Sunday, October 31, 2010

NSW to review weak sentencing of criminals

SUSPENDED sentences could be scrapped by the State Government because of concerns courts allow too many serious offenders to escape jail. Attorney-General John Hatzistergos has ordered a review of suspended sentences after the number handed out by judges and magistrates tripled over the past decade.

More than 6400 criminals convicted of assault, robbery and drug dealing last year received suspended sentences, in which a jail term is deferred on the condition there is no re-offending. The Government is looking to follow the lead of Victoria where the sentencing option is being abolished for all but the most serious of crimes.

The review will be carried out by the NSW Sentencing Council. It will be headed by council chair Jerrold Cripps, QC with advice from Justice James Wood, Director of Public Prosecutions Nicholas Cowdery, NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Ron Woodham and police Assistant Commissioner David Hudson.Mr Hatzistergos said suspended sentences were designed to denote the seriousness of the offence while giving offenders the chance to rehabilitate in the community.

"This review will determine whether suspended sentences are meeting these objectives," he said. "It will also examine the use of suspended sentences for offenders who would have otherwise been given a bond.

"Importantly, it will consider the views of victims of crime, for whom a suspended sentence can be a confusing outcome when they are expecting the offender to go to jail."Suspended sentences can be issued by the courts to people convicted of crimes that carry sentences of up to two years.

But evidence shows that instead of being issued as an alternative to jail, they are being handed down in place of periodic detention and community services.

Figures from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) show 5983 suspended sentences were handed down in the lower courts last year and 489 in the higher courts. Eleven people convicted of manslaughter and driving causing death were given suspended sentences. They were also handed down to 113 people convicted of sexual assault, eight who were involved in kidnapping, 334 for burglary, 301 for importing or exporting drugs and 1644 for traffic offences.

In about half the cases, offenders walked free from court without supervision orders.

Suspended sentences were scrapped in the mid-1970s but reintroduced under Bob Carr in 2000. Critics of the sentencing option claim suspended sentences were designed for "middle-class offenders" as the conditions simply required those being handed them to obey the law, as required by the rest of the community.

Victims of Crime Assistance League vice-president Howard Brown said suspended sentences had been handed out inconsistently by the courts and should not be given to perpetrators of violent crime. "There is a place for them, but they've been given inconsistently," Mr Brown said.


Failed NSW solar power scheme will burn a hole in every pocket

Households will pay an extra $600 on their electricity bill over six years to cover the $2 billion cost of the failure of the state government's overly generous solar power scheme.

If elected in March, the opposition will have the scheme, which runs to the end of 2016, reviewed by the auditor-general so that it can decide on its future.

From midnight last Wednesday, the government slashed from 60¢ to 20¢ per kilowatt hour the tariff paid to households installing solar panel systems because the surging number of applications has blown out the scheme's cost.

In reports tabled in Parliament last week, the government disclosed that it had been advised that even after slashing the tariff for solar panels, it anticipated 777 megawatts of solar panels would be installed by the time the scheme closed. Already, 200 megawatts of capacity has either been installed or ordered.

The reports detailed the total cost to households is forecast to reach $1975 million by 2017, placing a burden on homes at a time when power prices are rising sharply already.

The government refused to indicate when it first became aware that the initial 50-megawatt target had been breached, which triggered an automatic review of the scheme. The government began that review in August. However, Country Energy, one of the largest distributors in NSW, was informing solar industry officials as early as May that the target had already been reached.

Even so, the government "dithered until August" before holding its review, with the report only completed last week, opposition climate change spokeswoman Catherine Cusack said yesterday. "Labor's billion-dollar blowout will be passed on to families who will pay at least an extra $100 per year on their electricity bills every year until 2017," she said.

The total cost to families in some regional areas could be $1000.

A slump in the price of solar panels, to about $6000 per kilowatt from about $13,000 at the start of the year, prompted a surge in the number of households installing the systems. The price drop resulted in it taking only two years for some systems to pay for themselves, rather than six years. Cutting the tariff to 20¢ - what most households pay for their electricity - is expected to result in fewer orders for new systems.

Industry sources estimate a new system will take 5.4 years to pay for itself with a 20¢ tariff, making it hard to justify installing one. According to the government's figures, a 2.5-kilowatt system would bring a "windfall gain" of $4000 for the installer. The opposition said the total size of the subsidy was $10,000 per installed system.

Jon Dee, NSW Australian of the Year for 2010 and founder of advocacy organisation Do Something!, has added his voice to the condemnation of the government's decision. He has just installed solar panels on his Blue Mountains home and is on a lecture tour advising businesses how they can save money using sustainable initiatives.

"This is typical of our politicians, a knee-jerk reaction," he said. "Initially the tariff was too generous and now they have reduced it too heavily. What we need is a national approach where we look at what tariff will encourage sustainable growth [of the solar industry] and wean the public off … coal-fired power."

The NSW scheme paid existing solar clients 60¢ per kilowatt hour for all energy produced; other states have "net" schemes that pay for surplus power after domestic use is taken off. NSW had the most generous scheme - now the least. Victoria's net scheme pays 60¢ per kilowatt hour, Queensland pays 44¢ and Western Australia pays 40¢.

Mr Dee said a standard national rate would encourage banks to make green loans available. "The government has shown that it is incapable of running green loans schemes but that is the next step so that the average person can afford to get involved," he said.

A spokeswoman for SolarSwitch, one of the largest installers in the state, said: "[Premier Keneally] wanted to slow it down but she has slammed the brakes on and thrown us through the windscreen." She said the tighter margins would encourage consumers to look at cheaper, inferior panels with the risk of them delaminating or the glass turning milky after a few years of use.

The Clean Energy Council said the NSW government had effectively "shut down" the industry by setting the tariff at almost the same rate as the cost of electricity.

The state opposition wants the tariff reviewed. With the election imminent and the government insecure, it may get that opportunity.


Queensland Health erroneously pays millions to ex-employees

Even after many months, they cannot get their payroll system right. And that is symptomatic of how they run their hospitals

The Queensland Health payroll debacle has sunk to a new low as taxpayers fork out "wages" to people who do not even work for the organisation. The Sunday Mail can reveal that former employees of Queensland Health – even some who resigned more than 18 months ago – are receiving the payments. Highly placed sources have told of former staff having to ring repeatedly to ask for the payments to stop.

Others who have been overpaid could have the issue hanging over their head for up to six years and some will have to enter into long-term, fortnightly repayment plans.

Queensland Health deputy director-general of corporate services Michael Walsh confirmed former staff were being paid. "Queensland Health acknowledges that some former staff have received payments after their separation date," Mr Walsh said in a statement. "Some of these staff completed their employment with Queensland Health prior to March 8, 2010."

However, sources said some former staff who had received payments had quit up to two years ago. It has been reported that at least $38 million has been incorrectly doled out.

But section 396 of the Industrial Relations Act means employees cannot be forced to pay back the amount in one lump sum. Mr Walsh said Queensland Health would "sit down with each employee to help them understand their pay situation and develop an appropriate repayment plan".

Meanwhile, Minister for Information and Communication Technology Robert Schwarten dismissed Opposition criticism in Question Time this week about the hiring of consultants to fix the problem. "If you do not know that much, I do not know what sort of a government you will make," Mr Schwarten said.


Great education available outside the mainstream

HOME schooling and private and selective schools give kids the best chance at learning

JULIA Gillard often tells us that Labor proposes to give every young Australian a great education. The phrase is a mantra, of course, but I wonder if there is anything remotely approaching a consensus about what constitutes a great education.

Being something of a traditionalist, when I hear those words my mind turns to the sort of elite schooling that Eton offers its boys and Geelong Grammar provides for both sexes. Although I would have hated being a boarder myself, I'm now inclining to the view that many - perhaps even most - adolescents benefit from longish spells away from the comforts and distractions of family life, in an ordered existence concentrated on study.

Schools like these offer the best of several worlds. Because they cater for grandees and rich people, many of whose children aren't especially bright, they're a model of flexibility in encouraging the extracurricular and sporting interests of pupils who aren't academically inclined. At the same time, they give everyone a good grounding in the basics and attend assiduously to anyone displaying any scholarly inclinations.

At the opposite end of the scale is private tuition at home. The days when rich people in Australia thought nothing of hiring a full-time tutor to teach their children are almost gone, except in the case of invalids and infant prodigies.

However, there is a thriving home-schooling movement, delivering most of the same benefits at a fraction of the cost and producing more than its share of outstanding students.

It was born of a warranted mistrust of the ideological baggage of the state system and, increasingly, of the Catholic parochial and independent systems.

Parents tend to rely on unfashionable textbooks that teach you how to parse a sentence, to construct a paragraph and to mount an argument in 500 words. They do not pander to the fads for dumbed-down literary studies but offer English as we once knew it.

Similarly, the maths and science books are usually at least 20 years old and quaintly insistent on the difference between a right answer and a wrong one. Because the parents learned from similar texts, they find them relatively easy to teach from.

