18 November 2010

not a day without a line

From Charles-Alphonse Du Fresnoy's De arte graphica (1668), as translated by John Dryden -
Let no day pass over you without a line ... be ready to put into your Table-book (which you must always carry about you) whatsoever you judge worthy of it; whether it be upon the Earth, or in the Air, or upon the Waters, while the Species of them is yet fresh in your imagination.
Some lines are best left unwritten. The ABC reports that a M√ľnster court has ruled that tattooing a white pony with the Rolling Stones' tongue logo would infringe German animal rights law.

The pony's owner reportedly sought to tattoo the animal's right hind thigh to make it "more uniquely beautiful" and had "pre-tattooed the outline of the tongue, 15 square centimetres in area", presumably before the law intervened.

The court reportedly indicated that "The tattooing of a warm-blooded vertebrate contravenes animal protection laws. This forbids causing an animal pain without reason." The court apparently considered the pony's inability to understand why it was being tattooed (German courts clearly don't hold with claims by the World Futures devotees about telepathic 'oneness' with animals, carrots, rocks and the dead) and reportedly indicated that the owner's desire to "beautify" the pony masked a more commercial purpose: "He wanted to make money from a 'tattoo service for animals'".

I'm reminded of Belgian provocateur (oops, conceptual artist) Wim Delvoye, who has attracted attention for his ArtFarm on the outskirts of Beijing. It features a collection of tattooed pigs. Consumers can reportedly buy live or stuffed tattooed versions of Babe (compliance with the AQIS rules might pose problems if you want to import one of the rather sad-looking piggies for a ramble around your corporate foyer). Delvoye is also selling tattoed pig skins.

Being nasty to animals is passe. Mr Delvoye might try selling some tattooed artists, stuffed, tanned or otherwise. In the postmodern future every conceptual artist can be infamous for 15 minutes

17 November 2010

Knifed?

A student's pointed me to reports about the departure from RMIT University of "Criminologist, deputy dean and associate professor Julian Bondy", an academic who among other things has attracted attention for writings on young people and crime (particularly 'knife crime').

Under the heading 'Top RMIT University criminology professor walks out' the Melbourne Herald Sun breathlessly reports that -
ONE of RMIT's highest-profile professors may be stripped of his doctorate after a colleague caught him plagiarising.

Criminologist, deputy dean and associate professor Julian Bondy yesterday confirmed he had left the university "with some regrets".

He quit last Friday and RMIT has already deleted all references to him from its website.
The Hun goes on to report that -
His doctorate of education is in danger of being revoked on the ground his plagiarism means he may have fraudulently obtained it in 2001.

RMIT dean David Hayward yesterday confirmed the case was being referred to an independent committee to determine if Dr Bondy should be stripped of his doctorate.

Prof Hayward said RMIT was taking this course of action because "the university has strong values and high standards".

"Julian resigned on Friday and has personally explained his reasons to many of his long-time colleagues," he said.

Dr Bondy yesterday claimed the plagiarising involved only a small number of paragraphs that were not appropriately referenced.

"It was certainly not what I would describe as a significant volume, not by a long shot," he told the Herald Sun.
The matter sounds very unpleasant. The newspaper indicates that -
Dr Bondy said he decided to resign because he was in such a senior position that continuing would be untenable.

He said he was not aware of who discovered the plagiarism or who reported it to RMIT, "but I have my suspicions".

The Herald Sun has been told a fellow RMIT academic became suspicious about the thesis Dr Bondy did to get his doctorate of education in 2001.

After researching Dr Bondy's background, the academic allegedly discovered parts of Dr Bondy's thesis had been copied from other material.

RMIT questioned Dr Bondy about the allegations last week.

"It may well not have been a sackable offence," Dr Bondy told the Herald Sun yesterday.

"Let's be clear, poor referencing is not a sackable offence. I was not asked to resign. I decided I couldn't do the job that I was doing with this hanging over my head."

Time to lose the safety blanket

There comes a day when it's time to abandon the safety blanket or the much-loved (and decidedly worse-for-wear) plush animal.

A few weeks ago the Prime Minister justified sui generis - and arguably unnecessary - protection for St Mary MacKillop by characterising it as "further recognition of the significance that Mary MacKillop's life holds, not only for the five million Australians of Catholic faith, but for all Australians".

Today the Governor-General has gummed the national bunny rug, responding to announcement of the engagement of William Windsor and Kate Middleton by stating that the news has "warmed our nation's heart" [PDF]. Oh dear, nothing like going emo over a historical anachronism and constitutional problem, ie the British royals.

Mr Windsor explained that he gave Ms Middleton the engagement ring used by his late mother Princess Diana so that she could be with them in spirit.
It was my way of making sure my mother didn't miss out on today and the excitement of the fact that we are going to spend the rest of our lives together.
Life father, like son.

