Young Couple from Queensland to Face Trial For Using Abortion Medicines

September 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Australian News, Australian Politics 

Australia is truly regressing backwards. Earlier this week, we had the stupid Liberal MP Scott Morrison tell parliament that pornography is as dangerous as firearms. Now we have this:

A young couple in Queensland, aged 19 and 21 respectively, have been commited to trial for using abortion drugs to ‘procure a miscarriage’. The story goes that the police, whilst searching their home for another undisclosed reason, came across the used packaging for the abortion drugs RU486 (Mifepristone) – commonly called the ‘Abortion Pill’, and Misoprostol. Due to meddling by religious conservatives in parliament, RU486 is not easy to obtain in Australia, even though it is widely available in other countries, including our neighbour New Zealand and most European nations.

Here are some newspaper links that tell the story in depth:

One can infer from the above that the Queensland police did not find what they were really looking for during the search, and just so that would not leave empty handed, they came up with another petty reason to charge the couple. Apparently, this is the first prosecution for this offence in 50 years! If convicted, the woman may face up to 7 years prison and her partner may face up to 3 years.

What beefs me even more is that if the couple had gone to a public hospital or private clinic for a surgical abortion, that would have been perfectly legal, but because they took the drugs of their own initiative – obviously because it was faster, cheaper and less traumatic than surgery – they now face prosection.

In my opinion, there is no greatly cruelty than to give birth to an unwanted child who does not have parents with the will or means to look after them.  This young couple had mutually agreed to abort their pregnancy and they knew they were not ready. Furthermore, they had the support of both their parents.

In what way does society gain from prosecuting this young couple?

Government Launches $2M Program To Promote Science In Schools

August 30, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Australian News, Science 

The federal government will spend $2 million attempting to turn Australia’s high school students into science nerds.

This is the opening paragraph of ninemsn’s article on the Australian Government’s new $2 million initiative to improve the participation of year 9 and 10 high school students in science, named STELR – The Science and Technology Education Leveraging Relevance program.

Although the journalist was probably attempting to be funny, his or her choice of phrase to “turn high school students into science nerds” perfectly sums up the anti-intellectual attitudes towards scientific pursuits in Australian society, and exposes the heart of the problem: image conscious high school students who want to be cool do not want to be labelled as “science nerds”, hence choose not to study science in years 11 and 12, and do not pursue scientific careers.

I praise the Government’s initiative as a very positive step. $2 million is far too little, but any step forward is a good one. I also praise the decision to target the year 9 and 10 age group as this age group is still young enough to be impressionable, are very conscience about their self image, yet are starting to consider their future after high school. If this program succeeds, it will allow sufficient time for these students to choose science electives for years 11 and 12.

I wish to suggest some further ways to enhance this initiative:

  • Extra pay for teachers who hold masters degrees and doctorates

When I was in high school, some science teachers had science degrees, but many didn’t.  Even those who did made few efforts to update their knowledge. I can’t blame them completely – there was no incentive or recognition for those teachers who went beyond the bare minimum required to do their job.

  • Advertising and promotional material featuring handsome/beautiful scientists

Yes, they exist and I have met them. In fact, a female scientist I know who works in the pharmaceuticals industry has graced the covers of a woman’s fashion magazine.

The old and tired stereotypical nerd with horn-rimmed glasses and a speech impediment promoted on TV and in movies must be destroyed once and for all.

  • The right slogan

Science must be promoted as an empowering field that gives a person understanding and control over the world – to save the world, or to make it better.

What are your thoughts?

ASIC To Replace ASX As Supervisor of Australian Financial Markets

Someone asked me what I thought about the government’s decision to give our official corporate regulator, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC), responsibility for supervising real-time trading on Australian markets, as announced by Treasurer Wayne Swan.

That means that ASIC would be responsible for investigating and uncovering insider trading, market manipulation and other fraudulent practices that occur on financial markets.

This responsibility was previously assigned to the market operator, the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX). Since the ASX demutualised and became a publicly listed company in 1998, it has been argued that there is now a conflict of interest between its duty to supervise the markets and its duty to maximise profits for its shareholders. That was the government’s reasoning for ordering the transfer of powers.

