Friday, February 06, 2009

Bundaberg Hospital inquiry 'ignored' central witness

In my post yesterday I ridiculed on principle the internal "Inquiry" that had dismissed the complaints about Bundaberg hospital. We see now below that I was exactly right to do that

QUEENSLAND Health dismissed serious allegations of assault and negligence at Bundaberg Hospital without speaking to the key witness, it is alleged. In The Courier-Mail yesterday, Health Minister Stephen Robertson said allegations a baby had been assaulted and an elderly man left to die on a trolley in a hallway had been investigated by the Queensland Health Ethical Standards Unit and "found not to have been sustained".

However, the nurse at the centre of the controversy claims she has not been contacted by the unit. "No one from the ethical standards unit has ever contacted me - not ever. Not by phone or letter or in person," she said. "And never once did a manager at Bundaberg come back to me and say, 'Let's look at your evidence'." The highly qualified nurse has made a series of startling allegations against the hospital, including the falsifying of records, understaffing, bullying, and gross medical neglect.

Following pressure from Rob Messenger (LNP, Burnett), Mr Robertson confirmed he had referred the case to the Health Quality and Complaints Commission. He also said 3000 complaints logged at the hospital in the past three years would be reviewed by Queensland Health's patient safety centre. As well, Dr Stephen Ayre, executive medical director of Prince Charles Hospital, will investigate the 100 complaints by the whistleblower.

Mr Robertson said claims of falsified triage times would be investigated after the Crime and Misconduct Commission and the Queensland Health Ethical Standards Unit, and investigations into emergency department and triage times would be completed by February 23, with the report to be released publicly. Mr Robertson rejected the hospital was understaffed and said 33 extra doctors, 114 extra nurses and 127 extra allied health professions had been appointed since 2005.

The controversy took another strange twist yesterday when the Director-General of Health, Mick Reid, was reported to his own ethical unit for allegedly using explicit language. Mr Messenger, the MLA who raised the allegations, claimed Mr Reid used the unsavoury language during a meeting in Bundaberg with the whistleblower. Mr Messenger said in a reply to a comment about the whistleblower's career prospects, the Director-General said "If you want to say to me f*** off I'm going to go and do something else, that's great". Mr Reid apologised last night for his choice of language. "I'm not aware that the nurse or her partner were offended by the language I used, but I reiterate that I am sorry for any offence I may have inadvertently caused," Mr Reid said.


Rudd on a dangerous, ill-informed crusade

Michael Costa, former Labor Party treasurer of NSW, really puts the boot in to Rudd -- and deservedly so

IN the middle of what he describes as the worst economic crisis since the Depression, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has decided to launch a divisive personal crusade against so-called "neo-liberalism". Rather than economic solutions, Rudd is seeking ideological retribution. If Rudd is to be believed, all the present problems can be traced back to the "neo-liberal orthodoxy" that dominates economic policymaking. And the solution is a return to social democratic Keynesian policies that existed prior to the mid-70s.

Rudd's essay has been marketed by its publishers as a unique and lucid insight into the present financial crisis. It is hardly this, anyone familiar with the recent popular works of Paul Krugman, The Great Unraveling, and Joseph Stiglitz, The Roaring 90s: a New History of the World's Most Prosperous Decade, would be familiar with the Rudd argument. In Rudd's version "the current crisis is the culmination of a 30-year domination of economic policy by a free-market ideology that has been variously called 'neo-liberalism', economic liberalism, economic fundamentalism, Thatcherism or the Washington consensus." The political ideology of neoliberals has been "that government activity should be constrained, and ultimately replaced, by market forces".

The fact that Krugman and Stiglitz, both of whom he quotes, are John Bates Clark medal winners and Nobel laureate economists, which clearly runs counter to his argument of free-market economic policy hegemony, is conveniently forgotten. Indeed, Stiglitz was chairman of president Bill Clinton's council of economic advisers and also chief economist of the World Bank. There are many Nobel laureate economists who would be horrified to be described as neo-liberal. Economics is not the monolithic ideological edifice Rudd seems to think.

The bulk of his essay consists of a rambling and selective economic history. He criticises tax cuts implemented by "neo-liberal" politicians and neglects to mention significant tax cuts implemented by Democrats such as president John F. Kennedy. He gives credit to the Marshall plan in restoring Europe's prosperity after World War II but conveniently forgets to mention the complementary liberalisation of Europe markets, particularly in West Germany.

Ultimately, Rudd resorts to the usual interventionist myths to justify his position. The greatest of these, of course, is the myth that Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal policies saved the US from the Depression. The effectiveness of New Deal policies is a controversial area of economic theory and history. In a recent analysis, historian Burton Folsom Jr points out that while unemployment fluctuated throughout the '30s, average unemployment in 1939 was higher than in 1931, the year before Roosevelt became president.

He also produces a revealing extract from testimony by Henry Morgenthau Jr, Roosevelt's treasury secretary, on May 9, 1939 to the House Ways and Means committee: "We have tried spending money. We are spending more than we have ever spent before and it does not work. And I have just one interest, and if I'm wrong ... somebody else can have my job. I want to see this country prosperous. I want to see people get a job. I want to see people get enough to eat. We have never made good on our promises ... I say after eight years of this administration we have just as much unemployment as when we started ... And an enormous debt to boot." Morgenthau was a fervent believer in the merits of government intervention; his view is an important warning to all policy makers about the dangers of "neo-interventionism".

What is not in dispute is that the US Federal Reserve made the Depression worse by mismanaging monetary policy. At the onset of the Depression, the Federal Reserve adopted a deflationary monetary policy that added to its severity. The money supply contracted by nearly one third in the Depression's first four years. That's why present Fed chairman Ben Bernanke moved quickly to increase liquidity.

The failure of government-mandated central banks and government regulation provides a more cogent explanation of present financial difficulties than some conspiracy by neoliberal economists. Rudd seems to have an almost religious belief in government infallibility. Like all strong believers, he seems to see only the things that support his view. He criticises Republicans for neo-liberal policies but is silent when Labor or Democrats support similar policies.

In the one case he can't avoid, the Hawke-Keating governments of the '80s and '90s, he praises their commitment to "economic modernisation". John Edwards, who was a senior economic adviser to treasurer and later prime minister Paul Keating published an analysis of what he called "Australia's Economic Revolution" in 2000, which describes the economic modernisation as consisting of policies such as the "deregulation of finance and the float of the currency", "the abolition of capital controls" and the "low inflation" policy.

So deregulation, privatisation, greater market competition and expanded private participation in equity markets through compulsory super, is OK if it's undertaken by Australian Labor governments, but it is neo-liberal ideology if anybody else does it. All the way through his essay Rudd tries to have it both ways, cherrypicking economic history to support his political prejudices.

The reason the economics profession reassessed its view of Keynesian economic practice had nothing to do with ideological conspiracies. The reality is the stagflation of the '70s demonstrated conclusively that economic concepts such as the Phillips curve, the assumed trade-off between unemployment and inflation, which were at the core of the neoclassical synthesis didn't hold. The neoclassical synthesis itself wasn't overthrown, it was merely re-ordered with a greater emphasis on monetary policy.

Anyone with a rudimentary understanding of economics would be aware the economics of Frederick Hayek and Ludwig von Mises, which explicitly reject activist central banks, are in no way related to the present ruling economic orthodoxy. Mises favoured the gold standard and Hayek believed in the denationalisation of money, private money.

Rudd's essay displays his superficial reading of economic history. Even in areas where he has a purported expertise such as foreign policy, he fails to comprehend key political distinctions. He makes the extraordinary claim that neo-liberals, Hayek and Mises, are "ideological bedfellows" with neo-conservatives. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is nothing more abhorrent for most neo-liberals than activist foreign policy.

If you look at the present size of the public sector and the level of public spending in Britain, the US and Australia, the only fair conclusion you can draw is that neo-liberals failed to successfully implement their agenda. In all cases the public sector is about the same size, and in the case of Britain and the US, public spending and debt have ballooned. Rather than neo-liberalism, the past 30 years have seen a form of stealth Keynesianism dominate economic policy. Rudd's "neo-interventionism" is likely to do more damage to the economy than the past lip service paid by politicians of both political persuasions to market forces.


The highly "incorrect" Jeremy Clarkson is in Australia

Some quotes from him via Tim Blair

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was, said Clarkson, the most nervous man he'd ever seen on TV, but he still seemed to prefer Rudd to his own PM, Gordon Brown, the "one-eyed Scottish idiot''.

On smoking: "I smoke because I'm not a coward.''

On Top Gear Live's motorcycle stuntmen: "They're French, so if they get killed it's not the end of the world.''

On freezing British weather: "There are too many green people in the world and they're not buying enough Range Rovers to warm it up.''

On Top Gear's climate concerns: "We don't have a carbon footprint. That's because we drive everywhere.''

On Australia's struggling automotive industry: "We don't care.''

On cricket: "A game invented by people with not enough things to do.''


Wild turkeys abound right in the city

They're not much like the turkeys that often appear in roasted form on dining room tables but they are rather attractive birds. Where I live is 5 minute's drive from the Brisbane CBD and I see them trotting up and down the street where I live several times a week. My father ate them occasionally before they became protected and said that they were pretty tough eating. I personally love to see them about so am sorry to hear that they can be a nuisance. They are also called scrub turkeys or bush turkeys

THEY'RE moving into suburban backyards, raping chooks and trashing the lovingly landscaped native gardens of well-heeled householders. Experts say the once rare native brush turkey could go the way of the ibis and become a permanent fixture of the suburban environment. "Brush turkeys ... are really making a success of their move into the suburbs," says Associate Professor Darryl Jones, a wildlife biologist at Queensland's Griffith University. "In the last five to six years they've gone from no one even knew what they are to everywhere - especially places like Brisbane, Gosford and the northern Sydney suburbs."

Jones, the co-author of Mound Builders, a new book on brush turkeys and their relations, says the birds probably originated in New Guinea millions of years ago. They are now found in Australia, New Guinea and some Pacific islands. Brush turkeys were never good eating but were valued by indigenous Australians for their large, yolky eggs. "Indigenous people had lots of rules and customs about not touching the adults," Jones says.

"But the Europeans came here and called them turkeys, they looked like game birds and many of them got hunted. "That's what led to their first real demise. By about the 1960s they were extremely hard to find because every time they showed their heads some bushman knocked them off and had them for dinner." But that changed in the 1970s with federal legislation protecting them. Since then, brush turkeys have "sprung back dramatically," Jones says. "By about the 80s they started to be seen again ... and during the 90s they have absolutely taken off."

But their return has taken an unexpected tack. Jones says the natural range of brush turkeys, from Queensland's Cape York to Wollongong south of Sydney, hasn't changed. "But what's really interesting, it's not in the wild country where they're doing well, it's in the towns and the suburbs - that's where they're exploding. "In Brisbane and a whole range of other suburban places like Gosford and northern Sydney they're doing fantastically well." While this is good news for brush turkeys, it isn't so good for residents, many of whom are finding themselves hosts to an unwelcome, and often inconsiderate, guest.

Their move into suburbia is causing "huge problems," says Jones, because of "the incredible damage" they are capable of doing to people's gardens. Male turkeys build what are basically huge compost piles - these can consist of up to 4 tonnes of garden material and be the size of a small car - in which eggs are incubated. In the process of building these unique mounds, they rake up grass clippings, bark and leaf litter, strip trees and shrubs and smother delicate plants. "If they didn't do what they do to people's gardens people would be much happier to have them around," says Michelle Greenfield, the bushcare co-ordinator of Lane Cove Council in Sydney, which over the past year has started to receive complaints from householders.

Rosemary Lancaster, communications officer for the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, says the birds are simply taking advantage of fashionably sustainable gardening trends, such as planting water-efficient native gardens. "We're replicating their natural habitat, and they're taking advantage of it," she says. "We're creating brush turkey heaven."

Jones says the brush turkeys' fondness of leafy native gardens means residents of the more upmarket suburbs are the main targets. "There's a kind of perfect relationship between higher socio-economic scale and presence of brush turkeys," he says. "Poor people don't have brush turkeys and rich people are arriving home in their BMW to find a huge mound where their landscape garden has been destroyed."

The mounds themselves can be a concern. Andrew Daff is the manager of Sydney's Lane Cove River tourist park, which became home to a male brush turkey named Hef, and two females named Bambi and Tash, last October. The park is now populated by 14 chicks - for the first time in 15 years. Daff says a mound recently had to be relocated from the park because it had been built right next to a swimming pool fence, providing easy access to the pool for children. But he says he's thrilled to see the area repopulated by the birds, which hold a key place in the local ecosystem.

Not everyone shares his enthusiasm. "Over the past few weeks some of my hens have been quite brutally attacked by a male brush turkey ... he is pecking at and tearing off their combs," wrote "eggy" in a recent post to an online backyard poultry forum. Jones acknowledges that brush turkeys can attack other birds. "Bluntly, that's a form of rape," he says. "Especially black chickens - they seem to think 'oh well these look close enough' and they'll mate with them."

Jones says brush turkeys are actually safer in a suburban backyard than in the wild, where they face threats from foxes and feral animals. In other words, they could be here to stay. "It's not an impossibility that they'll end up being an urban bird only," he says. That's why the approach being taken by many local authorities is to encourage peaceful co-existence. "Some people have issues with the way brush turkeys behave" but many are happy to share their gardens with local native wildlife, says Greenfield.

More here

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