Friday, May 30, 2014

A story of WWII heroism

One story which could not be told during the war, and which was lost in the aftermath and has only recently been pieced together from wartime diaries and service records, highlights the special bond that tied Australians and Americans then and serves to illustrate the shared values which unite our people today.

Melbourne author Tom Trumble has published a truly remarkable account of the survival of a group of Australian airmen stranded in Japanese-occupied Timor after the bombing of Darwin and later Broome destroyed the Australian flying boats which might have been able to extract them.

Their leader was 24-year-old meteorological officer Bryan Rofe, the author’s grandfather. The young man’s attempts to keep his band alive and rally their spirits are heroic, but that is just part of this extraordinary story.

After evading Japanese patrols, living off the land, assisted by some but by no means all Timorese, and ravaged by ­malaria, the small group was effectively abandoned by the Australian military.

However, the US navy overheard their radio transmissions and launched a rescue. The submarine USS Searaven was sent to the area and after several frustrating days managed to make contact with the survivors.

Members of the US crew swam ashore at night so as not to alert Japanese spies.

The men were weak, barely able to stand. Getting them off the beach could not be completed in one night and, at huge risk, the US submarine stood off for several days until all the men were aboard.

Five days after they had left, a fire broke out in a main power unit and another US submarine had to take it in tow on the surface, vulnerable to aircraft attack, to Fremantle.

The full story is contained in Trumble’s book, Rescue at 2100 Hours, and it is gripping.

US Lieutenant Commander Hiram Cassedy, captain of the Searaven and Ensign George Cook, who repeatedly swam through shark-infested waters to reach the men, received the US Navy’s second highest decoration for valour, the Navy Cross. Two crewmen were awarded the Silver Star.

Rofe survived to head the Australian Antarctic Division.

This is a story of heroism. It is a great pity it has come to light so late and that generations of Australians who don’t know the true history of the Australian-US alliance will only have the flawed perspective offered by the left-leaning historians favoured by the left-leaning curriculum.


Welfare whingers, look at NZ

THE Kiwis may consistently flog Australia in rugby, but if welfare and whingeing were a competi­tion we would be the undisputed champion.

Even after Joe Hockey’s tough budget, Australia’s welfare mountain will still dwarf anything across the Tasman.

The culmination of almost two decades of mainly populist budgets, the Abbott government will spend $6200 a person on cash welfare next year, over 25 per cent more than New Zealand’s government will on each of its citizens (converting all amounts to Australian dollars).

Education spending, at $2900 a person, is 10 per cent more generous in Australia but health expenditure is torrential by comparison: Australian state and federal governments will lavish more than $4600 a person to keep Australians alive and healthy, almost 50 per cent more than is spent in New Zealand. No methodological quibble could bridge such stark differences.

The relative splurge extends to hiring, too. Australia’s population of 23.5 million is about 5.2 times New Zealand’s, but as of June last year we had 8.4 times as many public servants: 1.89 million across our state, federal and local governments compared with New Zealand’s 226,000.

If the federal government overnight reduced welfare, health and education spending to New Zealand levels it would be rolling in a $40 billion budget surplus next year rather than wallowing in deficit until 2018 or even later.

Australians’ hysterical reaction to the Coalition’s first budget must bemuse New Zealanders, especially since Treasurer Bill English said last week that he would cut public spending as a share of gross domestic product by more than twice as much as the Abbott government has announced.

In fact, without a minerals boom to line government coffers and despite a huge repair bill from two devastating earthquakes, New Zealand’s budget will be back in surplus by $NZ400 million ($370m) next financial year, rising to $NZ3.5bn by 2018.

English, now in his sixth year as New Zealand’s Treasurer, commendably chose not to emulate the world’s greatest treasurer Wayne Swan and kept a tight leash on public spending before and after the global financial crisis, preferring to cut income taxes and lift consumption tax. The Key government, facing election again later this year, is now reaping the rewards.

While Australia’s economy is lumbering back to trend growth, New Zealand is enjoying a boom, its economy predicted to grow 4 per cent this year and 3 per cent next without pushing up inflation. The country’s unemployment rate is projected to fall to 4.4 per cent during the next few years as ours hovers around 6 per cent.

Apart from a bloated public sector and a wellspring of whingeing, what does Australia get for its vastly more indulgent public spending? Much higher taxes, for one thing. The marginal income rate most Australians will pay from July — 34.5 per cent — will be higher even than New Zealand’s top 33 per cent rate, which makes a mockery of our 49 per cent top rate, which will be higher than China’s and France’s.

It hasn’t made us happier. Even rising interest rates have been unable to dent record high confidence levels among New Zealand households and businesses, while Australians’ mood has oscillated between gloomy and indifferent for months.

Nor has it much improved our lives. Genuine poverty is not obviously higher in New Zealand than Australia.

Indeed, the UN’s Human Development Index, which compares living standards across 186 countries, puts both Australia and New Zealand in the top 10.

Our handout fetish has comprehensively ruined some markets: the cost of childcare is much lower in New Zealand despite the per capita public subsidies there being seven times smaller.

To be fair, English didn’t inherit the mess in 2008 Joe Hockey has today. New Zealand came close to bankruptcy in the 1980s, forcing its then Labour government to make drastic free market reforms that make Hawke-Keating Labor seem timid, and which Helen Clark’s government broadly respected.

Swaths of regulation and practically all corporate subsidies were abolished, and social spending was curbed substantially. New Zealand lost its car industry in the late 80s.

What English did inherit, however, was a population less spoiled by handouts and more accepting of the need for dramatic reform to improve long-term prosperity.

Australia is still much richer on paper than New Zealand but it wasn’t always. Australia’s welfare and tax habit will increase the chance of history repeating itself.


Vegetation-clearing curbs in fire-prone regions to be eased

Greenies trumped

Residents in bushfire-prone regions of NSW will be given greater scope to clear vegetation close to homes to reduce fire risks under laws proposed by the Baird government.

Households will be allowed to clear trees with 10 metres and shrubs and other vegetation within 50 metres of their homes.

"We’re putting people before trees," Premier Mike Baird told reporters in Sydney on Thursday. "This is empowering individuals."

The laws were first mooted late last year after bushfires in the Blue Mountains in October destroyed more than 200 homes and damaged more than 100 others. They also come as the prospects of an El Nino weather event in the Pacific increase; the resulting dry, warm conditions would raise the chances of another early and busy fire season.  

"We have worked closely with the (Rural Fire Service) to develop these new rules which will empower landowners who are taking responsibility for minimising the fuel loads near their homes – a key fire prevention goal," Mr Baird said.

A report following the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria by Philip Gibbons from the Australian National University found that clearing trees and shrubs within 40 metres of homes was the most effective method of fuel reduction.

Ross Bradstock, from the University of Wollongong’s Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires, said land clearing could be beneficial in reducing the threat fires pose to houses but only if residents avoid planting gardens that nullified the benefits.

"There’s certainly evidence that clearing of this kind can contribute to a significant reduction of risk," Professor Bradstock said. "However, things like garden design particularly close into the house - which are not necessarily captured by this [policy] - can be very, very important."

RFS Deputy Commissioner Rob Rogers welcomed the new laws: "We need to ensure the community is as prepared as possible for bushfire and these changes will give residents the flexibility they need to clear their property from bushfire risk."


Trent Penman, a senior research scientist at the Wollongong centre, agreed that vegetation clearing near homes could reduce the risk of a second ignition source other than from ember attack.

Land clearing, though, has the potential to destabilise slopes and ridges, creating other threats to properties, particularly in the Blue Mountains, Ku-ring-gai Chase and the Illawarra Escarpment region near Wollongong.

"You might remove the trees but then you end up with unstable land surface that might slip under heavy rain," Dr Penman said. While ridge-tops could be undermined, "at the bottom of the ridge you don’t want things falling on your head, either", he said.

Councils and the RFS could also find themselves with additional monitoring roles without the extra resources needed to manage them. "It will create a lot of extra work for them," Dr Penman said.

The RFS's Mr Rogers said residents would be able to identify whether clearing posed any land-slip risks from maps that will be made available once the laws are passed.

He said that there was "no silver bullet" when it comes to reducing fire risks and residents in bushfire prone areas should continue to keep in contact with their local RFS unit and maintain a bushfire survival plan.

Threatened communities, species

Greg Banks, a former RFS staffer and now the bushfire policy officer for the NSW Nature Conservation Council, said the loosening of clearing rules could make communities less prepared.

"Under the existing process, it requires people to engage with the RFS so that they come out and have a look at their property before issuing a hazard-reduction certicate to clear,"  Mr Banks said.

Contact with fire experts can also assist homeowners to identify evacuation routes and even the preservation of some vegetation that might now be cleared, he said. "Some vegetation can prove very useful in providing a barrier to embers."

Tensions may also increase among residents of areas fringing bushland, such as Hornsby, Mosman and the Sutherland shire, many of whom have chosen to live in those regions because of the natural environment.

"Are they going to be do something on those properties because their neighbours already have?," Mr Banks said.

The Greens said the new laws would also give a "carte blanche" to the destruction of sensitive native habitat.

"Trees and scrub are essential vegetation for native animals, especially as effects of climate change continue to take place, so it is essential to retain oversight over clearing," said Greens MP and environment spokesperson Mehreen Faruqi .


Malcolm Turnbull saves Peppa Pig's bacon

Peppa Pig's head is off the chopping block, according to communications minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The communications minister has quelled fears the beloved children's show is bound for the abattoir, tweeting that the popular pig is safe from proposed ABC downsizing.

"Contrary to media rumours, Peppa's is one snout we are happy to have in the ABC trough," he wrote.

Fans of the pink pig panicked when ABC managing director Mark Scott warned the corporation couldn't guarantee Peppa's future beyond existing contracts.

"The services we provide depend on the funding envelope," he told a Senate estimates hearing on Wednesday.

Some have since pitted Peppa against some of the ABC's more expensive recruits, such as Q&A host Tony Jones, while a Facebook page entitled "Save Peppa Pig on ABC Australia" has also surfaced.

Treasurer Joe Hockey said he wasn't a fan of Peppa, even though some of his children were.

"Given in our household I've watched so many bad episodes of Peppa Pig, I'm not a fan," he told the Today show on Thursday.

He said the ABC had not produced an efficiency dividend for up to 15 years, while every other area of government had.