My answer is that I agree that there is a conflict of interest, but I do not believe ASIC is competent enough to carry out its new duty. ASIC is under resourced, inefficient and has a culture of apathy and incompetence. In addition, they lack the ASX’s technological know-how. The government did not mention how much extra funding they were going to allocate, if any.

I want to hear more about plans for extra funding and a cultural purge before I would have any degree of confidence in the new arrangements.

Emissions Trading Scheme Set To Increase Food And Grocery Prices By 7%

August 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Australian News, Australian Politics 

The Food and Grocery Council, together with large Australian retailers have warned that the proposed Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) will result in more expensive food and groceries, with food price increasing at the checkout by up to 7%.

What this means to you is that if this mangled, complicated and utterly useless ETS legislation is passed, food prices WILL increase by 7%, as farmers, wholesalers and retailers will have a solid excuse to justify their profiteering.

Such price increases occurred when the 10% GST was introduced in the year 2000, and you may remember when a cyclone hit a banana-producing region of Queensland, ALL banana prices went up by up to ten times – 1000% for almost a year, even though other banana producing regions were unaffected and we could have easily allowed cheap imports from New Zealand.

I am conservative when it comes to my belief in human nature. Most people will pretend to believe in something whilst they believe it is socially beneficial [cool] or financially beneficial to do so. People are happy to make token gestures like sticking a ‘go green’  bumper sticker to their car or have a fun day out at a protest rally with friends, but when it comes to pulling money out of one’s wallet, people show their true selves. We are seeing increased voices in the media questioning the basis of evidence for catastrophic predictions of climate doom.

The proposed ETS legislation, that has been the subject or negotiation (horse-trading) between the major political parties and independents is complicated and full of exception clauses for all industries with powerful political lobbies.

Its phasing in has been drawn out over a number of years to try and stem public outrage. I question whether this legislation will result in a single molecule of CO2 from being generated. If there are any savings, the CO2 emission growth of our crucial trading partner China will cover them within a week.

If talks over this legislation collapse and resulting an election. I know who’ll be getting my vote – the party that promises to rip up this worthless piece of paper.

Oh yes – the disclaimer – I will take a complete U-turn on my position once I see:

  • Falsifiable scientific evidence proving that human CO2 emissions have a significant and detrimental impact on climate – i.e. an experiment that makes a clear prediction that can be tested.
  • Evidence that any plan to mitigate this will be effective and based on sound science.

Acquittal of Female Stripper for Male Rape Demonstrates Discrimination Against Men

August 9, 2009 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Australian Law Reform, Australian News 

Last week, female stripper Linda Naggs was acquitted of raping a man by shoving a sex toy into his anus, during a performance at a buck’s night. This article is not about whether that particular act should be considered rape, but the double standard applied by the law to the accused, depending on whether they are a man or a woman.

I am 100% certain that if Ms Naggs were male, and the participant were female, Ms Naggs would now be in the slammer getting ready to be the participant in another inmate’s act.

Most members of the public who commented on this case (see the article linked above) have also expressed outrage at the verdict. This article analyses the case and discusses other instances of sex discrimination in law.

Read more

Kyle Sandilands Should Not Be Sacked Just For His Comments

August 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Australian News, Music 

By now, everyone has heard about Kyle and Jackie-O’s segment on 104.1 2-Day FM where a 14-year old girl was hooked up to a lie detector and admitted that her first sexual experience was when she was raped as a 12 year-old. She had been brought to the studio by her mother, who would have received free tickets to Pink’s Australian concert.

Quite rightly, there has been a huge uproar amongst the Australian public, over the treatment of the young girl, the decision of the mother to bring her along, the nature of the contest and the comments made by Kyle Sandilands in response to the young girl’s admission.

The above hyperlink links to a newspaper article containing a transcript of that portion of the segment, including the response from Kyle and Jackie-O.

In my opinion, blame should be apportioned in the above order, starting with the mother. What sort of mother would sell out her own daughter in exchange for concert tickets?

