Saturday, January 31, 2009

Rudd must reform, not reregulate

The Prime Minister thinks the market needs more regulation. The great record of Labor leaders past proves him wrong

THE Howard government squandered the opportunity of the boom years, failing to use all its opportunities to encourage productivity, build export infrastructure and deal with the complex mess the tax and welfare systems have become. It is now up to Kevin Rudd to avoid squandering the opportunities the global economic crisis offers Australia - in hard times people will accept the need for change that seems unnecessary in periods of prosperity. The Prime Minister must push on with the reform process that he outlined last year before the slump started. But to do this he will have to stay true to the ideas that have transformed Australia over the past 30years, and which remain the foundation of our economy - the efficiency of the free market and its superiority to state management. For Mr Rudd to return Australia to the era of the all-powerful public sector that Bob Hawke and Paul Keating began to dismantle in the 1980s would reduce opportunities for young people by constraining the job-generating private sector. And it would slow the economic growth needed to fund social welfare support for their grandparents as they retire. It would, in short, dim the light on the hill.

But as The Weekend Australian reports, Mr Rudd is responding to the risk of recession by making a case for big government. In a new essay, the Prime Minister argues that the global financial crisis is the inevitable outcome of the free market "neo-liberal" ideology introduced to government in the Reagan and Thatcher years. He acknowledges the "great strengths of open competitive markets" but argues that the job for social democrats is to save capitalism from itself in mixed economies where there is "a role for the state as regulator and as a funder and provider of public goods". In criticising "the extreme capitalism and unrestrained greed that have perverted so much of the global financial system", the Prime Minister has a point. There is no doubting the case for better regulation of banks in Europe and the US after years when cheap credit led to less exuberance and more incompetence in lending. And the avarice of corporate bosses, such as the Wall Street executives who took $18 billion in bonuses while begging for taxpayer bailouts, was less capitalism than kleptomania. Mr Rudd is also right to advocate better regulation of financial systems. With taxpayers all over the world now owning banks, governments are obliged to oversee their investments.

But in suggesting "the challenge for social democrats today is to recast the role of the state and its associated political economy of social democracy as a comprehensive philosophical framework for the future", Mr Rudd runs the risk of pushing us towards the past. His argument will appeal to advocates of the old model of state control that held back Australia, the US and Britain before deregulation in the 70s and 80s, and which kept unemployment high in western Europe for the following 30 years. And his argument ignores the obvious. The causes of our economic problems are almost entirely imported. Australia's banks are stable. The share market may have lost five years of gains, but almost all Australians today, except the absolutely indigent, are still immeasurably more affluent than they were 30 years ago. And Mr Rudd's assertion that it is time to reject free market ideologues who believe in cutting taxes "to strangle the capacity of government" manifestly does not apply here. Canberra's tax take was 20.7 per cent of GDP in the last budget. Most important, in pointing to the greed of a few who abused privileged positions, Mr Rudd ignores the way the free market has been an engine of opportunity and prosperity all over the planet. The wave of reform that began in the early 80s transformed much of the world. It lifted hundreds of millions of people from poverty in China and southeast Asia. It ended the political and economic oppression of communism in eastern Europe. In a pre-crash report, the World Bank estimated the number of middle-class people on the planet would more than double, to 16 per cent of the world population, by 2030. The reduction of the economic authority of governments over the past 30 years has also made the world safer. Prosperous people invariably prefer peace to pogroms, diplomacy to war.

To take us back to the old Labor belief that a reforming government always expands the role of the state is to forget the way things were when housing loans were allocated to suit the banks, not the home buyers, and white goods were so expensive working Australians could only acquire a fridge or a washing machine on hire purchase. And it would inevitably reduce the opportunities for Mr Rudd to enact his reform agenda - bureaucrats with regulatory authority always see reason to expand it, rarely to give it up. One of the great reforms of the past 20 years was national competition policy, which abolished state regulation of all sorts of industries - adding, according to the Productivity Commission, 2.5 per cent to GDP in the process.

