Friday, February 29, 2008

Another instance of bureaucracy that harms rather than helps

In good Leftist style, the NSW government has legislated for penalties rather than incentives in the child abuse area and the results are predictable. People should be REWARDED for detecting real abuse, not punished for failing to report suspicions

The NSW Department of Community Service's disastrous system of mandatory reporting of children at risk - which has clogged caseworkers' in-trays and potentially cost lives - will be changed. The embattled department has conceded that the system, which is creating almost 300,000 notifications a year, has become an unworkable monster in its current form.

DOCS has recommended to the special commission of inquiry into child protection services that a "higher standard" should be required from those reporting cases in future. In a bid to stem the flow of unnecessary reports police, health workers, teachers and other groups will have to produce "reasonable evidence a child or young person is exposed to risk or harm". DOCS has also suggested it might reduce the $22,000 fines slapped on people who fail to lodge a report. Pressure on the department is intensifying as the Ombudsman's Office investigates the deaths of 114 children known to DOCS in 2006-2007.

The Daily Telegraph can reveal that primary school principals are among those who have admitted to "reporting excessively out of fear of legal consequences". The Public Schools Principals' Forum said cases of child neglect were often overlooked because of the heavy emphasis on physical and sexual abuse. "Reports of neglect and allegations of physical abuse no longer receive high priority or early intervention from DOCS," the forum said in its submission to the special inquiry. "Principals perceive that the bar has been lowered significantly. DOCS personnel are so overwhelmed with notifications they are unable to cope. "Long waiting lists for investigation have resulted ... the unintended outcome is that the children most urgently in need of assistance are frequently lost in the thousands of reports."

DOCS director of legal services Roderick Best said it was expected changes to the standard required for mandatory reporting would reduce the number of unnecessary notifications. Currently anyone else who works with children must report any child at "risk of harm". But the criteria is so open-ended that referrals may be made for children who turn up at school without their lunch or with dirty clothing. "The system has created a mindset whereby professionals do not feel free any more to use their judgment," an insider said.

Retiring DOCS director-general Neil Shepherd has warned that caseworkers are drowning in paperwork. A decade ago DOCS received 72,800 reports on children feared to be in harm's way. In 2006-2007 there were 286,033 reports - 5501 per week and a 19 per cent increase over the previous year. By DOCS' own numbers, 22 per cent of NSW children have been subject to a notification. [Quite absurd]

Ombudsman Bruce Barbour has described the quality of the department's work as well as its failure to properly deal with its workload and liaise with other agencies, as "unacceptable".


Alcoholic black parents force children to suckle dogs

Aboriginal children in Outback Australia are so neglected by their alcoholic parents that some have suckled from dogs' teats in a desperate search for food, it has been reported. The shocking revelation came from a coroner investigating the appalling rates of suicide among Aborigines living in the remote and beautiful Kimberley region of Western Australia. Earlier this month the prime minister, Kevin Rudd, delivered a much-publicised apology to Aborigines for past injustices, but critics questioned whether his words would lead to any practical improvement in the wretched lives of indigenous people

"The plight of the little children was especially pathetic and, for many of these, the future is bleak," said coroner Alastair Hope. He was presenting a 122 page report into the deaths of 22 men and women in the region since 2000, some by suicide but all linked to alcohol and drugs. During his research, he heard evidence that malnourished children had been sucking the teats of dogs for food and that young men had attempted suicide after being refused a can of beer.

Aborigines in isolated towns like Fitzroy Crossing lived in overcrowded, ramshackle houses surrounded by rubbish and with little furniture. People slept on filthy foam mattresses beside diseased dogs in temperatures which reach 40C or more in summer. "In these communities there is nothing to do for most of the inhabitants for most of the time. Alcohol and drugs provide an escape," Mr Hope said. There was "little refinement" about the binge drinking, with Aborigines becoming stone drunk on warm beer and wine mixed together. Some died after wandering onto roads and being hit by cars. The welfare of Aboriginal people was nothing less than "a disaster", Mr Hope said, in a report which highlighted how little Aborigines have benefited from Australia's 17-year run of economic prosperity.

"These are horrific findings from the coronial inquiry," said indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin. "Findings that I'm sorry to say are repeated in many parts of remote Australia." Alcohol abuse was so entrenched among Aborigines in the Kimberley that foetal alcohol syndrome was 21.5 times higher compared with the rest of Western Australia.

Mr Hope said that widespread alcohol abuse and extreme negligence left Aboriginal children vulnerable to sexual abuse. Despite spending GBP 565 million a year on tackling Aboriginal disadvantage, the Western Australian government's approach was "seriously flawed" because funds were allocated to 22 different agencies with little coordination. The coroner called for restrictions on the availability of full-strength alcohol and the linking of welfare payments with adults' caring adequately for their children.

"Even if we did everything right as from today, we are still heading into hell. We have a huge problem from the legacy of the past," said a local MP, Tom Stephens. "Even just tackling everything right from now, we've got a descent into chaos and crisis like you would never believe possible."


Leftist black welfare policy just a pale imitation of conservative policies

By Andrew Bolt

JENNY Macklin should praise John Howard for daring to do it first. It was Howard as prime minister who had to cop the most obscene vilification for deciding that Aborigines in the Northern Territory's worst communities would have their pensions quarantined to make sure their kids were fed. Typical was the National Sorry Day Committee, which shamefully abused him as the "dog of white supremacy" wanting "to return to its vomit". But this same committee was this week silent as Macklin, Indigenous Affairs Minister in the new Rudd Government, extended part of Howard's evil reforms to Western Australia. Out of breath, I guess.

Macklin on Wednesday announced a mini-Howard. She'd give Centrelink the power to hold back part of the pensions it gave to dysfunctional Aboriginal families to make sure they went to feeding the children. Pray for the children whose parents need to be forced to feed them. Macklin's policy is less broad-brush than that imposed by Howard on the NT. It affects only some individuals rather than whole communities, and doesn't come with other sweeping changes - which is probably why it won't work as well. But without Howard's example last year, it's doubtful Labor would have dared even this little. And even then it took a truly shocking report by the West Australian coroner to force Macklin's hand.

Alistair Hope had investigated the deaths of 22 young Aboriginal people from the Kimberley, and found that many young Aboriginal men and women in the region were so drunk or drugged they killed themselves, while others were so paralytic that they died on the road as they left the pub. "It appears that Aboriginal welfare, particularly in the Kimberley, constitutes a disaster, but no one is in charge of the disaster response," Hope wrote. Welfare money vanished on booze, drugs, gambling or hard porn, leaving many children hungry. The children of Aboriginal parents were also more than 20 times more likely to suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome. "The plight of the little children was especially pathetic and, for many of these, the future is bleak," Hope said. No kidding?

In fact, it should run like 240 volts through our complacency that Hope heard evidence that some children were so starved they allegedly sucked the teats of their dogs.

A little quarantining of welfare is, of course, hopelessly inadequate. Why in God's name don't we at least scoop up such children and save them? But that battle was lost with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's foolish sorry to the "stolen generations". By saying sorry to 50,000 "stolen" children who didn't exist, Rudd has made it harder to "steal" thousands of children who very much do exist and desperately need help. Thanks to him, the counterattack against saving such children is on for real. Newspaper reports this week revealed Aboriginal activists were now fighting the Northern Territory's Family and Children's Services to return children they'd saved from struggling communities.

Indeed, Glen Dooley, of the Northern Australian Aboriginal Justice Association, even claimed that sending more welfare workers to help children in black communities might cause "destructive effects" to "rival the fallout from the stolen generation". Excuse me, Mr Dooley, but doesn't the sickening evidence show that if we err it is in removing too few black children, not too many? What a nightmare we've made with our fake history and fake guilt.

Even discussing the only solution left is not possible in polite society. And, no, I don't mean crudely stealing black children from destructive families in hellish communities. I mean turning off the welfare that keeps those sick communities alive, far from jobs, schools, opportunities and hope. Integration, not separation, is the only solution. In a couple of decades more of suffering, we may at last debate this. Pity today's children.


Another crooked Italian politician in the Leftist NSW government

A PROPERTY developer who donated more than $160,000 to the NSW ALP has been given a $200 million windfall in a land rezoning deal - despite the Government's own expert panel warning Planning Minister Frank Sartor against the move. The Daily Telegraph can reveal that the Village Building Company has donated $164,900 to the NSW ALP over the past five years and hired a former Labor minister to pressure the State Government to rezone 2000 lots of land.

The Government did - turning the company's estimated $4 million investment in a rural lot into an estimated $200 million worth of residential property. The company, run by Bob Winnel, has also donated thousands of dollars to Wollongong City councillors - including independent Mayor Alex Darling - and more than $10,000 directly to Police Minister David Campbell, who has already been dragged into the ICAC sex-for-development scandal.

The site, next to the ACT in an area called Tralee, is under the Canberra airport flight path and was deemed unsuitable for habitation by an expert panel chaired by respected former public servant and businessman Brian Gilligan. The independent report, which was commissioned by the Government, told Mr Sartor in 2006 not to rezone, saying residents would suffer from aircraft noise. A visit by The Daily Telegraph to the site revealed planes roaring overhead as they came in to land.

Canberra airport has also warned that noise in the area would be unbearable as it increased its air traffic. The ACT Government and Federal Labor also condemned the move. Yet despite this, Mr Sartor approved the land release in April last year after extensive lobbying from the company, which donated more than $100,000 to the ALP in the past three years alone.

The revelation comes amid the beleaguered Government's move to overhaul the donations system and a Daily Telegraph online poll showing 82 per cent of respondents believe developer donations should be banned outright.