Disciplinary action may be appropriate against those who approved the airing of this segment. The management of the station should have imposed clear guidelines on the sort of topics and people who who are allowed to be on this show. I would suggest that for sexual topics, contestants must be over 18, and all parties must consent.

There have been many calls for Kyle Sandliands to be sacked. I do not agree.

He and Jackie were caught by surprise by the young girl’s statment and did not know what to say. Kyle nervously made the comment “Right. (Pause.) And is that the only experience you’ve had? “

I do think that Kyle is untalented (or rather, his sole talent is speaking in a crude and offensive way), and ask why he is in the position he is in, but that is another matter.

Take Advantage of the Small Business Investment Allowance

The current Financial Year 2008-2009 ends at midnight next Tuesday 30th June, so now is a good time to take advantage of any tax benefits that you are entitled to.

As part of the Australian Labor Government’s measures to try and stimulate the economy, the Small Business and General Business tax break legislation went into effect on the 22nd of May 2009.

The allowance in a nutshell is this:

if you run a small business with a turnover of less than $2 million and buy an eligibile depreciating asset costing over $1000, you can make an additional one-off 50% tax deduction. This is in addition to the all the normal tax deductions on assets used to earn an income.

If your business is bigger, you still get an additional deduction, but it’s only 30%.

Full details can be found here on the Australian Taxation Office’s website:

The website smartcompany.com.au has a well-written explanation in their article “New details on the 50% small business tax deduction“.

Some examples of tangible depreciating assets include new computers, peripherals, furniture, vehicles and tools. Computer Software does not count as it is not considered tangible and does not depreciate.

Should We Help Egypt Go Nuclear?

The biggest Australian engineering firm Worley Parsons, an ASX-listed company, has just won a $160 million contract to help build Nuclear Power Plants for the Arab Republic of Egypt.

According to a Bloomberg article, the contract will provide “engineering and advisory services” including  “training Egyptian nuclear engineers, advising on which technology to use and best construction locations”.

I have very strong reservations about this deal.  Egypt is an Arab-Muslim country. At the moment, the current Egyptian Government is somewhat friendly to the West and uses overwhelming force to prevent its home-grown Islamic fanatics taking control, but this could change overnight.

There are many different designs for electricity-producing nuclear reactors, some of which are designed to avoid producing weapons-grade nuclear fuels as by-products. A the moment, I have no idea what sort of design Worley Parsons plans to recommend to the Egyptians.

My fear is that the reactors could be converted to allow production of weapons grade nuclear fuels, or that Egypt will learn enough to be able to build new reactors specialised for this purpose. The last thing we need is another Islamic regime with nukes.

Ponzi Schemes and Carbon Reduction Schemes

December 26, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Australian News, International News 

There is a Russian proverb – ‘when you live beside the graveyard, you can’t cry for every funeral’.

Recently in the news, there has been nothing new, just repetitions of the same themes over and over – economic bailouts, corporate fraud and distraction politics. As a result, I have become desensitised and no longer feel any shock.

I will comment on two piece of related news: Bernie Madoff’s $50bn Ponzi Scheme and Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. How are they connected? They are both scams.

Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi Scheme

For many years, New York investment manager Bernie Madoff  operated a hedge fund that consistently returned 12% per annum to investors for many years.

Early this month, it all fell apart when investors wanted out. The fund turned out to be a Ponzi Scheme that merely used new investors capital to pay distributions to previous investors.

This has been described as the “world’s biggest corporate fraud by a single individual”, resulting in estimated losses of $50 billion US dollars. I personally doubt that he acted alone.

Incredibly, the alarm bells were raised as far back as 9 years ago when an analyst named Harry Markopolous sent a report to the SEC titled “The World’s Largest Hedge Fund is a Fraid”. It is not clear if the SEC took any action on this.

How did he get away with it? I’m not sure, but he did have many friends in high places – after all, he was a former chairman of NASDAQ.

Regulators generally don’t care about small investors, but now that some  rich and prominent people got hurt, perhaps the SEC will start taking corporate transparency seriously.

