Monday, February 09, 2009

A terrible but foreseeable tragedy for Australia

These fires are a regular occurrence so why are not vulnerable communities protected by regular backburning? Is it just another case of chronic government bungling or is it because of characteristic Greenie opposition to backburning? If the latter, the blame must be put fairly and squarely where it belongs and any future such opposition firmly discredited and resisted

More than 100 people are feared dead as the worst bushfires in Victorian history rage out of control. Police this morning confirmed 108 people, including four children, died in firestorms described by Premier John Brumby as "hell on earth". Shocked survivors said parts of the state looked as though they had been hit by a nuclear bomb. Most of the damage was done by two massive fires - one that virtually wiped out towns northeast of Melbourne including Kinglake and Marysville, and a second inferno that raced across Gippsland. The toll passes the Black Friday holocaust of 1939 in which 71 were killed, and the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983, which claimed 47 Victorians.

Twenty-two people were in the Alfred hospital with shocking burns, 10 in a critical condition. Heart-wrenching tales of tragedy and heroism emerged from the apocalypse. But it is feared many more bodies will be found in the swathe of destruction. As the scale of the disaster unfolded:

750 HOMES were confirmed destroyed and 330,000ha of land burnt.

PREMIER John Brumby said: "I have never seen anything like this and hope to never see it again."

POLICE were disgusted that some fires may have been deliberately lit.

PRIME Minister Kevin Rudd called in the army and started a $10 million relief fund.

At least 29 people died in Kinglake, Kinglake West, St Andrews and Marysville where a monster fire is still raging on a 100km front. At least nine were dead in Gippsland at Callignee, Hazelwood, Callignee South and Jeeralang. Those two fires and a blaze near Beechworth are the major concerns for firefighters.

Picturesque Marysville was virtually wiped out and there are fears nearby Narbethong suffered a similar fate. "It was a most horrible day. It's going to look like Hiroshima, I tell you, it's going to look like a nuclear bomb. There's animals dead all over the road," Kinglake resident Dr Chris Harvey said. Six of the victims were in one car trying to outrun the inferno which swept through Kinglake in minutes.

Dr Harvey said the town was littered with burnt-out cars, and he believed many contained bodies. His daughters Victoria and Ali, both in their 20s, told of a local man, Ross, who lost both his daughters and possibly a brother. "He apparently went to put his kids in the car, put them in, turned around to go grab something from the house, then his car was on fire with his kids in it, and they burnt," Victoria said.

With cooler weather predicted for the next seven days, authorities are racing to contain all fires while they have the chance. Thousands of exhausted firefighters remained on the firefront last night, many still unable to return to their own ravaged communities. Teams of disaster victim identification experts were flying in from around the nation to perform a grisly task Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon compared to the Bali Bombings aftermath.

Mr Rudd announced Defence Force officers and bulldozers would be assigned to help build containment lines around major blazes continuing to burn unchecked. "The nation grieves with Victoria tonight," he said.

Police suspect some of the fires were started by arsonists as the state reeled in a heatwave which saw the mercury soar to a record 46.7C in Melbourne on Saturday. Forensic detectives and specialist arson investigators will visit the fire zones in the days ahead. CFA deputy chief officer Steve Warrington said even yesterday an arsonist was hampering efforts to fight fires in the Latrobe Valley. "We know we do have someone who is lighting fires in this community," he said. "While we often think it's spotting, we also know that there are people lighting fires deliberately."

Mr Brumby said his heart went out to those caught up in the disaster and called on Victorians to dig deep to help the thousands of people who have lost loved ones or houses. "It is one of the most tragic events in Victoria's history," he said. "For so many of us the scale of this tragedy defies comprehension. It is your generosity and selflessness that will see Victoria through this dark hour."

More here

Queensland public hospital system employed a doctor who was 'unemployable in US'

There were obviously zero checks made on his application. Queensland Health is such a noxious bureaucracy to work for that they will take anyone willing to work for them. The Queensland "free" hospital system was established in 1944 so it shows where such a bureaucracy ends up. It is a slowly metastasizing social cancer -- now with three bureaucrats for every clinical employee

Surgeon Jayant Patel was virtually unemployable in the US and lied to gain employment in Australia where he now faces criminal charges. The Magistrates Court in Brisbane heard Patel had a long history of disciplinary hearings in New York and Oregon before he was recruited as the director of surgery at Bundaberg Base Hospital. Patel, 58, who worked at the hospital between 2003 and 2005, is facing a committal hearing on 14 charges including the manslaughter of James Phillips, Mervyn Morris and Gerardus Kemps. He also faces fraud and grevious bodily harm charges.

