Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Victoria's pathetic new waterbomber

This is ridiculous when much larger Russian aircraft were on offer. The DC10 is a comparative midget of an aircraft these days. The kickbacks must have been good

THE eagle has landed - Victoria has finally taken delivery of a super water bomber for the bushfire season. The heavily modified DC10 flew in from the US to Avalon yesterday, on a $10 million lease deal. The first such aircraft to be used in Australia, it can reach any part of Victoria within 45 minutes and soak 1.2 kilometres of bushfire in one dump with its 45,000 litres of water. It is expected to be ready for action by early next month for the worst of the season, and will be based at Avalon.

Premier John Brumby said the addition to Victoria's firefighting arsenal was part of a record financing program to make sure the state was as fire-ready as possible. "We have been working with the Country Fire Authority since September to bring a large aerial firefighting aircraft to Victoria for the first time to help protect lives and properties," Mr Brumby said. "Large aircraft that can carry up to eight times the water or retardant of smaller firefighting aircraft are untried in Australian conditions. Victoria will lead the way in testing their ability to help fight fires in the peak of this fire season," he said.

The plane will be deployed when and if necessary by the state's top firefighters. But both the Department of Sustainability and the CFA have warned that aircraft are not silver bullets in fighting bushfires. The Elvis skycrane arrived in Victoria last month.


Loads of money for hospital computers but nothing more for patients?

This is obscene for two reasons: 1). The huge waiting lists for treatment in most hospitals. The money should be spent on more doctors and nurses; 2). The British experience suggests that the money will be completely wasted anyway. The Brits have just given up on their computter system after spending 12 BILLION pounds on it

A BROAD coalition of health professionals believes it made progress in its quest for $6.3 billion in federal funding at the government's massive broadband conference in Sydney last week. The Coalition for e-Health's hopes have been buoyed by strong indications it has support from Kevin Rudd, Health and Ageing Minister Nicola Roxon and Communications Minister Stephen Conroy.

Michael Legg, president of the Health Informatics Society, which convenes the CeH, said the group had been asked to hang tight. Professor Legg said the group had been strongly encouraged by comments made by Department of Health and Ageing deputy secretary Jane Halton at the conference that indicated the department was behind the group. "That's the first time that I've really heard anybody at that level in the department declaring their position with respect to it, which means, I think, that that they do have strong political support," Professor Legg said.

The group has been in limbo since June, when the federal government accepted a report issued by the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission that found e-health was critical to improving Australian healthcare. The report convinced the government to recognise e-health as a critical component of its health reform policy.

The Business Council of Australia issued a strategy paper last month that suggested Australia could cut $27.8bn from its national medical bill over eight years if $6.3bn were invested in e-health systems over five years. [What utter bull!]

The Prime Minister was expected to provide feedback on the strategy after last week's meeting of the Council Of Australian Governments. CeH wrote to Mr Rudd urging him to move swiftly to accept the findings of the strategy paper. It said in the letter the government had not made its position clear on e-health and asked Mr Rudd to take a stronger leadership position to ensure stronger cohesion between state and federal health jurisdictions. "We ask you as Prime Minister to lead the way," the group wrote.

"This is a nation-building exercise that requires clear vision and strong leadership. To date, your government, while supportive, has not articulated a clear position and commitment. Without this, all jurisdictions will struggle to move ahead . . . We also believe this is a great opportunity to chart a new course; to give the broader health community something to aspire to and work toward, and that this is an essential step towards providing a health system fit for the 21st century." But Professor Legg said Mr Rudd had declined to provide the feedback on the basis the issue was too complex.

The government has isolated health as one of the five key policy areas to be entwined with its $4bn plan to build a super-fast national broadband network. Delivering his opening address to the Realising our Broadband Future conference on Thursday, Mr Rudd said the NBN went beyond communications policy. "In other words, our national broadband policy is not about communications policy," Mr Rudd said. "It is about health policy, education policy, transport policy and the whole way that governments meet the needs of our people."

