Rob Schwarten is a long-standing Labor party member of the Queensland parliament who has served in various ministries. He has a reputation for being aggressive -- even physically intimidating. So I was amused to receive from him a letter that was typically Schwarto -- a sort of verbal punch. Before I show you the letter, however, I need to tell you what led up to it:
In a nutshell: My car was stolen and the Queensland police showed not the slightest interest in apprehending the thief or thieves, despite the ID of one of them being handed to them on a plate.
More detail: Someone reported my abandoned car to the Redcliffe police about a week after it was stolen; the Redcliffe police checked their reports of stolen cars and notified me accordingly.
When I got the car back, most of the contents that I had in it were missing. This bothered me greatly as some of the contents were of considerable value to me. On checking through what remained, however, I found a library card belonging to someone I had never heard of. It was for a library in the Redcliffe area. It seemed clear to me that one of the thieves had inadvertently dropped it while they were in the car. Eureka! Just trace the person and I might get my stuff back!
So I took the card to my nearest cop-shop -- at Dutton Park. I was greeted at the counter by a dickless Tracy by the name of Turgeon. I told her my story, she listened and said she would look into it. I had no sooner stepped outside the building before I realized however that she had not taken a single note or asked for any details, let alone fill out a proper report.
I went back in and urged details upon her -- registration number, dates etc. She grabbed a torn-off scrap of paper and jotted a few things down. That was it. I left in great doubt about whether I had been taken seriously.
So I followed the matter up in the following weeks and months. In the course of that I was told two things by various police persons:
1). The card could have been dropped by anyone so was no proof of anything. Police logic, I presume. They seemed to think that I might have been driving around with people unknown to me in my car.
2). The person on the card had been checked and found to have no "form" (no criminal record) so there was no point in pursuing them. More police logic. How one ever gets form in the first place under those circumstances was never expained.
I was of course not remotely impressed by those pearls of wisdom but they came from more than one police officer, including a rather senior one. It stood out like dog's balls that the Queensland police were not remotely interested in catching car thieves -- unless of course you could catch them at the end of an exciting high-speed chase. No wonder Queensland has the highest rate of car theft in Australia. If you don't catch the baddies they will continue doing it.
So I started writing to the politicians in order to get some action. I got some very ill-considered replies from them too but it emerged that by that time the ID card had been "lost" and they could not therefore investigate the matter even if they wanted to.
That was quite appalling. There are of course strict police rules about the recording and preservation of material evidence and those regulations had obviously been ignored. It's not much of a guess to conclude that the Virgin Turgeon threw it straight into the bin, in fact.
I asked for disciplinary measures to be taken and Inspector Volk of Dutton Pk. station assured me that they had. For all I know that was just hot air, however. Clearly, Constable Turgeon had simply been following informal police rules.
I was rather stumped at that point but eventually made what was probably the only move left to me: Sue for compensation for my loss of car contents. I accordingly wrote to the Minister in charge of police with a claim for $500 in compensation for the loss of car contents that police negligence had prevented me from recovering. I got the usual ill-considered reply -- presumably written by a junior ministerial assistant. So I wrote again to point that out.
It was then that I got my amusing letter from Schwarto:
Judy Spence MP
Member for Mount Gravatt
Office of the
Minister for Police and
Ref: 5627 F6 GM
23 May, 2008
Dear Dr Ray
Thank you for your further letter of 19 March 2008 concerning your dealings with police regarding the theft of your motor vehicle and property stolen from the vehicle.
I note you have received several replies from the Honourable Judy Spence MP since 2006 regarding associated issues.
While I have noted your further comments, as the Acting Minister for Police I am unable to intervene in any particular police investigation or operational decision, or interfere in the Police Service's handling of any particular complaint against its officers.
In the circumstances, your correspondence has been forwarded to the Police Service for consideration and you should take up direct with the Service on any further issues of concern.
Neither Ms Spence nor I am can assist you further in this matter and therefore do not intend corresponding with you in future on this issue.
Robert Schwarten MP
Acting Minister for Police, Corrective Services and Sport
He appears to think he can shut me up!
No further correspondence from the Police Service has arrived in the two months since Schwarto wrote so I suppose that an action against the Constable in the Small Claims tribunal will have to be my next step.
I have put this post and most of the letters I wrote on the matter up on a special blog called "Queensland Police Negligence". You will see there that I even wrote to the body that is supposed to act on complaints against the police but that they simply referred the complaint back to the police -- as they usually do.
What I would most like to see at this stage is a public enquiry resulting in visible disciplinary action against the police officers primarily responsible for the unofficial policy of not investigating car stealing.
Labor reverses John Howard's tough immigration policies
These were the policies that stemmed the flow of boat people. Now that they have nothing much to fear, the illegals will start coming again
Mandatory detention for asylum-seekers has been eased under changes to immigration policy announced by the Government today. "A person who poses no danger to the community will be able to remain in the community while their visa status is resolved," Immigration Minster Chris Evans said. Mandatory detention would apply only to those arriving by boat for health, identity and security checks, or those considered a risk to national security or health.
Legal assistance would be offered to those arriving by boat and they could have an independent review of unfavourable decisions. Children would also not be detained in immigration detention centres.