Home-schooling parents enjoy an unenviable reputation in official educational circles as a current equivalent to the American Amish. In my experience this is seldom warranted because most of them believe in the value of a rigorous education that will let their offspring think for themselves and free them from enslavement to the zeitgeist.

Home-schooling parents include blue-collar social conservatives and middle-class people who set great store in education. Quite a lot are disenchanted former teachers who tend to pool their expertise and hold group tutorials for students in their area. This has the added advantages of getting the kids out of the house and into the company of their age-mates.

Retired Latin, French and music teachers can earn a modest supplement to the pension, instructing small groups of highly motivated youngsters. Old maths teachers are also much sought-after.

I should declare an interest here. I've found teaching English and history to individual home-schoolers one of the most rewarding experiences of recent years.

In between what many would regard as the two extremes, another example of an education that could plausibly be called great is the kind provided by NSW's James Ruse Agricultural High School. It's a selective co-ed school with a catchment area including a lot of poorer suburbs. Nonetheless, in exams its students regularly outperform every other secondary school, public or private, in the state and they excel in the arts and sport as well.

By virtue of its dedicated staff and track record of academic performance, James Ruse has broken down what's probably the biggest barrier to equality of opportunity in schooling. It has overcome the habitual under-valuing of education by generations of working-class Australian parents.

There are a few groups that have been notable exceptions to that rule: the Lutherans and the remnants of the old-fashioned Presbyterian and Methodist cultures (which maintain a strong ethos of self-help) and the Jews, known from the earliest times as "the people of the book".

Among the crucial reasons for the inequality of educational outcomes in Australia - which Gillard often conflates with the separate question of educational opportunity - is that middle-class parents tend to value schooling highly and reward good results.

The fact their children are over-represented in the professions is less a function of the advantages of their class than because those are the careers to which they and their families have historically aspired and so many of them are over-achievers.

Considering the three models of an excellent education canvassed here and the shape of a consensus that might emerge on the subject, there are a few points that can be made.

The successes of home-schooling suggest it's the quality of teaching and parental support, rather than the amount of money expended, that is critical.

In contrast, vast amounts of public funding underpinned the fad for "whole word" reading programs in primary schools that have wasted years of everyone's time and left many thousands of younger Australians functionally illiterate.

All three models assume that schooling should be a demanding exercise as well as a rewarding one and that this applies to the slow learners and the disengaged as much as the gifted and the keen.

Unless schools expect the best their pupils can achieve, they'll seldom see it and the young may never get a good grounding in the basics, let alone find out what they're capable of doing.

The surest way to avoid institutional dumbing-down is by streaming all students according to ability, as measured by IQ tests and annual exams.

However, it's well documented that the British model of an all-important 11 Plus hurdle has discriminated against late developers and bright kids from backgrounds of complex disadvantage, so there needs to be periodic opportunities to change stream.

Not everyone belongs in the top streams and not everyone belongs in their local secondary school. Selective schools with competitive entry may offend the politically correct pieties of the teachers unions, which say they want every school to be a centre of excellence.

But in the meantime, until that happy day dawns, selective schools are the best chance of a great education for students in the public system. They are the leaven in the lump.

There should be more of them and they should encourage their youngsters in academic competition as fierce as the kind we take for granted in sport.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Where’s the fire?

According to a most intrusive and misguided piece of strata legislation, occupants in NSW units apparently do not have the right to install a security chain on their front doors, irrespective of need. This is to ensure that, in the unlikely event of a fire, residents do not have trouble with the simple task of slipping the chain off the latch. A deadlock, however, with its confusing and complicated mechanisms and the need for an easily misplaced key, is apparently quite safe. Huh?

This is yet another example of the nanny state and illogical bureaucracy intruding into so many areas of our lives. Fire prevention and safety laws are valuable, and undoubtedly have a place in society, but restricting the right of individuals to secure their home against intruders is a ridiculous and unnecessary bureaucratic invasion.

The destruction of Australian civil liberties might not yet rage with the intensity of a burning building, but is nonetheless quietly smouldering away. So what can we do about it?

On the other side of the world, in a heartening admission of the massive problems the United Kingdom faces with state interventionism and bossy-booting, a community consultation was launched in July by the David Cameron/Nick Clegg coalition. The initiative Your Freedom invites Britons to suggest which aspects of their lives are being restricted by government and which laws or regulations need amending or tossing onto a bonfire. Cynicism about PR campaigning aside, the idea has merit.

Freedom of speech, freedom to organise, and freedom to act are all fundamental human rights, but ones that must constantly be fought for even in democratic societies. Isn’t it time we shouted ‘fire!’ in the crowded cinema of Australian civil life?

What illiberal laws should Australia remove? What individual rights and liberties have we restricted in the name of security or political correctness? In this age of terrorism and global economic uncertainty, do we value the illusion of safety and ‘benevolent’ pseudo-parental concern more than our freedom?

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated October 29. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Why graduates lean to the Green/Left

A correlation between degrees and voting Green reflects poorly on our academics, says a conservative student

SOME have attributed the increasing levels of support for the Greens to centrist policies adopted by the Labor Party on climate change, refugees and gay marriage that offend its progressive base. Others argue the rising Greens vote is due to a failure by the main parties and the media to apply appropriate scrutiny to Greens policies, which they say are far more radical than many realise.

Former finance minister Lindsay Tanner, whose seat of Melbourne was lost to the Greens' Adam Bandt, has a different view. In his 2009 John Button Memorial Lecture, Tanner attributed the rise of the Greens to the expansion of higher education.

"Voting behaviour is increasingly defined as much by education as by income level. The Greens are, first and last, a product of higher education. Greens voters are overwhelmingly people with a tertiary education . . . 20 years ago this group was modest in size and overwhelmingly Labor in adherence. Now their numbers are growing rapidly and many support the Greens," he said.

Tanner went on to say this growing group had a "profound commitment to multiculturalism, gender equity and higher learning" and that this was a product of their education.

There is some empirical evidence to support Tanner's thesis. Data from the 2007 Australian Election Study, collected by the Australian National University, showed voters with higher education qualifications were much likelier than the general population to identify with the Greens.

In the overall population, the study found just 5.8 per cent of voters identified with the Greens. But among those with a bachelor's degree, that rose to 11.1 per cent, and 12.9 per cent among those with postgraduate qualifications. Postgraduates also were twice as likely to state they "strongly liked" the Greens.

The study also asked participants to rank themselves on a left-right matrix. Among the general population, about one-third of respondents identified with the broad Right, while 27.7 per cent identified with the broad Left. Yet significantly more people with university-level education self-identified as left-wing, including 42.4 per cent of people with a bachelor's degree and 44.6 per cent of postgraduate qualification holders.

So, what explains the higher levels of support for the Greens? It should not necessarily follow that more education equates to more left-wing views. After all, what does a bachelor of engineering, science or commerce teach students about gay marriage or refugees?

It is a damning indictment of the higher education system that Tanner, from the left faction of the ALP, admits our universities are churning out increasing numbers of Greens voters. It is no coincidence the institutions that churn out these graduates are dominated by left-wing academics.

There are limited studies of academic bias in Australian universities, and most of the evidence to support the notion of widespread bias is anecdotal, but that does not mean it is not a problem.

In 2008 the Senate inquired into the issue and, despite the overwhelming majority of individual submissions reporting instances of academic bias, the Labor-Greens majority on the committee dismissed the idea that bias was a problem in Australian universities.

The Liberal minority report, however, argued the evidence presented at the hearings by students and representative organisations suggested it was a problem. Students complained they were treated as pariahs if they expressed centre-right views and felt excluded and vilified because of their politics.

Studies in the US make it clear that academe is almost exclusively dominated by the Left. One, published by The New York Times in 2004, showed registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans in humanities departments seven to one.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Melbourne during the past five years, I've witnessed and been subject to multiple instances of academic bias. One of the worst examples was presented to the Senate inquiry in 2008.

An introductory politics subject, Contemporary Ideologies and Movements, devoted one week to liberalism and conservatism. For the following 11 weeks, it examined different variants of socialism and green ideology as well as feminist and lesbian political movements.

Worse, the required reading on liberalism was not John Stuart Mill or Friedrich Hayek but an expose on the social lives of Young Liberals published in The Monthly magazine. Following the inquiry the subject was abolished and replaced with a subject that, in the words of Melbourne vice-chancellor Glyn Davis, would have a broader focus and include readings from Milton Friedman.

Critics note few conservatives aspire to careers in academe, preferring to enter the private sector in search of higher earnings. They argue it is only from self-selection that university faculties tilt left, not sinister design.

That may be true, but many conservatives are discouraged from seeking careers in universities because faculties appear monolithic and unwelcoming for those on the Centre-Right. And it does not absolve universities from their responsibility to teach in a non-partisan manner.

Having left-wing views or political affiliations does not automatically make an academic biased. Excellent teachers are able to put their own views aside and present a balanced appraisal of contentious issues. But many professors are not able to put their politics aside, and the lack of intellectual pluralism at many universities means academics work and socialise mostly among those who share their left-wing views.

