Sunday, August 13, 2006

Security pact to deepen Japan ties

The Howard Government proposes to deepen Australia-Japan relations with a bilateral security agreement for new military and security co-operation between the former World War II enemies. The proposal was advanced by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer during his recent talks inTokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and the likely next prime minister, Shinzo Abe. In an interview with The Weekend Australian this week, Mr Downer said Australia-Japan security ties were undergoing "a complete transformation".

Cabinet's National Security Committee has recently approved a submission by Mr Downer on a negotiating framework to advance Australia-Japan bilateral ties. The proposed agreement is not an ANZUS-type treaty but similar to the agreement the Howard Government now seeks with Indonesia. Mr Downer did not rule out joint exercises in Australia with Japanese Self Defence Force troops but drew a distinction with the "aggressive military training" the ADF undertook with the US military. "We talked about a security agreement during my recent visit," Mr Downer said. "This was by far the best trip I have had to Japan as Foreign Minister. We are now seeing a complete change in Japan's attitudes to where they were previously. We believe a security agreement is something to explore."

The upshot is that the agreement is being negotiated by officials from both countries. As part of his campaign for office, Mr Abe, a nationalist supportive of the US alliance and critical of China, has called for Japan to adopt closer strategic ties with Australia and India. Mr Downer was also upbeat about the prospects for a bilateral free trade agreement between Australia and Japan.



Two current articles below

Little improvement at Queensland Health despite increased funding

Queensland public hospitals are continuing to report insufficient staff numbers, staff fatigue and reduced and restricted services, says leaked internal Queensland Health documents. The documents, dated July 21, not only identify current shortages being experienced in public hospitals, but predict these will continue into next year. In response to questions about likely future impact of current employment status and vacancies, hospital administrators have written "lack of physicians is compromising surgery; service unsustainable in current form; insufficient medical officers to support ongoing total services and sustain safe roster; and significant fatigue of core staff". Another question asking whether shortages of medical staff are anticipated in January 2007 finds that little improvement is expected.

At the beginning of the year, Premier Peter Beattie said he would quit his job by the end of the year if the crisis affecting the state's hospitals was not fixed. This pledge was later withdrawn by Mr Beattie, who in March declared his Government had "turned the corner" in its efforts and had "made very significant advances".

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said yesterday the figures, contained in minutes and attachments to Queensland Health's Central Area Medical Workforce Advisory Group, were "in line with what the Government has been saying publicly for months". "We continue to recruit aggressively, but we need more doctors as there are several vacancies that still exist. That is why the Premier and I led two separate overseas recruitment drives this year," Mr Robertson said. "Latest figures show there are 4863 doctors in our public health system - that is an increase of 311 on June 2005. "As our recruitment efforts progress, we continue to target the key medical vacancies that exist in our hospital such as emergency medicine, mental health, obstetrics and surgical specialties."

Deputy Coalition Leader and health spokesman Bruce Flegg said the documents were very significant and "remove any doubts that nothing has changed". "Mr Beattie has not fixed the system and continues to cover up the real position," Dr Flegg said. "There is a threat to services across the board because the Government has failed to reform the culture of Queensland Health. It is far too bureaucratic and there is enormously low morale."


One victim of negligent Queensland Health regulators

Jack McDougall thought he was one of the lucky ones after federal Nationals MP De-Anne Kelly's claimed in Parliament that Mackay Base Hospital had allowed a surgeon to undertake operations he was not fit to perform. Mr McDougall, 45, was in pain for almost a year after about 10mm of mesh was left rubbing against his abdominal muscles.

Abdalla Khalafalla performed a double hernia operation on Mr McDougall on February 15 last year. Despite repeated post-op consultations with Dr Khalafalla, during which he was advised to "wait it out", Mr McDougall opted to pay for a private surgeon. "When they went in to do it they saw about 8 to 10mm of mesh was rubbing . . . so they nipped that, pulled the extra mesh out and I was as good as gold," he said. Mr McDougall said he considered himself lucky because his affliction was relatively minor. "Some of the other cases she (Ms Kelly) talked about sounded a lot more serious. It makes you wonder."

The Courier-Mail tried to contact Dr Khalafalla yesterday, but a Queensland Health spokeswoman said he was still "too upset" to speak publicly about the matter. But Craig Margetts, the district executive director of medical services, said the hospital had responded correctly to concerns raised by Dr Khalafalla's peers. Dr Margetts said the situation in Mackay was far removed from that of Jayant Patel in Bundaberg. "There are a number of differences (to the Patel case), the first and probably most important difference is that Dr Khalafalla himself has been very co-operative and has been working very strongly with us in terms of making sure that his range of practices are limited to very safe procedures," he said.