Labor has given e-health a prominent place in its health reform strategy, but the Prime Minister's positive mood did not carry over to discussion sessions on e-health later in the day. There, frustration was strong over an apparent lack of political leadership backing the vision. In one session Ms Halton faced strongly worded commentary from health professionals on a range of issues. Some bemoaned regulations that prevented them charging for health services supplied electronically. Others were concerned that the e-health agenda was too closely tied to the NBN and urged the government to take "the low-hanging fruit" by supporting health services that were possible with existing broadband connections.

Privately, others expressed concerns that ongoing political conflict over medicine services between the federal government and states and territories was holding back e-health.

However, Professor Legg took up one of the main barriers to e-health services -- the lack of unique healthcare identifiers linking individuals to healthcare records. As discussions were taking place at the conference on Thursday, the federal government released draft legislation to assign such identifiers to providers and patients. [A national ID card by the back door?] That was expected to overcome security and accuracy problems with medical records.

Some questioned the timing of the legislation but Professor Legg said it was a logical progression from the Council of Australian Governments meeting. "The government was moving as fast as governments do," he said.


Where the conservatives went wrong

By Peter Coleman, an "eminence grise" of Australian conservatism

IT would be a fatal mistake to blame the recent mess in the Liberal Party on its leaders. They must take their share of the blame but the problems go deeper than politicians, even the best of them. Most critics blame Malcolm Turnbull, whose experience shows that leadership calls for more than brains and drive, of which he has plenty. Others blame John Howard, who was a highly successful prime minister but failed on the great test of settling the succession. Others go back further, even to Malcolm Fraser.

But the real failure of Australian conservatism lies not with its parliamentary leaders. It is conservatives themselves. It is the job of the conservative public to point the politicians in the right direction and then trust them, the practical parliamentarians, to navigate through the political currents. In Australia the conservative public has left it to the politicians to create the guiding ideas, something very few of them are good at.

There are four traps into which politicians fall when they are thrashing around in opposition in search of policy. The first is adopting dogma or ideology. It is usually an act of desperation, although it may for a moment seem the solution. John Hewson's Fightback was a great example. It led to a catastrophic defeat in the election.

The second trap is opportunism. A classic case is the decision of the Liberals in the NSW parliament to oppose the privatising of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority. There may have been a political dividend -- the frustration of the Iemma Labor government in NSW -- but the loss of credibility in the abandonment of principle was high and reinforced a growing sense of a party without principles.

A third trap is demagoguery. This is the politics of big gestures. The recent example is Turnbull's espousal of the emissions trading scheme. It will do nothing for global warming and it would burden Australians with new taxes and regulations. But it seemed a splendid gesture at the time.

This sometimes leads to a fourth trap: uncritical loyalty. If the rank-and-file conservatives are uncertain, they are inclined to accept the leader's decisions. This was notably the case with the ETS. Most conservatives were always suspicious of the ETS, of the dislocation, unemployment, controls and taxes involved.

Loyalty is or can be a source of great strength, but there are occasions when the conservative public, the rank-and-file party members or their parliamentary representatives, must stand up, as L. S. Amery did in the House of Commons in 1940 and called out to his leader (Neville Chamberlain): "In the name of God, go!" If enough of them had done this when Howard was plainly losing his touch as prime minister, the Liberal party would not be as devastated as it has been. The same sort of misplaced loyalty prolonged the Turnbull agony. The vast majority of rank-and-file Liberals did not agree with him on global warming but they remained loyal until the last days.

What is to be done? The guiding principle, as always, is: Trust the People! It is to them, to the rank-and-file conservatives, that we must look for solutions. I recall vividly how, after Gough Whitlam's defeat of the Liberal government in 1972, the new Liberal leader, Billy Mackie Snedden, organised a huge canvass of every Liberal branch and member seeking their ideas of what went wrong and how to fix it. The Labor party guffawed. Some Liberals had nothing to tell Snedden. But it was a step in the right direction. It shook up the party and its shibboleths. It placed the onus of reform not on parliamentarians but on liberals and conservatives at large. It contributed enormously to the rout of the Labor party soon after.