Under the Abbott Government's budget, the public broadcaster's funding has been trimmed by one per cent over the next four years.

To complain about a one per cent cut was "frankly ridiculous", Mr Hockey said.

It's not the first time Peppa has courted controversy. In 2013, columnist Piers Ackerman accused the program of pushing "a weird feminist line".


Thursday, May 29, 2014


A media report below makes a key admission followed by inside info from Larry Pickering

Video shows tense meeting before Manus Island riot

Asylum seekers already angry about the uncertainty they faced were repeatedly told they would remain in Manus Island's overcrowded detention centre indefinitely at an incendiary pre-riot meeting, footage obtained exclusively by Fairfax Media shows.

The meeting brought to a head tensions that had simmered for months over the failure to process claims for refugee status and was a catalyst for the violence that began less than two hours later, culminating in the killing of Reza Barati.

Nearly two hours of video chart the meeting's descent into combative chaos as detainees vented their frustrations on PNG and Australian officials, who delivered scripted answers that underscored the hopelessness of the detainees' situation.

Five times PNG immigration official Jeffrey Kiangali told the detainees assessing their asylum claims would be a "very lengthy process" with "no definite timeframe".

He also repeatedly stressed they were "free to go home" any time, but if they chose to stay, they would be stuck in the detention camp "for as long as it takes to process your claims". His answers to questions put by the detainees at a meeting 12 days earlier were written by Australian and PNG immigration officials.

Mr Kiangali told the detainees from Mike Compound who gathered for the meeting that any misbehaviour might affect their refugee claims, a suggestion refugee lawyers said was inappropriate.

Mr Kiangali said: "Your behaviour and conduct at this centre will also be taken into consideration during your refugee status determination process."

In protests that followed, some of the detainees taunted PNG nationals outside the centre with slurs that were used to justify the retribution that followed, but in the meeting one Iranian stressed that their grievance was not with PNG people. "We just talk about your government, not your people," the man declared. "Your people are really lovely and we love them but, the thing is, your government shouldn't accept this."

According to the departmental inquiry headed by Robert Cornall, the meeting brought the tensions that had ben building to flashpoint, with detainees believing they would be on Manus Island for up to four years.

"The transferees felt that, after waiting for 12 days (for answers to questions), they were given no information at the Sunday meeting and that their questions had not been satisfactorily answered," the report concluded.

The meeting also underscores that many asylum seekers were simply upset they had been transferred to PNG when they wanted to come to Australia.

Daniel Webb, of the Human Rights Law Centre, said: "Refugees have rights. The governments of Australia and PNG must respect them instead of threatening to ignore them unless people are completely and utterly compliant whilst being detained indefinitely in inhumane conditions."

It is understood the video has been submitted to a Senate inquiry by security firm G4S.


Who was Reza Berati?

... a report from someone who was there

Well, he certainly wasn’t an “asylum seeker” or a “refugee”, as the ABC continually refers to him as. He was a well-heeled Iranian illegal immigrant who was beguiled by the promise of a land of milk and honey where people are actually paid not to work.

The ABC claimed to have a graphic inside story of how he was killed... sufficiently graphic to incite thousands to protest across Australia demanding Morrison’s head on a plate.

Of course the ABC and Fairfax didn’t remind anyone that reopening Manus Island was Kevin Rudd’s idea.

And not a single protester was to be seen when reports surfaced that 1200 “asylum seekers” had drowned. Oh yes, I remember, that happened under their Labor Government didn’t it?

Information received by Pickering Post this morning differs somewhat from the sketchy ABC report and is not included in the Cornall report.

To be fair, the information is from a local and it cannot be verified, but nor could the inflammatory ABC report.

“That Berati bastard was the ringleader, he was the one who started the riot”, said the informant. “When the New Guinea security guys of G4S got to the compound, the inmates began throwing rocks and chairs and tried to light fires. They were yelling insults and stuff, that’s when it all got out of hand.”

According to the informant, Berati was well known to security, he was the one they were after, it was he who had led the chanting that had been intimidating the guards for weeks. The chanting went as follows (excuse the language):

“AIDS pigs, we’ll fuck your mother, we’ll fuck your wife, we’ll fuck your sister and rape your daughter.”

When the G4S guards arrived they were met with a hail of rocks, stones and chairs. “I was only looking on but that’s when the guards broke through the fence. It was clear to me that they were only looking for Berati but he had taken off into his unit and was hiding under the bed.” (The ABC report said he was sitting in the computer room.)

“I didn’t see them kill him but they were yelling his name and seemed intent on getting him.”

Many other inmates were injured but the fatal injuries sustained by Berati indicated he was specifically targeted.

“It had been brewing for weeks”, said the informant. “It was Berati who had tried to get everyone to the riot, but only a hundred or so joined him. And many of the injured were innocent bystanders.

"When they carried Berati out you could see from his head wounds he wasn’t going to make it.

    “No-one will convince me that they didn’t especially go after him.”

Now, it’s easy to understand Berati’s frustration but perhaps he was not the innocent faced victim that his family and the ABC portrayed him as.

(The informant claims he has already spoken to the ABC but his account of what happened was ignored.)

Bias by omission is the ABC’s MO.


ALP Gonski plan unaffordable: Abbott

PRIME minister Tony Abbott has labelled the previous government's school reforms "pie-in-the-sky", saying Australia can't afford a back-down on Gonski funding.

Mr Abbott has been greeted by around 100 pro-Gonski protesters on his arrival for a media conference in Hobart on Thursday.

The protest came a day after David Gonski broke his silence on the system he helped design under the former Labor government.

He accused the current government of abandoning needs-based funding after the federal budget dumped $30 billion in funding proposed for schools in 2018 and 2019.

"I'm certainly not committing to a permanent massive increase at the same level of the former government because it's those sorts of pie-in-the-sky promises that got us into the problem in the first place," Mr Abbott told reporters.

But the prime minister said schools funding was not being cut and would continue to increase over the next four years.

"We are continuing to increase funding, it's just that we are not continuing to increase it at the rate of the former government's promises," he said.

Protesters from the Australian Education Union demanded the full six-year allocation for the Gonski reforms, chanting: "What do we want? Six years."

Mr Abbott said funding would increase "dramatically" for three years and at a slower rate in year four.

"I respect the sincerity of the people out the front, they obviously want the best for their kids and for their community's schools," he said.

"We all want the best but getting better schools is not just about money."

Mr Gonski said the coalition's decision to increase commonwealth funding to schools by the rate of inflation from 2018 would be to Australia's detriment.

"I sincerely hope that in the period between now and 2017 the federal government will change the presently budgeted position," he said.

Earlier, junior minister Steve Ciobo claimed the money Labor had offered was never really available.

"The out years (from 2018) ... was nothing more than an aspiration and in fact would never have been funded by the Labor party because they did not have the money," Mr Ciobo told ABC radio on Thursday.

"We hope by tightening the budget now we will be in a position where we can perhaps provide additional support to health and to education."

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten gave the Abbott government "an F for effort and an F for outcome".

"What a lazy, reckless, indifferent mob of swindlers this government are when they say we're not going to have anything more to do with the funding of schools," he told reporters in Melbourne.


George Brandis forced to rethink discrimination act changes

Attorney-General George Brandis is preparing to water down a controversial plan to scrap sections of the Racial Discrimination Act that restrict racist insults and hate speech, after an avalanche of [Leftist] submissions signalled concerns over the changes.

And two Liberal MPs who supported scrapping section 18C of the act have admitted the government needs to rethink proposed changes.

Several MPs confirmed that, as one put it, "there hasn't been a word whispered about it" in recent weeks, while several speculated the law changes could be "parked" for months as the government grapples with a fierce budget backlash and a big drop in popular support.

Fairfax Media has learned Senator Brandis is working to further wind back the proposed changes, amid a ferocious grassroots community campaign that Labor MPs have quickly tapped into.

The Attorney-General was forced by the cabinet in March to soften his original plans amid a welter of protest from Coalition MPs in marginal electorates, some of whom represent large ethnic communities.

The proposed changes to the draft legislation by Senator Brandis have not been finalised and will not be put to cabinet for at least a month.

But it is understood a broad exemption from prosecution in the draft for "words, sounds, images or writing spoken, broadcast, published or otherwise communicated in … the public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter" could be watered down after a storm of community protest.

Similarly, a limitation in the draft definition of "intimidate" to "cause fear of physical harm" could also be broadened to include verbal bullying.

Some community groups have also argued against the proposed removal of provisions making it unlawful to "offend, insult and humiliate" someone because of their race or ethnicity.

Senator Brandis said on Tuesday he was working through the 5300 submissions and the government "didn't have a consultation period with the intention of not listening to what people have to say".

"There is a large variety of views from all points of the opinion spectrum and we will take into consideration all of those views and we will arrive at a final proposal," he said.

NSW Liberal MP Alex Hawke, who has been a supporter of scrapping section 18C, admitted on Tuesday that changes needed to be made to the draft laws.

"We need to start again. I don't want see journalists prosecuted for offending [and] ethnic community leaders are making a compelling case that any reforms have to be very carefully handled," he said.

Fellow NSW MP Craig Kelly, who has also previously supported repeal of 18C, said he still supported doing something but "the detail of the legislation, there are perhaps one or two words that could be moved around. I don't think the first draft that George has done is locked in concrete and I think everyone is flexible about changes to the proposed wording".

A third MP, who also initially supported the changes, said he had been swamped by ethnic community leaders lobbying against the changes.

"I support protecting journalists but I'm now convinced the politics go well beyond that," the MP said.

However, Liberal senator Cory Bernardi said he still supported the proposals.

"Some principles are worth fighting for. I happen to believe freedom of speech is one of those principles," he said.

On Tuesday night, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told an Australian Federation of Islamic Councils dinner that "any move to weaken protections against hate speech is a seriously retrograde step".


NSW public schools to face random audits, assessments

For the first time, the state's public schools will face random audits and will have to meet the same standards as private schools to ensure staff are qualified, buildings are maintained and the curriculum is being delivered.

In order to operate, private and Catholic schools are required to be registered with the Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards but until now, public schools have only had to answer to the Department of Education. NSW Education Minister Adrian Piccoli will introduce legislation this week which will mean public schools will also have to be independently assessed by the Board of Studies and will undergo random audits.

Mr Piccoli said all schools in NSW, private and public, "should be on the same footing".

"This is not about closing down schools, the point is schools will be given the opportunity to fix problems," he said.