Mr Gilligan yesterday said he was unaware of the ALP connection and he stood by his findings that the area should not be inhabited. "I think they are very clear," he said. Labor's federal transport spokesman at the time, Martin Ferguson, also raised concerns.

Source. Details of another crooked NSW Leftist Italian politician in the news at the moment here

Global cooling good for Australia's ski resorts too

Note that it was SUMMER when the above picture was taken a day or two ago

The final day of summer in the Snowy Mountains has taken on a wintry chill after snow fell last night at the ski resorts of Perisher Blue and Thredbo. A light dusting of snow blanketed the NSW ski resorts overnight as temperatures dropped to a low of minus 3.8 degrees Celcius at Perisher and minus 3 degrees at Thredbo. Intermittent light snow flurries continued to fall into the morning on Mount Perisher.

Weather forecasters are already predicting a bumper snow season for 2008, according to resort management. Temperatures are expected to remain low with persistent precipitation throughout winter. "We have barely had a summer this year," said Gary Grant, Perisher Blue's general manager of marketing. "It's felt as though it's remained cold since the end of the 2007 season, apart from a few warm days, there air has always had a nip in it."



AUSTRALIA will meet its Kyoto Protocol emissions targets but greenhouse pollution is growing, mainly due to heavy reliance on coal for electricity. A report from the Federal Government's Department of Climate Change shows that although the rate of growth is slowing, Australia's greenhouse gas emissions are likely to increase by 20 per cent by 2020.

The Minister for Climate Change, Penny Wong, said the figures were good for the country, and showed a cut in expected emissions: "[The analysis] shows that the Rudd Government's policies, such as increasing the use of renewable energy, will trigger much greater emissions reductions in the longer term than had been forecast in 2006 under the previous government." The analysis said emissions would have grown faster under the previous government's policies, rising by 27 per cent by 2020.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

The religion of peace in Australia again

GANGS of Middle Eastern youths have threatened to bash staff in popular city and suburban nightclubs. Adelaide hoteliers say the notorious "Middle East Boys" - or MEB - have said they'd find staff members' homes to exact a violent revenge after being refused entry to bars and pubs. One hotelier, who declined to be identified for fear of retribution, said gangs were barred from most Adelaide pubs but members occasionally slipped into late-night clubs undetected. He says gangs are infiltrating bars and clubs to sell drugs to young patrons. "We had one of them say: `We'll find out where you live and come around and get you' after he was chucked out," the hotelier said. "They were coming in pretty regularly for a while there but we have a strict policy now; we just don't let them in."

Chief Inspector Scott Duval, Officer in Charge of the Licensing Enforcement Branch, said he would "encourage any licensee who is experiencing problems with any patron/s to contact police". "A licensee currently has the power to bar persons from their licensed premises under Section 125 of the Liquor Licensing Act for periods of up to three months, six months or indefinitely," he said. "A person barred for over one month may apply to the Liquor and Gambling Commissioner for a review. Maximum penalty for breaching a barring order is a $1250 fine. "Amendments to the Liquor Licensing Act have been drafted which will give police the power to bar persons from licensed premises, however this power is not currently available to police."

MEB, linked by an ethnic background, is one of three groups of young men who are "of interest" to police, along with RTS (Rule the Streets) and TR (Team Revolution). All have associations with bikie gangs. The hotelier said gangs targeted the nightclubs most popular with young people because they were most likely to buy amphetamines and cannabis. Problems of gang intimidation peaked several months ago but strong crowd controls and stricter entry standards were making an impact. Hotelies have the power to ban, or bar, patrons for unruly behaviour but police urge them to also report threats of violence from anybody who might be associated with a gang.

Hotel security vision can be used to identify troublemakers. Police say they will advise hoteliers on their legislative rights and how to stop troublemakers entering hotels. MEB members had been involved in pub fights and a group describing themselves as "Persian" took part in a brawl involving dozens of young Caucasian men at Glenelg last new year's eve. Persia is the former official name of Iran.


Labor Party sticking with tax cuts

Terry McCrann comments:

RIGHT on. Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner has come out swinging with a robust defence of the promised tax cuts against the inane calls to ditch them. The issue has become extremely if surprisingly useful as a mechanism to judge the competence of an economist. Apparently, we have a very large number of dud economists in this country. Interestingly they are more than happy to advertise their incompetence. You should be grateful that Mr Tanner and Treasurer Wayne Swan are treating them with profound ignore. Otherwise $31 billion of your money - an extra $31 billion - would be needlessly sucked into the Canberra fiscal maw.

Over the next four years to 2011-12, personal income tax is going to suck up $530 billion - a $70 billion increase on the $460 billion or so in the four years to 2007-08. The anti-tax cut duds want it to be a $100 billion increase, to $560 billion. And you'd still get higher interest rates to boot - with another one coming next week. Talk about a double whammy. The fiscal duo are absolutely rock solid and of one mind: there will be only one whammy. They are Thatcher-style not for turning. They will deliver the cuts in the May budget.

Mr Tanner delivered his five-part defence of the cuts at Gerard Henderson's Sydney Institute on Tuesday. He was crushingly if arguably too gently cutting in his big point. "A number of commentators don't appear to have grasped the fact that the tax cuts don't all hit the Australian economy on July 1. The total value of the tax cuts for the 2008-09 year is not suddenly carpet-bombed on the Australian economy. It is progressively rolled out over the year.''

He could've- but understandably didn't - make two very big associated and rather obvious points -- but they are also not grasped by most of the economentariat. That an $8 billion tax cut (for the full 2008-09 year) that started to dribble out in July, would be neither a sufficient nor a timely substitute for rate rises now. That's to say, if you seriously wanted to tighten fiscal policy to "take pressure off rates'', you tighten it now. Just to spell that out. Forget about ditching the tax cuts. Mr Swan would have to announce today an $8 billion-a-year tax increase. Starting in the next pay packet.

That would also make another obvious point. That ditching the tax cuts is not some sort of "painless'' alternative to higher interest rates. Both tax and rate hikes cause financial pain. That is the intention. The linked critical points made by Mr Tanner was the reforms to marginal rates were crucial to boosting workforce participation at a time of full --over-full - employment. If they were ditched unions and workers would want higher wages to compensate.

His last two points were that tax cuts could be saved, helping families repair household balance sheets, and delivering the election promise was basic to the government's moral authority. I'd add a sixth. To bow to stupidity so early in the term would be unwise.


Smacking children is not assault, say police

New Zealand take note

South Australian police accept parents using "minor force" to discipline their child, Police Minister Paul Holloway has told State Parliament. The Minister said SA Police did not have a "specific official policy" regarding smacking of children by parents, but accepted the community standard. Mr Holloway, in a written response to a question in State Parliament, said officers would only act if they believed the "application of force was more serious than an act of minor discipline, he said, and could then charge them with aggravated assault. "Police would take action against a parent in those circumstances where they believe that the force applied was or is excessive," he said. "SAPOL accept the community standard that on occasion some parents apply minor force to their child as an act of discipline," he said.

But Family First MP Dennis Hood yesterday said SA Police needed to develop an official policy to establish a consistent approach to the issue. Mr Hood said he was trying to protect the rights of parents to discipline their children by smacking in a bill introduced into Parliament late last year, which was not supported by the Government. Under his bill, parents would be protected under law from being charged if they smacked their children with an open hand on the bottom, hand or back of legs.

"I haven't pushed the legislation to a vote because the Government has said it won't support it and so it would be unsuccessful," Mr Hood said. "If somebody gives their child a whack on the bottom or the hands or legs they shouldn't be facing potential court action over that - as happened in other states and there are reports of it having happened here in South Australia as well." "Clearly there are inconsistencies with the way this issue is handled. I am not endorsing the beating of children or any form of child abuse whatsoever."

Mr Holloway said police don't keep records of parents charged with smacking their children because if action was taken, the parent would be charged with aggravated assault. Mr Hood said smacking children is illegal in New Zealand. Last week a retired Victorian family court judge called called on state governments to follow New Zealand's move to abolish the legal defence of "reasonable chastisement" for parents who hit their children.

Officers have the power to remove children from dangerous situations if they believe the child was in serious danger and they had to protect the child from harm, Mr Holloway said.


Better teacher selection needed

Elements in the NSW Teachers Federation have strongly resisted the mild proposals put forward by the NSW Director-General of Education, Michael Coutts-Trotter, to improve the processes of selecting teachers for our public schools. Principals of NSW secondary public schools have for years been seeking a more effective system of staffing their schools, and see the latest proposals as a small step in the right direction. A balance between local selection by school-based panels and statewide staffing processes would bring NSW into the 21st century, as well as ensuring students were being taught by teachers who really wanted to be in their school.

The NSW Secondary Principals' Council, the professional association that represents the vast majority of principals in the government sector, has developed a position paper that calls for just that: a balance. The SPC would like to have 50 per cent of staff chosen through local selection, with the remainder determined by state needs. Principals are rightly held more accountable than they used to be for the educational outcomes of students in their schools, but have very little say over the selection of their teachers. Greater authority to do this would lead to a better match of teachers for every school, and teachers would be able to make more informed decisions about where they might like to teach.

Schools in all parts of NSW would benefit from the adoption of the principals' position paper, as it calls for improved incentives to attract and retain teachers in rural and remote areas. Salary increases and termination bonuses after five years' service might well attract more teachers to these schools. Students in isolated areas deserve experienced teachers just as much as students in coastal and metropolitan schools do, and genuine incentives would make this possible.

The current transfer system works against the interests of many teachers who don't attract enough points to be able to move to a school that they would like to be in and to which they could make a great contribution. Some of our really great young teachers resign after a few years and either travel or work in the private sector once they realise that the present selection process is an impediment to them. More Generation Y teachers are teaching in our schools and they have a much more flexible approach to work. They don't want to be locked into a system that sees them as points on a scale rather than as a teacher who wants to work in a variety of locations. A young teacher told me a couple of weeks ago that this would be one issue he wouldn't take industrial action on. He wants the option of seeing what is available in a school before applying. He is not alone in thinking like this.

Parents want the best for their children. Knowing that the teachers of their children want to be in their school, have been selected through proper, fair processes to be there, and will be professionally developing themselves to enhance their future prospects should give parents much more confidence in their local public school.

Let's hope that NSW schools can move into the 21st century, and that the proposal by our school leaders for an improved staffing process will influence both the department and the Teachers Federation.


Over ten years of dodgy doctoring and only now is immigrant doctor stopped

"Your government will look after you", once again

An investigation into a Czech-trained obstetrician and gynaecologist, whose Queensland registration was suspended last night, has found two suspect cases in his work in the state. Dr Roman Hasil worked as a locum at Rockhampton Hospital, in central Queensland, from December 18, 2006, to January 12, 2007. After working for one day at the Redcliffe Hospital, on Brisbane's northern bayside, on March 7, 2007, he disappeared following an inquiry into his performance in New Zealand.

The Medical Board of Queensland last night suspended Dr Hasil's registration after receiving a damning report into his professional conduct from New Zealand authorities. An investigation into Dr Hasil's practices was launched in New Zealand last March after women who underwent sterilisation at Wanganui Hospital later fell pregnant. A NZ Health and Disability Commission report found Dr Hasil had not placed clips correctly on patients' fallopian tubes.

NZ authorities also noted Dr Hasil had a chequered work history in Australia from 1996 to 2005. He had lied about a criminal conviction for domestic violence in Singapore and left Lismore Base Hospital in NSW in 2005 after an allegation against him for "fiddling" timesheets, an accusation he denied. He had been dismissed from a Victorian hospital in 2005 for recording a blood alcohol reading of 0.2 while on call, the New Zealand report said.

Queensland Health acting director-general Andrew Wilson said today a specialist had reviewed Dr Hasil's work in the state and found two cases "indicating an unexpected outcome or deviation from standard practice". The findings of the two cases had been passed on to the medical board, he said. Dr Wilson said Dr Hasil had been involved in 17 obstetric and gynaecological related procedures in Queensland.

Beryl Crosby, who has advocated on behalf of patients of rogue surgeon Dr Jayant Patel, said health authorities needed to improve checks on overseas-trained doctors. Indian-trained Dr Patel, dubbed "Dr Death", is being sought for extradition from the United States on manslaughter charges relating to his work at Bundaberg Base Hospital in southeast Queensland. "They (medical authorities) need to be bloody thorough in their checks and not hire anyone with a record that harmed people," Ms Crosby said. "We don't want this here in Queensland - we've had a gutful. I know we are desperate for doctors, but we are not that desperate that we want to put people in harm's way again. It's just not on."

Dr Hasil remains registered to practice in NSW. The chief executive of the NSW Medical Board, Andrew Dix, said the board was aware of concerns about Dr Hasil, but no complaints had been received in NSW. "We will be taking urgent action to see whether there are grounds for referring him to the medical tribunal," he said on Fairfax radio today. Without a decision from the tribunal, the board did not have the power to deregister, he said.

NZ authorities declined to refer Dr Hasil to prosecutors, but the inquiry report concluded: "Many women of Wanganui have been deeply affected by the substandard care provided by Dr Hasil, and some women have been harmed".


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Literacy taught by illiterates

By Christopher Bantick

It is not just this newspaper that is questioned by Ilana Snyder over its position on literacy. In her book The Literacy Wars: Why Teaching Children to Read and Write is a Battleground in Australia, I am cited several times, and not because I have written on this page. I do hold the view that literacy can be taught with rigour and tested for performance. Snyder suggests: "It was the Murdoch paper's crusade against contemporary approaches to literacy education that motivated me to write the book. In recent years, The Australian's in-house opinion shapers have been accorded astonishing privilege and power. Their goal has been to dictate a reactionary model for the secondary-school curriculum. It is time to hold them to account." But while Snyder can attempt to marginalise The Australian's role in the literacy debate, this is misleading.

It is not my intention to examine and dismiss Snyder's often fatuous, niggardly arguments in her intemperate book. The point here about Snyder and fellow travellers who endorse the view that literacy is an experience rather than a learned discipline is that opposition of any kind - call it conservatism - is ridiculed. It is a neat ploy to say that the so-called Right, for which this newspaper is supposedly a mouthpiece, is narrow and prescriptive in its appreciation of literacy. The enemy has been identified. Meanwhile, those on the Left are expansive, welcome new ideas, are progressive and embrace theory. But this is a deceptive argument.

Literacy transcends the Right or Left positions. It is critics such as Snyder who wish to reduce it to the old Left-Right debate. Moreover, if opinion is even marginally conservative, it is immediately treated as suspect. The problem with Snyder's reductive argument is that she denies the reality that literacy education in Australia is in serious trouble. There are many children who cannot read, write, spell, understand grammar, construct a clear sentence and punctuate with meaning. The reason is palpably obvious.

The students accepted into university teaching courses are often simply the leavings, the lees if you like, after the better students have opted to undertake more prestigious and ambitious degrees. One has only to look at the entrance scores for teaching, some as low as 56, to see that high-flyers are not entering the classroom. The result is teachers who are not proficient in literacy are teaching children. Is it any wonder that Australia is producing illiterate children when they are taught by illiterates? It is for this reason that the NSW Government has introduced tests for five-year-olds in literacy and numeracy from this year in an attempt to head off early learning difficulties. It makes sense.

The reality is that literacy instruction in Australia has been of questionable quality for decades. It is also easy to trace the decline in proficiency to the introduction of progressive, child-centred, jargon-based theory that took over many Australian classrooms during the 1970s. What Snyder and the strident voices of the Left do not grasp, or seem to care about, is that if children are not taught literacy, then they are effectively disenfranchised for life.

Recent research by Australian National University economists Andrew Leigh and Chris Ryan, entitled How Has School Productivity Changed in Australia, points out that today's teenagers are less literate than those of the '60s. The reason is simple: poor teaching.

While Kevin Rudd makes much of his so-called education revolution, which is supposedly going to leap off a laptop keyboard, he has been noticeably silent on the much harder question: will the federal Government be insistent that schools lift their literacy standards? Before the election, Rudd promised to publish primary and secondary school results in reading and writing and numeracy in years three, five and nine. Earlier this month Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Julia Gillard, when referring to the national action plan for literacy and numeracy, said: "The Rudd Government understands that literacy and numeracy are the building blocks of a good education." Well, prove it.

The Rudd Government needs the will and preparedness to take on the entrenched interests in university education departments that work against structured, phonetically based language instruction. It should expose where literacy instruction is deficient and take necessary remedial action. This can be measured by a published state-by-state, school-by-school comparison. But these results should not ossify hidden in some departmental journal but be published in newspapers, much as the Year 12 results and school rankings are done in Victoria. It will soon become evident why it is that some schools in the same socioeconomic band, with the same cohort of children, are doing better than others. This does two things: expose the schools and expose deficient teachers.

While Snyder's book will be welcomed by the literacy luvvies as a justification for their failure to instruct children properly, the truth is that the Left resists accountability. Do parents really care about the literacy wars? Hardly. They just want their children to learn to read and write.


The English are fleeing Britain for Australia

More British people are moving to Australia than ever. For the first time, Australia is the preferred destination for British emigrants, more popular than America and the Med. In 2006-7, 23,223 British people emigrated to Australia, according to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship; of the total, 3,837 were members of families who had uprooted, and 18,115 were "skilled migrants" granted resident visas under the more relaxed residential points system. The figure is double that of a decade ago, and compares with 18,000 in 2004. British people make up almost a quarter of foreigners applying for Australian citizenship: in 2005-6, Australian citizenship was conferred on 103,350 people from over 175 different countries. Of those, people of British origin numbered 22,143, or 21.4% of the total.

Hundreds of thousands of British people go to Australia every year - for a holiday, a long-term stay, or to test the waters prior to emigrating. In the 12 months to July 2007, nearly 200,000 native British citizens packed their bags for Australia, the highest number to leave since the heavily subsidised mass emigration Down Under in the 1960s (1 in 12 Britons now lives abroad, a total of about 5.5m, according to a study by the Institute for Public Policy Research).

And the British easily top the census lists of foreigners resident in Australia and eligible to apply for citizenship. In 2001 they numbered 346,000, or 36.9% of the total ahead of the New Zealanders with 204,900 and Italians with 44,200. In fact, a quarter of a million British people (245,311) living in Australia claimed a British pension in 2006.....

Local trades, too, such as plumbing, electrical services, building and bricklaying, are in need of skilled labour, and often advertise in Britain. While the salaries are about the same as in the UK, their purchasing power is greater because the cost of living in Australia is lower. Others go in search of love, or the promise of it. Australia's outback regions are severely short of women, especially "young wife fodder", said one farmer.

Many recent newcomers are middle-class professionals with young families, drawn by an immigration policy that appeals to the highly skilled. Australian cities fiercely compete for the most talented. Among last year's British emigres were a Sikh family - the father an investment banker, the mother a dentist - who settled here, their third country of residence, to enjoy better prospects and a more child-friendly environment.....

In the 1950s, over 90% of Australians saw themselves as proudly British or Irish, regardless of whether they traced their lineage to a Georgian pickpocket, an East End prostitute, a declasse aristocrat, a potato-famine refugee or a family of graziers (cattle herders) and squatters.

Today's influx has subtly different motives for emigrating: they tend to be pursuing a realisable dream, rather than escaping a nightmare. Asked why they emigrated, most cite: sun and coastal living, lots of space, affordable housing (outside city centres), a generally reliable public health system, good, cheap schools, many jobs and relative security. They are also drawn by some of the world's last unspoilt natural wildernesses, ie, Uluru (Ayers Rock), Tasmania, Kakadu and the Great Barrier Reef. Holidays to exotic South Pacific islands - Vanuatu, Fiji, New Caledonia - are relatively cheap and a few hours away.

But the latest wave of emigrants are motivated by deeper social and economic impulses. Christopher Wade, the director of British Council Australia, said: "Australia has a great work ethic, but a very good after-work ethic too." He especially admires the "fair go" and egalitarian spirit. This is best expressed, he said, in the culture of "volunteerism": for example, many parents commonly coach their children's sports teams. There is such a thing as a community here, Wade insists.

Of course, it is Wade's job to talk up the Australian-British relationship. But the nation's rude economic success and political stability are strong magnets. During the past 15 years, Australia's standard of living has risen constantly and in 2006 it surpassed that of all Group of Eight countries except the US, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Since 1990, Australia's real economy grew by an average of around 3.3% a year, coupled with low inflation averaging around 2.5% (however, it recently exceeded the Reserve Bank's threshold, driving up variable interest rates to a mortgage-busting 8.97%, and rendering the cost of inner-city homes, as a multiple of income, less affordable than that of any other developed nation). There are jobs aplenty, however: the rate of unemployment fell from a peak of nearly 11% in 1992 to below 5% last year - its lowest level since the early 1970s.

The unprecedented Asian, chiefly Chinese, demand for Australia's mineral resources is behind this boom. Australia has some of the world's largest coal, iron ore and uranium reserves, and is one of the biggest gold and diamond producers. Western Australia, lavishly endowed with natural gas and minerals, is enjoying the biggest mining-led surge in its history, and Perth is one of the most expensive cities.

Buttressing that success is the world's oldest continuous democracy. At first glance, Australian standards of public debate suggest an Anglo-Celtic version of Italy's saloon-bar atmosphere. Yet the nation's raucous politicians - witness the Welsh-born deputy prime minister, Julia Gillard, herself the daughter of 10-pound poms, who last year called an opponent "a snivelling little grub", and the former prime minister Paul Keating, who regularly emerges from retirement to toss in a little more rebarbative Aussie wit (the former treasurer Paul Costello, he said last year, was "all tip and no iceberg") - are constrained by a parliamentary system that draws on the best of the Westminster tradition and the English and Scots enlightenment. The November 2007 general election was a sublime example of Australian democracy. When the incumbent prime minister, John Howard, lost the election - and his seat - after 11 years in power, the leadership shifted seamlessly to Labor's Kevin Rudd. Thanks to the compulsory system of preferential voting, the transition was gracious, popular, representative and bloodless....

Gratitude is never far away, either. More Australians seem to realise how good they've got it, and how hard won. Every year more than 10,000 young Australians gather on the shores of Gallipoli on Anzac Day to commemorate the fallen Australian troops. The Kokoda Track and Milne Bay in Papua - the battleground on which Australian forces, many of them untrained militia, first defeated the imperial Japanese army on land - is now considered to be hallowed turf.

And as I watched younger Australians and British backpackers dance in the New Year and partying on the beaches of Sydney, it occurred to me that perhaps Britain had made a terrible mistake - surely they should have left the convicts at home and emigrated?

More here

Bureaucracy hopeless at dealing with black problems

West Australian Coroner Alastair Hope has painted an appalling picture of life as a Kimberley Aborigine, revealing billions of dollars wasted as a result of confused government policy, attacking a lack of leadership in indigenous affairs and criticising the "seriously flawed" delivery of health and education services to remote communities.

In handing down his long-awaited 212-page report into the deaths of 22 Kimberley men and women - including the suicide of an 11-year-old boy - Mr Hope said the plight of the indigenous children of the region was "especially pathetic" and described their future as bleak. He was particularly scathing of the performances of government agencies in health and housing and the "inexplicable" suicides of 21 young Kimberley Aborigines in 2006, a jump of more than 100 per cent from the previous year. "In addition to commonwealth funding, the state is providing $1.2 billion each year for services and programs targeted to indigenous people in Western Australia ... in spite of this allocation of funding, conditions are getting even worse for Aboriginal people in the Kimberley and the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people is now a vast gulf," he said.

Claiming the state Department of Indigenous Affairs "is not, and never has been capable" of providing leadership in addressing the problem, he also attacked the Department of Child Protection which acted in a "reactive rather than proactive" manner.

The first of his 27 recommendations calls on the commonwealth and state governments to jointly appoint an organisation or individual to lead efforts and take responsibility for improving conditions. "In simple terms, it appears that Aboriginal welfare, particularly in the Kimberley, constitutes a disaster, but no one is in charge of the disaster response," Mr Hope said.

The report sparked immediate action from the state Government, with Premier Alan Carpenter reshuffling his cabinet to clear the decks of Indigenous Affairs Minister Michelle Roberts to allow her to concentrate on the report and implement the findings.

Mr Hope wants some remote communities assessed to find out if they are sustainable before more taxpayer dollars are invested in them. If they are found to be sustainable, a "real commitment" should be made to support them. He also recommended allowing the Department for Child Protection to decide whether parents of at-risk children should receive food vouchers and value cards for approved purchases such as groceries and clothing, stopping them from spending cash on alcohol, drugs, gambling or pornography. Mr Hope, who was visibly appalled by the lack of food and poor hygiene he saw during his visit to the squalid homes of Aboriginal people in Fitzroy Crossing last October, also recommended teaching home-maker skills and providing basic furniture. Mr Hope also wants to retain the Community Development Employment Project under which Aborigines effectively work for the dole for four hours a day. He recommended extending Fitzroy Crossing's ban on full-strength takeaway alcohol to other Kimberley towns.

Child health expert Fiona Stanley - the 2003 Australian of the Year - called on the Government to act swiftly, saying the report could not afford to gather dust on a shelf. "We need to make sure that people are accountable and I think possibly the Coroner didn't go far enough with that," she said. "We should be saying that the directors-general of all of those services have two major commitments, one is to deliver the services, and if they don't, there should be some retribution for that. The other thing they have to do is deliver those services collectively."

Labor MLA Tom Stephens, who was instrumental in having the deaths investigated, said the Kimberley Aborigines were "heading into hell" and their situation could worsen before it improved.

The Carpenter Government defended its work, claiming its efforts and achievements had been under-estimated. "There is no superficial answer to the dysfunction and the alienation and the disadvantage in a lot of Aboriginal communities," Mr Carpenter said. "If there were a simple answer then that answer would have been put in place a long time ago."

Ms Roberts admitted hundreds of millions of dollars would need to be spent to address the problems identified by the Coroner. She said the extra $47 million spent at Halls Creek in the past two years was the sort of spending now needed to be replicated across a range of other towns in the Kimberley and also the Pilbara and Goldfields...

Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre co-ordinator Wes Morris - who lobbied the Coroner for the inquest - said the report was a milestone contribution to the well-being of Aboriginal people in the region. Mr Morris said he was pleased that Mr Hope had recognised the incompetence of state and commonwealth government agencies...


Your regulators will protect you (NOT)

Children abused, lost in day care

CHILDREN have been abused, battered and abandoned in childcare centres across Victoria. A Herald Sun investigation found more than 53 children and babies have been mistreated or lost in three years. Some were subjected to shocking and illegal punishments. One carer picked babies up by one arm and dropped them on the ground to discipline them. Toddlers at two centres had their mouths taped shut. A five-year-old at one centre was put in a nappy and placed in a cot as a disciplinary measure. The lives of five youngsters were put at risk by medication mix-ups. And 25 children, as young as 17 months, roamed free from centres.

The revelations come as the State Government delays a critical review of staff levels. Victoria has the worst ratio of qualified staff to children in the nation. Even so, the Brumby Government granted 134 exemptions to staff requirements last year.

Documents obtained by the Herald Sun reveal investigations into 45 incidents led to cautions against 24 centres from 2004-06 - but their names cannot be revealed. The Government refuses to identify the centres, claiming it would be a breach of confidence and inhibit its capacity to collect such information in future. The Herald Sun was given access to executive briefings on cautions after a four-month Freedom of Information battle and a demand for $1000 in charges. Only four centres were prosecuted in the same period - all for allowing children to wander off.

One carer said many incidents went unreported, despite mandatory reporting laws. "Some parents are never even told of incidents involving their children," the carer said. The documents show unreported incidents, including force feeding babies, were uncovered during other investigations. A worker accused of smacking three children, pushing one off a swing, pinching another and pulling a child's hair, was allowed to continue to work under supervision because the claims could not be proved. The worker who dropped babies on the ground and force fed them was sacked. Claims the same worker hit a baby with a laminated sheet could not be substantiated. The documents also show:

A CRYING boy was found locked in a small cupboard when his father came to collect him.

A CHILD spent a night in hospital after being given 15 times the required amount of medication.

CHILDREN at one centre were left unattended in fenced-off areas.

STAFF at another centre were instructed not to comfort crying children.

Childcare worker Bronwen Jefferson - whose daughter Miranda, 3, is in care - said parents had a right to expect their children to be properly cared for. "You want to think when you drop your child off that they will be safe. "But the ratio of childcare workers to children in Victoria is not adequate . . . you'd have to be superhuman to carry out that all day diligently." Centres should have one qualified carer for every five infants up to two years old, and one carer for every 15 youngsters aged three to five.

"I hear from our members repeatedly that it's just too hard to look after that many children and they're completely burnt out," union boss Jess Walsh said. "It's not just a matter of ratios, it's the other tasks, such as cleaning, that staff are required to do." Staff are also in short supply, with the award wage for a qualified carer of three or more years' experience being $39,401.

The Government promised to review staff levels before current childcare regulations expired in May. But just four days before Christmas, centres were told the rules would remain in place another year to allow for "further consultation". Opposition children and early development spokeswoman Wendy Lovell said the Government has had eight years to review the rules.

Children and Early Development Minister Maxine Morand said Victoria had Australia's most robust on-the-spot inspections regime. "There were more than 4000 on-the-spot inspections last year," Ms Morand said. She said the Government planned to strengthen laws to let parents check safety records on line and to boost the power of inspectors and stiffen penalties. Ms Morand said staffing exemptions were vital to keep some centres open. "We will work hard to make sure Victoria gets its fair share of the fully funded 8000 new early childhood TAFE places promised by the new Rudd Government," she said.

A Department source said there was a reluctance to prosecute centres because the bad publicity would place further strain on already over-stretched services. "If the public heard what happened at some centres there would be a stampede to get kids out," the source said.

One of the four centres prosecuted was the ABC centre at Hoppers Crossing, where an autistic toddler with a fascination for cars was almost run over in busy Werribee Park Plaza car park after wandering unnoticed from care. The boy was rescued by a motorist 25 minutes after he disappeared. Police found a two-year-old playing in the middle of a busy street when he crossed rail tracks after walking from a centre at Trackside Sporting Centre in Hampton. The centre, which was operating without a licence despite being told three years earlier that it needed to get one, has since closed. A four-year-old who dodged cars to cross busy Bourke Rd after leaving Samantha's Child Care in Camberwell was found by police metres from his home.


Government sorry over 'mutilation doctor'

"Your government will look after you", once again

The NSW Government says it is sorry, but it can't yet explain why a doctor banned from obstetrics was able to continue performing operations which allegedy left many women mutilated. Dr Graeme Steven Reeves is alleged to have mutilated or sexually abused as many as 800 patients. The NSW Medical Board ruled in 1997 that Graeme Stephen Reeves "suffers from personality and relations problems and depression that detrimentally affects his mental capacity to practise medicine". The board ordered him to stop practising obstetrics, but he defied the ban and took up a position in 2001 as a specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist for the Southern Area Health Service, working at Bega and Pambula hospitals. He was struck off the medical register in 2004.

NSW Health Minister Reba Meagher was today asked by reporters how Dr Reeves had continued to practise when hospital and nursing staff must have known about the type of surgery he was performing. "I don't know what was known then by others around Dr Reeves, but I do know this Government radically overhauled the Health Care Complaints Commission to ensure a greater level of protection for patients that have complaints," Ms Meagher said. Since 2005, hospitals had taken greater care in confirming a doctor's references with the NSW medical board, which has increased its transparency in relation to deregistered doctors.

The NSW Government and police have begun investigations following new allegations about Dr Reeves but it will be some time before authorities determine how he was able to continue to practice as an obstetrician and gynaecologist. "I can't explain that," Ms Meagher said. "But what I can assure the women who are coming forward now is that we will support them in every way we possibly can. "I am sorry that they have had such an awful, awful experience at the hands of somebody who was not fit to deliver a medical service."


Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Faddish educational experimentation condemned

It is time to stop introducing change in the nation's classrooms without discovering whether students' learning improved as a result. In an interview with The Australian just before stepping down as president of the NSW Board of Studies, Gordon Stanley also questioned whether school curriculums contained too many subjects, making it difficult to sustain quality across the board.

He said school systems had placed a premium on innovation for its own sake, without evaluating what worked. "The people most opposed to the collection of evidence hold a strong philosophical position, and they're not interested in any challenges to that position," he said. "But one needs to support those belief positions. It's unfortunate if you just want to have debates about philosophical positions without coming down to an analysis of what the implications of these are for learning. "When you're focused on evidence-based practice, you keep focus on the question of what really works instead of having a debate about the philosophy you hold."

Professor Stanley is stepping down after 10 years to become the Pearson professor of educational assessment at Oxford University, and the founding director of the Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment. During his tenure, the NSW Higher School Certificate has been held up as the gold standard for the nation and is recognised internationally.

While Professor Stanley nominates the integration of vocational courses in the HSC as one of his biggest successes, he questioned the range of subject choices facing students. "I suspect we have too much choice, and too much choice can be confusing for students," he said. "It's worth asking the question whether we've gone too far in differentiating the curriculum. "The more offerings you have, the harder it is to provide well-trained teachers in all these areas. At an individual school level, it's hard to provide all those options for students. And the more differentiated the curriculum, the more expensive it is to deliver."

NSW has also been more successful than other states and territories in withstanding the fads that pass through education, such as integrating history and geography into Studies of Society and the Environment, as occurred elsewhere in the nation. Professor Stanley said NSW "connects with (educational fads) but we don't yield to them without trying to get an understanding of whether in balance they're the appropriate direction to go".


Some climate skepticism that has generally gone unnoticed

The media have noted only the drastic cuts in emissions that the Garnaut report said would be needed. But that pesky Andrew Bolt has looked at the report in detail:

KEVIN Rudd's global warming adviser has had a rude surprise. Professor Ross Garnaut has invigorated a debate on catastrophic man-made global warming that Al Gore, and most journalists and politicians, keep claiming was over years ago. In fact, he's even wondering if some scientists have played funny buggers.

Garnaut, hired to tell Labor how to cut greenhouse gases, yesterday released his interim report, saying most scientists felt we were running out of time: "The world is moving towards high risks of dangerous climate change more rapidly than has generally been understood." This was honey to alarmists, but Garnaut also admits his review of the global warming science "takes the work of the IPCC as its starting point".

That's a problem. This Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change is the United Nations body that persuaded governments we're doomed unless we get less gassy. But Garnaut concedes the IPCC has in fact been accused - not least by an all-party British House of Lords inquiry into climate change - of using dodgy science, excluding dissenters and sexying up findings. Or in Garnaut's more polite words, of lacking "objectivity" and giving in to "political considerations".

As Garnaut says, its critics include top scientists such as hurricane expert Chris Landsea, who quit the IPCC to protest (in Garnaut's words) the "mispresentation of climate science" by colleagues.What's more, despite claims the "science is settled", Garnaut found the science of man-made warming was of a "qualified and contested nature", and he was in "no position to adjudicate on the relative merits of various expert scientific opinions". He just had to go "on the balance of probabilities" - with this controversial IPCC and the majority of scientists whose views it represented.

But he urged that the global debate be made "open to alternative perspectives beyond the IPCC", and said he'd recommend a "strengthening (of) the pluralist character of the Australian research efforts".

Meanwhile, Britain's Hadley Centre reports a global drop in temperature in the past 12 months, backing up predictions that 1998 will still remain the hottest year on record. No one knows if global warming has stopped. But with even Garnaut wanting a more balanced debate, it's best to be wary of the people shouting once more that it's time to panic.


Time to put an end to inflationary, profligate spending

THE Business Council of Australia's budget submission is a devastating critique of the short-sighted policies and wasted opportunities of the Howard years. It paints a picture of a bloated, spendthrift government squandering a windfall in revenue of $87 billion that dropped into its lap from the China boom from mid-2002 until 2007. It reveals a government that took the easy option of handing out largesse through welfare transfers, even as the need for welfare dwindled and unemployment all but disappeared across most of the country. Despite the small-government rhetoric of his party, Mr Howard baulked at cutting government expenditure, presiding over an ever larger bureaucracy. Public service numbers increased by 40,000 in the past five years, with a 16 per cent increase in past two.

The BCA report, which echoes The Australian's major criticism of the Howard administration, will ring true with former treasurer Peter Costello who tried, with little success, to rein in his boss's profligate spending. From this point of view the report will gladden the hearts of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Treasurer Wayne Swan and Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner, who have incessantly reminded us of the failings of the previous government. Nonetheless, the challenges for the Rudd government outlined in the report are huge. Mr Rudd, Mr Swan and Mr Tanner have so far talked the talk on fiscal conservatism, spending cuts and federal-state reforms but now they have to walk the walk.

The Australian strongly supports the government's $31 billion tax cuts because as we said in our February 15 editorial they will provide the incentives for an additional 65,000 workers to join the labour force, precisely what is needed with workers in such short supply. We also argued, and the BCA sets out the case eloquently, that to ensure the tax cuts are not inflationary, the Government must reduce expenditure by $31 billion over the same period. To do this requires taking an axe to welfare, and as the BCA report demonstrates, welfare transfers have boomed even as unemployment has plummeted. Taking away handouts, even from people who patently don't need them, is never easy. But Mr Swan would be well advised to make the deepest cuts in his first budget both because it is now that he needs to reduce inflationary pressures and because he is at the greatest distance from the next election.

The greatest challenge facing the government at the moment is how to grow the economy without accelerating inflation. With unemployment at 30-year lows the question is where to find workers. One very good place to start is the Government. Reducing the size of the public sector, where wealth is distributed, frees up people and resources to work in the private sector, where wealth is created. Smaller governments are also more efficient. As the BCA report shows, despite the massive increase in government expenditure per person in real terms since the early 1990s, the gap between the rich and the poor hardly changed. Despite the protests from class warriors on the Left throughout the Howard era, incomes in 2005-06 were distributed almost exactly as they were in 1994-95 with the share of income earned by the bottom 20 per cent unchanged. Since then the incomes of the bottom 20 per cent have improved but not, significantly, because of welfare transfers but because more people in the bottom 20 per cent have entered the workforce.

