Sunday, February 22, 2015

School nurses in Queensland

It has just come to my attention that Annastacia Palaszczuk made a big thing during her election campaign of her intention to reinstate the school nursing service.  See a report from 29 January below. She was silent about who axed the service but all the commentary on the matter that I have been able to find implied that it was the conservative Newman government who abolished the service.  But it was nothing of the sort.  The axing was in 2011 and who was in charge then?  Anna Bligh, a Labor party premier.  She was defeated in 2012. See here for what I wrote about it at the time. 

Leftists very rarely take responsibility for their stuff-ups.  All follies are blamed on the other side and the other side's triumphs are claimed by them.  Note how the abolition of the White Australia Policy is routinely attributed to Gough Whitlam when it was in fact abolished by the Liberal Party's Harold Holt. And in the eulogies accompanying the death of Whitlam, I saw nobody admit that  Whitlam's eulogized free university policy was abolished not by the conservatives but by Bob Hawke, a Labor party Prime Minister.  And so on ...

And here's some fun: the 2011 floods in Brisbane were clearly caused by bureaucratic mismanagement of Brisbane's  big flood-control dam -- Wivenhoe.  And that mismanagement happened under the Bligh Labor government.  The resultant huge claim for compensation has been wending its way through the courts for some time now so should come to a head under Annastacia's time in office. Where will she find the money to pay the billion-dollar bill?  It's going to be amusing.  Major backflip on asset sales predicted

Campbell Newman had been faced with the unpleasant task of defending  Labor party folly.  He is now off that hook.  The Labor party will have to face the consequences of its own mismanagement.   Background:  To save  money, the Bligh Labor government was using the dam for water storage -- thus leaving little reserve capacity for flood control.

The vacant Anna Bligh had lots of money to pay an army of bureaucrats but for water storage and flood control, not so much

State Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk has blitzed eight electorates in one day, releasing one policy and promising another will be unveiled on Thursday.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, meantime, has rolled out more promises in the lead-up to Saturday's state election, pledging to spend $295 million on level crossing upgrades.

Ms Palaszczuk said a Labor government would spend $12 million on hiring specialist school nurses over four years if elected.

She said the nurses would help identify any hearing and vision problems in schoolchildren.

"These are specialist nurses so they are not just your standard nurses that you would have in the hospital, so they are specialist, they provide testing in relation to hearing and vision, also provide advice on nutrition and some stages can provide early diagnosis that then can be referred to the hospital," she said.

"This is about getting in early, this is about tackling the issue to make sure our kids get the best start in life.

"We have been listening to what the parents have had to say and they have been absolutely furious that the school nurses have been axed in this state."


Lessons from the David Hicks case

There's some things David Hicks could teach other "foolish" young men who fancy heading overseas to a conflict zone for military training.

That they could end up being cleared of a terrorism offence isn't one of them.

Indeed, if Mr Hicks trained with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan now, instead of in 2001, he would end up caught in a stronger web of counter-terrorism laws.

There's much to learn from the Hicks case in terms of the challenge Australia will face dozens of times in the future, Monash University professor Greg Barton says.

"We're going to have Australians coming back from the likes of Syria and Iraq and northern Africa," he says.

"And we're going to have to look at young men who like Hicks made really foolish decisions and did some wrong things, but have come to realise that they did something wrong.

"We have to look at how we rehabilitate and bring those people back into the mainstream. That will play a role in preventing others from being radicalised."

The US military points out that Mr Hicks voluntarily admitted he trained at al-Qaeda's Farouq camp and Tarnak Farm complex in Afghanistan, met Osama bin Laden and joined al-Qaeda and Taliban forces preparing to fight US and Northern Alliance forces near Kandahar in September 2001.

"I have met Osama bin Laden 20 times now, lovely brother, everything for the cause of Islam," Mr Hicks wrote to his family in May 2001.

What he did then was not a crime. It is now.

Australia has a more comprehensive legal regime to deal with the types of situations Mr Hicks found himself in, ANU professor of international law Don Rothwell says.

"If Mr Hicks was to find himself in Syria for example at the moment or Iraq and engaging in these types of activities with ISIS or ISIL, the Australian legislation is now much tougher," he said.

"We're looking at a completely changed legal scenario to that which existed in 2001."

Prof Rothwell adds that in 2001 the US was very interested in scooping up people such as David Hicks to gain as much intelligence and understanding of the Taliban and al-Qaeda as they could following the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"That dimension of the threat to the US homeland that existed post-September 2001 and the need to detain all of these people in Guantanamo so they could be subject to interrogation and intelligence gathering, a lot of that scenario has now quite significantly changed over the course of the last 10 or 15 years," he said.

Prof Barton says there's a lot more clarity under current legislation about what happens if someone goes to an area controlled by a proscribed terrorist group.

"There is real doubt about what Hicks knew he was doing at the time, what he understood of al-Qaeda, what his motivation was, et cetera," he said.

"That's not to excuse him. But if somebody went back in current circumstances, much more knowing circumstances, it would be very different.

"Even technology - social media, internet connectivity - means that somebody travelling now to Syria or Iraq is not afforded that excuse, for example.  "They should be expected to be held to account for understanding their actions in a way that is quite different in Hicks' case."

It's unclear whether Mr Hicks himself recognises he did anything wrong.  He believes he was a victim of politics.  "It's just unfortunate that because of politics I was subjected to five-and-a-half years of physical and psychological torture that I will now live with always," he told reporters.

His lawyer Stephen Kenny stepped in to answer reporters' questions about what Mr Hicks was doing in Afghanistan.

Yes, he was there. Yes, he did military training there.  "He was not doing it for the Australian army or the Australian government, but it was not a crime," Mr Kenny said.

Mr Hicks later told reporters he was "having a holiday" when he was captured in Afghanistan, and his critics would "never be happy".

Mr Kenny said Mr Hicks had been declared innocent by the US Court of Military Commission Review, which vacated his 2007 guilty plea to providing material support to terrorism, and it wasn't a technicality. 

"It will be the end of people calling him a terrorist," he said.  "Frankly, he should never have been in Guantanamo Bay."

Mr Hicks' successful appeal of his conviction was predicated on a US appeals court's 2014 decision that material support for terrorism was not a legally viable charge in military commissions for conduct that occurred before 2006.

Federal Attorney-General George Brandis notes that Mr Hicks' admitted activities occurred before Australia's 2002 and subsequent counter-terrorism laws.

"The type of activities that Mr Hicks has admitted to, including training with al-Qaeda and other terrorist organisations in Afghanistan, would likely now fall within the scope of Australian terrorism laws," Senator Brandis said.

Prof Barton said the treatment Mr Hicks endured while held in Guantanamo Bay and the way the legal case against him was carried out were wrong.

"It's clear that Mr Hicks was a foolish young man who got himself into trouble training in Afghanistan," he said. "He's not without fault on that front. But what he went through for five-and-a-half years can't be justified."

There is a long struggle ahead in countering violent extremism, Prof Barton warns, and that requires a more sophisticated approach than what's been employed until now.

"What is clear now is that al-Qaeda and its derivatives have been very effective in mounting a sustained uncertainty at the global scale.  "Groups like Islamic State are the latest manifestation of that and we will be battling them and battling their recruiters and their radicalisers not just on the fields of Iraq and Syria but in our suburbs."


PM Tony Abbott’s fumbles may see Premier Mike Baird drop his election

NSW Premier Mike Baird strikes a chord with the electorate but an almost irrational backlash against the federal Abbott government is destroying the harmonics.

If current trends continue through to the March 28 state election, the unthinkable could happen. The popular Baird could lose government just as his conservative colleagues in Victoria and Queensland were recently swept from office.

A senior Liberal told me that in the worst case result ­extrapolated from polling suggested the Liberals could lose up to 23 seats, putting them within one or two seats of outright defeat.

NSW Liberal Party director Tony Nutt denies the polls are that bad. He says the Liberals are still on course to win though he admits federal politics in the remaining weeks could affect the outcome.

Assuming Baird holds power but suffers significant damage, the pressure would be on Prime Minister Tony ­Abbott’s leadership. He would inevitably be challenged and he would lose. It is no exaggeration to suggest that the ensuing turmoil would have a catastrophic effect on Australia’s global standing.

Investors are already wary. In Victoria, Labor Premier Daniel Andrews has flung open the door to renewed trade union belligerence with his reversal of public order laws and Queensland’s Anastasia Palaszczuk will soon follow suit. Neither leader has a clue about finance and both have promised to follow the disastrous path followed by the two worst federal Labor governments in the nation’s history, those of Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard.

Baird is the most popular and the most successful Liberal leader in the nation but as Liberal campaigners are finding as they door-knock in electorates around NSW, voters don’t want to hear about his achievements, they want to talk about the federal government and air their views about Abbott.

Labor Opposition leader Luke Foley is almost unknown and probably hopes to remain that way until after the election. He is just another Left-wing Labor apparatchik who began his political career in student politics, followed up with an apprenticeship in the trade union movement, seven years in the NSW ALP’s head office before being given a seat on the Legislative Council.

He is hostage to Labor Left ideology and just as bereft of constructive ideas and policies as his federal counterpart Bill Shorten or his comrades in Victoria and Queensland.

That he is all but faceless is inconsequential to voters however. They aren’t interested in state personalities.

A narrow win by the Baird government might not be enough to save Abbott, and a hung parliament or a loss would seal his fate.

Ironically, these grim findings come at the end of week in which Abbott and his team went a long way to restoring their credibility despite the usual savaging from the Leftist ABC and Fairfax media.

Abbott did manage to make peace of sorts with his divisively frisky backbenchers but then he sacked long-serving former minister Philip Ruddock from the Chief Whip role late on Friday, causing more questions to be asked about his sense of political timing and judgment.

Otherwise he responded with firmness, dignity and compassion as the Indonesians proceed relentlessly toward executing the two Australian drug traffickers, he has ­attempted to highlight the grave concerns about the state of the economy as repeatedly enunciated by the head of the Reserve Bank, Glenn Stevens, and he performed with ­renewed vigour in Parliament.

But the ceaseless denigration of the Coalition by the ABC and the Fairfax media is undoubtedly having an effect.

Their coverage of the long-overdue replacement submarine contract has wholly ignored the reality that both the Rudd and Gillard governments failed to act in a timely manner to ensure that a new generation of submarines would be ready to be phased in as Labor’s hugely ­expensive and largely inoperable Collins-class submarines reached their use-by-date.

Reflecting the adolescent attitudes of their Twitter-­addicted editors and commentators, neither the ABC nor Fairfax has taken the national interest into account.

Abbott owes it to Baird (as he does the nation) to perform at his very best.

South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria are mendicant states. Queensland will soon join them, Western Australia is marginal, but NSW is performing best of all.

The nation simply cannot afford another Labor state.


Water flows to Riverland properties as restrictions expire

The end of irrigation moratoriums throughout the Murray-Darling Basin has the potential to boost economic development in regions that have struggled since the drought, according to Regional Development Australia.

Nearly 300 growers in the Murray-Darling Basin took Small Block Irrigator Exit Grants at the height of the drought in 2009.  They were paid $150,000 to walk away from their crops and were banned from irrigating the land for five years.  As growers moved away, they left a patchwork of unsightly properties many of which became havens for pests and weeds.

In Barmera, 200 kilometres north east of Adelaide, landowner Steve Asimopolous is pumping water again onto his six-hectare block for the first time since he took an exit grant five and half years ago.

The former wine grape grower does not regret taking the Federal Government's grant, but he believes his barren block is wasted without irrigation.

"There was a lot of stress, you had bank managers ringing you up, you had payments and all of that, the drought placed a bit of stress on me at the time," he said.

"I don't want to go back to what I was doing, I don't want to have any permanent plantings.  "My aim is to plant lucerne and an acre or two of tomatoes maybe a bit of garlic to rotate the soil."  Mr Asimopolous will lease water and has no plans to own a permanent entitlement again.

Not all landowners want to return to the land, and many will sell their properties to neighbours with larger operations, according to Regional Development Australia's Nicolle Jachmann.

Ms Jachmann said as blocks are returned to productive use, the region should see an uptick in economic activity.  "The land and fertile soils we have in the Riverland are obviously a scare resource, and there is currently a lot of it we have out of production at the moment.

"The fact that these properties will be able to be used for irrigated horticulture or agriculture opens up a big opportunity for the region to expand its production."

Growers who do want to return are being encouraged to not to go back to growing wine grapes or citrus, and instead look to some of the more niche industries that have emerged since the drought.

Workshops run by the Berri-Barmera Local Action Planning committee have been pushing this message.  "Diversification has been the real the key of these workshops and we're looking a number of industries that these people might be looking at," said project manager Leighton Pearce.  "Things like capers growing in the region, date palms and some aquaponics and hydroponics as well.

"We don't want to see growers exit the industry in the future so we're trying to arm them with the most relevant information on climate and crops so they make the right decisions."


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