Dr Margetts said he was not aware of any problems with Dr Khalafalla's competence before he arrived in Mackay. Bundaberg Patients Support Group founder Beryl Crosby yesterday urged patients to come forward with their experiences at Mackay Base Hospital.


A slippery do-gooder

Embattled judge Marcus Einfeld has reneged on a promise to identify who was behind the wheel of his speeding car - and blamed police inaction for the silence. Despite earlier claiming the announcement of the "actual driver" was imminent, Mr Einfeld's legal team yesterday refused to reveal that person's identity. The silence comes after Mr Einfeld gave three different versions as to who was driving the 67-year-old's silver Lexus when it was clocked at 60km/h in a 50km/h zone at Mosman on January 8 this year.

Barrister Winston Terracini SC yesterday said Mr Einfeld's legal team had not been contacted by NSW Police's State Crime Command. He said this prevented the disclosure of the person he had earlier claimed had been driving Mr Einfeld's speeding car. "In light of what Police Minister (Carl) Scully announced yesterday, we will fully co-operate with any inquiry," Mr Terracini told The Saturday Daily Telegraph. "As soon as the police contact us - we feel that it's far better that we release any information to them (rather than the media)."

On Thursday, Mr Terracini said he had been in contact with "a person in the US". "(We) hope to be in a position in the next few days to reveal the details of the actual driver," the senior barrister said. Mr Einfeld flew back into Sydney from a speaking engagement in Adelaide yesterday afternoon and headed directly for a meeting with his legal advisers.

As controversy mounted with the release of the ex-federal court judge's shocking driving record, police who will interview Mr Einfeld about his controversial evidence would not reveal the status of their investigation. State Crime Command operations manager Detective Chief Superintendent Peter Dein refused to answer a series of questions posed by The Saturday Daily Telegraph about the inquiry. "There is a current investigation being conducted by the State Crime Command. We will not be commenting on the investigation at the moment," he said.

It is understood detectives plan to interview Mr Einfeld next week about the controversial evidence he gave to the Downing Centre Local Court on Monday to beat a a $77 speeding fine. Mr Einfeld told the court he had been in Forster on the day of the offence and that he had loaned his car to Professor Teresa Brennan. The Daily Telegraph had learned Florida-based Professor Brennan died in January 2003 - three years before the speeding offence.

Mr Einfeld then claimed he had loaned his car to a second Professor Brennan - with the first name of Terese or Therese - who had died this year, also in a car accident. He later claimed he had given his car to a third person, who he refused to name. Mr Einfeld continued his silence yesterday, with calls to his mobile phone going unanswered. The respected human rights activist was also uncontactable through his city offices. "We haven't seen him all day," a spokeswoman said.


The perils of solecism

How vulnerable you are if you don't understand how English spelling works. Last week, the venerable Justice Peter McClellan of the NSW Supreme Court was caught by the poor spelling of another. He was quoted in another daily newspaper: "The most troubling aspect of memory - be it a child's memory or an adult's - may be its venerability to suggestion."

I am sure he said no such thing. Venerability is another word for venerable, "commanding respect in virtue of years and high personal qualities" (Oxford English Dictionary). Our language has enjoyed this word unchanged since 1480. It comes from the Latin venerare, to reverence, worship. In light of extensive research and experience, the word hardly applies to memory.

Much more likely, McClellan said vulnerable, from the Latin, vulnus, or wound. Today, as in 1605, the word means "open to attack or injury", including physical or non-physical wounds (OED). Vulnerability makes sense when talking about memory. Vulnerable is a word that has survived since 1605, unscathed until recently when English speakers have found it too demanding to pronounce correctly. Instead of vul-ner-a-ble, with the accent on the first syllable, it has become vun-er-a-ble. I cringe every time I hear this solecism (from the Greek, speaking incorrectly). Swallowing the L before an N or M and then pronouncing a doubled N or M is a common shift, as in salmon, which has become accepted as correct English.

McClellan may well have pronounced the word correctly but was heard incorrectly. A typo coming up as a spelling error may have provoked the wrong correction. If the reporter, or the editor, or the spellcheck had thought about or included the roots of words, all the information was there to make the meaningful choice. Attention to spelling really does matter, and using the building blocks of our language to say what we mean and mean what we say is not only fascinating but empowering.

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