Thursday, August 16, 2012

Five Australian universities in world's top 100

The Shanghai Jiaotong University ranking is a respected judgment but all these rankings are arbitrary in various ways.  Still, it's notable that Australian universities do pretty well in all of them.  The Shanghai Jiaotong ranking compares 1200 higher education institutions worldwide

The University of Melbourne has been named as Australia's top university in a prestigious global ranking of tertiary institutions.

The latest Academic Ranking of World Universities puts the University of Melbourne as the top placed Australian institution at number 57.  That is up from 60th spot in 2011.

The Australian National University was ranked number 64, making it Australia's second top-ranked university. It was ranked 70th in 2011.

For the first time Australia has five universities in the top 100, including the University of Queensland in 90th spot, the University of Sydney at 93rd, and the University of Western Australia at 96th.  Nineteen of Australia's 39 universities made the top 500.

Harvard University in the United States was ranked number one.

American universities made up eight of the top 10, with Stanford University second, Massachusetts Institute of Technology third, and the University of California, Berkeley, in fourth spot.

The United Kingdom's Cambridge University came in at number five and the University of Oxford was ranked 10th.


School has to be cool

TASMANIANS must change attitudes about education, demographer Bernard Salt said yesterday.  Unskilled jobs were evaporating from Australia and skills training was imperative.  "It needs to be cool to stay on and uncool to leave school at 15," he said.

"Every Tasmanian must send the right message to kids, that the expectation is to get some form of training.

"Ten years of focus on this could change the shape of the state." Without a cultural shift, the Tasmania of the future could be a dangerous place, he said, with social discontent increasing as large numbers of people fell into welfare and became disconnected from the rest of society.

"The best thing you can do is make sure kids have some education," he said.

Mr Salt was visiting Hobart yesterday to outline the changing patterns of work and life in Australia to a national workshop of motoring clubs, organised by the Australian Automobile Association and the RACT. "Australia is not a great, bland amorphous place," he told the workshop. "It is a patchwork."

He pointed to fundamental shifts in Australian life, which threw up many challenges. One was the geographic shift of people from country to coast and city.

Within urban areas, two kinds of cities were emerging, with a growing clash of cultures between the inner-city elite and the outer suburban culture of "middle Australia".

The ethnic make-up of large parts of Australia was changing too, with the arrival of aspirational Indian and East Asian students and migrants.

One of the biggest changes was the mass retirement of the baby boomers. Here he saw opportunities for Tasmania.

"The lifestyle and value for money here is appealing to many baby boomers in Melbourne and Sydney," he said.

"Hobart is grooving up. It is becoming quite a metropolitan, cosmopolitan and fashionable city."


Milk has never been so illegal

Hundreds, perhaps thousands of Perth people bathe in milk regularly, or so they say.  Perth Organics is just one of the companies that sell raw milk; they sell hundreds of litres of it each week.  Raw milk is milk in its unpasteurised natural form -  and it is illegal to sell for consumption.

Perth Organics, run by husband and wife team David and Lisa Bolt and based in Lesmurdie sell the milk for cosmetic purposes.

A disclaimer on their website points out exactly what the milk should be used for.  "Note that unpasteurised milk is sold only for purposes such as bathing milk or cosmetic milk as recommended by the Australian Health Dept.  Those that mention that purchase is for human consumption purposes, will not be supplied," the website says.

The topic is so contentious Mrs Bolt does not even discuss whether she drinks raw milk.  She does however admit that she thinks the matter of whether raw milk can be sold for consumption should be reviewed.

Mrs Bolt said she respected the law that was in place but said it was quite strict.  "You sell a can of cat food and tell people it is pet food, if they are going to eat it, that's their choice, they are choosing to take that risk," she said.

Mrs Bolt said the company sourced the milk from farms in the south-west and there was a big demand for it.  "We sell whatever we can get," Mrs Bolt said.

Some believe raw milk is a healthier option to drinking pastuerised milk because of its nutritional content.

A group called the Australia Alliance for Raw Milk is made up of farmers and consumers who believe they should have the freedom to choose what food or drink they consume, including raw milk.  "We believe in our right to farm our own private land and trade/share the produce with others without undue government or corporate interference," their Facebook page says.

Their page directs people looking for raw milk in Western Australia to Perth Organics.

Associate professor in health sciences Sebely Pal said she recommended that if a person had access to pasteurised milk, they should drink pasteurised milk rather than raw milk.

"If it's not pasteurised it can have bacteria and viruses which children are especially susceptible to," she said.  "It's best not to take chances.

"In the old days there were higher incidences of tuberculosis and other diseases that we think could've been from drinking unpasteurised milk."

Associate professor Pal admitted that people in countries such as India drank unpasteurised milk but there was little research done into the effects of it.

She said it was difficult to assess the rate of disease without comparing people from the same population drinking pasteurised and unpasteurised milk, which would be illegal in Australia.


Fast-food giants trying to avoid paying teens weekend penalties

AUSTRALIA'S fast-food chains are trying to wriggle out of changes to national wage laws that will soon force them to pay employees penalty rates on weekends.

The move comes as an independent senator attempts to introduce laws that would remove double-time weekend wages, which, he says, are crippling small businesses.

Fast-food outlets, restaurants, retailers and unions have this week filed submissions to a major review of the nation's awards system by Fair Work Australia.

Among the more significant submissions is a push by Hungry Jack's, McDonald's, Red Rooster, Pizza Hut, KFC and other big chains - which together represent 47 per cent of the industry - to remove the requirement to pay compulsory weekend penalty rates.

The fast-food companies' submission, made on their behalf by the Australian Industry Group, asks the workplace umpire to do away with weekend penalties altogether. Big fast-food outlets such as McDonald's have enterprise agreements, covering thousands of staff, which until now have not awarded penalty rates to most employees.

McDonald's current agreement, which expires in 2013, covers 80,000 employees - about a quarter of them young people. If nothing is changed, from next year it would be forced to pay these workers 25 per cent extra on Saturdays and 50 per cent more on Sundays.

McDonald's human resources director Joanne Taylor has told Fair Work Australia the chain could not enter into a new agreement with staff under the new award, because of the ''substantially higher costs''. Pizza Hut franchisees have also said they could not afford the penalties.

Under the plan put forward by fast-food retailers, workers at all fast-food outlets would get 10 per cent extra if they worked after 10 on any night of the week and 15 per cent extra after midnight.

All obligations to pay extra on weekends from next year would be removed. Penalties in the fast-food industry for most major employers were imposed for the first time in 2010, when the current award came into place.

The national secretary of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, Joe de Bruyn, said the fast-food chains were trying to wriggle out of new conditions they had known were coming since 2008.

The push is part of a wider move by employers to remove penalty rates, particularly across the retail and hospitality sectors. ACTU president Ged Kearney said yesterday that unions would fight hard on the issue.

Meanwhile, independent senator Nick Xenophon is attempting to change workplace laws over double-time weekend wages, which, he says, are costing young people their jobs.

Senator Xenophon's proposed amendment would see penalty rates still payable, but only where an employee worked more than 38 hours in seven days, or more than 10 hours in a day. The changes would only apply to small businesses employing fewer than 20 full-time staff.


Business-hating "Green" councils  must be  weeded out

THIS is a case study of what is wrong with the O’Farrell government.

Just across the Richmond River from Ballina’s Big Prawn, Bernard and Rikki Grinberg run a caravan park on eight pretty hectares behind South Ballina beach.

They have ploughed their retirement savings into restoring an old camping ground into a low-key, affordable, family-friendly eco-resort.

But now, like property owners all over NSW, their livelihood is under threat, as green-dominated councils use a new statewide planning template effectively to “sterilise” land of human influence.

The Grinberg’s Ballina Beach Village has been rezoned from a recreational zone to the environmentally sensitive category of E2, which is the next stage down from a national park, and forbids tourist activity. While, technically, they are allowed to keep operating their eco-resort under an “existing uses” clause, the reality is the opposite.

Now, every time they want to change anything, whether it is to use crockery at their kiosk, hire a singer to play in their piano bar, renovate the interior of an old shed to turn it into a yoga studio, even trim a branch off a termite-infested tree that might fall on a tent, they have to submit a development application and prove to Ballina Shire Council they are not “intensifying” the use of their land.

The effect is that their thriving business is becoming unviable.

From leafy Sydney suburbs such as Terrey Hills and Frenchs Forest in Warringah to Eurobodalla on the south coast, to Ballina and Byron Bay and inland to Lismore and Kyogle, wherever there is bush and greenies, councils are deciding to impose excessively restrictive environmental zones on private property.

Landowners rezoned to E2 or E3 have found their property values slashed overnight, leaving them unable to improve their land or even farm it effectively. In Ballina and Byron shires as much as one third of agricultural land has been rezoned.

What an E2 zoning does is stop, for example, a macadamia farmer leaving a paddock fallow for a year, a standard farming practice to rest the soil. If he wants to replant macadamias on that paddock, or even switch to mangoes, he has to apply for a DA.

Rezoning land to a more restrictive regime is known as dezoning, but Rikki, 55, and Bernard, 65, describe it as “land theft”.

E2 and E3 zonings are “the exocet missile of green bureaucracy”, they say. Planning laws have “given very powerful weapons to very misguided people”.

A nearby farmer, who asks not to be named, has valuations which show the E2 dezoning has halved the value of his land.

On January 5, 2006, his farm was worth $5.6 million. On February 1, this year, it was worth just $2.6 million.

In their report, valuers Herron Todd White explained: “Ballina Shire Council draft LEP (Local Environment Plan) designates substantial parts of the [farm] as E2 Environmental Conservation zoning. This significantly limits the use (to) which this land can be put.”   No kidding.

So far, the Grinbergs have had to spend $150,000 on lawyers and town planners just to defend their right to conduct business as usual.

They blame the previous state Labor government for imposing a new planning template across the state’s 150 councils. But after 16 months in office the O’Farrell government has done nothing to fix the problem.

Frank Sartor, the former Labor planning minister who signed off on the changes, defends the template, known as a “standard instrument”. It was intended to standardise the confusing mishmash of different definitions across NSW into 30 to 40 standard zonings.

“The template provides a great deal of flexibility. It is absolute nonsense to blame the template for planning problems that are of local councils’ own making,” he says.

But who will protect landowners from rogue councils? Not Premier Barry O’Farrell.

The election of a new Coalition government on a planning platform of empowering local councils has created a perfect storm. The template provides the opportunity for councils arbitrarily to rezone land, and the laissez faire attitude of the O’Farrell government gives them the freedom to do it.

And in case deep greens are applauding at this point, freedom cuts both ways, depending on the ideology of the council involved - whether that is the green ethos of locking land away from humans, or the white shoe brigade’s ideal of the concrete jungle.

NSW Planning Minister Brad Hazzard is overhauling planning laws but says he is stuck with the template inherited from Labor.

“Where I have had major concerns I have stepped in to excise areas (from E2 and E3 zonings and require councils to) go back to the community and look at the science, look at the evidence,” to determine if land should be locked up, he said.

“It is truly a challenge for state government because we came into power (promising) to devolve more power to local communities ...

“The challenge is to make sure councils properly consult local communities.”

But he questions “whether it is appropriate for state government to take a heavy-handed interventionist approach”.

Why not? Real people are being smashed.

The Grinbergs say the government is just “rejigging” rather than finding a permanent solution.  “You’re just back having the fight with council,” says Bernard.  “The zoning will still be manipulated by councils imposing expensive DA processes and red tape to drive owners off their land.”

They say “scientific evidence” just means council ecologists will pay $150,000 to like-minded environmental consultants to produce reports proving the area is environmentally sensitive.

The Grinbergs have put elbow grease and their retirement savings into the land they fell in love with. They’ve turned a rundown slum into a tranquil ecohaven, accessible to families of moderate means.

“We’re the ideal owners,” Rikki says. “We’re very environmentally conscious, clean living, and non-development.  “Yet we’re the bad guys.”

This is why the NSW economy is still on its knees. The O’Farrell government is squandering a huge mandate with its timid and ineffectual approach. It is more determined to be loved by everyone than to do the tough job it was elected to do: fix 11 years of Labor mismanagement.

We have an insane planning regime which is cutting the value of people’s property in half. Just fix it.


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