Of course, academic bias has a more immediate effect than its capacity to skew the electorate: on the quality of education students receive. For this reason alone, it deserves much greater public scrutiny.


Thousands dying waiting for surgery in Victoria

MORE than 6300 people - almost two a day - have died waiting for surgery in Victoria in the past nine years. The revelation comes as the length of time patients spend on elective surgery waiting lists continues to grow.

Figures obtained under Fredom of Information by the Liberal Party show almost 600 people died on hospital waiting lists in 2009-10, taking the total for the past nine years to 6381.

Almost 1000 of those who died waiting were under the age of 60, including up to 41 infants and up to 52 children. Men outnumbered women almost two to one.

Opposition health spokesman David Davis said the Brumby Government had ignored thousands of desperately ill Victorians needing surgery and often forced to live in pain and discomfort. "It is clear that thousands are dying while on the Brumby Government's waiting lists, and the numbers may actually be far greater given John Brumby's hidden massive surgery waiting lists," he said.

Health Minister Daniel Andrews said there was no suggestion that the procedure for which these patients were listed contributed in any way to their death. "These statistics show the people who have been taken off the surgery waiting list because the hospital has been notified that they have passed away," his spokeswoman said.

Urology patients - those needing surgery for prostate, kidney and bladder illnesses - and those with eye diseases were among the highest death rates.

Documents released under FoI show 77 Victorians died waiting for urgent elective surgery in the past year. Hospital admission is desired within 30 days. Over nine years, 877 people in the "urgent" category died before making it into the operating theatre.

In the past decade the wait for urgent surgery has blown out from a median seven days to 10 days. The wait for semi-urgent surgery has ballooned from 35 days to 51. For other operations, it's out from 52 to 89.

Most waiting-list deaths were recorded by Southern Health, which runs Monash Medical Centre. It had 66 deaths in the past year and 790 since 2001.

Austin Health reported 48 deaths last year and 698 since 2001. Austin CEO Dr Brendan Murphy said most waiting list deaths were not associated with the condition for which patients were awaiting treatment. "If you've got a life threatening condition you don't even go on the waiting list," he said. "Certainly you might find someone, for example, who was waiting for a heart operation, who dies of a heat attack and that might be because the condition suddenly changed."

Mr Murphy said checks on a sample of 50 patients who died while on waiting lists at the Austin two years ago found all the result of unrelated causes.


Bid to lift choice for university students

VICTORIA yesterday called for more student choice and new private providers in university education.

The Brumby government is urging the Gillard government to extend commonwealth undergraduate funding to TAFEs and other approved providers.

In its Tertiary Education Access Plan to be announced today, the government says increased choice is needed to meet skill shortages and demand for more applied-focused degrees.

From 2012, the federal government is uncapping the supply of commonwealth-supported undergraduate places that universities can offer to increase participation. But Victoria wants commonwealth places to be allocated as an "entitlement" to eligible students to study at the provider of their choice.

Philip Clarke, head of tertiary education policy at Skills Victoria, said: "Victoria believes that shifting the focus of a demand-driven model to a student entitlement that can be met by a wider range of providers that have met national quality assurance and regulatory standards is a key element of growing higher education participation and completion."

The Victorian proposal comes as the Group of Eight sandstone universities lobby for significant student fee deregulation to drive choice, and also argue for commonwealth funding for TAFEs.

The Council of Private Higher Education welcomed the proposals but warned that commonwealth funding, plus the student contribution, did not cover the cost of delivery of many courses.

TAFE Directors Australia backed the proposal, noting that TAFE students doing degrees had to pay full fees without commonwealth supported places. But Universities Australia said that while it wasn't opposed in principle the commonwealth first needed to ensure new national quality regulators were in place.

RMIT vice-chancellor Margaret Gardner said universities were already well placed to deliver on the government's expansion targets and that a wide range of courses were available to students.

Kwong Lee Dow, former Melbourne University vice-chancellor and an adviser to the government on the plan, said he was disappointed the plan didn't include significant new spending measures beyond a previously announced $104 million for boosting tertiary access in rural areas.

The plan, worth $7m, details priorities for fostering school, TAFE and university partnerships to boost participation, and includes a government internship program for the disadvantaged.


Fibre network a waste of money, says Japanese expert

ONE of Japan's richest men has labelled Australia's $43 billion National Broadband Network a stupid waste of taxpayers' money. Masayoshi Son, who heads Japanese internet and mobile giant Softbank and counts Apple's Steve Jobs and Microsoft's Bill Gates among his friends, attacked the Gillard government's signature project yesterday.

Quizzed about the NBN by The Weekend Australian after delivering a speech in Tokyo, Mr Son said it was completely unnecessary to spend so much taxpayers' money. "It's a waste; it's a stupid solution," he said. "Without using taxpayers' money you can get 21st-century infrastructure."

Mr Son had just finished delivering his own vision of how to deliver fibre-to-the-home connections throughout Japan without any taxpayer contribution. He claimed that his solution, recently put to Prime Minister Naoto Kan and several members of his cabinet, would deliver basic fibre connections for just 1150 yen ($15) a month, far cheaper than what is envisaged under the NBN. That is also far cheaper than the current typical monthly price of Y5000 ($63) for cable in Japan.

Mr Son's proposal involves splitting the part-government-owned NTT into telco services and fibre network businesses and rolling out cable to all homes within five years. Softbank and fellow carrier KDDI would fold their fibre cable infrastructure into the merged network business, which would then be 40 per cent owned by the government and 60 per cent by NTT, Softbank and KDDI.

Mr Son said that a one-time rollout of fibre -- similar to the NBN proposal -- would cost just one-third as much as cabling individual homes on an on-demand basis. "My advice is forget about the demand basis installation, just do it with a plan. Replace whole cities: this month Hiroshima City, next month another city, and so on," he said. "Replace entire cities with a plan and remove metal and replace with fibre. That way the installation cost is one-third and the installation speed is much quicker."

He believes that no new capital investment would be required from taxpayers and that the network business would soon become profitable because of lower maintenance costs stemming from the replacement of the decaying copper network. "After five years it (the network business) would generate very profitable free cash flow. If that company generates profitable free cash flow over the next 20 years, then it can get all the money from banks, not depending on taxpayers' money.

In a speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan, he acknowledged Softbank would benefit from the plan, but said so would the country and potentially the world.

Mr Son said that while Australia faced obvious technical challenges in terms of distances and sparse population, Japan's mountainous terrain and thousands of islands posed challenges, too.


Friday, October 29, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is suspicious about the attention-seeking Leftist who threw his shoes in the direction of John Howard during an ABC TV show. Zeg thinks the ABC knew in advance that it was going to happen

Leftists are not nice people

Mirko Bagaric

LOOK left, look right, then watch for the shoe from the left. John Howard was entitled to throw his shoes with gusto at the leftist fanatic Q & A shoe-thrower. The fact Howard laughed off the bitter, violent stunt underlies the moral gulf between most conservatives and the hypocritical Left, who self-select when it comes to occupying seats at the hopelessly biased ABC studios.

Without knowing it, I've been doing a wide-ranging social experiment on this exact issue during the past few years. It turns out that the supposedly warm and fuzzy Left is anything but that. Intoxicated by self-righteous irrelevance it has developed an addiction to anger pills and suffers from a hyperventilation disorder.

Before I disclose my data nailing the Left, first a little bit about how I acquired it. I regularly make wide-ranging comments that conflict with policies of the Left and Right. I'm apolitical; the policies of Labor and Liberal are so similar to make the debate almost irrelevant. Most of my writing is informed by one underlying principle. It's called utilitarianism. It is the theory that when you are faced with a moral or political choice you should make the decision that will maximise human flourishing, where each person's interest counts equally.

The Left doesn't like me because I'm a fan of tough counter-terrorism laws and harsher sentences for sex and violent offenders. I also oppose euthanasia, abortion and dispute the desperate need for a reduction in greenhouse gases. I often upset the Right because I push for gay marriages, animal rights, no tax for the poor and mega taxes for the rich, multiculturalism and tolerance towards Muslim values.

So what is the conclusive evidence I have that shows the Left has mutated into a hysterical, hypocritical - albeit well-intentioned - bunch? It comes in the form of thousands of abusive emails, an endless array of insulting (albeit sometimes witty and amusing) grossly misinformed blog comments, demands to my employers to sack me for saying what I think and even the occasional demonstration by some time-rich, agenda-poor anti-moralisers who are defeated by the practical ramifications of the concept of free speech.

This is nearly the sum total of responses to my comments in the past couple of years. The striking aspect of this is that nearly all of the besmirching and attempts to stereotype and censure me have come from the supposedly tolerant, libertarian Left, even though the Right has just as much reason to be jacked off at me.

