Monday, November 30, 2009

After the tumult, the Liberal party may be getting back on track

Decision on Warmist laws (the ETS) now likely to be deferred

AFTER a tumultuous two weeks, the leadership and policy of the Liberal Party appears on track to match the sentiment of the Liberal Party faithful. Joe Hockey is set to replace Malcolm Turnbull, but based on a policy of voting against the ETS until after the Copenhagen climate conference next month.

Hockey's popularity over Turnbull and his other potential rival, Tony Abbott, is carrying the day for him among the public and Coalition supporters. Turnbull's unpopularity with the public as an alternative prime minister and among Coalition supporters who favour both Hockey and Abbott over the Liberal leader, is reflected in the collapse of support within the parliamentary Liberal Party. However, in what could be an early warning for Labor of a change in sentiment on the emissions trading scheme, the Rudd government failed to get a significant boost out of what was the most calamitous week for their opponents in more than 50 years.

Turnbull's decision to support Kevin Rudd's ETS has gained strong approval among the voting public and Labor voters who support "action on climate change", but it is being repudiated by Coalition voters. On the policy side, the leadership ructions have led to a dramatic turnaround for the Liberals, with Hockey and his expected deputy, Peter Dutton, as well as Abbott and Nick Minchin, supporting a deferral of an ETS vote until February.

This dichotomy of views between the public, Labor voters and Coalition voters has been at the heart of the Liberal dilemma. The prime objective of the Liberal Party now is to unify itself and Hockey, Dutton and Abbott have all demonstrated a wish for consensus on personnel and policy.

The Liberals will now be led by a popular leader seen to be a conciliator who has accepted compromise on the ETS to satisfy the party membership and heal the divisions within the parliamentary party. The final result will be that the Liberals, like the Nationals, have decided to try to restore their lost bedrock support by deferring the ETS instead of trying to go after swinging voters who voted for Rudd at the last election.


Vandals destroy artwork at community festival

I must say that I have a distinct lack of sympathy for the "artists" below. I don't see why public property should be defaced by some arty-farty nonsense. I think the bridge looks just fine by itself. It is a REAL work of art. The arty-farties are entitled to their obsessions but there are plenty of art galleries to hang their stuff in without trying to force it down everybody's throat. I am sure that they are completely aware that most people do NOT like what passes for art these days but they are determined to assert their superiority

ART lovers danced on a bridge in defiance yesterday after vandals destroyed an artwork that took over a year to create. The large knitted art installation had been slashed and cut down just hours after it was put on display across a bridge in Melbourne's inner suburbs. But organisers behind the community-based arts and culture festival continued with their party as parts of the project sagged into a creek in tatters.

"Our spirit was not going to be dampened," The Big West Festival director Karen Hadfield said. "We all danced on the bridge. It was a bittersweet moment." About 40 people had volunteered over 18 months to make The Big Knit, a giant sheet of knitted neon plastic strips that was hung across the historic Footscray walking bridge.

The art installation, 150 metres long, was designed to take a domestic craft such as knitting and put it in a contemporary context. "It was this big, loud, beautiful, wonderful piece that just stuck out from the trees and everyone passing on the train would see it," she said. "It created this whole dialogue about art and life."

Police are attempting to track down the persons who used scissors or a knife to destroy the installation. It's believed the vandals cut up the artwork between 11pm on Friday and 6am yesterday (AEDT), causing $40,000 damage. Ms Hadfield said the vandals would have needed at least two hours to complete their mayhem. Police are asking anyone who saw the vandalism on the bridge across Maribyrnong Creek to contact them.



Four current articles below

State's hospital beds fail to keep pace with population

QUEENSLAND health authorities have responded to booming population growth with just one extra hospital bed for every 13,553 new residents. The abysmal planning failure is exposed in state and federal health figures analysed by The Courier-Mail. Between 1995 and 2008, Queensland grew by 1.03 million people. During the same period, the number of overnight beds in the state public hospital system stagnated. There were 10,115 beds in 1995 and 10,191 in 2008 – a 13-year net increase of 76 beds.

Australasian College for Emergency Medicine Queensland chairman David Rosengren said funds had been siphoned from in-patient care to hospital bureaucracy as part of a "close a bed, open an office" syndrome. He said the number of hospital administrators rose sharply in the first half of this decade. "There are buildings and buildings . . . floors and floors and floors of administrators in Queensland Health," Dr Rosengren said.

Statistics from Queensland Health show the State Government began tearing at the heart of acute-care hospitals with the rise to power in 1998 of Premier Anna Bligh's predecessor Peter Beattie. Bed numbers tumbled each year under the false assumption that new medical techniques and efficiencies would reduce gross occupancy. New and redeveloped hospitals were built with less [fewer beds], culminating in a low-point of 9262 beds in 2002.

The Government has bolstered bed stock in the past three years, and embarked on a new $6 billion hospital infrastructure makeover. Health Minister Paul Lucas says the building and refurbishment agenda will deliver more than 1800 beds over the next seven years. The Gold and Sunshine coasts, Cairns, Townsville and Mackay are among the beneficiaries. "On any examination of the statistics of health care in Australia, we have (one of the) best if not the best systems in the world," Mr Lucas said.

But research by QUT public health academic Gerry Fitzgerald indicates otherwise. In a 2008 report, Professor Fitzgerald, a former Queensland chief health officer, calculated that the state was around 3000 beds in arrears. From 1997 to 2007, the effective bed reduction – taking in population growth – was double the national rate. Since then, Auditor-General Glenn Poole has issued a rebuke over the disarray of the hospitals' infrastructure program.

Following that report in June, Queensland Health director-general Mick Reid confessed that some future services may have been wrongly placed. He also said hospital buildings had been announced without recurrent funding to operate them.

Meantime, the pressure on hospital beds is destined to accelerate with the most recent 12-month population increase a record 112,666.

QUT School of Public Health head MaryLou Fleming said the focus needed to turn from more hospital beds to greater investment in health maintenance. "Currently, 2 per cent of the money that is spent in health federally goes to promotion and prevention strategies," Professor Fleming said. "Unless we turn that around, we are headed for a catastrophe." [Typical theory-driven academic ignorance. All the research shows that prevention strategies are not overall cost-effective. I quote from a comprehensive recent survey of the research evidence: "Although some preventive measures do save money, the vast majority reviewed in the health economics literature do not." MaryLou's gross ignorance of the research makes her a disgrace to her university. The journal I quoted is NEJM. I wonder has MaryLou ever had anything published in NEJM? -- JR]


National cash infusion wasted on paperwork, says doctor chief

The Rudd Government has spent too much on hospital pen pushers at the expense of patient care as waiting lists rise and overcrowded emergency departments struggle to cope, the president of the Australian Medical Association said yesterday. Andrew Pesce said Labor had broken its election promise to reduce red tape in the health system, and called for an independent review into how much money has been spent on bureaucrats and unnecessary administration.

Dr Pesce, who marks six months as AMA president tomorrow, said the public hospital system was no better off than under the Howard government. "There's been too much spent on administration and bureaucracy. Administrators at a local level in hospitals have stopped being assistants to clinicians, to ask them, 'What is it that you need and we'll see how we can help you deliver that,"' Dr Pesce said. "They're [doctors] just told, 'You can't do this, you can't do that; there's no money for this, there's no money for that."'

The AMA has had discussions with the Federal Government on reducing the complex paperwork doctors must complete to satisfy funding requirements, but Dr Pesce said the debate had "fallen into a hole", with little progress made since Labor took power.

Dr Pesce, an obstetrician and clinical director of women's health for Sydney West Area Health Service, said clinical decisions were increasingly being made by bureaucrats, potentially putting patients at risk. "Often the replacement of staff who leave is tied up for ages because of budgetary constraints so people are working understaffed and overstretched … That contributes to the lack of morale and is going to increase the risk of poor outcomes and adverse events because people are working very much at capacity," he said.

"I can guarantee that if you walk into the maternity ward [at Westmead], of the eight midwives on duty at the time, six would be sitting down at the desk filling out paperwork rather than looking after the women."

Dr Pesce believes that during his tenure relations between the AMA and the Federal Government have thawed, after a frosty relationship under former president Rosanna Capolingua. He described plans to cut Medicare rebates for cataract surgery, IVF and some obstetric services, without consulting doctors, as a "cock-up".

The move announced in the federal budget was part of a crackdown on specialists who were rorting the system by charging excessive fees. Health Minister Nicola Roxon said Australian ophthalmologists were among the highest paid in the world, with some eye surgeons earning up to $28,000 a day for performing cataract surgery.

"The Government basically unilaterally announced they were going to do these things that didn't acknowledge it was going to cause a lot of problems for some patients," Dr Pesce said. "The solution they came up with meant that even the doctors who were charging very reasonably, their patients were getting punished just as much as those who weren't."


Patients die prematurely because they lack access to radiotherapy in NSW public hospitals

Radiotherapy is an essential cancer treatment needed by half of all cancer patients, according to national benchmarks, yet in NSW from 1996 to 2006 only about a third of newly diagnosed cancer patients were treated with it. More than 50,000 cancer patients were not treated, and we estimate that 8000 patients died prematurely.

Access to radiotherapy in Australia has been subject to more than 20 reports in the period since 1989. The three factors that stop Australians receiving appropriate radiotherapy for the cure or palliation of their cancer are: a lack of linear accelerators and staff; reliance by state governments on the private sector shouldering the burden of supply in regional areas; and a rigid and inappropriate regime of assessment of new technology.

Radiotherapy is a cost-effective service that requires a particular configuration of technology, buildings and professional staff. Establishing new centres demands careful planning so that all these features come together at the right time and in the right place.

Radiotherapy is not a novel cancer treatment. The demand for services is easily determined from central cancer registry figures that have been available for decades. Health departments have developed detailed and thoughtful plans but these have not been supported by governments. Consequently, the expansion of facilities has only just kept pace with the ever-increasing number of new cases of cancer.

State governments seem to have preferred to shift their responsibility for service provision onto the private sector. Private medicine is supposed to increase patient choice, but in some parts of NSW, the only radiotherapy treatment centre is a private facility.

In those areas local residents have to decide between travelling further afield to a public centre, or using the closer centre and incurring the costs. Fees charged by private providers exceed the amount covered by Medicare; patients using private centres must pay the difference or "gap fee". Private health insurance does not cover outpatient radiotherapy, which is sometimes a surprise to cancer patients who have private health insurance.

Country patients who do not wish to forgo the benefits of radiotherapy but cannot afford gap payments must live away from home or travel large distances each day for treatment for many weeks, often because patients need to run their businesses or care for their families. These trips can be distressing for people who are in pain or suffering the side effects of treatment.

NSW Health offers a financial assistance scheme for country patients travelling for treatment - at the rate of about $30 a day for accommodation. It would be difficult to find a tent site in Sydney for $30, and it is hard to imagine a public servant accepting such meagre travel support.

While no one is saying that taxpayers should be subsidising patients in luxury accommodation, most would support a more reasonable level of comfort for cancer patients undergoing treatment away from home.

To add to the burden, patients must pay $20 per application for "administrative costs" when accessing the scheme and patients reported many months delay in reimbursements.

Australians have good access to new drugs through the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. Unfortunately, the rigid evidence-based medicine approach applicable to drugs has been a key impediment to the introduction of cancer treatment technologies widely available elsewhere in the world. Even minor improvements to linear accelerators may take 10 years or more to enter Australian departments.

Major improvements such as intensity modulated radiotherapy are only used on a tiny fraction of Australian patients despite being a standard of practice in North America and Europe. Proton therapy and tomotherapy are not available at all in Australia. The Government has sponsored a handful of patients to have treatment overseas, but the vast majority miss out.

It has been said that survival from cancer in NSW is second only to the United States; it is surely not an honour to be second in any measure to the developed world's most notoriously inequitable health service. With a small investment and commitment we could have the best survival rates for cancer patients.

NSW must commit to a strategic plan and back it with associated funding to expand radiotherapy services so that there is capacity to treat all the cancer patients who can benefit from it. Fifteen new accelerators are planned for NSW, but these will only keep pace with the expected growth in demand. To overcome the gap, only 12 more accelerators are needed.

There is a universal and often expressed hope in the community for a cure for cancer. Yet here is a treatment known to be beneficial, but unavailable to all who need it, and those who do receive treatment are enduring hardship in the process.


Some comments from a doctor who has seen it all

FOR 50 years, Colin Owen has been the bush doctor you can rely on. The medical marvel has never had a sick day – not once in the 53 years he has been on Queensland Health's books. Want proof? Check his latest pay slip. The accrued sick leave column shows 5416 hours, or more than 135 weeks. And the numbers will keep piling up because Dr Owen, 70, has no plans to leave the town of Inglewood, southwest of Warwick....

Dr Owen has been a trailblazer for the nation's rural doctors, taking their fight for better conditions to Canberra where he was on a first-name basis with several federal health ministers....

"Health should be about the delivery of health services. But it isn't at this stage. It's about the economic delivery," he said. "In Queensland, it's dreadfully obvious that it's about the economics of health care rather than the delivery of patient services. There is no doubt about that."

Dr Owen says he often does not get his budget from Queensland Health until three months into the financial year, and then it changes as the year unfolds. And it often doesn't make room for factors such as a 4 per cent pay increase for nurses.

The Inglewood hospital is controlled by six layers of bureaucracy, including one federal level. Just which level is responsible for what tests even someone of Dr Owen's experience and brilliance. "If the administrative people in Queensland Health were as effective as the health and medical staff I wouldn't have a problem. The qualifications and the background of some administrative people are quite worrying," he said. "There is a culture of micromanaging and a culture of bullying, although the latter has gone a bit quiet.

"The circle keeps going around. Over the decades people have tried to reinvent the wheel. They will say 'we're going to try such and such' and I'll say that we tried that in the 1960s and it didn't work then."

Would a federal government takeover improve the delivery of health services, particularly in the rural areas which often feel a long way from Queensland Health's Brisbane headquarters? "The closer government is to the area concerned, the better. Whenever there is centralisation, the voices near the periphery are not heard," Dr Owen said. "Local hospital boards bring the governance back to the local area. They are the best way to go providing they have local medical professionals on them. The boards in the days of the old National Party government were dreadful because they were often political appointments.

"Maybe you could have one control authority in Canberra and local boards – maybe that would be a good way to go. But the thing that worries me is the middle-range public servants who will move wherever they can go regardless of which level of government runs it." ...


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Australia's kindly "Green" bureaucrats at work

A warning about giving them any more power. Anybody else would have just sent the document back for re-signing instead of applying the guillotine. And, far from apologizing, they are digging in their heels over their obnoxious behaviour. Just the usual Greenie people-hatred, I guess

A WOODSIDE pensioner has condemned "dead headed" government bureaucrats for refusing to pay a grant for an $8000 solar panel - because he signed the form in the wrong place. Don Purvis and his neighbours applied for funding under the federal Solar Homes plan, but his application was rejected because he signed his name in a box reserved for the installer's signature.

Eight other households at the Woodside Lodge Retirement Village are now looking forward to cheaper electricity, but not Mr Purvis, whose appeal was flatly turned down. "I signed where the installer should sign. The forms went off to Canberra and some less-than-nice public servant picked up that mine was signed in the wrong place," the 72-year-old said. Mr Purvis said he had to fill in the forms quickly after the Government announced it was closing the scheme 18 months early.

Despite writing to apologise and begging officials to reconsider, his appeal was rejected. "It could be they're trying to keep the numbers (of applicants) down after they brought forward the cut-off date. But I also think there is some dead-headed public servant not even bothering to read the letters," Mr Purvis said. "It's obvious my intent was there, the signature was on the paperwork."

Mr Purvis, a former Ansett employee who spent more than 50 years in the travel industry, is an AGL customer who spent $301 on his last quarterly electricity bill. He lives alone with Bernice, his golden retriever, for company. "I'm a pensioner. I can feed the dog and have a drink, that's all I need. It would make a difference,"' he said. "His neighbours have called for a change of heart.

A woman who lives nearby but asked not to be identified, said: "I was accepted along with several other people and assumed Don was too - there needs to be a little bit of leverage there."

Mr Purvis' local MP, Jamie Briggs, described his plight as "outrageous" and wrote to Environment Minister Peter Garrett urging him to overrule the decision, but has not yet received a reply. "Common sense would say this is a stupid thing for the Government to do," he said.

Mr Purvis also appealed for the Environment Minister to reconsider. "Hopefully, if Peter Garrett intervenes, they'll see the light, because it's just so bloody stupid," he said.


Insane waste in treatment of illegals

You can bet there would be none of this if the bureaucrats were spending their own money

TONNES of bottled water, costing thousands of dollars, are being airlifted to Christmas Island for dehydrated asylum seekers as they step on to the arrivals wharf - despite a tap being just metres away. And the Federal Government will not splash out a couple of thousand dollars to bring a new tap closer for the thirsty arrivals, preferring to jet in the expensive bottles.

Problems arise when refugees first land on the island. Initial screening takes place at the wharf with the tap about 20m away. The asylum seekers are then moved to a construction camp – formerly used by workers who built the detention centre and now housing refugees – where the Department of Immigration and Citizenship said there were "limited options for tap water".

The latest shipment of water, about 2.5 tonnes, was flown to the island on Monday on a department charter flight. The department would not reveal how much it cost, but a four-tonne delivery earlier this year is understood to have cost $6 a kilogram – or $24,000.

One long-standing islander, who did not want to be named said: "It's bloody ridiculous. There's plenty of water to drink on the island, there are taps near the wharf, but the Government won't fix it up. "I could do it for a couple of thousand dollars. No worries."

Flying water to the island also angered local businesses but it is understood that when the Government invited them to tender for the supply their prices were higher than the cost of air-freighting.

A department spokesman said this week's delivery was part of a freight consignment on a charter flight. The spokeswoman said the department and its detention centre service provider Serco, had a duty of care to people in detention. "The provision of bottled water occurs when new arrivals to Christmas Island undertake their initial screening procedures and induction to immigration facilities," she said. "The initial processing is carried out on arrival at the wharf and subsequently at the construction camp. There are limited options for tap water to be provided at both these sites. "Those people are often dehydrated from an extended period at sea and sometimes nauseous.

"The department is aware that the water supply on Christmas Island is classed as potable and fit to drink and encourages all people to drink it as a matter of course." She said the department was "sensitive to the needs" of local traders and endeavoured to deal with them equitably. "However, on occasions it is necessary to freight large amounts independently to meet demands imposed by a sudden surge in the numbers of arrivals," she said.

Christmas Island Shire President Gordon Thomson said it was not the council's responsibility to put taps on property "whether government or privately owned".

The jetty and the construction camp are operated by the Commonwealth Government but a spokesman for the Attorney-General's Department, that has responsibility for the island, said: "There are taps with potable water in the picnic sites in the Flying Fish Cove area which are directly adjacent to the wharf. "As it is a working cargo wharf there is no intention to place a drinking water facility there. There is potable water available at the construction camp site, as there is with any other residential location on the island."


Government hospitals chase away the sick by long delays and then call them "treated"

The "DNW" racket. Australian government hospitals are clearly just as good as British ones at "fudging" their statistics, and that is saying something

ALMOST 70,000 sick or injured Queenslanders walked out of emergency departments at the state's largest public hospitals in the past year, mostly because they became fed up waiting to see overworked doctors. And they were not only people with runny noses or sore throats – thousands needing urgent attention also left.

A Right to Information (RTI) search by The Sunday Mail and The Courier-Mail has uncovered the numbers of "Did Not Waits" previously hidden by Queensland Health. The Did Not Waits registered upon arrival but left before they saw a doctor, mostly because of the exasperating wait in overstretched emergency departments.

More than 100 people classified as "emergency" – requiring attention within 10 minutes – left. Another 10,700 classified as "urgent" (within 30 minutes) did not wait. The figures came from the state's 27 largest hospitals.

The 69,800 people who did not wait in the past financial year were not mentioned in the quarterly hospital performance reports published by a department which Health Minister Paul Lucas has praised for its openness. Instead, they were included as "treated". [What a fraud!!] "Queensland reports more than 1800 (health) statistics every quarter – more than any other state," he said. "There are talks at a national level about how other states can implement similar reporting standards."

Doctors have told The Sunday Mail that they believe Queensland Health keeps quiet about the figures simply to make itself look better. The newspaper has been told about two recent occasions where doctors walked into crowded waiting rooms at major hospitals and told patients who were not critically ill that they would not been seen for at least six hours. One doctor, who asked for his name to be withheld, said he advised patients who thought they could hold off seeing a doctor that they should consider going home and taking with them any medication, such as Panadol, that might help them recover from their ailment.

One doctor conceded that, while most left because they were tired of waiting, there were some who took off for other reasons, including that they were scared that their injuries were part of a potentially criminal incident.

The RTI search was done as part of the Critical Condition series, which will continue this week in The Courier-Mail. It will look into public hospital bed numbers and the strain on emergency departments.


An Australian hoax detective

It was the great Chocolate Bar Bomb scare. Last month an anonymous email, breathlessly titled "Cadbury HALAL Please read! & Forward", hit in-boxes around the country, warning recipients of a sinister link between Australian-made chocolates and Islamic terrorism. Claiming to be "absolute fact", the email urged consumers to boycott products marked with the logo of the Halal Certification Authority Australia. According to the email, companies that paid the HCAA, which certifies food as fit for consumption by Muslims, were "supporting a religion that is actively trying to destroy the Australian way … [and] may be supporting terrorism."

But the email, which sparked an anti-Islamic backlash on Queensland radio, was false, one of many such bogus messages debunked by an Australian website, Hoax-Slayer. The site, which started in 2003 and now boasts a million visitors a month, is the work of Queenslander Brett Christensen. A former caravan park cleaner, Mr Christensen, 46, has fast become the cyber-world's Clark Kent, a soft-spoken father of two who single-handedly smashes scams from the comfort of his home in Bundaberg. "The emails can be politically or religiously motivated," he said. "They can also be corporate sabotage or simply trying to rip people off or waste their time."

You name it, Mr Christensen has seen it: Nigerian fraudsters, fake charities and dating scams, urban legends and bogus petitions. There was the "Cancer Tips From Johns Hopkins" hoax, the fake Marks & Spencer giveaway, and, most recently, a "confidential inter-office memo" from "Robert Trugabe", manager at a McDonald's outlet in South Australia, who implored his staff to deliberately leave out items from orders to cut costs. "Most hoaxes are variations on the same scam," Mr Christensen said. "But by changing background stories they are constantly reworked, thereby gaining new victims."

Mr Christensen started the site after being caught by the Budweiser Frogs virus hoax in late 2002. "I sent the virus warning to all my contacts and then was embarrassed and annoyed to find it was fake."

He now works full-time on the site, which makes about $50,000 a year in advertising. He also produces a Hoax-Slayer newsletter that goes out to 30,000 subscribers. Most of the scams are sent to him from around world, up to 900 emails a week "from people who have been ripped off or want to know if something is true or not."

Mr Christensen uses government or company publications and consumer alerts for his research, plus press releases and credible websites. Unlike the hoaxes, he typically includes in-text hyperlinks and separate references that allow readers to check the information themselves.

While his site is not without precedent -, aka the Urban Legends Reference Page, has been going since 1995 - Hoax-Slayer also includes a section dedicated to apparently ludicrous emails that are actually true. Buzz Aldrin really did perform a Communion service, featuring wine and wafers, on the Moon in 1969, armless Arizona woman Jessica Cox is indeed the first pilot in the US to be licensed to fly using only her feet, and the mysterious "sailing stones" of Death Valley do move by themselves.

Even the dreaded chain email has some validity. Australia's Autism Advisory and Support Service, the Animal Rescue Site and America's The Breast Cancer Site have all used such emails to raise money and awareness. "Even though there are lots of hoaxes out there, it pays not to become too cynical," Mr Christensen said.


Saturday, November 28, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is quite cheered by the rebellion against Warmist laws among Australia's Federal conservative politicians


Three current articles below

Only the market can make health system person-centred

Vouchers needed, says Dr Jeremy Sammut

According to the NHHRC, the most important health reform recommendations in the Bennett Report will make the health system person-centred by reorienting the system around stronger primary care. This will supposedly allow health consumers to have access to the services they need rather than only have access to the current mix of ‘hospital-centric’ health services that governments want to offer.

The idea of a person-centred rather than government-centred health system is borrowed from the market-based principles associated internationally with the consumer-directed health care movement. The aim of consumer-directed health care is to reform the old-fashioned ‘command-and-control’ arrangements that limit choice and prevent competition in the government sector of the health system.

Right now, the type, amount and mix of taxpayer-funded health services that are or are not provided to Australians are determined by federal and state governments, whose crucial yet often imperfect policy decisions frequently overlook the actual needs of patients.

Health departments allocate taxpayer subsidies in the form of population-based, capped global budgets to public hospitals and community health services, which are expected to deliver an unquantified and indeterminate amount of health services to the community. For consumers, this is well described as a ‘take what you’re given’ system.

Consumer-directed health care would improve the responsiveness of hospital and other health services by the application of quasi-market mechanisms. The key reform is to make funding flexible, responsive, and far more accountable. The taxpayer subsidy should be tied directly to the delivery of services and only be paid at the point at which each occasion of care is provided.

Funding should follow patients by means of a taxpayer-funded voucher, and patients, subject to clinical referral, should be allowed to purchase appropriate services from competing public or private providers.

In the long run, empowering consumers and tying funding to patients based on clinical need and choice of competing providers would reduce costs, while increasing access, quality, productivity, and allocative efficiency. Most importantly, governments would no longer centrally plan the type, amount and mix of health services as the supply would be set by the actual health needs of individual patients.

Market-based structural reform that promoted the efficient use of scarce resources would therefore establish a truly person-centred health system.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated November 27. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Government health agency gets criticism of its incompetence censored

Another botched and dangerous attempt at computerization

The University of Sydney removed from its website an extremely critical essay about a new multimillion-dollar emergency department IT system after pressure from the NSW Health Department. Doctors, nurses and administrators at four area health services heavily criticised the system - which tracks patients - as posing an "unacceptably high risk" to patient safety because it was so slow, cumbersome and inefficient. Some hospitals have boycotted Cerner FirstNet and reverted to paper to record clinical notes because it is too difficult and too time-consuming to retrieve critical patient information from the system, the essay said. "In a number of cases we know senior clinicians have shut down the use of FirstNet within a few days of it coming online," it said.

This flies in the face of the recommendation last year from Peter Garling's inquiry into public hospitals for full electronic medical records to improve efficiency and patient safety.

The essay, by a medical IT professor, Jon Patrick, said several hospitals also reported it "doubled the delay" before emergency patients were first seen by a clinician. He also said the Cerner contract proposal suggested it was giving a "cheap price" on the proviso of a "speedy finalisation of the contract" which left NSW Health with such an "incredibly tight schedule" it stymied proper clinical consultation.

The essay was published late last month but NSW Health asked that it be removed, Professor Patrick said on his website. The university then published it again two weeks later. "I have been able to establish confidently that NSW Health phoned my head of department and asked him to remove the article without giving a specific complaint," Professor Patrick wrote on November 5. On Wednesday, he wrote: "The university has affirmed my right to publish my critical essay and the attempt to censor me has been mitigated."

The Deputy Director-General of NSW Health, Tim Smyth, told the Herald that the acting chief information officer, Craig Smith, contacted the university about the essay but did not ask for it to be removed. "That's entirely a matter for the university but my personal view having read the article is that I don't believe it's balanced, it's certainly not accurate and it certainly misrepresents reality," Dr Smyth said. The assertion of a cut-price deal was "just wrong", he said.

One doctor said: "I prefer looking at a paper result than the counter-intuitive waste of my time trolling [sic] through the system." Another said: "Every single user *hates* it with a passion … ENTERING the data is a pure nightmare."

Cerner FirstNet follows emergency patients and includes test results and statistics such as beds available. It is part of a massive three-year electronic records project due by June.

Professor Patrick has worked on IT projects with permission from area health services but was not asked to assess Cerner FirstNet.


Grim treatment of patients in government mental hospitals in Western Australia

A psychiatric patient claims to have been raped while in the care of WA's mental health system, according to a new report. The disturbing claim was contained in a report by the WA Council of Official Visitors, which includes allegations of serious breaches of mental health patients’ rights.

The patient claimed to have raped by a guest of another resident while staying at a mental health hostel. The Council of Official Visitors supported the rape allegation and the claim led to an upgrade of security at the hostel. The alleged victim has since left the hostel.

Other claims of neglect include allegations that some patients were being tied down and forced to spend the night soaked in their own urine. Food served in mental health facilities was often described as poor by patients. Meanwhile, parents of patients have complained that they are searched before they can see their children as if entering a jail. An elderly female patient said she was not allowed to keep personal belongings like a toothbrush. Some patients had been dumped in maximum security wards for up to six years when they should be cared for in the community.

According to the council, life for patients in these wards was grim. “They live in an artificial locked ward environment, not receiving the type of care which would best enhance their recovery potential,” the report said. “They don’t get to choose when to eat, how much coffee to drink, who to associate with, or if and when to smoke.”

Council of Official Visitors head Debora Colvin said some mental health patients were not given access to the toilet while they are "secured" in a locked ward. Patients are still being forced to travel in the back of a “paddy wagon” for long distances without a break. The report said there were major concerns that second opinions weren't being properly conducted throughout the WA mental health system.

Mental Health Minister Graham Jacobs said there was some good news in the report. Dr Jacobs said it was the first time in 11 years there was a 20 per cent reduction in the number of people who contacted the council to make a complaint. “The natural assumption is we’re doing a little better,” he said.

Dr Jacobs said there was a need for more community supported accommodation for people with a mental illness, which his Government was establishing. “Instead of large cluster homes on hospital grounds we want small home-like facilities in the community,” he said. Dr Jacobs said there had been improvements to secure wards at hospitals in Graylands and Joondalup.

A Mental Health Commissioner is also expected to appointed early next year for WA.


More stockmarket hotshots playing with other people's money -- and losing

St Vincent's hospital board loses $24m on junk bonds. The Sydney Anglican diocese had a similar meltdown over the same period

THE board of one of Sydney's biggest hospitals is under fire after losing more than $24 million on the sharemarket using money taken from trust funds containing public donations and federal government research grants. Senior doctors at St Vincent's Hospital have called for an independent inquiry after discovering about $80 million, some of which was earmarked for new equipment, research projects, education and salaries, was used to buy high-risk bonds, the same kind responsible for triggering the global financial crisis last year in the United States.

Doctors are furious because they say research projects, which had already been granted funding, might now be cancelled and donors will be upset to learn their money has been lost.

The National Health and Medical Research Council forbids its grants being used for any purpose other than the approved project and demands funds be returned if the research is not carried out, but a spokesman for the hospital said its financial and legal advice "doesn't support that argument". He declined to outline how much research money had been used to buy bonds, but denied claims by doctors that the hospital had been attempting to fill an $11 million hole in its budget. "Any idea that millions of dollars were funnelled into our black hole couldn't be further from the truth," he said.

The president of the Australian Salaried Medical Officers Federation (NSW), Tony Sara, said the Government must launch an investigation. "We can't have hospitals gambling away vital funds. Staff specialists have undertaken research on the understanding that this money was secure. For them to now turn around and find out that that's not the case is disappointing to say the very least." He said money was also lost from accounts used to pay doctors' salaries. "The personal funds our members have lost must be reinstated immediately … We have already written to St Vincent's Hospital seeking clarification and their legal advice on how they have allegedly allowed this to happen," Dr Sara said.

The hospital said it lost 32 per cent of its investment because it bought securities known as collaterised debt obligations, which are now worthless, but defended its right to use public money. "Trust money gets banked and sometimes the family stipulates we invest that money and use the interest to buy equipment so it is an enduring bequest," the hospital's spokesman said.

In a letter to colleagues, obtained by the Herald, pathologist Andrew Field said donors would not see it that way. "Donors will be extremely upset to lose their donated funds to financial mismanagement by the board. We believe this whole matter will badly damage the St Vincent's Hospital name."

The hospital yesterday promised to underwrite any lost money allocated for research projects and said it had changed its investment strategies since the loss. "St Vincent's has always acted prudently and has conservatively invested in Standard & Poors AA-rated or better portfolios," the spokesman said. "We're very sorry this has happened. We can understand why the doctors feel the way they do, but we did not operate outside the law in the way the money was invested and a lot of companies have had to take sobering losses." [So irresponsibility is OK as long as it is legal??]

The Greens health spokeswoman, Lee Rhiannon, said taking risks was "a sign of a hospital system under stress". "If NSW hospitals were fully funded this quest to find extra cash through dodgy investment schemes would be unnecessary," she said.

The decision to invest was overseen by the former chief executive officer, Mary Foley, and a former chairman, Nick Curtis. Neither still works at the hospital.


Australia a top place to live, say expats

EXPATS rate Australia as the second best place to live in the world, according to a new survey. More than 3000 people living abroad in more than 50 countries responded to the Expat Explorer survey by HSBC. Australia's weather, lifestyle and the ability to integrate with locals came up as the reasons why people voted for Australia.

Canada was voted the best, followed by Thailand and Singapore. Qatar, India, Russia and the United Kingdom ranked poorest.

Those who took part in the survey were asked to vote on food, social life, accommodation, healthcare, working hours, family life, ease of organising finances, ease of finding accommodation and ability to make friends in their adopted country.

HSBC Bank Australia's head of personal financial services Graham Heunis said there was a distinct trade-off between income and overall quality of life. "What is clear is that in locations where salaries may not be as high, like Australia, expats are enjoying not only an increased quality of life but are also finding it easy to fit in to their new communities," he said.

Over half of expats living in Australia own property here compared to the global expat average of 31 per cent.

The survey also confirmed that expats generally enjoy a better quality of life once they move away from their country of origin - so good they are choosing to stay abroad. More than half have lived abroad for more than five years, compared with 45 per cent last year and one in five expats have found love overseas.

Almost half said the better environment and quality of life for their children was the number one reason for staying while 45 per cent said it was experiencing an improvement in their personal health. While making friends is easy for most expats, they prefer to make friends within the expat community


Friday, November 27, 2009

Proof that Australians are more honest

The brain-dead "researchers" below appear to take self-reports at face value. That Americans might be much more prone to saying "the right thing" is not mentioned. Australia does have a tradition of bluntness -- of being "fair dinkum" and not "bunging on an act"

AUSTRALIAN boys are more violent than American boys, new research suggests. A study by the Murdoch Children's Research Institute in collaboration with the University of Washington asked almost 4000 students aged 12 to 16 in Victoria and Washington state about violent behaviour. They were asked if in the previous year they had either attacked someone with the idea of seriously hurting them or beaten someone so badly that they required medical treatment.

In the first interview, 12.6 per cent of Victorian boys admitted to such behaviour, compared with 10 per cent of Washington boys. A year later the numbers were even higher: 17.5 per cent in Victorian and 12.6 per cent in Washington. The researchers also compared risk factors for violence between the two groups, and found that in Victoria almost 20 per cent of the students admitted to binge drinking at least once, compared with 8 per cent in Washington.

Other factors linked to violence included low-income households, sole-parent status, family conflict and low school grades. The longitudinal study, published this week by the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Criminology, found students who were suspended from school or arrested were 1.5 times more likely to engage in violence 12 months later. [Is that a surprise?]

A researcher, Dr Sheryl Hemphill, said that the higher rate of violence in Australia was unexpected. ''This study is important in determining whether we need to specifically address violent behaviour in Australian boys.'' [It sounds like Hemphill has been having a hill of the hemp herself]


Hate crime?

Then how come not all the victims were black? It sounds like no more than a misguided attempt to chase away some noisy kids to me. Playing the race card has clearly come to Australia

AN Australian Army soldier allegedly shot two boys with an air rifle in a Townsville playground in what one victim's family describe as a "hate crime". Digger Craig James Gordon, 31, is accused of wounding two boys, aged eight and 10, after allegedly firing on a group of seven mostly Aboriginal children playing footy in a park in the north Queensland city. Queensland Police and the Defence Department yesterday provided scant details about the soldier and declined to respond to claims of a racially motivated attack.

Ursula Cedric, mother of victim Lloyd, 8, who was treated in hospital for an open pellet wound in his calf, said she was "horrified" by the alleged shooting about 6.30pm on Wednesday. She said the shooting came amid rising racial tensions in the north Queensland city. "These are innocent kids playing footy in a park," said the Wulguru mother-of-seven. "My little boy is scared to go outside. I'm nervous. It's too much. "We've been threatened in our own home."

She said it had all the hallmarks of being a hate crime. "It must be very embarrassing for the Defence Force to get dragged into all of this," she said.

Defence, in a statement, said they were working closely with Queensland Police on the matter. "Defence has strong policies and guidelines for the handling of all weapons, and does not condone the actions of soldiers who mishandle firearms," it said.

Lloyd told The Courier-Mail he thought he was "going to die". "I thought I had been hit with a rock," he said. "But then I felt the pain and heard the crack of the rifle shot. "I looked down and it was like my leg had been sliced open by a knife. "Someone was shooting at us."

His friend, who is not Aboriginal, suffered a minor pellet graze on the ankle. Another boy claimed he felt a bullet whistle past his head. They said the shooter opened fire from a veranda about 50m away.


Another man dies because of an incompetent government ambulance service

No funds for a GPS in each ambulance but plenty of money for a metastasizing bureaucracy

A NEW South Wales man suffering from a heart attack died before ambulance officers reached him because they got lost and did not have GPS, his wife says. The man's wife of 54 years, Velma McFadden, phoned emergency services from a property on the outskirts of the village of Cullen Bullen, near Lithgow west of Sydney, on September 28, she told Macquarie Radio. She waited for the ambulance to arrive, only to be told it was lost. "He was alive when I started CPR," Mrs McFadden said.

Mrs McFadden said a man waited at the local pub for the ambulance so he could direct it to Mrs McFadden's property, two kilometres from the pub. She received a call advising the ambulance was lost. "I was told they haven't got GPS in their ambulances," she said. "That they would have them up here in a couple of years time in the western area."

By the time the ambulance arrived Mrs McFadden's husband was dead.

In a separate incident in far northern NSW this week, an emergency services operator hung up on a man who needed help at a remote property near Boomi. Stuart Jamieson dialed triple zero to get help for a local man who had become seriously unwell after working in the heat. The call was terminated because Mr Jamieson was unable to provide a street number and the operator could not find his location on a map.

The incident followed an inquest earlier this year that found triple zero operators bungled their response to calls for help from Sydney schoolboy David Iredale because they did not have a street address. The 17-year-old died after he became separated from his two classmates on Mount Solitary during a three-day trek in 2006.


Man waits six years to see a public hospital doctor

TOWNSVILLE man Bill Edwards has waited six years to see a specialist at the Townsville Hospital. Mr Edwards was diagnosed with tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, by his family doctor on November 25, 2003 and was referred to see an ear, nose and throat specialist at Townsville Hospital. But on Wednesday, six years later to the day, Mr Edwards said he was more likely to win the lotto than see an ear specialist. "To me it's more ludicrous than upsetting," he said. "Waiting six years for an appointment is just ridiculous."

Townsville Health Service District executive director of medical services Dr Andrew Johnson yesterday said the six-year wait wasn't good enough. "Waiting six years for a specialist appointment is clearly not good enough and we apologise unreservedly for this regrettable delay," he said.

Mr Edwards, now 54, was diagnosed with tinnitus after taking the drug Zyban to help him stop smoking in 2003. The condition is a possible side-effect for a small portion of the population who take the drug. "I've still got ringing in the ears and it seems like I'm stuck with it," Mr Edwards said. "I just want to have it physically checked out and I need the advice of a specialist on how to proceed. "I'm fairly sure that once you've got it, you can't get rid of it but I would still like to know one way or the other."

Dr Johnson said the Townsville Hospital only had one full-time ear, nose and throat specialist on its staff, who saw around 15 patients a week. Another specialist was due to start in January. "We've had difficulty recruiting ear, nose and throat specialists as we're in competition on a global basis for skilled staff," Dr Johnson said. "Unfortunately, this has affected patients who need to see such specialists." He said the hospital had 1692 referrals for appointments with ear, nose and throat specialists so far this year.

Mr Edwards was admitted to Townsville Hospital twice since 2003, for a back operation in 2006 and for an eye problem in 2008. He said the staff were faultless. "It seems once you are in there it's fine but getting in there is the hard part," he said. "I'm on the lowest scale of urgency but ... even if they saw 10 patients a day - that's 50 a week - I'd have more chance of winning the lotto. "I'm on a disability pension and ... I am entitled to medical help."

Dr Johnson said the hospital had scheduled an appointment for Mr Edwards within the next three months. [Big of him!]

Opposition Health spokesman Mark McArdle said Queensland's hospital waiting lists were the worst in the country. "Queenslanders are putting themselves at risk when they place themselves at the mercy of a health system which is pathologically incapable of meeting their needs," Mr McArdle said.


Child protection workers 'fudging figures'

This lot were once the worst in Australia but they have been overtaken in that by the even-worse DOCS in NSW

A SCATHING Ombudsman's report has identified gross deficiencies in Victoria's child protection service, with workers manipulating figures to cover up children neglected by the system. The report, tabled in state parliament today, found 2197 at-risk children, or one in five, were not allocated a case worker as at June 2009. And many allegations of child abuse and neglect did not receive a timely response.

Staff even reported fudging response records to achieve targets. "I received sworn statements from witnesses that the immediate response indicator is at times manipulated to achieve targets," Ombudsman George Brouwer said in the report. "Senior departmental staff said this performance measure was often recorded as met despite the child not being sighted."

The report said families were often lied to about the case being responded to, despite the child not being seen. "Even where the department meets its performance measures it would appear that compliance does not necessarily equate to an effective response to a report." Nonetheless, the report, Own Motion Investigation into the Department of Human Services, Child Protection Program, blamed lack of resources for poor service quality and said the failures were not a reflection on the staff.

Community Services Minister Lisa Neville admitted there were significant failures in the system and said each of the ombudsman's 42 recommendations would be implemented. Ms Neville said she was "disturbed" that figures had been manipulated. "If this is happening it's unacceptable and will stop," she said.

The department had asked for an investigation of these allegations and would report back within three months, Ms Neville said. She said case workers spent 50 per cent of their time in the Children's Court and this was a significant factor in staff attrition. Some 37 child protection workers had been employed since the government's recruitment drive for an extra 200 staff began.

Attorney-General Rob Hulls said the Children's Court would be overhauled to address flaws in the system. The Law Reform Commission was examining court processes and would report back to the Government within six months. "The courts, the child protection sector and the government are as one on this issue - we want to see a less adversarial system that delivers better results for children and reduces the administrative burden on child protection workers," Mr Hulls said.

Meanwhile, the Child Safety Commissioner has released a report into the death of a two-year-old toddler who died after being abused by her father despite being known to child protection workers. The report has not been made public but the Government said it would adopt each of the recommendations.

Ms Neville described the ombudsman's report as sad and disturbing. "Anyone who has read this report will be disturbed that parents are capable of inflicting this sort of abuse on their children," she said.


Thursday, November 26, 2009


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks that conservative leader Malcolm Turnbull is a useless pustule (I paraphrase) -- given Turnbull's determination to support climate change laws.

Will they ever learn? Another NSW ambulance bungle over lack of street address

How many people do they have to kill before they get their act together? These phone helplines where some know-nothing just sits in front of a computer screen are a disaster. They usually fail completely when something non-routine comes up. I have experienced it many times with Telstra and have only got action by writing a letter to the Telstra boss. But writing letters is no help in an emergency. Emergency services should have somebody with local knowledge that they can call on if their computer data is inadequate. With Telstra, I have had arrogant and ignorant operators hang up on me too. That's just how computer-driven helplines deal with non-routine problems

Six months after an inquest found NSW triple-0 operators bungled a series of calls from a dying schoolboy lost in the Blue Mountains, the service has been accused of failing another person in need of help. Stuart Jamieson called the emergency line from a remote property near Boomi in far northern NSW on Monday to get help for a man who had become seriously unwell after working in the heat. An operator ended the call because Mr Jamieson could not provide a street number.

"I gave the road that went past [the location]," Mr Jamieson told Fairfax Radio network today. "They said they wanted a house number. I said there's no house number." Asked what road his property was on, Mr Jamieson said: "The Boomi-Goondiwindi Road. They couldn't find Goondiwindi on a map because ... it's in Queensland. "They said they could not find the Boomi-Goondiwindi Road."

AAP found the road in seconds, with two clicks on Google. Because the operator could not locate Mr Jamieson on a map, she terminated the call. "We were quite prepared to meet the ambulance at the road," Mr Jamieson said. An ambulance eventually arrived after he contacted a local stock and station agent who found help by knocking on the door of the Goondiwindi ambulance service, he said.

The emergency services operator who disconnected his call has since been stood down, The Daily Telegraph reports.

The incident followed an inquest earlier this year into the death of Sydney schoolboy David Iredale. The 17-year-old became separated from his two classmates on Mount Solitary during a three-day trek in 2006. The inquest found three triple-0 operators bungled a series of calls for help he made to them before he died - because they did not have a street address.


Some more observations of Queensland police goons

An email from a reader of With dishonour they serve

Perhaps getting older one becomes more sensitive to things, but since I moved to Cotton Tree at Maroochydore 4 years ago, I have found myself thinking more and more with dissatisfaction on the matter of the police force in Qld, from the most basic level, that being, someone in the street who simply observes and takes note.

Each and every instance of observing members of the police has been unsatisfactory-to-highly unsatisfactory, and here I find myself, searching Google and reading a blog such as yours.

Of late, I witnessed a police car pull up an acquaintance of mine as he was walking home from work, and watching the manner of their interaction with him, I was appalled. It was a police car with 4 members inside, patrolling the very quiet waterside neighbourhood of Cotton Tree. They pulled the car right off the curb in front of this chap, blocking his progress along the footpath, wound down a window and demanded with aggressive tones what he was doing. When he replied he was walking home from the Plaza where he worked as a store manager (he was in full uniform, very neat, with a work bag), they queried him further about his address and place of work, then drove off abruptly with no further comment.

The interaction contained no salutation, no final words of thanks or recognition, nothing, just abrupt, aggressive bullying with absolutely no reason. The person was clearly shaken, quite badly, to the point where I offered to walk him home and hear what had happened in further detail.

I was so taken aback, and so affronted by this event in my little street, in my sleepy neighbourhood, involving a person who in no terms looked like a victim or suspect either, that I actually called the local Maroochydore station, and made a formal complaint.

This in itself was an ordeal, in which I had to endure every effort to shunt my complaint aside, to verbally badger me into recanting and hanging up, and eventually to placing obstacles in my path to making a complaint which I felt was my right, as a taxpaying citizen concerned at the conduct of a public employee. I am not so much of a pushover, and can string a sentence together, an attribute I have found that absolutely infuriates the police communications office, luckily as otherwise my complaint would have gone the way of many others, I am betting.

It seemed that at some point I passed a test, the "do we really have to do something about this person" test, after which a police communications person called me back and addressed the issue, albeit in a way that I suspect meant it would go no further. As it turns out, the car was responding to a call reporting a woman yelling in the area, and they were doing a drive by of the street.

Since then I have kept careful note of all further incidents I have witnessed by police in my town, and I must say, the attitude of dogged rudeness and self entitlement absolutely appalls me. I started out thinking along the lines of your latest blog entry, the hardships of the police job, and the social penalties they must work under, and giving them benefit of the doubt for that. But my observations are all in instances where really ordinary, respectable for lack of a better term, people have born the absolute rudeness and bullying of their local police force.

When an officer cannot enjoy an interaction with a pleasant member of the public, one like my acquaintance who would have been pro-police, polite to a fault, helpful and thankful, then there is something wrong, seriously wrong, in the system. The excuse that they deal with the awful spectrum of humanity, and hence their job is so difficult, no longer pulls weight with me.

As a PhD, a MPsych and a very well travelled, intelligent law abiding citizen (yes after dealing with the communications office one finds oneself pulling out all the armour and giving it a polish) I say the Queensland police force is a repulsive organisation, not fitting of the tax payers dollars to fund it, nor the good will it so belligerently demands.

Toothless police watchdog?

Parliament told CMC head 'refused to act' on complaint about police Mafia. They could at least have looked into it. The claim that it was outside their jurisdiction is risible. Once again we see evidence that the CMC is just a reincarnation of Sir Joh's old Police Whitewash Tribunal

A MAGISTRATE'S wife has detailed explosive claims about how the head of Queensland's corruption watchdog refused to investigate her allegations about cabals of police families committing serious crimes. Respected academic Dr Christine Eastwood has claimed Crime and Misconduct Commission chair Robert Needham failed to act on her allegations that a senior member of his own organisation was a member of one of the families. But Mr Needham last night denied the allegations, saying they appeared to stem from a long-running family dispute.

In a statutory declaration, Dr Eastwood, the wife of Southport magistrate John Costanzo, claims she and her husband held a meeting with Mr Needham in a Coolangatta hotel room in August. Dr Eastwood alleged Mr Needham taped their conversation but refused to accept her complaint. "Towards the end of the meeting, when I expressed concern that he had left me with nowhere to go, he again discouraged me from going to police and reiterated that the CMC would not accept the complaint," she said. "He left the meeting room and refused to take with him any of the documentation I had prepared in relation to the complaint."

Mr Needham said it was a case of "adding one and one and getting 10". "Unfortunately, the emotional situation means their objectivity has totally gone." Mr Needham said the allegations were not in his jurisdiction and did not raise "reasonable" suspicion.

Opposition deputy leader Lawrence Springborg attempted to table Dr Eastwood's declaration yesterday, as well as a complaint and correspondence with the Parliamentary Crime and Misconduct Committee, in Parliament. While Mr Springborg said Dr Eastwood's declaration had not yet been put before the parliamentary committee, Speaker John Mickel stymied the tabling of the documents out of caution not to breach House rules applying to submissions before a committee.

But last night, under federal parliamentary privilege, Liberal MP Peter Lindsay read Dr Eastwood's statutory declaration into the Lower House record.

Dr Eastwood claims in the documents that senior police, including detectives in the fraud squad and in the drug and property crime squad, were potentially involved in serious crimes including fraud, forgery and murder. The documents show Dr Eastwood wrote to the PCMC after Mr Needham allegedly refused to act but she objected to the committee informing the CMC of her complaint to seek a report from the watchdog on the issue. She said such a move could potentially inform the allegedly corrupt police of her complaint, putting her family at risk.

In Parliament, Mr Springborg questioned Attorney-General Cameron Dick on whether he was aware of the issue and if he was satisfied they had been fully investigated. Mr Dick criticised Mr Springborg for trying to table the documents before the PCMC but promised the matter would be properly investigated.

SOURCE. There's a smell of coverup over this -- JR

Token ETS the best idea for Australia

By Greg Sheridan

THE battle of expectations over the Copenhagen climate change conference next month has been fascinating to watch. At first, everything had to be done by Copenhagen, which would produce a binding agreement: targets, offsets, compensation for low-income countries and all the rest. Now everyone knows that nothing real will be achieved at Copenhagen. Of course, whatever happens there will be hailed as a great success. But nothing much will happen.

Watching the debate, I am afraid I have become a climate change agnostic. I am not a denier, nor really a sceptic. I am agnostic. I do not know whether the science that says we're all doomed if we don't de-carbonise the economy is true. Neither does anyone else.

But I am more than half convinced by the argument that we should give the planet the benefit of the doubt. It would be good if we polluted less. I'd like to end the dependence of Western societies on Middle Eastern oil. And one day, even if climate change is not a killer, the world will run out of fossil fuel. So by all means let's diversify our energy sources and clean up our environments. But I don't want us to go broke in the process.

And given that what we physically do in Australia will have almost no effect on the global climate, whatever the scientific faith you choose to believe in, we would be much better off facing the future, whatever it is, as a rich nation rather than a poor one.

In trying to evaluate this issue I have tried to gauge the seriousness of the key players. I'm not convinced that anybody in power anywhere really thinks this is an end-of-the-world issue. Certainly no one is behaving as if it is.

Kevin Rudd said this week that climate change is an "existential, fundamental" issue, then came up with an emissions trading scheme package so recondite and larded with giveaways that it seems unlikely to have any great effect on greenhouse gas emissions. I don't want to misrepresent our beloved PM, but this is really Rudd adopting the agnostic attitude, with his usual rhetoric of moral grandeur attached: sensibly do as little as necessary and see what comes up.

It would be folly for Australia to get out in front. In the end I suspect we'll do more or less whatever the Americans do, plus or minus half a per cent. Copenhagen will not produce anything like the binding deal originally envisaged, but will produce some movement to lower carbon emissions. Australia needs to shelter in the mainstream of developed but resource-rich countries (which really means the US), doing our bit but not overdoing it.

Washington under Barack Obama certainly doesn't appear to regard climate change as an existential question. Obama has clearly given health care a higher priority. He may well announce some sort of target before the Copenhagen meeting but no real economic action will be taken before next year and my guess is the economic action ultimately will be pretty equivocal.

The Europeans look, at times, as though they believe their own rhetoric. But most of their ostensible greenhouse reductions come from switching from coal to gas, decommissioning East German industry, exporting factory jobs to China and creative accounting.

As for China and the other developing nations, there is not the slightest chance they will sign up to any binding targets. To get them on board at Copenhagen, the world has to accept the most spectacularly rubbery figures. China, and all the countries I love such as India and Indonesia, will commit to actions only on the basis of what the boffins call counterfactuals: facts that don't exist.

A couple of years ago Indonesia's environment minister told me his country would cut emissions by 19 per cent. This sounded impressive until I realised he meant 19 per cent of what would have happened had there been no change. That kind of calculation is infinitely malleable.

A couple of weeks ago in New Delhi, India's Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor told me India had 17.5 per cent of the world's population but produced only 4 per cent of emissions. He said: "Per capita we are about 120th in the world. We're not part of the cause of the problem, but we do see the moral need to be part of the solution." He said quite a lot of nice things about the environment, but concluded: "We are still a country that cannot take 24 hours of electricity for granted. Six hundred million Indians are still not connected to electricity. If we approach development as consciously green minded, can we get help for the technology that works? (We also) have a duty to our people's development."

Two things strike me about Tharoor's elegant words. First, where is the technology that works, at anything like a reasonable price, in generating electricity without greenhouse gas emissions? Second, no Indian politician is going to tell 600 million fellow Indians they can't have electricity, but everyone in the West can. I describe this not to condemn it or to praise it but simply to register it as reality. The vast majority of new electricity generation in India, as in China and most of the developing world, comes from coal-fired power stations, and still there is no clean coal technology that works.

You cannot give electricity to 600 million people in India, and similar numbers in China, without massively increasing greenhouse gas emissions. The only technology that could possibly generate electricity on a big scale other than coal is nuclear. The Rudd government shows all its fine words on climate change are not to be taken too seriously by refusing to export uranium to India. No one in the world really takes this issue as seriously as they pretend to. Neither should we.


Sri Lankan government cracks down on people smugglers

I am guessing that this is in part driven by a hope that most of those caught will be Tamils. Sri Lankan Sinhalese have a hatred of Tamils created by many years of ferocious Tamil terrorism -- and a desire for some degree of payback is very understandable

As a further 52 asylum seekers were brought ashore on Christmas Island [Australia] yesterday, a fleet of fishing boats carrying 142 Sri Lankans bound for Australia was intercepted. Sri Lanka's navy last night said it seized the four fishing trawlers off the island nation's southern coast and handed them over to local police.

"The passengers had paid large sums of money to people smugglers to take them abroad," navy spokesman Athula Senarath said. In recent months there has been an increase in the number of Sri Lankans trying to enter Australia, many claiming political asylum - most famously the 72 who ended up aboard Australian Customs vessel Oceanic Viking.

At Christmas Island yesterday, however, the 52 new arrivals - brought to land under the watchful eye of an Australian Federal Police contingent - were Afghans.

They were transferred from an Australian Customs vessel standing off the island and conveyed by barge to the public wharf in Flying Fish Cove, where interpreters were waiting with buses to take them to the island's detention centres. Sources said the latest group comprised 39 adult males, one adult female and 10 minors, plus two crew.

Extra security precautions have been in place since Saturday night's violent riot at the island's principal immigration detention centre - where the men will be housed while their identity and security checks are carried out.

The women will be put in temporary accommodation of prefabricated huts behind barbed wire in the grounds of the recreation centre and at an adjacent construction camp. The male arrivals will put further stress on the already overcrowded camp, which was built to hold 400, expanded to cope with 800 and has recently held more than 1000. On Monday, nearly 70 people who were processed on Christmas Island were informed they were to be granted permanent visas and taken to Australia. [A reward for forcing the gates!]


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hungry Jack's criticized over monster burger

"Hungry Jack's" is the Australian branch of America's "Burger King". When something is attacked by "the chairman of the Sydney World Action on Salt and Health", you know you are dealing with an attention-seeking fraud -- and you can be pretty sure that the truth is the reverse of what he says -- since a low salt diet REDUCES your lifespan. The full range of scientific evidence shows NO basis for the salt phobia. Salt deficiency ("hyponatremia") is however a major cause of death in some settings. Google it

HEALTH experts are demanding warning labels be put on a new burger that contains almost twice as much saturated fat and 40 per cent more salt than the recommended daily intakes. Hungry Jack's double Angry Angus, packed with deep fried onion rings, two slices of cheese, two beef patties and several rashers of bacon, contains 26 grams of saturated fat and 5.6 grams of salt - 10 grams more saturated fat and 1.6 grams more salt than the daily intake recommended by the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Eating the Angry Angus would cause a diner's blood pressure to rise immediately and eating it regularly would cause chronic high blood pressure, leading to heart attack, kidney failure and stroke, the chairman of the Sydney World Action on Salt and Health, Bruce Neal, said yesterday. Children who eat a high sodium diet risk developing obesity, asthma and high blood pressure. "Hungry Jack's appears to have little commitment to the health of their consumers. In the context of our national obesity crisis this type of product is reckless," Professor Neal said.

Australians should eat one to two grams of salt a day but most ate about nine grams, he said. If that was cut to six grams, the chances of heart attack or stroke would drop 15 to 20 per cent. "If manufacturers were forced to use front-of-pack warnings, they would reform their products pretty quickly to ensure they didn't have to carry that label," he said.

The chief executive of the Heart Foundation, Tony Thirlwell, said the company was behaving irresponsibly. "The burger has a great title because it makes me doubly angry. It is highly disappointing that a manufacturer in modern-day Australia would consider serving this to people. "To think that you could have only one of these burgers every two days and nothing else is a ridiculous idea." [It's the food "standards" that are ridiculous]

He called on food manufacturers to put pressure on Hungry Jack's to act responsibly before the Government was forced to step in, banning or taxing high-calorie meals. "This behaviour is not in the best interests of the food industry or the consumers because this burger can cause serious heart disease." [Proof?]

Hungry Jack's did not respond to the Herald's inquiries but late yesterday altered the nutritional figures on its website, lowering the saturated fat content for the double Angry Angus to 21.3 grams and salt to 4.5 grams.

An associate professor in nutrition and dietetics at the University of Newcastle, Clare Collins, said people needed protection against "monster foods". "It's shocking," she said. "We don't need a burger like this. It should carry a message saying 'increase your health premium now because you'll need it for your coronary care'."

A survey this year found three-quarters of sandwiches and burgers sold by McDonald's, Subway, Oporto, Red Rooster, KFC and Hungry Jack's contained over half the maximum daily allowance of salt in a single serve.


More racist "justice"

A disgrace that this had to go to appeal after previous protests and appeals over judicial racism

An Aboriginal man who raped a pregnant woman was given leniency because of his race and background, the Court of Appeal ruled today. Justices Marcia Neave and Robert Redlich said the sentence imposed on Rodney Daryl Moore, who raped a woman who was eight months' pregnant, was "manifestly inadequate". They upheld an appeal by the Director of Public Prosecutions, who argued that too much weight was given to his background and that Aboriginal offenders should not be sentenced more leniently than non-Aboriginal offenders.

"It appears that his Honour, for reasons of compassion, gave too much weight to the offenders deprived and tragic circumstances," said Justices Neave and Redlich. "The sentence imposed on Mr Moore is so disproportionate to the objective gravity of the offence as to shock the public conscience."

Moore, 24, was originally sentenced in the County Court at Mildura to four years and six months in jail, with a non-parole period of two years and six months, after pleading guilty to rape and aggravated burglary. He was re-sentenced today to five years and six months with a non-parole period of four years.

Justices Neave and Redlich said Judge Michael Bourke recognised that Moore’s Aboriginality had contributed to his disadvantaged background of alcohol, drug abuse and violence. But this had to be balanced against the gravity of the offence, general and specific deterrence, community protection and the respondent’s prospects of rehabilitation.

The DPP argued in the appeal that legal precedent dictated that race should play no part in sentencing. Justices Neave and Redlich said a previous appeal decision had stated "in sentencing persons of Aboriginal descent, the court must avoid any hint of racism, paternalism or collective guilt".

In the judgment, the court said Moore broke into the home of his 21-year-old victim in the early hours of January 10, 2006. The night was extremely warm and the woman, who lived alone, was lying naked on a mattress on the floor to keep cool. Justices Neave and Redlich said that after he raped her Moore said "everyone f***s you’’ which suggested he regarded her as nothing more than an object for his sexual use.

Moore told a psychologist who examined him that he regarded the victim as a "slut". He had prior convictions for aggravated burglary, the appeal judges said, and for offences involving violence. Moore had previously received two community based orders and Judge Bourke found that his prospects for rehabilitation were not good.

"The attack was a violent one," Justices Neave and Redlich said. "The appellant (Moore) invaded the victims home in the early hours of the morning and raped her while she was in an advanced state of pregnancy. "Not surprisingly, the victim was terrified and the rape has had lasting effects on her. (His) impaired mental functioning could not substantially eliminate his responsibility for the offending."


Emissions Trading Scheme will cost Australian families $1100 a year

KEVIN Rudd's Emissions Trading Scheme will increase the average family's bills by about $1100 a year. Based on the Federal Government's own modelling, by 2012 the ETS will add more than 20 per cent to electricity tariffs - a surge of nearly $300 for typical households already reeling in New South Wales from a similar blow from the state pricing tribunal in July. And industry forecasts predict grocery prices could surge 5 per cent once the estimated price of carbon is imposed, making stocking a home larder $520 more expensive, The Daily Telegraph reports.

For those on lower incomes, overall costs are tipped to rise $630. While lower in dollar terms this represents a bigger slice of their outgoings. They will be compensated by taxpayers - the Government yesterday vowed nine in 10 poorer households would receive more than what the ETS added to their bills but middle-income families won't get the same deal.

The Government's latest changes to the proposed ETS actually reduce consumer compensation by $5.8 billion over the next decade. Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said the high Australian dollar meant the carbon price would be lower, so less compensation was required.

Experts said that higher-earning households looking to limit the financial impact of the scheme would either need to spend up on going green or cut back on power use.

National Institute of Economic and Industry Research head Dr Peter Brain, author of the most commonly cited study into the cost of the ETS for households, said: "It's carrot and stick. It has to be. Otherwise emissions won't decline by anything like the rate required."

Mr Rudd said the latest version of the ETS would ensure that Australia could "achieve its ambitious unconditional target" of a 5 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 when compared with 2000 levels and its conditional target of 15-25 per cent.

Energy price comparison service GoSwitch CEO Ben Freund said: "What the Government wants people to do is shift from cheaper sources of power to more expensive sources like wind and solar. "How do you make people do that? By making the expensive sources of energy more compelling. And you do that by making the cheaper sources of energy more expensive."

Professor Joshua Gans from the Melbourne Business School said the other way middle - and higher - income families could limit the impact was to cut power usage. "The idea of the CPRS is not to cause people to spend more on electricity. It is to change their behaviour so they don't spend more on electricity," Professor Gans said.

Small business owners James and Kylie White, of Botany, said they were worried about how much the ETS was going to cost them. "It's obviously a concern, coupled with the interest rates heading back up," Mr White, 34, said. "Over the last 12 months we have been seeing less and less income and the bills increasing. This is going to make it a little bit tougher."


Infamy, insanity, inanity in Australia's proposed climate laws

We had a prime minister who declared economic war on his own country. And an opposition leader who spent the rest of the day trying desperately to make it unanimous. Finally, succeeding. Or, perhaps not.

As I wrote yesterday this is one case where the devil is not in the detail. So making the detail of the Emissions Trading Scheme seemingly 'better' is without the slightest merit. And indeed is worse even in its own distorted terms. The ETS remains a direct, if slightly diverted attack against our national interest, against the very foundation not just of our economy but of our society. And it is completely incompatible with the government's population growth 'policy,' for want of a better word.

Yes, the extra 'assistance' to the power industry would probably help - literally - to keep the lights on in the short term. But only in the short term, and only if the debts of Victoria's power stations are guaranteed by the federal government, whether directly or indirectly.

There still wouldn't be another coal-fired power station built anywhere in Australia while this insanity prevails - while dozens are built in China and India.

And with nuclear also prohibited, we would face an 'interesting' intersection point between population, power and permits some time around 2015. Not, obviously, that nuclear could have 'saved us' in just five years anyway. That's when a bigger population demands more power; there isn't any; and all that 'generous assistance' is reaching its use-by date and then we face the prospect of the existing power stations going broke or breaking down.

This is when the reality of prime ministerial insanity catches up with Australia. Not even in 'distant 2020' but a few years before that. Because all that so-called assistance doesn't alter the basic reality of the ETS and the government's overall Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

What's in a name? Digressing, one really wonders how Kevin Rudd and his co-destroyer Penny Wong can literally live with themselves, as they spread the same 'pollution' every breath of their lives. As Rudd said yesterday, seemingly proudly, certainly totally unaware of his own stupidity: "the deal will ensure that Australia can achieve its ambitious unconditional target of 5 per cent (reduction in CO2 emissions), conditional target of up to 15 per cent and top-end target of 25 per cent off 2000 levels by 2020." This is the bottom line that isn't altered by all the extra so-called assistance. That once the ETS is in place, we are legislatively committed to cutting CO2 emissions by 5 per cent by 2020, whatever - the nothing - that the rest of the world does.

So if coal-fired power stations emit more as a consequence of their extra assistance, the cuts have to come from somewhere else. Or we pay foreigners for the right to over-emit. Doesn't sound too tough? Just 5 per cent? But factor in our roaring population growth and we have to cut by closer to 33 per cent per person. And do it in just 10 years!

Now committing to something like this this would be bad enough coming from any leader of any country. Directly attacking the wellbeing of its citizens. Especially when that leader knows, and I mean knows, that it is utterly pointless, even in his own misconceived terms, as no-one of major emitting substance is going to follow.

Coming from the leader of a country whose entire economy is built on carbon-based energy and the export of carbon-based products, it is criminally - there really are no other words for it - insane. In the context of my opening reference, it is as if Rudd himself had launched the planes on our Pearl Harbor, our economy.

In this case, double apologies are due to the author of the original quote, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The usual apology for amendment. The additional one for associating it with something and someone so grubby.


Victorian parliamentary committee says mens-only clubs should be allowed to restrict entry

ELITE clubs should retain the right to restrict entry to men or women only, a parliamentary committee has recommended. A report tabled in State Parliament yesterday said that gender-specific venues, including the upmarket Melbourne and Athenaeum clubs on Collins St, should be able to continue to operate as single-sex institutions, despite a campaign by Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls for them to lose their exemptions from anti-discrimination laws.

Earlier this year, Mr Hulls said that the predominantly men's-only clubs had become outdated.

The report by the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee recommended yesterday that freedom of association was a "fundamental human right" that should be balanced against the right to non-discrimination. "The committee does not recommend a change that would prevent single-sex clubs from continuing their operations or require them to seek an exemption in order to continue their operations," the report says.

Mr Hulls said the Government would consider the recommendations: "While the recommendations in relation to private clubs appear unclear and somewhat confusing , the committee did recommend that Section 78 of the current legislation, which allows clubs to be exempt from anti-discrimination laws as of right, be amended."


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Socialist attack on childcare businesses

"Childcare centres are not just a business – they must be in the services of the common good". "Gemeinnutz vor Eigennutz", as Hitler put it. Businesses can be badly run but any bureaucratic substitute is going to be a lot worse

CHILDCARE regulation should be overhauled to remove the profit-driven problems leading to the massive collapse of the ABC Learning empire, a senate committee has found.

A 12-month inquiry into child care tabled in the Senate last night recommended the formation of a new national statutory body as part of an overhaul of the multibillion-dollar industry. The report was damning of the business approach taken by ABC Learning, whose collapse last year sparked the inquiry. "That an organisation catering for up to 25 per cent of the long-day care market should fail so rapidly following its rise to market dominance says as much about the deficiencies in childcare policy and regulation as it does about highly questionable business practices of the company," the report found.

It recommended small-scale or individual independent operators and not-for-profit and community-based organisations as the best to provide services. "Childcare centres are not just a business – they must be in the services of the common good," the report said.

A boost to funding was also highly recommended by the senate committee, especially to services for disadvantaged children and those in rural, remote or poorer areas.

The report said economic modelling of various childcare funding models should be done to find the most effective way to increase spending on the sector.

While looking at current state regulations, the committee found Queensland had improved services by tightening up on centre-hopping. It cut back the amount of time newly recruited carers could work without qualifications as some were avoiding minimum training by changing centres.

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said it was now up to the Federal Government to commit to reform.


Learning to add up by using calculators?

YEAR 2 students are learning to add up on calculators in a Cairns school. Mother-of-four Fleur Nightingall was disgusted when her seven-year-old son Jayden's teacher at Trinity Beach State School asked for him to be supplied with a calculator to learn maths for his year 2 classes next year. "I just shook my head. I was stunned," Mrs Nightingall said. "I didn't start using calculators until year 7, but you had to show you could work out your sums on paper without using a calculator. "My son is still learning how to do sums on paper, let alone getting a calculator. It's disgusting - absolutely disgusting."

Education Queensland maintains the calculators support students' mathematics learning and does not detract from this focus.

Ms Nightingall said she had been disappointed by the standard of numeracy being taught in the early years of school. "I think the education department is letting down my son," she said. "I just can't think of any good reason why he needs to learn this in year 2, he just doesn't need to learn how to use a calculator. "I've spoken to a few people, and they just think it's a joke."

James Cook University academic Professor Peter Ridd, who has been vocal on slipping standards of numeracy within state schools, said it was worrying students were being tempted to use calculators at such an early age. "It is a worry that by giving them a calculator, it's a crutch and then they never learn to do arithmetic properly," Prof Ridd said. He said calculators were banned from first-year mathematics exams at JCU, in order to challenge students' mental arithmetic skills. "Their skills are almost universally woeful at first-year level," Prof Ridd said. "They're a little unhappy to start off with, but they accept it well. By the end of the year, their mental arithmetic is tremendous."