"As Minister for Education for all NSW schools, it makes sense that the same standards are met by all schools in NSW."

Mr Piccoli said it was also not about targeting principals.

"Principals can be sacked now, so this doesn't change that, this is about external validation," Mr Piccoli said.

The audits would be checking for such things as classrooms being fire compliant, all staff having appropriate university qualifications and working with children checks and the maintenance of enrolment registers.

Audits would also check that schools were recording student achievement and keeping up-to-date attendance records. He said the checks would also ensure that schools were operating within their development approval.

"One example would be an independent school which had 2000 students but only had DA approval for 1500 … they had to fix that and that's the sort of thing we would be looking at with public schools," Mr Piccoli said.

The new registration process would not be "burdensome" for public schools but the "external validation" process would ensure they met the same standards as independent schools are required to meet.

NSW public schools will need to comply with the same requirements as non-government schools by the end of next year.

The acting president of the NSW Teachers Federation, Gary Zadkovich, said there had been no consultation.

"We don't have any of the details of the changes made by the minister," Mr Zadkovich said.


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Green anti-coal seam gas activists at work

Anti-gas activist’s Bentley camp relies on gas cylinders, six drums of diesel and electric generator. Go figure.

Less than a week after a council vowed to shut down a large anti-coal seam gas protest camp in the state's north and promised police would be called in to send it packing, the activists have been told they can stay.

The Bentley camp, near Lismore, is a temporary home to between hundreds and thousands of people, depending on the day.

It was established in February on private land adjacent to the site where Metgasco plans to begin exploratory drilling for gas.

Richmond Valley Council announced last Wednesday the camp's approval would expire at the end of that week and not be renewed due to its burgeoning numbers, the length of time it had been there, and the "ongoing breach of many of the approval conditions".

The mayor, Ernie Bennett, said police would be required "for sure" to move the campers on.

But on Thursday morning, Mr Bennett said the protesters would not be moved, despite their occupation of the land being "illegal".

"I don't think it would be appropriate to remove them at this point," he said.

"Council is working with them to put an appropriate DA [development application] before council."

The Greens have said the police should not be used to break the protest.

“The NSW Police Force should not be used as private security to allow a coal seam gas company to force its way into a community that has overwhelmingly rejected the presence of gas fields in the Northern Rivers,” Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham said this week.


Australian Muslim marries off his 12-year-old daughter

THE father of a 12-year-old child bride advised her to only have unprotected sex after he organised for her to wed an older man in an Islamic ceremony, court papers claim.

In a case that has shocked the nation, the girl’s 61-year-old Muslim convert father was charged with procuring his young daughter for sex and being an accessory before the fact to child sex after consenting to her “marrying” a 26-year-old man.

The girl’s “husband” was charged with 25 counts of sexual intercourse with a child after he wed the girl in the living room of her Hunter Region family home on January 12.

They had met at a mosque through the girl’s father, who police allege facilitated the ­relationship by allowing them to exchange phone numbers and letting them meet three times before they were wed.

The matter was yesterday mentioned in Burwood Local Court, where the man and the girl’s father were expected to enter a plea. However the magistrate was told the parties needed more time to negotiate with authorities.

For the first time, The Daily Telegraph was granted access to court papers filed in support of a successful AVO application brought by police against the girl’s father earlier this year. The court papers claim that on the day of the wedding her father gave the girl sexual advice.

“The advice was that she should not use the contraceptive pill nor should (her husband) wear a condom when they have sexual intercourse,” the papers said.

The pair stayed at a motel in Nelson Bay on their wedding night and had sex several times that night, police allege.

They then moved into a home in southwest Sydney but visited her father’s home five times before the 26-year-old Lebanese international student was arrested in February.

Her father even organised a queen size bed for the pair and on one occasion allegedly asked the girl if she needed to shower before morning prayers. The girl, now 13, told him she did need to shower.

“The (girl) indicated that this is how the defendant would have known that (they) were engaged in sexual intercourse,” the papers claim. It is a requirement of Islam to ­shower after sex and before commencing prayer, the girl allegedly told police.

Asked about having knowledge of his daughter having sex he said: “It’s not something I want to think about.”

When the father was first told by police that the husband had been arrested he allegedly said “but they are married”.

The AVO application claims the father told police his main concern was his daughter was not committing “a sin against god” by having sex outside marriage, and he consented to the marriage because she was beginning to “become excited around boys” and he didn’t want her to live “a sinful life”.

Asked if he would allow his eight-year-old daughter to marry at 12, police allege the man said he would, to prevent the “sin” of sex ­before marriage.

The girl and her sister are now in Department of Community Services care.

The imam who performed the ceremony, Muhammad Riaz Tasawar, 35, was fined $500 after pleading guilty to solemnising the marriage.

The 26-year-old man is being held at Villawood ­Detention Centre after his visa was cancelled and the father is in custody. They will face court again in June.


Labor frontbencher Tony Burke’s bizarre request to free notorious Villawood detainee

A SENIOR member of Bill Shorten’s shadow cabinet has written to the Abbott government on behalf of a woman asking that a convicted Nigerian drug dealer now charged with running an international drug ring from Sydney’s Villawood ­Immigration Detention Centre be released.

The Daily Telegraph has learned the manager of opposition business Tony Burke, a former immigration minister, wrote to the immigration minister last month on behalf of a constituent who wanted the man, Drichuckuv Nweke, released into community detention for family reasons.

At the time the letter was sent, Mr Nweke, 39, was being held at Villawood IDC since being released from prison in 2011 following a conviction in 2005 for importing 2kg of cocaine into Australia.

His spousal visa was cancelled but he successfully appealed against his deportation, citing the welfare of his young son.

Mr Nweke has since been re-arrested by NSW police and charged with new offences, including claims he was running an international drug ring from inside the Villawood IDC using his mobile phone. It is alleged he was involved in a transnational syndicate alleged to have imported 5kg of cocaine from South America and 140kg of ice.

Mr Nweke’s partner, a constituent of Mr Burke, the member for Watson, had asked the MP to write to the minister on her behalf, claiming she needed her partner at home to help care for their child.

Mr Burke wrote to Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on March 20 on behalf of the woman. The letter was received by the Department of Immigration on April 10.

Mr Burke last night denied his letter constituted a representation on the woman’s behalf and was simply a letter to the minister outlining her request. He said he was not aware of Mr Nweke’s past, adding the letter did not constitute any request by Mr Burke for his release.

On ABC radio this morning Mr Burke said it was “completely wrong” to suggest he argued for Nweke’s release.

“All that letter says is someone has presented to my office and this is what they said,” Mr Burke said.

“There are some occasions where the member of parliament takes up the issue themselves, there are some occasions where the member of parliament actually backs in the character of an individual.

“This letter does not do that.” Mr Burke said the department’s response, outlining Nweke’s criminal history, had found its way into the media before arriving at his office, suggesting the government was trying to distract attraction from its unpopular budget

The Department of Immigration drafted a terse response to Mr Burke’s request, pointing out that Mr Nweke’s criminal history had been widely publicised. The letter, dated May 25 and obtained by The Daily Telegraph, is believed to have been sent to Mr Burke’s office late last week.

“…I draw your attention to media reports of July 27, 2011 indicating that Mr Nweke was convicted of drug importation and, as a result, his spouse visa was cancelled under s501 of the Migration Act 1958 on 21 April 2011,” It also stated. “More recently, media reports of May 2, 2014 state Mr Nweke appeared at a Sydney court on May 1, 2014 to face charges in relation to the importation and distribution of a marketable quantity of cocaine.”


Gutless Queensland Government allow 'special people' a special exemption in the name of multiculturalism

The law in Australia only works when it applies to all people equally.  So to allow an exemption for a small group for fear of offence shows how spineless many in politics in this country have become.

The Queensland government has rejected a push by independents and minor parties to force Muslim women to remove their burqas or veils to prove their identity.

The bill, introduced by the independent MP for Nicklin, Peter Wellington, would have allowed lawyers, police, prison officers, justices of the peace and other “persons of responsibility” to require a person to remove any face covering to establish their identity.

The bill is more than reasonable. Officers of the law MUST be able to identify an individual to confirm who they are or are not.

Queensland Attorney General, Jarrod Bleijie showed how unfit he is for the job when he ran to the dumbest argument in the book to reject this ...multiculturalism : "The government believes in a multicultural Queensland. This government respects the rights of its citizens and individuals to practise the religion that they so choose,”

No-one is debating religion. The burqa is a cultural garment and not one required by the Islamic religion.

The women wearing it do it by choice or because their husband insists.

In NSW, we went through all of this 4 years ago when Carnita Matthews, used the fact that her Face and identity was obscured by her burqa to dodge 6-months in gaol for lying to police.

She'd played the "you can't see my face because of my religion" card with a Highway Patrol officer and then accused him of being racist when he tried to enforce the law.

Then the court found that no-one could be sure she was who she was underneath - all because she didn't have to co-operate.

The law has since been changed in favour of the common good.

And that's what it's meant to be about ... the common good.

Attorney General Jarrod Bleijie is a fool who just made the job of enforcing the law in his State that bit harder.


Tuesday, May 27, 2014


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is pleased that the limp security at Parliament House is being tested.


University of Queensland (UoQ) stumbles into self-inflicted ethical dilemma by issuing legal threats to block scrutiny of a celebrated but now discredited global warming study. The infamous  "97 percent  consensus" paper created by cartoonist and self-styled climate expert, John Cook,  on behalf of UoQ has been shown to be fraudulent after independent analysis.

An open letter addressed to the university from lawyer, Rud Istvan JD, on behalf of the public interest details how it betrayed its own openness policy in what appears to be a self-serving ploy to avert exposure and ridicule. Istvan’s letter to UoQ in full below:

Prof. Alistair McEwan, Acting-Pro-Vice Chancellor, University of Queensland

Ms. Jane Malloch, Esq. Head Research Legal, University of Queensland

Mr. Graham Lloyd, Environmental Editor, The Australian

Prof. Richard Tol,  University of Sussex


Prof. McEwan:

On May 20, 2014, you issued a formal statement concerning the controversy published byThe Australian on 5/17/14 surrounding Cook et. al, 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 024024, ‘Quantifying the Consensus’, hereinafter QtC. That statement presents the University of Queensland (UQ) with an ethical and legal dilemma. I call your attention to it expecting UQ will do the right thing.