The Governor-General trilled that the forthcoming wedding was "a unifying time of much joy and celebration". Why stop there?
I am sure that Australians look forward with anticipation and excitement to hearing of your wedding preparations as they unfold.

And, naturally, we will take immense pleasure in welcoming you both on the occasion of your first visit to Australia together some time in the future.

Your Royal Highness, your announcement has warmed our nation's heart.
Some Australians are, of course, indifferent and might be amused by the Prime Minister's pronouncement that 'the couple have the nation's best wishes'.

The Prince is well known for his charity work and for his ongoing service in the British Royal Air Force.

Prince William left a strong impression on many Australians during his visit at the beginning of the year.

"Ms Middleton will no doubt strengthen this remarkable reputation and she has the nation's best wishes and support.
Enough with the superlatives.

15 November 2010

Discovery

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has released a consultation paper for the Inquiry into Discovery of Documents in Federal Courts — Discovery in Federal Courts (ALRC CP 2, 2010).

ALRC President Professor Rosalind Croucher stated
A particular feature of contemporary litigation is the massive exponential growth and storage of documents in the electronic age. Discovery can be an important process in litigation to avoid ‘trial by ambush’, but the vast amount of electronically-stored information which litigants might be required to disclose can lead to ‘trial by avalanche’. The impact of information and communication technologies can also exacerbate the inherent tension between the party requesting discovery—seeking to ascertain facts material to the case; and the party giving discovery—bearing the burden of retrieving, reviewing and disclosing documents in response to discovery requests. The task in this Inquiry is to develop proposals and ultimately, recommendations for reform that balances these tensions fairly and practically.
The 2009 Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Access to Justice Taskforce report indicated that an awareness that high and disproportionate discovery costs may impose a barrier to justice in litigation.
While the truth-seeking purposes of discovery may promote fairness in litigation, the commercial realities of contemporary discovery practice and procedure may threaten the very same fairness and justice sought to be achieved.
The ALRC’s Terms of Reference for the Inquiry encompass broad examination of procedures alternative to traditional discovery, which may facilitate information exchange and fact-finding, including the introduction of pre-action protocols and pre-trial oral examinations, encouraging disclosure of information and documents, narrowing the facts in issue and settlement of disputes.

The consultation paper highlights matters on which the Commission seeks feedback. The ALRC for example proposes reforms "aimed at clarifying the core issues in dispute between the parties, and focusing the scope and conduct of discovery on those issues that really matter", thereby ensuring that the cost and time required for discovery is proportionate to the matters in dispute.

Professor Croucher commented that "The role of judges as case managers is crucial in this regard, and many of the ALRC’s proposed reforms seek to remove obstacles and make changes to enable judicial control over the discovery process". She went on to indicate that -
While these alternative procedures may offer a measure of efficiency and streamlining of the litigation process, the implications for front-loading of costs must also be taken into account. Therefore any reforms proposed in these areas of civil practice and procedure must be flexible to accommodate the size, complexity and nature of the dispute.
The closing date for submissions is 19 January 2011.

Treason, sedition, insecurity and plot

The Commonwealth Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, has announced the passage of the National Security Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 (Cth), characterised as legislation that -
seeks to achieve an appropriate balance between the Government's responsibility to protect Australia, its people and its interests and instilling confidence that our national security and counter-terrorism laws will be exercised in a just and accountable way.
The Explanatory Memo is here.

The forthcoming Act reflects recommendations of the July 2006 Review of Sedition Laws in Australia by the Australian Law Reform Commission, the November 2008 Inquiry by the Hon John Clarke QC into the Case of Dr Mohamed Haneef, the December 2006 Review of Security & Counter-Terrorism Legislation by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence & Security and the same Committee's September 2007 Inquiry into the proscription of 'terrorist organisations' under the Australian Criminal Code.

The Act will primarily amend the Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth), the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth), the Charter of the United Nations Act 1945 (Cth), the National Security Information (Criminal & Civil Proceedings) Act 2004 (Cth) and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1986 (Cth). Schedule 9 features amendments to enable the Prime Minister to request the Inspector-General of Intelligence & Security (IGIS) to inquire into an intelligence or security matter relating to any Commonwealth department or agency. This
reflects the increasing interaction between a range of Commonwealth departments and agencies and the Australian Intelligence Community on intelligence and security matters. To fully consider an intelligence or security matter, it may sometimes be necessary for the IGIS to consider the role played by a non-AIC departmentor agency in relation to that matter.
Mr McClelland indicated that the legislation "has been the subject of extensive public consultation and contains significant amendments" including -
* expanding the 'urging violence' offence so that it applies to individuals as well as groups who incite violence on the basis of race, religion, nationality, national or ethnic origin or political opinion

* amending the National Security Information (Criminal & Civil Proceedings) Act 2004 (Cth) so that national security and counter-terrorism court proceedings may be expedited

* establishing a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement to extend parliamentary oversight to both the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission

* extending the role of the Inspector-General of Intelligence & Security (IGIS) to inquire into an intelligence or security matter relating to any Commonwealth Department or agency

* extending the expiration period of regulations proscribing a terrorist organisation from two to three years

* new powers for police to enter a premises without a warrant in emergency circumstances relating to a terrorism offence where there is material that may pose a risk to the health or safety of the public

* extending the time available for police to re-enter a premises under a search warrant from one hour to 12 hours in emergency circumstances

* establishing a maximum seven day limit on the detention period that may be disregarded when a person has been arrested for a terrorism offence

* including a specific right of appeal for both the prosecution and the defendant against a bail decision relating to terrorism and serious national security offences.
Using the standard rhetoric, the Attorney-General states that -
These measures are designed to give the Australian community confidence that our law enforcement and security agencies have the tools they need to fight terrorism, while ensuring the laws and powers are balanced by appropriate safeguards and are accountable in their operation. ...

The passage of this legislation is significant as an effective legal framework relating to national security and counter-terrorism is fundamental to our ability to address Australia's security environment.
From an identity perspective the Bill is of interest regarding the 'treason' changes. The Explanatory Memo indicates that -
Requiring an allegiance element

The traditional underpinning of the concept of treason is a breach of a person's obligation to the Crown and loyalty to Australia. Currently, the treason offences under paragraphs 80.1(1)(e) and (f) of the Criminal Code can be committed by anyone acting anywhere in the world. The 2006 PJCIS Report noted that these offences apply to people who have no allegiance and do not benefit from the protection of the Australian State.

The proposed new paragraphs 80.1AA(1)(f) and (4)(e) of the Criminal Code provide for an allegiance or duty requirement within the treason offence. In order for a person to commit the offences in proposed new section 80.1AA of the Criminal Code, the person must be a citizen of Australia or a resident of Australia, or must have voluntarily placed himself or herself under the protection of the Commonwealth, or must be a body corporate incorporated under a law of a State or Territory or the Commonwealth.

Proposed subsections 80.1AA(3) and 80.1AA(5) will make it clear that the fault element for paragraphs 80.1AA(1)(f) and 80.1AA(4)(e) of the Criminal Code is 'intention', as defined in subsection 5.2(2). In order to make out the offence, it would therefore be necessary to prove that, at the time of committing the offence, the person intended to, rather than simply being reckless as to the fact: be an Australian citizen or resident; voluntarily place himself or herself under the protection of the Commonwealth; or to be a body corporate incorporated under a law of a State or Territory or the Commonwealth.

Clarifying providing assistance to the enemy

Both the PJCIS and ALRC noted it was possible that the term 'assist' in the treason offence could be given a broad interpretation and that this was not appropriate, given the seriousness of the offence. This item will qualify the treason offences at proposed new paragraphs 80.1AA(1)(d) and (e) and 80.1AA(4)(c) and (d) of the Criminal Code, to the effect that the offences will only apply when a person provides material assistance to the enemy. This will clarify that the conduct standard in the proposed new offences in section 80.1AA of the Criminal Code must be conduct that will materially assist the enemy. It reflects the intended operation of the offence by making it clear that, in order to commit the offence, a person must provide assistance to the enemy that is real or concrete.

Commissioner for Kids

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has released an 11 page discussion paper [PDF] regarding establishment of an Australian Children's Commissioner.

The paper argues that -
Many children in Australia are able to fully enjoy their human rights. However, the rights of some children are vulnerable.

An independent national Children’s Commissioner with the power and mandate to listen to, understand and advocate for children could play an important role in promoting and protecting the rights of all children in Australia, particularly of those who are most at-risk.

In particular, a national Children’s Commissioner could operate as a national advocate for children’s rights; ensure that government decision making processes and outcomes are consistent with the best interests of children; develop mechanisms to secure the participation of children in decisions that affect them; and provide a coordinated national approach to children’s rights.

Human rights provide a clear framework for promoting, and for ensuring accountability in respect of, child wellbeing. By establishing the office of a national Children’s Commissioner, the Australian Government would take an important step towards meeting its international obligations to protect and promote the rights of children in Australia.
The discussion reflects the 20th anniversary of Australia’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CROC) and the April 2010 announcement by the Australian Government of the Australian Human Rights Framework, which features a re-affirmation of the national commitment to human rights obligations under seven core United Nations human rights treaties, including the CROC.

The paper explores "the potential contribution that a national Children’s Commissioner could make", considering -
+ What are children’s rights and where do we find them?

+ What are the most pressing human rights issues facing children in Australia?

+ Why does Australia need a national Children’s Commissioner?

+ What could a national Children’s Commissioner do?

+ What are the essential features of a national Children’s Commissioner?

+ Are there Children’s Commissioners in other places?
The paper notes that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has raised two concerns as part of its concluding observations on Australia’s efforts to protect the rights of children. First, the Committee has expressed concern that there is no national commissioner with a specific mandate for monitoring children’s rights. Second, while acknowledging the valuable work of the Australian Human Rights Commission in the area of children’s rights, the Committee has noted that there is no unit devoted to children’s rights at the Commission.

The AHRC unsurprisingly concludes that -
By establishing the office of a national Children’s Commissioner, the Australian Government would take an important step towards meeting its international obligations to protect and promote the rights of children in Australia.
We might not, of course, choose to be driven by particularist international obligations and instead choose to protect/represent children using the existing AHRC structure. We might more broadly contemplate protection for other groups outside specific international agreements. Given ongoing homophobia why not a Commissioner for LGBTIQ people. A Commissioner for the Aged, a group who are often 'out of sight, out of mind' and who suffer from violence, neglect and other outrages? Presumably there will be calls for a Commissioner for Rural Australia, as parties jostle for position ahead of a national election (in the first half of next year).

14 November 2010

electoral roll profiling

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)has released a brief report on its Electoral Roll Matching Project. That 18 page report [PDF] can be read as a public health tool or as posing some disquieting questions about privacy, identity and surveillance.

The AIHW indicates that -
High quality health information systems are essential for the provision of high quality population health services. The Computer Assisted Telephone Interview (CATI) health survey is an example of a practical and efficient method to collect health information. To conduct effective CATI surveys it is necessary to have access to representative population samples; typically, this means access to all potential active household telephone numbers. The aim of this electoral roll matching project is to test an alternative sampling frame—the electoral roll—as a starting point for accessing telephone numbers.

The Australian Research Centre for Population Oral Health (ARCPOH), a collaborating unit of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), requested the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) to extract a sample from the electoral roll. These data were matched to the Sensis MacroMatch database to append a residential telephone number. The most complete matches were used as the sampling frame for the 2008 National Dental Telephone Interview Survey (NDTIS) conducted by ARCPOH. AIHW analysed these data using the following dimensions:
• sex
• do not call register (DNCR) status
• main phone line type (fixed line or mobile) listed for the record
• region of residence (metro or non-metro).
The report contains analysis of the match outcome and survey response outcome. What sample are we talking about in considering those outcomes? The AEC extracted 64,855 records) from the electoral roll at the request of ARCPOH. 496 duplicate records were removed from the AEC dataset based on matching surname, street address, suburb, postcode and state. This resulted in 64,359 AEC records being sent to Sensis for matching against the MacroMatch database. As a result some 1000 records containing data errors and 30,000 non-matched records were removed from the original sample.

The authors claim that -
* On average, just over half of the records (51.8%) were adequately matched between the electoral roll records and the Sensis MacroMatch database.

* Matching rates were not consistent across all states and territories; for example, the Northern Territory had the lowest match rate for males (33.7%) and Tasmania had the highest match rate for males (59.5%).

* There were no substantial differences in match proportions between males and females nationally or among states and territories.

* Higher proportions of females completed the survey than males.

* Survey completions were influenced by the do not call register (DNCR) status: people who registered were more likely to complete a survey than people who were not registered.

* People living in the non-metropolitan areas completed the survey at a greater rate than their metropolitan counterparts.
They go on to suggest that -
The results in this report suggest that it is feasible to access telephone listings for surveys by using the Australian electoral roll databases as a starting point. This report enables states and territories to determine their status on match and response outcomes, which may be useful for planning future survey programs.
A salient concern is the demonstration of the effectiveness of matching, a matching that might be undertaken by private sector organisations or that might be abused by government. That matching is, of course, already taking place.

Another salient concern is the absence of a reference in the report to privacy concerns: those concerns appear to be a non-issue.

HRH presents

The NY Times today features an item on the 1860 visit to the US by Prince Albert Edward (later Edward VII) -
On the return crossing, headwinds and heavy seas left the royal entourage wallowing in the mid-Atlantic troughs. The dignitaries passed the time as best they could; Viscount Hinchingbrooke later fondly recalled dancing in the evenings “with the midshipmen for partners.” On Nov. 9, the prince turned 19, an occasion marked with double rations of grog and a festive dinner – but dampened, literally, when a large wave drenched the birthday boy in ice-cold seawater.

Among the souvenirs that Bertie was bringing home from the New World were two gray squirrels and a mud turtle, gifts for his animal-loving mother. All of them survived the journey safe and sound – like the prince himself, who would live to succeed Victoria more than 40 years later
I wonder what happened to the squirrels ... and more broadly wonder about the history of exotic animals given to/by royalty.