Thursday, July 23, 2009

Why am I not surprised? 25 Queensland Police officers implicated in criminal scheme

The whitewashers of the CMC finally do something useful. Note that they had to be prodded by another agency, though

Twenty-five Queensland police officers have been implicated in a corrupt scheme to rort money paid to criminals for information, a new report has found. The Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) today released a 142-page report, Dangerous Liaisons, which examines the results of an anti-corruption operation codenamed Capri. The report found 25 police officers - some ranked as high as inspector - were implicated in the rorts. Three officers are currently before the courts and 22 have been disciplined, with 11 resigning from the police service before their hearings were completed. Some of the officers are still working.

The investigation covered three areas - Rockhampton in central Queensland, Cleveland on Brisbane's bayside and the since disbanded armed hold-up squad. The bulk of the allegations related to payments made to prisoner informant Lee Owen Henderson, who is serving two life terms in jail for murder.

In 2005 the CMC received information from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) suggesting that some police officers had an "improper association" with Henderson, who was then in the Rockhampton jail and was seen by officers as a valuable informant. But the report found "evidence suggests that (Henderson) rarely, if ever, provided information of value". "Instead, Henderson manipulated police officers for his own ends," the report said.

"In return for his supposed assistance, Henderson was obtaining benefits from police, including access to confidential law enforcement information, access to Queensland Police Service (QPS) and Queensland Corrective Services (QCS) resources for his own personal use, removals from custody, and some financial assistance. "Some officers assisted him in an (unsuccessful) attempt to secure a lower security classification."

The CMC investigation found that the relationship between Henderson and the officers stemmed from practices which came out of the now disbanded armed robbery unit. "The practice (from armed robbery unit) involved police officers providing prisoners with rewards and other benefits to encourage the making of confessions and the giving up of information," the report said.

The investigation uncovered other activities including the removal of prisoners from custody for "improper purposes", misappropriation of money intended to be used as rewards and the improper receipt of money and gifts from Henderson. The CMC found that the misconduct "not only compromised individual police officers, but had the potential to undermine the integrity of the QPS as an organisation, and with it, the criminal justice system".

Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said in the foreword to the report many of the officers involved had started out "with the intention of solving or preventing serious crimes". "After the policies and procedures were not properly followed and strategies used were not sound," he wrote. Mr Atkinson said the QPS had since set new guidelines for the use of funds to pay informants. "Revised procedures were also implemented ... to enhance accountability and to raise approval levels for prisoner removal from correctional facilities," he said.

CMC chairman Robert Needham said the publication of the report, close to the 20th anniversary of the Fitzgerald Inquiry being tabled in State Parliament, "should serve as a reminder that lessons learned gradually diminish with the passage of time and generational change". "It is inevitable that as time passes, slippage in the ethical standards of our police will occur," Mr Needham said. [That's a fact!]


West Australian hospital patient waited 'more than 45 hours' for a bed

A WA emergency patient recently waited more than 45 hours for a hospital bed, according to a national report. The report, a snapshot compiled for the Australian College of Emergency Medicine, found WA still had the worst emergency department overcrowding in Australia. The snapshot of 79 emergency departments Australia-wide was undertaken at 10am on Monday, June 1. Eight WA hospitals took part in the snapshot.

WA emergency departments recorded the worst overcrowding in the country. About 35 per cent of patients in WA emergency departments waited longer than eight hours for treatment, with one patient waiting longer than 45 hours. There were nine WA patients who had been waiting longer than 24 hours for a hospital bed.

Queensland had the best record with only 15 per cent of emergency patients waiting longer than eight hours for a hospital bed. Forty-four patients in 22 hospitals included the report had a patient that had waited more than 24 hours for a hospital.

“Half of Australia’s training hospitals have patients waiting for an inpatient bed more than 12 hours after that bed was formally requested,” ACEM president Sally McCarthy said. “Even though politicians and health departments have been shown the facts and even though patients are still dying while waiting for beds, there has been no significant improvement in access block since this time last year.”

All 94 emergency departments accredited for training were contacted, and 79 responded with details of their activity. Associate Professor Drew Richardson, author of the study, said there was no statistically significant improvement in access block compared to last year. “Of the 66 EDs which answered both the 2008 and 2009 surveys, 33 reported an improvement and 33 a worsening of access block: whilst there may be pockets of better practice, the net effect nationwide has been nil.”

WA Health Minister Kim Hames said the emergency department figures were concerning. Dr Hames said the Health Department had started overhauling emergency departments in preparation for the introduction of the four hour rule. Under the rule, 98 per cent of emergency patients must be admitted or discharged within four hours. The state's major tertiary hospitals, like Royal Perth Hospital and Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, have 18 months to meet the demand. WA is the only state in Australia introducing the scheme.


Fix school performance or poor won't get into university

We need to improve schooling in disadvantaged areas if less well-off children are going to get tertiary education

EARLIER this year federal Education Minister Julia Gillard challenged Australian universities to enrol more students from low socioeconomic status backgrounds, setting an ambitious student enrolment target of 20 per cent from low SES groups by 2020.

Though more than willing, many universities will struggle to reach that target. An all-too-limited pool of prospective students from low SES backgrounds obtain the school results likely to make higher education a good option. The undergraduates who will enter universities in 2020 are at school now and many in the target groups already underperform. So while universities must engage, it also will require a substantial improvement in school results to meet the Education Minister's targets.

Two years ago, the Education Foundation report Crossing the Bridge described the challenges faced by government schools in low socioeconomic communities and the barriers confronting the young people who attend them.

The story is much the same today. New University of Melbourne research conducted for the Education Foundation confirms there are still too many young Australians missing out on the opportunities provided by a quality education.

Social justice requires an education system that encourages bright, creative and talented individuals, irrespective of the school they attend or their background. These goals -- quality, equity, consistency -- are at the core of a new proposal, A New Federalism in Australian Education, by Jack Keating for the Education Foundation. This proposal argues that the Australian school system faces a raft of challenges as a result of the narrow institutional structures of schooling.

To date, much educational reform policy has focused on teaching quality. This is critically important, yet young people's education outcomes are also shaped by factors beyond their teachers, including early childhood education, family income and occupation, geographical location and the wider community environment. These factors help explain why socioeconomic disadvantage persists in higher education and why students from low SES backgrounds remain substantially under-represented in universities.

Years ago, researchers Buly Cardak of La Trobe University and Chris Ryan of the Australian National University identified school performance as the missing piece of this puzzle. The currency of university admissions is school results, and Cardak and Ryan found that students from low SES families were lost to higher education in the final years of school. They do not convert academic potential evident at year 9 to year 12 results as effectively as students from high SES groups.

We surrender so much potential among students who do not make it to year 12, and are lost to the tertiary sector. Some will find other pathways, such as through vocational training. There are good arguments to consider additional new forms of education, including community colleges. But the key issue remains our schools.

In A New Federalism in Australian Education, Keating calls for widespread educational reform beginning with a multi-level, federalist approach to funding that prioritises schools with low completion rates and offers fee relief for low-income families.

He also calls for church-based schools to be incorporated into the public system and a national regulatory agency for all publicly funded schools, and recommends significant investment in early childhood education; an acceleration of programs in the middle years of secondary school to curb early school leaving; and a strengthening of upper secondary pathways to further education and training that do not rely solely on academic results.

Most important of all is the focus on countering socioeconomic disadvantage. For some time Australian education has been characterised as "high quality, low equity".

Too many students are performing below expectations, most coming from poorer families and communities. Poor results often have lifelong consequences, in fewer opportunities for further education and reduced job prospects. How to make Australia's schools "high quality, high equity" is one of the big policy questions of the coming decade.

The federal government's education reform agenda is already focused on disadvantage, targeting early childhood and inequalities in the quality of instruction across the states and territories, and identifying opportunities to cater better for students' different needs.

Not everyone will agree with Keating's proposals. Controversy over federalism is a constant of Australian politics. The inconsistencies and apparent anomalies of joint federal-state responsibility for education, and the differences between the states, also can be benefits in providing greater scope for experimentation, division of power and democratic options. Citizens dissatisfied with one level of government can appeal to the other for help.

But we also need to take seriously the costs of the present divided structures of regulating and funding education, costs well explained in thisproposal.

Our schooling system structures were not designed to produce the best education outcomes but represent the accumulation of incremental changes through decades. As students of public policy know, incrementalism encourages remarkable innovation but also can produce programmatic incoherence.

These are healthy debates on the means to achieve a high quality, high-equity education system, running from early childhood through to postgraduate university education. If we are going to meet those 2020 equity targets, it's a conversation we must have now.


Aussie underdog is now endangered

An interesting theory below -- but much in need of statistical backup. It seems to be true, for instance, that MOST of the smaller populations of the developed world deliver unusually large (per head) contributions to science, culture etc. Scotland, New Zealand and Austria are, for instance, often cited in that regard. And many of the innovations and discoveries coming out of the USA emanate from people not born there

For a nation with 0.3 per cent of the world's population, Australia is grossly over-represented at the top of a huge range of fields: across science, business, sport and the arts. Which is odd, given that we also - inexplicably, to other cultures - are fond of failure.

Visit the United States and you enter a far more competitive nation, one quick to rank and grade, with too many winners to waste much time with the losers. Its culture encourages striving, certainly, but never failure. In Japan, and many other Asian cultures, failure is usually considered shameful, implying you did not work hard enough. One finds respect for failure in Britain - particularly resigned failure, the sticking to one's post - but also the lingering shadows of a class heritage uncomfortable with displays of naked effort.

Australia, by contrast, adores a valiant attempt to beat impossible odds. We view Gallipoli, our greatest military failure, not just with reverence but with pride. We say, "Have a go, mate," because we believe that it doesn't matter if you fail, so long as you try.

This has obvious historical roots. Australia was founded as a penal colony after the American model, but where Massachusetts offered fertile soil and temperate rainfall, this land was so unforgiving that supplies had to be sourced from Batavia, now Jakarta, to allow those who made it across on the First Fleet to survive until the arrival of the Second. The European population here grew far more slowly, despite the British forcibly relocating far more Europeans. In the Americas rebellion led to freedom and the birth of a new nation; here, at Castle Hill and then Eureka, uprisings were brutally crushed.

In 2009 we still bear the belief that the greatest honour belongs to the underdogs, and that their failure is not a mark of their flaws, but an account of the greatness of their challenge.

And perhaps this is why sport is the exception to the rule: why we distance ourselves from Rupert Murdoch and Russell Crowe, but revere Don Bradman and Steve Waugh.

An athlete's success is largely dependent upon how hard she is prepared to work to make the most of her natural talents: the playing field is generally level, the environment neutral. Of course, throw in an unfair environment - Don Bradman fending off head-high deliveries in Bodyline, or Australia II tacking her way toward the America's Cup after 132 years of American domination - and we are in raptures. Show us Eric "the Eel" Moussambani, who arrived at the 2000 Sydney Olympics having never seen a 50m pool, whose only two competitors in his heat were disqualified before the start of the race, who was then asked to swim it regardless, the only man in the pool, and who attacked it with such vigour that he almost drowned in the last 15 metres - well, we have ourselves a hero.

The wonderful irony of Australia's veneration of the trier above the champion is that it has given us great numbers of both. For there can be no success without the risk of failure, and in a culture that metes out little social punishment for failure, that risk is worth taking. There is, therefore, perhaps no more valuable aspect of our national character than the historical belief that it's not your fault if you fail; that it's OK to fall short so long as you gave it an honest crack.

But it is 2009. For most of us the Australian landscape has been tamed. Droughts do not ruin us; they merely make our lettuces more expensive, and restrict our garden watering to Sundays and Wednesdays. Our children, our workplaces, our pursuits - all have never been safer. We are part of a networked planet and have suffered the inevitable cultural dilution that implies. We watch American movies, featuring champions, not battlers.

The danger we face today is that we no longer face any great dangers. In a padded, pre-warmed world, where all the corners are encased in rubber and there are handrails beside all the steps, can one still plausibly blame the environment for failure?

When our challenges are so relatively benign - not survival, but positive superannuation returns - can we continue to view those who fail as honourable for having tried? If we cannot, if we drift so far that the idea of the Aussie battler begins to seem quaint, even risible, then we may risk losing the underpinning of our great national success: the unspoken permission to fail, if only you try.


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