Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Elf 'n' safety shuts hill to Wimbledon tennis spectators: Fans might slip on the grass, warn officials

Thousands of Andy Murray fans had sat patiently under their brollies, sipped hot tea from flasks, and unfurled their Union Flags in anticipation. But on a rain-hit Day One at Wimbledon, they were robbed of the chance to see him on the big screen – for ‘health and safety’ reasons.

The grassy slopes of Henman Hill - now renamed Murray Mount - were empty after the screen was blanked out and the area was closed in case anyone slipped and hurt their ankles.

After losing a set to little-known Spaniard Daniel Gimeno-Traver, to the consternation of his mother Judy and girlfriend Kim, the Scot recovered to win by three sets to one beneath the Centre Court roof, in use for the first time.

Furious tennis lovers deprived of the chance to cheer him on from Murray Mount said they would have been happy to take their chances with the slippery conditions and accused tournament organisers of bowing to the modern culture of inflating potential risks beyond likely reality. Others showed how it was possible to slide down the hill, even head-first, without injury.

This is the first time in the tournament history the screen has been deliberately blanked out since it was installed. Countless throngs have enjoyed second-best views from this spot, which can accommodate up to 4,000. When the roof is open, you can easily hear the roar of the Centre Court crowd while watching the action on screen.

Among the disappointed fans was Katie O’Brien, the British hopeful who was knocked out yesterday after losing her first-round match and took her family to the hill to ‘drown my sorrows with a Pimm’s’, as she phrased it on Twitter.

Shortly afterwards, the screen went blank.

Wimbledon spokesman Johnny Perkins said: ‘This is the first time we have had to shut off the big screen as this is the first time the roof has been used in these conditions. Previous to the roof, of course there would have been no play to watch on Centre anyway if it was rained off.

‘The hill has been closed because of the slippery nature of the grass while it is so wet. It is a health and safety issue. We just can’t have people slipping and sliding and falling off the thing and breaking their ankles.

‘It’s different on the courts if there is a drizzle as they can sit on seats. We could have large numbers of people slipping and sliding all over the place.’

'Even if the rain stops we won't turn the big screen back on - that's it I'm afraid. It's regrettable but wise in view of the circumstances. We always anticipated that we would have to turn off the match for those on the hill if it rained.'


Citizens Not Politicians Make America Great

What makes America great? It’s not our politicians; it’s our people. A government can only be as good as the people it governs. America has always been blessed by people who have balanced a commitment to personal responsibility with a shared commitment to the commons.
It’s all too tempting to focus on the devastation of the recent series of tornadoes that ripped apart cities from Joplin, Missouri to New England. But the true story is not the devastation of the tornadoes themselves; it’s the story after story of fellow citizens and neighbors who immediately came to help and have continued to respond with prayer, encouragement, support and contributions.

Even in a crowded metropolitan area like Los Angeles, if the local news covers a story about a family in need, the response is heart-warming, overwhelming, and immediate. In America, you are not alone. Americans care, and they put that caring into action.

The depression of our age has been termed “Learned Helplessness”—the belief that nothing we do can make any difference in what happens to us. In the past, newspapers would primarily focus on local problems and people responding. We were a powerful people because we could see evidence daily of our ability to make a difference.

Now, any disaster in the world is brought to us in two minutes, and we watch transfixed, sure that nothing that we can do from our living room will make any real difference. We send funds, but too many remain observers of things we can’t control. Instead of getting involved locally, it’s too easy to “awfulize” about disasters that we believe only “government” is big enough to fix.

In reading my father’s memoirs, the reality of the Great Depression was brought to life. He wrote of two other distressed families living in the family homestead. He talked of being hired out to a neighboring farm for room and board and $4/month that was used to help pay his dad’s mortgage. The only Christmas my father remembered was the one his dad told the kids, “There will be no presents this Christmas. A poor family that’s come to town needs the money more.”

It’s the same today. After providing a brief keynote for the Greater Conejo Valley Community Foundation’s Ninth Annual Spirit of Community Awards that honored teachers, policemen, sheriffs, firemen, military service men and women, volunteers and area non-profits, all in attendance were reminded of the impact community service can have on those who are served and those who serve. The applause and the shared tears spoke volumes about the importance of community.

As columnists, it’s far too easy to focus exclusively on the big national problems and to criticize politicians, but we should never forget to balance such efforts with attempts to honor the heroes who make us better and challenge us to do our part. So today, let me join others in honoring Dr. Frank Dawson who has helped thousands of patients since the inception of the Conejo Free Clinic in 1976, the Hospice of the Conejo who has consistently helped people face death and helped the living get beyond their grief to live again, and teachers of the year Cynthia Gyure and Catherine Prater who, with other teachers, work tirelessly to bring education to life in the hearts and minds of their students. They are all inspiring!

These challenging times may be tough on many Americans, but I am optimistic that Americans will continue to take care of those in need. For Americans believe in collaborative community problem solving. In school, that may be called cheating, but, in America, it’s called neighbor helping neighbor.

Instead of “awfulizing” this week, get involved helping in your community. Ronald Reagan said it best in one his oval office addresses: “I’m not taking your time this evening to ask you to trust me. Instead, I ask you to trust yourself. That is what America is all about… It’s the power of millions of people like you who will determine what will make America great again.” May it always be so.


Huge bureaucratic process finally gives kids the right to work after school in Australia

EMPLOYERS have claimed victory in their long-running quest to inject more flexibility into the Gillard government's workplace laws after Fair Work Australia overturned contentious employment restrictions and ruled that students could be employed after school for as little as 90 minutes.

After a 16-month battle over an issue that business claimed was emblematic of the restrictive work practices promoted by Labor's Fair Work Act, the nation's workplace tribunal eased the three-hour minimum shift requirement imposed on students wanting to work in after-school retail jobs.

Business groups said the decision would give employers operating in the current tough retail environment more flexibility to hire young workers, while handing students increased employment opportunities and valuable work experience.

Unions warned that the decision would encourage employers to cut back the afternoon shifts of adult workers and replace them with "kids working for $7 an hour". ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said cutting the shifts of adult workers could "tip them over the edge".

After three rounds of arbitration, tribunal vice-president Graeme Watson yesterday granted an application to reduce the minimum engagement period for secondary school students working in the retail sector from three hours to 1 1/2 hours, subject to certain conditions.

The minimum shift restrictions came to attention in February last year after The Australian revealed that six youths had lost their after-school jobs at a Victorian hardware store because their new award stipulated they had to be employed for a minimum of three hours a day, compared with the previous state award that had a two-hour minimum.

Then prime minister Kevin Rudd at first promised to address the situation, but Labor subsequently expressed satisfaction with an initial FWA decision upholding the three-hour minimum.

As workplace relations minister, Julia Gillard consistently defended the previous minimum shift requirements, arguing that they were not unreasonable.

Charlie Duynhoven, who employed the six teenagers at the Terang and District Co-operative, 210km southwest of Melbourne, said the ruling was "great news". "Common sense has prevailed," he said. "It gives us a chance to employ these students again and train them up, to give them experience in customer service, in how to handle money and product knowledge. The students will be rapt to hear this."

Leticia Harrison, who, along with fellow sacked youth Matthew Spencer, campaigned for the shift requirements to be eased, said the decision was a "really good thing". She said she had fought for the changes so other people would get more opportunities to have after-school work.

Under the conditions set out in the tribunal's draft determination, the 90-minute engagement will apply only provided the employee is a full-time student; that the hours worked are between 3pm and 6.30pm on a school day; and the employee and their parent or guardian agrees on the shorter period. The shorter period is also allowed only if employment for a longer period is not possible because of the operational requirements of the employer or the unavailability of the student.

Gary Black, executive director of the National Retail Association, which brought the application, said the ruling was "a victory for flexibility and common sense in the workplace relations regime".

Peter Anderson, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the decision would help retailers "struggling right now from a two-speed economy, subdued consumer spending and a restrictive regulatory environment".

"It's unfortunate such a sensible step took three rounds of national arbitration to achieve," he said. "That fact alone highlights restrictions imposed by Australia's workplace relations system, and award rules which are yet to become truly modern. Industrial tribunals must continue to actively review award conditions, many of which still reflect a time when the Australian economy was based around Monday to Friday, nine to five-style working arrangements. "That situation is a far cry from the current reality, with customer demands requiring a much more diverse and flexible array of business arrangements."

Mr Lawrence said unions were concerned the decision would encourage employers to replace adult workers "with kids working for $7 per hour". "Unions will work to ensure this decision does not impact on the jobs or incomes of adult workers in this industry," he said.

"These workers are already facing cost-of-living pressures and losing an hour or two off the end of their shifts could tip them over the edge. Unions are also concerned that this decision could mean children have to work for 90 minutes just to earn $11 - a wage that would barely cover the costs associated with getting to work. "In the end, market forces will probably mean that very few employers get away with offering short shifts."

A spokesman for Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans said the ruling reflected "careful consideration by the independent umpire, taking into account the need to promote youth employment and social inclusion".

Opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz applauded the decision, but said it was "cold comfort for the hundreds of after-school student workers who have lost their jobs in the 12 months it's taken to address the situation".


Misguided legislation puts the big chill into freedom of speech in Australia

By James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland

LAST night nearly 600 people in Melbourne paid to attend an evening in support of free speech. The audience and speakers were also there to support columnist Andrew Bolt who has been taken to court for an opinion he voiced in the Herald Sun. The legislation that allows that sort of speech-stifling action is terrible legislation in my view, and so I was happy to be one of five invited speakers.