Up to now, Mr Rudd has enjoyed massive approval for undertaking major symbolic acts - signing the Kyoto protocol, saying sorry to the Stolen Generations - but the time for easy, pain-free politics, is over. In Aboriginal affairs it is time to make practical reconciliation work, in climate change it is time to face up to the fact that cuts in greenhouse gas emissions are going to push up the price of power, water, petrol and food. In economics it is time to recognise that in order to manage inflationary pressures it is essential to put an end to undisciplined government spending and to make government smaller and more efficient.

Although the task is daunting it is not without precedent. During the Hawke-Keating era, Labor undertook unpopular and painful economic reform and won four elections. Mr Rudd can make equally tough reforms if he stares down the Left of his party and brings the public with him.



Three current articles below

Ambulances wait three hours to hand over patients

No reserve capacity at hospital for surges in demand

This scene outside Cairns Base Hospital's emergency department yesterday is another stark reminder why the region needs a new hospital, now. Ten ambulances were queued outside the choked department by early afternoon, forcing frustrated paramedics to wait for up to three hours before unloading patients.

Officers said they had been putting up with the "bad old days" of no emergency beds for at least a week but yesterday's jam-up had gone from bad to worse as the day went on. "It's beyond a joke," one told The Cairns Post. "Something's got to change." Queensland Ambulance Service area director Warren Martin, who oversees a fleet of 12 vehicles across Cairns, Smithfield and Edmonton, said up to 10 ambulances were effectively out of action for hours. The situation peaked about 2pm when several patients arrived around the same time, causing 10 or 11 ambulances to back up, Mr Martin said.

But he stressed that while the ambulance gridlock outside the emergency department, also known as "ramping", was still happening, new systems to fast-track patients were helping. "It means that when we do ramp, it's not lasting as long," Mr Martin said. "Today was just one of those days." All the patients forced to wait in ambulances yesterday were being closely monitored by emergency doctors, and were in the mid-urgency rather than high-urgency categories, he said. "It's a bit of a cross-section, everything from gastro upset tummies to someone with abdominal pain . I think the hot weather back with a vengeance today has been knocking older people around a bit," Mr Martin said.

Mr Martin said he was "really looking forward" to next year's expected completion of a major expansion to the emergency department, which would double its size and add 12 more beds. A Queensland Health spokesman attributed the delays to a rush of patients at once, with 30 arriving during the most intense period of 12.30pm to 3pm, or about 12 an hour. On a normal day, the department averages five patients per hour. The spokesman said his information was that the maximum number of ambulances waiting at one time had been eight.


Butcher doctor. Your regulators will protect you (NOT)

THEY call him the Butcher of Bega - a NSW doctor who has committed such monstrous acts that hundreds of terrified victims have remained silent for more than five years. Dr Graeme Stephen Reeves is alleged to have routinely mutilated or sexually abused as many as 500 female patients while he was working as a gynaecologist and obstetrician at various hospitals across Sydney and the NSW south coast.

Despite the NSW Medical Board ruling he had psychiatric problems which "detrimentally affect his mental capacity to practice medicine" more than a decade ago, he managed to continue treating women without detection in a devastating trail of botched operations and negligence.

Hundreds of former patients have come forward with harrowing and graphic evidence about Dr Reeves, who was struck off in 2004 for breaching practice restrictions. As many as 500 emails from women were received by the private watchdog, Medical Error Action Group, last week telling of their humiliation and pain after parts of their genitals were removed or sewn up without their consent.

The outpouring came after a former patient of Dr Reeves, Carolyn Dewaegeneire, broke her five-year silence with two other women to give a public account of her ordeal on Channel 9's Sunday program last weekend.

Despite the shocking revelations on the program, Dr Reeves is still not being investigated by the police, the NSW Medical Board or the Health Care Complaints Commission, over the latest allegations. He is also free to re-apply to return to medical work at any time after serving a three-year ban. Dr Reeves has refused to comment on the allegations. The hospitals where Dr Reeves has practised include Hornsby Ku-ring-gai, Sydney Adventist at Wahroonga, The Hills Private at Baulkham Hills, Royal Hospital for Women and the Bega and Pambula hospitals.

Source. More here and here

Rudd guarantees private health rebates

With over 40% of Australians having private health insurance, any other policy would lose him heaps of votes next time

KEVIN Rudd has guaranteed private health insurance rebates will remain in place despite a"root and branch" review of health spending announced today.

Mr Rudd has also appointed one of the architects of Labor's 2004 Medicare Gold policy to provide free medical care for people aged over 75 to the new commission to overhaul health and hospital spending. In an opinion piece written for in 2004 titled Why Labor should stick with Medicare Gold, Professor Stephen Duckett, a respected health economist, argued the principles of the policy still stand. He has also argued the take up of private health insurance has led to longer waiting lists at public hospitals.

The Prime Minister announced today that cabinet had signed off on a new commission to examine hospital and health spending. "There's no point just tinkering with the system. We've got to look at this root and branch,'' Mr Rudd said today. But asked today whether the new National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission would consider changes to the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate, which was opposed by Labor in the past, Mr Rudd said the rebate was safe. "The private health insurance rebate remains unchanged and will remain unchanged,'' Mr Rudd said today.

The new Health and Hospitals Reform Commission will be headed by Dr Christine Bennett, a former chief medical officer for private insurer MBF. Dr Bennett is CEO of Research Australia who has also worked as a specialist paediatrician focussing on population health and research in child and women's health. She has also worked as the chief executive at Westmead - Australia's largest teaching hospital.

Health Minister Nicola Roxon said today the appointees where "top quality people". "This is a new chance to design some of the features required to have a sustainable system into the future,'' she said. Mr Rudd said there would be three reporting deadlines. The first deadline would be mid-year to provide some interim advice for the COAG working groups on hospital reform, with an interim report at the end of the year and a final report in 2009. "Critically, the need for a greater focus on prevention,'' Mr Rudd said. "Unless we deal with these, the impact on our community in terms of well-being.and workforce participation will be huge.''

Professor Duckett, an economist, curently heads the Queensland Health Reform Team. He was Secretary of the Australian Health Department from 1994 - 1996 and has held leadership positions in the Victorian Health Department, at La Trobe University and as Chair of the Boards governing The Alfred and the Brotherhood of St Laurence. But the Medicare Gold policy was lampooned during that election campaign by former Treasurer Peter Costello as "underfunded, undercosted, unsustainable and unbelievable" was later dumped by then opposition health spokeswoman Julia Gillard after the 2004 election.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Labor government considers US missile shield

PINE Gap may become part of a US-led strategic missile defence shield as Labor considers reversing its opposition to the controversial scheme - a move that could create tensions with China and Russia. In Opposition, Labor was against Australian involvement in a program to build a national missile shield protecting the US, but supported a limited theatre-based system that could be deployed in war zones.

But Foreign Minister Stephen Smith yesterday said missile defence technology had evolved and that the Government was now giving "careful consideration" to participating in the missile shield. Last year, then defence minister Brendan Nelson told parliament the US-Australian defence facility at Pine Gap could form part of a missile shield by providing early warnings of ballistic missile launches.

Any about-face on missile defence could stoke tensions within the Labor Party, with opposition to the joint facilities being an article of faith for many on the party's Left. In his former incarnation as lead singer of activist rock group Midnight Oil, Environment Minister Peter Garrett was a trenchant opponent of Pine Gap.

However, Mr Smith said yesterday: "The technology has moved on, and so what we've said is that in conversation with our ally, with the US, we're happy to give consideration to the missile defence arrangements."

A strategic missile defence system, or strategic defence initiative, as it was originally known, was first proposed in the 1980s by then US president Ronald Reagan. The idea was shelved by president Bill Clinton, but revived by President George W.Bush. The system would offer protection to the US, but could in the future be extended to provide limited cover to Washington's allies, including Australia, through the use of ship-based missiles. Critics say the system would spark a regional arms race and relies on uncertain technology.

Any Australian involvement in a missile shield would generate tensions with nuclear powers China and Russia, both of which are implacably opposed to the scheme, which they fear is aimed at containing their strategic influence. But it would guarantee that Australia would continue to benefit from US intelligence and would give Australian defence contractors access to lucrative work during its development.

Mr Smith said the Government had yet to be persuaded about the viability of a such a system, citing the unknown high cost as well as doubts over the technology. "We're not rushing to embrace it, we are just giving very careful consideration to it and we'll do that in conjunction with our US ally," he said. Mr Smith said the matter had been under discussion during the weekend's Ausmin talks with US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. He denied the two governments were locked in secret talks over the idea, but said certain aspects of the discussions had to remain confidential. The Rudd Government would consider the matter in a "deliberative and sober way", but no decision was imminent. Participation in the scheme might prove to be in Australia's national interest, Mr Smith said. "We don't want to make any decisions which would deprive us of technology which might in the end be in our national security interest and be able to protect our forces in the field," he said.

Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Andrew Robb said Mr Smith's remarks were inconsistent with Labor's pre-election position on the subject. "They need to clearly explain what their position is," he said.

Strategic and defence expert Ross Babbage said that Mr Smith's remarks were a case of "reality biting". "Australia is already involved in a range of things related to missile defence, particularly in monitoring launches," he said. Improved detection, tracking and targeting technology was rendering the distinction between theatre-based and region-based missile defence systems indivisible, Professor Babbage said. He said Australian co-operation in the project would come in the form of research and development as well as surveillance and technology.

