Saturday, March 28, 2009

A small sop for small business: Tax deferred but not cut

Recognizing their importance is apparently not enough to generate significant steps towards helping them -- such as exempting them from payroll tax. Has it occurred to the loony Left that a tax on jobs is a bad idea amid rising unemployment? The Feds gave that tax to the States to levy in 1971 so they could also take it back if they wanted to -- with compensatory adjustments to grants to the States

SMALL businesses will be excused from paying more than $700 million in taxes in an effort to save Australian jobs. The Federal Government will today announce that small businesses, self-funded retirees and small superannuation funds hard hit by the global recession will benefit from $720 million in "cash-flow relief" from July. The announcement means about 1.5 million taxpayers will pay less tax in 2009-10.

In a move welcomed by small business leaders, the Government will slash PAYG instalments by 6 per cent. So, instead of getting a tax refund at the end of the financial year, businesses will save money during the year instead. The Government said they hoped, by keeping more money in the pockets of small business owners, they would be able to hang on to employees. "Small businesses across the country are the backbone of our economy, providing jobs for millions of Australian families," Treasurer Wayne Swan said. "That's why the Rudd Government is determined to do everything we can to help small businesses in the face of the global recession which is hitting the Australian economy."

In NSW, about 350,000 businesses with annual turnovers of less than $2 million will benefit. The Government said it would make the move because otherwise - as a direct result of the current economic conditions - small businesses would overpay hundreds of millions of dollars in PAYG instalments throughout the year. Small Business Minister Craig Emerson said to address this the Government would cut the quarterly PAYG instalments for the 2009-10 financial year. Only taxpayers whose PAYG instalments are adjusted for growth in GDP are affected. "The reduction will provide cash-flow benefits to around 1.5 million taxpayers, cutting their PAYG instalments by around 6 per cent," Dr Emerson said.


Australian government now letting in illegals under false pretences

The man described below was clearly not a refugee. Even if he was endangered in Afghanistan, he was clearly safe once he arrived in Pakistan. He ceased to be somebody in need of asylum at that point. There are millions of Afghans in Pakistan. But because he arrived in Australia illegally, apparently that made him a real asylum seeker. The fact that he is a Communist no doubt also helped to endear him to Australia's Leftist government. Clearly, he is an economic migrant only and many more like him can now be expected

FOUR asylum seekers who were rescued by the Tampa in 2001, but sent back to Afghanistan during one of the most controversial chapters in Australia's political history, have been found to be genuine refugees.

One of the men, Asmatullah Mohammadi, told The Age he was so desperate to escape the Taliban he risked his life in a second boat journey with people smugglers, despite fearing he would again be rejected by Australia.

He said 11 other Tampa survivors — who had failed to win refugee status after months on Nauru — were killed by the Taliban when they returned to Afghanistan.

The revelations have prompted calls for an inquiry into the Howard government's "Pacific Solution", introduced after the Tampa crisis, under which asylum seekers intercepted before they reached Australia were processed on Nauru or Manus Island.

Immigration lawyer David Manne said an inquiry should seek to remedy injustice and harm that flowed from the Pacific Solution, which excluded asylum seekers from access to Australian law, rights and protection. "People were placed under enormous pressure that amounted to constructive coercion to return to situations that were extremely unsafe," he said.

Migration agent Marion Le, who at the time raised doubts about the quality of the Immigration Department assessments of those who had been rejected, said it was reprehensible that people had been told Afghanistan was safe and sent back.

The four Afghans are the first asylum seekers on board the Tampa who were told by the former government they were not owed protection. They were re-assessed after a second attempt to reach Australian shores. Immigration Minister Chris Evans said: "These people arrived unlawfully and were taken to Christmas Island, where they were assessed as being owed our protection and therefore had the bar lifted to allow them to apply for a protection visa."

They were among 73 Middle Eastern boat people who were quietly resettled in Australia this month after the Immigration Department found they had genuine fears for their safety if returned to their homeland.

An Immigration Department spokesman said the decision was made taking into account current information.

Mr Mohammadi, who was a member of a communist party, said he fled Afghanistan because he was threatened by the extremist Muslim mujahideen. But on August 24, 2001, he found himself caught up in a political storm when the distressed wooden fishing vessel carrying 433 asylum seekers was rescued by the Tampa, on the eve of a federal election.

Mr Mohammadi said that after 17 months on Nauru he was sent back to Afghanistan with about $1000. "When they sent me back to Afghanistan, I was upset and very stressed," he said through a Dari interpreter.

He said he obtained work as a builder for a foreign company in Lashkar Gah in southern Afghanistan, but fled to Iran after two of his colleagues were killed by the Taliban because they were perceived to be working for "foreign criminals".

He was expelled to Pakistan after Iranian authorities discovered he had no documents, and from there travelled to Australia via Malaysia. "I knew it was a big danger to come by boat to Australia — it wasn't my first time — but I was that desperate."

Mr Mohammadi said he wanted to thank all Australians and the Government for "letting me in". "I am relieved and I feel now I am alive, I am not dead," he said. He wanted to find work as a builder and hoped that his wife and six children could eventually join him from Iran.

Ms Le said she had reviewed more than 200 rejected Nauru files and discovered errors, including merged cases and untested "dob-in" material, such as unsubstantiated allegations that a person did not come from Afghanistan.

"Departmental people who were on Nauru were told these people were not refugees," she said. "This came about because of the reprehensible policy of the Howard government. Everyone can stick the knife into the Immigration Department but … public servants were just doing what they were told."

Pamela Curr, from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said the refugee determination process had been deeply political. "We need to have a royal commission to open our eyes to what was done in our name so it can never be repeated."

Of the 433 asylum seekers rescued by the Tampa, 131 were immediately resettled in New Zealand. The remaining 302 were processed on Nauru. Of these, 101 were found to be refugees, 14 were resettled as non-refugees, one died and 186 returned home after failing to win refugee status.


Fraud and loathing in disastrous NSW public hospitals

Patients sent to imaginary beds and a doctor who complained about it gets persecuted!

ON APRIL 28, 2006, Shellharbour Hospital boss, Michael Brodnik, distributed an email. A decision had been made, he wrote, to set up a new unit within the emergency department. "The unit will be … four beds, conceptually down the right hand wall of ED but using the concept of 'virtual beds'," he told colleagues. Patients who arrived at emergency and needed admission would be assigned a virtual bed if no official in-patient bed was available, remaining physically in emergency. Brodnik said he had no control over the change, reassuring staff: "It really is a paper exercise."

The rationale was to get patients off the emergency department's books within eight hours of arrival - a watershed imposed by government as a so-called "key performance indicator" or KPI, amid political pressure over backed-up hospitals and ambulances unable to offload patients.

At Shellharbour Hospital, an outpost serving the cookie-cutter sprawl that straggles down the coast from Wollongong, that target was hard to achieve, because some patients had to be transferred for diagnostic tests.

By May, Shellharbour was still processing emergency patients too slowly, and emails were flying. The head of the hospital's emergency department, Dr Simon Leslie, sent a measured one to Sue Browbank, Brodnik's boss: "We are being asked to run our health service on the basis of the need to treat one statistic," he wrote. "Doctors have not been ignorant or uncaring of the need to manage our resources appropriately … but are driven firstly by patient care and community needs."

For a while, Leslie continued a vocal opposition to the imaginary beds. The directive to reclassify patients "according to any objective look at it was fraudulent", he told the Herald last week. "It required staff in my emergency department to write down records that were incorrect." Later he tired of battling the fait accompli and settled back to running front-line health care in the hard-to-staff hospital.

That could have been the end of it, but then Peter Garling, SC, came to town. On April 14 last year, at one of the inquiry's 34 public hearings, "Dr Leslie told me the 'virtual ward' was a fiction to compensate for the fact that Shellharbour Hospital does not have a short stay unit," Garling recounted in his report. Leslie's evidence resulted - finally - in the ward's abrupt termination, though this, as he had previously observed to Browbank, was, "easy because it doesn't actually exist".

Three weeks later, Browbank informed Leslie of the appointment of a Southern Hospitals Network Director of Emergency Medicine - which, according to Garling's later deconstruction, "both technically and in reality … effected the abolition of Dr Leslie's position". Leslie was ordered to stop calling himself director of the emergency department and told he could instead apply for a part-time position. "How is it possible," he asked a human resources manager, "to remove me from the role for which I have a contract and in which I have been acknowledged and satisfactorily functioning for over two years?"

The vaporisation of his job and claim it had never really existed were normal practice during "amalgamations and clinical reviews," the manager soothingly responded. "In many cases roles and responsibilities have changed, staff displaced and new position descriptions written."

Leslie's was a story Garling could not resist. A microcosm of the poisonous malaise he had observed on a statewide road-trip to 61 public hospitals, it comprised four elements the senior counsel had noticed repeatedly: a bottleneck between emergency and in-patient beds; inflexible performance criteria imposed from on high, then middle-management sleights-of-hand to meet those demands; and a yawning gulf of alienation between clinicians and administrators.

So when Leslie updated the inquiry on the personal fallout from his testimony, Garling in late September 2008 ordered five people as well as Leslie to four gruelling days of extra hearings, devoted to the doctor's treatment. They included Debora Picone - in 2006, chief executive of the South Eastern Sydney Illawarra Area Health Service, but elevated in 2007 to director general of NSW Health.

That won Leslie no respite. On the contrary, shortly after Garling's summonses landed on managers' desks, Leslie was cut out of meetings and told to hand back his pager and vacate his office - though ultimately he did not do so, successfully arguing both were essential to his work.

In her sworn evidence, Browbank acknowledged Leslie's job description was signed by a doctor expressly delegated to work out his role and title. Yet she maintained the position could not exist, because the doctor had no authority to create it. Garling rejected the semantic contortion. Browbank's stance "flies in the face of the obvious facts revealed by the evidence and is wholly untenable," he concluded. Because Leslie's treatment was "unreasonable, repeated, unwelcome, unsolicited, offensive, intimidating, humiliating and threatening," Garling wrote, "I find it amounted to bullying and harassment in accordance with NSW Health's own guidelines."

Leslie is an unlikely poster boy for victimhood. Affable and easygoing, it is hard to imagine him having the sleep disruptions and obsessive thoughts he says beset him at the time. He simply carried on going in to work. "At heart," said the 52-year-old, "I'm a doctor who likes to look after patients."

Doctors who like to look after patients are the backbone of the health system, but are massively disenfranchised. Re-engaging them would be the most critical step in reforming NSW Health, Garling said, proposing a Clinical Innovation and Enhancement Agency - under which clinicians would determine protocols for patient care. As well, he proposes an independent Bureau of Health Information to monitor hospital performance, freeing doctors like Leslie from political pressure to fudge the loathed KPIs.

The toughest challenge is how to make hospitals gentler. "The workplace culture in NSW public hospitals is characterised by lack of respect and trust, absence of empathy and compassion, inability to celebrate the success of others, failure to communicate, and a lack of collaboration," was Garling's damning verdict after his journey to the heart of the health system. Its anti-bullying policy had failed, dissent was quashed and persecution was rife.

Garling recommends making individual employees - all 118,000 of them - more directly responsible for their behaviour, reorienting the system away from blame towards constructive criticism and strengthening complaints procedures.

Last July, Leslie lodged a formal complaint about his treatment. Eight months later he has not been told how it will be resolved. Terry Clout, the area health service's chief executive, told the Herald he was seeking more information and would consider "any actions that may be required". He declined to comment further, citing, "procedural fairness" in the "personnel matter".

Leslie said the delay was "a process to wear me down". He understands deliberations will not privilege Garling's account of events - despite the evidence the commissioner collected under unmatched statutory powers.

Perhaps that is unsurprising. Garling said Leslie's situation went unresolved because Shellharbour managers "did not demonstrate … the slightest knowledge of what constituted bullying and unacceptable behaviour".

When is a bed not a bed? Leslie has paid a price for trying to reconcile the internal logic of NSW Health's storytelling with empirical reality, and no one has ever apologised. He will now take his case to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission. If Leslie - with the inquiry's weight behind him - cannot bring NSW Health managers to account, possibly nobody can. "Mr Garling's put a fairly heavy burden on me," he said. "I feel an obligation not to let that go to waste."


Trial aims to tame bad behaviour in classroom

BASIC etiquette is being taught to parents and children in a prep school trial aimed at tackling bad behaviour and improving academic success. It follows a rise in violent behaviour in prep classes, with Education Queensland introducing suspensions for out-of-control four and five-year-olds to protect teachers and fellow students from pupil assaults.

While unions and school associations have called for full-time teacher aides to stem the violence, others have urged better parenting and social support, which a trial called STEP -- Supporting the Transition for Entry to Prep -- is trying to address.

Participants in STEP, an extension of Mission Australia's and Griffith University's crime prevention Pathways to Prevention Project -- say it has already transformed children's behaviour. STEP co-founder Dr Kate Freiberg said the program targeted lower socio-economic areas where parents with time and financial pressures were least likely to teach their children the necessary skills for a smooth school transition. "The idea is when kids are growing up in tough times of certain circumstances it can constrain and limit their social and emotional development and they start school behind the eight ball," Dr Freiberg said.

She said the program tried to engage parents and children in education while teaching them basic skills such as the importance of discipline and reading. "It can be simple things like not being able to sit and listen and pay attention or know how to participate in a group setting," Dr Freiberg said. "Just really basic things like packing lunch boxes and what the teachers are going to be asking you when you get there and how it is important to sit and listen to what the teacher says and skills for getting along with other kids."

Mother-of-eight, Fua-laau Faolua said she now understood how important it was to read to her children and be involved in their homework. The program also has taught her how to use "time out" and speak at her children's level, which has turned daughter Litarina's behaviour around. Litarina now eagerly attends Durack State School Prep.


1 comment:

Paul said...

"Mother-of-eight, Fua-laau Faolua said she now understood how important it was to read to her children and be involved in their homework."

Story sounded bizarre until this paragraph, then it all fell into place.