Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Yet another Queensland ambulance meltdown

Ambulance officers 'on grog run' ignore seizure patient. These stories have never stopped coming since the State government took it over. And they will keep coming while nobody is being penalized for negligence and misbehaviour

A MAN having a seizure waited for an ambulance while a paramedic went to the pub to pick up alcohol for an office party that degenerated into a racial brawl, The Courier-Mail reports. The ambulance officer, who was only new to the job in Queensland, was pressured into ignoring a callout which became a top priority Code 1 emergency while she was driving a senior colleague to pick up more "grog". Paramedics say the incident added to stress on workers stretched trying to keep pace with a system swamped by demand.

Documents obtained by The Courier-Mail under Right to Information laws reveal that off-duty ambulance workers were holding a party at an unnamed Queensland station when they ran out of alcohol. The documents show that all paramedics involved in the booze run from the party at the station on July 13, 2007, knew that a call had been made to dispatch an ambulance to a man having an epileptic fit.

The two senior off-duty officers drinking at the party were later involved in a fight with four "indigenous males" outside the station. The officers tried to get an on-duty paramedic, who was treating a patient, to drop them home. One officer admitted he "just went out and got hammered" and the night was a "blur". The two officers were "counselled" over their bender after the allegations against them and the junior officer were substantiated.

But a clinical assessment by witnesses determined the man who had the seizure suffered "no detrimental outcome whatsoever" from the ambulance's delay of up to 30 minutes and that any emotional injury was "impossible to calculate".

Premier Anna Bligh yesterday said reports of life-threatening bungles by the QAS had occurred before the Government "made various substantial changes" to the service in 2007. The changes have been underpinned by a $105 annual levy collected from Queenslanders via electricity bills.

The response to the Code 1 call during the booze run was not met within the standard time because the dispatched officer was driving her off-duty colleague to the pub. The on-duty paramedic's partner was ready to attend the job but was told by another officer that the woman "had gone to the (name deleted) Hotel to get some more grog", according to the RTI documents.

Later, police were called to the ambulance station "to attend an altercation involving the same two off-duty ambulance officers". "It was alleged that the officers caused a conflict with a group of indigenous males and that they swore and used racist taunts during the incident," the report said. The fight was allegedly over a taxi, with one witness describing "full-on fisticuffs".

Four police cars arrived but the documents show no one was taken into custody. The two officers also repeatedly called a working paramedic to try to get a lift home after their attempt to wave her down as she attended a case was unsuccessful.

The advanced care paramedic denied he had used racist taunts but admitted he was unable to remember much of the night's events. He said he had been "put through the wringer" with a QAS internal investigation and now that the incident was being dragged up again, he was concerned for the health of one of the other officers. The report concluded the officers had breached the Code of Conduct, but made no recommendations concerning the offending officers or their managers.


Queensland ambulance service rotten at the top

ONE man who has watched the Queensland Ambulance Service more closely than most regards it as a dysfunctional bureaucracy that is jeopardising lives. Ted Malone, the opposition's emergency services spokesman, said he received calls every week about serious QAS problems and nothing had improved despite regular changes at the top.

"In any other organisation, you'd say the management is corrupt because they are not supporting the people who are actually delivering the service. This organisation works from the top-down, and it obviously doesn't work," Mr Malone said.

He accused Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts of not treating seriously problems raised by the LNP. "It's amazing that some of the cases I've talked to the minister about, he's actually abused me for raising the issue," Mr Malone said.

He argued QAS should be focused only on outcomes for residents. "The bureaucracy almost has a life of its own, the poor buggers on the front line are left out there to cop it," Mr Malone said. QAS was "top-heavy in its management" with people who seemed willing to defend their jobs "to the nth degree", he said. Fixing the system was complicated – "you almost have to go in and strip it" – to change the organisation's culture, he said.


Australian bosses forbidden to talk to their workers

Unions legally privileged under new Leftist laws

JULIA Gillard's new industrial relations umpire has begun to ban businesses from directly talking to their own employees while being forced into "good faith" bargaining with unions.

Banning business from communicating directly with its own staff will not promote the productivity growth that Kevin Rudd now claims is central to his government's agenda. But productivity growth has never been a central aim of Australia's traditional industrial relations system.

Rudd and Gillard are reimposing this system for political reasons: first to put John Howard's Work Choices to the sword and second to deal Labor's industrial wing back into the game.

Just over a week ago, Fair Work Australia senior deputy president Lea Drake instructed industrial services company Transfield how to deal with the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union in holding a collective agreement ballot of its maintenance employees doing work on Sydney's water system.

The seventh of Drake's 13 instructions state: "During this process Transfield will not attempt to bypass the bargaining agent representatives in relation to its proposal by contacting for this purpose the members of the bargaining agent representatives directly, in meetings or by text or other telephonic messages."

That is, Transfield must deal with "all officers and delegates" of the AMWU as the "bargaining agent". Transfield's workers are not so much the company's employees as "members of the bargaining agent". The union can depict the company's position in any way it wants to its members, but the company cannot argue its case - perhaps beyond setting out what it has put to the union - to its own employees. That would show "bad faith".

The sight of industrial judges limiting how business can talk to its own staff about the terms oftheir labour contract is a huge break from the direction of workplace relations since the early 1990s. That began the shift away from what Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens this month aptly called the "bad old days" of Australian industrial relations. This had to change because the over-regulated labour market threatened to stifle the productivity growth required by business after the rest of the economy had been opened up to foreign competition.


Criminals should pay court costs: Magistrate

Why this is not already the practice is the mystery

Judges should be allowed to force wealthy criminals to pay some of the taxpayers' costs of convicting them, Deputy Chief Magistrate Andrew Cannon says. Dr Cannon has told an ongoing Federal Parliamentary inquiry into the court system, it would be fairer to make those convicted pay a contribution. And people wrongfully charged and acquitted should also be allowed to recoup some of their defence costs.

"A person who is acquitted should generally recover a predictable amount of the costs incurred and a person with financial means who is found guilty should pay a predictable contribution to the costs of prosecution," he said in a written submission.

Taxpayers pay for court proceedings, up to $20.3 million in the most expensive case to try the Snowtown murderers. But the only payment criminals can now be forced to make is a small contribution to the Victims of Crime fund.

The State Government said it would look into the suggestion when it received a copy of the submission. Dr Cannon, who is Adjunct Professor of Law at Flinders University, told the inquiry the awarding of costs should be left up to judges, because in some acquittals the accused might not deserve money. "At the moment, just to be charged with an offence in a major indictable matter is financially extremely expensive," he said. "It is inconsistent with the presumption of innocence that a person who is acquitted is left with a legal bill which may be tens of thousands of dollars."

Victims of Crime Commissioner Michael O'Connell said wealthy convicted criminals should pay money towards victims and victims' services because this was preferable to taxpayers footing the bill. "If criminals are wealthy, then the court should order them to pay compensation to their victims," he said. "Too many victims are not compensated. "It is better that criminals pay for victim compensation and victim services – rather than victims and the public who do not commit crime."

State Government spokesman Rob Malinauskas said the ideas put by Dr Cannon could be passed on to the Criminal Justice Ministerial Taskforce for investigation. He said the Government had already acted on tracking down wealth gained by criminal means. "The Rann Government has examined ways to crack down on criminal wealth and the Serious and Organised Crime (Unexplained Wealth) Bill, which is before Parliament, is an example of how the Government will strip assets from criminals whether they are jailed or not," he said.

Mr O'Connell said both the defence and prosecution in the court system received better funding for legal advice than victims. "Victims of serious crime have a right to be consulted before a decision is made to withdraw a charge or accept a plea to a lesser charge, but during the consultation the state is represented by the prosecutor and the accused person by a lawyer," he said. "The victim has no one to represent them, except on those occasions when I step in. It seems to me that this is a bigger problem than the quality of the legal advice that prosecutors and defendants already get."