The gist of my remarks were that the fight for free speech and the liberty to speak up on public issues - issues not excluding who we want to receive affirmative action or group rights-type benefits that attach only to a special few in society - is a fight that will never go away. As former US president Andrew Jackson put it, "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty".

And those who attended were not just supporting Bolt but freedom of speech and of liberty more generally. Because let me blunt. In my view this Racial Discrimination Act, the part amended by the Racial Vilification Act that gives us section 18C and in some circumstances makes hurting someone else's feelings, is awful.

Think about it. Someone's subjective sense of being offended or humiliated has been made determinative of whether an unlawful act has been committed, subject to a few exemptions in section 18D.

That's a terrible statutory provision. It ought to be repealed. Now. Yes, a judge may, perhaps, find the exemptions apply. Yes, there is some wiggle room. But even forcing someone to have to litigate constitutes a massive chilling effect on free speech. Let's face it. Not everyone has Bolt's cojones (and I know that may not have been the most felicitous way of putting the point). And not everyone has the resources of a big employer to back this sort of egregious litigation. These provisions create a sort of half-baked right not to be offended, a big mistake in my view.

So the fault lies with the legislature for passing these statutory provisions, not with the judges who have to interpret them. This is politically correct, pandering, group rights-inspired legislation.

The only sort of free speech that matters is the sort that offends some people somewhere. In a situation where all is agreement and harmony and people sitting in circles, holding hands, and singing Kumbaya, the concept of liberty and free speech does nothing. You will never have to fight for it meaning a freedom only to act or speak within the bounds of agreed opinion, good taste and proper decorum just isn't valuable. It doesn't carry with it any obvious good consequences.

The threat to our freedom of speech in the West today does not come from some Soviet-style secret police. No, it comes from turf-protecting bureaucrats who find themselves all of a sudden in the human rights game; it comes from people who want to create a right not to be offended.

Or at least not to be offended about the things that matter to them, because almost all the sorts of people who like the legislation being deployed against Bolt would be horrified to think that those in the US who are offended by the burning of the American flag ought to be able to prosecute the burners for their offended sensibilities. So what they really want is a right not to be offended, as long as it's the sort of things a good chardonnay-sipping member of the progressive elite ought to be offended about, nothing else.

But plain and simple that's a mistake. The only kind of free speech worth anything is the kind that leads to speech that offends people. And I say that knowing full well that none of us can be absolutists and there will always have to be some limits on speech, against counselling murder, say, or detailing how to make biological weapons.

But we ought to want as much scope as possible for people in a democracy to speak their minds. And precluding people from having and expressing an opinion on the problems with self-identifying as an indigenous person, or on who ought to be able to benefit from positive discrimination laws, well that's ridiculously inhibiting of free speech in my view.

I think that in any well-functioning democracy it is incumbent on all citizens to grow a thick skin. If you're offended, tell us why the speaker is wrong. Tell us why he or she is misguided or has defective moral antennae. Don't go to court and seek a court-ordered apology, or orders prohibiting publication of views you find offensive, or some two-bit judicial declaration.

And as a legislator under no circumstances pass statutes that allow for the creation of this mutant, half-baked right not to be offended. The very fact that people can be dragged through the courts - whatever the ultimate outcome - has a massive chilling effect on free speech. I know it. You know it. And our legislators ought to know it too, and do something about repealing this terrible piece of legislation.

At the end of the day those of us who want a considerable amount of scope for people to speak their minds are the optimists. We're the ones who are in the tradition of John Stuart Mill.

Recall the main ground that Mill gave for preferring very few limits indeed on what people can say. It was a consequentialist ground or justification. Leave people almost always free to speak as they like and in the ensuing battle of ideas truth will out, or in less hopeful terms, it is more likely to emerge than if people are silenced and issues are resolved by self-styled human rights experts or government appointees.

So for the benefit of getting at truth and true assertions we override hurt feelings, we ignore offended sensibilities, we discount the possibility of outright lies being spread, and we choose not to have our legislation accord with the world view of grievance industry mongers. Short of obvious, concrete, unavoidable harm to others, we let speech alone.

And underlying that rationale for lots of scope to speak our minds is a clear optimism about truth emerging in the tussle of ideas and ultimately an optimism about the views of the ordinary voter in a democracy.

In my opinion too many of the people who push these speech-limiting laws have simply lost faith in the views and beliefs of their fellow citizens. They have even lost a bit of faith in democracy itself.

Theirs is not the optimistic position. Ours is. We are the citizens of one of the world's oldest and greatest democracies; we are not a collection of victims too offended to muster up the resources to reply on our own behalf when we disagree with others.

It is a badge of honour to live in a society that protects differences of opinion, including ones with which we vehemently disagree. Which was why I was so delighted to have been asked to speak last night in Melbourne.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here or Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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