Monday, February 18, 2008

Rudd backs independent Kosovo

I applaud our Prime Minister for this. I don't see why people should have to cohabit with other people whom they loathe

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd has given his backing to an independent Kosovo. The once war-torn former Yugoslav state declared its independence overnight, triggering celebrations in the capital Pristina, despite the lack of UN recognition and opposition from Serbia and Russia.

Mr Rudd said the Australian Government believed an independent Kosovo would be a good thing and it would give it official diplomatic recognition soon. "We've already indicated to our diplomatic representatives around the world that this (independence) would be an appropriate course of action," he said on ABC radio today. "The sorry history of Kosovo means we've got to do whatever we can to ensure that the citizens of that part of the world are protected into the future. "This would appear to be the right course of action. That's why, diplomatically, we would extend recognition at the earliest opportunity."


Paid maternity leave

There is undoubtedly much to gain by reviving the birthrate but, since the benefit is primarily public, employers should not be made to bear the burden of paying people not to work. If employers were burdened, they would avoid hiring young women -- so the burden of supporting the young women would fall to the government anyway

A year-long inquiry is about to begin into whether all new parents should be entitled to paid maternity and paternity leave. The Productivity Commission has been asked to examine ways the Federal Government can provide improved support to parents with newborn children. Australia and the United States are the only developed countries not to have legislated for minimum paid maternity leave across the workforce. Most female workers in Australia are entitled to 12 months' unpaid maternity leave, but only about 40 per cent have access to paid leave.

The Productivity Commission will evaluate the economic and social costs and benefits of paid maternity, paternity and parental leave. Treasurer Wayne Swan, Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Families Minister Jenny Macklin commissioned the inquiry, to report by February next year, today. "Any policy reforms in this area will be aimed at ensuring strong and sustainable economic growth, take into account our ageing population and the importance of early childhood development, and support Australian families balance work and family responsibilities," the ministers said in a joint statement.

"We want to explore ways to make it as easy as possible for working mums to balance their employment with the important job of raising a new generation of Australians." Members of the public are invited to make submissions and public hearings will be held.


Another disastrous public hospital

New hospital worse than the old one

THE new $98 million Bathurst hospital is so dysfunctional it is dangerous, doctors say, forcing the Health Department to halt demolition of the old one and raising serious concerns about the future of all hospital redevelopments. Surgeons have indefinitely suspended routine elective surgery at the new Bathurst Base Hospital, warning that serious design and construction flaws - such as an inadequate emergency alarm system and a pipe that leaked raw sewage into the maternity ward - are putting patients at risk.

It is the latest in countless public hospital blunders that have forced the Health Minister, Reba Meagher, to call a Special Commission of Inquiry into acute care services in NSW, which began last week. "The minister has sought urgent advice from the area health service about the issues from the redevelopment. This number of issues with a brand new hospital is unacceptable and we are getting to the bottom of that," a spokeswoman for Ms Meagher said yesterday. She said medical staff had been extensively consulted during the planning stage. But the Opposition and doctors say the debacle raises wider concern about the consultation process on all of the state's hospital redevelopments, including the $702 million Royal North Shore facility.

Significant problems with the new Bathurst hospital include possible hanging points and access to sheer drops outside the mental health unit - which has remained empty - and major communication failures with pagers and mobile phones. Medical Staff Council chairman Chris Halloway said areas in intensive care, operating theatres and accident and emergency were also too small. Dr Halloway said the hospital, which opened three weeks ago, was unsafe. "It's mainly accident and emergency and the surgical features that are the problem. The reason that we had to cut off elective surgery is simply . so we could cope with the dysfunction," he said. "We can't deliver a proper standard of patient care . the community in Bathurst don't have the health care facility that they had a couple of months ago."

The inadequate alarm system was "a pivotal safety issue" but also only half of the intensive care beds could be seen from the nurses station due to poor design, he said. "[It] seems to us to be clinically crazy."

Dozens of patients have had their surgery postponed. One Bathurst hospital doctor, who did not want to be named, said developers had decided to "shrink-fit the facility". "They didn't consult us and what consultation there was they didn't pay attention to," he said.

A spokeswoman for the Greater Western Area Health Service did not dispute the safety concerns. A team of technical experts had been at the hospital all weekend attempting to rectify the problems, she said. A fire and safety audit had been ordered as well as an audit on room sizes. "This is a really serious issue for us and we're working extremely hard to try and assess the issues," she said. She said area health service agreed to doctors' demands not to demolish the old hospital yet. "It was down to start tomorrow. It has been deferred until Wednesday," she said.

"It's just another case of the Iemma Government and Reba Meagher failing to listen to frontline health workers," the Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, said. The GWAHS spokeswoman said clinicians were engaged in "extensive consultation".