Prosecutor Ross Martin SC recounted a history of disciplinary actions taken by American medical bodies against Patel dating back to 1984. The actions included a stayed suspension of his licence to practise and restrictions on his ability to perform certain surgery. Mr Martin said by 2001 Patel also needed to get second opinions on difficult surgery.

He said Patel had resigned from a major hospital in the American state of Oregon in September, 2001. Mr Martin said authorties in New York also reviewed Patel's status and he eventually surrendered his licence to perform surgery in New York. Patel applied for a job in a small town named Harney, Oregon, which had a hospital with just 25 beds. Patel failed to get the job.

Mr Martin then detailed how Patel was put in contact with Queensland Health authorities through a recruiting company. It was alleged Patel failed to tell the truth about his hisory in the US when gaining the necessary clearance to work in Australia. Mr Martin said it was further alleged Patel lied again when his registration in Australia was extended until he left in March 2005.

In the case of the manslaugher charge involving Mr Phillips, it was alleged Patel had not consulted a speciaist, Patel was restricted in the US on performing that type of operation, the operation was un-necessary and it was badly performed. Mr Martin said in the second manslaughter charge of Mr Morrs, Patel performed surgery when he was under USA restrictions, there had been an incorrect diagnosis, it was the wrong procedure, and there were mistakes in post operative procedures. Patel had also performed the wrong operation in the third manslaughter charge involving Mr Keeps, it was again under USA restrictions, and it had been inappropriate to perform the operation in the Bundaberg Hospital.

Mr Martin said one of the two operations on Mr Keeps had been performed in a negligent manner as Patel had not acted to stop internal bleeding. The court heard Patel had removed the bowel of a patient Ian Volwles when there was no need for the operation. Mr Martin said Patel had treated Mr Vowles for cancer but a later biopsy showed no signs of cancer. Patel faces a charge of grevious bodily harm for his operation on Mr Vowles.


Thicko police goons kill unresisting teenager

A grieving mother has accused police of putting their own lives before her son's after he was run over and killed while lying handcuffed on a busy Ipswich road. About 11pm on Saturday, Andrew Bornen, 16, was arrested by police following a complaint of a man wielding a machete in Albion St, Brassall. Although Bornen was not armed when the plainclothes officers approached him, police said the teenager was "obviously aggressive". Local residents said they were awoken by police shouting to a youth to "get down on the ground" but yesterday officers insisted Bornen lay on the road himself. "This young person made his own choice to lie down on the road once a Taser was presented to him," Deputy Commissioner Ian Stewart said.

As he lay face-down and handcuffed on Albion St, police tried to flag down an approaching car but the young woman driver failed to stop and struck the teenager. He suffered massive head injuries and was pronounced dead at Ipswich General Hospital.

Yesterday his devastated family was struggling to understand how their "soft-hearted, loving son" could die in such a tragic way. "I blame the police for my son's passing away. He was left on the road to die," said his mother, Helen Bornen, who was being supported by husband Joe and their seven other children. "If police had time to get out of the way, why couldn't they have moved him?"

She said the family did not know why he was out at that time of the night and believed he may have been chasing a burglar from the house. "We don't even own a machete but if he was out with a baseball bat it would have been for a good reason," she said. Sister Amanda said she and her brother were inseparable.

Mrs Dornan said the police investigator who contacted the family had described the officers involved as "irresponsible and inexperienced". The Ethical Standards Command is investigating the death


Five reasons why a Rudd fiscal stimulus may not work

AUSTRALIA entered the global economic crisis well placed but our fiscal position is deteriorating more rapidly than in comparable economies. This is due to policy decisions since the May budget, which will erode the projected bottom line by $29 billion in 2008-09. The international comparisons are telling. According to the International Monetary Fund, average fiscal balances in advanced economies are set to deteriorate by 2.1 per cent of gross domestic product. In contrast, Australia's fiscal balance will deteriorate by 3.6 per cent of GDP.

Moreover, expenditure on the RuddBank and disbursements from the Building Australia Fund seem to have been excluded from the updated budget estimates, so the actual deterioration will be even greater, easily exceeding any previous peacetime fiscal expansion in Australia's history. Kevin Rudd says the enormous change in the fiscal position is justified by the need to stave off recession. But there are five reasons for questioning that claim.