"The department will have to justify why a person should be detained," Senator Evans said. "Once in detention a detainee's case will be reviewed every three months to ensure that the further detention of the individual is justified.
Senator Evans said the Government would still retain its right to deport refugees. "People who have no right to be here and those who are found not to be owed protection under Australia's international obligations will be removed."
Public hospital bungle covered up
A whistleblower was bullied and information was covered up when a crucial cancer treatment went wrong, critics say. On Friday, SA Health revealed a radiation machine at the Royal Adelaide Hospital, used to treat 720 people between July, 2004, and July, 2006, was delivering the wrong dose.
Yesterday, the hospital was accused of bullying and harassing an employee who tried to expose the error, and of covering up the mistake, which only came to light last week. While working as the Employee Ombudsman, Gary Collis said he dealt with a hospital employee who was bullied after taking his concerns to management. The whistleblower also said up to three machines were not working properly. Mr Collis said whistleblowers in this situation had "very little protection". "Until there is genuine protection the individuals are going to think more about their own survival careerwise rather than just keep on banging their heads against the wall," he said.
SA Health chief executive Dr Tony Sherbon said RAH management discovered the error in 2006 through a quality assurance check but chose not to inform the department, prompting accusations of a coverup from the State Opposition. Dr Sherbon was only made aware of the problem on July 16 this year after someone filed a formal complaint.
"In 2007, the Central Northern Adelaide Health Service completed an investigation of an allegation of bullying and harassment," he said. "It found there was no bullying. This person suffered no retribution." He added that as far as he knew only one machine was affected.
The calibration error meant people received a dose up to 5 per cent lower than prescribed by their doctor. It is not clear what effect, if any, this would have on their survival. SA Health has launched a review into the error and has contacted all patients affected.
Public transport not much of a solution to anything these days
PUBLIC transport is often recommended as a solution to congestion in our cities and as a way of reducing the fuel costs of working families. Two cautions are needed regarding this suggestion. First is the increased cost to governments from any increase in public transport patronage. Victoria has been successful in increasing annual passenger trips from 351 million in 2001 to 383 million in 2005, but the public transport budget has also increased from $1.34 billion to $1.92 billion over the same period. This works out to a cost of $19 for every trip increase, and is much higher than the average public transport subsidy for the entire Melbourne network of trains, trams and buses of about $4 a passenger trip.
The second caution, and this sounds counter-intuitive, is that increased public transport patronage will probably decrease social equity. Australian Bureau of Statistics surveys of household expenditures have found that the upper 20 per cent income group spend about three to four times more on public transport than the lower 20 per cent income group, probably because most of the present public transport infrastructure is located in high-income inner and middle suburbs and most public transport trips are made into the central business district by higher income managerial and office workers. In other words, the subsidies state governments provide to public transport are going mainly to higher income groups, whereas other expenditures on education and health are much more equitably based.
Given that governments have only limited budgets, any increase in public transport expenditure would lead to lower expenditure on health and education, and thereby to reduced income transfers to lower income groups. There is also the social inequity of residents in country areas paying taxes to subsidise further increases in huge metropolitan public transport expenditures in Australia, which are already of the order of $4.5 billion a year.
It may surprise some, but public transport was a profitable business for governments in the 1950s, when passenger trips reached 1500 million journeys a year. The rise of the motor car, mainly because of a tenfold decrease in vehicle operating costs, meant public transport trips dropped to just over 800 million journeys in the '80s, despite a doubling of the population. They have increased slightly in total numbers during the present decade, but not on a per capita basis. This shift away from public transport was a classic case of a newer technology providing a cheaper and quicker transport mode that took market share from the slower transport mode, just as railways took away market share from the horse and carriage and planes are taking market share from cars on interstate travel. The decline in public transport share has been even more noticeable for rural passenger travel: the quantity of rail trips has decreased from 60 per cent in the '50s to 2 per cent today.
Public transport is still economically viable in some markets, such as radial journey-to-work trips to the CBD and for education trips, while cars have their own particular passenger markets, such as circumferential journey-to-work trips and shopping, social and business trips. It is difficult to see that this market differentiation will change by either mode capturing market share from the other in the future. In fact the experience of Seattle is that significantly increasing public transport facilities and patronage does not reduce car trips or congestion but increases the total amount of urban trips taken.
One of the inevitable trends when new technology triggers the development of a new infrastructure network for trains, cars, planes or, most recently, the broadband network, is that the substitution of one mode for another follows a particular model that is independent of different political and economic systems. Like sailing ships and the horse and carriage, public transport will not come back to regain market share and we will probably see public transport trips in Australia continue to decline as a percentage of all trips taken.
The most promising avenue for decreasing fuel costs for working families and reducing congestion costs lies in new technological developments that will provide us with a cheaper and quicker method of communicating with each other. The transport substitute of telecommunications has allowed many of us not to visit banks (internet banking), libraries (Google), shops (internet sales), entertainment centres (broadband) and people (Facebook). Telecommuting saves journeys to work while salesmen's visits are abbreviated because of websites with details of every companies' wares. Reducing urban congestion and family fuel costs will probably depend on how quickly the broadband infrastructure network takes market share away from rail, road and airport networks.