Saturday, August 22, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks that the Federal government is too trusting towards China

Another ambulance bungle -- man dies

The widow of a Queensland man said his last act was to trust the ambulance service that ultimately bungled the response to his fatal heart attack. Karen Howlett has recalled how her husband Peter, 44, urged her to call an ambulance when he began to feel the effects of a heart attack in his Mackay home. But a series of communication miscues in the Queensland Ambulance Service were highlighted after Mr Howlett died in front of his three young children before an ambulance arrived.

The ambulance – leaving from a station about 15 minutes' drive away – got lost and arrived almost one hour after the initial Triple 0 call. "He was the one who asked me to call an ambulance. He had faith they would come in time," Mrs Howlett said. "But they didn't and a good man lost his life."

Mr Howlett's death in April 2006 remains the subject of a coronial inquest which has heard QAS admissions that it made several errors in responding to the callout. These include the incorrect prioritising of the call which, the inquest heard, was among factors that led to paramedics making a cup of tea before they headed out.

The incident has been one of many researched by The Courier-Mail as part of a special investigation into the QAS since its 2007 overhaul. The series, from Monday, will look at the QAS's dispatch process, spending and workplace culture.

Mr Howlett's emergency occurred at 7.22am on April 21, 2006, in clear weather at Farleigh, an historic community just off the Bruce Hwy northwest of Mackay. The street and address of the family home, built in the 1980s, were clearly marked. Mrs Howlett called Triple 0 three times while her husband's condition worsened. After her second call, she received a call from the ambulance seeking directions and had to go outside with the phone. "I couldn't hear because Peter was screaming in pain," she said.

Mrs Howlett returned to the room to find her husband "turning purple" and then gave him CPR. "He had his children – who were 8, 6, and 2 at the time – watching this. It was very, very traumatic," Mrs Howlett said.

Mrs Howlett doesn't blame the paramedic, who was new to the area and worked frantically on her husband, or his assistant on her first day on the job. But she has lost confidence in QAS management. "I could never rely on an ambulance again. I would put my family in the car and drive," she said. "It's a shame really. I think about that every day."

Mrs Howlett was angry a tape of the call revealed an ambulance dispatcher felt she was a "stroppy little thing".

The inquest has heard that the call was not given the highest emergency code because of a misunderstanding at the QAS communications centre.

After her husband's death, Mrs Howlett expected an apology and explanation from QAS managers. There was nothing but silence until her brother-in-law complained and a general apology was made. "It seemed all hush-hush to me. My feeling was if we hadn't initiated contact, I don't know that we would have heard anything. They did an investigation but I wasn't asked anything," Mrs Howlett said. "My husband died a very painful death without any medical assistance. I would have appreciated some feedback."

QAS medical director Dr Stephen Rashford told the inquest that mistakes were made and that "this was not a good case for us". The ambulance lacked a backup GPS that could have assisted the paramedic, who had only worked in Mackay for two months.


Another Greenie scare evaporates

Would you believe the evils of dredging a deeper shipping channel into Melbourne?

THEY just won't give up. "Time will tell," moaned a Blue Wedges Coalition spokesman this week. Sure, Port Phillip Bay isn't rotten with the mutant fish the eco-alarmists predicted. Sure, swimmers don't emerge from the waters glowing fiendishly from the "radioactive" waste that Green Wedges was sure would come, making "a trip to the beach a risky outing". Eels aren't flopping weakly on the beaches, poisoned to their gasping gills by "high levels of toxins" or "toxic algae blooms". Nor do the seas roaring through the unplugged Heads now cause "flooding in low-lying areas" or lap the steps of Parliament House.

But think Blue Wedges activists, who cost us millions through their scares, could finally admit they were wrong? Could they admit that the dredging of the bay's shipping lanes, now finished at last, has not caused the devastation they so wildly predicted, with the uncritical support of The Age? Not a bit of it. Being green means never having to say you're sorry -- sorry for being a reckless scaremonger whose two court actions and endless claims of doom helped cost taxpayers another $120 million in legal costs and extra green-proofing of a project that's so vital for the state's trade, now that container ships are much bigger.

Instead, as the giant Queen of the Netherlands dredger departs this week, a good job finished, there was Blue Wedges yet again, warning of monsters. "Time will tell," its spokesman said. Already, he claimed, we'd "lost a generation of anchovies". Indeed, on the Blue Wedges website remains its warning from April: that with these anchovies gone, the penguin colony at Phillip Island could "crash" in autumn.

Well, autumn has gone, but the penguins haven't, which suggests the fishiest thing about Blue Wedges' latest scare isn't the anchovies. Sure enough, the Office of the Environmental Monitor says this claim of "missing" anchovies seems based on no more than a sampling error. Ho hum.

