Tuesday, March 03, 2009

5000 left without cancer treatment in NSW

Cancer patients are being denied lifesaving treatment, with New South Wales and Federal Government "buck-passing" blamed for leaving up to 5000 people a year without radiotherapy. In some parts of the state, dying patients are being forced to pay up to $8000 through private radiotheraphy units or wait up to two months for a public facility because the State Government is underinvesting in equipment and services. At the same time the Federal Government is permitting private units to have a monopoly in rural areas.

Cancer Council NSW has slammed the governments for placing patients' lives at risk. Today it will hold a call-in for patients to describe their horror stories so a database can be compiled to lobby governments. Chief executive officer Dr Andrew Penman said some people were foregoing the treatment because it was too costly. "There is a Medicare coverage but it doesn't pay the full cost if you go private," he said. "Some patients are waiting longer than the 21 days recommended to start treatment. Radiotherapy prolongs survival." In St George, in Sydney's southeast, patients are sometimes waiting up to eight weeks.

Radiotherapy is used on various cancer patients who doctors believe have a great chance of recovery. It also reduces the size of tumours that need to be operated on and lowers the chance of tumours recurring after being removed. NSW only has 42 machines to treat the 19,000 cases a year that require radiotherapy, but the Cancer Council claims at least 5000 are missing out because of lack of machines and exorbitant private fees. The Cancer Council wants the Government to provide at least 20 radiotherapy units by 2011.

On the Central Coast, only one private radiotherapy unit is available. If patients, such as mother-of-four Elizabeth Bratby, can't afford the up-front cost, they are either forced to travel to Newcastle or Royal North Shore for treatment. Ms Bratby was first diagnosed with colon cancer in 2001, but three years later tumours returned in her pelvis. Told her treatment would cost $8000, the now 53-year-old was forced to beg the doctors to waive the fees. "I could not have paid it," she said. "I know of an elderly woman who needed radiotherapy but just didn't do it because she couldn't pay and she couldn't afford to travel the long distances."

Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said other areas including Wagga Wagga were also badly hit by the funding shortfall. "It is heartbreaking for patients to be told the radiotherapy treatment they need is either inaccessible or unaffordable," she said. The Cancer Council's radiotherapy call-in will be held all this month.


Science versus propaganda

by Bob Carter (Bob Carter is an adjunct professor of geology at Australia's James Cook University)

The editorial in last weekend's Australian, "Carbon trading is not the only answer" (21/22 February), addressed the controversial issue of the government's planned emissions trading legislation, commenting that "We need to hear other ideas on greenhouse gas reduction". Talk about missing the point! For the pressing issue that we need to deal with is the hard reality of natural climate change, rather than wasting money on futile attempts to "stop" speculative human-caused warming.

If ever we needed a reminder regarding the power and danger of natural climatic events, then Mother Nature has just provided us with two. The northern half of Australia has been submerged under floods, and large areas of the southeastern corner of our continent have been ravaged by firestorms. These events resulted from unpredictable natural events such as our planet has ever been heir to.

Just as the "science" that is cited in favour of dangerous human warming caused by carbon dioxide emissions shows all the hallmarks of orchestrated propaganda, so too the real science shows beyond doubt that the wide array of extreme natural events - which include climatic warming trends, cooling trends, step-events, heat waves, droughts, cyclones, floods and snowstorms - poses great dangers for humanity.

"Greenhouse gas reduction", by any means, is an irrelevancy, for it deals only with the speculative problem of as-yet-unmeasured human-caused global warming, and that at a time when the globe has been cooling for ten years. In contrast, a national climate policy that better improves our ability to recognize and adapt to real (i.e., natural) climate change and events is an urgent necessity, and would cost but a fraction of the mooted carbon dioxide taxation scheme, a non-solution to a non-problem if ever there was one.

By their very nature, strategies that can cope with the dangers and vagaries of natural climate change will readily cope with human-caused change too, should it ever manifest itself.

Australia needs adaptive policies to deal with real climate change in place of the government's expensive, inefficient and ineffective plans to "prevent" an entirely hypothetical global warming. Why is it so difficult for our major political parties to discern this obvious truth?


NSW police can do no wrong

The usual farce of police investigating one-another. An innocent woman was shot for no good reason by a panicky dickless tracy and the police are going to cover up for their dickless tracy until hell freezes over. She is not fit for police work and should be removed

A woman shot by police has accused investigators of a cover-up after the junior officer involved was cleared without a written report. Susan Bandera, 48, was critically injured when she was shot twice by police responding to a dispute at a North Parramatta unit block on December 21. She is alleged to have lunged at officers with what was initially thought to be a knife but later found to be a fork.

At the time, NSW Police Deputy Commissioner for Operations Denis Clifford said he was satisfied by an initial report from the critical incident team, which said the policewoman "acted appropriately" when she fired her weapon at Ms Bandera. "It is important to note that this interim report centred only on the actions of the police officer in the discharge of her firearm," Mr Clifford said on January 2. "The exact circumstances of the earlier confrontation are still being investigated and will be the subject of a further report."

But, after a freedom of information request to NSW Police, The Sun-Herald has learnt "neither an interim report document nor a final report document" exist. Instead, the junior officer was cleared based on two "verbal briefings" between Mr Clifford and the investigation manager from Gladesville Police in the days following the shooting.

Ms Bandera, who is waiting for her shattered spine to heal around the bullet fragments, which doctors deemed too dangerous to remove, said the police were "a law unto themselves". "It's changed my life," she said. "I want [the officer] to be charged just like everybody else and I don't think she should work for the police force any more. My kids nearly ended up with no mother." Ms Bandera said she had not been contacted by police since early January and her legal team had trouble obtaining documents.