I do not suggest a repeat performance under Tony Abbott. We now have what we did not have back then: a range of think-tanks, issue groups, magazines and blogs working successfully in the conservative interest. Their influence has been great and salutary. There would probably have been no privatisation, deregulation or tax reform if it had been left to politicians. It was the think-tanks ranging from the Centre for Independent Studies and the Institute of Public Affairs to the Institute for Private Enterprise and the Sydney Institute, or pressure groups such as the H. R. Nicholls Society, magazines such as Quadrant and publishers such as Connor Court that laid the foundation for the reforms in industrial relations, financial regulation, taxation and indigenous policy.

What would have been the state of the debate on global warming and the ETS without the think-tanks and a few independent journalists? No matter how sound or fraudulent may be the science supporting the Rudd-Turnbull ETS, there was for years little serious attempt to expound or expose it in the parliament. When Ian Plimer wrote the major critical Australian book on the subject, Heaven and Earth: Global Warming: The Missing Science, it was a small and little-known Melbourne show, Connor Court, and the IPA that published it. It is an international bestseller.

In recent years the conservative public and its organisations have too often dropped the ball. How else to explain their quiet when the Howard government committed itself to centralisation in Canberra and the abandonment of federalism? If ever there were a conservative principle, it is the diffusion of political power summed up as federalism. But on issue after issue the government centralised power: in industrial relations, taxation, education. To dress this up as nationalism is an abuse of nationalism.

The first step in the revival of philosophical liberal and conservative ideas will be the strengthening and expansion of the think-tanks, policy groups and magazines. The second step is taking their message to the public at large. Magazines such as Quadrant continue to play a major role. But in the age of the internet, the blog has become a key medium. (Andrew Bolt's blog has been a major player in these debates.)

But there is still one task that is appropriate to the Liberal party itself, whatever support it may draw from outside its ranks. That is the statement and restatement of the underlying philosophy of the Liberal party. I do not mean a crib that tells politicians what to do next. I mean the ideas that broadly guide Liberals in and out of parliament.

This is an old story. The Liberal Party has often over the years set up a philosophy committee to help revitalise the party's ideas and rescue it from the temptations of opportunism. Time and again the committee members spend months on meetings, discussions, drafts. In due course the committee reports to the party. The party then thanks the committee for its important work. Then nothing more is heard of the report. I have a humble example. Some 20 or more years ago when I was doing a stint in the federal parliament, I chaired a philosophy committee charged with the task of drawing up a set of fundamental principles. We dutifully did so. We nutted out 15 of them. (The inevitable crack was that we produced one more than US president Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points.) Our charter was duly debated, amended, and adopted, and then filed and forgotten. Worldly MPs believe that philosophy is no substitute for political savvy.

Yet philosophy is like Freud's unconscious. You can repress it but it will come out somewhere. We have inherited a free, prosperous and peaceful society. But there are always mischiefs and faults to be corrected.

Some call this sort of approach pragmatism and trace it to Edmund Burke or David Hume or Thomas Hobbes or some other conservative philosopher. But most liberals and conservatives call it it simple realism. They prefer an unsystematic approach.

Whatever you call it, the task of the conservative and liberal public is to see to it that the parliamentary party does not abandon realism or fall into the traps of dogma, opportunism or demagoguery, supported by appeals to loyalty. Our present discontents are due to the fact that it has fallen into one of these traps and the conservative public has let them get away with it.

This is well documented in The Howard Era, a new collection of essays on the successes and failures of the last Coalition government. It is edited by Keith Windschuttle, David Martin Jones and Ray Evans and published by a new publishing company, Quadrant Books. The book's first theme is the absolute rightness of John Howard's boast on the night of his defeat in 2007 that he was bequeathing to the incoming Rudd government "a stronger and prouder and more prosperous country" than it had been when he came to office in 1996.

But the book's second theme is how often the Howard government fell into the same traps to which oppositions are prone. It was centralist dogma that led it to undermine the federal compact. Most notorious was the use of the corporations power to justify the centralising WorkChoices legislation. In education policy, Martin Jones argues that one federal minister for education after another set out to centralise or socialise our universities and undermine the classical liberal education.

The government also became increasingly prone to opportunism. The most telling example was the Howard government's last-minute adoption in 2007 of an ETS without any serious attempt to prepare the party or explain it to the public. It was, writes Ray Evans, "an ignominious finale to a distinguished career". When the government did at last adopt a good policy in Aboriginal affairs -- the Northern Territory intervention -- a sceptical electorate suspected more opportunism.

But there is no occasion for despair. When Peter Costello asked Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore why he no longer believed Australians were becoming the white trash of Asia, his answer was: "You've changed!"

It was liberals and conservatives who together brought about that change. They can do it again, provided they remember the war is too important to be left to the generals.


For history buffs, a note from Rafe Champion: "I have one quibble, Peter blamed the excesses of the Fightback package for losing the unlosable election in 1993. I think that was a magnificent package, and it united the party after years of ruinous division between wets and dries.

Two factors killed it, one was the GST, "a bridge too far" that was too easy to ridicule by hostile commentators.

The other was the commentariat, the media and working journalists. They demonstrated for the first time the extent to which they are hostages to a political party, committed partisans in the contest. They are our biggest problem in generating any kind of rational debate. They have sold out their principles and their credibility and the nation will pay a heavy price if they do not lift their game."

QANTAS again

Jetstar is the QANTAS budget subsidiary. And they're animals. The lady below should sue the b*stards

NSW artist, psychologist and mother Mesha Sendyk covered both ends of the emotional spectrum the day she decided to see the Dalai Lama, then try to fly home on Jetstar. Meditation was the last thing on her mind when she says she was angrily challenged over her carry-on bag by a male attendant at the gate. Now she has lodged a complaint with the airline and called for the attendant to be sacked. But the airline is standing by its man.

Ms Sendyk, 42, of Byron Bay, was with her husband and six-year-old daughter when the clash happened at Sydney Airport two weeks ago as they tried to get on the Gold Coast flight. “All of a sudden I heard this yelling match,” said another passenger in the line. “Then I heard a woman's voice say: 'Don't you dare touch me, take your hands off me.'"

The airline alleges Ms Sendyk got on the flight without a boarding pass and shouted at gate staff and flight attendants.

The stand-off began when the male gate attendant allegedly challenged Ms Sendyk over the size of her carry-on bag. The bag fitted the frame and Ms Sendyk was told "you can get on board" but when she remarked on the attendant's alleged “rudeness”, she said he got angry. “He then roared, using the tone of an incensed school madam: 'That's it! Your bag is going under the plane and if I hear another word you won't be flying at all,'” Ms Sendyk recalled him saying in a three-page account of her experience. “I said only, 'You need to stop being rude to me.'"

She said the attendant replied: "I can do anything I want," before allegedly snatching Ms Sendyk's boarding pass and circling the cabin baggage rules. “Look here … it says so here in your contract … I control who and what goes onto this plane."

Ms Sendyk, conscious that her daughter was becoming upset by the exchange and worried it could trigger her asthma, said she tried to move her family through the gate. Ms Sendyk said that when her husband, Xavier Bouquillard, asked the attendant for his name, the man said it repeatedly and spelled it out before saying: “You're not going anywhere.”

Ms Sendyk said she swore at the attendant and tried to move her family through. “I'd just spent three days with the Dalai Lama and just looked at him really dismissively and said 'f--- off' and we kept going,” she said. Ms Sendyk said the attendant cried out to stop her before rushing forward and putting himself between her family and the gate. “[He] rushed to the doorway pushing me with his large belly and manhandling me with his body to hit the doorframe, raising his hands and shrieking: 'Stop her, stop her!'” she said.

Ms Sendyk said she managed to manoeuvre her way through the gate and, after explaining the gate attendant had her boarding pass, was allowed by a flight attendant to take her seat in row four of the aircraft. Mr Bouqillard and the couple's daughter were seated together further towards the back. Ms Sendyk said she sat there for a few minutes before the same flight attendant came to her and told her she was being “deboarded and must get off the plane”. She tried to reason with the flight staff but was told there was nothing they could do. She said she was allowed back on the aircraft once to collect her bag and ask the other passengers if they would be willing to provide witness statements.

Australian Federal Police officers who were called to the gate advised Ms Sendyk to take notes on the incident as soon as possible. She was eventually forced to pay $349 for a Virgin Blue flight to the Gold Coast later that night. Ms Sendyk's recollections are supported by at least three passengers, one of whom heard the boarding gate exchange.

The Brighton Le Sands woman, 50, who asked not to be named, said everyone in line turned around to look. “All of a sudden I heard this yelling match,” the woman said. “Then I heard a woman's voice say: 'Don't you dare touch me, take your hands off me.' “Then she was standing behind me really furious, saying 'I'm going to make a complaint about that man.'”

The incident was handled “appallingly” by the airline, the woman said. “I actually got up from my seat and said 'just let the lady on board, she has her child on board and her husband'. She was not a threat to the plane,” she said. “Then [Ms Sendyk's daughter] started crying and the lady next to me started crying, that's how distressing it was. “It was just totally blown out of proportion.”

Jetstar offered to refund Ms Sendyk's airfare but refused to reimburse her for the Virgin Blue flight. And in response to Ms Sendyk's three-page complaint, Jetstar's customer care manager Michael Mirabito threatened her with a total ban from the airline's services. “In the event of any further reports of unruly, intimidating or violent behaviour by yourself, Jetstar will exercise its right to refuse you carriage on all of its services,” Mr Mirabito said in a letter, dated December 8.

An airline spokesman yesterday said the gate attendant was a “highly-valued” and “long-serving” member of staff. The airline had employee reports that indicated crew were not comfortable with Ms Sendyk travelling on the flight, a spokeswoman said.

The same member of staff had a complaint against him posted on an online complaints forum earlier this year. "Wanted to find out at booking desk if we could upgrade to business [star class] on the return flight from Thailand using frequent flyers points," the passenger wrote. "Was told by [staff member] at desk that there was no possibility as frequent flyer members were the 'lowest of the low'. "He was extremely rude and condescending, it was very tempting to jump the desk and have a quiet word with him, but I wanted to get to Thailand." The passenger said he was told frequent flyer members were "the lowest of the low" a second time, by the same attendant, six months later before a flight to Bali. "The arrogance of the male person ... astounded me, and as an employer of over 20 staff I would have had him fired on the spot; surely this could not have been the first complaint against him," he said.

Two other passengers on Ms Sendyk's flight, who were seated next to her but did not know her, disputed Jetstar's claim she was shouting and using inappropriate language on board. “[Ms Sendyk] was a bit tired and upset but she wasn't loud or obnoxious, or annoying anybody,” one passenger, Diane Harris, said. “When she addressed the plane she was just pointing out that she was being thrown off the plane for whatever kind of behaviour and she thought it was unacceptable when the guy at the gate had been rude to her and now she was being pulled off for being 'obnoxious'.”

Ms Harris, who has been taking the same flight almost every week for three years, said the airline's treatment of Ms Sendyk was “dreadful”. “We were on the [same] flight last Thursday,” she said. “They have drunken yahoos in there on the way to the Gold Coast for a bucks' night or what have you and there's not a word of admonition to them and yet they throw off some poor woman with a family who's not being loud or obnoxious at all,” Ms Harris said.


1 comment:

Paul said...

Figers crossed the Abbott and Joyce will be our first REAL opposition leaders since Howard. Watch how the media treats them. That will be the final arbiter of their success or otherwise. Australians still as a rule seem to believe that if it isn't on the News or in the Paper then it didn't happen.