and 15 per cent would "actively warn others".

Industry experts now fear a "knock-on effect" from the Coles ban if other retailers were forced to fall into line.

Coles has vowed to continue spending tens of millions of dollars a year absorbing the extra costs incurred by farmers so that consumers would not pay more. HGPs for cattle have been approved in Australia since 1979, but were banned by the European Union in 1988.

Without the HGPs, industry experts said another two million head of cattle would be needed to make up a shortfall in meat, creating environmental problems. "This has the potential to be very damaging to the beef industry and its reputation," Sydney University Prof Ian Lean said.

But Coles ambassador Curtis Stone said the industry needed to listen to consumer concerns. "The goal of the food industry should be to produce food as Mother Nature intended with as little additives as possible," Stone said. "As consumers, we have the power to make sure this happen."

Australian Cattle Council chief David Inall accused Coles of needlessly frightening customers. And CSIRO livestock industry chief Alan Bell said HGPs were "very safe and backed by science". "The problem is that the word 'hormone' is an emotive one," Prof Bell said.


A Labor party bully

This is just normal form for Schwarto. He is actually rather comical in his aggressiveness but those he attacks would be unlikely to see it that way

BLIGH Government bad boy Robert Schwarten is in strife again after publicly humiliating a top bureaucrat in an expletive-laden tirade at Premier Anna Bligh's Christmas drinks.

The Sunday Mail understands the Information Technology Minister verbally abused Community Safety director-general Jim McGowan because of the public servant's widely-known concerns that his department was next to receive Mr Schwarten's bungled payroll system.

The altercation at the Premier's annual Cabinet Christmas reception earlier this month came as Mr Schwarten's department was negotiating with Mr McGowan's agency about rolling out the payroll system for thousands of staff in corrective and emergency services in the next few years.

It is believed Mr Schwarten physically pulled Mr McGowan aside at the drinks and swore in full view of some of the hundreds of guests while the public servant remained silent.

Government sources say Mr McGowan has been adamant he will not impose the new payroll software on his 10,000 staff unless it is working properly, after thousands of Queensland Health staff went unpaid this year.

Asked on Friday whether there was physical contact with Mr McGowan at the Queensland Art Gallery event, Mr Schwarten refused interviews. In a statement he did not rule out touching the public servant but insisted there was "no physical aggression whatsoever".

"Jim McGowan and I have been mates for over 30 years," Mr Schwarten said. "We have had many robust exchanges during that time." He also claimed his comments to Mr McGowan did not relate to the payroll issue – but a witness said that was "absolute rubbish" and described Mr Schwarten's behaviour as "appalling".

Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek demanded Mr Schwarten be brought to account for his actions. "There is no excuse for physical contact," he said. "The Premier should be getting her minister to explain in full what happened."

Mr McGowan declined to comment. Department of Premier and Cabinet director-general Ken Smith said no formal complaint had been made.

The incident is not the first time Mr Schwarten has embarrassed the Government with his bad behaviour, with the Opposition recently dubbing him "The Aussie Joe Bugner" of State Parliament. In 2000, he was involved in a punch-up at a Labor Day barbecue with the husband of a federal MP.


Christmas message from Julia Gillard

Quite a good speech below. It could have been made by a conservative

In the Gillard family, Christmas is a time for tradition. Everyone has the same job on Christmas Day. I always get to peel the potatoes and carrots. We eat the same food in the same order. Dad tells the same jokes!

We get a little older each year, and the presents for my niece and nephew have changed as the years go by, but not too much else does.

I hope this Christmas you are able to share your own special traditions with people who you love and who love you in return. Whether that’s time in church, or with your family, or at the cricket or on the beach, or helping others, I hope this Christmas is a special one.

Christmas is also a time when we reflect on what’s been. After lunch on Christmas Day, I think many of us have that quiet moment where we look around and think, "all in all, we’re lucky to have each other". Certainly, that’s how I feel about our country this Christmas.

We are all Australians, all people of this place, and as a people, as a nation, we have got so much to be grateful for. Through it all, there’s nowhere I’d rather be. We are still lucky.

For some I know Christmas this year is a sad time. We lost a lot of brave Australians this year: from the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment, from the 2nd Commando Regiment, from the Special Air Service Regiment, from 6 RAR.

They died for us and I know every Australian has a special thought for their partners and children, their families, and their mates, this Christmas. We don’t forget.

Just as Christmas reminds us of the good things we have, it can be a tough time for some among us. So if your Christmas is a sadder one this year because of family problems, or illness, or the loss of a loved one, I hope you know that you’re never alone.

2010 has been an eventful year in our country’s life, but above all else, we shouldn’t forget the most wonderful thing that happened this year. The drought broke in the eastern states at last.

Of course, it’s never easy on the land, and I know that now it’s flooding which is making life hard in many places even today, but we’re grateful for some of the rain at least. We think of the farmers still in drought. We wish some of the rain would come your way now too.

I want to say something to Australians who have to work at Christmas to serve and protect us - our police and fire fighters, our ambulance officers and nurses, emergency personnel and of course our troops abroad. So many people sacrifice their Christmas Day to make life better for others. It’s hard to think of a more generous Christmas present than that. Thank you.

Finally, whether you’re going around the corner or across the country please drive safely. Don’t make next Christmas a sad anniversary.

For all Australians, my wish is that this Christmas, wherever you are in our country or overseas, you have the chance to do those special things that mean Christmas for you, with people who are special to you. I wish you the merriest of Christmases and the happiest of New Years.