What about the Right? I was raised to think that it was raised to be mean. But even this building block of social discourse has disintegrated. The Right doesn't have any more smarts than its opponents but certainly is nicer. It rarely throws hissy fits and seems to have a deficient vocabulary when it comes to name calling. Some members even show embryonic signs of a sense of humour. That's not to say that they always fail to live up to expectations. The anger meter on my email occasionally goes into overdrive when I write a piece suggesting that Muslims are being vilified in Australia. Still, on numbers alone this is negligible compared with the extremist torrent from the Left.

So why is it that the Left has become much of what it despises? Well, that's easy. History teaches us that rebellions without causes can be nothing other than character-destroying. The Left has fought a good fight. The right to life, liberty, property, equal access to high-quality health care, education and the professions; they're all now an entrenched part of the Australian landscape. Its job is pretty much done - at home. There's no scope for acquiring a sense of genuine purpose pursuing the current leftist agenda in the form of promoting anti-Americanism and salvaging the reputation of convicted terrorists.

Life can be nothing other than miserable for people with a warped sense of moral priorities and who spend their spare time pursuing meaningless causes. That's why the Left has mutated into such an embittered and angry tribe. Its only redemption is to reconnect with its historical roots and start fighting worthwhile causes that have some prospect of enhancing human flourishing.


Disastrous Green energy policies in NSW

YET again, the Australian Labor Party is demonstrating that, when it comes to effective policy on green energy, it resembles the benighted fellow who, in a version of the vernacular, couldn't organise himself service in a house of ill repute with a fistful of $50 notes.

NSW Premier Kristina Keneally's pratfall on solar photovoltaic subsidies may be added to the Rudd government's failures on household insulation, green loans, encouraging wind farm development through the renewable energy scheme (because it allowed it to be glutted with solar subsidies) and then the abandonment of the emissions trading scheme.

The Greens, the environmental movement and their fellow travellers do not come out of the NSW fiasco with much credit, either.

Confronted with the NSW government's decision to slash the subsidy for residential rooftop solar systems by two-thirds, state Greens MP John Kaye has cheerfully, and shamelessly, said that his party would settle for a tariff scheme that was half the value of the initial program. So he, and it, knew the original arrangements were well over the top.

The Clean Energy Council also is now happy to settle for a 45c a kilowatt hour feed-in tariff where it welcomed the initial 60c scheme as an example for the rest of the country.

Most of the mud, however, rightly must stick to Keneally and her government, notwithstanding a spin 101 media statement in which she lauded the "solar bonus scheme" as "an incredible success" on one hand and knifed it with the other, acknowledging that the "most generous scheme in Australia" at its original level would whack residential customers, already faced with their bills doubling for other reasons, with an extra $2.5 billion in costs over five years if allowed to continue.

The "generous" initial tariff enabled NSW householders swooping on the opportunity to earn 60c a kilowatt hour compared with 45.7c in the next-best program in the ACT.

As Keneally's media statement indicates, the amended NSW scheme will still sting the state's residential customers for $1.5bn over and above other higher charges by 2016.

There is no acknowledgment in Keneally's retreat that her government had created greenhouse gas abatement costing $640 a tonne under the initial scheme, according to the National Generators Forum, compared with $15 a tonne for the state's longstanding greenhouse gas reduction scheme aimed at other areas of supply and consumption.

Her government is not the first to cut and run from populist rooftop solar programs.

As the government's own review committee reports, Spain managed to bring on an almost seven-fold increase in orders for the PV systems in one year by its too-generous arrangements and then had to slash feed-in tariffs 30 per cent and impose a cap on the annual volume of installations to under one-fifth of the level they hit in 2008-09.

What made the NSW scheme so attractive to householders who were fast on their feet, and now have gold-plated subsidies locked in until the middle of the decade, was that a combination of the far too high feed-in tariff, a reduction in solar installation costs and the impact of a higher Australian dollar delivered them a pay-back period for their investment of less than three years, compared with the government's intention of 10 years.

The report indicates that the fast-footed 50,000 who got in before Keneally stopped the initial program will get a bonus of $4000 in net present value terms on their investment. Nice work, that.

The bad news for the rest of NSW's residential consumers is that the additional costs of the Keneally scheme will not show up on their bills until July next year. By then, in the view of most political analysts, her government will have been swept away in the March state election.

Her taskforce has estimated that NSW electricity consumers, including business users, collectively representing one-third of all the power account holders in the country, will get a regulator-approved rise of 11 per cent next July and another 8 per cent in July 2012, mostly as a result of much higher network costs - before the solar support bill is taken into account and before, of course, any carbon tax that the Gillard government may have put in place by then.

For the Nature Conservation Foundation of NSW, reacting to Keneally's announcement, there is no doubt where this leaves the state's consumers: "back in the dark ages of over-reliance on coal", it declaims.

I suspect they actually would be quite pleased to be back in the so-called dark ages of paying $130 a megawatt hour for their household electricity instead of the $195 that the charge has now reached, and the $250 to $300 that it is suggested the power bills will bear by 2015.

Meanwhile, it bears reporting that in the years that NSW was governed by Bob Carr, Morris Iemma and Nathan Rees - the available industry data covers only the period to mid-2009 at present - the state's government-owned power plants increased their consumption of black coal from 21 million tonnes a year to almost 30 million tonnes annually.

Not so much the premier state as the watermelon state: green on the outside, but red on the inside from burning coal.


Victoria's woeful ambulance service again

No GPS: Lost paramedics told to find their way by torchlight

Two whistleblower paramedics told the Herald Sun that sick Victorians were waiting longer because ambulances didn't have a GPS, which cost as little as $96.

"Sometimes even on code one, where it is an emergency, drivers have had to pull over on the side of the road to look at a Melway [street atlas]," said one paramedic, who refused to be named for fear of being sacked. "It's time-consuming. Every second counts. "Everyone comments about it. It's stupid. "Taxis have a GPS as standard. We don't."

One paramedic told of using a GPS on a personal smartphone to find the way to emergencies. "If we had GPS devices it would be quicker. Sometimes at night ambulances drive up and down streets trying to find house numbers," one paramedic said.

In June there were calls for all ambulances to be fitted with GPS devices after an ambulance service in Kyneton took 3 1/2 hours to get a patient to hospital. It was also revealed this month that ambulance response times had hit a five-year low.

Steve McGhie, of the Ambulance Employees Association, called for all ambulances to get a GPS. "They are an essential piece of equipment. A paramedic can be sent anywhere in the state. Sometimes they are in places with no local knowledge," he said. "And we know paramedics have raised issues over not having them. "It's a cost issue. It's not funded for. It's only an issue for Ambulance Victoria if they think they require them."

Ambulance Victoria said it did prefer that paramedics relied on local knowledge to overcome traffic problems.

General manager of specialist services, Mark Rogers, said Ambulance Victoria had assessed several GPS models and was not opposed to them. "But (we) will not embrace it until it can cover all of our needs," he said.

"For paramedics driving in emergency conditions, it is safer for them to identify a route themselves through mapping rather than relying on directions from a GPS system while travelling at speed."


International Monetary Fund says Australian banking system survived the GFC in good shape because of pro-competition regulatory policies

They were operating under the policies of the conservative Howard government

AUSTRALIA'S banking policies helped major lenders survive the global financial crisis, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) says. A staff report, to be released today, credits existing banking regulations for keeping banks profitable.

It also calls on the Reserve Bank (RBA) to leave interest rates on hold, at least for now.

The endorsement of Australia's lending laws comes only a day after the Senate voted to hold an inquiry into banking competition.

The IMF appears to have slapped down shadow treasurer Joe Hockey's call for the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority to investigate whether or not the banks are taking unnecessary risks.

In its report, the IMF credits the "four pillars" policy, which prevents the major banks from merging, for limiting risky behaviour before the financial crisis and helping to maintain stability.

The Washington-based organisation has also called on the RBA keep the cash rate at 4.5 per cent. "Keeping policy rates on hold since May 2010 was appropriate, in light of increased uncertainty about prospects for the recovery," it said. "With lending rates in Australia close to 10-year averages and economic activity responding quickly to cash rate adjustments, the RBA has scope to wait for the outlook to become clearer."

But it noted that rates would eventually have to rise to contain inflationary pressures generated by the mining boom, which has produced elevated coal and iron ore prices.

Private-sector investment in mining and commodity exports were expected to replace public demand as the main driver of growth.

Household consumption, too, was tipped to be strong as a rebounding labour market helped drive income growth.

Australia's terms of trade - the ratio of export to import prices - was expected to rise to historic highs in late 2010, driving a long-lasting resources boom tied with fast-growing economies in Asia. But the report noted the terms of trade could fall sharply if Chinese demand for commodities declined. It also pointed to fiscal instability in Europe which could push up the cost of capital for Australian borrowers.

Treasurer Wayne Swan seized on this prediction to endorse the Government's stimulus spending. "The IMF also points to the challenges that lie ahead for Australia relating to the patchy global economic recovery, from which we are not immune," he said in a statement.