The Tableland-based president of the Queensland Council of Parents and Citizens Associations, Margaret Black, said she had been assured the school calculators played only a minor role in year 1 and 2 students’ learning. Calculators were taught as part of a national test in numeracy. "Using the calculator is one out of 44 subjects being taught," Ms Black said. "It's a necessity for our children to sit the national testing."

An Education Queensland spokeswoman said the department placed a strong emphasis on improving literacy and numeracy standards in state schools. "It is important for their future learning that students learn to use appropriate technologies from an early age," she said. "The Australian Association of Mathematics recommends that all students have ready access to calculators and computers to support and extend their mathematics learning."


The lawyer who under-charged...and other fairytales

Heard the one about the lawyer who charged like a perfectly reasonable, unmolested, even-tempered bull? Me neither. There are plenty of them, but it is the horror stories and the bills so far-fetched that they read like cruel jokes that get repeated at barbecues and in organs such as this one. The $50 or $100 accounts for opening Christmas cards, returning an umbrella, or photocopying, for example. There have been some crackers told in the past year.

Sydney man Mohammed Tariq has been plying his one-man stand-up comedy act on the steps of the city's courthouses, employing a sandwich board, a pony and a donkey as props and telling the ones about the welcome letter he received from Keddies Lawyers ($60, ker-ching) and the two-kilometre taxi ride his family was billed for (that'll be $600, thank you). A costs assessor, barrister Michael Robinson, recommended Keddies refund Tariq $37,000 because of what he called deliberate "systematic duplication and overcharging".

Legal bills have become such a sought-after form of popular entertainment that the consumer group Choice went looking this year and found one poor sucker whose lawyer charged $750 for the typing of a three-page document.

The great irony, of course, is that the farcical bills that come to light are often the more honest ones, where a lawyer has been silly enough to list their actual activity on the ledger. Consumers of legal services should be given a glossary, informing them that the all-too-common entries of "case management" or "strategy advice" can mean anything from "Opening Christmas card" to "flirting with paralegals", "choosing fancy dress costume online for Natasha's Halloween party", or "scratching self".

The root of the problem is the absurd six-minute billing system that persists in most legal firms. For the unitiated, here is how it works: I just spent a good six minutes thinking about how to begin this article. If I were a lawyer, I would now be obliged to enter "Thinking about how to begin article" in a cell on a ledger — or something more presentable, such as "One-person strategy meeting". I might even be tempted to say I'd begun it. "Started article". "Drafted mildly-arresting opening". Anything but "thinking". Even if I'd only spent two minutes thinking about it, I'd bill the full six to you, the reader. Six minutes later, I'd have to record what I did next.

I've never said this before, but it's enough to make you feel sorry for lawyers. Any wage slave who feels their boss circles like a seagull should spare a thought for the poor sharks in suits who have to account for every tiny block of their working day with a pithy description. The accounting alone must take up a good half hour a day, and most have onerous "budgets" to meet; a minimum number of hours they must bill. Is it any wonder that many bills read like an exquisite work of fiction, and that some are simply laughable?

Even such luminaries as Joe Catanzariti, president of the NSW Law Society and partner at top-shelf firm Clayton Utz, agree that six-minute billing is counter-productive. But no one quite knows how to do away with it.

The financial crisis has led to some change in the way firms bill large commercial clients, but a survey last week by Melbourne's Institute of Knowledge Development confirmed six-minute-ism was here to stay, particularly for so-called "retail" clients like Joe Average. As one law firm partner said, a "smorgasbord" of alternative billing methods is being prepared, "but everyone keeps taking the chicken because it's safe".

Compensation lawyers believe contingency fees are the answer for retail clients, where lawyers get a percentage of the client's winnings, pure and simple — and only if they win. But the jury is still out on contingency fees in Australia; they remain illegal and mistrusted as an Americanism that we don't want down under.

Dodging the bigger issue, a federal government taskforce has determined to put a stop to joke bills by banning the charging-up of administrative costs. In a discussion paper released this week, the taskforce said firms should absorb menial costs that lawyers have been passing on, "including opening files, sending 'welcome letters', sending or reading 'thank you' and Christmas cards, closing files, reordering an untidy file, the use of a legal practitioner's trust account, the use of a telephone directory, or charging for contributions to professional indemnity insurance".

But will those costs simply be shifted onto another part of the bill and disguised in less explicit terms? That will be alleviated, the paper says, by better regulation, which is where the taskforce's suggestion of a national legal ombudsman comes in. One regulator to rule them all, is the idea. Up to 40 per cent of complaints against lawyers in some parts of Australia relate to overcharging and there are 55 different bodies that regulate the legal profession around the country, the Choice report found.

They're the sort of numbers that inspired federal Attorney-General Robert McClelland to tap the public mood by describing anyone who hires a lawyer in Australia today as being "up the creek without a paddle".

Under the current system in most states, making a complaint about overcharging pits a client against their own lawyer on a very uneven legal playing field. In NSW, for example, gripes go to mediation or to a costs assessor, and if you still can't out-negotiate your lawyer, they continue to a tribunal or a court. The NSW Office of the Legal Services Commissioner — which has no power to decide the disputes itself — dealt with 1544 consumer disputes last year and said hundreds were closed after reductions or waivers of bills.

Former costs assessor Paul Garde has said that in NSW and Victoria, where upfront costs disclosure is already compulsory, many lawyers still aren't doing it. When it comes to legal bills, it seems the truth is entirely negotiable.

So national regulation with teeth is sorely needed. The sticking point now is who will set the rules and how will they be enforced? The Federal Government, consumer advocates and the taskforce itself want an independent board to set standards and a consumer representative to play a role. What do the lawyers say about that? They want consumers to pay for the regulation but to be left out of setting the rules. "We are a proud and independent profession and we won't have imposed on us rules that are unacceptable to the profession. That just does not work," Law Council president John Corcoran wrote in a submission.

Self-regulation has got us to where we are now. If lawyers don't want to be the butt of jokes, it's time they got real about protecting naive clients from the sharks in their midst.

Have you heard the one about 100 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? If jokes like that are to stop doing the rounds, consumer protection would be a good start.


Rednecks! The new racist term for ordinary Australians who are critical of illegal immigration

As a moderator of comments for I see a lot of intolerance expressed in the debate over asylum seeker boats, especially from a vocal minority prepared to get very nasty. The Oceanic Viking has stirred the asylum debate. The comments from this quarter typically employ broad-brush terms of abuse to stereotype on the basis of nationality.

The targets of these hateful attacks are Australians. The most popular terms of abuse are “redneck” and “racist”. Those commenting along these lines normally express a boundless compassion for asylum seekers. Strangely however, they seem completely devoid of any interest in sympathetically understanding the views of their fellow citizens, without name calling.

The overwhelming sentiment I’ve seen online mirrors what opinion polls say, most want a hard line on boat people. Undoubtedly sometimes this does reflect racism or xenophobia and a desire to keep Australia “white”. I occasionally see these type of comments.

What is more interesting, I think, are the other reasons repeatedly given by those advocating a hard line. The general sentiment is that the boat people are queue jumpers. Often the strongest outrage is from people who have recently migrated or know others trying to. Australia is not an easy country to move into, the process can be long and expensive. So for people to sail in and simply claim residency upsets many, whatever the boat people’s circumstances. For all our supposed larrikinism, Australians, I’d say, value law and order. They like those who “do the right thing” and “go through the proper channels”.

The legalistic argument that asylum seekers are not jumping the queue because “there is no queue to jump” generally doesn’t wash. There is a UN process for refugee settlement readily available offshore and it certainly puts you in a long bureaucratic queue, one that may take years. When some asylum seekers are seen to get a special deal, as appears to have happened for those who occupied the Oceanic Viking, it looks even more unfair.

Another sentiment often expressed by those opposing asylum boats is that those onboard will become welfare bludgers and we have lots of other things to spend money on. Australia resettles migrants with extensive welfare and social community support, teaches them English and provides training to those who can enter the workforce. That’s all well and good because jobs are the key to upward social mobility for migrant groups. Without plentiful jobs you are likely to perpetuate welfare slums, crime and often alienation extending into a second generation.

All the high wage and highly economically regulated countries in Europe that have relatively high and entrenched levels of unemployment have struggled with immigration. Many make it difficult for outsiders to become full citizens. Some, like Denmark, are even paying migrants to go back. Many have trouble with ethnic populations, who sometimes war in tribes against the police, as in France. Some nations have seen the rise of anti-immigration parties.

Britain with low minimum wages has had high migration but it isn’t escaping the other problems, especially during an economic downturn.

The world’s most successful immigrant society is America, at least by scale. America has resettled the “huddled masses”, including large refugee communities and millions of illegal migrants. This has been done by basically saying people should look after themselves, with minimum welfare offered and not even universal healthcare but usually free education. What America traditionally provided was plenty of low wage jobs that require no skills and limited or no English.

In Australia we do not believe in low wage jobs. So except in times of real economic boom unskilled migrants without English will have few employment prospects.

Sometimes it seems widely forgotten, even by Australian Workers Union boss Peter Howes when he talked about “Labor hero stuff” in leading the debate for a more welcoming approach, that Labor heroes of yore were leaders in keeping people out. The unions and Labor were strong advocates of the White Australia immigration policy. The traditional aim was to preserve Australian wages and conditions against the hordes of cheap Asian workers.

I would suggest that most people who call their fellow Australians rednecks or racists often also value award-set high wages, extensive economic regulation with universal and generous welfare. Probably many of these same people have environmental concerns and support policies that will result in higher costs of resources and lower economic growth. None of this is really compatible with increased humanitarian immmigration on a major scale, or perhaps greatly increased immigration of any sort.

Tightly controlled borders are the precondition of much of the Australia we know, the barrier behind which “the Lucky Country” (said with or without irony) was built. Having our borders opened in a major way would threaten to undermine this. We would likely see a less orderly Australia, a less equal one and perhaps a less safe one.

On the other hand it would be more interesting, more dynamic and more exciting. Personally I’d pick the more exciting version. I acknowledge though that I am pretty well economically protected from the real costs and pressures of increased immigration, whether that is competing for unskilled jobs or living in a potentially high crime suburb. I suspect many of those who want the boats welcomed are in a similarly fortunate situation. I’d also guess many are just as committed to preserving the insular “Australian way of life” as the people they call “rednecks”.