In another controversial suggestion, Dr Cannon called for police to be removed from the role of criminal prosecutions. He said it should be done by the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and could be done without a significant increase in costs. "Although police officers in many cases deliver excellent service to courts, they are not legally trained and prosecution would be improved by placing all criminal cases under the umbrella of the DPP," he said. "Improved legal advice to prosecution would improve fairness to defendants by reducing the laying of charges that are overly ambitious and providing more timely response to defence requests for information." A police spokesman said there were no plans to transfer any prosecution powers and if this were done the costs to taxpayers would be significantly more.

Dr Cannon proposed people should be given more access to alternative dispute resolution to keep some matters out of courts. But he warned there was a danger that the quality of justice provided could deteriorate and it was not preferable that many such matters were heard in secret. "It is important that structures be put in place such as sharing of precedents and an appeal back to the state courts to prevent a plurality of legal principles developing," he said. "Issues of privacy that hide wrongdoing and adequate protection of judicial independence need to be carefully managed."


Big welfare agency blunder causes great hardship and distress

To them you are guilty until proven innocent. Isn't government welfare wonderful?

A DISABILITY pensioner says he was forced to sell the family home after Centrelink accused him of fraud - only to later admit he was entitled to income support. Oswald Bruggemans, who now lives with his wife and three children in a rented two-bedroom flat in Blackwood, said it was bittersweet that the government welfare giant was refunding him almost $100,000 after earlier withdrawing his pension.

"I got a letter on Monday from Centrelink saying they would refund me $92,000 - I have gone from crying with frustration to crying with happiness because I can go forward with my life," said Mr Bruggemans, who can now pay his overdue energy and telephone bills and register his car. "But I'm still furious because I lost my house and this refund won't buy it back. "I still go back to the old home I lost after living there for 19 years - it's indescribable how upsetting this has been."

Mr Bruggemans's bureaucratic nightmare started in August 2007, when Centrelink decided he no longer qualified to continue receiving a disability pension for a back injury - as new information apparently showed he had undeclared assets, in the form of a financial interest in a property owned by a son from a former marriage.

Mr Bruggemans - who has two sons aged 10 and seven and a two-year-old daughter with his second wife - protested he had no interest in the property and that his name did not even appear on the title deed. With no income and unable to work due to his disability, Mr Bruggemans said he had no choice but to sell his home - a three-bedroom house on seven hectares at Ironbank - a year ago to raise the cash to support his family.

Just five days before settlement, Centrelink informed him it would seize about $100,000 from the property settlement to recoup the pension money it believed he had claimed but was not entitled to. The 52-year-old said by the time he had paid off the mortgage, debts, settled with his former wife and Centrelink, he was left with only enough from the $510,000 settlement to support his family for less than 12 months. "We have been living on the proceeds of the sale but this money has run out and we have had to sell the furniture to pay for groceries," he said.

Centrelink, which has refunded most of the seized money, has now invited Mr Bruggemans to re-apply for a disability pension. Mr Bruggemans thinks otherwise - "I don't trust that Centrelink won't turn around and try this on me again" - and instead he has sought legal advice with a view to suing Centrelink. He alleges its actions have cost him his house, loss of income and an extreme emotional stress. "I have to talk to my lawyer but I intend to retire on the amount of money I get from compensation," he said.

Centrelink said an investigation had "determined that Mr Bruggemans owned the property from the date of purchase (February 5, 1997) but had never disclosed it to Centrelink" and the onus was on him to prove it wrong. Information later supplied by Mr Bruggemans's lawyer to Centrelink did demonstrate he was not the owner, Centrelink general manager Hank Jorgen said. "A refund of $92,089.79 is to be returned to Mr Bruggemans," he said.


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