Monday, April 21, 2008

Queensland auditor blasts shoddy reports

State government departments are spending billions every year with little explanation about whether taxpayers are getting value for money. In a scathing attack on the government's accountability, Auditor-General Glenn Poole said that an audit of departmental annual report found they were incomplete, ambiguous and lacked relevant information.

Mr Poole said the reports failed to detail whether agencies had achieved annual goals, had performed better than the previous year and whether they could have done so for less money. And there was no guarantee the information was accurate because they were not independently checked.

Mr Poole warned Queensland could miss out on lucrative commonwealth payments if it did not improve its accountability. "The information provided to Parliament through departmental annual reports does not fully comply with legislation, is incomplete and ambiguous in the portrayal of agency accountability and performance," the watchdog's report said. "Parliament is provided with reports on how busy agencies are rather than on what has been achieved for the community. "This makes it hard for Parliament to judge the efficiency, effectiveness and economy of the use of public monies."

Premier Anna Bligh conceded the report's findings were "unacceptable", while Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg said it was proof of the "culture of secrecy" within the Government,. "In my whole time in Parliament. I don't think I've ever seen an Auditor-General report which has been so damning, Mr Springborg said.

Ms Bligh said she would meet With all directors-general to discuss the problems and reforms would begin immediately, with most implemented for the 2008-09 financial year. "Those directors-general will be told that things must change. They will be told in no uncertain terms that I will be examining that on the basis of their contracts," she said. "None of this is acceptable. The taxpayers of this state deserve and expect better performance from their public service and it is my job to deliver it."

In a further embarrassment to the Government, a separate report tabled yesterday from the Service Delivery and Performance Commission, headed by former Beattie government director-general Leo Keliher, recommended no changes to existing annual reporting requirements. However, the commission was critical of the Office of the Public Service Commissioner, saying it was "unable to demonstrate the independence and leadership to fulfil its role effectively".

The above article by Rosemary Odgers & Steven Wardill appeared in the Brisbane "Courier Mail" on 18 April, 2008

Government school ignores bullying

A FOURTEEN-year-old boy says he fears being attacked every day he goes to school after being kicked in the groin, punched in the head and suffering broken ribs. Callum Goold has been taken by ambulance to hospital three times this year - twice after alleged attacks by older students and once after an epileptic fit possibly triggered by stress. Now the Craigieburn Secondary College student's parents are threatening to sue his school. That comes two months after another student took out a court order out against classmates at the college, saying they were making his life a misery.

The Goold family says the school must crack down on bullies so Callum can continue studying there. The year 9 student said he was first attacked in December while at school, resulting in broken ribs. Just before Easter, he said, he was walking across the oval when he was struck in the head twice in an unprovoked attack. He said he lay unconscious for several minutes and received no help from teachers, instead having to drag himself to reception, where he collapsed and an ambulance was called. Then last Tuesday he said he was kicked twice in the testicles. His doctor advised his parents to call the police following the latest alleged attack.

Worried parents Richard and Belinda Goold said yesterday "enough is enough". "One of these days he's going to get seriously hurt," Mrs Goold said. Mr Goold said they had told the school of their worries about their son's safety, but nothing was done. They would sue the school if action was not taken to stop bullying.

Callum said increased stress caused him to have more epileptic seizures than he had previously and he feared long-term damage from the attacks. "I'm scared of what's going to happen to me if they keep hitting me in the head," he said. Craigieburn Secondary College assistant principal Rob Chisholm said: "What happened to Callum had nothing to do with our policies."


Legal tyranny getting worse

At the grandiose conference held at the weekend, no one appeared to be grappling with the social cancer of our time: the rising tide of litigation, compulsion, intrusion, the creeping sense of entitlement over obligation, the proliferation of tribunals. Australia is becoming a society under the rule of lawyers, not laws. What goes on in our courtrooms and tribunals bears only a passing resemblance to the moral code by which the vast bulk of society lives and which maintains social cohesion.

This stark divide was distilled, unintentionally, in the April issue of the Law Society Journal, in a review of The Making of Me, by Tegan Wagner, the story of her gang rape, her ordeal with the legal system and her efforts to reclaim her life. The book is reviewed by Andrew Haesler, SC, who happens to be one of the three senior barristers who cross-examined Wagner, then 17, over a period of three days.