Mr Smith also expressed alarm at the trend towards trade protectionism in the US.


Muslims want university classes to fit prayer times

They will push and push for more and more special treatment until someone says No

MUSLIM university students want lectures to be rescheduledto fit in with prayer timetables and separate male and female eating and recreational areas established on Australian campuses. International Muslim students, predominantly from Saudi Arabia, have asked universities in Melbourne to change class times so they can attend congregational prayers. They also want a female-only area for Muslim students to eat and relax. But at least one institution has rejected their demands, arguing that the university is secular and it does not want to set a precedent for requests granted in the name of religious beliefs.

La Trobe University International chief executive director John Molony said several students had approached the Bundoora institution about rearranging class times to fit in with daily prayers. Mr Molony said the university was attempting to "meet the needs" of an increasing number of Muslim international students, including doubling the size of the prayer room on campus.

La Trobe University International College director Martin Van Run said that although it was involved in discussions with the Muslim students who had made the requests, the university was not planning to change any timetables. "That would seriously inconvenience other people at the college and it is not institutionally viable," he told The Australian. "We are a secular institution ... and we need to have a structured timetable." Mr Van Run said that Saudi students were fully aware that the university was secular before coming to study there. "They know well in advance the class times," he said.

A spokesman for RMIT University would neither confirm nor deny reports that Muslim students had requested timetable changes.

One university source told The Australian that the requests by Muslim international students for timetable changes included a petition. "Some of the students would prefer that lecture times were organised so it would be easy for them to attend prayers," he said. "But it wouldn't be a good precedent to set."

Islamic leaders yesterday backed the push by Muslim students to have their lectures arranged to accommodate prayer sessions, but said such a move would be essential only for congregational Friday prayers. Female Muslim leader Aziza Abdel-Halim said yesterday it was a religious duty for those who followed Islam to preach with their fellow believers on Fridays. But the former senior member of John Howard's Muslim reference board said there was nothing in Islam that indicated men and women be segregated when it came to educational activities. "There's nothing in Islam that says there should be complete segregation, especially in educational institutions," said Sister Abdel-Halim.

She said afternoon prayers for Muslims - Zhohor, at 1.10pm, and Asr, at 4.50pm - could be performed until 10 minutes before the following daily prayer, so it was more appropriate to alter prayer times than lecture schedules. "It's reasonable to ask for the lectures to be shifted around on Friday," Sister Abdel-Halim said. "But if it's going to cause havoc with the timetable, I don't think it's really feasible to ask for every single prayer to be catered for


Muslim versus anti-Muslim youth gangs in Melbourne

A TEEN bashed with a tomahawk is fighting for his life as youths warn of a Cronulla-type gang explosion in Melbourne. Sunshine Hospital was forced to call police and shut its emergency department as about 100 youths descended, angered by the brutal attack on their friend. In another unprecedented escalation of gang violence, a molotov cocktail was hurled on a suburban train last week. More attacks were pledged as part of a bitter conflict between two of Melbourne's biggest gangs that has seen 10 youth stabbings.

Police are demanding measures to stem the growing scourge of youth gang activity. They want a Youth Crime Taskforce established, new anti-assembly powers to break up loitering crowds of teens and portable knife scanners. Shopping centres and rail operators are also changing their operations to cope with the rising gang challenge.

Four men have been charged with attempted murder and serious assault over the attack on the 17-year-old on Friday. The teenager and four friends were "pulverised" in the St Albans attack. Their assailants - one 16 - allegedly used a tomahawk, baseball bats and hockey sticks in the violence, destroying their car and putting the five in hospital. One of the teens caught in the attack said the violent onslaught had been triggered by them being on someone else's turf. The teen, who would not give his name, had facial bruising and injured ribs and described the attack as ruthless and against innocent victims. As well as being territorial, he said the attack was carried out for fun.

Police, social workers and even gang members said gang violence was flaring across Melbourne's suburbs. The Police Association - representing 11,000 officers - said the youth gang crisis demanded a regional taskforce on youth crime and anti-assembly powers. "They're under-18 and they're coming in from the outer suburbs and causing mayhem in the city and the inner suburbs," assistant secretary Bruce McKenzie said. "This is happening. And we do know it's of considerable concern to our members." The association is expected to lobby Premier John Brumby for anti-assembly powers to break up big groups of teens and expressed a desire for British-style portable walk-through metal scanners.

In an escalating stoush between two of the city's biggest gangs, an Arab coalition from Melbourne's north was seething over a rap song released by enemy gang South-East Boys, threatening "another Cronulla". The song, Lullaby, derides the Dandenong gang's Arab enemies as "p*****s" and threatens a local Cronulla-style race clash.

Gang members said the rivalry between the north and south gangs had already led to 10 stabbings. "Give it tomorrow, give it a year. We will hit back 10 times harder," said Ronni, leader of northern gang ASAD or Arabian Soldiers Arab Defenders. Gang members are aged 17 to 26 and brawl with machetes, bottles, poles, knuckle-dusters and knives. The North-West Boys, who have a distinct double-fist handshake, are made up of gangs including ASAD, which has spread from Newport, and The Clan.

The North-West Boys said their opposing gang, based around Dandenong, was a mix of white "Aussie bogans", Sudanese, Afghans, Italians and Greeks. "We were hunting them for almost seven hours," The Clan leader Hash said. "If the South-East want war, then so be it." The gangs have sophisticated fight strategies and youths are attacked if they stray into another gang's side of the city. "Something in the future is going to happen to them," Ronni said. Hash said they tried to isolate their activities so members of the public would not get hurt.


NSW public hospital kitchens fail hygiene, safety tests

GRUBBY benchtops, sloppy pest control and off deli meats were found during independent audits of NSW public hospital kitchens that found 94 per cent did not comply with new hygiene and safety laws. The Daily Telegraph can reveal 166 of 171 hospitals checked during voluntary audits "required one or more corrective actions" for them to meet new guidelines set down by the NSW Food Authority. Four public hospitals were deemed so bad they failed completely, scoring an "unacceptable" rating for their operations.

But the hospitals won't be named and shamed as the Food Authority claims it would be a breach of their business affairs - considered more important than patients' right to know of threats to their health. It was also claimed identifying the hospitals would make them unco-operative in complying in future audits.

Overall, documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws show there were 719 areas of corrective action required for the 166 hospitals. Censored audit reports for the failed public hospitals show the detail of how poor some hospitals are on hygiene and safety. One of the reports shows a coolroom was running at an unhealthy warm temperature, a precondition for food poisoning. The same kitchen had frozen meats and milk powder stored beyond use-by dates, with sliced deli meats with a 24-hour life found stored for four days. Another report of a public hospital found unclean can openers, no records on pest control and food handling concerns.

Staff involved in food preparation wearing gloves were observed picking up food off the floor. One staff member was "observed coughing into her glove and not removing it".

The unhealthy kitchens are the latest blow to the NSW health system, already reeling over scandals including mismanagement of Royal North Shore Hospital and the bungled construction of the new Bathurst Hospital. A NSW Health spokeswoman said none of the issues incurred penalty notices and there was no threat to public health. [Really??] "In all cases where there was an issue found at audit, remedial action was undertaken immediately."

Brian Holloway, 56, had nothing but praise for the medical staff at Mona Vale Hospital during his long stay last year - but he had no love for the hospital's menu. He was appalled at being served what he said was quiches served flat like pancakes, rice tough enough to put through a slug gun and mashed potato like "quick-set cement".


Academics criticize newspaper

I guess it must be doing a good job of challenging West Australia's notoriously corrupt Leftist government

SENIOR journalism academics have attacked The West Australian newspaper, claiming dubious reporting is costing it the community's trust. A group of seven academics, two of whom are in charge of journalism schools at Perth universities, told The West Australian this week that its reports had "increasingly crossed the line into beat-up and misrepresentation" and the newspaper "is losing its authority".

The mauling came when The West Australian asked Murdoch University's head of journalism, Chris Smyth, to comment on Attorney-General Jim McGinty's decision to exclude the newspaper's reporters from mobile phone media alerts. But Mr Smyth and colleagues at Murdoch and Edith Cowan University accused the newspaper of risking confidence in journalism in general. "Mr McGinty is unwise to deny media conference alerts to The West Australian newspaper, but many people would understand the frustration that has led to this imprudent action," they wrote in a statement.

"Decisions in recent years against the newspaper by the industry's own regulator, the Australian Press Council, demonstrate the paper's style has increasingly crossed the line into beat-up and misrepresentation. "This type of reporting has reduced the paper's authority ... (and) when a major news organisation loses community confidence, we risk a loss of confidence in journalism generally."

In 2004, the press council upheld a complaint against a story about a family of 10 previously homeless Aborigines, titled "The true cost of bludgers", with a picture of the smiling family in front of their new home. Retired Supreme Court judge Henry Wallwork said The West Australian's article, which followed a report in The Australian about the family, was "cowardly in the extreme as it attacks a relatively defenceless family, including innocent children".

Editor Paul Armstrong was unrepentant yesterday. "The press council has issued six findings against The West Australian on reports published since I became editor in September 2003 compared with 10 against The Australian," he said. "By the academics' measure, The Australian must be the biggest beat-up merchant in the country."

In the past week shares in West Australian Newspapers have fallen more than 4.7 per cent. Readership of the paper's flagship weekend edition has fallen by 4.6 per cent in a year while circulation has fallen 3.5 per cent.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Must not tell the truth about blacks

BRISBANE magistrate Walter Ehrich has been criticised for claiming Aborigines do not follow court-imposed orders. Magistrate Walter Ehrich told a Brisbane Magistrates Court hearing last weekend: "Aborigines don't report." He was referring to bail conditions requiring defendants to report to police. "It is very dangerous to put them on reporting conditions because you can set them up to fail," Magistrate Walter Ehrich later told The Sunday Mail.

