Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Australian public broadcaster under fire for vilifying Christians

We read:
"In the satirical interview, John Clarke poses as a mental health professional - apparently being questioned by Brian Dawe on the psychological damage caused by lengthy processing of asylum seekers.

But in a twist, it is revealed they are actually discussing how long politicians stay in office before they are finally voted out:

Dawe: A lot of them must realise the damage they are doing?

Clarke: Oh, they do. A lot of them are Christians.

Dawe: So there would be a lot of guilt?

Clarke: A lot of guilt. A lot of denial.

Dawe: Look what they are doing to the asylum seekers.


Video at link

Australian law is very sweeping in its provisions about racial vilification. It says: "It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if: (a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and (b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group"

But there is no similar prohibition against religious vilification that I know of. So this complaint is unlikely to go anywhere beyond the bureaucracy.

Even if the Act did apply to religion, it has extensive exemptions. Exempted in Section 18d, for instance, are comments made "in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held for any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose or any other genuine purpose in the public interest".

One would have thought that the above exemption provided a complete defence for conservative columnist Andrew Bolt in the prosecution recently brought against him. That judge Mordechai Bromberg did not accept that defence and proceeded to convict Bolt is thus incomprehensible in terms of what the law says. It can, as far as I can see, be explained only as a political judgement, akin to many of the judgments handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Even some Leftists were disturbed by Bromberg's extremism.

Given the pervasive Leftism of diaspora Jews, however, I suppose judge Bromberg's judgment and the accompanying tortured reasoning were to be expected. Jews are heavily represented in the Australian judiciary so I suppose we have to be glad that not many politically-relevant cases come before them. Leftism and law don't seem to go well together.

Epidemiologists are known for their poor grip on logic but this guy beats the band

The Warmist epidemiologist below is perfectly correct that past natural climate changes have been disastrous but the disastrous ones were episodes of COOLING. Periods of warming -- as in the Roman warm period -- were periods of prosperity and civilizational advance. Yet he is trying to make the case that history shows warming to be bad. He must know that history indicates the opposite so I say without hesitation that he is a lying crook of zero credibility on anything. I could go on to dispute more of his patently false claims but what's the point?

A LEADING Australian disease expert says prompt action on climate change is paramount to our survival on Earth. Australian National University Epidemiologist Tony McMichael has conducted an historical study that suggests natural climate change over thousands of years has destabilised civilisations via food shortages, disease and unrest.

"We haven't really grasped the fact that a change in climate presents a quite fundamental threat to the foundations of population health," Prof McMichael said. "These things have happened before in response to fairly modest changes to climate.

"Let's be aware that we really must take early action if we are going to maintain this planet as a liveable habitat for humans."

In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Prof McMichael argues the world faces extreme climate change "without precedent" over the past 10,000 years.

"With the exception of a few downward spikes of acute cooling due to massive volcanic eruptions, most of the changes have been within a band of about plus or minus three-quarters of a degree centigrade," he said today.

"Yet we are talking about the likelihood this century of going beyond two degrees centigrade and quite probably, on current trajectory, reaching a global average increase of three to four degrees."

Prof McMichael's paper states that the greatest recurring health risk over past millennia has been from food shortages mostly caused by drying and drought.

Warming also leads to an increase in infectious diseases as a result of better growth conditions for bacteria and the proliferation of mosquitoes.

Drought can also result in greater contact with rodents searching for scarce food supplies.

The ANU academic says while societies today are better equipped to defend themselves physically and technologically, they lack the flexibility smaller groups had in the past. That's partly because the world is now "over populated", according to Prof McMichael, so there are fewer areas available to retreat too.

Populations are also increasingly packed into large cities on coastlines which are particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events.

Prof McMichael has been examining the impact of climate change on population health for 20 years and says it's not easy to raise awareness of the risk.

"Most of the attention has been of a more limited shorter-term kind relating to things around us like the economy, our property, infrastructure and risks to iconic ecosystems and species."


Backdown on "Green" fuel policy in NSW

NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell's decision to dump the ban on regular unleaded petrol from July 1 has no doubt won him plenty of goodwill from the 750,000 NSW motorists who faced paying an extra $150 a year each for more expensive premium fuel as a result.

But there is also a definite and dangerous downside for the Premier — the impression that if he is put under enough pressure he will fold on difficult issues, regardless of whether he believes in the policy being attacked.

The question being asked today is: are we witnessing the emergence of Backdown Barry?

When O'Farrell spectacularly capitulated on his government's plan to slash the rebate paid to existing customers of the troubled solar bonus scheme last year to address a cost blow out, the decision was in large part put down to the inexperience and nervousness of a new government.

A backbench revolt sparked by the phone calls of angry constituents quickly led to a backdown and NSW electricity users wore the cost.

O'Farrell was quick to blame poor advice from the public service for the original cabinet decision in a bid to neuter the accusation that he was being politically populist at the expense of good policy.

This time around, the Premier has no such scapegoat. The cabinet made its decision to proceed with the regular unleaded petrol ban late last year to enforce the 6 per cent ethanol mandate — whereby oil companies must ensure that 6 per cent of all fuel sold is ethanol. The move was a former Labor government environmental initiative that was also designed to lower petrol prices.

The O'Farrell cabinet fully intended to stick with the petrol ban come July 1, despite knowing it would cost motorists more. It appears there has been no new information made available to the government in the meantime.

In fact, only one thing has changed — the public learning about the extra cost, thanks to a massive leak of cabinet documents last week, which revealed the numerous warnings about the cost to motorists and the possibility that the ban would be unconstitutional.

Like any leader faced with such a situation, O'Farrell had two options: argue the merits of the policy he and his cabinet believe in; or panic and run scared from the fight.

Today's decision gives the strong impression that O'Farrell has chosen the latter course. If so, it is a short term political fix that is likely to cause him long term political damage.

At the very least, the decision will give every one of the hundreds of lobby groups out there heart that if they can stir up the public sufficiently the government is susceptible to wilting under pressure.

It also confirms the view that in NSW politics, just like everywhere else, money talks. Manildra, the monopoly ethanol supplier in NSW, has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to Labor and the Coalition.

Which leads to perhaps the greatest irony of all about this decision — while O'Farrell has extinguished a political brush fire, his determination to enforce the ethanol mandate is about to ignite a much bigger fight.

The oil companies oppose the mandate and the big question is how — given he has just jettisoned his most effective lever for enforcing it — O'Farrell intends to do that.

Presumably the legislation he has flagged to remove the unleaded ban will need to contain a big stick such as large financial penalties for oil companies who do not comply.

So he will need to stick to a policy that benefits a generous political donor and — due to its capacity to support regional jobs — has a lot of support from the Nationals in the face of a campaign from the powerful and influential big oil companies.

Already the oil companies are accusing O'Farrell of sleight of hand in today's decision — they argue that enforcing the ethanol mandate will give them no option but to turn all regular unleaded into E10 in NSW to achieve the 6 per cent target of all fuel sold.

In other words, despite today's decision, regular unleaded fuel will still disappear from the bowser and those 750,000 motorists whose cars are incompatible with ethanol blends will be forced to pay more for premium fuel. Which was of course the catalyst for the original backdown.

It seems the stage is well and truly set. It will be fascinating to watch how Backdown Barry handles the fight.


Behind the Canberra riot

It is often said that oppositions don't win elections. Governments lose them. The federal ALP has yet to come to terms with that -- JR

The unintended riot near the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra on Australia Day serves as a reminder that Labor has an obsession with Tony Abbott. Yet an empirical examination of the opinion polls suggests the Opposition Leader is not Labor's essential problem. Rather, the ALP's political difficulties turn on policy - most notably, its action on climate change.

For a glimpse of Labor's state of delusion, look no further than the events at The Lobby restaurant on January 26. On the available evidence, it appears that Tony Hodges, Julia Gillard's press secretary, thought it would be a good idea if some indigenous Australians from the tent embassy confronted Abbott (either verbally or physically) at The Lobby. Why?

As Greg Turnbull, Paul Keating's one-time media adviser, said on ABC News 24 on Sunday, this was a knuckleheaded idea. Abbott would have experienced no political downside had he, alone, been confronted by radical Aborigines from the tent embassy. A smart political judge would have assessed such a scenario as a positive for the Opposition Leader.

Moreover, as is well known, Abbott has a history of supporting indigenous endeavours and has Aboriginal friends and associates. So why did Hodges do what he did? Presumably because he was so obsessed with Abbott that his judgment deserted him. It's much the same with the secretary of Unions ACT, Kim Sattler, who passed the Hodges message to some tent embassy personnel.

Whatever the exact course of the message, it seems that the recipients believed what they wanted to believe.

This is a common psychological phenomenon. The demonstrators, and more besides, thought Abbott was the kind of person who would call for the tent embassy to be demolished. In fact, of course, he did not.

The likes of Hodges and Sattler did not act automatically. For more than two years, members of the inner-city left have been warning that Abbott poses a threat to democracy and civil order. The group consists of educated leftists and social democrats alike and comprises authors, academics, bloggers, commentators, journalists, professionals and public servants.

