Friday, January 10, 2020

Murdoch University is prosecuting a whistleblower -- to send a warning to any future whistleblowers

The issue is an old one in Australian universities: Do you admit overseas students even though they are not really qualified and do you give them a pass when they have really failed? 

Why is that an issue?  Because overseas students bring in a rich harvest of fees -- so you want as many as possible of them.  And you don't want to upset any of them

So do universites really do those things?  The official answer is a scandalized "No".  The real answer is: Frequently. The professor let the cat out of the bag

In my days as a university lecturer I saw how easily favoured students could be granted marks they did not earn.  In my case the favoured ones were student activists and Aborigines but it would work equally well for Asians

Whistleblower mathematics professor Gerd Schroder-Turk, and his young family, must be wondering if they will be pushed into bankruptcy by his employer, Murdoch University. His crime was to expose on the ABC’s Four Corners program alleged corruption at Murdoch University’s enrolment section. According to Schroder-Turk, Murdoch was letting in students with inadequate skills in the chase for cash.

Murdoch University has ignored universal adverse media reaction against it. Condemnation by the union, staff, students, and a huge public petition have made no difference. It is continuing its legal action against Schroder-Turk, claiming he has affected its reputation and profitability. Schroder-Turk could lose everything he owns.

Murdoch’s legal action is not about retrieving lost earnings. I am guessing that Schroder-Turk’s entire wealth would be less than vice-chancellor Eeva Leinonen’s overly generous yearly salary. It would certainly be less than a day of the university’s operational cost.

This court action is about power. It is the university sending a message to the academic staff — “speak out and we will destroy you”.

It does not matter about the truth. It does not matter if Murdoch was acting disgracefully.

A frightened academia is a compliant academia. Just the way a modern university administration likes it.

The other universities, most of which have similar authoritarian streaks in their administration, will be cheering Murdoch from the side of the courtroom. It is in their interests for Schroder-Turk to be crushed. They also want fearful academics.

History is littered with examples where people stood by and watched bad things happen when they had the power to stop it.

Such a person appears to be the West Australian Education Minister, Sue Ellery. Murdoch University is set up under West Australian state legislation.

The state government has huge influence over Murdoch through the university’s governing senate. But Ellery seems too often silent about Schroder-Turk.

Another is federal Education Minister Dan Tehan. His department gives Murdoch hundreds of millions of dollars each year. There are many things he can do to persuade Murdoch that it is doing the wrong thing and not acting in the interests of the public that funds it.

But the minister seems to be showing signs of being captured by the universities he administers. This is a common problem and an occupational hazard in politics.

One must have some sympathy for him. Universities are very powerful organisations with slick media departments. Through their peak body, Universities Australia, they are ruthless in publicly pursuing their interests. A minister decides to cross an Australian university at his or her peril.

Nevertheless, the universities look at the Schroder-Turk case and see the inaction by Tehan and Ellery. I worry the collective university vice-chancellors are laughing at how easily and quickly Tehan seems to have been caught, reeled in, and brought to heel on a nice short leash.

Murdoch University has interpreted the inaction by both state and federal education ministers as a green light to do whatever it wants.

In the meantime, Tehan needs to lay down the law to show a little steel to Leinonen and her chancellor, Gary Smith. He should call Leinonen and Smith and tell them he is commissioning a review of Murdoch’s activities under the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency’s objective 4: “Take prompt and effective action to address substantial risks to students or the reputation of the sector.”

He would appoint an investigator who was sympathetic to the cause of academic freedom and critical of some of the tendencies of modern universities. I am sure the National Tertiary Education Union — which, again, has stood by Schroder-Turk throughout his ordeal — would be very happy to put forward some suitable names.

The minister should tell Leinonen and Smith that if Murdoch were found wanting by this investigation, they could lose their accreditation to operate as a university.

He has the power. He has the duty to protect whistleblowers such as Schroder-Turk. Although universities should be independent of government, they must behave like universities to deserve that privilege.

As it is, Murdoch University has forfeited that right.

That simple phone call by the minister to Leinonen would shatter Murdoch’s illusion that it can ignore the taxpayers who fund it.

Problem solved.

Happy public, happy Gerd Schroder-Turk, happy university staff, happy students, happy union.

Popular Dan Tehan.

There is no public support for Murdoch University.


The fires: Climate change beliefs are distracting attention  from what really needs to be done

After decades of poor housekeeping, Australia’s latest devastating bushfires were predictable. Politicians and serving officials want to leave post mortems until the fires are out. Their instincts are correct.

That hasn’t stopped green ­advocates and the gullible from immediately linking them to ­Australia’s “inaction on climate change”. Climate experts as far afield as Sydney Lord Mayor ­Clover Moore and Swedish truant schoolgirl Greta Thunberg agree on the connection.

A coalition of retired fire chiefs, in what seems a closing-the-stable-door defence, claimed that last April it “knew that a bushfire crisis was coming” and nagged the government to invest in more resources. But, “fundamentally, (the government) doesn’t like talking about climate change”.

The ex-chiefs referred to being under an “unofficial gag order”, whatever that means, and argued that if governments had listened, there would have been more ­assets deployed and fewer fires.

When Australia accounts for just 1.3 per cent of global emissions that proposition is plainly absurd.

Yet, for all the bluster, the only mention of climate change in five years of Fire and Rescue NSW annual­ reports is a reference to crews being encouraged to turn off all non-essential lights during Earth Hour, “joining millions of people worldwide in showing their commitment to tackling climate­ change’’.

For five years the Victorian Country Fire Authority didn’t mention climate change. Its ­priorities were “fairness” and “inclusion­”, which it mentions 56 times.

Well may former fire chiefs blame climate change, but if they were so convinced of the connection between wildfires and global warming, why didn’t they publicly campaign for immediate, practical steps to reduce fuel loads in national parks? Surely they could have pushed their rural colleagues­, government ministers, and department heads harder?

Victoria publishes limited data, but a planned hazard reduction of 370 hectares in East Gippsland was reduced to nine after protesters claimed it was “killing baby birds alive”. Much of East Gippsland is now a wasteland.

These days, it’s commonplace for national park entries to be blocked by boulders or chains and padlocks. Many fire trails are so overgrown that a sign identifying them is all that distinguishes them from the rest of the forest.

Against the advice of local brigades­, the green firefighting hierarc­hy supported a wind farm amid prime agricultural land, renderi­ng an existing airstrip unsuitab­le for water bombers. Aerial bombing is considered 40 per cent of the firefighting effort.

While Aborigines are free to clear their land without a permit, once it transfers to non-indigenous owners those rights are ­forfeited. There are heavy penalties, including jail, for those who clear their property without permissi­on. Green tape and delay­s abound. Fires have destroy­ed some properties held up in this process.

So now the chickens are coming home to roost, with eastern Australian bushfires consuming an area approaching five million hectares. They have inflicted an unspeakable toll on human life, property, wildlife and livestock.

As weather patterns slowly return­ to normal and the fires are extinguished, there will be yet another­ government inquiry.

More money will be demand­ed, along with calls for additional jet tankers, even though there are few airfields from which they can operate. Money is needed, but alone it is not the answer. Much of it goes to the deskbound. For ­example, in the four years up to 2019, the NSW Rural Fire Service received a 78 per cent boost in funding, yet it oversaw a decline in volunteers and fire trucks.

Of course for Hollywood and other propagandists, it is vital that inaction on climate change, not inaction on hazard reduction, be the focus. For them, this link is vital to their cause.

Proving that a prophet can be any fool from home, The New York Times screams “Australia is committing climate suicide”. In an article long on drama and short on facts, the newspaper intones­ that “the response of Aust­rali­a’s leaders (to the fires) has not been to defend their country but to defend­ the fossil industry”. Talk about ignorance and warped values­.

Better to deprive 200 million Indians of a light globe and throw them crumbs through a UN-­administered clim­ate fund than provide economic independence through Australian coal.

Like ancient Druids, the media left, Hollywood and the rest of the global warming cult won’t hear that Australia spends 11 times the global average on renewable power and invests in renewables at a rate per capita four to five times faster than China, the EU, Japan and the US. They give no credit to Australia for being on track to meet its Paris Agreement target for 2030, despite a 2.2 million jump in population since 2013.

To fanatics, facts don’t matter. That there has been no drying trend in 100 years of Australian data, and that science is yet to establish­ a causal link between climate­ change and drought is irrelevan­t. [Global warming would induce MORE rain, not less]

While weather, droughts and bushfires will, from time to time, continue to feature, population growth and encroachment on green spaces increase risks. Indeed­, 87 per cent of bushfires are due to humans. Only 6 per cent are naturally started. Arsonists, attracted by the ease of ignition­, perhaps start more than half. To date, 183 arsonists have been arrested. However, while those delegated to manage the envir­onment and those charged with property protection share a close ideological relationship, little­ will change.

At some point, government must take control. Communic­ation and co-operation between the different jurisdictions, departments and agencies must be ­better co-ordinated.

Priorities must be set, audited and enforced. The insurance indus­try should be given a louder voice. It’s an important financial stakeholder and risk assessor. This crisis will lead to higher premium­s, more uninsured properties and serious moral dilemma­s next time.

For now, courageous frontline firefighters are putting their lives on the line and fighting fires the scale of which owes much to green ideology and confused and fragmented leadership. It is hoped that an inquiry will establish clear priorities and directions that will be followed.


Bushfires: Victoria wide of mark on target burn-offs in 2019

Victoria carried out just over half the fuel reduction burns it planned in 2019, ultimately burning one-third of the public land that had been recommended by the Black ­Saturday bushfires royal ­commission.

The figures have been condemned by bushfire experts and landholders in fire-affected areas, with one accusing Victoria’s Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and the Andrews Labor government of trying to avoid accountability by moving from a hectare target to a less transparent “risk reduction target”.

The information has come amid a horror fire season that has seen 25 people killed and thousands of homes lost in southeastern Australia, with at least two to three months of hot, dry conditions to go.

The forest industry and the CFMEU have called for fuel loads in national parks to be ­aggressively managed through hazard reduction burning and selective logging.

An Andrews government spokeswoman on Wednesday said DELWP conducted 251 planned burns totalling 130,044ha in 2018-19, as well as applying “other fuel management methods” to 12,034ha.

“In 2018-19, DELWP approved 246,396ha of public land for planned burning should conditions be appropriate for controlled fire,” she said.

The 130,044ha constitutes just 53 per cent of the 246,396ha of planned burns, and 34 per cent of the target recommended by the Black Saturday royal commission. A key recommendation of the 2010 commission, accepted by the Brumby Labor government at the time, was that the Victorian government significantly boost its level of fuel reduction from the then current annual level of 130,000ha, or about 1.7 per cent of public land, to 5 per cent of public land, or about 385,000ha.

The 2018-19 figures show DELWP did not even try to meet the commission’s recommen­dations in setting its target, with the 246,396ha of planned burns constituting just 64 per cent of the recommended 385,000ha.

While weather conditions have at times caused a cancellation of planned burns, some have also been hampered by green groups.

Near the Victorian town of Nowa Nowa, among communities evacuated as the East Gippsland fires roared through the region last week, a controlled burn in September was delayed and then significantly reduced.

The prescribed burn at Nelsons Road, Nowa Nowa, was initially intended to cover 370ha of land to the south of the town in September, but protests resulted in it being delayed until the following month.

Even then, only 9ha was burned after “community consultation”, with some mulching and slashing also done in the area.

“The current bushfires did not reach the Nelsons Road burn but another nearby planned burn at Radar Hill played a significant role in helping to stop the fire,” a DELWP spokesman said.

Former CSIRO fire scientist David Packham slammed the Andrews government’s 2015 decision to move from hectare targets to “risk reduction targets”.

“Hectare targets were a process by which the department and government could be held ­accountable,” he said. “Such people don’t like being held accountable, especially when they’re doing the best they can to subvert what the commission came up with.”

Mr Packham also attacked the government for its refusal to release DELWP mapping of fuel loads across the state, which were previously publicly available.

DELWP last year demanded a fee of $1294.80 from the Weekly Times to process a Freedom of Information request for copies of the maps, and a state government spokeswoman this week told The Australian that publishing them “would be giving a map of where to start a fire to arsonists”.

“The level of secrecy from DELWP would make a nuclear research facility jealous,” Mr Packham said. He said he believed that even the 5 per cent target recommended by the royal commission was insufficient. “The royal commission originally concluded that 5-8 per cent ‘at a minimum’ would be appropriate,” he said. “When the final report came, the 5-8 had turned into 5 per cent and the word ‘minimum’ had disappeared.”

Fourth-generation mountain cattleman Bruce Commins, 66, said “mismanagement of the bush” through a lack of controlled burning was to blame for the ­severity of the current fires.

The East Gippsland farmer’s home north of Swift’s Creek and 2000ha grazing property near Benambra remain under threat from fires that have been burning since November 21. “I’m devastated by this,” said Mr Commins, a CFA volunteer for more than 45 years. “The environmental damage that’s been done is beyond belief.

“I really thought that after Black Saturday we would have had a change, but the royal commission recommendations just haven’t been followed in terms of fuel reduction burning. That is the issue — the fuel.”

Forest Fire Management Victoria chief Chris Hardman said the move away from hectare-based targets had been endorsed by an expert reference panel and was adopted “because it represented a more effective approach to reducing risk for life and property than a hectare-based target”.


Fresh charges laid against UTS science dean Dianne Jolley over ‘fake’ harassment allegation

A Sydney professor charged for allegedly orchestrating a fake harassment campaign against herself and costing her university more than $157,000 in security measures has opted to remain behind bars rather than apply for bail after being taken into custody on fresh charges on Wednesday.

UTS Dean of Science Professor Dianne Jolley was on bail after her arrest in November for allegedly sending fake threats to herself after the university announced in June it was going to cancel its traditional Chinese medicine course.

On Wednesday, NSW Police revoked the 49-year-old’s bail after charging her with a fresh offence, alleging she had sent another nine letters after her arrest, providing false and misleading information that could make her UTS colleagues “fear for their safety”.

NSW Police said two of those letters were received by UTS on November 27, the same day Jolley appeared at Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court on charges of causing financial disadvantage by deception, giving false information about a person or property in danger and making a false representation resulting in a police investigation.

Jolley did not apply for bail at Sutherland Local Court on Thursday. The court heard she had decided to wait until her solicitor was available to represent her at a bail application hearing at Sydney’s Central Local Court on January 21.

Police allege Jolley launched her fake harassment campaign in July when she made her first report to police about letters she claimed to have received about the closure of the course.

In September, Jolley filed another police complaint claiming a threatening letter and several items of clothing stolen from her home had been left on her car in Sydney’s south.

After a lengthy investigation, police charged Jolley in November, alleging she had been sending the threatening letters to herself.

Jolley pleaded not guilty to the charges in November, her lawyer Aaron Kernaghan telling the media at the time his client had instructed him the harassment campaign was genuine.

“She’s loyal to her university, she’s concerned for her students, she’s looking forward to returning to there,” he said.

Jolley — who specialises in environmental chemistry and toxicology — joined UTS in late 2018.

She remains on paid leave with the university.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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