"I want the truth to come out, which is that I was being attacked and police shot me," she said.

Sonni Michael Angelo, 23, who was arguing with Ms Bandera before police arrived - but denies attacking her - said there was no need for the officer to shoot Ms Bandera after the pair were sprayed with capsicum spray.

A police spokesperson said it was common to use "a number of methods, including verbal" to deliver the findings of an interim investigation. No one has yet been charged over the incident. Police said there would be a final report when the investigation was complete.


Whistleblowers to be silenced

For the women and men of conscience in the Australian public service, February 25 will be noted despondently as a day when their parliamentary representatives again failed to step up to the plate and protect people who wish to disclose official wrongdoing. On this day a parliamentary committee published its report on new commonwealth whistleblowing proposals that will proceed languidly to parliament for consideration.

This is the third time in the past 15 years that a national government committee has tried to hold the burning coals of whistleblower protection. But this committee report cries "ouch!" the loudest. It is mean and narrow in its vision, embarrassingly conservative in its proposals and will do nothing more then send commonwealth whistleblowers, like lab rats, into management-controlled bureaucratic mazes.

What are the deep problems that make these official efforts to protect Australians who wish to speak truth to power so wantonly incompetent? For a start, the recommendations are not alive to the fact that people in Australia are dead scared to report wrongdoing, notwithstanding the fact that whistleblower legislation has been on state statute books in Australia since 1993. On the international level a new PricewaterhouseCoopers' study found that only 8 per cent of surveyed companies attributed fraud detection to their whistleblower systems (up from 3 per cent in 2005). This was only slightly higher then fraud detected by accident.

Very low disclosure figures are also found in our state corruption fighters. In 2007-08 only 74 verifiable public interest allegations under the Queensland Whistleblower Protection Act 1994 were processed by the Crime and Misconduct Commission and Queensland public sector agencies. Whistleblowing in the West Australian public service is also a low-level activity three years after the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2003 was enacted. In 2006-07 only 13 people made protected disclosures to public authorities. These minimalist disclosure statistics from three Australian corruption fighters complement the abundant international research insight into why employees steadfastly avoid making public interest disclosures.

The whistleblower committee that engineered this bland little document simply cannot see that the commonwealth public sector landscape is not one of robust public interest voice but of deep self-protecting silence. And throwing more bureaucracy at them won't change this one iota. Here are some of the hot coals that this committee couldn't handle. It won't give protection to ordinary members of the public wishing to report instances of commonwealth wrongdoing. What does the committee fear here?

It won't give protection to people fed up with bureaucratic obstruction and harassment who go to the media. The committee says it will give such protection. But like a child on the back step at night, the committee did not venture forth. The only way you will get protection if you go to the media is if the bureaucracy has taken an unreasonable amount of time to process your complaint (whatever that means) and it is a matter of public health or safety. So, unless you know of some bureaucrat pouring bubonic plague into your river, forget about going to the media.

This media embargo is in all whistleblower laws in Australia except the NSW one. Governments are very threatened by journalists properly instructed by whistleblowers with the inside stuff. Thus, when we get another AWB scandal or Haneef-type allegation against the Australian Federal Police, the media will have to continue to rely on backdoor leaks, which seriously hamper this central democratic institution fulfilling its accountability role.

The committee embraced a managerialist-driven model of whistleblowing, against the international research evidence, when other options were available, including a model of whistleblowing as a form of collective public servant dissent.

Only two decades ago whistleblowers were pilloried as loose moral cannons creating organisational mayhem and threatening loyalty bonds in the workplace. This is evidenced by the titles of past papers including: "Police who Snitch: Deviant Actors in a Secret Society" and "Whistleblowers: Saint or Snitch?" Now their ethical services are being integrated into management orthodoxy. Whistleblowing is coming in from the cold.

The story of how whistleblowing has emerged as the darling of governments and corporations busy engineering anti-corruption campaigns is an intriguing one. An account of whistleblowing's makeover provides through-the-keyhole insights into one of the most fundamental changes occurring in the workplace, the attack on, if not the slow burn down of collective forms of workplace dissent. So whistleblowing is what you have when you no longer have a collective voice. The committee shamefully disregards this bigger trend in favour of more of the same.

What went wrong? For a start the committee (Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs, to give it its full title) was not only a backbench committee, it was a very young backbench committee. Half of its members came into parliament at the end of 2007. At the announcement of the inquiry (July 10, 2008) these five (including the chair of the committee, Mark Dreyfus) only had five months' parliamentary experience.

Other than its policy immaturity the committee may well have had serious distractions. For most of the life of the committee, one member, Kevin Andrews, did not know whether he would face improper behaviour findings by the Clarke Inquiry into the Case of Dr Mohamed Haneef.

Sophie Mirabella, the member for Indi, was also on the committee. Was the fact that she attended only one out of 10 public hearings of the committee related to the presence on the committee of Belinda Neal, the member for Robertson, who was found by the House of Representative Standing Committee on Privileges to have acted below the standards expected of politicians when she told pregnant Mirabella that her baby would be born "a demon".

The committee could have made a real achievement here. It could have been instructed by successful overseas schemes. It could have lessened its overt reliance on research inputs from a university project that on the researchers' own admission had flaws in the methodology. It could have consulted much more widely in the community. The first parliamentary inquiry into commonwealth whistleblowing in 1994 attracted 102 witnesses and 125 public submissions. This time, the committee had only 71 public submissions and 77 witnesses. All we can hope for now is that the parliament rises to the occasion and seriously renovates this proposal into a strong response to assist all Australians who care about official integrity. However, if this proposal released on February 25 becomes law, my advice to commonwealth whistleblowers of the future is to keep your mouth shut.


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