You may say, let it go. Blue Wedges has lost, the rest of the state has won. We have our deeper shipping lanes, and leave the activists to think they at least ensured no fish need fear for it's future. But no. How many scares have we now seen not come to pass? Count 'em -- the scares about nuclear winter, acid rain, giant famines, DDT, the Y2K bug, SARS, avian flu and this swine flu that Australia's chief medical officer warned could kill 20,000 of us this season alone. Now we're told that if we don't turn off the lights we face a warming hell few humans can hope to survive. Seriously.

Enough with the panic merchants. Hold them to account before they slip free to fight another alarmist cause. Blue Wedges was wrong, and was always going to be wrong. The Age was wrong, and was always going to be wrong. Scraping a deeper trench in a giant bay was never going to end all marine life as we know it.

Not that The Age will admit it. For instance, it still hasn't informed readers that its claim that the dredging had caused dead fish to wash up at Newport was false. Just as it won't admit the planet it keeps claiming is warming has spent the past eight years cooling. "Time will tell," comes that moan again. Actually, buster, time has told. And it's told against you.


Legal revolution? Client confidentiality to be abolished?

JOHN Corcoran is not exactly having kittens, but he is deeply concerned about the latest bright idea being considered by the federal government: "Dob in your clients." What worries the Law Council president is that this could become a legal obligation for all lawyers under the next tranche of the government's anti-money laundering legislation.

Blowing the whistle on clients who are suspected of engaging in dodgy financial transactions might be perfectly reasonable in other professions. But it could backfire terribly if applied to lawyers. If lawyers live up to their professional ethics -- and most do -- public policy is best served by encouraging crooks to be as frank as possible when they seek legal advice about proposed financial transactions.

The basic responsibility of all lawyers is to keep their clients within the letter of the law -- even when the client expresses a clear desire to do otherwise. But how open would some clients be with their lawyers if they knew that as soon as they left the room, their lawyer would be on the phone to the authorities discharging a legal obligation to disclose anything suspicious? That is all we are talking about -- mere suspicion.

Exempting lawyers from this sort of obligation would not amount to punching a loophole in the anti-money laundering regime. It could actually strengthen the net by relying on good lawyers to steer bad clients away from anything improper.

Bringing lawyers within this regime is a step that should be resisted. It would effectively mean that the legal profession had become an arm of the state -- and for no real benefit.

Money laundering would continue, and quite possibly increase, because shady clients would no longer have pesky lawyers urging them to reconsider. But while the majority of the profession can be relied upon to act ethically, what about the rotten apples?

Why not rely on the existing, highly intrusive powers of the law societies and legal services commissioners? And if those powers are considered inadequate, why not crank them up?


Phones sales are a big risk

A report from the boiler room

I WAS shocked at the number of people who signed up for the life insurance policy I was selling over the phone. Even more worrying was the number of naive people willing to hand over their credit card and bank details to a stranger. If only they could have seen the call centre from my point of view …

After a woeful few days on the selling side of things my team leader pulled me over to give me a few tips.

"Don't mention the word 'insurance'," he said. "It puts people off. Just call it a 'comprehensive policy' - it's far less intimidating."

He also taught me how to craftily manipulate my language so that it sounded as if I was calling from one of Australia's major banks. This was designed to give customers a false sense of security - that they would be able to trace the salesman if anything went wrong. A laughable thought if you could see the employment turnover in the call centre.

The more I found out about the call centre from my colleagues the more depressed I became. For example: "You know if someone takes out accidental death insurance there is this little box they have to tick saying they understand that the policy doesn't cover them if drugs or alcohol are involved in the death. Everybody thinks that this is fine, but what they don't realise is that if they're run down by a drink driver, then alcohol is involved. Their death isn't covered. We're not allowed to mention that part of course."

Finally I was forced to listen to an "exemplary" call to improve my selling skills. Poor Mrs Chan on the other end of the phone didn't speak much English and was desperately trying to end the call without sounding rude. The salesman was more than happy to exploit her weaknesses.

"If you give over your bank details, all the information will be sent to you," the salesman said for the 10th time in his softest, most dangerous voice. This is, of course, entirely untrue. If she gives over her bank details the salesman will sign her up to the policy immediately and $50 will be debited from her account monthly until she notices this and ends the policy.

After 15 minutes Mrs Chan gives over her details in the belief that more information will be sent to her. The salesman gleefully signs her up. I still wonder how long she waited at home for the information to arrive before she realised she was already losing money.

To the naive people out there who continue to buy over the phone: don't. You never know who you're handing your details to or what you're really getting.


No comments: