Thursday, December 24, 2009

Corporate regulator loses AGAIN

Third strike as ASIC loses case against miner 'Twiggy' Forrest. And the judge slams them for the frivolity of their actions. ASIC cearly needs a new boss. This constant waste of taxpayers' money is no joke. How about focusing on REAL abuses?

AUSTRALIA'S corporate regulator has suffered its third high-profile court defeat in five weeks after the Federal Court cleared billionaire Andrew "Twiggy" Forrest and his Fortescue Metals Group of misleading investors. Justice John Gilmour dismissed all 22 allegations made by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and ordered it to pay Mr Forrest's and FMG's costs, which could mount to millions of dollars.

Justice Gilmour also took a swipe at ASIC in his judgment, saying it had no basis for the civil proceedings and should exercise extreme caution when making allegations because of the damage they could do to companies and personal reputations. "It is important that allegations of dishonesty should be made only where there is a reasonable evidentiary basis for them," he said. "It is my opinion that, on the totality of the evidence available to ASIC, there was no such basis in this case."

ASIC's latest court loss comes hot on the heels of its failed actions against One.Tel founder Jodee Rich and executive Mark Silbermann and former Australian Wheat Board boss Andrew Lindberg. The regulator plans to appeal those decisions and said yesterday it was considering whether to appeal the Fortescue decision.

A triumphant Mr Forrest was not in Perth's Federal Court for the judgment. However, the billionaire, who owns a $4.3 billion stake in the iron ore company, said later that he felt vindicated by the ruling. "I'd like to take this opportunity to thank God, the Australian judicial system, and my family and friends for their unswerving support throughout the proceedings," he said. "We are pleased we can now move on."

The court's decision follows three years of legal proceedings that began when ASIC claimed Mr Forrest and FMG misled the market, acted dishonestly and failed to meet their continuous disclosure obligations. The corporate regulator alleged Mr Forrest overstated the nature of agreements FMG struck in 2004 with three Chinese companies to build mining infrastructure in WA's Pilbara. At the time FMG had issued a series of statements describing the agreements as "binding contracts" whereas ASIC argued they were merely "framework agreements".

Shares in FMG surged after the announcements were made but the deals later unravelled. ASIC alleged Fortescue ignored its continuous disclosure obligations by failing to update the market when the deals came undone.

In a 285-page judgment that took seven months to produce, Justice Gilmour found there was no basis for ASIC "to assert dishonesty on the part of FMG, its board and, in particular", Mr Forrest. He warned that ASIC must be careful in making such allegations because they attracted widespread media coverage, could injure the business of a particular company and tended to "adversely affect" reputations. "Unless the allegations are withdrawn the director(s) accused have to wait until trial before these can be tested," he said. "Meanwhile, they have to live and work in their shadow. In this case the proceedings have been on foot for more than three years."

Mr Forrest could have been banned as a company director and fined up to $4.4 million, while FMG faced a $6 million penalty.


Psychiatric hospital: Moronic official "wisdom"

Keep psych ward knives in drawers after fatal stabbings, says chief psychiatrist. THAT should be a big help! (NOT). It's often said that the psychiatrists are nearly as mad as the patients and this seems rather a good example of that

AN inquiry into the stabbing deaths of two patients at a Melbourne psychiatric hospital has come up with seven recommendations, including a requirement that knife sets be kept in drawers.

Last month two patients at the Thomas Embling Hospital - Raymond Splatt and Paul Notas - were stabbed to death. Fellow patient Peko Lakovski is facing two counts of murder.

Victoria's Chief Psychiatrist Dr Ruth Vine conducted an inquiry into the deaths, aided by a team of interstate experts with forensic clinical experience. Dr Vine said the government has accepted all seven recommendations and said the inquiry found that there was a ``very high threshold" of safety at the Thomas Embling.

The inquiry recommended that the hospital find a way for night staff, who may not deal directly with inmates, to come into contact with patients so they can assess their mental state and stability.

It also recommended that the hospital remove boxed knife sets from benches and put them into drawers. It said that while Jardine Unit patients were expected to cook and clean for themselves, ``the immediate and visible availability of implements that could be used as weapons should be minimised".

Other recommendations included the regular monitoring of relationships between the residents, getting more feedback on patients from their family and carers and documenting any early relapses of illness. "It is still the case that there has never been a serious incident committed by a patient on leave or following release from Thomas Embling Hospital," Dr Vine said. "The community can feel confident that Thomas Embling Hospital is well managed." [Two patients murdered and it is "well managed"!!??]