Their views are evident to anyone who reads the ABC's online publication The Drum or the letters pages of the broadsheet newspapers.

The problem for Labor is that many Australians do not hold this position and support Abbott's social conservatism and economic policies. In August 2010, Abbott scored about as much support as Gillard. Now the Coalition leads Labor by a large margin in the polls. Clearly, the electorate does not regard Abbott as a threat.

And nor do some sensible, left-of-centre commentators who know him. In October last year, publisher Louise Adler wrote that she did not recognise Abbott in Susan Mitchell's attack biography, Tony Abbott: A Man's Man.

Labor's present political discontents stem not primarily from Abbott but, rather, from its commitment to a carbon tax leading to an emissions trading scheme.

Kevin Rudd's problems began when Abbott replaced Malcolm Turnbull and campaigned against the ETS. This was made clear when Herald journalist Lenore Taylor broke the story in late April 2010 that Labor had temporarily junked its ETS policy. She attributed this decision to "a bid to defuse Tony Abbott's 'great big new tax' attack".

On his blog on The Monthly's website, Robert Manne calls for Rudd to replace Gillard. He writes that "for its first nine months the Gillard government polled respectably" but Gillard's support began to fade in April last year.

True. What's missing is any mention of the fact the Gillard government's support began to fall once the Prime Minister announced, in late February last year, in the presence of the Greens, that Labor would introduce a carbon tax. The combination of a "great big new tax" and a broken election promise has made life difficult for Labor ever since.

The evidence suggests many Labor operatives are in denial about the impact of Rudd's and Gillard's climate change policies on the ALP. On Q&A last March, Lachlan Harris described the carbon tax as "the best decision Julia Gillard has made". The opinion polls, for the moment at least, indicate that Harris is deluded.

It appears that Australians are more concerned with the cost of electricity than with the anti-Catholic sectarianism which fires up much of the inner-city criticism of Abbott, or with the stance the Opposition Leader takes on such issues as Aboriginal advancement, asylum seekers and same-sex marriage.

The next federal election will not be decided on anyone's position on the tent embassy. It is only delusion, fired by obsession, which would lead to any other conclusion.

Or, in Greg Turnbull's terminology, the belief of a knucklehead.


Some disturbing negative externalities

Negative externalities are when private activities hurt other people. Many economists believe that they should be taxed or penalized

ON JANUARY 21, 1930, in the middle of the world's busiest city, excavation for New York's Empire State Building began. Fourteen months later, on May 1, 1931, the building was officially opened.

At 102 storeys it was for years the world's tallest building. About 21,000 people work there every day. It has a total floor area of 257,211 sq m. It cost, in today's dollars, about $500 million or $1944 per square metre.

In my quiet suburban street there is a house being built that has been under construction since the beginning of October 2009. For 28 months, six days a week, teams of carpenters, concretors and sundry tradesmen have been building a two-storey, detached house. With a floor area of about 200 sq m, it is not a mega-mansion. However, more than $5 million has already been spent on the construction and its completion is still a long way off.

When the house is finally finished, each square metre of floor area will have cost about $27,500 and each day of its construction will have produced a mere 0.9 sq m of floor space.

The house replaced a perfectly adequate brick bungalow, which was demolished and carted away. Then, before construction could even start in earnest, hundreds of cubic metres of sandstone bedrock were jack-hammered out of the site to join the remains of the old house at the tip.

The house's fashionable designer has called up only the best and most expensive materials and fittings and added to its complexity and expense with demanding and esoteric architectural details. Consequently the environmental footprint of the house is massive. Its profligacy is clearly indicated in its square metre cost.

As well, the impact of the protracted construction on the immediate neighbourhood has been much greater than that of a more moderate development. For almost 2½ years, our narrow street has been crowded with tradies' utes. Large mobile-cranes, skip-trucks, concrete mixers, earth-moving trucks and excavators regularly visit the building site and stay for hours. Street closures are common and there have been a number of accidents. Parking is a nightmare and walking can be dangerous.

All this aggravation and environmental degradation has been caused by one person with more money than sense and a designer who has no regard for the environment. What can be done to curb these antisocial endeavours?

How about a profligacy tax on buildings that exceed a certain cost? And why not include a completion date in the development approval and penalise the building owner for every day the work goes over that date?


Monday, January 30, 2012

Compensation bill tipped to hit $2 billion if dam operators found to be negligent during Brisbane floods

This is what the coverup was designed to avoid

THE State Government faces a $2 billion compensation bill if dam operators are found to have been negligent during the 2011 floods, one of the state's leading valuers says.

Iain Herriot, managing partner of WBP Herriots Queensland, said there were as many as 4500 "virtually unsaleable" properties in flood-hit suburbs of Ipswich and Brisbane.

At an average figure of $400,000 to compensate for loss of value and other damages, he estimated the total potential bill for the Government was more than $1.8 billion. That calculation did not take into account properties less badly affected.

"It's unfair that you should personally bear the cost and the loss that you may have occurred as a direct result of what may have been a result of operator error at Wivenhoe Dam," Mr Herriot said.

"If that is what the commission report finally reveals, the adversely affected owner has a classic case against the operator of the dam for compensation.

"If I had a flood-affected house ... the first nasty letter I would be writing would be to the dam operator and the Queensland Government saying 'give me the money - compensate me for your error'."

Cr Pisasale said there was scope to better manage flood events but it was "for the inquiry" to determine whether there had been negligence or even political interference in 2011. "These are the questions that should have been asked the first time round," he said.

A spokesman for Treasurer Andrew Fraser said the state "does not believe it will be, nor is it in possession of advice to suggest that it will be held liable" to compensate homeowners.

In any event, the Queensland Government Insurance Fund was "in place to meet all liabilities", the spokesman said.

LNP deputy leader Tim Nicholls said Queenslanders "may well look to the Government for recompense and that would be of great worry to Queenslanders given the debt and deficit situation we have at the moment".


Australians should not lose sleep over Europe's nightmares

The economic news from Europe in recent days has not been good. And it could get worse as the year progresses. Those guys have big problems. But let's not spook ourselves by imagining it to be any worse than it is.

Unfortunately, there has been a tendency in parts of the media to convey an exaggerated impression of how bad things are and of the extent to which Europe's problems translate into problems for us.

Take last week's downwardly revised forecast for the world economy this year from the International Monetary Fund. We heard a lot about the fund's dire warnings of what could happen if the Europeans did not get their act together, but what was not made clear was that the fund's actual forecast was for global recession to be avoided.

Though the growth forecast in the world economy this year was cut significantly from the forecast in September, at 3.3 per cent it is below the long-run average of about 4 per cent, but still comfortably above the 2 per cent level generally regarded as representing a world recession.

On the day, no one thought it necessary to tell us - even though the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, reminded journalists of it at his press conference - that, from our perspective, the fund's revisions were old news. They were surprisingly similar to the revised forecasts the government adopted in its midyear budget review last November.

The fund has the United States growing by 1.8 per cent this year; Treasury had it at 2 per cent. The fund has the euro area contracting by 0.5 per cent; Treasury had it contracting by 0.25 per cent. For China, the fund has growth of 8.2 per cent, whereas Treasury had 8.25 per cent. For India, it is the fund's 7 per cent versus Treasury's 6.5 per cent. Bottom line? The fund has the world growing by 3.3 per cent, while Treasury had it at 3.5 per cent.....

When Treasury did this sum in the midyear review, growth in the world economy of 3.5 per cent translated to growth in our main trading partners of 4.25 per cent. All this despite Europe's recession.

Fran Kelly of Radio National Breakfast did go to the trouble of asking the lead author of the fund's World Economic Outlook, Jorg Decressin, what the revised forecasts meant for us. His reply deflated most of the hype we have been subjected to.

"Australia will be affected by these downgrades only to a limited extent," he said. Oh. "At this stage, growth in output for Australia is still reasonably strong.

"Growth in Australia is importantly driven by major investment projects that are in the pipeline and these are funded by strong multinationals that don't have problems assessing funding." Oh.

"There is no advanced economy - or maybe there are one or two - that is as well placed as Australia in order to combat a deeper slowdown, were such a slowdown to materialise, and that's because, well, you still have room to cut interest rates if that was necessary and you also have a very strong fiscal [budgetary] position."


Your regulators will protect you -- NOT

THREE times as many Australian women have had PIP breast implants rupture than first thought, the medicines watchdog has said, warning the number of those affected by the faulty device will rise.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration initially received 37 unconfirmed reports that implants made by the French company Poly Implant Prothese (PIP) had leaked. It has now revised the figure to 102 confirmed cases and 14 unconfirmed.

But the Public Health Association of Australia predicted the rupture rate would rise dramatically. Its chief executive, Michael Moore, said given the standard breast implant rupture rate was one in 10 over 10 years, the estimated number of women affected by leaking PIP implants would climb to more than 1200. "We can confidently say there will be more," Mr Moore said yesterday.

The TGA has told surgeons supplied with PIP implants to contact each patient for a check-up. It also expected the number of patients reporting their breast implants to have ruptured to increase.

"At this stage there is insufficient evidence of a problem with the Australian supplied implants to warrant routine removal of the implants that have not ruptured," a TGA spokeswoman, Kay McNiece, said yesterday.

The federal Minister for Health, Tanya Plibersek, was yesterday unwilling to upgrade her advice. When contacted by The Sun-Herald, a spokesman for Ms Plibersek said: "The minister continues to receive regular updates from the Chief Medical Officer and the TGA who are constantly evaluating information from around the world."

He also advised women who have concerns to contact the Breast Implant Information Line. There have been more than 2000 calls to the line, set up in response to the issue.

The TGA recalled PIP implants in April 2010 after French authorities found they had abnormally high rupture rates. PIP was shut down after concerns it was using industrial silicone, not medical-grade silicone, for implants. The TGA estimates 12,300 PIP implants were sold in Australia between 1998 and 2010.

Ms McNiece said health authorities were working with experts locally and overseas "to obtain more comprehensive information that will help further inform the risk assessment of this situation."

The TGA's updated figures for ruptured PIP implants are more in line with those collated by the Medical Error Action Group.

Three weeks ago the group had received more than 100 reports of ruptured implants. The PIP scandal has exposed the inadequacy of the data the TGA holds on breast implant recipients.

The Sun-Herald recently revealed that the Australian Society of Plastic Surgeons is preparing to record the details of every breast implant patient, their surgeon and the type of operation on a national register of breast implants, which will act as an early warning system in the event of faulty devices.

The Society of Plastic Surgeons wants the federal government to fund the estimated $2 million it will cost to run the register every year.

A spokesman for the parliamentary secretary for Health and Ageing, Catherine King, revealed yesterday that the "establishment of medical registers for certain medical devices is under consideration".


Home insulation safety inspectors cost us $3.4 million

Another expensive legacy of "green" thinking

FLYING squads of safety inspectors charged with cleaning up the Federal Government's home insulation scheme have jetted around the country, lodging bills of up to $3000 to inspect a single home.

That's almost twice the original value of insulation installed under the scheme, which offered householders free insulation up to the value of $1600 as an economic stimulus measure.

The frequent-flying inspectors have travelled thousands of kilometres to check dodgy installations, even jetting from the Gold Coast to Melbourne, Perth to Adelaide and Brisbane to Perth.

Despite an edict from the Climate Change Department that "inspectors would not travel to an area where accredited inspectors were already present", new figures reveal more than 15,000 inspections involved travel - at a cost of $3.4 million.

But that is a fraction of the $500 million cost of safety checks for the scheme, axed after it was linked with the deaths of young installers and raised safety fears.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Refugee appeals involving false claims cost Australian taxpayers millions

DODGY claims involving fake religious beliefs, sham marriages and lies about sexuality are adding to a logjam of cases in immigration and refugee tribunals, costing taxpayers millions of dollars.

Desperate foreign citizens who arrive by plane are launching a barrage of appeals after Immigration officials reject their claims and seek to send them home.

The Refugee Review Tribunal - which handles only plane arrivals - had a 31 per cent jump in appeals last year while the Migration Review Tribunal, which deals with student and partner visas, had a 24 per cent increase. More than 13,000 appeals to the two tribunals in the one year overwhelmed resources.

While much of the national attention has focused on boat arrivals, many thousands more arrive by plane and are fighting to stay. Thousands of extra appeals are being lodged by plane arrivals each year, leading to a cost blow-out for taxpayers and long delays for applicants.

Frustrated tribunal members are finding some claims are blatantly faked, including a Chinese asylum seeker who said he was Catholic but didn't know who the Pope was.

Other men lied about being gay or invented elaborate stories about being pursued by criminal gangs, ex-partners or corrupt officials in an attempt to gain asylum. One Nigerian man sought protection for being part of a militant group involved in armed robbery, kidnapping and other non-political crimes.

Visa overstayers, including students, are also faking it or taking advantage of appeal delays to buy time in Australia at the expense of a clogged system. The Refugee Review Tribunal, which handles only plane arrivals, had 2966 appeals lodged last year - a 31 per cent jump.

The separate Migration Review Tribunal, which handles student, spouse, business and bridging visas, had 10,315 appeals last year - up 24 per cent.

The Federal Government was forced to provide an extra $14 million to the two tribunals for the next four years at the last Budget as appeals skyrocketed.

It can be difficult for asylum seekers to prove persecution, but some claims unravelled under questioning from tribunal members.

Monash University associate researcher Adrienne Millbank said the asylum seeker appeals system was vulnerable to false claims. "You hear about people who are full of hope and integrity and go on these review panels or decision-making (bodies) and get totally cynical," Ms Millbank said. "The whole system is totally farcical. It relies on the credibility of the story ... If you were putting someone in prison on that sort of evidence everyone would be horrified."

Combined appeals to the two tribunals have tripled in the past five years, prompting principal member Denis O'Brien to warn of delays in settling cases this year. A Canberra crackdown on student visas is contributing to the surge.

Immigration lawyers blame incorrect Immigration Department decisions, citing the high rate of successful appeal cases. Last year 41 per cent of appeals to the Migration Review Tribunal and 24 per cent to the Refugee Review Tribunal were successful.

Former attorney-general Michael Lavarch is conducting an independent review of the tribunals as the backlog mounts.

An Immigration Department memo reportedly warned at the time of his appointment last month: "The increasing delays result in uncertainty for applicants and provide an incentive for others to misuse the review process to extend their stay in Australia."

The Refugee Review Tribunal is also set to take on thousands more cases in the coming months when it resumes responsibility for assessing appeals from boat arrivals, who now use a separate system.

Separate appeals can be lodged through the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, Federal Magistrates Court, Federal Court, High Court and the boat arrivals system.


Tennis ace critical of homosexuality

TENNIS great Margaret Court claims homosexuality is often the result of sexual abuse. Amid a growing backlash over her opposition to same-sex marriage, the three-time Wimbledon champion told The Sunday Mail "many, many" gay and lesbian people she knew of had "been abused" and this had led to their sexual orientation.

Court, a senior minister at Perth's Victory Life Centre, has already sparked fury among gay and equal rights activists for recent comments, including that the push for gay marriage was trying "to legitimise what God calls abominable sexual practices".

Mental health advocate Chris Tanti accused her of "spreading misery" and putting young gay people at risk of suicide with what he called her anti-gay comments, amid calls for her name to be removed from centre court at Melbourne Park.

But Court said: "We get them (homosexuals) in (at church) and you'll find that many, many of them have been abused". When asked if she felt such abuse led people to homosexuality, Court said: "Yes. You look at a lot of them, that's happened."

She would not be drawn on whether she felt same-sex abuse was specifically to blame, saying, "We'll start another can of worms if I start talking on all this."

Peter Rosengren, editor of the Catholic Church's The Record newspaper, batted away her claims, saying he had "never heard of any scientific study" linking abuse and homosexuality, and that "everyone has to be respected".

In a wide-ranging interview, Court also said:

"The word of God is our TV guide to life. It's not the fear book, it's a love book and it tells us how to live our lives."

"I would have won six Wimbledons not three . . . if I'd known what I know now from the scriptures, on the area of the mind."

Many migrants expected Australians "to change our laws to embrace what they have and I don't feel that's right".

"Christianity is a way forward" for Aboriginal people.

Court also said she did not regret speaking out against same-sex marriage. "I say what God says and that's why I've spoken out," she said. "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. "I have a right as a minister to say that. You look at the decline in the world today. I think it's so important for values and morals and righteousness to come forth like never before."


Free schooling gets expensive in NSW

SCHOOL costs are rising so fast that one in three parents can't afford the $3000 a year needed to send a child to a public primary school.

The cost of preparing a child for the first day of school has become so expensive, more parents are seeking financial assistance from principals and teachers, or turning to charities and second-hand stores for uniforms.

A survey of 12,000 parents shows they can expect to pay up to $514 this year for uniforms, textbooks and stationery for a public primary student, rising to $739 a year in high school.

Parents sending their children to Catholic or private schools face costs as high as $892 in primary and $1355 in high school. Fees, excursions and extracurricular activities are also on the rise.

The Australian Scholarship Group figures show the total cost of high school as high as $4360 a year in the public system, $11,518 at a Catholic school and $24,376 at a private college. Their survey also found one in three families couldn't cope with the cost of their child's education.

Teachers told The Sunday Telegraph many parents struggled to pay a compulsory "book pack" fee of between $10 and $25, depending on the school, to cover exercise books, textbooks and basic school supplies.

Canley Vale Public School principal Cheryl McBride, chairwoman of the NSW Public Schools Principals Forum, said schools were seeing more disadvantaged families each year but principals could help.

"Every principal has a discretionary fund called Student Assistance," Ms McBride said. "It's not a lot of money but it's designed to assist parents who are really struggling with things like uniforms or excursions. No kid should ever miss out on their books."

Tuition fees at NSW public schools were voluntary but wearing the correct school uniform is compulsory.

The Smith Family CEO Dr Lisa O'Brien said the charity was having one of its busiest periods and had launched a Back to School appeal to sponsor an Australian student.


New dam revelations

Wivenhoe Dam operators were so busy minimising disruption to downstream bridges they failed to protect urban areas until it was too late, documents indicate.

Fernvale's Geoff Fisher Bridge, the Mt Crosby Weir, Colleges Crossing, Burtons Bridge, Savages Crossing, Kholo Bridge and Twin Bridges are used by an estimated 20,000 vehicles a day.

They are vital links for their local communities, but keeping traffic flowing pales into insignificance when tens of thousands of residents are at risk of a devastating flood.

Documents now show dam operators may have focused on protecting some bridges instead of cities on the crucial weekend before the floods - in breach of its manual - as water levels soared.

"By protecting those crossings, did they keep too much water in there until it was finally too late?" Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale demanded yesterday.

"Someone would have put pressure on not to close the Brisbane Valley Highway (the Geoff Fisher Bridge)."

The Fernvale and Surrounding Communities Action Group said the bridges were central to local life.

"I have no doubt that they were not releasing the water because of the problems that it would cause for some of those low-lying bridges," co-ordinator Dennis Ward said.

The $15 million flood inquiry was about to release its final report when The Australian newspaper last week revealed dam operators may have used the wrong strategy on the weekend of January 8-9 last year and then misled the inquiry.

A huge mass of water was released from Wivenhoe to protect the dam on Tuesday, January 11, flooding Brisbane two days later and pushing water up the Bremer River to Ipswich, according to expert inquiry evidence.

Supreme Court judge Catherine Holmes will now hold nine extra days of hearings from Thursday, and is facing demands to take a new look at whether releasing water earlier could have prevented the flood.

The bombshell revelations could expose the state to a billion-dollar payout as government-owned dam operator SEQWater is only liable if it breached the dam manual. Under the manual's strategy, known as W1, operators are required to "minimise disruption to downstream rural life".

Lead flood engineer Robert Ayre testified at the inquiry: "We take that (W1) to be interpreted as we're endeavouring to keep the low-level bridges from being submerged prematurely."

When the dam level rises to 68.5m, the manual requires escalated strategies, known as W2 and W3, which have the primary consideration of protecting urban areas from inundation.

Mr Ayre's testimony - that W3 was implemented at 8am on Saturday, January 8 - is contradicted in official reports the inquiry will only now scrutinise.


Government-created midwife shortage in NSW

A DIRE shortage of midwives is being fuelled by the absence of refresher courses in NSW, forcing people to go interstate before they can return to the profession.

Midwives who have not worked for more than five years can't renew their registration without retraining under new national laws although there is no accredited refresher course available in NSW.

They must travel to South Australia to upgrade their skills to meet new nationalised retraining laws and even then it is difficult to find the right course, the Australian College of Midwives said. "We know there are midwives out there who are really caught up in this," Australian College of Midwives NSW president Joanne Gray said.

According to Nurses Association's Judith Kiejda NSW was "crying out for midwives".

The Sunday Telegraph last week revealed nurses wanting to get back into the industry after five years had been told they must pay $10,000 for a refresher course.

The course for retraining in general nursing is only available full-time at the College of Nursing and participants must travel to Burwood to do it. The college has been swamped with inquiries and has more than doubled the number of places it has offered this month.

But only three of the students starting the next course did their original training in Australia. The rest were overseas-trained nurses wishing to get accreditation to work here, college chief executive Tracey Osmond said.

The college does not offer a midwifery refresher course because demand was low and the cost of setting up and delivering such a course was too high, she said. There is no retraining course available for midwives in NSW, Victoria or Queensland.

One midwife caught out by the changes, Lorraine Kelly of Sutherland, suggested giving nurses an extra 12 months to earn their registration back by working in the profession.

Ms Kelly said NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner's comment to The Sunday Telegraph last week that "I can't see how there is a problem" was a joke. "That is a statement from someone who is obviously out of touch with what is happening," Ms Kelly said.

Ms Kiejda said nurses with 1015 years experience would be lost to the profession because of these changes.


Saturday, January 28, 2012

UWA academic Farida Fozdar told 'go back to your own country'

I think criticism of her is justified. She did apparently use the term "racist", which is very inflammatory. Many people would see it as including Hitler-type behaviour and she had no evidence that the people she described would endorse such behaviour.

There are many possible gradations of opinion about race-related matters. It may be noted, for instance, that the man who declared war on Hitler (Neville Chamberlain) was himself an antisemite of sorts -- so any implicit or explicit claim that there is such a thing as a monolithic entity called racism is unscholarly.

And any social scientist making or implying such a claim is ipso facto a very low-grade intellect. Though it might be noted that mean minds are common among sociologists. Many of them are still devoted to the writings of an obsolete economist and proven stimulator of hate named Karl Marx. The term "racist" of no use for anything except abuse. I use the term only in mockery of Leftist abuse.

I made some technical remarks about her research here on 24th. but readers may also be interested in an alternative to her kneejerk reaction to the old "white Australia policy". See here for a more philosophically sophisticated look at the issues involved

A PERTH professor whose study found people who fly Australian flags on their cars are more racist than those who don't, says she has received over 70 critical emails which include demands that she go back to her "own country".

Brunei-born University of WA Professor Farida Fozdar [Judging by the name she is ethnically an Indian Muslim], who moved to Australia when she was seven, said she was shocked by the national reaction to her study which also spread as far India and the United States.

“Some emails have been quite polite and I’ve been able to reply and we’ve actually had quite a positive interaction out of it which, I really really value," Professor Fozdar said.

"But some are straight out lots of swear words and suggesting that I should go back to where I came from.

“I’ve also had a couple of emails from people implying that I’m the Grinch that killed Christmas and that now nobody is going to fly a flag because they think it shows that they’re racist.”

Professor Fozdar, a sociologist and anthropologist, said that although the study was reported “relatively accurately” in the media, some people have misinterpreted its findings.

“What has struck me most is that the media has reported the research relatively accurately in most cases, perhaps apart from some headlines, but people have taken it up in the wrong way,” Professor Fozdar said.

“People have taken it as though I was saying that anyone who flies a flag on their car for Australia Day is racist and that flying the flag generally is a racist thing to do and that certainly wasn’t what I was saying.”

Professor Fozdar said the study revealed flag-flyers were significantly less positive about Australia’s ethnic diversity than “non-flag flyers” but that the attitude is not shared by all Australians.

“The fact that there were significant differences doesn’t mean that everybody who flys the flag feel negative towards minorities but it means that a larger proportion of them did compared with people that weren’t flying flags,” she said.

Professor Fozdar said many people ignored her findings that the majority of both flag-flyers and non-flag flyers, interviewed by her research team, felt positive about Australia’s ethnic diversity.

“But that’s not what gets picked up by people,” she said. “That statistic was there, in a lot of media reports, but people took out of it that I’m saying they shouldn’t fly a flag for Australia Day because it’s racist and that we shouldn’t celebrate Australia Day. “That was just nowhere in the research and so that is what has surprised me.”


Lucky country becomes lazy: Migrant workers to do 'dirty' jobs

I think a fairer solution would be compulsory assignment to jobs for long-term welfare claimants. Anybody can pick fruit or do cleaning

THEY clean toilets, drive taxis and wait tables - jobs that are so far "beneath" many Australians the federal government is considering importing thousands of migrant workers to fill critically short-staffed local industries.

A growing underclass is developing in Australia - a country once respected for its work ethic - where entire service professions are being left to foreigners, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Experts say high-paying mining jobs are luring young Australian workers from traditional fields such as retail and hospitality, while others would rather go on the dole than muck in and do certain jobs themselves.

"I hate to say it but there seems to be a sense of entitlement among younger Australians," Tourism Accommodation Australia boss Rodger Powell said.

"They believe jobs in the service industry are too menial or too low paid and they have been brought up to believe they are destined for something better instead of starting from the bottom and working their way up as generations did before them."

The hospitality and tourism industry is so short staffed the government is in discussions to import 36,000 cooks, waiters and bartenders to fill vacancies with another 56,000 needed by 2015, according to federal Immigration Minister Chris Bowen. Under the plan, tourism and hospitality employers would be able to bring in workers on a two to three year visa similar to the 457 visa program widely used in the mining sector. "Employers would need to show they are doing their best to employ and train domestic workers and paying market rates," Mr Bowen said.

While hospitality is struggling to fill vacancies, some sectors are being shunned altogether. "It's rare to have an Australian work as a commercial cleaner," Australian Cleaning Contractor's Alliance director John Laws said. "It is is not an attractive position - cleaning has traditionally been done by people who have English as a second language."

A spokeswoman for the cleaning union United Voice said cleaners were among the worst-treated workers in the country, with one of the highest turnovers of staff at 40 per cent. She said competition for contracts was so fierce some companies were bidding at a loss and using illegal practices such as cash-in-hand payments.

A black market of illegal workers is said to extend across other businesses including restaurants and general labouring.

In the carwashing sector, the majority of workers are from overseas. Indian accounting student Sanjay Kumar, who works part time at the Baywash Carwash in Summer Hill, said the high cost of living in Australia meant he had to work hard to make ends meet. "It's expensive here and I need the money so I wash cars to help but I love doing my job. Everyone is nice," he said.

YOUNG and Districts Chamber of Commerce secretary Thomas O'Brien said most fruit pickers were overseas backpackers and, while some locals did it, others were too lazy and had a "welfare state" mentality.

Orchard owner Alan Copeland said growers relied on travellers such as Chung-Jen Wang, 29, of Taiwan, and Yoshimi Ohta, 26, of Japan, "to get the fruit off" or risk financial ruin.

"People say they're taking Australian jobs," he said. "They're not taking Australian jobs, they're doing jobs Australians won't do."

University of Shizuoka graduate Ms Ohta said she enjoyed fruit picking "more than I was expecting". "It's an experience and the money is OK," she said.

NSW Taxi Council boss Peter Ramshaw said, while the industry was always looking for drivers, its problem was more of a lack of taxi licences.

And, with Australia's generous welfare system, those who can't land a high-paying job are in some cases better off on the dole.

Analysis of Australian Bureau of Statistics data reveals the average cab driver takes home $527 a week after tax -- just 40c more than the $526.60 a single parent gets looking for a job.

If the same parent gives up looking and goes on parenting payments they jump to $641.50 a week -- just $7.50 less than a cleaner gets scrubbing floors 38 hours a week but still more than car detailers ($569.80) and dishwashers ($631.54).

Tertiary students, the backbone of retail and hospitality, who are eligible for rent allowance can get up to $522.10 a week, almost as much as waiting tables ($569.80) full-time.

Transport and Tourism Forum chief executive John Lee said it was a global phenomenon, with migrants and working travellers the only people "willing to get their hands dirty".

"Getting Australians to do these jobs - cleaning toilets, portering, any hard work - is impossible," he said.


Dam mismanagement coverup falling apart

FRESH claims are emerging that the floods inquiry has failed properly to investigate possible failings by dam operators during last year's floods.

A day after The Courier-Mail revealed that controversial details of the operating strategy at Wivenhoe Dam were sent to the Premier's right-hand man two days before Brisbane flooded, a top dam expert claims mismanagement of the dam potentially goes far beyond breaches of the operators' manual.

Veteran engineer Max Winders says questions are still unanswered about the reliability of the tools used by dam operators to predict inflows into the dam and dictate release strategies.

Senior flood operations engineer Robert Ayre told the inquiry these had "performed satisfactorily".

But Mr Winders has analysed the official accounts and found they paint a picture of dam operators desperately trying to make their inadequate modelling software conform with reality. "Whatever they were using to model inflows into the dam and releases was just hopeless," he said.

Mr Winders believes engineers chose to ignore rainfall forecasts during the flood because the spreadsheet they were using was not producing the results they expected. "It's what any engineer would do when your model doesn't work," he said. "You change the inputs."

Mr Winders said the engineers' forecasts appeared not even to support their explanation for the massive releases made on January 11 - that it would trigger a breach of the "fuse plugs" or safety valves, which protect the main dam. "All this about 'oh the fuse plugs will be buggered and Brisbane will be doomed' ... that doesn't show up in the model," he said.

The email reported in yesterday's Courier-Mail shows Ken Smith, then director-general of the Premier's Department, was party to key information on the strategy in use at the dam on January 10, 2011.

The Commission of Inquiry said yesterday it was responsible for blacking out Mr Smith's name. The same email is thought to have been submitted by Seqwater director of operations Dan Spiller with one of his statements. The commission said the files would be on the website by late yesterday.

Deputy Premier Andrew Fraser denied any attempt to cover up information.

LNP leader Campbell Newman said it was "looking more and more likely that the Premier may be involved". "It gets murkier and murkier, like the muddy waters of the Brisbane River after the flood," he said.


Ethanol critics push to overturn NSW fuel rule

OPPONENTS of a state government plan to ban regular unleaded petrol from July 1 are expecting to force a debate in Parliament and increase pressure on the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, to abandon the move.

Under a convention introduced by Mr O'Farrell, a petition of 10,000 signatures will trigger a debate if it is sponsored by an MP.

The Australasian Convenience and Petroleum Marketers Association wrote to 1200 petrol station owners last month asking them to display a petition opposing the plan under which petrol stations will be forced to replace regular unleaded with an ethanol blend, E10.

About 6000 people have signed the petition since January 5, the association's general manager, Nic Moulis, said. Mr Moulis said he had already been discussing sponsorship of the debate with MPs, whom he declined to name, and was optimistic that one of them would agree.

The petition calls for an indefinite suspension of the switch to E10 and a "full independent review" of the Biofuels Act, under which the change is scheduled to occur.

The association argues the switch will be costly for service station owners due to the need to modify their petrol supply infrastructure. It says it will particularly hit those retailers who do not sell E10, many of which are in regional areas.

On Monday, leaked cabinet documents revealed the government had pushed ahead with the ban despite advice from several agencies that it would increase petrol prices and may be unconstitutional.

The same day the Herald revealed research that suggested up to 750,000 motorists would pay more than $150 a year extra as they would be forced to use premium unleaded because their cars were not compatible with E10.

As part of its campaign the petroleum marketers association is encouraging station owners to display a flyer saying: "Want to pay over 10 cents per litre more for your fuel?"


For the sake of Her Honour and ours, no more double standard

At 6.17am on Tuesday, very early in the news cycle, the Premier's office released a statement saying Barry O'Farrell had instructed the Attorney-General to lodge a complaint to the Judicial Commission of NSW about the magistrate Patricia O'Shane after yet another controversy in her court. It was unusual, and also good politics and good policy.

The statement elaborated: "Mr O'Farrell told cabinet yesterday … Ms O'Shane had been at the centre of a series of controversial decisions and it was time the Judicial Commission reviewed her performance."

The pattern is well known. O'Shane has attracted controversy on numerous occasions. Her most spectacular failure was her dismissal of charges against the triple murderer Michael Kanaan while criticising the police who risked their lives arresting him after a shoot-out.

The commission needs to examine not just the controversies but the number of times her decisions have been set aside by higher courts. It should look at cases such as DPP v Armstrong, in 2010, where Justice David Davies sent O'Shane's decision back to the local court with the express provision that she not hear the case again. In doing so, the judge criticised O'Shane for getting the law wrong and using "intemperate language in a way that inappropriately denigrates the evidence of the police".

No other magistrate has a notorious reputation for denigrating police evidence. No other magistrate has been the subject of so many complaints to the Judicial Commission. No other magistrate has been subject to two apprehended violence orders.

But O'Farrell should not get his hopes up. The Judicial Commission is worse than useless. It does nothing of consequence and does it slowly. It protects judges and magistrates via an opaque process deeply biased towards rationalising errors.

If there were more truth in government, the Judicial Commission would be named the Judicial Feather.

Pat O'Shane is also highly unusual among judges and magistrates in that she has been able to place great store on her Aboriginality. There is a widespread perception, which I share, that her outspoken Aboriginality has been relevant in the latitude she has been able to exercise over the years.

There is an abundance of evidence that different standards are applied to Aborigines by the law and by society as a way of compensating for past injustices. Customary law, special sentencing forums, the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle and indigenous-only programs are examples. The intent is pure but the outcome has often been counter-productive.

Just this week, the Institute of Health issued a report saying indigenous children were 7.6 times more likely than non-indigenous children to be put on protection orders and 10 times more likely to be in foster care. It is a disgrace to the status quo, especially as disproportionate child abuse in indigenous communities has existed for decades.

Yet I don't think the central flaw in the national project of improving the lives of Aborigines is being addressed or even spoken about. That flaw is the moral apartheid we accept in the name of cultural sensitivity and/or white guilt.

On Australia Day, we can ask what it means to be Australian and only the original Australians can define themselves as Australian by race. But in the thousands of years in which indigenous culture evolved, "Australia" did not exist. Australia is an entirely modern concept. So the modern definition of what it is to be Australian is post-racial. We are all Australians. We should all be treated the same. But we are not.

When it comes to indigenous issues, our legal and political system has monetised race. It has racialised the law. In doing so, it has created a problem about identity: who is an Aborigine? There is money involved in the answer. This is why the expert panel, appointed by Julia Gillard, which produced the 300-page Report on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous People has come up with a monumental blunder.

The panel has overelaborated its brief by advocating that an "advantage" clause be inserted into the constitution which reads: "Acknowledging the need to secure the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples."

This clause is the embodiment of monetising race. It enshrines moral apartheid. It invigorates the problem of defining Aboriginality. It invites the kind of racial activism and exceptionalism which the electorate despises. It dooms the referendum.


Friday, January 27, 2012

It's all clear now

I have closed my Qantas blog because it has become clear what was going on at Qantas: The constant equipment failures on Qantas planes were deliberate sabotage by Qantas maintenance staff. The union knew that the work they do was gradually going overseas and that they were all in danger of losing their jobs so in their addled way they thought that their constant undermining of Qantas reliability would lead Qantas to come to terms with them and give them "job security" -- i.e. guarantee no more transfer of maintenance work overseas.

When Mr Joyce grounded the fleet, however, it became clear to them that they were dealing with a man who was not going to buckle and who would weather the storm of taking ALL their work away.

So what happened? The constant maintenance problems Qantas was having suddenly ceased. From that time to this Qantas has not had to turn back a single flight due to equipment malfunction. It is that sudden large change which speaks louder than words in revealing what was going on. The unions realized that the equipment malfunctions were a good reason to give them all the boot so have stopped their constant sabotage.

Further evidence that the union concerned is now shit-scared for their jobs is the fact that they were first to reach a settlement with Qantas under the Fair Work Australia negotiating process. They went from being the most militant union to being the tamest. And they settled despite Qantas refusing them one of their major demands: Bring the A380 maintenance to Australia.

These are totally despicable people who repeatedly risked the lives of Qantas passsengers with their sabotage. I think Qantas should still fire the lot of them and have all Qantas maintenance done in Germany -- JR

DCP under fire over Aboriginal baby's death

Another kid dies because of the "stolen generation" myth. Welfare bodies are afraid to take black kids away from feral black families in case they are accused of "stealing" the kid

The [WA] Department of Child Protection has come under scrutiny over its handling of the case of a baby who died under her parents' care.

A coronial inquest has heard this week that while the DCP knew the little girl and her twin sister were at risk, it ignored requests from police and hospital staff for them to be taken into protective custody.

The seven-month-old died while sleeping next to her father at their home in Kalgoorlie in June 2008.

The cause of death was undetermined but was consistent with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

The babies' father Shannon Benfield broke down in court today as he gave evidence to the inquest and said he had no idea of the risks of co-sleeping.

He said the DCP gave him no advice on caring for the babies and said co-sleeping was normal in Nyoongar culture.

Mr Benfield cared for the babies, and the couple's other young toddler, after their mother Terrilee Smith was involuntarily admitted to a mental ward after giving birth.

Mr Benfield admitted leaving the babies with two 11-year-old children on one occasion as he went to call his partner. He was arrested by police the same day and sent to jail for unpaid fines.

The DCP then facilitated an informal agreement with a relative to care for all three children.

But three months later, when Mr Benfield was released from jail and Ms Smith from hospital, a rift developed within the family and the couple took their children back.

The inquest heard that because no formal agreement had been reached, the couple were legally entitled to take the children from the temporary carers.

In his opening address on Monday, counsel assisting the coroner Sergeant Lyle Housiaux said the DPC ignored a request from police to take custody of the twins and the couple's other child.

He said the couple had a history of domestic violence and appeared unprepared to care for their children.

"It is unclear who held authority or responsibility over these children. It would appear that there was still a very real risk of harm to the children because Mr Benfield or Ms Smith could have taken the children at any time," he said.

Former DCP Kalgoorlie team leader Gabrielle Egan told the inquest this afternoon that while the department had concerns for the children, it was deemed in their best interests to leave them with family members rather than place them into care.

She said the department played a "supportive role, in the background."

Under questioning from coroner Dominic Mulligan, she admitted that formal assessment of neither the relatives nor the children's parents had been carried out.

But she said the relatives were deemed to be suitable short-term carers, and she had no idea that the couple had planned to take the children back.

Mr Benfield said he was often left confused by his interactions with the DPC, and said it would have benefited him if an Aboriginal staff member had worked with him.

"Why put my kids away when they just could have come and helped me and Terrilee," he said.


Brisbane flood coverup

ANNA Bligh's right-hand man was told two days before Brisbane flooded about crucial information on the operation of Wivenhoe Dam that has this week sparked the reopening of the flood inquiry.

In revelations that will draw the Premier into the controversy, The Courier-Mail can reveal that Ken Smith, then director-general of the Premier's Department and Cabinet, was sent an email by Seqwater on water releases on the morning of January 10, 2011.

The email, sent by Seqwater's head of operations Dan Spiller, said Wivenhoe Dam was letting out water under a transitional strategy, not more rapid releases designed to protect Brisbane, as the inquiry has been told.

It shows that contradictions between documents at the time and Seqwater's later account of events - which have prompted the reopening of the inquiry - should have been known at the highest levels of government for months.

The email was submitted in evidence to the inquiry by Water Minister Stephen Robertson in April but the names of some recipients, including Mr Smith, were blacked out.

However, an unedited version of the email obtained by The Courier-Mail using Right to Information laws shows it was sent to Mr Smith as well as senior police officers.

The email says: "As specified in the approved Operational Procedures, the primary objective is now to minimising the risk of urban inundation (release strategy W2). This involves larger releases now, minimising the risk of even larger releases later (were the flood compartment to reach high levels)."

According to the manual in use at the time, the W2 strategy is "a transition strategy where the primary consideration changes from minimising impact to downstream rural life to protecting urban areas from inundation".

Mr Spiller's dam engineering colleagues who testified at the inquiry said operators went from a "W1E" strategy straight to W3, under which much bigger releases are allowed, and W2 was never used. Seqwater's official reports, compiled after the flood, back this version of events.

The Premier yesterday dodged questions about what she knew about the strategy being employed at Wivenhoe during the floods. "I honestly can't answer the question," she told reporters. "I was asking: 'Are people safe?'"

She denied ever receiving briefings on Wivenhoe from Mr Spiller, who stepped down from a job in her office as a policy adviser this week "so there can be absolutely no conflict".

Seqwater said it would be inappropriate to comment.

The Premier's office referred The Courier-Mail to a spokesman for Mr Robertson who said it was "precisely matters such as these that the Commission of Inquiry will interrogate at the additional public hearings next week".


Adverse findings against crooked unionist/politician

THE formal investigation by Fair Work Australia into the Health Services Union has made adverse findings against key union officials including the president, Michael Williamson, the national secretary, Kathy Jackson, and the former national secretary Craig Thomson, now a federal MP.

The three were notified last month that the workplace regulator intended to make adverse findings against them.

They were given several weeks to respond formally to the allegations. After considering their responses, the regulator will release its final report

Mr Williamson said in a text message yesterday that his lawyers had not finalised his responses but the allegations against him were "bread and butter stuff".

Mr Thomson denies receiving anything from the regulator.

Ms Jackson said she had not known she was being investigated. "I am outraged by the contraventions being alleged against me," she said. "I will prove that they are utterly without foundation. If I had been given an opportunity to answer them before now, when a draft report has been prepared, I am sure I would not be facing them."

It is understood that some of the allegations against Mr Williamson and Ms Jackson relate to administrative breaches, such as failing to comply with financial reporting obligations, and are not as serious as those against Mr Thomson, who is accused of using his position for personal advantage.

The allegations against him were received by Fair Work Australia's predecessor, the Australian Industrial Registry, in April 2009. The regulator did not start a formal investigation until March 2010. It was overseen by Terry Nassios.

Appearing before a Senate estimates hearing last February Mr Nassios said he had interviewed 12 people about the allegations. But Labor senators prevented him saying whether Mr Thomson was one of them.

Mr Thomson was with the union for 20 years, rising to the position of national secretary before being elected the MP for Dobell in 2007. He was re-elected in 2010.

An independent audit by BDO Kendall after Mr Thomson's departure found that during his five years as national secretary his union credit card had been used to withdraw cash advances totalling $101,533.

The advances ranged from $100 to $600 and occurred every few days for five years until November 2007. His credit card had also been used at a Sydney brothel and two escort agencies and to pay restaurants and bars and for personal items.

Mr Thomson is understood to have denied any wrongdoing during his compulsory examination by the regulator, which later refused a request by NSW Police for the contents of the interview.

Mr Thomson is also the subject of an inquiry by the Victoria Police about allegations that he misused his union credit card.

He and Mr Williamson are also the subject of a NSW Police investigation into allegations that they received secret commissions from a supplier to the union. Both have denied any wrongdoing.

The federal opposition has targeted Mr Thomson because of the government's precarious situation. Should Mr Thomson be forced to quit his seat, the government is likely to fall. But he would not have to resign unless convicted of a crime carrying a one-year jail term.

The maximum penalty for a breach under the fair work legislation is a $2200 fine. But allegations of criminal offences can be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.


Thursday, January 26, 2012

"My daughter the doctor" comes seriously unglued

CMC launches criminal investigation into University of Queensland nepotism scandal, where rules went bent to allow the daughter of a university boss entry to the medical school

THE Crime and Misconduct Commission this morning launched a major criminal investigation into the University of Queensland nepotism scandal that claimed the scalps of two of Australia's leading academics.

In an escalation of the investigation that began last year, a six-member taskforce has been set up to probe possible criminal breaches and official misconduct over the university's handling of controversy.

Vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield was ousted from his million-dollar job at the university last year after The Courier-Mail reported a "close family member" had been allowed into the prized medical course despite failing to qualify during an admissions exam.

Professor Greenfield's deputy Professor Michael Keniger, was also forced out despite claiming the admission was a simple misunderstanding.

The acting chairman of the CMC, Warren Strange, said the investigation would cover three key areas.

The most serious complaint revolves around certain allegations made by a former University of Queensland student to police. "This complaint has been recently referred to the CMC by the Queensland Police Service," Mr Strange said.

"Due to the seriousness of the allegations , the CMC is obliged to commence an investigation to ascertain whether or not any criminal offence has been committed by any persons associated with the making of the forced offer."

A major part of the investigation will seek to determine whether university chiefs deliberately sought to mislead the CMC and the public. "This will focus on broader aspects surrounding the university's handling and response to allegations concerning the vice chancellor and senior deputy vice chancellor, including the university's public responses to date," Mr Strange said.

He said it was in the public interest to "independently examine" issues associated with the "forced offer for entry" by a student into the university's 2011 medical program.

There would also be a quality review of the university's overall management of official misconduct matters. He said it was important to restore public confidence in the institution's ability to deal with allegations by staff and students.

"The CMC has, in line with its statutory responsibility to oversight allegations of misconduct in Queensland's public sector, been closely monitoring the university's handling of the matter," Mr Strange said.

He dismissed earlier suggestions from the university that the CMC had completed its investigations and cleared the university. "At no time has the CMC closed its oversight and, in the public interest, we have decided to take this course of action due to the seriousness of the allegations," he said.

Mr Strange said it was important the public had confidence in the university's ability to deal with any future complaints of official misconduct. He said it was not appropriate to comment further.

He declined to say whether the ousted academics or the student at the centre of the controversy would be asked to give evidence. However, a CMC source warned the commission had coercive powers.

The CMC will consider publishing a detailed report of its findings which may be tabled in Parliament.


Aussies love one thing more than beer - freedom

That must be sour news to Leftists

WE love our beer, we love our beaches and we love our barbecues. But, like the swaggie who sprang into the billabong back in 1895, we love our freedom most of all.

We asked you to name the three things that made it great to be an Aussie, and got more than 15,000 responses. Sam Kekovich can rest easy: barbecues, meat and mates all got significant support.

But freedom topped the list - and there was daylight between that and the second most popular response, beer.


Flood victims gear for court action in wake of renewed scrutiny of Wivenhoe Dam operations

FLOOD victims are gearing up for action should renewed scrutiny of the operations of Wivenhoe Dam by the flood inquiry provide grounds for class-action lawsuits.

Insurers are also taking a close interest because further hearings might provide new evidence of the timing of dam releases that could affect disputed flood claims.

The moves come as questions continue to be raised about why the top-level Commission of Inquiry overlooked crucial documents about the management of Wivenhoe Dam in the days before last year's inundation of Brisbane.

The documents, revealed in The Australian, indicate that on the crucial weekend of January 8-9 last year the dam's managers were operating under a low-level release strategy rather than a more urgent strategy to prevent flooding, contradicting evidence given to the inquiry.

Announcing the election would occur after the final flood report was released in March, Premier Anna Bligh said it was only fair that voters had a chance to know whether candidates they were voting for had adverse findings against them.

She said "the full force of the law" should apply to anyone found responsible for any cover-up or having given false evidence but stopped short of criticising the inquiry for failing to fully scrutinise evidence. "Every flood victim" deserved the truth, she said.

LNP leader Campbell Newman said it was right that the hearings were taking place amid suggestions of a cover-up. "These suggestions need to be put to bed and it is a good thing they are going to be investigated," he said.

One insurance company said last night it was already receiving legal advice on the extended inquiry "in case it changes any of the fundamental premises ... about the timing of the floods".

A spokesman for RACQ, the second-biggest domestic insurer in Queensland, which dealt with thousands of claims after the floods, said: "We're evaluating these latest developments and will be watching the hearings with interest."

In the flood-hit Brisbane Valley, members of The Fernvale Action Group, the Mid-Brisbane Irrigators and other local residents were meeting last night in Lowood to decide whether to engage lawyers to pursue action against the dam operators.

Pine Mountain nurseryman and flood victim John Craigie, who was attending the meeting, predicted it would be difficult to fund such an action because "there are lots of people out there still doing it tough".

The inquiry's report was unlikely to be a sufficient basis for a legal action and "hard evidence" would have to be found to put to a court, he said.

But in Rocklea, a group of flood-hit businesses and households expected evidence of negligence would emerge. David Stark of Flood Affected Businesses and Homes said: "If it doesn't come out at the inquiry, it's going to come out at the class action."


Sisterhood beware - silencing ideas stymies progress

When debate is marked by personal vitriol, people opt out and keep quiet

I have long considered myself a feminist and been disturbed by the parts of the sisterhood who operate like the nasty in-group in primary school. You can't be our friend because you don't wear the right pink dress. You can't be our friend unless you toe the approved party-line on abortion, childcare or sexual clothing. It is astounding to watch grown women engage in exclusionary behaviour that most of us outgrew by age 10.

But they have been at it again in the debate over the feminist credentials of Melinda Tankard Reist.

Anne Summers wrote in The Sunday Age that Tankard Reist can't be in the feminist club because she is pro-life. Summers said the core principle of feminism is women's independence, financial and reproductive. That might be Summers' definition, but it's not mine, nor would it be many other women's. Definitions aside, why can't Summers just reiterate the arguments in favour of free, legal and safe abortion, instead of seeking to ostracise someone with whom she disagrees? "You're not my friend" does not counter any anti-abortion argument. It is a non-sequitur.

Kate Gleeson, an Australian Research Council Fellow in politics at Macquarie University, then called for Tankard Reist to explain herself in The Age - in particular her work for former senator Brian Harradine.

Gleeson said that many feminists were "suspicious" of Tankard Reist because she "identifies as a pro-life feminist". Lots of people have advised politicians with whose policies many of us disagree. Why Tankard Reist has to explain herself any more than any other adviser is beyond me. And why any of us should be "suspicious" of her just because she thinks differently from us beggars belief. I don't believe in god but I feel no need to be suspicious of those who do.

Like Tankard Reist, I have been on the receiving end of the self-appointed sisterhood's ire. I used to write about motherhood and childcare; about the importance of women having time away from work to care for their own children; about the need for child-friendly work practices, as opposed to employer-friendly long hours of care and short periods of leave. Ideas that are commonplace now, but 15 years ago, fresh out of '80s feminism, were rare, if not among mothers, at least in public forums.

I used to write about that, but not now. I stopped because along with other academics I know, I couldn't be bothered dealing with the vitriol, as opposed to refutation of ideas. The insistence on playing the player, not the ball. I stick to property law these days. My ideas on strata schemes don't seem to leave anyone reaching for their garlic and crucifix.

The problem with exclusionary vitriol is that it lowers the level of public debate.

First, many people, much smarter and more insightful than me, step out of the arena. Public debate is carried on by the small pool of people thick-skinned enough to weather, or perverse enough to like, the nastiness. Now that unaccountable bloggers, sneering and abusing from the safety of their bedrooms, have entered the fray, the pool of contributors to civil public debate is even smaller.

Second, shooting the messenger fails to engage with the question at hand. "You're wrong because you don't think like us" only convinces the converted.

Finally, silencing ideas stymies progress. The essence of any functioning democracy is the ability to get as many ideas on the table as possible and then thrash them out without fear or favour. The humility to admit that you might be wrong, that someone might be able to change your mind by presenting you with a new idea, is the hallmark of a healthy intellect.

The alternatives to democratic debate are cults or repressive religions. Devotees want to be told what to think and tenets of faith must not be questioned, on threat of excommunication. I have often thought this is what some women want from feminism.

I do not know Tankard Reist and I am not pro-life, but I defend her right to express her opinions, call herself a feminist and prosecute her beliefs. That includes her right to advise senators with whom I might also disagree.

The real test of tolerance is tolerating those with whom we strongly disagree. And we will never have a right to express our own contested ideas if we do not defend others' rights to do the same.


Why we can't trust Gillard any more

The Prime Minister has let us all down, particularly young people.

Some things transcend politics and policy and the lust for power. Truth, honesty, integrity, decency and fairness are immutable values. They are the ethical substance of life. They ought to be cherished. To sell them out is to sell one's soul. It is even worse when a leader expediently betrays these values, because it undermines the entire community.

We have a duty to lead and inspire our young people, in particular. What are they, and indeed all of us, to make of a prime minister who judges it acceptable to blatantly, blithely break a written pledge in the name of base politics? This is what Julia Gillard has done by abandoning her poker-machines promise to Andrew Wilkie. It was a solemn, public undertaking instrumental to her gaining the trust and the numbers to form government, having come to the prime ministership through means that had already undermined her moral authority.

She ought to have introduced the legislation; it is unimpeachably better to honourably lose a vote on the floor of the house than to prove beyond doubt that your word is not able to be trusted.

One of the greatest thinkers and leaders of all time, Socrates, that magnificent practitioner of the dialectic method of investigation and learning, might have had such circumstances in mind when he asked: "Are you not ashamed of caring so much for the making of money and for fame and prestige, when you neither think nor care about wisdom and truth and the improvement of your soul?"

It is hard to think of a worse message Gillard could have delivered. It is shameful. She has pretty much forfeited her claim on respect. Her trashing of her word means she no longer merits our trust. If the Prime Minister places so little value on her honour, why should anyone else have any faith in it? It is little wonder that so many people feel so disenchanted by politics. This Prime Minister has even managed to trump the moral slipperiness of John Howard's Orwellian construct of "core" and "non-core" promises.

Media organisations need to think carefully and clearly about their role in all of this. There is a tendency for politics and policy to be covered more as blood sport than the noble contest of ideas. That is understandable, to a point, and can be entertaining for aficionados. But there is insufficient differentiation drawn between policy issues and those issues concerning the very structure and ethics within which parliamentary democracy operates. Gillard's pledge to Andrew Wilkie and, by extension, to all of us, falls into the latter category.