The Australian economy is expected to grow by 3 per cent in 2010 and 3.5 per cent in 2011.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Australian troops in Afghanistan exposed as costs blow out

ALMOST a third of the weaponry, armour, system and support upgrades promised to Australian troops in Afghanistan have encountered problems. The Gillard government has been warned that these issues could result in delays or cost blowouts.

As parliament continues to debate Australia's role in Afghanistan, amid expectations of a greater number of casualties, it appears those on the front line remain dangerously over-exposed. In the middle of last year, after visiting Afghanistan for the first time, then defence minister John Faulkner ordered a force protection review, which was completed later last year and led to a $1.1 billion package of budget initiatives.

They included counter-IED and counter-rocket equipment, increased armour and firepower for vehicles, improved surveillance, reinforced buildings, better personal equipment, training and health services. "I am satisfied that we are doing all we can to protect our troops," Senator Faulkner said at the time.

"Even so, as the threats to our soldiers evolve, so too must our force protection arrangements." But the incoming government briefs from Defence - obtained by The Australian yesterday after a Freedom of Information search - show the new minister, Stephen Smith, was advised that only 10 of the 48 recommendations had been implemented, with 17 encountering problems. Labor promised during the election campaign that any remaining initiatives would be "progressed as a priority".

By yesterday, there had been a slight improvement, with 15 initiatives delivered and 21 on track to be delivered within the agreed timeframe. But 11 initiatives were still at risk because of schedule, technical or scope issues, and one initiative had not started, because of "significant technical issues". The department - which is under significant strain from a high operational tempo and massive reform effort - would not detail the initiatives at risk.

New force protection systems for vehicles have been delivered, however, with additional bomb-detection and disposal robots and training systems scheduled to be delivered this financial year.

The department told Mr Smith that "the national interests underlying our Afghan commitment remain compelling" and, while most of its advice was censored in the documents released to The Australian, it did not want to see "the return to Afghanistan of terrorists with the freedom to organise, plan and train for attacks on us and our friends and allies".

Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott agree Australia must stay the course in Afghanistan, despite the likelihood of more casualties.

In building up its model force, outlined in the 2009 white paper, Defence has unexpectedly over-recruited and retained personnel, according to its funding schedule, but still has 20 "critical and perilous employment categories".

The department will continue to recruit to achieve the Force 2030 targets but will focus on in-demand specialties, and may cut funding to other programs to compete in another mining boom.

"Defence does not have any funding contingency to enable it to adjust its employment offer if the impact of economic resurgence produces a significant need to meet the market on remuneration or benefits," the briefs state.

Defence is working to improve its beleaguered pay system and continues to roll out major health, housing, and family support initiatives. The posting cycle for personnel is also being reviewed in a bid to "increase the length of back-to-back postings in the same area".

The Australian has previously used FOI laws to shed light on the impact of the high operational tempo on troops, revealing: the number left injured or ill as a result of their deployment; the extent of mental illness and other conditions across the services; the strain of repeat and extended deployments; and ongoing capacity and capability challenges for the department.

Most recently, The Australian revealed that Middle East veterans participating in a landmark health study had described pilots becoming addicted to Stilnox and other prescription drugs, an underground trade in illicit substances and sex, their concerns over a lack of support, poor leadership and a shortage of equipment, including bomb robots.


Court delays mean more jail time for innocent

Prisoners on remand should have top priority for their cases to be heard

More than 1400 adults and children who were never convicted of a crime were imprisoned last year, some for months, and the time people spend behind bars before being cleared by the courts is getting longer.

While court delays overall have fallen in most categories, this is not the case for those waiting in jail for their day in court, says a report by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

"We should be concerned about holding people in custody unnecessarily," said Julie Stubbs, a law professor at the University of NSW and a spokeswoman for the Crime and Justice Reform Committee. "We have the presumption of innocence; they should await trial in the community, wherever that is safe to occur."

The report showed that 205 juveniles who were refused bail last year - more than 11 per cent - were cleared of charges. Adults awaiting trial in the Supreme Court waited in custody for a median 619 days from the date of the alleged offence until they were cleared.

More than 1200 people in jail who were later acquitted of all charges were dealt with in the Local Court, where the median delay increased from 53 days in 2008 to 79 days last year from the first court appearance until charges were dismissed at a hearing. Others whose charges were dismissed without a hearing spent a median of more than 16 weeks in custody.

The report showed that the state government's proposed bail reforms did not go far enough, said Professor Stubbs.

The report also showed that last year the proportion of guilty pleas in the Supreme Court rose from 40 per cent to 50.5 per cent.

The number of appeals rose slightly last year compared with 2008. More than 60 per cent of District Court appeals against the severity of a sentence succeeded, but the Crown increased its success rate, with 74 per cent of appeals against the inadequacy of sentences granted, compared with 26 per cent in 2008.


NSW High School curriculum fails students

BUSINESS experts have slammed the HSC curriculum for failing to provide skills where they're needed. NSW Business Chamber CEO Stephen Cartwright said schools were ignoring demand for trade qualifications. "The HSC is focused on university outcomes more than trades and apprenticeships, areas in which we face a skills shortage," he said. "It's important that HSC students are encouraged to take up a trade, especially in those areas facing a skills shortage like construction."

Mr Cartwright called for an urgent review of the HSC curriculum to ensure vocational education students don't miss out on crucial skills. "Young people who do not enter university after they leave school need to be supported in their preparation for adult life, including their life at work," he said.

This year about 19,000 students were enrolled in a vocational education and training course, but not all choose to take the written HSC exam that goes toward their Australian Tertiary Admissions rank. There are 2724 Year 12 students enrolled in construction this year - up 8.4 per cent from 2009 - but only 80 per cent of them will sit tomorrow's test


Contractor left unpaid for work at NSW hospital

Tell us something new

The NSW Health Department has been accused of not paying its bills just months after the Health Minister assured Parliament there were no outstanding debts to contractors.

A small business owner, Phil Clare, says he is a week away from bankruptcy, being owed $1.7 million by NSW Health, much of it for work he did at Royal North Shore Hospital in 2008. "For two years we tried to get them to pay without taking legal action because we are doing so much with the other area health services."

He had been arguing with Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service since January last year over a bill for work that it had said was "exemplary". He submitted invoices four months ago for his work, which involves finding, valuing and selling assets.

Steve Cansdell, the MP for Clarence, where Mr Clare's business is based, said: "The department should have sorted out whether the disputed claim was relevant."

In April it was revealed that more than 20 firms had suspended supply to the health service because of unpaid debts. Last year bills totalling $117.5 million went unpaid. The opposition health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, said: "There can be no excuse for the Keneally Labor Government not to pay its bills on time."

A spokeswoman for the northern Sydney health service said the service disputed Mr Clare's invoices, only submitted "recently". "It is entirely appropriate that taxpayers' funds are protected by ensuring that goods and services being paid for have actually been delivered."

A NSW Health spokesman said there was $100,000 owing to contractors last month. A spokeswoman for the Health Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, said she stood by her claim that there were no overdue creditors at the end of June.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Most Australians want an end to population growth

I do myself. I am sick of having to dodge around roadworks for all my life. But a growing population requires roadworks to accomodate more and more cars. And the Australian birthrate is below replacement anyway so it is immigration that is the problem. An immigration program that focused only on highly desirable immigrants and excluded parasitic "refugees" would help solve the problem

FAMILIES should have no more than two children to limit their environmental impact, one in three Australians say. Almost half say families should consider having three or fewer children, a survey shows.

The Australian National University survey found most Australians want the population to stay at or below current levels, suggesting Julia Gillard hit the right note by rejecting Kevin Rudd's "big Australia" push.

ANU political scientist Professor Ian McAllister, who led the survey, said people opposed population growth for a variety of reasons, including the cost to the environment, urban overcrowding and a lack of housing and transport. The phone poll found just 44 per cent of respondents favoured population growth.

About 52 per cent said Australia had enough people already, and further population growth would harm the environment, push up house prices and place pressure on water resources.

But there were also concerns that skills shortages could hold back the economy, with 83 per cent of respondents calling for more skilled migrants to be allowed into Australia.

And two thirds of respondents were concerned about the impact of the ageing population, with the majority opposed to tax rises to support the elderly.

About 59 per cent of Australians supported an emissions trading scheme to curb carbon pollution. But when asked to rank the nation's most pressing problems, the environment and global warming were ranked only fourth after the economy, health care and education.

Mr Rudd, as prime minister, argued for population growth, suggesting the continent could support 36 million people by 2050. Ms Gillard changed course sharply when she became Prime Minister, arguing for a "sustainable population" in an election pitch to the crowded outer suburbs.

She said Population Minister Tony Burke would deliver a sustainable population strategy. "We made an election promise about a sustainable population policy and we'll deliver it," she said.

Greens Leader Bob Brown said something had to be done to limit population growth or the planet was in trouble. "When I came on to the planet there were 2 1/2 billion human beings, there are now seven billion. We are using more than 100 per cent of the renewable living resources at the moment. Something is going to give."

