Monday, April 27, 2009

Appalling black-run grocery stores in black communities

More Federal intervention? John Howard might have done it but Rudd and the Queensland Labor government will just talk

In one Queensland community, a packet of pasta costs $4, a kilo of tomatoes is worth almost $9 and deodorant is sold for more than $10. But the food is often out of date and the store is unclean.

In a damning submission to a federal parliamentary inquiry into indigenous community stores, Lockhart River residents say people have fallen ill after eating poor-quality food from a local store. The submission - compiled by Royal Flying Doctor Service employees on behalf of Lockhart River residents - accuses the community store of stocking "mouldy" bread, "rotten" fruit, frozen vegetables which have been defrosted and refrozen and meat that tastes like "cardboard" when cooked. The submission complains about a lack of healthy quick meal options, no pricing on some goods and a filthy store environment.

A comparison of prices shows Lockhart River residents pay up to seven times more than shoppers in Cairns for some common items. Tomatoes, for example, cost $2.45 kg in Cairns, but $8.66 kg at Lockhart River. The cheapest pasta in Lockhart River costs $4.02 for a 500g packet, but the same product could be bought in Cairns for 59c.

A submission from the Kowanyama community on Cape York says its store also sells out-of-date foods with prices up to three times those in Cairns. It says complaints are generally ignored. Supporting those submissions, the Australian Red Cross has told the inquiry such "exorbitant" prices are unjust. "The poorest people in the country are forced to endure the highest prices in the country," the submission says.

According to the Red Cross, the situation has directly contributed to malnutrition and chronic disease in Australia's indigenous population. The inquiry will hold public hearings in the Northern Territory this week.


Crook food for Australian soldiers

AUSTRALIAN Diggers risking all on the deadly battlefields of Afghanistan are fighting on a diet of tasteless gruel. Soldiers bombarded Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon with complaints when he made a secret Anzac Day visit to Oruzgan Province on Friday, prompting him to pledge to fix the problem. Senior officers have conceded the poor diet is affecting morale and soldiers' health, and have ordered a study into the nutritional value of the food.

The Herald Sun took the taste test on Friday at the Dutch-run mess at Tarin Kowt military base after learning of complaints about food quality. The tasteless slab of roast pork was submerged in a sea of equally flavour-challenged gravy, and the pumpkin had long since morphed from a solid vegetable to liquid gruel. The other choice was an equally inedible turkey slice.

As Diggers from the Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force confront a limited daily diet, just up the road their comrades from the Special Operations Task Group (SOTG) enjoy fresh vegetables and quality cooking. The difference was obvious at an Anzac Day breakfast hosted by SOTG, as our exclusive images show.

Mr Fitzgibbon heard plenty of complaints about the food and vowed to act. Numerous soldiers and senior officers told him the "kings versus paupers" attitude was divisive and unfair. Special forces troops eat in a mess that is financed and run separately from the normal army channels. The "special" mess employs qualified cooks and uses only fresh ingredients. For the troops of the MRTF, it is Dutch gruel or a hamburger.

The issue is bigger than just the Diggers complaining to their partners at home. Commanding officer Lt-Col Shane Gabriel said the difference in food had affected both nutrition and morale. He has commissioned a study into the nutritional value of the MRTF food.

The SOTG runs its own tight supply lines and team of cooks, while the Dutch mess runs at half capacity and is forced to import prepared meals. After several complaints back home, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Defence Force chiefs are also now involved and want the problem fixed.


Slow road to FOI

HOW many bureaucrats does it take to process a Freedom of Information request? If a leaked Brumby Government memo is anything to go by, the answer is at least 18.

A confidential Department of Treasury and Finance report, obtained by the Sunday Herald Sun, reveals no less than seven secretaries in the department are notified of requests lodged each week. A copy is sent to the chief financial officer, chief operating officer, planning and executive services director, public affairs manager and chief of staff. The request is also viewed by advisers and chiefs of staff of Treasurer John Lenders and Finance Minister Tim Holding.

Government departments often take more than the 45 days required under the FOI Act 1982, citing lack of staff to handle requests. But Opposition scrutiny of government spokesman David Davis said the leaked documents exposed the Government for allowing ministerial advisers to interfere with the process and manage responses. "This is a government determined to obstruct the release of information to prevent the community knowing," he said.


More on how Victoria's Leftist government gets people out of their cars

Public transport services per head are DECREASING, despite a high level of demand

MELBOURNE'S busiest train lines have fewer services now than 50 years ago - when "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" was at the top of the charts, pubs closed at 6pm and commuters bought tickets with shillings and pence. A comparison of the city's 1959 and 2009 timetables showed bustling parts of the city enjoyed more trains half a century ago when there were 2.3 million fewer Melburnians.

The Public Transport Users Association said today's train services were not much faster despite more sophisticated rolling stock. The analysis revealed:

TRIPLE the number of trains from Williamstown during morning peak in 1959 and double the services to Williamstown at evening peak.

MORE total peak services on the Frankston line in 1959.

MORE end-to-end and sweeper services on the Sandringham line.

EXACTLY the same number of Hurstbridge trains - but in 1959 more total services on the line.

The PTUA said the 50-year train freeze was a disgrace. "Now we have a city loop and 20 per cent more passengers, which means we ought to be running even more trains," PTUA secretary Tony Morton said. "Even having lost the St Kilda and Port Melbourne lines, we're doing no better than in the days of the Red Rattlers."

The State Government said Melbourne had a different concentration of population 50 years ago, the city had experienced population and commuter booms in recent years and there were now more country trains sharing the tracks. "Since 1999, the Government has added more than 1300 services to the metropolitan timetable, including more than 400 in the past 12 months," a spokesman for Public Transport Minister Lynne Kosky said.

The comparison revealed there had been slight improvements over the five decades on some lines. There were more Glen Waverley end-to-end evening peak services now than in 1959. The Frankston line had more end-to-end services, but fewer total trains on the line once sweepers were included. There were slightly more peak services in 1959 to and from Dandenong, but more overall services on the line including sweepers.

The analysis showed that over the same period service numbers had stagnated, Frankston's population had increased 650 per cent, Dandenong's 470 per cent, Hurstbridge's 331 per cent and Melbourne's had more than doubled.


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