Your statement makes it quite clear that UQ considers QtC was done under the sponsorship of and with support from UQ. This is indisputable. The solicitation for volunteer raters for the analysis that became QtC was: UQ released a statement about the importance of QtC in the UQ News on January 16, 2014 headlined, “UQ climate change paper has the whole world talking.”

Your 5/20/14 statement said in part:

“Only information that might be used to identify the individual research participants was withheld. This was in accordance with University ethical approval specifying that the identity of participants should remain confidential.”

And that is precisely your dilemma.

The published paper itself identified all the individual research participants (raters). They were either named authors (with affiliations provided, for example second author Dana Nuccitelli affiliated with UQ associated website SKS, as noted in UQ’s 1/20/14 news release, or were specifically named without affiliation in the paper’s acknowledgement. Lest you doubt this, following is that portion of the paper as originally published.

Your dilemma is this. If the UQ ethical approval exists as you officially stated, then the paper as published grossly violated it. QtC is therefore unethical according to UQ policy, and should be withdrawn forthwith.

We need not cite here all the governing Australian principles that UQ is obligated to follow under such unfortunate circumstances. Those include but are not limited to

There is 2014 retraction precedent concerning another unethical climate related paper from the University of Western Australia. If, on the other hand, there was no such ethical approval, or that approval did not require concealing rater identities, then you have officially misrepresented grossly invalid grounds for withholding the anonymized additional information needed for replication, such as date and time stamped ratings by anonymous rater. Said information has repeatedly, formally been requested by Prof. Richard S.J. Tol (Sussex University (U.K.), and an IPCC AR5 lead author) for his legitimate research purposes concerning what UQ said is a seminal paper. That data should still exist, and should be provided to Prof. Tol under UQ Policy 4.20.06a §8.2 and §9.1 (as last approved 11/28/13).

Either way, you and UQ both appear in a very bad light. It appears that UQ congratulates itself on gross ethical breaches (especially when basking in so much notoriety), while at the same time withholding anonymized primary data underlying a self admitted important research paper in contravention of UQ written research data policy. Either retract the admittedly unethical paper, or retract the grossly mistaken excuse and release the requested data to Tol.

I note in passing there is a third possibility, to wit Tol’s requested data does not exist. In which case, QtC should be retracted for being unsupportable if not also unethical. As you are probably aware, there have been many recent instances of unsupportable research subsequently retracted. These include but are not limited to papers from Ike Antkare in 2010, and many recent papers from the SCIgen group (which interestingly bears surficial similarities to SKS) now being retracted by Springer and by IEEE. Those two precedents may be particularly germane to UQ’s instant dilemma.

This letter is as copyrighted as those Ms. Malloch writes concerning this matter on UQ behalf. You and anyone else in the whole wide world are hereby granted permission to freely reproduce it in whole or in part. I suspect some may.

I look forward to whichever decision (retraction or data provision) you think best for UQ under the aforesaid circumstances.

Sincerely yours, s/s

Rud Istvan, Esq., JD/MBA


Medical body not interested in the scientific facts when it comes to wind turbine noise

Australian Medical Association rebuked by leading acoustics expert, Dr Bruce Rapley, for their latest “cherry-picked” assessment of the dangers of noise emissions from wind farms.

In a comprehensive and worrying letter of rebuttal Dr Rapley accuses AMA of turning a deaf ear on the best science on the biological reception of low-frequency sound. Principia Scientific International herein publishes Dr Rapley’s letter to demonstrate how AMA is lying by omission to the general public about the health impacts of wind turbines.

28 March 2014

Dr Steve Hambleton, President,

Prof. Geoffrey Dobb, Vice-President,

Australian Medical Association,

P.O.  Box 6090,

KINGSTON, A.C.T.  2604

Dear Dr Hambleton, Professor Dobb and AMA members,

I recently became aware of your position statement on wind farms and health dated 14 March, 2014.

I have to say that this public statement has given me great concern with respect to a number of points which I will outline for you.

Your opening statement:

“Wind turbine technology is considered a comparatively inexpensive and effective means of energy production. ”

This raises a number of issues that I feel are inappropriate for a medical organisation to comment on.  Firstly, line one is a statement regarding the economics of wind turbines which has no place in a statement regarding potential health effects.  It is not within your organisation’s professional competence to comment on economic matters and to do so raises questions regarding your credibility and apparent bias.  How would your organisation feel about the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) making statements about medical practice?

Secondly, your position statement then passes comment on acoustic immissions:

“Wind turbines generate sound, including infrasound, which is very low frequency noise that is generally inaudible to the human ear.”

To the best of my knowledge, medical practitioners are not generally known for their skill or expertise in acoustics, other than that directly associated with audiometry.  To pass comment on areas beyond your knowledge is dangerous and leaves you wide open to serious challenge.  Purporting to be experts in areas outside of medicine does not serve your credibility well.

The statement goes on to comment on infrasound, comparing immissions from different sources, yet lacking any sort of scientific credibility because of the significant lack of detailed evidence.  Rather, the statements are reckless generalisations that provide no basis for comparison, let alone comprehension, other than in the broadest sense.

“Infrasound is ubiquitous in the environment, emanating from natural sources (e.g.  wind, rivers) and from artificial sources including road traffic, ventilation systems, aircraft and other machinery.”

Such broad comparisons do not enhance scientific debate and offer little enlightenment to the uninformed, rather, they are more likely to mislead due to their lack of specificity.  It is a well-established fact that low frequency and infrasound immissions from industrial wind turbines differ significantly in a number of critical ways, compared to natural sources like wind and water.  Further,  man-made sources such as road traffic all differ significantly from natural sources of infrasound.  The most significant difference relates to the amplitude modulation of the signal due to blade pass frequency.  This phenomenon is not apparent in natural or many other man-made sources: your comparison is without scientific foundation.

Next you appear to have become experts in engineering:

 “All modern wind turbines in Australia are designed to be upwind, with the blade in front of the tower.  These upwind turbines generate much lower levels of infrasound and low frequency sound.”

The first statement is factual.  The second statement leaves out an important fact; when turbulent air is fed into the ‘modern’ upwind-bladed industrial turbines, they can generate significant quantities of infrasound and low-frequency noise.  This was established in 1989 in Hawaii by NASA researchers Hubbard and Shepherd.  Turbulence resulting from wind turbines being installed too close together, without complying with the international standard for turbine separation distances, is thought to be contributing to the infrasound and low-frequency noise problems at number of Australian wind development sites. Based on the evidence, it would not be unreasonable for the general public to assume that wind developers and turbine manufacturers are more concerned with maximising profit and income from renewable energy certificates (RECS) than from achieving engineering efficiency and safeguarding public health. 

While the profit motive is an integral part of normal, accepted business practice, profiteering at the expense of public health is unacceptable.  When profit overrides public health and well being of the general public, in the face of clear scientific/medical evidence, the practice is doubly damnable and ethically indefensible.  To quote the obvious:  “The devil is in the detail”.  The fact that upwind industrial turbines create sounds that affect animals and humans is abundantly obvious and to compare this version of industrial wind turbine to older technology is of no benefit to those who suffer from the acoustic immissions from the current machines.

Your second paragraph alludes to such ‘devils’.  While you state that:

“Infrasound levels in the vicinity of wind farms have been measured and compared to a number of urban and rural environments away from wind farms.  The results of these measurements have shown that in rural residences both near to and far away from wind turbines, both indoor and outdoor infrasound levels are well below the perception threshold, and no greater than that experienced in other rural and urban environments.”

the reality is that these statements misrepresent the facts.  In essence, what you have done is to ‘cherry-pick’ the data.  Further,  your statement leads the reader to believe that as long as sound levels are below conscious, and perhaps audible perception, there is no problem.  This could not be further from the truth.

A significant problem with the determination of environmental noise relates to the inappropriate use of the A-weighting, still so commonly applied.  As it significantly underestimates frequencies below 1,000 Hz and above 3,500 Hz this negates its usefulness in measuring low frequency and infrasound.  The point should be obvious.  Unfortunately regulation so often lags behind scientific knowledge.

Medicine, while based on a good deal of science, remains, as practiced, an ART.  The reason for this is that the practice of medicine involves human beings.  Human beings are not simply a collection of chemicals, cells and tissues, randomly existing in the biosphere.  Rather they are sentient beings that are subject to multiple stimulatory mechanisms.  This is one instance where a holistic viewpoint is nearer the truth than the traditional reductionist viewpoint.  The consequence of this view needs further elaboration which you have chosen to omit . . .

The scientific method is something which is much talked about, but little understood, even by some scientists!  The fact of the matter is that science begins with observation.  This observation then gives rise to a question: how is that so?  What caused that? How does that work?  How did that happen?

The question, which usually has some practical relevance, leads to the creation of a ‘model’ of the ‘how’.  That model is referred to as the hypothesis.  And of course a hypothesis leads to the development of a testing methodology to see if it can be used to explain the facts.  The testing usually takes place in a controlled environment where the idea (hypothesis) is put to test by way of practical experiments.  With good design, these should attempt to limit the number of variables (things that can be manipulated/changed) and keep all other factors the same.  In an ideal world, a control situation could be used to compare the test circumstances to the ‘normal’ condition. 

A perfect example is a drug trial.  Subjects would be randomly assigned (so as not to bias the results) to one of two groups.  One group would receive the ‘test substance’ while the other, the control group, would receive a placebo.  That is, they would receive a substance (for example a pill) but it would be inactive, that is, lacking the chemical species under test.  The strength of the findings is further enhanced if the experimenter and the subjects are both blinded as to who got the real drug.  That is the basis of the modern scientific method.

Another perfectly legitimate and accepted method of study for obtaining comparative data is that of the case crossover design, where people act as their own controls.  This design is used to demonstrate a causal relationship in situations like allergic reactions to some foods and particular drugs, for example.  People living with industrial wind turbines are conducting this experiment all the time.  They go away, and notice their symptoms ameliorate.  They come back home, and under certain predictable wind and weather conditions, their symptoms recur.  This is a clear demonstration, using the scientific method, of a direct and causal relationship between exposure and response.  This is why some doctors are advising their patients to move away.  It is clear that the exposure to wind turbine noise is damaging their patient’s health, and there is nothing else they can suggest.