The ANU poll is a quarterly survey and compares Australian results to international opinion polls.


Julia's talk about economic reform seems likely to be just empty politicking

The gap between Labor's promises of reform and delivery seems entrenched

Julia Gillard is right to warn of economic Hansonism and the political risk to reform measures, yet this seems more an exercise in political spin to de-legitimise the Tony Abbott Liberal Party.

There is only one relevant question from Gillard's new position: is this a declaration of how she will govern or an electoral tactic to save Labor from its deepening mire of minority government now reflected in the alarming fall in its primary vote?

The language of "economic Hansonism" is indelible rhetoric. These are words that stick. They are designed to derail and discredit Abbott before he can ruin Gillard with the same political steamroller that crushed Kevin Rudd. On cue, this week's polls show Labor in trouble: the ACNielsen poll has Labor's primary vote at 34 per cent and Newspoll at 33 per cent compared with a dismal 38 per cent at the August election that cost Labor majority government.

Beyond tactics, if Gillard's latest speech on economic reform is an accurate guide to her vision, strategy and values as Prime Minister then it deserves full support. She has made some defining statements: that minority government does not terminate economic reform; that leaders must lead and "my voice will be loudly heard"; and that her government will walk "the reform road every day".

Does Gillard grasp the meaning and impact of such declarations? The problem is obvious: Labor's credentials on economic reform are flawed and the gap between its promise and delivery seems entrenched. Since 2007 Labor's message has been its fidelity to Hawke-Keating pro-market reformism yet this is more a ritualistic slogan reflecting the party's pride in its history than a serious platform for action.

Gillard's statement that she believes "the reform consensus is now under serious threat" because of a few comments from Joe Hockey and Andrew Robb cannot be taken seriously. The reform consensus, in fact, has been unravelling for years and this has been the subject of an intense political and policy debate that, among other things, has dominated The Australian's coverage of national events for some time.

The irony is that Gillard's attack coincided with John Howard's book. At the launch yesterday Howard nailed Labor, lamenting "when we were in government we received no support at all" from Labor on economic reform. Howard won in 1996 on a mandate for industrial relations reform but as early as May 1996 his government's bills were being fought by Labor.

This story was repeated for 11 years, election after election. Labor opposed the GST-led tax reform after Howard's 1998 election victory and took its "rollback" policy to the 2001 poll. Its tactic was to return to power off the destruction of the GST.

Labor opposed most of the Howard government's privatisations; it was consistently hostile to measures designed to return the budget to surplus; it initially opposed the independence of the Reserve Bank; it won in 2007 by rejection of Work Choices reform and by depicting Howard as weak on climate change action.

But Gillard's position is loaded with risk. Consider the $43 billion National Broadband Network, a government-owned monopoly that is the biggest infrastructure project in the nation's history, a venture that Treasury says has financial risks for the public balance sheet, for competition policy and for efficiency in telecommunications. This government, so dedicated to economic reform, refuses to have the Productivity Commission conduct a cost-benefit analysis for a project that Malcolm Turnbull correctly says has no precedent in this country or abroad. The point, of course, is that Labor has no confidence the Productivity Commission would deliver a favourable report.

Gillard's problem is Labor's abject weakness on pro-market reforms, a point hammered by Ross Garnaut. Consider the record: Labor has partially re-regulated the labour market, walked away from carbon pricing in its first term, mismanaged its mining tax, backed a government monopoly in telecommunications, staged a historic retreat on immigration at a time of low unemployment, left the university sector increasingly uncompetitive and falls short on supply side reforms at a time of capacity constraints.

If Gillard's reform pledges are serious, she must review and re-shape how Labor governs. Hopefully, improvements will come, yet Gillard has deep commitments to many of the reform retreats and rollbacks.


Toxic suspicion of men

When did we start to dislike men so much that we're happy for them not to be part of our children's lives? That's the question posed by the latest ridiculous assault on the integrity of all males. It comes in the form of a ban on schoolboys using a public pool change room after swimming lessons because men fear they will be falsely accused of pedophilia.

Of course, the fact that many men support that decision is understandable; any man now knows he is automatically viewed with suspicion. That's why our children might sneak through the entire education system now without a male teacher. It's why men stopped jogging along bike tracks, when the city was on the lookout for the bikeway rapist. It's why airline staff try not to seat adult males next to children. And it's why most fathers I know won't supervise their young daughters' play dates, unless there is a female adult present.

The distrust of males has been creeping up on us, fanned by the sick minds of a few who have stolen the innocence of children, and left heartache in their wake. But can you now be guilty simply by gender?

Alan from Brisbane has this story: he was at South Bank when he saw a small girl, about four years old, wandering along the river's edge and crying. He watched as more than 30 people walked by without helping. He stopped one of them, a woman, and asked her to help him help the child. "I told her why - I'd be accused of being a pedophile," he said. "If that little girl had fallen into the river and I dived in after her I'd be on the front page as a hero; but when she was only 30cm from falling in I'd be called a pedophile." How did we allow ourselves to get to the point, he wrote on a Daily Telegraph blog, where caring people are considered pedophiles?

Just stop reading this, and ask the man sitting nearest to you. His reaction would probably mirror Alan's - because society has made men feel that way. This is another Brisbane man on the same blog: "I know a teacher who was accused of rape by a schoolgirl because he refused her advances, and he lost his job, his wife, his kids and his life. Never mind that she admitted it and cleared him. This culture has to change, or this sort of rule will become more common."

It seems it already has. After revelations of the Sydney pool decision, several people joined the debate, saying it had become standard practice in Brisbane. Rory said it was happening at his children's school: "The poor little buggers were freezing coming home from the pool - about 10 minutes drive - and had to change into their dry clothes at school. "It's ridiculous! If society keeps running on fear, its going to become a pretty hollow environment to live in."

Ann of Brisbane: "Our school has been doing this for years. The kids wrap themselves in towels and sit on the bus for 20 minutes in wet togs." These are boys made to feel bad because of their gender.

Allan, from the Gold Coast, explains it this way: "Why would a male teacher want to put himself in that position? All it takes is for some smart-alec kid to joke about a male teacher perving on him and (his) professional life is over . . ."

Matt of Perth: "I like this rule. You're in more danger of being falsely accused than you are of actually being a victim."

Aaron: "The last thing you want to be doing is changing from your swimming gear to work clothes or vice versa and find out a couple days later you've been accused of exposing yourself or something of the kind."

The Doc of Sydney: "I cannot get out of the pool change room fast enough if children are there as I have no defence against a false allegation."

Clancy: "I would have thought banning parents from taking pictures of their children at the beach would have been enough to wake people up from this insane pedophile mania . . . but apparently not."

Someone else: "Why don't you just stop males from being teachers to protect the student, or just stop fathers from being parents to their sons, in case they get branded a pedophile."

John from Alice Springs calls it "pedophobia", but its consequences are bigger than that. We're creating a generation of young boys who don't have confidence in their own sexuality; sons who think their gender marks them as bad; and daughters who grow up with few, if any, male role models. And in that scenario, men and women lose out.


Victorian grandmother, 91, in hospital bed crisis

A 91-year-old great-grandmother who gave 50 years of service to a Melbourne hospital waited almost 21 hours on one of its emergency department hospital trolleys, desperate for a bed.

Daphne Pollock's case is a shocking example of Victoria's hospital bed crisis, where in the past year more than 1200 people languished in emergency departments for more than 24 hours.

Doctors have pleaded for more money for beds. They also say new services are needed for aged care so even more beds can be freed.

Mrs Pollock, who has dementia, arrived at William Angliss Hospital on October 6 after becoming immobile. Her GP had called an ambulance so the emergency department could assess her for aged-care entry. Her son David said she arrived at 5.30pm but did not get a bed until 2pm the next day.

She is still in hospital after failing to be assessed and is blocking a bed for others - another problem for over-burdened hospitals.

Mr Pollock said the situation had shocked his family. "She doesn't quite understand what's happening and the situation around her," he said. "She wanted to go home but she needed assistance."

Mrs Pollock did volunteer work for the hospital's auxiliary for 50 years. And Mr Pollock said his father was on the hospital's board for 15 years.

Mrs Pollock's case is far from isolated. Hospitals' annual reports show 1211 people waited longer than an entire day and night for a bed in 2009-10. Frankston hospital struggled most, with 707 people - almost two a day - in emergency departments for more than 24 hours. Hospitals in the western suburbs also struggled, stranding dozens of patients. The Australian Medical Association and state Opposition warn the system is in crisis.

Opposition health spokesman David Davis said Premier John Brumby had promised to fix the health system. "Leaving an older and frail patient for almost a day in emergency is not paying attention to the basics," he said.

AMA Victoria president Dr Harry Hemley said there weren't enough beds.

Chief of clinical and site operations at Angliss Hospital, Anthony Black, said the incident was "regrettable" and increased demand in October was taking a toll. "At all times Mrs Pollock was being cared for by committed and professional staff," he said.

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Daniel Andrews said under COAG funding, Angliss Hospital would get 10 sub-acute beds and Frankston Hospital would get 24 acute and short-stay beds.


Ignorant history examiners in NSW

ANCIENT history students are the victims of a Higher School Certificate exam mistake, aptly - and literally - known as Herculaneum Gate.

In 2008 HSC examiners in their annual post-mortem upbraided students who confused the two towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Two years later the examiners are accused of making the same error in a compulsory question posed to 12,269 students.

In last Friday's exam, students were asked about inscriptions from a cemetery excavated at Herculaneum. But a cemetery has never been found at the Herculaneum archaeological site. The inscriptions come from tombs at Pompeii, near the town's Herculaneum Gate.

Kathryn Welch, a senior lecturer in the department of classics and ancient history at the University of Sydney, said the mistake would have limited answers on one aspect in particular. It describes a public official with a career that was perfectly normal in Pompeii, but not in Herculaneum.

"This will have impeded the students' realisation that they could have talked about politics in Pompeii on which they were probably better prepared," Dr Welch said. "And, sadly, the better prepared the student was on Pompeii, the more they will have hesitated to apply their information to Herculaneum."

Brian Brennan, an ancient historian who has led school tours to both sites, said angry teachers had contacted him over the mistake. Both Roman towns were buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79.

"To the outsiders it may appear insignificant," he said. "However, we wouldn't accept such mistakes in other papers like English or maths. "It's a question about the credibility of the HSC paper and the board which oversees it. This mistake is basic. The teachers deserve better and they complain and complain and get rebuffed each time."

Jennifer Lawless, the NSW Board of Studies inspector for history, said yesterday the Herculaneum reference was a factual error. But she said the incorrect location would have little impact on the students, who were asked to deal with evidence within the inscriptions. She denied there had been errors in papers for the past three years, saying some facts presented were the subject of academic dispute known to students.

A Board of Studies spokeswoman said one complaint had been received about the ancient history paper this year. She said neither students nor teachers had made complaints about the 2009 or 2008 papers. The spokeswoman said the mistake was unfortunate after an eight-month checking process.

"With all those processes there are sometimes errors," she said. "When we find an error, the chief examiner is contacted and we evaluate how it might affect student responses. "Markers are briefed so they are aware of it and gauge whether student responses have been affected. The bottom line is we want to make sure students aren't disadvantaged."


Qld. Government announces new laws that mean all serious offenders will serve jail time

About time

ALL serious offenders are set to serve minimum jail time under tough new sentencing laws announced by the Bligh Government today. Standard non parole jail periods will be set in legislation for all serious offences from next year. A review is yet to determine what crimes and what non parole periods will be involved.

Currently the law only provides for a maximum sentence.

The changed laws will have some scope for courts to vary minimum jail time, based on strict conditions in the Act. Crimes flagged by Attorney General Cameron Dick to possibly fall under the new laws included murder, rape and sexual assault of a child.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Police misbehaviour

As most regular readers here will know, police misbehaviour in Queensland is so great that I have created a dedicated blog to keep track of it. And it gets frequent updates.

Such a lot of news about police misbehaviour in other States -- particularly NSW and Victoria -- has been coming in, however, that I have created a new blog to keep track of police misbehaviour Australia-wide. See Australian Police News. There are THREE updates there just today.

Federal Government to take over Australia's public health system

This is the British disaster all over again. Leftists never learn. Tony Blair DOUBLED the amount BritGov spent on the NHS but it is still chaotic with widespread denial of services and waiting list blowouts. Most of the extra money went on more bureaucracy -- as it will undoubtedly do here

THE federal government will introduce legislation to parliament this week that aims to reform the nation's health system, Prime Minister Julia Gillard says. For the first time, the commonwealth will take majority funding responsibility - 60 per cent - for public hospitals and full responsibility for primary care.

The share of commonwealth funding had dropped to as low as 38 per cent during the Howard government years, Ms Gillard said. "Australia's health system has suffered from inadequate funding arrangements and unclear accountability for too long," she told reporters in Canberra.

The new funding arrangements would ensure that federal governments properly funded Australia's public hospitals, Ms Gillard said. The commonwealth would fund hospitals for each service they provided, rather than through block grants. Doing so would meet increases in demand and help take pressure off hospital waiting lists.

New national standards for public hospital services are to be introduced, ensuring all patients receive timely and high quality services. "The legislation reflects the historic agreement to reform Australia's health and hospital system signed by the commonwealth and seven states and territories," Ms Gillard said.

The West Australia Liberal government has yet to sign up to the deal. Ms Gillard said she spoke with WA Premier Colin Barnett last week. "We are prepared to continue the conversation in good faith," she said.

Under the agreement, the commonwealth will relieve the states and territories of $15.6 billion in growth of health costs from 2014/15 to 2019/20, allowing them to invest in other essential services.

In return, the states and territories have agreed to hand over up to a third of their GST revenue. "The efficient pricing arrangements will mean that Australia gets value for money from our health dollars to deliver services as effectively and efficiently as possible," Ms Gillard said.

The prime minister called on the opposition to support the legislation through parliament.

Obstruction would only exacerbate funding squabbles between different levels of government, leading to longer waiting times in emergency departments and further elective surgery delays, Ms Gillard said.

Ms Gillard said she would be talking with crossbenchers on Monday about support for the legislation. But she was also quick to turn the pressure back on Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. "First and foremost we need an answer from Mr Abbott about whether or not he will support these reforms."

Health Minister Nicola Roxon, standing alongside the prime minister, said the plan was to deliver a long-term "cure" to hospitals across the country. "The doctors and the nurses and the other clinicians in each local hospital will have more say about the problems that need to be fixed, the investments that need to be made."


Gillard defends economic rationality against populism

Good to hear that from ANY PM. The term "Hansonism" is snide however. Pauline Hanson was primarily against racial preferences

JULIA Gillard has warned of the emergence of "a strain of economic Hansonism" linked to economic populism. The Prime Minister has appealed to industry to help her protect "the post-1983 reform consensus".

Accusing the Coalition and sections of her own Labor Party of backsliding on economic liberalisation, Ms Gillard told a business dinner in Canberra last night she would be "loudly heard" promoting reform, which would sit "at the centre" of all of her government's decisions.

Ms Gillard's comments were designed to skewer recent Coalition discussion of intervention in the banking sector and repudiate a push from unions and the NSW Labor government to renege on a deal to reduce costs for businesses by harmonising workplace law across the nation.

"The reform consensus is now under serious threat," Ms Gillard told the Australian Industry Group dinner. "If a strain of economic Hansonism takes hold on the conservative side of politics in a parliament which is so finely balanced, our long-term prosperity is at real risk. Leaders must lead, and my voice will be loudly heard."

The interventionist political mood was reflected yesterday as several opposition frontbenchers used a shadow cabinet meeting to express reservations about the proposed takeover of the Australian Securities Exchange by the Singapore Exchange. "We'll be keen to hear how this could possibly enhance our position as a regional financial centre," opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey told The Australian later. Independent Queensland MP Bob Katter described the takeover as lunacy, likening it to "selling the arbitration commission".

Since ousting Kevin Rudd from the Labor leadership in June, Ms Gillard has pressed hard to shrug off her Left-faction background and underline her commitment to economic reform.

Her task has become more complicated since her post-election deal to govern in minority with the support of the Greens, who advocate trade and economic and trade policies to the Left of Labor.

Two weeks ago, Ms Gillard told the Queensland Media Club she would pursue tax and superannuation reform as well as development of infrastructure and skills and the application of market-based reforms to areas such as health, education, climate change and water. Last night, she hardened her rhetoric, warning that she would fight the "rising voices against reform" within the community and major political parties.

"I never thought in the 21st century I would hear a shadow finance minister debate the need to allow our dollar to float," the Prime Minister said. "I never thought that in the 21st century I would hear a shadow treasurer debate the need to allow a competitive market for interest rates."

Opposition finance spokesman Andrew Robb and Mr Hockey said last night Ms Gillard's attack was "pathetic".

They issued a statement saying that telling blatant lies about political opponents was no substitute for taking hard reform decisions and engaging in a mature debate. "Sadly, we have an economically illiterate Prime Minister, who resorts to diversions to deflect from her government's appalling record of waste and mismanagement," they said.

Ms Gillard, referring to NSW Premier Kristina Keneally's attempt to renege on the workplace safety law harmonisation deal sealed last year at the Council of Australian Governments, said: "Equally, I never thought I would hear a NSW premier deny that a deal is a deal and a signature means you agree.

"And I never thought, following a legislated reform direction, I would hear a NSW opposition leader threaten a reform of a river that belongs to the nation," she said, referring to plans to reduce water use in the Murray-Darling Basin to protect the environment.

Ms Gillard described reform as "a seamless robe" that could not be divided to suit sectional interest. "I can guarantee we will not unilaterally withdraw from the post-1983 reform consensus."

Ms Gillard appealed to business leaders for backing, saying industry had a stake in reform. She also said it was vital the nation move to put a price on carbon as quickly as possible.

She said increases in electricity prices were caused by historical under-investment in the sector and it was important to deliver certainty to prevent a continuation of under-investment and a fresh outbreak of the problem in a decade. "That is one reason why I am so committed to deliver a carbon price," she said. "Obviously, the fundamental motivation for our carbon price policy is pollution reduction. However, the industry consequences are then immediate. Delaying a carbon price makes the eventual adjustment sharper and more costly."

She also warned that the absence of a carbon price could force power companies to make "stop-gap" investments in technologies such as open-cycle gas turbines to meet immediate increases in demand, rather than making long-term investment decisions. And revenue from putting a price on carbon could be used to deliver transition support to householders. "No such revenue is available to assist with the costs of the current price rises around the country' - nor for future rises from an ongoing investment strike."


Censorship the real sleeper in the Labor government's $43bn fibre network chaos

THE political row over the future of the federal government's $43 billion National Broadband Network has been dominated by the cost issue.

Responding to calls, particularly from The Australian, for more financial accountability from what is the biggest and most expensive infrastructure project in the country's history, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy has attacked suggestions that consumers may have to pay thousands of dollars to have their homes rewired to gain maximum advantage from NBN's high-speed fibre cable.

Neither Conroy nor the head of the government-owned NBN Co, Mike Quigley, who has also pooh-poohed these claims, will say what the extent and cost of rewiring will be. But this debate over cost is masking the sleeper in this project: the degree of control this government-owned monopoly will be able to exercise on the flow of information into the homes of all Australians.

After all, if things go according to plan, NBN Co will be Australia's communications gatekeeper, owned and driven by a government that favours internet censorship.

The consequences of this in a democracy raise potentially disturbing issues affecting the free flow of information that go well beyond dollars and cents. In effect, the NBN rollout gives the government the ability to determine what content is suitable for delivery into the home -- a situation not dissimilar from that which operates in China.

In the face of mounting hostility as the government headed towards August's federal election, Conroy announced he was deferring the introduction of a mandatory internet filtering regime pending a review of refused classification guidelines.

This took some of the heat out of this issue that has seen the government criticised by the US administration and Google, which has been involved in its own battles with the Chinese government over internet censorship. Earlier this year, the Obama administration said the Rudd government's plans to introduce the internet filter ran contrary to official US foreign policy that encouraged an open internet.

Conroy has built his case for mandatory internet filtering on the need to stamp out child sexual abuse material. But Google has argued the scope of the proposed filter goes far beyond this and could be used to block access to important online information.

While Conroy's review into the filter regime brought a supporting response from internet service providers, and even Google, there is no indication he has lost his enthusiasm for this form of censorship.

Meanwhile, in the lead-up to the election, the government also announced it would extend NBN's high-speed fibre-optic broadband cable to an additional 300,000 homes. If successful, this would mean 93 per cent of homes would be connected exclusively to the NBN communications pipe. Initially, the government had stated that the NBN cable would be connected to 90 per cent of homes with the remainder being serviced by a mixture of wireless and satellite delivery.

Under this revised rollout, announced by Prime Minister Julia Gillard, satellite will account for 3 per cent of the new high-speed broadband connection, with the balance being delivered by wireless services. These will provide "fixed", not mobile, services designed to be used in and around the home.

And in another pre-election move, Labor deferred the start-up date requiring all new premises to be "fibre ready" from July 1 this year to January 1 next year.

This legislation, which is yet to pass through the Senate, makes it an offence to install copper cabling in future and provides hefty penalties for tradesmen or body corporates by-passing the fibre optic cable in favour of copper. And under a yet-to-be-approved $11bn deal, Telstra will migrate its copper and cable broadband networks into the NBN fibre backbone. It is anticipated Optus and Foxtel will also transfer their services to the NBN.

In Tasmania, where the NBN national cable rollout is in its embryonic stages, the state Labor government has responded to a lukewarm take-up rate by deciding homes and businesses will automatically be connected to the network unless they opt out.

The decision by the Rudd government last year to dramatically up the ante for the NBN project from a $4.7bn fibre-to-the-node scheme to a $43bn rollout going directly into the home requires connection to be effectively mandatory in order to find some way to justify the massive cost.

Even though NBN will be restricted to being a wholesale information carrier, it will assume enormous power in the distribution of data and voice services, particularly as the copper network is decommissioned.


Female health worker 'bullied' after rape claim

QUEENSLAND Health staff have been accused of bullying a female worker after she complained to police about being raped by a colleague. A 33-year-old doctor was charged last month with the alleged sexual assault of a staffer and provided bail at a hearing at the Southport Magistrates Court on the condition he have no contact with the Queensland Health employee or other witnesses.

The Sunday Mail understands the alleged victim has since made an official grievance and a Workcover Claim, where she accuses Queensland Health of failing to provide her with a proper return-to-work plan and being more concerned about adverse publicity from the incident. The worker alleged Queensland Health should have allowed her temporary secondment or to be stood down with full pay but instead continued to bully her under a performance improvement plan.

Queensland Health has responded by strongly denying the claims and defended its handling of the incident by arguing it occurred outside the workplace and was subject to a police investigation "with an unresolved outcome".

Queensland Nurses Union representatives have been involved in negotiations between both parties and concluded the start of the performance plan was premature and did not follow policy.

Mudgeeraba MP Ros Bates, a registered nurse, said the latest incident added to several complaints made to her office by Gold Coast Queensland Health employees about bullying in the workplace.

She told State Parliament the performance management policy was being used to humiliate, punish and belittle an employee so Queensland Health could avoid addressing a serious issue. "Queensland Health's treatment of this employee is nothing short of negligent when the hierarchy has known of this assault allegation for three months and done nothing," Ms Bates said.

Ms Bates said the initial request by the employee to take on less stressful duties was rejected and she was advised to "hurry up and get over it".

In a letter written on behalf of the employee, Ms Bates last month asked the Crime and Misconduct Commission to investigate what she called serious allegations of misconduct by Queensland Health. A CMC spokesman said the complaint had been assessed and judged not to amount to official misconduct.

A Queensland Health spokesman said the performance management system was one of several staff support processes which allowed employees to seek feedback and guidance from managers. "Queensland Health strives to provide a supportive workplace for its staff," the spokesman said. [That'a laugh!]


Labor support in the bush dries up as anger over water wastage proposals runs deep: Newspoll

Under Greenie influence, Gillard wants to let dammed water run out to sea rather than give it to farmers for use in irrigation

ANGER about the Gillard government's handling of proposed cuts in water use appears to have helped the Coalition overtake Labor in the latest Newspoll.

The weekend survey, conducted exclusively for The Australian, found the opposition ahead of Labor for the first time since before the August 21 election, by a margin of 52 per cent to 48 per cent in two-party-preferred terms.

The increase followed two dead-even results in previous post-election Newspolls. On election day, Labor won 50.1 per cent of the two-party-preferred vote to the Coalition's 49.9 per cent.

Although the poll shows only small movements in the primary vote since the previous survey, which was taken between October 8 and 10, Newspoll chief executive Martin O'Shannessy said last night that Labor had suffered a six-point plunge in primary support outside cities.

He linked the decline to the release of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority's draft recommendation of large cuts in water usage, which have sparked angry protests in rural areas in the past fortnight.

"A deeper analysis of this poll shows a potential backlash against the Murray-Darling plan," Mr O'Shannassy said. "Comparisons between this Newspoll and the one of two weeks ago show a collapse of the Labor vote outside the five main capital cities. " Regional and country voters have punished Labor with a primary vote fall of just over six points to 31 per cent, down from 37 per cent just two weeks ago."

The Newspoll was based on 1150 interviews and the results include a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.

It found Labor's primary vote was on 33 per cent - down two percentage points from the October 8-10 survey and five points down from election day. The Coalition was on 43 per cent in primary terms - down from 43.6 per cent on election day - with the Greens on 14 per cent.

An AC Nielsen poll in Fairfax newspapers published yesterday delivered almost identical results, with the Greens on 14 per cent - up two points. The Sydney Morning Herald reported this as an indication that Labor was continuing to lose support to the Greens.

However, the Newspoll - conducted more frequently than the Nielsen survey - has recorded support for the Greens steady at 14 per cent since the September 10-12 survey - up from 11.8 per cent recorded at the election.

Mr O'Shannessy said the fact that Greens support had not changed while Labor's had fallen indicated Labor's real losses were to the Coalition in rural and regional Australia. The Newspoll also identified a four-percentage-point reduction in voter satisfaction with Julia Gillard's performance, to 44 per cent, and a corresponding four-point increase in the dissatisfaction rate.

Voter satisfaction with Tony Abbott climbed two points to 41 per cent, while dissatisfaction with the Opposition Leader fell a point to 46 per cent, with 13 per cent uncommitted.

Ms Gillard remained favoured prime minister by a rate of 53 per cent to 32 per cent, with 15 per cent expressing no preference.