Monday, January 25, 2010

Economic freedom and economic prosperity. Australia scores well

By Greg Lindsay

In a show of economic strength and resilience, Australia came in at 3 (as it did the year before) and New Zealand scored 4 (up one place) behind Hong Kong and Singapore in the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom released by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal on 20 January.

The Index, which ranked 179 countries, is based on 2008 data and compiled in the second half of 2009, and given the impact of the global financial crisis, you’d be right in thinking that getting an accurate picture would be tricky. Ireland is ranked fifth, so it remains to be seen what the picture will be next year. Also, as the Index is a relative measure, not an absolute one, there will always be room for improvement here and elsewhere. Nevertheless, a higher score is clearly an indicator of something that is working, and higher is unquestionably better.

The Index does not aim to incorporate political or other freedoms, and some might regard this as a shortcoming. I do not. There are many other such ratings that do this, as well as those that endeavour to measure prosperity, quality of life, and so on (the Legatum Prosperity Index is one). But if we were to toss in a couple of additional categories that incorporate some of these measurements, then both Australia and New Zealand would score better again and almost certainly jump over Hong Kong and Singapore. Australia and New Zealand are clearly the places to be. The last three placegetters, Cuba, Zimbabwe and North Korea, clearly are not! There are though some hopeful signs at last for Zimbabwe.

What the Index of Economic Freedom does well is to highlight the institutions and conditions necessary to be such great places. The rule of law, property rights, ease of starting businesses, which is two days in Australia and one in New Zealand (the world average is a staggering 35 days, indicating that entrepreneurial endeavour in too many countries must be a nightmare), strong and open financial sectors, low or no corruption, flexible labour markets (about to be sorely tested in Australia), low levels of inflation, free trade, and so on.

If Australia and New Zealand are doing so well, then given the methodology, it follows that others aren’t. This is no time for us to be complacent though, and further improvements necessary here (such as reducing taxes and regulation) will be guides for others. That is one of the most important things these ratings can do: provide signposts. A ‘you too can be like us’ flashing neon.

For more on the Index of Economic Freedom, go here

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated January 22. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Amazing "justice"

One in eight convicted rapists spend no time in jail

ONE IN EIGHT convicted rapists have walked free from Queensland courts without spending a single night in jail for their crimes. Figures obtained by the State Opposition reveal that 21 men convicted of rape and a further five convicted of attempted rape in 2008-09 were not given a custodial sentence.

Deputy Liberal National Party Leader – and LNP justice spokesman – Lawrence Springborg urged the Bligh Government to back mandatory jail terms for rapists. "Rape is rape no matter what the circumstances," Mr Springborg said. "It can never be justified and must be punished by jail."

The Government's own figures showed that one in eight rapists (21 of 161) convicted in court walked free in the past 18 months and about one in six (5 of 28) for attempted rape. The release of similar figures in 2008 set off a storm when then Attorney-General Kerry Shine said some rapes only had a "minor effect" on women. Premier Anna Bligh slammed him, labelling his comments "insensitive". Mr Shine was forced to apologise, saying he did not mean to offend. Four months later he was out of Cabinet.

Mr Springborg said the Government should amend the Penalties and Sentences Act to ensure judges impose a jail sentence on convicted rapists. "That's not extreme and it's not controversial," he said. "It's . . . justice. Different sides of politics often debate whether a jail sentence is too weak . . . There should be no debate when it comes to the basic question of should a convicted rapist spend time in jail. "Bligh and Labor try to duck this issue by saying the courts are responsible for handing down the sentences. They are. "But it is the Government that is responsible for writing the sentencing laws. And, if those sentencing laws stipulate that a convicted rapist must serve time in jail, then the courts will have to comply. The ball is in Ms Bligh's court."

The maximum rape penalty is 25 years, but the average jail time is four to six years.

Figures obtained by the Opposition also showed that – of 468 offenders convicted for armed robbery in 2008-09 – 131 did not spend a night in jail or more than one-in-four. Of 323 convicted for serious assault, 103 escaped prison time – almost one-in-three.

The Acting Premier and Attorney-General Paul Lucas said judges, not politicians, were in the best position to determine sentences. "Judicial independence is a cornerstone of our democracy and mandatory sentencing regimes undermine this system," he said. "Not only has the Government increased penalties for a number of offences but we have introduced new offences, such as serious assault, to reflect community concerns about offending behaviours. "It is clear that increased penalties have resulted in more people being jailed, as evidenced by our rising prison population at a time when the offending rate in the community is relatively stable."

Mr Lucas accused the Opposition of failing to back new Government laws aimed at dismantling and disrupting outlaw motorcycle gangs. [Apparently rape is OK but belonging to a motorcycle club is not! The only people disrupted by the government's brain-dead laws will be normal bike riders. Criminals will evade the law with ease, as they do now]


Another rogue overseas doctor in a public hosital

Helen Kerner trusted her "nice, clean-cut" neurosurgeon when he said he had performed the delicate spinal operation she required 1500 times before. The 60-year-old was confused when she woke up incontinent, still in pain, with no feeling in her legs or pelvis, and upset when he tried to discharge her from hospital two days into recovery.

But when Suresh Surendranath Nair confessed that his "drill slipped" during the procedure, severing several nerves in her spine, Ms Kerner said she felt sorry for the doctor, who was then 38. "I felt like 'my goodness me, he must be feeling awful for what he's done'," Ms Kerner said. "But not now, not now, I'm pretty angry now."

The Health Care Complaints Commission is reportedly reviewing all surgery performed at Nepean Public Hospital under the direction of Dr Nair, 41, who faces drugs charges following the death in November of a 22-year-old student in his $1.7 million apartment. Sydney West Area Health Service has admitted a breach of duty of care in Ms Kerner's case.

Another neurosurgeon described the procedure, performed in 2006, as a standard operation and said Dr Nair's mistake was "usually so rare as to be virtually unheard of". The Malaysian-born, Australian-trained surgeon's registration had been suspended in 2004, after an appearance before the NSW Medical Board's Impaired Registrants Panel. He was suspended again in 2008 and on November 26 last year, following his arrest.

Ms Kerner, a former relief manager at Anglicare second-hand shops, said she did not know Dr Nair had been suspended when she was referred to him in 2006. "I had very bad back pain, sciatic pain, and all the doctor had to do was remove a bone spur away from the nerve, just grind it away from the nerve," Ms Kerner said. "The drill slipped … and my life changed, completely changed."

Sydney West Area Health Service would not comment. Dr Nair's solicitor, Mitchell Cavanagh, said he was not aware of the case and had not yet been able to discuss it with his client.

Ms Kerner, formerly a keen dancer and gardener, now uses walking sticks because she cannot feel her left leg and her foot is deformed. She is bowel and bladder incontinent, has lost all sexual function and lives with constant, severe pain in her legs and feet, according to a statement of claim filed in the NSW Supreme Court. "I'm very depressed. I wake up in the morning crying sometimes … I'm very embarrassed to go out because of things that happen," she said. "That's my life now. I don't have one."

Ms Kerner said she knew something was wrong as soon as she woke up. "I spoke to Dr Nair the next morning and he didn't tell me he slipped with the drill … He told me [he] stretched one of the nerves and it had to be repaired," she said. "He said within three months it should heal itself and I believed him because he's my doctor." Her confusion was compounded when Dr Nair tried to have her discharged from hospital two days after the procedure, before she had been seen by an continence adviser or physiotherapist.

It was not until Ms Kerner noticed the word "severed" written on her observation chart that she pressed for answers. At a meeting Ms Kerner said she attended with her then partner, the hospital's nursing manager and a clinical liaison officer, Dr Nair confessed his mistake. "I said, 'But you didn't tell me that before' and he said, 'Yes I did' … " she said.

At a second meeting attended, according to Ms Kerner, by her continence adviser and a friend, two hospital administrators told her she could sue for negligence. Legal proceedings began in November 2008 and Sydney West Area Health Services wrote to Ms Kerner's solicitor on November 3 last year, admitting a breach of duty of care.

"As far as I'm concerned the hospital should have got rid of him at the start, in 2004," Ms Kerner said. "If he was gone I wouldn't be like this."

Dr Nair has been in police custody since January 9 after he breached his bail conditions, which prohibited him from hiring prostitutes or taking illicit drugs. He is due in court on March 1. The State Coroner is also investigating the death of an escort, Victoria McIntyre, whose body was found in Dr Nair's apartment last February.

A NSW Supreme Court hearing in July will determine what compensation and damages NSW Health must pay Ms Kerner.


Poll shows Aussies want immigration capped

AUSTRALIANS are spooked by record high immigration and also believe the country is increasingly racist, according to an exclusive Sunday Mail poll by Galaxy. Two-thirds of respondents - 66 per cent - think the Federal Government should cap immigration rates. Of these, 72 per cent of Australians polled favour an immigration cap, while 55 per cent of those who live here but do not consider themselves Australian also favoured an immigration cap.

Leading immigration expert Dr Bob Birrell said the figures show "the tide is turning". "It's a significant finding because it suggests public discussion of congestion and house prices may be beginning to bite," Dr Birrell said yesterday.

In the past four to five years, polling indicated Australians were reasonably comfortable with immigration levels, which are based on a Government target of around 190,000 a year.

The results come as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott used an Australia Day Council address during the week to raise immigration issues, stand by the tough stance on boat arrivals in the Howard era and suggest he favoured more migration to boost our population. "My instinct is to extend to as many people as possible the freedom and benefits of life in Australia," Mr Abbott said.

Dr Birrell said the economic shock of the global financial crisis, increasing house prices and continuing controversy over illegal immigration would have played a part in changing opinions. He also pointed to the fact that only 55 per cent of non-Australians were in favour of an immigration cap, compared to 72 per cent of locally-born Australians. Dr Birrell said Australian-born people took a more negative view of immigration, because they did not like their culture threatened by change. "(Many people) like things the way they were when they came into this world. Some see it as a threat to their inherited culture," he said.

More than half the respondents felt Australia had changed for the worse in the past 20 years. But the poll also shows we're basically happy with our flag, our national anthem, and with the standard of living.

Galaxy polled 1000 residents nationwide on Thursday and Friday, and found that we rate meat pies as our favourite national dish and think Australian history lessons should be compulsory in secondary schools.

And the poll, taken when Prince William was in Australia, shows we are confused about whether the nation should remain under a monarchy, with 44 per cent in favour of a republic, 27 per cent opposed, and a whopping 29 per cent undecided.

And, perhaps reflecting recent controversy over the violence inflicted on Indian students in Melbourne and Adelaide, 52 per cent of respondents think we are a racist nation, 45 per cent say we're not and 3 per cent are undecided.

And while 63 per cent rate the standard of living the best thing about Australia today, only 5 per cent rated multiculturalism the best thing.

The Galaxy poll found:

52 PER CENT of respondents think Australia has changed for the worse in the past 20 years, while 39 per cent think we have changed for the better and 9 per cent have not noticed any change.

OLDER Australians noticed the biggest change, with 67 per cent aged over 50 saying they think the country has changed for the worse.

60 PER CENT think the Aussie notion of a fair go still applies, with young people aged between 18 and 34 the most optimistic and 68 per cent of that age bracket agreeing the country still gives people a fair go.

HALF the respondents think we are not sympathetic to the plight of Aborigines, compared to 37 per cent who say we are.

60 PER CENT want us to stick with Advance Australia Fair as our national anthem, with only 14 per cent voting for Waltzing Matilda.

45 PER CENT are against the idea of removing the Union Jack from the Australian flag, while 27 per cent support it and 28 per cent are undecided.

37 PER CENT consider meat pies our national dish, ahead of roast lamb (28 per cent), lamingtons (12 per cent) and pavlovas (11 per cent).

Galaxy principal David Briggs said that while Australians felt they had much to be thankful for, "there is concern within the community that the nation is changing for the worse, with too much focus nowadays on careers and wealth," said.

He said Asian respondents had been the most optimistic, with 62 per cent of those who considered themselves of Asian ethnicity saying they believed Australia was changing for the better.

The findings come as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd implored Australians to keep up the fair-go spirit. In Brisbane yesterday to hand out Australia Day awards, he said Australians were noted for their "fair go" attitude and should put their differences aside. "It doesn't matter where you come from, whether you've grown up rich or poor, whether you've grown up in the country or the city, whether you've been to the finest private schools or the humblest state school," he said.


Alarming bureaucratic meddling in workplace relations

EMPLOYERS are alarmed that businesses and workers could be subject to compulsory arbitration of workplace disputes, after federal Labor's industrial tribunal threw out a proposed deal agreed between one of the nation's biggest employers and a prominent union. Business groups said they were concerned the newly empowered Fair Work Australia was becoming more interventionist after striking out the deal between Woolworths and the shop assistants union.

In what lawyers said was a "significant departure" from previous rulings, the tribunal last week rejected the proposed deal because it did not require nor allow third-party arbitration in relation to a dispute unless both sides agreed.

Workplace Relations Minister Julia Gillard last night acknowledged the ruling was important, and signalled the government could intervene. "The commonwealth understands this is a significant decision and we are getting advice on the matter," a spokeswoman for Ms Gillard said. "We understand Woolworths will be appealing the decision and the commonwealth will then make a decision on whether or not to participate in the proceedings."

Opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz said the decision by commissioner Greg Smith contradicted Ms Gillard's previous position on the workplace laws. "Julia Gillard said compulsory arbitration would not be a feature of the Fair Work legislation, and it was only going to have a very limited scope," Senator Abetz said. "Commissioner Smith's decision doesn't fit in line with what Julia Gillard told the Australian people." Senator Abetz said he believed an appeal against the ruling should be lodged.

Business groups said yesterday they were increasingly concerned that Fair Work Australia was prepared to strike out workplace deals reached in good faith between companies and unions representing employees. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the tribunal had recently rejected another proposed deal, despite a firm and a union agreeing to it.

The chamber's director of economics and industry policy, Greg Evans, said: "While two hot days don't make a summer, and it is early days for the new Fair Work laws, it would nonetheless be a major concern to business if the newly empowered Fair Work Australia was going to regularly throw out agreements made in good faith between employers and employees. "ACCI will be closely monitoring the tribunal's decisions over coming months and will be taking our concerns directly to government if necessary."

The Australian Mines and Metals Association said, "other than when an important part of the economy was being disrupted by a dispute", employers and employees should be able to choose how issues were resolved. "It is important for parties to be able to access Fair Work Australia where required but it's also important that employers and employees are free to choose other dispute-resolution mechanisms," an spokeswoman said. "Taken further, if the employer and employees and, where appropriate, union representing those employees, can all agree on a set of terms and conditions in their workplace, there should be very limited capacity for third parties to prevent those arrangements."

The proposed agreement rejected last Thursday by Mr Smith was to cover workers employed at Woolworths' produce and recycling distribution centre in the Melbourne suburb of Mulgrave. Under its proposed dispute-resolution procedure, either party could refer the matter to the tribunal for conciliation. They could agree to have the matter arbitrated but, if either party did not agree, the matter could not come before Fair Work Australia.

Mr Smith described this provision as a "power of veto" and found it did not meet the requirements of the Fair Work Act. "(The act) must be read as creating an obligation to include a procedure that either requires or allows Fair Work Australia or another independent person to settle disputes," he said.



rloader said...

an agreement with their workers without interference froma In other words, employers no longer have the power to come to an agreement with their workers without a Socialist organisation interfering without justification.
Roll on socialisation of Australia, thanks to PM Rudd, Julia Gillard and their Trade Unions mates.

Rick said...

I'm so sorry to hear about Ms Kerner's problem with her surgery. I understand she may have nerve damage but her back pain may be able to be helped even in the wake of this terrible accident. This is especially true since she went into the procedure because of back pain.
Back pain is often due to functional problems. Because these were apparently never addressed, she may still be able to address them. This may not help her incontinence issues or her sexual or leg complaints though. But if she were to be able to help her back pain, that would still be better than she's doing now.
I am a physical therapist who wrote a book called, Fixing You: Back Pain and hope the information in it can help her. I am very successful in treating many chronic pain conditions. It's not uncommon for people to have the same or more pain after surgeries to correct back pain. That is because the functional roots of the pain were never addressed.
I wish her the best and hope this message can get to her somehow.
Rick Olderman MSPT