Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Another failure of government medical services -- a fatal one

Bureaucratic emergency operator could only go by the book -- and scolded man as he lay dying in the bush

TRIPLE-0 operators told off a dying teenager as he made desperate calls for help while lost in bushland in the Blue Mountains - even repeatedly asking him to name the street he was in. An inquest into David Iredale's death yesterday heard six heart-breaking calls made to emergency services after he became lost and disorientated during a bushwalk in December 2006, The Daily Telegraph reported.

The 17-year-old was two days into a three-day trek, having run out of water almost 24 hours earlier and endured temperatures of up to 37C, when he made the first of the increasingly frantic emergency calls. Ambulance officers admit to rescue failure

During the calls, which dropped out each time due to poor reception in the area, David told ambulance staff he was lost, had fainted and was unable to walk. Despite telling operators he was deep within the Blue Mountains National Park, he was repeatedly asked "What's the address, what suburb are you in?" and "Can you name any of the streets?". During one of the calls an operator scolded David for his tone, telling the scared teen "Don't yell at me" when he raised his voice to overcome the poor phone reception.

David's parents Stephen and Mary Anne walked out of the inquest as recordings of David's increasingly frantic pleas for help in his final moments were played.

Michael Windsor SC, representing the NSW Ambulance Service, admitted that there had been major failings. The inquiry heard rescuers were not provided key information about David's location until four days after he first became lost and transcripts of his calls to triple-0 were driven to Katoomba police station. "The service acknowledges that there was a failure on its part to accurately convey the details of the conversations with David Iredale to police," Mr Windsor said. "The service unreservedly apologises to the Iredale family because of the failures."

Jeremy Gormly SC, counsel assisting Coroner Carl Milovanovich, read the last words David wrote in a log book on Mt Solitary the morning before making his descent towards the river. "Got to the top!!! Haven't had H2O for a whole day but river coming up! Enjoy the view," he wrote.

Mr Gormly was scathing of the NSW Ambulance Service response, recommending that the inquest find that an urgent upgrade to procedures allow triple-0 calls to be emailed directly to rescue workers.


Australian government fears new surge in illegal immigrants

Reality is finally breaking into their Leftist dreams

AUSTRALIA is urging Indonesia to do more to crack down on people-smugglers as the Rudd Government braces for a new wave of more sophisticated illegal boat arrivals. Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus yesterday attributed a spike in unauthorised arrivals in recent months to deteriorating security in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan and warned Australians to prepare for more boats in coming weeks. His warning came as immigration law specialist Simon Jeans said men in their 20s were posing as teenage boys to avoid immigration detention after they landed unlawfully in the country.

Twelve boatloads of asylum seekers have arrived in Australian waters since September, prompting the Opposition to accuse the Government of giving the green light to people-smugglers. The Rudd Government abandoned John Howard's Pacific Solution in February last year as it sought to soften Australia's treatment of refugees.

Opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone said yesterday the Government must stop "squeezing" border security funding. "In the last 10 days, we have seen the appalling results of this resource squeeze and lack of focus of Australia's border security," Dr Stone said.

Mr Debus, backed by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Immigration Minister Chris Evans, is attending a two-day summit in Bali this week. The three ministers will call on Indonesian officials to make a greater effort to intercept asylum seekers before they make the dangerous voyage to Australia. "You must expect that there will be, within a relatively short amount of time, attempts to reach a country of preferred destination like Australia," Mr Debus said yesterday.

Senator Evans said lobbying efforts would focus on convincing Indonesia to improve its domestic legal arrangements. "They currently don't have, in our view, enough capacity to prosecute people-smugglers in Indonesia," Senator Evans said. He described as first-rate the level of co-operation Australia had received from Indonesia in trying to break up people-smuggling rings.

The ministers' comments came less than a week after a boat carrying 38 Middle Eastern asylum seekers slipped past Australian border protection authorities and docked at Christmas Island. Mr Debus yesterday defended the breach, saying there was more surveillance now than when the Howard government was in power. "Our surveillance is informed by intelligence," hesaid. "You can't expect that every boat and every kilometre of the sea will be covered." He emphasised that despite the upsurge, the number of people coming to Australia remained modest by global standards.

Senator Evans said people-smugglers were changing tactics, often using sophisticated positioning systems to chart their course to Australia. "One of the things we've found is some of these boats being of better quality and having larger numbers than those that arrived last year, particularly one of the departures from Sri Lanka last year (which) had quite sophisticated positioning systems," the Immigration Minister said.

Mr Jeans, a Sydney-based immigration law specialist with 20 years' experience, yesterday told The Australian he encountered young men claiming to be 10 years younger than they were to get an easier ride through immigration. "Many young adults, aged between 18 and 24, arrive unlawfully claiming to be "unaccompanied minors'," Mr Jeans said. "They know they will receive a much easier time at an interview by immigration officials if they claim to be 14 or 15 years old and (coming from countries) with nutrient levels lower than Australia they can appear much younger than their real age." The scam is the latest to be adopted by illegal people-smugglers and exploits government policy against putting children into immigration detention.

Asylum-seekers destroy identity papers before entering the pipeline with the "snakeheads" who run the people smuggling trade. Frustrated Immigration officials say they are forced to give the young men, who routinely claim to be travelling alone, the benefit of the doubt if they are picked up in Australia. Sources say it is a catch-22 for officials. While aware of the scam, they must "err on the side of caution" and accept at face value the age provided to avoid locking up children.

Formerly, X-rays were used to check the bone density of those making what were considered to be questionable claims about their age, but this practice has since ceased. Pamela Curr, of the Asylum-Seeker Resource Centre, expressed scepticism at the claims of age fraud. "What's the advantage? It doesn't make any difference to the assessment of their claim," Ms Curr said. [Pamela the cur just shows her ignorance]


How immoral, to hold the wrong views

Peter Costello mocks rubbery Leftist morality and the media that facilitate it. Australians will remember the episodes he refers to. Costello is the Liberal member for Higgins, and a former federal treasurer

I've been feeling sorry for Belinda Neal. Neal, you will recall, is the Labor MP who let fly at a waiter when he asked her to move tables at Iguana Joe's a restaurant/night spot on the NSW Central Coast. "Don't you know who I am?" she demanded. Soon all of Australia knew who she was. Kevin Rudd stepped in, reprimanded her and ordered her to undergo anger management counselling.

I've never been to this sort of counselling but I can imagine how it operates. A therapist gives you a tricky case and questions you on how to respond. The idea is to keep your anger under control.

Here's a case study for Neal. You are flying on your private jet when the flight attendant brings you the wrong meal. Do you (a) eat it anyway; (b) point out you ordered something else and ask for an alternative; or (c) shout at the flight attendant and reduce her to tears?

Neal should think carefully about this question. At one level the answer appears obvious. But there's a bit of precedent for answer (c). Some powerful people she doesn't want to alienate have adopted approach (c). Better not to show them up.

Which brings me to Craig Thomson. He's the Labor MP in the seat next door to Belinda Neal. Before Thomson was elected to Federal Parliament in 2007 he worked for the Health Services Union No.1 Branch. Apparently a union credit card was used to pay for "escorts" in Sydney. Some people were pointing the finger at Thomson. He denies he was involved.

Thomson should think carefully about whether this is the best political approach. It is just possible that he could turn this incident into a big improvement in his polling figures.

Let's take another case study. You've visited an establishment offering sexual titillation. Do you (a) deny being there; (b) call an identification parade to see whether anyone can recognise you; or (c) say you were too drunk to remember what you were doing and ring home to apologise? The savvy political conclusion is answer (c). It shows you are one of the boys, humanises your image and should lead to a bounce in approval ratings.

There were periods when I suffered low approval ratings, but no one ever suggested this as the obvious solution. I called my old press secretary last week to complain that he had never once advised me to boost my approval ratings with a couple of boozy hours in a lap-dance club. I asked: "Where were you when I needed good ideas?" He answered: "(a) I was never drunk enough to think of it, (b) you were never drunk enough to go through with it, and (c) you're from the Liberal Party." By that he meant that since journalists are predominantly pro-Labor you can't expect easy treatment on the other side of politics.

Thomson should take stock of his situation. It's not as if he is accused of doing something really bad - something like leaving the lights on during Earth Hour. I'll bet Thomson has all the right views on climate change, Labor's new workplace laws and, world poverty. So the rest, ladies and gentlemen, is bagatelle.

The modern view is that a person's private conduct is not nearly as important as a person's public morality. And that turns on having the right political views and making the right pronouncements. Take climate change. The way the argument is being presented you can be for aggressive targets to cut emissions or you are for rising tides, mass drownings, increased heat-related deaths, the destruction of the planet and the death of polar bears.

Characterising this as a moral question allows the high priests of emission targets to actually measure the morality of their opponents. Supporters of a 20 per cent cut are moral, 10 per cent morally inferior, supporters of 5 per cent are grossly immoral, and so on.

If anyone questions whether these targets will be met, if they will make a difference without the co-operation of major emitters, or what will happen to those who lose their jobs in industries affected, they can be dismissed as engaging in moral subterfuge. This is a moral argument, and such people are really in favour of destroying the planet.

While the postmodern world has lost faith in absolutes - rights and wrongs in relation to private behaviour - it has discovered absolutism about the views that are acceptable in modern political discourse. Take the wrong turn and you are not just mistaken, you are immoral. It's not that your views are immoral. You are immoral as a person for holding them. By adopting the right views you get a wonderful release. There is not much you can do wrong at a personal level as long as you're in favour of a better planet.

Which brings me back to Belinda Neal. Why was she singled out for reprimand and counselling? It was not that she treated a waiter badly or lost her temper. The point is she was becoming a political nuisance who had to be distanced from the party leadership. But she was unlucky with the timing. After recent events no backbencher will be ordered into anger management for yelling at a waiter.


PM's high-speed populism

Another boondoggle coming up? There is talk of the proposed new high-speed broadband network costing subscribers $200 a month. The probable nationwide "No thanks" to that will make the new network into a huge and costly white elephant for the taxpayer to support

WHERE would Australia's railway network have got to in the 19th century if governments then had taken a "narrow conservative view" of what they should do, asks Kevin Rudd. Like then, the Prime Minister reckons it is time for government to "step in and take the lead" in building the $43 billion national broadband network of the 21st century.

But history suggests this nation-building populism should set off alarm bells over the management of an economy taking a big haircut on its export prices and shouldering a large and rising foreign debt burden.

Colonial over-investment in rail trunk line expansion during the debt-financed land booms of the 1880s deepened the Australian depression of the following decade. And then borrowing to fund the post-World WarI wave of railway branch line expansion and associated soldier settlement almost bankrupted state governments while condemning a generation of yeoman farmers to rural poverty.

The 19th-century lure was the promised incredible gains in the speed with which bulk goods could be transported across vast expanses of land. Now it is exponentially faster speeds for transmitting mega-bits of information. But then, like now, private enterprise baulked at the high capital costs and low returns of the miracle technology's promise to turn doubtful wheatland profitable.

Economic historian Edward Shann pinpointed a pivotal moment in the early 1870s when landowners in northern Tasmania violently repudiated their agreement to pay for any shortfall in a privately built line. The resulting property seizure - "Griffin's horse" - became a Eureka Stockade-style symbol of landowner resistance. "For good or ill, every project in Australia involving substantial expense became thereafter 'a public work of national importance"', Shann wrote in 1930. "Colonial governments built railways for wheat farmers who had not yet solved the problem of permanent agriculture."

While the private railroad entrepreneurs in the US followed development, Australian governments overbuilt railways in the often-dashed hope that development would follow: think John Howard's latter-day Alice Springs-to-Darwin folly. Rudd's vast new broadband plan fits this historical mould, making it harder to resist the conclusion that the Government's economic program is making the nation less, not more, secure.

Clearly, this Government is not an extension of the Hawke-Keating pro-market reform program, which may prove to be the historic high-water mark of Labor's economic rationalism. But nor is it as economically naive as Whitlamism. Instead, its pulse seems to be located somewhere in between, informed by the long history of Australian populism on both sides of politics, and particularly in Queensland.

The dangers are belied by the Government's bullish political stocks. The repeated cash handouts, the proliferating government guarantees, the re-regulation of the job market, the massive car industry subsidies and now pulling "the single largest infrastructure decision in Australia's history" seemingly out of thin air are popular even amid, and perhaps because of, the global economic crisis. And that emboldens the policy populism. The PM does not have the knockabout persona to mimic Peter Beattie-style populism. Instead, his Government has taken on the 24-hour news cycle obsession of the NSW Labor Right, perfected while fellow policy nerd Bob Carr was facilitating the premier state's descent into dysfunction.

Despite the PM's managerialist promise of considered evidence-based policy, the news-cycle obsession encourages the notion that the Government should be seen to have quick fixes for every new problem, even if initially channelled into policy reviews. But however "decisive" they might appear, policies made on the run will tend to have a higher failure rate. And the costs will be compounded when the political response to such failure simply turns up the dosage, whether on fiscal expansion or broadband investment.

The global crisis has crystallised these tendencies, providing the emergency required to justify unconventional policy interventions. Rudd's essay in The Monthly created a fuss because it used the particular failure of the global financial system to mount a generalised assault on so-called neo-liberalism. Ironically, this is the opposite of the great Australian narrative of the past quarter of a century: that a pro-market economic reform program can turn around a nation's declining fortunes in ways that remain true to basic Australian notions of the fair go.

Yet this narrative may not be as deeply rooted as previously thought in Australia's shallow political topsoil. And it will be severely stressed by a year or more of worsening monthly jobless numbers. Rudd, Wayne Swan and Lindsay Tanner already have fired off their big fiscal stimulus, perhaps the biggest in the G20. This "go early" strategy already has carved a huge hole in the federal budget, leaving a deficit approaching $50 billion, or 5 per cent of gross domestic product. And they want more infrastructure spending to show the Government implementing a nation-building strategy while it deals with the immediate crisis.

The priority will be to avoid being seen to "do nothing", the supposed alternative to Rudd's decisive populism. This will be difficult given how the instant gratification of the 24-hour news cycle conflicts with the longer leads and lags of stimulus policy. The stimulus of the past several months will take several more months to help stabilise the economy. And unemployment will continue to rise months after the economy turnsup.

But after also going early on a big stimulus, the Reserve Bank of Australia wants to resist cutting much more below its 3per cent official cash rate. It hopes to do as little as possible. The entire point of central bank independence is to avoid populist pressures that may make things worse.

Similarly, not getting the budget under control would increase the risks embedded in the sweeping government guarantees of bank deposits, wholesale bank fundraising, state government borrowing and even commercial property development.

Now the magic pudding of the government balance sheet will be used to conscript taxpayers into guaranteeing broadband borrowing, just as colonial and state governments tapped London's capital markets to finance the railway over-expansion of the 1880s and 1920s. Australia's taxpayers are taking on so much contingent liability, it is surely prudent to bank on something going wrong, something narrow conservatives worry about much more than populist nation-builders.


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