Ill people hit by cuts to government health funding

Hitting businesses just ends up hitting the little guy in the end -- as business passes on its increased costs in the form of price rises

THOUSANDS of private hospital patients are being forced to pay gap fees running into hundreds of dollars because of a dispute over price increases between the big health funds and Australia's largest pathology company. The stand-off over a 30 per cent fee increase that Sonic is requiring from members of the second biggest health fund, Bupa Australia, is set to worsen next week when the dispute spreads to Medibank Private. The industry giant estimates some patients could be up to $500 out of pocket after a hospital stay. "We're extremely concerned that Sonic are forcing private health insurance members to pay excessive costs for pathology services, which in the worst-case scenario can be up to several hundred dollars," the managing director of Bupa, Richard Bowden, said. Mr Bowden said the fees demanded by Sonic were up to twice the level set by the Medicare benefits schedule.

Sonic's demand for an increase of more than 30 per cent on current contracted rates was "clearly unaffordable and unreasonable" and was well above prices negotiated with other pathology providers. The breakdown in negotiations has meant that since November 1, Bupa no longer has a contract for no-gap arrangements with Sonic, exposing patients to big surprise bills.

Medibank members will be in the same position once its contract with Sonic expires on December 31. The two funds account for about 200,000 private hospital patients a year.

The Federal Government's 8 per cent cut to Medicare payments for pathology has contributed to Sonic's demand for a big rise from health funds to cover reduced government cover and rising costs, but the Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, refused to comment yesterday. "This is a commercial matter between Sonic and the health funds so it's not something we can comment on," a spokeswoman for Ms Roxon said.

The chief executive of Sonic, Colin Goldschmidt, stood by the fee rises, saying they followed years of inadequate payments from Medicare [government insurer], which reimburses 75 per cent of the official schedule fee, and Medibank [private insurer], which had covered part of the remaining costs. The rises were required to restore viability of many hospital pathology laboratories, which he said were running at a loss. Several other funds had accepted Sonic's terms. "Patients are free to change funds. We believe we cannot go on with the same fee structure we have had with Bupa and Medibank," Dr Goldschmidt said. He dismissed as "scurrilous" the Medibank claim that people could be $500 out of pocket.

The Bupa and Medibank members, who account for more than half of the 10 million Australians covered by health insurance, are the latest group to be exposed to surging gap costs. The Government's cut to Medicare rebates for cataract operations is leaving many patients with $300 gap bills.

The health funds have warned that the pathology rise, which would add millions of dollars to health insurance costs, would feed into premium rises currently before the Health Department.

Carol Bennett, the executive director of the Consumers Health Forum, said her organisation was concerned by the growing trend of pathology companies "to maximise their profits at the expense of vulnerable consumers who are often hit with large and unexpected pathology bills". "This is an industry that has enjoyed above average profits for many years now," Ms Bennett said. "No government can continue to drain taxpayers' money to fund ever-increasing pathology costs without proper checks and balances."


Holier than Thou

Christmas is a time when people grow even more tired of politics than usual, but it is also a time when the politically desperate take increasingly cheap shots at others in a ploy to divert media attention from their own failures.

This happened last Monday when ALP Senator Kate Lundy was despatched from the Labor dirt unit to make fun of Tony Abbott's strong Christian faith. Sent out to attack using focus group tested lines, Senator Lundy made a big mistake, and consequently a bigger fool of her emperor Kevin Rudd.

In a humiliating display, Senator Lundy inserted Mr Rudd's name where she was told to insert Mr Abbott's. Here's what she said: "What I think is important here (is) that we challenge Mr Rudd on his propensity to want to inflict his personal religious views, very strongly held, on the rest of the Australian population."

Now if it wasn't for the pointed attack on religious beliefs, pandering to the secular left, in a clumsy attempt at dog whistle politics, perhaps the faux pas could be excused. But how can we excuse the hypocrisy of Kevin Rudd, sending out the lamentable Lundy to attack a man of deep faith whilst claiming to be one himself.

But then again Kevin Rudd has claimed to be many different things in recent times. He was an economic conservative before he became a Christian socialist on his way to becoming a social democrat. He was a Catholic before becoming an Anglican but still demands communion from the Catholic Church, coincidently on the eve of Australia's first Saint being proclaimed.

Rudd condemned the 'political orchestration of organised Christianity' in his essay on Dietrich Bonhoeffer but insists upon doing doorstops in front of church almost every Sunday morning. In one ABC interview he even blamed others for the fact he had to take his faith public.

Kevin Rudd's religious beliefs are his business but he insists upon showcasing them to suggest he is a man of great virtue. Personally I am pleased he considers himself to be a Christian but is it about time we saw the real Kevin Rudd?

Rudd has repeatedly demonstrated himself to be a 'man for all seasons'. He will change his beliefs to suit the climate and is happy to send the unwitting to do his grubby work.

Notwithstanding Mr Rudd's supreme embarrassment at his Copenhagen failure, his attempt to play the religious card to attack his opponent at Christmas time gives another insight into the character of our Prime Minister. I am sure that an increasing number of Australians don’t like what they see.


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