The Rudd Government is right to be committed to a new round of deregulation to reduce state and federal overlaps across the public and private sectors, and to be looking for ways to improve the performance of the state hospital systems, now burdened by large and unproductive bureaucracies. And Canberra is correct to be considering investments in transport infrastructure. The slump will not last forever. The International Monetary Fund estimates global growth of 3 per cent next year. We cannot afford a repeat of the problems when Australia's railways and ports cannot move wheat and coal in good time. Most important, the Government has commissioned a comprehensive review of the tax system, including the way it interacts with welfare payments. This is essential. Low-income people with small children who go back to work can be worse off, due to increased tax and lower benefits. As Labor Minister for Small Business Craig Emerson argued in this newspaper last week: "People respond to incentives. Yet public policymakers have so often put in place perverse incentives, and then wondered why people behave the way they do."

While there is no doubting we need an active and interventionist government, we need one that reforms rather than regulates. Mr Rudd's experience should show him how a reform-driven society creates wealth. His wife built a small business into a big one by providing an essential social service -helping people to find jobs more efficiently than the old public sector employment agencies. The country understands how serious our situation is and has rallied behind Mr Rudd, who enjoys the sort of support normally reserved for leaders in wartime, with a 70 per cent approval rating in the latest Newspoll. He must spend this political capital in reforming Australia, not just for the hard times of the coming year but for the decades to come. The way to do this is to hold firm to the great Labor tradition of market-based reforms, and not use a foreign banking crisis to urge us back into the inefficient embrace of big government. It is an embrace that has always failed us.

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MELTING CREDIBILITY OF AUSTRALIAN MEDIA

Such has been the fear of Greenland's melting glaciers that well known Australian science journalist Robyn Williams has claimed sea levels could rise by 100 metres within the next 100 years. Mr Williams, and other journalists, have been quick to report on what has become known as the "Greenland Ice Armageddon".

Last Friday there was an article in one of the most read science journals, Science, entitled "Galloping Glaciers of Greenland have Reined Themselves In" by Richard A. Kerr.

Yes, as the title suggests, the article explains that a wide-ranging survey of glacier conditions across south eastern Greenland, indicates that glacier melt has slowed significantly and that it would be wrong to attribute the higher rates of melt prior to 2005 to global warming or to extrapolate the higher melt rates of a few years ago into the future.

Mr Kerr was reporting on a presentation by glaciologist Tavi Murray at the American Geophysical Union Conference in San Francisco last December. The paper by Dr Murray was co-authored by many other members of the group at Swansea University in the UK, a team often quoted by Al Gore and others.

When I read the article last Friday I wondered how Robyn "100 metres" Williams and other journalists in the mainstream media (MSM) might report the story. To my amazement they have simply ignored it.

It seems that the mainstream media is a shameless exaggerator of global warming, and unable to report anything really significant that contradicts the established storyline.

Perhaps I should not be surprised, as a lecturer in journalism explained to me some time ago: journalists only add to narratives, as one might add to a large tapestry. [5] Yep, so, the mainstream media's news has to all fit together like a picture. What is reported tomorrow is expected to accord with what was reported yesterday. But the real world is so much more complicated.

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More of the ethical standards one expects from the Queensland police

A Brisbane police officer got into a holey row with Krispy Kreme staff, demanding to be served free doughnuts. Shocked customers looked on as the officer argued with staff for several minutes in a bid to get his freebies, before finally storming off - empty handed and non-cinnamon-fingered. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing," a witness said. "He was quite rude, insisting his doughnuts should be free. He was so greedy for the doughnuts. I thought, 'you swine, get your money out and pay for them like everyone else'."

As the icing on the cake, Krispy Kreme has now decided to stop supplying Brisbane police with leftover doughnuts. The junior constable from the City Beat unit, on Adelaide St, was reprimanded by colleagues after the embarrassing scene. Before the incident, officers had been regularly popping in to collect free boxes of leftover doughnuts at the store in nearby Albert St at the end of the day. Staff were unable to sell the doughnuts and were only too happy to oblige.

A police source said the officer had become confused and thought the free doughnut arrangement applied at all times. "Everyone's a bit annoyed because they were a nice treat at the end of the day with a coffee," he said. "It's a shame the arrangement came to such a nasty end, because we do love Krispy Kremes - although our waistlines are looking a lot better now."

A spokeswoman for the Queensland Police Service said the officer's behaviour could not be condoned. "A constable from City Beat received managerial guidance at the time of the incident," she said. It is believed the Krispy Kreme store now gives the leftover doughnuts to the homeless instead.

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ANOTHER DAY OF THE AUSTRALIAN MEDI-MELTDOWN

Three more current news reports below

Amazing public hospital negligence kills man

I reported the bare bones of this story yesterday but now that we have the details below, the case is even more unforgivable

He was a devoted father who loved the outdoors, but in the final days of his life the pain in his head was so great it reduced him to tears. Yesterday the distraught family of 24-year-old Brendan Burns said he had been handed a "death sentence" by an unnamed doctor at Griffith Base Hospital, who discharged him last week after refusing to order a CT scan that might have saved his life.

Mr Burns, a road worker from Hay in the Riverina, had been experiencing debilitating headaches for about a week when he was taken to the local hospital by ambulance on Saturday. A doctor who examined him ordered his transfer from Hay to Griffith Base Hospital for an emergency CT scan. But at 11.30pm that night, Mr Burns' partner Liz Newman received a call to say he had been discharged and that she should pick him up. When she and a friend arrived at the hospital, they were horrified to find him barely conscious. "Brendan didn't even know who we were. He couldn't move. Not even the doctor could wake him - I had to get an orderly to sit him up. He had no control over his bodily functions," Ms Newman said yesterday.

Despite her friend's pleas that he be allowed to stay in hospital, the pair were told to take him home. But just hours after Ms Newman put him to bed, she heard a "horrific noise". "I rushed in and started screaming. I saw this stuff coming out of his mouth. I rolled him on to his side so he wouldn't choke." Mr Burns was rushed back to Griffith Base Hospital and was then flown to Sydney's St Vincent's Hospital, where a CT scan revealed a growth on his spinal cord. "He had hydrocephalitis and the pressure had been so great that it shifted parts of his brain," Ms Newman said. He underwent surgery, but died on Tuesday surrounded by family.

Ms Newman said she had no idea how to explain to the couple's daughter Nadia, 3, that her father wouldn't be coming home. "Brendan never got to say his goodbyes and it's their fault. "My daughter has been robbed of her father. Those doctors can get on with their lives. They don't have to live with a little girl screaming for her dad."

SOURCE

Ambulance could not find man two minutes drive away

They were so bureaucratized that they apparently did not even think of looking up one of those silly old-fashioned paper maps of the locality. And once upon a time, firemen, police and ambulance officers were supposed to a have a good knowledge of their local geography. More silly, oldfashioned ideas, I guess

A heartbroken Brisbane mother has launched legal action over the death of her partner after paramedics took an hour to find him because the address - which had existed for four years - was not in the state's road database. Kylie Bacon, 33, of Chermside, is suing the State Government, Moreton Bay Regional Council and the body corporate of Spinnaker Beach One Community Titles Scheme for unspecified damages for herself, daughter Letitia, 13, and son Owen, who turns three tomorrow. Her partner of seven years Adam Foks, 30, a landscape gardener, died from an asthma attack at a Bribie Island bus stop after dialling 000 on January 25, 2006. Their son, Owen, was born a week later - the day after his father's funeral.

Ms Bacon's claim, filed in the Queensland Supreme Court, states Mr Foks had caught a bus to visit his mother, Sandra Major, in the Sandpiper Court estate on Spinnaker Drive, when he had an attack. Mr Foks called 000 at 5.47pm and gave his mother's address. He collapsed on the nearby footpath, where his mother found him and called another ambulance at 6.06pm. Paramedics arrived at 6.45pm but Mr Foks had died. The claim states the nearest Queensland Ambulance Service station was about two minutes' drive from Spinnaker Drive and Sandpiper Court, which has existed since 2002.

Ms Bacon alleged the Government failed to ensure the State Digital Road Network, administered by the Department of Main Roads and used by the QAS, was kept up to date and accurate. She also alleged the council failed to keep up-to-date records of local roads and inform Main Roads of the existence of Sandpiper Court, and that the estate's body corporate should have also ensured its details were on the network.