After offering faint praise, Haesler writes: "Her desperate desire for affirmation and self-righteous tone irritates, in a way the parents of a teenager would know. Tegan is not a dispassionate observer. Her critique of the trial process suffers as a consequence . "Tegan claims she was raped by three brothers. Only two were convicted. I acted for the brother who was acquitted. There were sound reasons for that acquittal. Tegan's 'fairer' system would have seen my client jailed for a very long time. Her rapes were unjust and wrong, but so, too, would be the conviction and long-term imprisonment of an innocent boy."

Excuse me while I go and vomit. Innocent Boy had already been convicted of gang rape. Twice. He was serving time in jail after being sentenced by Justice Brian Sully on April 22, 2004, more than a year before Wagner was cross-examined in May 2005. Innocent Boy avoided trial by jury because his elder brother, and co-accused, had deliberately aborted the trial. Innocent Boy avoided conviction in this matter because Justice Peter Hidden, even though he made it clear to Wagner that he did not doubt the veracity of her testimony, said he could not convict in the absence of any corroborating evidence. Innocent Boy is now the subject of a fourth gang-rape complaint, completely independent of the three earlier gang-rape cases.

As for Haesler's advocacy on behalf of Innocent Boy, I was in court at the time and this is a taste of what I saw: Haesler: "I suggest that in your evidence . you invented much of what happened in the bedroom?" Wagner: "I didn't invent anything." Haesler: "I suggest that both in your evidence and in the tapes you have hidden some of the things that you know occurred in the bedroom?" "I didn't hide anything. Everything that I remember I put down in my statement ." Haesler: "I suggest to you then you have not told the truth about who you went into the bedroom with initially?" "No, I have told the truth ." Haesler: "Then I suggest that you have invented or added at least one extra person?" "I have not invented or added anybody. It was three." Haesler: "You agree that your memory was affected in some respects by what occurred that night?" "Yes."

That was the core of his case: confusion or invention by the witness. It took him 432 questions. All up, the three defence counsel asked the victim 1971 questions, during which they repeatedly questioned her veracity and reliability.

Given the complete absence of any significant reform in this area, it comes as only a mild surprise to learn that the Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, has entered new territory by lodging a complaint with the Legal Services Commission over the recent conduct of a defence barrister in a rape case, Tania Evers. After a marathon three days of cross-examination of a 15-year alleged victim by Evers, the trial judge, David Freeman, aborted the trial because he said the marathon defence cross-examination had caused the trial to "run off the rails".

The alleged victim, who was 13 at the time of the alleged rape, must face another trial, if she can. This is the parallel morality of our court system at work. This is the closed logic of the justice system, where juries are actively prevented - by law and by practice - from accessing any and all material they might wish to assess in making a moral judgment.

Reform? You must be joking. You only have to glance at the weekend's ideas conference in Canberra, where, far from even acknowledging the rising tide of litigation, compulsion and intrusion, there were more calls from more lawyers for more laws, more codes and more avenues for litigation.

Perhaps the most disgraceful contribution was the waxen stupidity of the federal Human Rights Commissioner, Graham Innes, who advocated a bill of rights. It appears never to have occurred to him that in so doing he would be confirming the deeply ideological nature of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, a fundamentally parasitic and punitive institution.

The commission, like the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board and their clones in other states, exist as a punitive tool for the vexatious, the dogmatic, the axe-grinders and grudge-holders who can exploit the nebulous area of "human rights" to cause pain through process. The result doesn't matter to them. It's the burden of accusation that counts. That's why Islamic fundamentalists wage war against evangelical Christians through the human rights and discrimination machinery. They do so because they can.

Nothing was said at the weekend talkfest to allay fears about this creeping evolution of our legal system away from open democracy, towards the primacy of international law over Australian law and towards the shift of power away from elected parliaments to unelected tribunals.


Childcare craziness

Outlining his requirements of the gathering of Australia's so-called best and brightest Rudd said he wanted one big policy idea from each of the sub-groups, along with three others, one of which would have to be at "no cost, or negligible cost".... But somewhere in the halls of the parliament over the weekend, someone surely must have picked up the irony and it was this; one of the most expensive options on the table at the summit was the proposal for universal one-stop-shop early childcare, immunisation and learning centres for every child up to five years of age by 2020. And who put this on the table? Rudd. And while he was demanding budget frugality from his chosen policy mountain climbers, he floated his shiny thought bubble without even bothering to cost it.

Rudd may not have. But others have. One of the interesting features about the immediate post-election period that heralds a new government is that you have senior bureaucrats churned out of the previous system but still with access to relevant economic and policy data. One of them contacted me last week and presented what could easily pass as Treasury's cabinet submission on Rudd's thought bubble on universal early childcare centres.

Here's the brutal bureaucratic estimation of Rudd's bright idea: "Effectively the Prime Minister's plan is to upgrade the present capacity to deliver the extra services and add the capacity for those children aged 0 to five years not presently in the system. "Assumptions: A 100-place childcare centre costs about $2 million in capital funding and capital costs increase by about 10 per cent a year. Present centres are not equipped to support the additional healthcare needs of these one-stop-shops. That would therefore require increased capital and recurrent costs.

"There are about 500,000 children in 'approved' formal care now aged 0 to four inclusive. This is about 36percent of the total pre-school aged population in formal approved childcare. Only 6per cent of 0-year-olds are in formal care, 28 per cent of one-year-olds, 45 per cent of two-year-olds, 54per cent of three-year-olds, 50 per cent of four-year-olds and 29 per cent of five-year-olds. At five years of age many children will not be in child care but at school. "In order to make child care in these age brackets universally accessible and guaranteed the Government will have to double present capacity rather than provide a guaranteed place for all 1.3 million 0 to five-year-olds. This option will pick up those not in care at all but who will be drawn into the system, and those in care but not in formal care (for example, grandparents-family).

"Low-cost universal child care will therefore have the effect of simply shifting the children of non-working parents from parental and informal care to formal care most likely on a part-time basis. "There will only be marginal increases in female workforce participation so the capacity to pay of the new families will be lower than the present family population. Based on this there is a need to factor in up-front capital costs to improve existing facilities to account for the proposed new co-located health services and to build new capacity for the extra inflow of children. This increases the demand for capacity twofold and effectively doubles the recurrent costs.

"Assuming no consolidation, because these are new centres, this will require additional capital again to simply move places from their present location to the new proposed one-stop-shop locations. "Assume the extra places at 15 hours per week (where current usage averages 22 hours per week). The conclusion: to realistically offer universal access at low cost would require extra capacity for up to 500,000 places at 15 hours per week. In conservative budget terms this means an extra 300,000 children would come into the system. "There are 4400 long day care centres (providers) presently but many of those are small and would require massive upgrades. Present home-based family day care will be made redundant because they will not be able to offer the 'one-stop-shop' requirement.

"On these assumptions the final estimate of costs is this; on capital alone the Prime Minister's proposal would require 4400 services requiring upgrades at an average of $400,000 -- approximately $2 billion. "An estimated 100 additional centres (based on 100 place centres offering 300 children 15 hours per week and operating at 75 per cent capacity, which is an industry optimal benchmark) at $2.5 million each equals $2.5billion. "This equates to an estimated $3billion $4 billion in capital costs.

"The costs of child care, however, are not capital, but recurrent. The Government presently spends $11 billion over four years in this area. The new capacity will be higher in proportion for pre-school (higher cost education content) and baby (higher care cost). "Providing subsidies for 300,000 new children at low parental contribution can reasonably be assumed to cost 60per cent of the present recurrent funding (that is, a proportionate per capita on cost). In round terms, assume 60 per cent of $11 billion over four years is $6.6 billion. That equals $5 billion to $7 billion. "That leads to an estimate of $8billion to $11 billion over four years in present dollars. In effect, almost doubling the present investment in child care from $11 billion to up to $22billion over four years for the start of the program."

In the context of a tough budget environment, Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner was in the audience for Rudd's opening speech, nodding at the notion of no-cost ideas. Reading this, though, he'll weep. And so he should.


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