A common mistake, when selecting scientific data, relates to a process of choosing what to include.  When selection bias exists in data selection, this is colloquially known as ‘cherry-picking’.  When this occurs, it necessarily introduces a bias that affects the results.  This is apparent from your statement above relating to human perception of sound.  If you scan the literature more widely, then a plethora of papers appear which contradict the basis of your argument.  To only present one side of the argument is to short-change the readers and the general public. It also facilitates the generation of false impressions.

To return to the scientific method for a moment: when an observation has been made; a question arisen;  a hypothesis created; a series of experiments formulated to test the hypothesis and ultimately the results analysed, there are two relevant tests that need to be applied.  First, the results have to either support or reject the hypothesis.  That means that the hypothesis needs to be able to be falsified and results obtained which are relevant to support or rejection the hypothesis’s claim.  Variables need to be measurable. 

The second test, and equally important, is that the consequences of the results, i.e.  acceptance or rejection of the hypothesis, have to be consistent with what is already known.  To take an example: If the results of an experiment lead to the conclusion that the ‘conservation of momentum’ did not always occur, then there would be a great deal of concern.  Physicists are most unlikely to let go of such a well-supported observation as the conservation of momentum.  So, the new findings of an experiment have to fit with our existing reality.

In order to fit with our current reality, or paradigm, there needs to be both internal (within the experiment) and external (in relation to what is already generally known and accepted) consistency to be valid.  This is not to say that one day we might not reject the generally accepted view of the conservation of momentum, only that there would need to be extraordinary evidence to cause us to reach that conclusion.

What assists us with comprehending new knowledge and integrating it into our existing understanding of how the universe works is the existence of a mechanism.  That is, a way in which we can explain the circumstances we discover through our experiment within the current bounds of knowledge.  For your stance to be accepted, there would need to be not only no evidence to the contrary, but also the lack of any understandable mechanism of action.  Neither are in fact the case.

Many scientific papers expound the observation that stimuli below conscious perception do, in a number of instances, result in physiological response.  This is the case for the effects of low frequency and infrasound, and was noted by Kelley 1987, Chen, Qibai & Shi 2004, Swinbanks 2012, and Schomer 2013  in addition to the work of Professor Salt, a leading neurophysiologist working in this area.   Further, there are many plausible mechanisms to explain how sub-conscious perception threshold stimuli may interact with living organisms.  The old notion that perception is the threshold above which biological effects occur is not only out-dated, it is a non-sequitur.  Take x-rays for example, they are not readily consciously perceivable yet can be quite harmful.  Light is in a similar category.  Sound is another physical phenomenon that does not need conscious perception to be received by an organism or for that organism to react.

The work of Professor Alec Salt has done much in recent years to elucidate theory on the biological reception of low-frequency sound, complimenting this with extensive laboratory experimentation.  To ignore this work is a travesty and is tantamount to lying by omission to the general public.  It is another example of cherry-picking the data that effectively distorts the final impression.  To add to this work, the research of Dr. Carey Balaban has done much to throw light on the neuronal mechanism of sound reception by the human body.  We now have theory, experimental evidence and empirical observation, all pointing in the same direction.  To blithely ignore such a body of science and come up with a generalisation of ‘no harm’ is not only lying to the general public but supports a point of view that is largely sympathetic to the commercial, industrial profit motive.  This commercial bias has no place in medicine or public health.

The most recent article to come out of  Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, from Professors Salt and Lichtenbaum is worthy of mention here.  Their landmark paper appears in Acoustics Today,  Volume 10, Issue 1,  pp 20-28, Winter 2014.  In their paper: How does wind turbine noise affect people?, they succinctly describe the results of their recent work on the effects of low frequency and infrasound on the cochlea mechanism.  It appears that the roles of the inner and outer hair cells differ in many significant ways.  In particular, the outer hair cells account for only 5 % of the afferent nerve fibres in the acoustic nerve and are of  Type II in comparison to the inner hair cells which equate to 95% of the acoustic nerves and are of Type I.  Further, the inner hair cells, which are largely responsible for the faculty of hearing in the accepted frequency spectrum of 20 to 20,000 Hz, do not touch the tectorial membrane.  They operate by way of transducing movements in the fluid below the membrane into nerve impulses.  The outer hair cells, by contrast, are directly connected to the tectorial membrane and are far more responsive to low frequency and infrasound.

The point that Salt and Lichtenbaum are making is that the energy that enters the ear canal as low frequency and infrasound is readily translated into neural impulses which reach the brain, albeit they may not be consciously interpreted as sound, but they still reach the cognitive engine.   Another critical point concerns their findings that biologically generated amplitude modulated signals occur in the pulse trains of nerve impulses from the inner hair cells as a result of stimulation from a 500 Hz tone summed with 4.8 Hz. (Their Figure 2.)

Their work is a clear demonstration of a biologically-generated modulation to a non-modulated stimulus.  The cochlear microphonic response is generated by the outer hair cells,responding to both the high and low frequency components.  This occurs either by saturation of the mechano-electric transducer or by cyclically changing the mechanical amplification of the high frequencies. Being insensitive to the lower frequencies, the inner hair cells detect only the high frequency component, which is amplitude modulated at twice the infrasound frequency, in their example.  Thus, the inner hair cells essentially ‘see’ the effect of a high-pass filtered version of what the outer hair cells perceive. This is the most clear demonstration of the effect of infrasound on the cochlea.  The biophysics of the ear creates an amplitude-modulated signal from a non-amplitude modulated source of two pure tones.  This is a neurophysiological explanation of the effect reported by subjects who complain of adverse effects from living too close to industrial wind turbine installations.  To ignore such clear evidence is to deny the very substance of the scientific method in favour of a biased commercial approach to public health.

The deliberate exclusion of empirical data, failure to acknowledge existing scientific knowledge and theory is to effectively lie by omission.  Such distortion of reality is to degrade science, medicine and discredit the practitioners of those disciplines.  I take exception to such biased reporting and the distribution of such misinformation.  It is to degrade my profession as a scientist, researcher and consultant.

I urge you and your colleagues to rethink your position with all due speed.  Simply put: do not comment on areas beyond your own boundaries of knowledge.  Do not tell half-truths, present commercially biased information in the name of health care and stop lying directly and by omission to your patients and the public at large.  This matter needs to be urgently addressed to minimise the fallout and retain the respectability that the practice of medicine deserves and the good name of your organisation.

Sincerely yours,

Bruce Rapley BSc, MPhil, PhD.

Principal Consultant,  Acoustics and Human Health,

Atkinson & Rapley Consulting Ltd.


A vision for higher education

Christopher Pyne

With images of protesters – who were strangely quiet for the past six years despite massive cuts to education by the previous government – splashed across the newspapers, many people must be wondering what all the fuss is about.

The Abbott government has a host of new initiatives in education. We are planning to expand opportunities for more people to attend university and we are planning to extend access, particularly for disadvantaged and regional students. Whether through HECS-backed diplomas and pathway courses, or increased support for young people wanting to take up a trade, this government is making it easier to learn than ever.

Our plan massively expands opportunities for Australian apprentices and non-traditional students, ensuring apprentices have access to HECS-style loans of up to $20,000 for everyday costs through new Trade Support Loans. They won’t need to repay a dollar until they earn a decent living, just like university students.

Our plan provides that vocational education and training students – also not at university – will be able to borrow for course fees. They will no longer have to pay an unfair 20 per cent fee that is charged to them but not to undergraduates in public universities.

Under this federal government and for the first time   there will be support for all students studying for higher education diplomas, advanced diplomas and associate degrees, not just those in public universities. Students can go to a public or private university, or a so-called “non-university provider” such as the higher education section of a TAFE or a private college approved to offer university level courses. This is a massive expansion from the current system, which concentrates support on undergraduate students in public universities.

Our plan supports more than 80,000 additional students each year through these new measures. If that is not expanding choice, it is hard to imagine what would satisfy those calling for greater access to tertiary education.

Diploma students will be the big winners. Diplomas, apart from being qualifications in themselves, are great for students who are not fully prepared for university study but who ultimately want to get into a university from somewhere other than after completing high school. This could be a mature-age student wanting to retrain to move to a better job, or a bright student who missed out in year 11 or 12 for various reasons. Students who enter university with a diploma typically do better than many less-prepared students who go from school straight to university – too many of whom drop out. This massive expansion of support for diplomas should help to reduce that drop-out rate in our universities.

Traditional university students, meanwhile, remain protected. The government will continue to support all 750,000 or so full-time and part-time Australian students studying for a regular bachelor degree by offering what we believe is the world’s most generous loans scheme. Not a cent of university study needs to be paid for by Australian students upfront. Students borrow their share of the cost of their education through the Higher Education Loan Program (otherwise known as HECS). They don’t start repaying until they earn over $50,000 a year. It’s the best loan deal a student will ever get, especially given the interest rate is protected – it just matches the government’s cost of borrowing.

There’s an ever bigger win for university students.

Freeing universities to set their own fees, rather than having them dictated by government, will encourage competition between higher education institutions – and that means better courses, better teaching and more competitive course pricing. It will result in a greater focus on students than ever before in Australia.

Students from low socio-economic groups and regional areas will have more opportunity than ever before. New Commonwealth scholarships will be available to support those students. Higher education institutions will be required to spend $1 in every $5 of additional revenue they get from fee deregulation on Commonwealth scholarships and other forms of support for those from low socio-economic backgrounds and regional areas.

This massive expansion of opportunity for Australians responds in part to rapid growth over recent years in the number of university students, which has meant a growing cost to taxpayers – an additional $7.6 billion over five years.

Any debate about  this package is a good thing. It brings out the fact that university students, on average, pay just more than 40 per cent of the cost of their education, and the taxpayer pays the rest. It acknowledges that university graduates benefit from a significant personal advantage, earning about 75 per cent more than non-graduates – or about $1 million more over their lifetimes. It reminds us that 60 per cent of adult Australians who will never hold a degree are subsidising the other 40 per cent.

It goes without saying that people who benefit so greatly from their university education should be making a reasonable contribution to the cost of it.

We need our university graduates. They keep our economy strong, viable and able in the new world economy – but only if education quality is high and our university system works. As Universities Australia itself has highlighted through its new advertising campaign, we must not be left behind. We must set our higher education providers free –to compete, grow and be excellent. We can create the best higher education system in the world.

It's a win for students, a win for education and a win for Australia.


Memo to uni fees protesters: stop being selfish thugs and bullies

Amanda Vanstone

Recent street protests by students should give us all pause for thought. As much as many in my generation may harbour a special place in their hearts for Gough Whitlam, in our heads we retain memories of the economic shambles his government became.

Whitlam is remembered fondly by many as the man who introduced free university education. The principle that anyone who is capable of university education and wants to pursue it should be able to do so seems universal to me. But the implementation was a disaster.

In the first instance, it is just too late to say to kids in year 12, who haven’t had a fair go in life, ‘‘Oh, by the way, your university education is free.’’ Kids need to have confidence and hope well before then.

Not surprisingly, there was no dramatic change to the socio-economic make-up of university students. This grandiose gesture did not let more poor kids in to university. What it did was pay for all the so-called rich kids who were going to uni anyway. In an effort to help the poor, taxpayer dollars were shovelled into the mouths of the rich. Not surprisingly, they liked it. A lot.

Making students pay a fair share of the cost of their university education, but only when they have a job and some income, was the brainchild of economics professor Bruce Chapman. His policy is pure genius: anyone who is capable can go to university, and pay back slowly as their income rises.

It is a mark of how deeply entrenched our expectations of government have become that some students think paying their fair share is some sort of outrage. Not all students, but some very vocal ones think they should be given more from other taxpayers. They expect to get heaps more than other kids their age who don’t go to university, and this is apparently because they are our future. I cringe at their naivety. Putting aside thoughts of all the successful people who were high school dropouts, one wonders if the protesters’ intellectual skill has allowed them to reflect on the lower ATAR scores required to gain university entrance in 2014.

Only a few of the hundreds of thousands of people who go to university each year will end up being our leaders. The rest will just have higher incomes and more job security and social status than many who do not get the opportunity to go to university.

Many in the past, having won a university place at the exclusion of others, lacked the ambition or application to earn enough to ever pay back their HECS debt. It might sound harsh to say that, but it is more attractive than thinking they arrange their work and income to ensure they pay little back.

It might be an idea, before anyone gets too sympathetic, to reflect on the billions of dollars in HECS debt left unpaid. These protesters say to all the tradies, cleaners, sales workers and others whose taxes have funded their education, ‘‘Thanks for the loan, suckers.’’

Their protests, however, reveal something much more than misplaced self-importance. Their actions run counter to the very thing for which universities are meant to be a haven – namely, civilised debate.

This gaggle of would be's if could be’s are just louts in disguise. They are bullies of the highest order. If you want to say or do something with which they disagree, they believe they are entitled to censor your speech by drowning it out in protest or making those responsible for your safety feel so uncertain as to require that you leave a venue.

To cap off their me-me-me attitude, they expect to be able to use force of volume and numbers to get their way but think it completely unreasonable when security personnel step in and bring their little drama to an end. It’s pathetic in one sense, and a complete outrage in another.

Protests are, in my view, a good thing. They are a sign of the freedom we all enjoy. But what some protesters fail to understand is everyone else’s right to go about their business undisturbed. Sadly, the right to protest has become for all too many the right to ruin anyone else’s day just because they want to be on telly.

Universities should not tolerate the type of thuggery we have seen over the past few weeks.

It seems odd that university students, the very people who should be excited by debate of ideas, should be the ones who seek to drown out any voices but their own. When their voice is used to protect their own self-interest rather than to advance the rights of those without a voice, we can see the ugly face of the me-me-me generation. This kind of behaviour has direct parallels with dictators in one-party states who use their power to silence any criticism.

Everyone who is unhappy with the decisions of a properly elected government, not just the students, might care to reflect on life in a one-party state. In such states planning is often much longer term, welfare is inevitably much much leaner, and the views of dissidents are often silenced in a manner we find unconscionable.


Monday, May 26, 2014

Julia's partner criticizes Tony's wife

Tim Mathieson rebukes Margie Abbott for her apparent lack of charity work.  Julia and Tim have a dog.  The Abbotts have 3 beautiful daughters.  A difference in workload and much else?

The former 'First Bloke' of Australia Tim Mathieson has hit out at Margie Abbott, claiming she isn't doing enough charity work.

Julia Gillard's partner claims that Tony Abbott's wife, who manages a child-care centre part time and regularly attends community events, isn't properly fulfilling her duties as a Prime Minister's spouse.

'What is she doing? Because I did 60 charity events. She has not contributed to any of them,' Mr Mathieson told the Sunday Herald Sun.

While in the role of 'First Bloke' he travelled extensively with Ms Gillard to attend functions and charity events.

'The spouse of every prime minister since [Edmund] Barton has done charity work,' he claimed.

A spokeswoman from the Prime Minister's office responded to the claims, saying Mrs Abbott has been involved in a whole host of charity, community, health and education events.

'This community involvement has been part of her life as she has worked part-time at a local Sydney childcare centre and, along with Tony, raised their three daughters,' the spokeswoman said.

She also said the Prime Minister's wife has been a long supporter of many causes including Girl Guides and Royal Blind Society, and that those close to Mrs Abbott know she doesn't make a fuss of the work she does.

Mr Mathieson supports many organisations himself as a patron for the Australia Men's Sheds Association, an ambassador for Kidney Health Australia, while also being involved with mental health group beyondblue and an indigenous diabetes association.

He also took on the role as one of the former government's Men's Health Ambassadors, though did get himself into hot water over a joke he made to the West Indies cricket team while talking about prostate cancer.

Mr Mathieson said he was simply trying to do the best he could as a country boy and he had little time for garden parties.


Lying Greenie faces jail

And his fellow Greenies don't like that prospect at all.  They think they should be able to do anything without penalty

The campaigner behind an ANZ-Whitehaven Coal hoax email has pleaded guilty to disseminating false information. Jonathan Moylan, 26, of Newcastle was accused of sending out a fake ANZ press release claiming the bank was withdrawing from a $1.2 billion loan facility to Whitehaven's open-cut coalmine in Maules Creek, New South Wales, for ethical reasons.

The hoax email temporarily wiped more than $314 million off the value of Whitehaven's sharemarket value and was reported by a number of news organisations.

Mr Moylan, who had originally pleaded not guilty, appeared at a directions hearing in the New South Wales Supreme Court on Friday and pleaded guilty to charges relating to disseminating false information that was likely to induce a person to "dispose of financial products", the Australian Securities and Investments Commission said.

He was released on unconditional bail and will return to the NSW Supreme Court for sentencing on July 11.

Mr Moylan faces up to ten years in jail and a fine of $765,000 under the breaches of the Corporations Act.

He first appeared in court in July last year but was not required to enter a plea. At a later hearing in November, he entered a not guilty plea.

The hoax email was sent to media outlets in January last year.

The Maules Creek mine has been the subject of legal action by conservation group the Northern Inland Council for the Environment. The group claimed in court the former environment minister Tony Burke breached the law by hastily granting the project conditional approval.

The Federal Court rejected the claims and Whitehaven begun construction on the mine, in the Gunnedah Basin near Tamworth in northern NSW, in December.

Nicola Paris, the coordinator of Mr Moylan's support campaign, We Stand with Jonathan Moylan, said Mr Moylan would not be commenting until after submissions were made to the Supreme Court on July 11.

The Lock The Gate Alliance said last year that it was "extraordinary" Mr Moylan was facing jail.

"We are asking ASIC to reconsider their decision and withdraw the prosecution - the penalty is clearly disproportionate to the offence and Mr Moylan has apologised to anyone affected by his actions," Alliance president Drew Hutton said at the time.


Australia's Don Quixote is getting discouraged

I do buy some of his lines because I admire his heart but he is economically unsophisticated.  Having American and European companies buy out our producers may be the only way to save them.  Competition from China and Asia generally means that Australian companies have to become ruthlessly efficient to survive

The pool of Australian food producers is shrinking so fast that it is becoming difficult for patriotic players like Dick Smith to stay in business.

In the end Dick Smith Foods is going to be forced to close

Mr Smith - the entrepreneur who launched a crusade against the foreign ownership of Australian food processors in the late 1990s – says his company's "days are numbered".

His comments came after the private equity owners of Peters Ice Cream entered into exclusive negotiations with French ice-cream giant, R&R.  The brand, which owns a factory in Melbourne's east, is expected to sell for more than $400 million.

Mr Smith said it is getting increasingly harder for his company to source Australian-owned food producers – with overseas buyers snapping up at least one local manufacturer about every six months.

"For example, I want to get a beetroot made but the only Australian cannery was Windsor Farms at Cowra, " Mr Smith said. "It has gone broke, closed down, it doesn't exist. So we can't get any beetroot anywhere because there are no Australian [owned] canneries.

"This is going to happen more and more where in the end Dick Smith Foods is going to be forced to close."

The turnover of Dick Smith Foods has fallen sharply in the past 10 years from about $80 million a year to as low as $8 million.

Mr Smith said he has managed to lift that figure to about $20 million after an "enormous amount of work", but he doesn't know how much longer he can continue.

"I've kept it going for 12 years.  "[But] I think the days are numbered because basically anyone who is any good as a food producer is pretty much immediately bought out by the Northern Hemisphere. These companies have to get growth and the only way they can get growth is by buying out other companies."

He said Dick Smith Foods was set to make about a $1 million profit this year, which the company would donate to charity, bringing the total amount given away to about $5.5 million.

"I run it like Paul Newman Foods. But he is an American company and he has given away $16 million in Australia. We would love to compete with that but I'm sure we won't be able to.  "I reckon from now on it will start to drop how much we give away.

"We have a running battle with Coles and Woolworths. They are always going to drop our products because they don't meet the hurdle rates."

Mr Smith said Australian companies struggled to compete with overseas players, who have deeper pockets and greater economies of scale.

"You can't compete with the salaries being paid. The last time I looked the chief executive of Kraft, with bonuses, got $26 million a year so that means you just simply get the most astute business people ever.

"The Northern Hemisphere is an example of ultimate capitalism and as you start to get to the limits of growth these companies get the absolute best leadership and  ... very quickly they will do ruthless things that a typical Australian businessman wouldn't do."

For example, Mr Smith said when US food giant Heinz closed its tomato sauce plant in northern Victoria two years ago, sacking 150 people, in favour of moving production to New Zealand – they did so "save about 5 cents in the dollar".

"The labour rate is slightly lower there. Once you're big and global you can do that, whereas if you're and Aussie company it's hard to suddenly say 'we're manufacturing in Victoria lets move to NZ'.

"If you're a global company you can change to any country virtually instantly."

A spokeswoman for Peters' owner Pacific Equity Partners declined to commen


Ambulance secrecy in Victoria

AMBULANCE Victoria fears making details of its poor performances public will drive away paying customers and create public controversy.

These were the reasons given for refusing a Herald Sun request for average branch ­response times and illness or injury details of all time-critical Code 1 emergency call-outs where the responses took 20 minutes or longer.

AV refused to provide the information under Freedom of Information laws, despite having released similar data previously and having accepted an Auditor-General’s recommendation in 2010 to release local area performance data.

"The Auditor General said this data should be public, the Government promised to ­release it, Ambulance Victoria has released it previously - but now, the ambulance crisis is so dire that instead of fixing the problem Denis Napthine is desperately trying to hide it," Opposition health spokesman Gavin Jennings said.

Since the Coalition came to power, the statewide average Code 1 response time has plummeted, from 81 per cent of responses being within 15 minutes in 2009/10 to just 73.4 per cent in 2013/14 - the target is 85 per cent.

In places with a population of more than 7500 the drop has been just as dramatic, from 86.9 per cent in 2009/10 to 78.2 per cent - the target is 90 per cent.

Ambulances took 20 minutes or more to respond to life-threatening emergencies on more than 900 occasions in Melbourne in 2005, when data was last released. Paramedics then estimated more than 50 people a year die because crews can’t reach them in time.

The worst delays, some of more than an hour, occurred on the city’s fringe where ­ambulance resources were thinnest. Black spots - where hundreds of critically ill and ­injured patients were being put at most risk by delays - included Sunbury, Melton, Pakenham, Werribee, Healesville, Cranbourne, Lilydale and Mornington.

The then Liberal Opposition said the Bracks Government’s failure to meet the emergency needs of a growing city was appalling.

"Young families living on the city fringe ... or older people retiring to the peninsula are being forced to take their chances with a second-rate system,’’ the then Liberal health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said.

In refusing to release updated figures in an election year, AV said that it could no longer produce data on 20 minute-plus response times and as it was engaged in a commercial enterprise the requested branch data was "source data of a business nature".

It also said publication of this data "may unduly excite public controversy on an issue which is already attracting media attention and the subject of current protected industrial action by the Ambulance Employees Union".

The Opposition has also been refused access under FOI to average response times for AV’s 250 branches, losing an appeal to VCAT this week.

VCAT senior member Robert Davis accepted AV is foremost a commercial operation, rather than a public service.

He found branch response times did not accurately reflect response times for particular locations as ambulances often work outside their own areas and their release would likely cause a loss of public confidence that may lead people to not subscribe or even to transport themselves or others to hospital when injured.

However, Mr Davis noted that AV had accepted the Auditor-General’s recommendation to release performance data for local geographical areas.

AV General Manager, Regional Services, Tony Walker said response times were only one measure of service quality and survival and quality of life for cardiac arrest, heart attack, stroke and head trauma victims were improving.

Mr Walker said 20 minute response data could not be produced because AV’s systems, data and reporting were very different to the former independent metropolitan and rural services.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

Festival of Australia and NZ arts launches in London

I can't say I am much in favour of this sort of thing.  Australian cultural talents do quite well abroad on their own merits.  Emphasis on Australia as a location seems more likely to revive a "cultural cringe" impression. 

And that Australians often need to go abroad to optimize their careers needs no apology.  The Australian population is relatively small and cultural products are very much a minority interest.  So exposure to large potential audiences is needed to achieve a critical mass of income. 

Why does anyone think that English theatre companies regularly tour the despised North?  Because they need the money of the Northeners.  And they won't get that money unless they go to where the customers are.  So even the trickle of cultural interest from the North needs to be grabbed

From time to time, Australia launches little cultural assault fleets back to the mother country.

One year it might be a Leo McKern, who ruled the Old Bailey in his television portrayal of Rumpole, tying a neat bow around the whole convict saga.

Another year it might be a John Pilger or a Julian Assange, doing the journalistic equivalent of selling ice to the Eskimos: a bolder, freer, cooler brand of ice, more sharp and uncomfortable than the usual Fleet Steet sleet.

And of course there are Clive James, Barry Humphries, Germaine Greer and, uh, Rolf Harris – the Gang of Four whose mega-talents allowed an allegedly indecent assault on swinging London. Indecently successful, that is, m’lud.

Some of these Aussie Vikings settled down, hung up their helmets and became part of the landscape. Others came back home, Patrick White-style, Tim Winton-style, with new perspective or homesick hearts.

Though ... it seems a little unfair. Do we really have to come cap in hand to Europe or North America seeking success and recognition, or some kind of  validation stamp in the career passport?

This month Australia launches a new, full-frontal literary invasion of London.

But the aim is not a reverse colonisation. Instead, according to Jon Slack, it is to demonstrate that no matter how far or how wide our writers roam … etc etc.

"Over here people have a very narrow view of what happens in Australia – the top-level, stereotypical view," he says.

"There’s some truth to stereotypes but there's so much more - writing talent, acting talent, film - there’s so much to show off."

Slack – ex-Adelaide, now a UK resident for just over a decade - is the director of a new, ambitious summer festival in the UK.

This Way Up, the Australia and New Zealand Festival of Literature and Arts, boasts some of the two nations’ biggest talents, supported by some familiar international names, in 60 events over four days.

Tim Winton will discuss his new novel, Helen Garner talks about memory and imagination, Fay Weldon chats to New Zealand writer Paula Morris, other events feature Anna Funder, Greta Scacchi, Kathy Lette and Anita Heiss.

Clive James is doing a new one-hour show about his life in writing, and the festival closes with a new composition by composer Mark Bradshaw set to the biblical poem Song of Solomon, read by actor Ben Whishaw.

I meet Slack on a sunny day in Brighton. He says the idea grew out of a touch of homesickness. "I wanted to work out a way of connecting what I was doing here [in the UK] with back home [in Australia and New Zealand]. I was getting really out of the loop on everything that was happening back in Oz.

"There are so many festivals over here but having a country-specific focus was quite unique … There’s rivalry, affection, understanding [between Australia and the UK]. The more I looked into it the more sense it made."

There is a risk of backfire in attempting this kind of showcase. Last year London’s Royal Academy, to great fanfare, opened an exhibition of some of Australia’s best and most iconic works of art, from pre-colonisation to the present day.

Reviews were mixed. While few were as scathing as those of the Sunday Times, whose critic ended up musing that in Australia the wrong people became artists, some found the whole idea old fashioned. The Guardian said an exhibition whose "aim is the broad sweep of a country, let alone a continent" risked ending up as "potted history and pop-up content".

"I am not interested in what might constitute some sort of Australian artistic identity, because I doubt there is one," the reviewer wrote.

Another critic wrote in the Independent that "more than most countries, [Australia] has carried a baggage of hyper-sensitivity about its place in the world".

Slack says the reaction to the exhibition showed there was a lot of passion about Australia’s representation in the UK. He hopes the multi-event format of his festival will immunise against such criticism.

He does believe there is a character to Australian writing that will emergeduring the festival.

"If you watch a film from Australia or read a book or even just go back home, there’s something very intangible but you can sense it," he says. "There is such diversity … [but] the person who described it the best was Tim Winton."

In a speech in London last year, Winton said he found new perspective on what his home country meant to him when he lived in Paris in his late 20s – his first trip abroad.

He thought the difference would just be language and history, but "the moment that I stepped off a plane at Charles de Gaulle [airport] I knew I was not a European," he said. "[Australia’s] geography, distance and weather have moulded my sensory palette, my imagination and my expectations."

Winton found Europe's land and the sky less beautiful, even saccharine and closed. From afar he recognised Australia as the Neverland of Peter Pan – more wild, a place "more landscape than culture" where the night sky would threaten to suck you up into the stars.

"I was calibrated differently to a European," he said. "Everything we do in our country is still overshadowed and underwritten by the seething tumult of nature."

Slack says the Australian voice can vary widely – contrast Winton with Christos Tsiolkas – but at the same time sound alike.

"It’s very direct, it’s bold, it’s just in the character. Even though there’s a lot of bullshit, there’s no bullshit. That’s what people respond to over here."

Slack says Winton is still a little "under the radar" in the UK, despite the many highlights of his long career.

There is an ongoing question as to whether Australian writers do better if they make a more permanent move to the northern hemisphere, he says. It is even being addressed during the festival, in a "big debate" on whether the cultural cringe is over.

"It’s hard to deny that if you’re based here you’ve got that ongoing presence, it’s easier to have those meetings, do those events, have those conversations you need to have," Slack says. "The tyranny of distance is still a thing.

"There are some people who still make jokes about ‘cultured Australians, oxymoron’ ...People love and respect individual Australians, in films or writers, but I think there is still quite a long way to go. There’s definitely an ignorance of what’s going on ... Unless someone has been to Australia you just don’t get past the beach and the sport. It’s really hard for people to do that."

The festival has a "shoestring budget" in proportion to its scale, but Slack says in planning it became a "controlled explosion" as more people agreed to take part. The event has been part-funded by the Australia Council – which at one stage doubled its support when the project’s ambition grew. One of the council’s aims is to establish a reputation for Australia as an "artistically ambitious nation", says Jill Eddington, director of literature funding at the council.

But the festival is there, in a nutshell, to help the authors find their market, and the market to find the authors.

"The big challenge for all writers worldwide is discoverability in a huge global online market," says Eddington. "No, [writers] don’t need to move to the northern hemisphere. The old boundaries and borders are less and less relevant. The work of great Australian writers is relevant to readers anywhere in the world."

This Way Up is at Kings College, London, from May 29 to June 1.


Principal of Queensland Christian College rejects Muslim student teachers after they wear hijab to school

THE principal of a Christian College has come under fire for transferring two student teachers after they turned up for work dressed in traditional Muslim headwear.

The two women, in their final year of a teaching degree, had started a work placement at Redlands College this year.

In a newsletter addressed to the school’s parents on Tuesday, principal Mark Bensley outlined his reasons for dismissing the pair, explaining he had acted out of a "duty of care".

"I have a duty of care to ensure that those teaching at the College are actively supporting the Christian principles, practices and beliefs of the College," he wrote.

"I see the wearing of the hijab as openly acting in a manner that is contrary to or inconsistent with these principles, practices and beliefs."

The principal explained that he had arranged for both students to transfer to another school to complete their respective field work.

"While I respect their desire to wear a hijab, I feel it’s inappropriate to do so at Redlands College," he wrote.

A statement issued to The Sunday Mail said, as a Christian school, Redlands College "respects and loves all people, from all backgrounds and religions".

"However we don’t hide our Christian values and we provide an important educational option for families seeking Christian education.

"We are not aware that they (student teachers) had any concerns, and it is our understanding that all parties came to a mutual agreement for the benefit of all."

Some parents at the school are believed to be unhappy with the student teachers’ transfer, and leaders in the Muslim community have been left stunned.

Section 25 of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 allows employers to enforce a "genuine occupational requirement that workers act in a way that is consistent with the religious beliefs of the school".

According to Independent Schools Queensland executive director David Robertson, Redlands College was within their rights to dismiss the two student teachers.

But that has done little to calm the Muslim community, with Islamic College of Brisbane principal Mubarak Noor disappointed by the news. "This is not good news, it’s a matter of concern to me," he said.

Redlands College denied moving the students was at odds with Christian teachings of tolerance. "This has nothing to do with religious intolerance, which we condemn outright," a school spokesman said.

Uniting Church Minister Reverend Anneli Sinnko said Mr Bensley’s actions directly contradict the basic foundations of the Christian faith.



Govt planning to fast track refugee claims

THE federal government plans to tackle a huge backlog of asylum seeker claims by introducing new laws to speed up the decision process.  About 23,000 asylum seekers are living in Australia on bridging visas and awaiting determinations on their claims.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has flagged that after July 1, when the Senate changes over, he'll introduce a bill to parliament aimed at "triaging" refugee claims, The Australian reported on Friday.

This means the government will be negotiating the passage of the laws with eight crossbenchers, including three senators from Clive Palmer's Palmer United Party, rather than the Australian Greens who currently hold the balance of power.

The government is also considering changes to the Refugee Review Tribunal, which reviews unsuccessful asylum seeker claims, to allow the government make its own case on appeals and challenge any new information introduced by claimants.

"When our bill gets to parliament ... the resolve of the parliament to support the strong policies of the coalition will be put to the test," Mr Morrison told The Australian.

Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the changes would be detrimental to refugees' safety.  "It's all about sending as many refugees back into harm's way as possible," she told reporters in Sydney.  The current process was rigorous in order to avoid fatal mistakes, Senator Hanson-Young said.


The fruit of Abbott's success: New Zealand is the new destination for asylum seekers

Late on Wednesday night, eight cars full of asylum seekers slipped quietly out of the hillside town of Cisarua and headed for the coast.

They carried 50 desperate men and women who were intending to board a waiting boat and set off into the night.

This movement was reminiscent of hundreds of other people-smuggling ventures in recent years. But in one critical respect it was different and immeasurably more dangerous.

These people — Indians, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Afghans — were not intending to travel the 440 kilometres to Christmas Island. They faced instead an 8000 kilometre journey across one of the world’s most treacherous oceans, final destination: New Zealand.

The trip was thwarted. The cars were intercepted by Indonesian police, whom the smugglers believed they had paid off, and the passengers sent back to Cisarua where they are now waiting for another chance.

A joint Fairfax Media and New Zealand’s Sunday Star-Times investigation has laid bare the desperation and lies behind the New Zealand option, the latest twist in the asylum-seeker story, and the potential disaster that awaits any who attempt the journey.

"No one’s ever got to New Zealand [by leaky boat] in modern times," New Zealand ambassador to Indonesia, David Taylor, says.

"You’ve got reefs one side [Australia’s eastern coast] and the Indian ocean the other side [to the west]. They are long distances, the seas there are very fickle … so it’s a pipe dream".

And yet a number of sources in Cisarua and elsewhere have confirmed that Murtaza Khan, a Pakistani travel agent, and three other smugglers, Khawaja Nisar, Tarik Ayub and a man called Abbas, have marketed this boat as safe. They also say it’s the first of many.

Sources said as the passengers waited for weeks before embarkation day in a villa in Cisarua, playing cards and making flat bread, they were told repeatedly that the boat was safe. They were shown pictures and videos of the alleged vessel, its two large engines and provisions — images obtained exclusively by Fairfax Media.

Murtaza described the boat as metal-hulled, 32m long and 7m high, and said it would sail as far as West Papua (the Indonesian half of New Guinea), with a second, smaller boat, also pictured, travelling behind as back up.

He said they would sail close to the Indonesian coast, not within international waters, for fear the Australian navy would catch them and return them to Indonesia.

(Asked if Australia was legally able to intercept and turn back a boat whose destination was New Zealand, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said he would not comment about on-water activities.)

Once the boat had stopped and reprovisioned in West Papua, the second boat would return to Java and the first one sail alone the rest of the way to the ultimate destination, Kaitaia, in New Zealand’s north-west.  An alternative landing place, if the boat was in trouble, they said, was the rugged and uninhabited Three Kings Islands, which belong to New Zealand.

"It will be a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 12 days on the ocean," Murtaza has told passengers — an absurdly optimistic assessment.

The price per passenger — $US500 up front and a full payment of between $US5000 for the Afghans and Bangladeshis and $US7000 for the Indians — is cheap, barely more than the trip to Australia once cost. The idea at this stage is not to make a big profit; it’s to prove it can be done and open a new way out of Indonesia so that more passengers follow.

"You can be sure if one boat gets to New Zealand, the price will increase," one people smuggler’s agent has told passengers.

New Zealand, he said, "wants people to come".  "They are looking forward to seeing asylum seekers. They need them because the population is very small."

They say that asylum seekers can settle quickly there, after which getting permission to cross the Tasman to Australia is a formality.

Ambassador Taylor says most of these statements are false. There has never been a "mass arrival" in New Zealand (defined as more than 30 people), but Indonesia recently passed laws to deal with them. Taylor says his country may not even be their ultimate aim.

"They know they can’t [get there] and [perhaps] they’re hoping to get to a certain point and then duck in to Australia".

Murtaza has form for lying. A boat he arranged in September last year was billed to passengers as having "dinner and rooms," but it was tiny and open to the elements, and promptly sank off the coast of Java forcing its 44 occupants to call Australia for help.

"Murtaza is crazy for money," says one asylum seeker in Indonesia. "He is making crazy promises because Australia is blocked. If they go to New Zealand, maybe all of them will die."

But the fact that 50 passengers are impatient to make the journey is an expression of their desperation.

More than 10,000 asylum seekers and refugees are waiting in Indonesia and 100 more arrive every week. Tony Abbott’s and Scott Morrison’s success at turning back the boats has stoppered them in a place where they cannot work or get their children educated, and where it may take three years or more to be resettled through the so-called "front door".

Fairfax Media has learnt that among those on board are some who have already faced Australia’s hard-edged response.

At least one passenger was aboard the first orange lifeboat sent under Operation Sovereign Borders in January.  Two others tried in March to get to New Zealand with a different venture but were arrested instead in West Papua. They escaped, made their way back to Cisarua, and are trying again.

Others have run out of money and cannot afford to stay in Indonesia, or have paid all their money in the past to people smugglers for aborted or sunk ships and have been told they only have one choice — to travel.

An earlier attempt to reach New Zealand was aborted in March and another in early April involved smuggler Abu Ali amassing 23 people in West Sumatra on the premise that they could sail even further — 10,000km — around Australia’s southern coast to New Zealand. It was cancelled because not enough passengers were willing to try.

Other smugglers have even tried to sell tickets to the relatively closer Norfolk Island, claiming wrongly that is part of New Zealand — it is in fact an external territory of Australia and its immigration regime is also very unaccepting.


Does language matter?

Last week, the Australian Industry Group called for the federal government to "significantly" reduce the standard of English required for 457 visas. Their succinct argument was that demanding a high standard of English prohibits employers from hiring the best overseas workers. The stringent standards to which they refer, introduced by the Howard government, also neglect the (apparently) multilingual nature of many Australian workplaces.

But here’s the contradiction. Late last year, the Australian Industry Group – the same outfit – released a survey of 400 companies that found English literacy was woeful to such an extent that safety was a serious issue in many workplaces. Nine out of ten employers reported negative impacts on their business arising from the poor standards of language, literacy and numeracy.

So, in the space of just six months, the AI Group has tried to convince us that English language standards in Australia are both too high and too low. Well, which is it? I’m inclined to believe the latter.

The concern raised by employers, that safety is being jeopardised, is one reason. Another is the simpler one of integration. How can new migrants integrate into their adopted country if they’re unable to communicate well enough? From a workplace perspective, how can they interact with customers, build relationships with colleagues and negotiate with employers, if they’re unable to articulate their position using the official language?

Those challenges aren’t hypothetical. The most recent data comparing the job prospects of foreign-born workers is quite telling, but perhaps not surprising.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics analysed the employment success of people who were born in a country where English is not the main language. Of those who can speak English proficiently, 47 per cent are in full-time jobs. Of those who can’t, the proportion drops to just 19 per cent.

The subsequent demands placed on the welfare system are also worth noting. The same data from the ABS shows that one third of those who can’t speak English cite ‘government allowances’ as their main source of income, a rate that’s almost double when compared to their English-speaking compatriots.

Perhaps you can blame racism. Perhaps you can blame the economy. Perhaps you can blame the government. Or perhaps you can acknowledge that moving to a country in which you can’t speak the language is probably not a good idea.

Ah, but what about the skills shortage! That’s the rallying cry from business groups as they urgently press for reforms. The skills shortage argument, though, doesn’t ring true, not when we have over 700,000 people unemployed, many of them eager to be retrained if only there were employers willing to train them.

It’s been a hot issue in the UK over the past few months as it emerged there recently that 800,000 immigrants admit they can speak only a little English or none at all. Most of them are unemployed and getting by on welfare. The result has been that senior politicians have openly suggested that social security benefits should be cut when migrants consistently fail to learn the language.

This culminated in the Secretary of State – himself the son of immigrant parents – declaring migrants "should come to work and make a contribution and that … means things like trying to learn English". The Communities Secretary, too, has said "you can't be a full member of British society unless you speak English ... If you're going to live somewhere, it is beholden on you to learn the language".

Both of those politicians make logical arguments, both of which are easily applicable here or in any other country.

Yes, a sound immigration policy is essential for economic growth. But surely it’s imperative to be wary of business groups urging the government to sacrifice the most basic requirements in pursuit of that goal.