Mr Ehrich made the comment when asked by prosecutor Sgt Kerrilee Lovaszy to impose a weekly reporting condition on an Aboriginal man about to be bailed. The comment was made on February 16, just days after the Federal Government's apology to the Stolen Generations. A reporting condition requires a defendant on bail to report regularly to a police station. Lewis Desmond Saunders, 39, was charged with assaulting police, obstructing police and a public nuisance offence on February 15 at Stafford, in Brisbane's north. Mr Ehrich released Saunders on bail, without any reporting conditions, to reappear in court on May 6. There was no discussion with Saunders' Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service lawyer about his ability to report to police. Mr Ehrich told the lawyer: "You'll look after him."

Aboriginal community spokesman Sam Watson said the magistrate's comment about Aborigines was "appalling" and indigenous academic Prof Boni Robertson said it was "crazy" as well as "inappropriate". "To a hear a magistrate make such a comment from the bench is appalling. It's condemning an entire race of people," Mr Watson said. Prof Robertson said there were no cultural or community factors substantiating the claim that Aborigines did not report. "It's a very generalised assessment of us being irresponsible about meeting obligations," she said.

But Mr Ehrich defended his statement saying "it's not inappropriate at all". "You don't want to set people up to fail," he said. "At no stage was there any intent to make any derogatory remarks about any particular group of people."

Queensland's Chief Magistrate, Judge Marshall Irwin, said indigenous offenders were not habitually given lesser bail conditions than others. "It is certainly not a situation that depends on the defendant's race," Judge Irwin said.


Shockingly low levels of literacy in Australia

AUSTRALIANS are putting their lives at risk because they can't understand medical prescriptions or basic health information, a new study has revealed. The Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey, conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, found six in 10 people aged between 15 and 74 do not have the basic knowledge and skills to take care of their health and prevent disease. The findings reveal too many people are:

* Unable to perform basic health checks for diseases such as breast, skin or testicular cancer.

* Not aware when they need to contact a doctor.

* Unable to understand instructions on prescribed medication.

* Unable to interpret food labels in order to follow a special diet, such as low fat or low sugar.

The survey, the first of its kind in Australia, has alarmed health experts, who are calling for the Federal Government to introduce a national focus on "health literacy". Prof Robert Bush, director of Queensland's Health Communities Research Centre, said people were putting themselves in danger. "This information should send alarm bells ringing," he said. "Many of our health-promotion initiatives assume a basic level of literacy, such as reading a prescription label so people don't overdose, following a basic health promotion guide, or deciding when it's time to consult a doctor. "Without this basic knowledge then people are putting their lives at risk."

Prof Bush urged the Government to launch a health education program to run in schools, workplaces and aged care homes. "Achieving even a basic level of health literacy to join in ways to better health would seem a fundamental aspiration for Australia," he said. The Adult Literacy and Life Skills survey was completed by 9000 Australians living in urban and rural areas across all states and territories.


Too many dickless Tracys

Another example of the stupid old politically correct pretense that a woman can do anything a man can do. A female cop facing a violent male in a punchup just puts others at risk as they try to rescue her

Former assistant commissioner Noel Ashby has questioned Victoria Police's policies of seeking equal numbers of men and women in the force and of bringing in older recruits. Mr Ashby said older and female recruits were unlikely to remain in the force as long as traditionally recruited young males and were often unwilling or unable to fill important operational roles. He suggested a better gender balance of 60% male and 40% female might be "more realistic".

Mr Ashby, who faces possible charges of perjury and misconduct in public office following an Office of Public Integrity inquiry, said the gender balance and age policies could lead to a drain of officers within seven to 10 years. He also said the current gender quota was preventing good male candidates from becoming policemen. "On pure quotas it's a fact that men are trying to join Victoria Police in far greater numbers than women, but women are joining in far greater numbers because of the quota."

Earlier this week Mr Ashby revealed that operational police numbers had been secretly cut back in a number of areas since Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon took office. There are 28% fewer transit police on public transport; 13% fewer traffic police; and the force response unit, which provides back-up to operational police, had been halved.

The age and gender policies were issues that "need to be thought out very carefully", said Mr Ashby. "It's a fact that we don't keep women, as a general rule and aged recruits, obviously, as long. And that could mean a serious further downstream problem in staffing." "That's not a discriminatory statement; it means we need to look at the demographics and age profile in a way that plans for delivery of police services seven to 10 years hence. It causes long-term planning risks." He said people who joined the force at a later age were often reluctant to do a range of duties such as regular night shifts. "That is also an issue for young mums because they don't want to be away from their kids. We're already seeing those stresses come into the organisation where we're unable to attract women to some areas. "It's difficult to attract women to some of the specialist traffic areas, such as booze buses because seven shifts out of nine are late, after 6pm, for obvious reasons. It's also very difficult to attract women to specialist taskforces because of the periods of time they have to be away."

Mr Ashby said he was not saying the force did not have to do more to make the environment easier for women or for special interest groups. "But should it therefore follow that quotas of 40% would be more realistic?"

A spokeswoman for Ms Nixon said the ratio of women within Victoria Police was currently low compared with other states. "We are working hard to change that. The fact is that everyone who comes into the force does so on the basis of merit." She said the current attrition rate within the force was only 2% a year. "So the perception of people leaving the force in droves is just not right."


Australia: Disgusting Muslim child molester gets off free

Note that the garbage was in a position of trust

Queensland's Attorney-General has failed to secure a criminal conviction for a Brisbane medical student who tried to give an 11-year-old boy a penis "massage". Shakee Mirza, escaped with only 12 months probation over his attempt to molest the boy in the child's bedroom in February 2006, sparking outrage that without a black mark against his name, the 27 year-old would-be doctor would be allowed to treat children once qualified.

Attorney General Kerry Shine launched an appeal against the leniency of the sentence earlier this month, but it was dismissed by the full bench of the Supreme Court of Appeal this morning, which found Mirza had suffered enough. "The recording of a conviction for this offence could well have an impact on Mr Mirza's economic and social wellbeing and his chances of finding employment," Justice Margaret McMurdo said in sentencing remarks, handed down this morning. [Too bad about the kids, apparently] "That, placed together with the circumstances of the offence and Mr Mirza's character and age, placed the matter into that rare category of sexual offence against a child where the recording of a conviction, although certainly open, was not mandatory."

In the Brisbane District Court in October, Mirza pleaded guilty to the attempted indecent treatment of the boy, who he had been assigned to as a mentor by charity organisation the Lions Club of Australia under its Aunties and Uncles program. The court heard he had been in the family home, rubbing the child's head to relax him when he offered to massage the child's penis instead because "it would feel better". The boy managed to fend off Mirza's advances.

It was later suggested Mirza had been inspired to touch the boy after watching the comedy film Spaceballs, which had been playing in the room at the time. Lawyers for Ms Shine had argued the disparity in age and Mirza's "gross breach of trust" warranted a jail term. However, the Court of Appeal today found that the third year University of Queensland medical student would still have to inform the university and any future employer of the offence, which was "an adequate deterrent for minor offenders like Mr Mirza". "A significant consideration in this case is that there was no actual physical indecent touching of the compalinant," Justice McMurdo said. "The offence was not premeditated and was comitted in front of others."


A farcical public hospital

Even under great public pressure, the bumbling NSW government still manages to do zilch

THE state of the disastrous new $100 million Bathurst Base Hospital has descended into farce after a head doctor bought an air horn from a sports store so he could be summoned in an emergency because he did not trust the alarm system. It was hoped that non-urgent surgery - suspended indefinitely more than a week ago because of safety concerns - would resume yesterday but doctors instead voted to postpone all operations booked for the next week, calling the situation a "crisis".

A representative on the Medical Staff Council, Dr Stavros Prineas, said the alarm system had serious communication problems, putting patients at risk. The emergency alarm could not be heard across the theatre complex - despite sounding in other areas of the hospital - so nurses had resorted to running through corridors looking for doctors during an emergency, he said. He said Telstra was working yesterday to give the hospital mobile phone coverage. Surgery lists would be reviewed weekly but operations would probably be suspended for at least a further three weeks, Dr Prineas said.

The Health Minister, Reba Meagher, has agreed to a potentially multimillion-dollar redesign because the hospital does not meet national health standards. The co-director of the intensive care unit, Brendan Smith, said nothing had improved after Ms Meagher's visit on Thursday. "We still do not have an effective alarm system in the theatres and recovery. Yesterday we did a couple of cases in the theatre and the only way we were able to do it was because I went to the shop and bought an air horn," Dr Smith said.

"We actually gave it to the director-general [of NSW Health], Professor Debora Picone, and said this was what we've been reduced to and she looked shocked and there were a few comments from her minions in the hospital that said, 'I don't know if that's legal', and we said, 'It might not be legal but it's effective', and they got the message loud and clear."

He said doctors were also considering closing maternity because anaesthetists felt they could not provide a safe service. "Everything but the most dire urgent surgery is being cancelled and it's probably that the obstetrics unit will be closed down because we can't give anaesthetic cover," Dr Smith said.

The doctors have issued a list of demands to Ms Meagher including that a purpose-built annex be urgently constructed for services they say were promised but not delivered such as the ambulatory care unit and outpatient clinics.

The State Government yesterday tabled its response to the Nile inquiry into Royal North Shore Hospital and said it would implement all but two of the 45 recommendations. Doctors say the recommendations do not address the basic problems of bed and staff shortages.