Wednesday, December 23, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG has some derisive words for Kevin Rudd's Copenhagen junket.

Public pressure forces some decency out of offensive QANTAS subsidiary

Too bad if you can't get a major newspaper to give big publicity to your complaint, though

Jetstar has suspended a gate attendant who allegedly abused a female passenger and had her thrown off a flight and apologised for the airline's "unacceptable" response to the woman's complaint.

Mesha Sendyk was removed from a Sydney to Gold Coast flight earlier this month for allegedly shouting at a gate attendant and getting on the plane without a boarding pass. Ms Sendyk, 42, complained to the airline, alleging she was abused by the staff member in front of her six-year-old daughter and had her boarding pass snatched away during a highly-charged exchange with the man.

The airline's customer care manager responded to Ms Sendyk's complaint with an offer to refund her airfare, an accusation she behaved in an "unruly, disruptive or violent" manner and a threat to ban the Byron Bay-based artist from all Jetstar services in future.

But two days after the incident came to light, a senior airline executive phoned Ms Sendyk to tell her the gate attendant had been stood down. "[Jetstar group general manager commercial David Koczka] apologised repeatedly about [the attendant's] behaviour and [customer care manager] Michael Mirabito's letter," Ms Sendyk said. "He said 'I think what happened was terrible for you and then when we responded to your attempt to reconcile, the response we gave was just unacceptable'."

A Jetstar spokesman confirmed the gate attendant had been suspended pending an internal investigation into the incident. "Senior management have taken this matter seriously," the spokesman said. [About time] "We've spoken directly to the customer and apologised for the incident that happened at the gate." "We have very good customer service, we've got very strong passenger growth - we're the fastest growing airline in the region. "We stand by the fact we're an organisation that's proactive and takes these things seriously." [Really?? Not much sign of it]

Ms Sendyk said she was tremendously hurt by the airline's initial response to her written complaint, as well as further accusations, levelled through the media, that she was at fault. "I can't say I'm happy with the whole thing but I think their assurance that he's no longer going to be in a position where he can victimise members of the public is good," she said. "It hasn't been pleasant but I'm happy with the response.


Rudd's Super Clinics won't ease hospital emergency overload

Bed shortage is the major problem in the hospitals so how many beds do these clinics provide? ZERO

THE revelation that most of the Rudd government's GP super clinics will not be operating for at least another two years has brought opponents of this expensive program out into the open. The centrepiece of the government's health and hospital reform agenda is facing renewed criticism just as Tony Abbott has flagged Coalition support for a national referendum on a commonwealth takeover of hospital funding. It is worth remembering that then newly minted opposition leader Kevin Rudd made the same promise in the days of Kevin 07 and has backed away from it since.

Abbott's support for a referendum, however, could prove a policy game changer. The opposition is targeting the systemic problems that plague public hospitals run by giant state government bureaucracies. Direct federal funding of hospitals run by local boards is far superior to throwing taxpayers' dollars at so-called solutions to the hospital crisis, such as super clinics, that are more ideologically driven than evidence-based.

Under the $275 million super clinics program, the Rudd government is funding the start-up costs involved in bringing together general practitioners and allied health professionals, such as physiotherapists and podiatrists, who want to amalgamate their practices into one-stop shops. An initial 38 clinics have been announced in the past 18 months. General practitioners fear super clinics, generously subsidised by taxpayers, will compete unfairly and put established private practices out of business.

This follows the direct action taken by suburban GPs associated with the Doctors Action Group who in early November closed their surgeries in protest against the threat super clinics posed to the traditional family GP. GPs are legitimately worried about the long-term effect of large-scale and centralised super clinics on private general practice. The concern is that young doctors will not buy into an established practice, into which retiring doctors have invested large amounts of capital and years of service, when the alternative is to join a government-controlled super clinic for free with the capital costs paid for by taxpayers.

If private surgeries are crowded out and it becomes too costly and difficult to establish one from scratch, it is conceivable that a future federal government may force doctors to work in super clinics on a salaried basis. Super clinics are therefore a slippery slope that potentially could lead to the nationalisation of Australian general practice.

For the ideologues in the federal health bureaucracy opposed to private medicine, the end of fee-for-service GP care is a time-honoured objective. In fact, super clinics are a throwback to the Whitlam government's polyclinic model of the 1970s.

Publicly, at least, the Rudd government has consistently claimed that federally funded super clinics are designed to boost the provision of GP services and take the pressure off dangerously overcrowded public hospitals. The idea is that emergency departments will no longer be swamped by so-called GP-style patients with minor illnesses once a super clinic offering extended-hours services is established at a nearby location. Hence, Health Minister Nicola Roxon recently claimed the program already was helping to solve the hospital crisis, with a super clinic in Tasmania reportedly reducing by 13 per cent the number of people turning up at the nearby emergency department with minor illness.

This sounds impressive. But in reality this confirms how flawed the super clinics program is and how little pressure on hospitals they will relieve. Several studies have found patients with a cold or sore toe constitute only 10 per cent to 15 per cent of total emergency presentations. But because GP-style patients suffer uncomplicated conditions, they are in fact quick, easy and cheap to treat in emergency departments. They account for a mere fraction, 2 per cent to 3 per cent, of the total workload and for about just 7 per cent of total costs.