Yesterday, Ms Bacon said the family was "broken" and still struggled to deal with their grief and find "stability". "Our lives have been turned upside down and we still haven't found our footing," the sole parent pensioner said. "Owen is the spitting image of his dad. Every night we go out and talk to the stars, where he knows Daddy is watching from heaven. "I stress every day about raising a son without a strong male role model and not being able to teach him things about being a man that a father could." Lawyers for the State Government and regional council declined to comment. Representatives for Spinnaker Beach said the matter was with their solicitors.

SOURCE

Unbelievable public hospital inefficiency

And all because of the Leftist love of centralization and horror at any hint of competition. Only a government could be this insane and wasteful

The Queensland Children's Hospital will deliver just 23 extra overnight beds at a cost of $1.1 billion. That's $47.8 million a bed. Of course I haven't factored in the new building that goes with the beds. And the hospital plan includes 100 or so recliner chairs or "same day" and "short stay" beds not counted in my calculation. Nevertheless, the revelation the new hospital will get 23 extra overnight beds for such an extraordinary pool of money will come as a shock to clinicians and patients - if not Health Minister Stephen Robertson himself.

The details are contained in the latest official figures released by Queensland Health showing there will be 248 overnight beds in the new hospital compared with a combined 225 overnight beds available now at Royal Children's and Mater Children's hospitals. The new hospital will come about with the closure of the Royal Children's and the Mater Children's and the pledge of a "world class" children's hospital adjoining the Mater in the South Brisbane electorate of Premier Anna Bligh.

Specialists already complain the new hospital will have inadequate beds and inadequate space for key departments like gastroenterology and respiratory medicine. Pediatricians have complained that consulting rooms may be too small for patients in wheelchairs. And vital research facilities are in limbo, with no space allocated in the main hospital site. Unless there are research and training facilities, the new "world class" hospital will not attract quality staff. Then there is the problem of an $80 million energy plant - unfunded in the hospital plan.

However, the chief executive of the Queensland Children's Hospital does not believe these problems are insurmountable. Peter Steer believes enhanced pediatric services at other hospitals in the southeast corner will take the heat off the QCH. [Thus defeating the point of the excercise?]

Good luck to Dr Steer. The world needs more optimists. He said the proposed Gold Coast University Hospital and the Sunshine Coast University Hospital would have emergency pediatric and inpatient specialty services. And pediatric services in other hospitals would be increased, he said. "The impact of these enhanced services will reduce the level of secondary service demand at the QCH so that it can operate as a truly tertiary level hospital," he said in response to questions I sent to Mr Robertson. Dr Steer added: "The current proposed total bed numbers at the QCH are considered appropriate to meet the projected demands for the hospital in conjunction with the enhancements to services in surrounding hospitals." Dr Steer said he was too busy to be interviewed face-to-face.

Dr Steer was also quoted as saying: "In addition to the services proposed for the QCH, there is currently work being undertaken to increase pediatric bed numbers for less complex patients who it is envisaged will access services in their local area." He said despite the closure of Royal Children's, Brisbane northside families would have adequate emergency pediatric cover. But he couldn't say where it would be or how much it would cost. "The proposed specialist pediatric emergency department on the northside of Brisbane will include a short-stay unit," he said. "The location of the specialist pediatric emergency department on the northside is being finalised in consultation with clinicians." The new short-stay facility would likely have 20 same-day beds. Dr Steer said funding was still to be announced.

Despite his assurances, Queensland Health bureaucrats say it is a "potentially high-risk strategy" to believe outer-Brisbane hospitals can pick up the slack. An internal report last year warned: "If further beds for QCH cannot be afforded, the only option will be to have strategies in place to enhance secondary level pediatric services at Logan, Redlands, Ipswich and Prince Charles hospitals. "This will require additional capital and recurrent funding for those hospitals and a reprioritisation within the Area Health Service Plans."

Then came the bombshell: "There is currently no capital planning under way for enhancements to emergency departments or pediatric in-patient capacity within the planning time frame for the QCH. The worst-case scenario for QCH is that it is built with too few beds and too small an emergency department on the assumption that these services will be provided elsewhere, and then the required capacity elsewhere is not delivered."

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