There is nothing wrong with a politician and, for that matter, any of us, changing position in light of new evidence. There is everything right with it. Economist and policymaker John Maynard Keynes famously said last century: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, Sir?"

Here, too, media organisations might want to be more open to the validity and need for intellectual flexibility. Public policy is about getting best results. Public policy driven by ideology, rather than the intellectualism so neatly encapsulated by the late Lord Keynes, is the antithesis of what we should be seeking.

There is another category - the expedient reversal or abandonment of policy. In such cases, where, for example, a politician changes course by opting for what is currently popular, as measured by polls and focus groups, over what is right and just, media organisations and the general public should express dismay. Gillard's betrayal on poker machines policy is not of this category. It is a change for which there is no valid excuse. Any attempt to justify it as something dictated by "the real world" or "real politics" is disingenuous and insulting, both morally and intellectually. We owe our young people, and ourselves, far better than that.

When was the last time you heard an insightful, inspiring piece of oratory from an Australian political leader, an appeal to what is pure and true within humanity, a statement of belief backed by ideas for change and betterment, a call to those immutable values wherein lie the potential greatness of people individually and collectively?

Such exhortation, such leadership, is lamentably scarce. There are probably only two in recent times I reckon are candidates for a list that ought to be replete. One is Kevin Rudd's apology to indigenous Australians. The other is Malcolm Turnbull's speech when he crossed the floor on climate change.

There is something going on in the community that some of our politicians, including the Prime Minister, seem to be missing, bunkered as they are in the battle for dominance of the current Parliament. So many people are seeking authenticity, a return to simplicity, meaning and community. It's there in the burgeoning not-for-profit sector, where as many as one in 12 people are employed. It's there in the vegie patches that are being planted in so many more back gardens. It's there in the outrage people feel about the treatment of asylum seekers. It's there in the explosion of writing and communication and creativity in what's known as social media, but is perhaps better described as open media. It's everywhere.

There has been an inversion; the real leadership is coming from the community, a community that has left Gillard behind, rather than from the body politic. And it's a community now all-but out of reach for a PM who has let down not only herself, but all of us.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Re-opening of Brisbane flood inquiry

NEW evidence suggesting Wivenhoe Dam was incorrectly managed in the days before last year's inundation of Brisbane has forced the flood inquiry to reconvene, potentially delaying state and council elections.

Premier Anna Bligh was last night seeking urgent legal advice on a "number of options" after agreeing to grant an extension to the flood inquiry's reporting timetable.

Revelations that crucial documents about the dam's operation were either not released or overlooked by the $15 million inquiry's bevy of high-paid legal professionals has forced it to reconvene hearings.

The extension could cost taxpayers a further $1.5 million. But it was unclear last night whether this could be absorbed by the inquiry's original budget.

In a written statement late yesterday, Ms Bligh said she had met with inquiry commissioner Cate Holmes and accepted her request for an extension of the reporting deadline.

The documents, in The Australian newspaper, indicate that on the crucial weekend of January 8-9 last year the dam's managers were operating under a low-level release strategy aimed at preventing inundation of rural bridges when they should have deployed the more urgent strategy under which preventing Brisbane from inundation becomes the priority.

The email trail contradicts evidence presented to the inquiry by the dam's operators, Seqwater, that they were operating under the higher release strategy and that their own logbooks entries recording that the lower level strategy was being used were incorrect.

Lead flood engineer Rob Ayre told the inquiry last year that although he recorded the lower level release strategy was being deployed in a situation report on the night of January 8, this "wasn't correct" and the strategy to protect urban areas was in place.

Seqwater has insisted any claims it had given misleading evidence to the inquiry were "baseless".

However, Seqwater's defence is likely to be rigorously tested during new hearings that the inquiry has scheduled for the next two weeks.

The Courier-Mail understands the inquiry was putting the finishing touches on its final report before the new evidence came to light.

Earlier this week Ms Bligh backed Seqwater's version of events and promised Queenslanders would see the final report before going to the polls.

The commission of inquiry initially sat for 57 days under a budget of about $15 million or $263,000 a day meaning a further six days of sittings could potentially cost taxpayers a further $1.5 million.


Thieving ambulance man keeps his job

Public servants are a protected class

A QUEENSLAND ambulance officer has kept his job despite being convicted and jailed after stealing drugs from his employer.

In the wake of mounting evidence of criminal activity within the public service, the State Opposition has called for more checks and balances and the immediate sacking of those found guilty.

The 40-year-old paramedic was working near Rockhampton where he stole methoxyflurane - a non-opioid alternative to morphine often used for acute trauma - from the Queensland Ambulance Service in November 2010.

QAS suspended him a month later and court documents show he was convicted in Brisbane Magistrates Court after pleading guilty to "stealing as a servant" in April last year, receiving a $500 fine and five days' imprisonment.

Documents obtained by The Courier-Mail under Right to Information laws show he received a subsequent "formal reprimand" and demotion last June.

Police and Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts defended the decision not to sack him, saying he had "a lot of confidence in the ambulance service and indeed the other services to make those judgments".

"If I was presented with a significant number of cases where everybody was simply let off with a demotion, of course I would ask questions for a bit more details," he said.

Opposition Police, Corrective Services and Emergency Services spokesman John-Paul Langbroek said that "public servants found guilty of serious criminal offences should be dismissed immediately".

"Not only is Bligh Labor's process for background criminal checks an embarrassing shambles, but even when public servants are convicted of crimes of stealing drugs, it seems they're free to keep working for the government," he said.

The paramedic caught stealing drugs was one of two ambulance officers convicted in the past two years of stealing drugs while on the job. The other officer was sacked.

Another ambulance officer who was convicted of possessing drugs and child pornography material last year resigned.

Two off-duty prison guards from Queensland Corrective Services lost their jobs after being convicted on drugs charges after being caught with steroids; another has resigned pending the outcome in court.

Queensland Corrective Services Commissioner Marlene Morison said there was "zero tolerance for staff convicted of an indictable criminal offence".


$2b Nauru detention bill overblown - Opposition

THE opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, has accused the government of grossly exaggerating the cost of reopening the detention centre on Nauru, after the federal government presented him with a $2 billion bill to implement the Coalition's key border protection policy.

After the Coalition refused further talks with the government on solving the boat crisis, the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, revealed yesterday that a departmental team had travelled to Nauru this month to assess the island's ability to process asylum seekers.

It found the centres used by the Howard government had in effect been dismantled, water shortages were severe, and housing Australian staff would pose an enormous challenge.

No asylum seekers could be accommodated on Nauru for at least three months, and then only 400 would fit until extra buildings were flown from Australia, the department said.

The department put the cost of safely housing a maximum of 750 asylum seekers at $1.7 billion over four years because of limited land space, and not including an extra $316 million to rebuild the centres.

"It's ridiculous, absurd. We suggested they reopen a processing facility on Nauru, not the moon," Mr Morrison said.

He accused Mr Bowen of "trying to trash Nauru as an offshore processing option" and demanded to know why the costing was four times higher than immigration facilities in Australia, and equated to $500,000 per person.

During talks held late last year, the federal government had broached reopening Nauru if the Opposition agreed to the Malaysia refugee swap, the option favoured by the Gillard government. But that option was blocked by the High Court and would have required new legislation to make it viable.

Mr Bowen offered an inquiry into the effectiveness of temporary protection visas - another key Coalition policy - if the Coalition backed the Malaysia plan.

However, Mr Morrison yesterday pulled the plug on discussions, saying the government had failed to address the Coalition's "serious policy concerns".

The Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's office said Labor had claimed, in 2008, that it cost the department $289 million to run the Nauru and Manus Island processing centres between 2001 and 2007.

Mr Bowen agreed the $2 billion cost was "enormous" and said he would publicly release details of the department's "independent" advice, telling the 7.30 Report last night: "These are the costs that would need to be in the budget if the government, any government, went down that road."

Mr Bowen said if Mr Morrison were a government minister he couldn't "just ignore the costings" because they were inconvenient.

The Opposition had been unable to nominate a third country which would accept refugees processed on Nauru, so most would end up in Australia, and Mr Bowen said the government could not justify spending $2 billion on a policy that would not work.

He accused the Coalition of not being prepared to move "a millimetre" to find a compromise on border protection.


Queensland students to learn about Australia Day

FOR the first time Queensland students will be forced to learn about Australia Day, with the national day previously being considered "optional".

As the national curriculum is rolled out across Australia - with Queensland the first to begin the new regime - students will learn about the day (January 26), its history and its meaning.

Queensland teachers have previously been offered "debates about Australia Day" as an optional example when teaching students about national traditions, but there was no mandatory requirement.

South Australia had no specific requirement to study Australia Day, while curricula in other states listed the day as an example of public holidays, without man-datory requirements for study.

Federal Education Minister Peter Garrett said Australia Day was "too important a day to leave as an optional extra".

"We've got a fascinating past in this country, with stories of great bravery and determination and examples of outstanding individuals in science, sport, public life and the arts," he said.