Locating extended-hours GP clinics near emergency departments has been found to produce, at best, "an average reduction in attendances of one patient every two hours while the clinics are open". Not surprisingly, studies have also shown it is far cheaper to treat the few GP-style patients in emergency rather than incur the huge capital overheads of establishing stand-alone GP facilities. The plan to divert GP-style patients into super clinics will therefore impose a huge cost on the federal budget, a cost that is difficult to justify given the insignificant effect super clinics will have on emergency workloads and costs.

But this isn't the half of it. Every credible study shows the critical national shortage of acute beds, not a lack of alternative GP services, is the real cause of the hospital crisis. Lack of beds - public beds have been cut by two-thirds since 1983 - is the reason more than one-third of emergency patients requiring unplanned admission are forced to queue on trolleys in hospital corridors for more than eight hours before being admitted to a bed.

Regardless of the facts, the government seems hell-bent on proceeding with a planned roll-out of a 300-strong national network of super clinics. Such waste of taxpayers' dollars on a non-solution for the hospital crisis is anything but an efficient and effective investment in sustainable and evidence-based health reform.

We are right, therefore, to suspect the ideological motives behind the super clinics program. As the health debate heats up ahead of next year's federal election, super clinics will look increasingly like the anachronism they are. Next year is shaping up as the year we finally get serious about structural reform of our public hospital system.


Green dream is just alien

By Andrew Bolt

MOST people will date the death of the great global warming scare not from the Copenhagen fiasco - boring! - but from Avatar. It won't be the world's most expensive warmist conference but the world's most expensive movie that will stick in most memories as the precise point at which the green faith started to shrivel from sheer stupidity. Avatar, in fact, is the warmist dream filmed in 3D. Staring through your glasses at James Cameron's spectacular $400 million creation, you can finally see where this global warming cult was going. And you can see, too, everything that will now slowly pull it back to earth.

December 2009. Note it down. The beginning of the end, even as Avatar becomes possibly the biggest-grossing film in history. Cameron, whose last colossal hit was Titanic, has created a virtual new planet called Pandora, on which humans 150 years from now have formed a small settlement. They are there to mine a mineral so rare that it's called Unobtainium (groan), of which the greatest deposit sits right under the great sacred tree of the planet's dominant species, humanoid blue aliens called Na'vi.

If Tim Flannery, Al Gore and all the other Copenhagen delegates could at least agree to design a new kind of people, they'd wind up with something much like these 3m-tall gracelings. The Na'vi live in trees, at one with nature. They worship Mother Earth and, like Gaians today, talk meaningfully of "a network of energy that flows through all living things". They drink water that's pooled in giant leaves, and chant around a tree that whispers of their ancestors. They are also unusually non-sexist for a forest tribe, with the women just as free as men to hunt and choose their spouse. Naturally, like the most fashionable of Hollywood stars, they are also neo-Buddhist reincarnationists, who believe "all energy is borrowed and some day you have to give it back". And, of course, the Na'vi reject all technology that's more advanced than a bow and arrow, for "the wealth of the world is all around us".

Sent to talk dollars and sense into these blue New Agers and move them out of the way of the bulldozers is a former Marine, Jake Sully (played by Australian Sam Worthington), who drives the body of a Na'vi avatar to better gain their trust. (WARNING: Spoiler alert! Don't read on if you plan to see the movie.) But meeting such perfect beings, living such low-emission green lives, Sully realises instead how vile his own species is. Humans, he angrily declares, have already wrecked their own planet through their greed.

"There is no green" on their "dying world" because "they have killed their mother". Now we land-raping humans plan to wreck Pandora, too, with our "shock-and-awe" bombings, our war on "terror" and our genocidal plans to destroy the Na'vi and steal their lands.

So complete is Cameron's disgust with humans - and so convinced he is that his audience shares it - that he's made film history: he's created the first mass-market movie about a war between aliens and humans in which we're actually meant to barrack for the aliens.

(WARNING: Second spoiler alert!) In fact, so vomitous are humans that Sully, the hero, not only chooses to fight on the side of the aliens but to actually become an alien, too. He rejects not just humans but his own humanity.

All of this preaching comes straight from what's left of Cameron's heart after five marriages and a professional reputation of on-set meanness. Avatar, he's said, tackles "our impact on the natural environment, wherever we go strip mining and putting up shopping malls", and it warns "we're going to find out the hard way if we don't wise up and start seeking a life that's in balance with the natural cycle on life on earth".

Mind you, most of this will be just wallpaper to the film's real audience, which won't be greenies in Rasta beanies or wearing save-the-whale T-shirts made in Guatemala. No, scoffing their popcorn as they wait impatiently for the inevitable big-bang shoot-'em-up after a fairground tour of some cool new planet will be the usual bag-laden crowd from the Christmas-choked megaplex - the kind of bug-eyed folk who thrill most to what Cameron claims to condemn, from the hi-tech to the militaristic.

Still, you can hardly blame them if they don't buy the message that Cameron's selling, since he doesn't really buy it himself. Here's Cameron condemning consumerism by spending almost half a billion dollars on a mass-market movie for the Christmas season complete with tie-in burger deals from McDonald's and Avatar toys from Mattel. Here's Cameron damning our love of technology by using the most advanced cinematographic technology to create his new green world. In fact, here's Cameron urging his audience to scorn material possessions and get close to nature, only to himself retire each night to the splendid comfort of his Malibu mansion.

Not even his own creations live up to the philosophy he has them preach. For all their talk of the connectedness of nature, the Na'vi still kill animals for food - although not before saying how sorry they are, of course, since we live in an age in which seeming sorry excuses every selfishness. Likewise, despite all their lectures on not exploiting nature, the Na'vi still come out top dog in the food chain. Even when they physically become at one with wild pterodactyls, by hooking up to them through some USB in their blue tails, they manage to convince their flying reptiles to act like their private jets.

Isn't this against the rules? I mean, in this caring and at-one-with-nature world, shouldn't a plugged-in pterodactyl just once in a while get to direct its human passenger instead - by either telling it to take a flying jump or to at least act like lunch?

In all of this, Avatar captures precisely - and to the point of satire - the creed of the Copenhagen faithful. Rewind what you've seen from those Copenhagen planet-savers in the past two weeks. There were the apocalyptic warnings of how we were killing the planet. There were the standing ovations the delegates gave last week to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's furious denunciations of capitalism, consumerism and the US military. There was Bolivian President Evo Morales' cry for a simpler life: "It's changing economic policies, ending luxury, consumerism ... living better is to exploit human beings."

THERE were great crowds of activists such as Australia's Professor Clive Hamilton, who, like Avatar's Jake Sully, sermonises on the need to embrace "Gaian earth in its ecological, cybernetic way, infused with some notion of mind or soul or chi". And there was the romanticising of the primitive by the demonstrators outside dressed as ferals and wild bears, as they banged tribal drums or chanted "Om" to Mother Earth.

Of course the Cameron-style have-it-both-ways hypocrites were there, too, luxuriating in the very lifestyles they condemned. Take Prince Charles, who flew in his private RAF jet to Copenhagen to deliver a lecture on how our careless use of resources had pushed the planet "to the brink". And then had his pilot fly him home to his palace.

But, yes, you are right. How can I say this great green faith is now toppling into the pit of ridicule, when Avatar seems sure to do colossal business? Won't a whole generation of the slack-jawed just catch this new green faith from the men in the blue costumes? That's a risk. But having the green faith made so alien and such fodder for the entertainment of the candybar crowds will rob it of all sanctimony and cool.

Would a Cate Blanchett really be flattered to now be likened to a naked Na'vi, running from a pack of wild dogs in a dark forest? Would an Al Gore really like to have millions of filmgoers see in 3D where his off-this-planet faith would lead them - up a tree, and without even a paddle? No, we can now see their green world, and can see, too, it's time to come home.


Beware girls in bars, warns Australian government agency

And it's one government warning that deserves notice

THE following scenario is neither joke nor fantasy, but a travel tip provided by the Federal Government. An Australian man is travelling overseas and walks into a bar. He is beckoned by a woman, who requests a drink. He quickly obliges. What did he do wrong?

According to a travel bulletin titled "Partying Overseas", issued this week by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the bar-goer should have checked the prices before bestowing his largesse. Otherwise, the bill could end up larger than his ego.

"Large numbers of Australians get into trouble overseas as a direct result of partying too hard and forgetting about simple safety precautions," says the bulletin. "Parties and festivals like Full Moon Parties in Koh Phangan, Thailand, and Oktoberfest in Germany can be fun experiences, but drinking too much or taking drugs can put you in difficult and often dangerous situations far from home. Australians have had their drinks spiked, had their documents stolen, been assaulted, injured, arrested, imprisoned and even killed."

The department lists risks and pitfalls such as leaving drinks unattended or getting drunk while carrying passports and valuables. It warns people not to miss the last ferry from island parties, to beware of foreign drinks with higher-than-expected alcohol content, and to pre-pay or check prices for food. "Before entering or ordering services in a bar, restaurant or other establishment that you or your friends are not familiar with, check that it has readily available price lists for food, drinks and other services it may offer. "If you don't, you may find yourself with an unexpectedly large bill, which you might be forced to pay under duress before you can leave. Be aware that in some bars there is strong coercion to buy drinks for others, for example for bar girls, and these drinks may be very expensive."

A spokeswoman for the department said it was concerned about reports of Australian party-goers falling into trouble. The bulletin was a "response to the increasing number of consular cases and comments to our consular feedback inbox regarding drink spiking, assaults and robberies occurring at parties overseas".

The department lists examples of Australians getting into trouble, including two in Europe who were taken to a bar by a friendly taxi driver. They failed to check the prices and received a bill for thousands of dollars. "Security guards" held one person and escorted the other to a nearby teller machine.


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