Kevin Rudd’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd set a token 5% Carbon Dioxide reduction target for the year 2020. Expectations were as originally as high as 15% and some were demanding a reduction of 25%.

Clearly, he wanted to maintain his popularity by doing something to appease the Climate Change believers,  but not dare risk anything to further exacerbate our economic problems.

So what was has been achieved by this? Apart from the fact that Global Warming Alarmism is bullsh**, China’s own CO2 emission growth will of course outstrip our savings within several months. Even if we ignored China, the flawed computer models (that others believe in) indicate that a much much larger cut would be needed to reverse a warming tread.

Do Australian University Students Struggle?

December 13, 2008 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Australian News 

In the recent Sydney Morning Herald article article Too Many Uni Students Cry Poor,  economics editor Ross Gittins says “One group I’ve never had much sympathy for is self-pitying university students”.

I respect the old man, but he is really out of touch with the realities facing young people today. Are today’s Australian university students struggling more than students in previous decades? I say yes.

Degrees Are Worth Less Today

Contrary to what Ross Gittins says, having a degree these days does not even guarantee a job, let alone a high salary.

Tertiary qualifications are now the baseline

Decades ago, the Australian workforce had a vastly different composition – Many students left high school before before year 12 and without receiving their Higher School Certificate (HSC). There was a lot of unskilled work and many more people learnt a trade. There were also far fewer women in the workforce. Only a small elite chose to attend university to get a degree, and these people were snapped up by employers.

Today, things are very different. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics report on statistical trends in education for the state of NSW in 2007, 85% of students complete their HSC, and almost 40% of those between 20 and 25 years of age are enroled in post-secondary education. Degrees, Diplomas and TAFE Certificates are now assumed knowledge for a majority of careers.

Teaching Standards Have Fallen

The Government has cut university funding since the late 1980s, whereas during the same period, private sector salaries increased greatly. This has led to talented Australia academics deciding to quit academia.

In their desperation for money, Australian universities have increased their reliance on full fee-paying Interational students, mainly from Asia and the Middle East, who pay lots more than locals for the privilege of an Australian degree.

University course content, assignments and exams have been dumbed down over the years to help ensure that people finish and ‘get out the door’ with minimum delay.

An Oversupply of University Graduates

Due to the large number of people that have degrees and the lowering of teaching standards, graduates face far more scrutiny when seeking employment.

Today’s employers want candidates to have practical experience in a commercial setting, objective proof of competence and demonstrated achievement in their field.

One of the greatest ironies is that due to the shift towards university education, there are now shortages of tradespeople in Australia. Bricklayers and plumbers now earn more money than many degree-qualified professionals.

Living and Educational Expenses Have Increased

Gittins is correct in stating that HECS [university course fees] can be deferred, and are only repayable once a student has an income greater than a predefined threshold (about $41,000 per annum). However, there are many expenses that cannot be deferred.

Textbooks and Course Notes Are More Expensive and Frequently Updated

We live in an age of rapid obsolescence and changes in the legal and political landscape.

New editions of textbooks are released almost every year and these can cost up to $200 per book. Some courses require multiple textbooks. For a full-time university student who studies four courses per semester, this can amount to $2000 per year.

Learning Tools and Equipment

Today’s students need modern learning tools. Although Universities say that they are optional, in practice no student wants to be disadvantaged compared to their peers. Such tools include laptop computers, mobile phones and broadband Internet access.

Amortised over the period of a degree, these tools can cost anywhere between $500 to $2000 per year.

Accomodation in Capital Cities is Expensive

Some students can continue living with their parents. Others can’t – this may be because their university is not close to their home, or they have a partner, or simply want their independence. These people require accomodation.

Most of the large reputable Australian Universities are located in capital cities. Over the last 10 years, the asset price bubble pushed capital city property prices to atmospheric heights.

Relentless immigration coupled with a slowdown in new property development have resulted in rental costs exploding. In the eastern suburbs of Sydney, a 1-bedroom apartment now rents for $500/week.

Previous generations certainly did not have to deal with this.

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