Fuzzy feelings won't save anyone

A Leftist who sees that simplistic Leftist theories make the Aboriginal problems worse

I HAVE to confess that, unlike most other commentators, I watched last week's "Sorry" address by the PM with mingled emotions. Even as I felt my heart lift and swell - as it sought, dutifully, to do - a pinprick of doubt and fear crept up my spine. So much virtuous emotion has already been poured into a limitless vessel of ineffectual sympathy for Aboriginal Australia. So many people have allowed themselves to believe that emotional bonding can cause the wounds of the past to heal. And yet so much of this emotion has been, in effect, seed spilled upon barren ground.

Unlike the motley band of conservative dissenters, my anxiety isn't really to do with history. The official version of the history of the Stolen Generations is doubtless a partial and imperfect one. It's not clear that most Aboriginal children were actually taken from their families on explicitly racialist grounds, even though those arguments were certainly broadcast in the policy debates of the day. On the whole, Aboriginal families suffered disproportionately because they were disproportionately poor, disproportionately vulnerable, and disproportionately troubled. As they still are today.

Yet there are moments in the public history of all nations when the "official" version of historical events, for all its piety, takes on a role that is more as well as less than historical, and when its faults become excusable. In reality, we don't apologise for history, so much as for the tracks that history has left in the troubles of the present. As well as, on occasion, for the injustices of the present, dressed up for convenience's sake in historical garb. So, no, my mingled emotions weren't caused by history, or even that much-abused term truth.

Paradoxically, they were generated by the sheer emotional power of the occasion. As any student of the history of Christianity knows, conscience, guilt, atonement and forgiveness can be double-edged emotional swords. The person who gives also receives. Bestowing an apology on another can cause us a perverse kind of pleasure: the pleasure of feeling better about ourselves as apologisers.

Perhaps that's why so many of the people whose hearts were raised to the skies in sorrow managed at the same time to be so mean-spirited towards the hapless but basically well-intentioned Brendan Nelson. They were distancing themselves from the other Australians out there, those less virtuous than themselves. So seductive was the call of the moment that otherwise hard-nosed journalists (such as The 7.30 Report's Kerry O'Brien) seemed determined to adopt an aura not unlike that of Mother Teresa.

Now it's true that many commentators, as well as the PM himself, have striven almost ostentatiously to avoid any impression of losing hold of their faculties. So we've heard a great deal about the apology being the easy part, and how the hard part of the job is yet to begin. And Kevin Rudd has announced some decidedly bold benchmarks for attacking indigenous mortality rates, school attendance figures and housing availability.

And yet these gestures, I confess, serve only to stoke my anxiety. To be blunt, I worry whether a PM who seems increasingly to be cast as the deliverer of Aboriginal Australia will muster the strength of character to be hated (vociferously hated, perhaps) by many Australians - white and black alike - for making the kinds of unpopular decisions that are surely required.

Benchmarks are hardly a novelty in Aboriginal policy. Similarly stern aims to close the gap between the two nations have been invoked by every PM since Robert Menzies. Yet too often they have become ritual words, uttered without any tangible effect. No bread has turned into flesh; no wine has become blood. Indeed, so far as can be told from the publicly available figures, on some key indicators the gap has probably widened. To be frank, while I would dearly love to believe in them, I have no idea right now how the PM intends to turn his benchmarks into working reality. You can build as many new public houses as you like, but if they're built in communities with no jobs and no futures, they will simply be abandoned or neglected.

Surely it would be better if Aboriginal Australia were allowed to develop the life-savings to buy their own houses in places they might actually choose to live if they had a choice. And to take care of those houses, as other Australians do. But this is a strategy for a generation, not just the next five years.

Aboriginal literacy levels are a national scandal. Yet raising school attendance rates will have limited effect if the children concerned have no viable and stable home lives, free from violence and abuse. And this in turn means creating new communities, in some cases possibly far away from the old ones.

When public-housing and welfare-based communities composed primarily of white Australians become toxic and dysfunctional, policymakers seem to have nerve enough to bulldoze them and relocate their members elsewhere, to better places, on the whole. These are often unpopular decisions, especially among academics, who like to lament the loss of "old-style communities", in that romantic but perverse academic fashion. But they get made.

To put the matter crudely, policymakers have to put their duty of care towards Aboriginal citizens above their desire to be loved. In this respect there's no more dangerous emotion for a new PM than that inner glow that tells you you're the father of the nation. The danger is that in a generation's time we'll have a new apology to make. Put briefly, it might read something like this:

* It was we who kept Aboriginal people in chaotic communities without livelihoods, services or decent sanitation, in the belief that in this manner their culture might be preserved as an instructive reproach to our own

* It was we who persuaded ourselves that while we need decently paid jobs, financial assets and life security as part of our human and social rights, Aboriginal people were happier and more in touch with their true nature without those things

* It was we who went on long camping tours of the Top End, where we almost began to imagine ourselves as Aboriginal. Except that when we came back from these sentimental journeys we talked always of land, mysticism and the simple joys of community, and never of hygiene, employment opportunities or child safety.

* It was we who, having operatically distanced ourselves from the hard-hearted policies of another generation, let our soft-heartedness turn once again into pure, unadulterated funk.


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