First, it is far from clear activist fiscal policy will be effective. Australia is a small, open economy with a flexible exchange rate. There is consequently a real possibility that any increase in demand caused by fiscal easing will merely raise interest rates, induce capital inflow from abroad, appreciate the currency and reduce net exports. With growth in China and Japan slowing significantly, why implement measures that could exacerbate Australia's expected export downturn?

In the Keynesian framework, monetary policy, on the other hand, is actually more effective in an open economy. A monetary policy-induced reduction in interest rates boosts aggregate demand and induces capital outflow, leading to a depreciation of the exchange rate and a reduction in imports. As a result, even if we take the Keynesian approach seriously, fiscal stimulus may not only be ineffective, but by impeding or slowing further reductions in interest rates may stand in the way of a more effective response. As Treasury concluded in 2002, "higher budget deficits (or lower surpluses) can have a significant effect on interest rates in Australia", with the result that the "automatic stabilisers are likely to be relatively more effective than discretionary changes in policy". The federal Government must explain why those findings no longer apply.

Second, even if discretionary fiscal policy were effective, the proposed package appears to be too much, too soon. Unemployment is projected to remain fairly close to the non-accelerating inflation rate of unemployment (the rate that is sustainable in the long run) in the near term. Given the scale of the proposed spending, there is surely a risk that the Government is depleting its ammunition and accumulating future costs before the case for doing so is well-established. Were the economic outlook to worsen, what room for manoeuvre would be left? With the tragedy in Victoria adding to the pressures on public expenditure, wouldn't a more cautious approach, such as that adopted in Canada (which is more exposed to the US downturn than we are), make sense?

Third, even if the package did create jobs, many of these would merely be displaced from more productive activities. As Treasury secretary Ken Henry said in March 2007, when the unemployment rate was the same as it is today, "in an economy operating at, or close to, full employment, any government intervention will shift resources, including jobs, from one activity to another and impose a deadweight loss of efficiency on the economy". He went on to say that "expansionary fiscal policy tends to crowd out private activity" by putting "upward pressure on interest rates", so "there is no policy intervention available to government, in these circumstances, that can generate higher national income without first expanding the nation's supply capacity".

Even in an economy that is weakening, the scale of the Rudd fiscal expansion means it must primarily involve job displacement: for every job saved or created, many will be shifted from more productive alternatives. How great those displacement effects have been to date, how great they are expected to be in future, and with what costs, are matters simply ignored in the Government's announcement.

Fourth, when governments spend money on projects whose costs exceed their benefits, they make us poorer. The future tax burden associated with deficit spending is then all the more painful, as it needs to be paid for from a smaller income base. But there seems little reason to expect the spending commitments envisaged in the stimulus package to yield net benefits. There is, for example, ample evidence that the states do as poor a job of allocating maintenance expenditure on existing infrastructure as they do in selecting new infrastructure. But the Government, while proposing to throw cash at infrastructure maintenance, does not appear to be imposing any requirement for a credible cost-benefit test to be met. The other spending commitments are no better targeted.

Finally, the package lacks a credible strategy for returning to budget balance. All spending must be paid for and the increased taxes associated with budget deficits inevitably distort economic activity and reduce welfare. Moreover, the expectation of future deficits may have immediate, adverse consequences for confidence and output. However, the Government's announcement merely sets a vague commitment to return to surplus through future reductions in spending growth. It does not say how great the cuts in spending will need to be or where those cuts will be made, and it ignores the obvious point that if there is wasteful spending that can be cut tomorrow, it ought to be cut today.

That so many vital questions remain unanswered highlights the inadequacy of the documentation that accompanied the stimulus package, including the absence of any details on what would happen without the spending, the impacts of individual programs and comparisons with alternative options. This is in striking contrast to the US, where the Congressional Budget Office last week released an independent, detailed assessment of the new administration's stimulus package, as well as of alternative proposals. That assessment concluded the administration's package would have positive near-term macroeconomic effects, but the increase in public debt would reduce output and welfare in the long run. In other words, there were trade-offs that politicians and the public had a right to assess in determining the course for the country.

Australians too have every right to be aware of the choices that underpin, and the consequences that are likely to flow from, the Government's package. Parliamentary scrutiny of spending decisions is fundamental to democracy. With so many important questions unanswered, the Senate should insist on doing its job, and on having the time to do it well.


No comments: