Friday, February 19, 2010

Homeless people not poor

SOME homeless people living on Perth’s streets are spending more than $1000 a day, say homeless service providers. The money is acquired through theft and sex to feed their drug habits, they say.

Colin Medling, a network director of Genesis, a Northbridge-based drop-in centre, said he was aware of some homeless people spending up to $1100 a day on heroin and pharmaceutical drugs.

Mr Medling said homelessness was not on the decrease and people were being forced on to the streets for “myriad reasons”. “Sexual abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, gambling, mental illness – these are just some of the reasons people find themselves out on the streets,” he said. “The basis, however, for all of these problems would be dysfunctional families from the very start.

“Many homeless people are addicted to all sorts of drugs, some of them pharmaceutical, but there are reasons why they are addicted. This is what has to be looked at.” Networking with other groups, such as employment agencies, was one of the prime services provided by Genesis, Mr Medling said.


A Warmist apparatchik at work

Penny Wong ignores the science

AUSTRALIA'S most iconic beaches, including Sydney's Bondi and surfing mecca Bells beach, could erode away or recede by hundreds of meters over the coming century, the nation's Climate Change Minister Penny Wong said yesterday.

But locals aren't so sure, The Australian reports. Bondi veteran Lee Boman has swum at the beach for more than 30 years and was adamant he had seen "no change" to the coastline over that period. "Nothing too drastic that indicates it is going to be changed in the future," said Boman, 53.

Bob Carter, a geologist and environmental scientist with James Cook University in Queensland, said Wong's comments appeared to be an attempt to panic the public. Pointing to historical rates of sea level rise of an average 1.6mm per year globally over the past 100 years, Mr Carter said it was reasonable to expect a total rise of 16cm in a century.

In her opening address to the National Climate Change Forum in Adelaide yesterday, Ms Wong made some alarming predictions for Australia's coast. "Not only are our assets and environments at risk, many of our sandy beaches could erode away or recede up to hundreds of meters over the coming century," she said. "It is possible that with climate change and without large and expensive nourishment programs, Bondi Beach, (Queensland's) Sunshine Coast and (Victoria's) Bells Beach may no longer be the beaches we know today."

She urged people not to listen to critics using isolated errors in the UN climate change panel's report to undermine action, claiming the report had been subject to "breathless, scandalised claims" implying the world had been hoodwinked by scientists.


Addled and secretive Labor party approach to foreign investment

No clear rules. Backroom "deals" preferred. A whiff of hopelessly corrupt and Democrat-dominated Chicago?

ON September 24 last year, the Foreign Investment Review Board's Patrick Colmer rose to speak to the Australia-China Investment Forum in Sydney. It is unlikely he intended his speech to be anything more than a straight-forward exposition of Australia's approach to regulating foreign investment. But that's not how his audience of foreign investment professionals and media heard it.

Colmer said that the Australian government "was much more comfortable when we see investments which are below 50 per cent for greenfields projects and around 15 per cent for major producers". He also noted "there are examples where we have accepted quite readily different arrangements to that".

These remarks threw the foreign investment community into a spin. The Australian's Matthew Stevens even coined the phrase "the Colmer doctrine" to describe what appeared to be a far more explicit statement of the government's policy than had previously been articulated by Wayne Swan.

With the speech having seemingly announced new policy, investment bankers, lawyers and the media descended on the FIRB's website in the reasonable expectation they might obtain a copy of the speech, but none was forthcoming. Journalists' requests to FIRB for copies of the speech were ignored or denied.

This led to speculation Colmer had gone off the range in his characterisation of government policy, adding more confusion to an already incoherent policy on foreign direct investment.

Sharing the foreign investment community's frustration, I sought access to the speech under Freedom of Information legislation. As part of the application, I sought a remission of fees under section 30A of the act, on the grounds that release of the speech would be of public interest and benefit.

The fee remission was denied by Colmer, who was also the decision-maker for the application, on the grounds that "mere curiosity on the part of a person or a substantial section of the public will generally not constitute a public interest ground. I am not satisfied there is a public interest sufficient to warrant the waiver of the $30 application fee in this case". This is an extraordinarily narrow reading of the public interest and public benefit given the reaction to the speech.

Having paid the fee, I received a letter from Colmer enclosing a transcript of the speech. The speech is still not available from the FIRB, but I have posted a copy on my website (www. for the benefit of the many foreign investment professionals and journalists who also suffer from "mere curiosity".

It goes without saying that it should not take an FOI request to obtain a copy of a public speech given by a senior public servant that was designed to explicate government policy. But it is consistent with the FIRB's reputation for secrecy and inscrutability.

It is perversely appropriate that the rest of Colmer's speech to the forum was an appeal for greater secrecy and discretion. Colmer said that "while the foreign investment review system is enshrined in legislation, the fundamental issues at the end of the day are much more policy issues rather than legal issues". He suggested that the media and lawyers were best left out of the process. Prospective foreign investors were effectively told to quietly cut deals with the FIRB.

It is an approach to foreign investment more appropriate to a country like China than Australia.

Treasurer Swan has since announced the FIRB will release "an easy-to-read version of the foreign investment review framework" to be made available in Chinese, Japanese and Indonesian. But the government's policy on foreign investment is not going to be any less confusing in a foreign language than it already is in English. Foreign investors cannot be expected to understand a policy that the government itself cannot properly articulate.


New workplace rules causing trouble

PRIME MINISTER Kevin Rudd faces a High Court challenge over his industrial relations changes by employers who say they've been left worse off. The National Retail Association flagged the move, saying the workplace umpire had "crossed the line" by imposing new costs on firms.

The association's Gary Black said the case would hinge on an undertaking by Workplace Minister Julia Gillard that neither employers nor workers would be disadvantaged. "The legal view is while there would be some flexibility around the interpretation of those parameters, in some cases the tribunal has crossed the line," he said.

Mr Black said retailers had been hit with higher wage costs, which had threatened employment. He said there had been a "sober assessment" of the strategy, and lawyers believed it stood a chance.

The legal manoeuvring came as Opposition Leader Tony Abbott pledged no worker would be disadvantaged if the Coalition was returned to office. Mr Abbott said he would introduce greater flexibility, but workers would not be coerced into bad deals. "Work Choices is dead," Mr Abbott said.

Ms Gillard said the Howard-era system would be brought back under another name. "He would bring back individual statutory employment agreements that can rip basic conditions like penalty rates away and he would take away unfair dismissal rights," she said.

But there have been growing attacks over Labor's workplace overhaul as cases of disadvantaged workers emerge. Labor's award modernisation instructions were purportedly not intended to disadvantage employees nor increase costs for employers.

Mr Black said the High Court route was being considered because the award-making decisions of the workplace umpire, Fair Work Australia, could not be appealed against. He said the association, representing 3700 Australian businesses, intended to seek writs in the High Court to allow the case to proceed. "What award modernisation has delivered is outcomes that would have been completely inconceivable under the old conciliation and arbitration system," he said.



Three current articles below

How a corrupt government health bureaucracy blames the media for its problems

By Anthony Morris, QC, who oversaw a review of Queensland Health in 2005

I HOPE that the Courier-Mail is thoroughly ashamed of itself. Thankfully, Heath Minister Paul Lucas has now explained that the essential problem with Queensland Health is not the failure of the Bligh Government, or its predecessors. Rather, as Lucas assured State Parliament last Tuesday (9 February) – quoting selectively from the unpublished report by British health mandarin Sir Liam Donaldson – the blame rests squarely with the CM and other media outlets, for creating a “media climate” which is “very hostile and adversarial”.

It took Donaldson a mere week in Queensland to produce his $40,000 report, but it seems that Queenslanders are not going to enjoy the full benefit of his words of wisdom. Lucas has reserved to himself the right to choose which extracts are officially published. So we must take Lucas’s word that the short extract which he has quoted is fairly representative of the thrust of the report as a whole, and not taken out of context.

One should not be surprised that, after spending a week in Queensland talking to QH bureaucrats in Charlotte Street, Donaldson has been left with the impression that media hostility is the greatest problem facing the healthcare system. Perhaps, if he had been able to spend a little more time here – perhaps long enough to visit some of the regional hospitals, and speak with some of the patients – he would have gained a slightly different impression.

Lucas, however, should know better. For one thing, he should know that, to the extent the “media climate” has become “very hostile and adversarial”, it is QH’s own doing. Perhaps nobody mentioned to Donaldson the fact that Queensland Health employs – at last count – over 60 full-time equivalent spin-doctors. Perhaps nobody saw fit to tell him that the main functions of this legion of propagandists are to manufacture “good news” stories for QH, to downplay and obfuscate anything which reflects poorly on QH, and, above all, to ensure that the media never get access to anything potentially damaging to QH without a fight.

Lucas should also know of the sterling work done by a small team of world-class journalists – especially the likes of Hedley Thomas, Des Houghton and Patrick Lion at the CM – in exposing major problems in our public heath service. With resources which are just a fraction of QH’s public relations machine, these journalists have repeatedly overcome QH’s defence mechanisms to ensure that the truth is revealed. Little wonder that QH bureaucrats find the “media climate” to be “very hostile and adversarial”!

Lucas’s real complaint – echoing the complaint apparently made to Donaldson by the bureaucrats with whom he consulted during his week in Queensland – is that the CM and other media outlets have the unfortunate habit of telling the truth. And that, of course, is the last thing that any QH bureaucrat wants.

I believe that I have read every report relating to QH which has appeared in the CM over the last five years. Not once, to my recollection, has QH’s army of spin-doctors found anything substantially wrong to correct in the CM’s reporting. So if the CM is to be criticised for anything, it is for informing its readers of facts which QH doesn’t want them to know. In just one issue this week – that of Wednesday 17 February – the CM demonstrated why it is so hated by QH bureaucrats.

One story concerned the demotion of former Royal Children’s Hospital chief Doug Brown, for misappropriating $6,500 of charitable donations to buy beauty treatments for nurses. Strangely, though this incident occurred in 2007, nothing happened until the CM blew the whistle. On the contrary, Brown actually received a promotion whilst supposedly “under investigation”!

No doubt QH bureaucrats are right to blame the CM for the fact that one of their senior colleagues has been punished for his wrong-doing. It remains to be explained why: (a) Brown has merely been demoted, rather than sacked and prosecuted through the criminal courts, for his theft of charitable funds; and (b) taxpayers, rather than Brown, are to reimburse the funds which he stole.

Another story concerned the latest tragedy of QH waiting-list figures. At least taxpayers and patients are now being given some approximation of the truth about this issue, compared with the folk-stories and urban myths previously being peddled by QH’s spin-doctors. But the full truth is yet to emerge, with Mr Lucas welshing on his promise to release dental waiting lists.

And so it goes on. The fact that the Health Minister and his department’s bureaucracy feel threatened by the “media climate” proves only one thing: that the CM, and other media outlets, are doing their job very well.

Lucas said in Parliament last week, “I yearn for the day when we can have some maturity in the health debate in this state”. His idea of “maturity” seems to involve the press writing only what he and his top bureaucrats want the public to know. So there is little wonder that he yearns for such a day to arrive. The rest of us can only hope that it never will.


Two years to see a public dentist in Queensland

THE median waiting time for a public dental checkup is two years - and people with toothache so bad it keeps them awake at night face a month-long wait for a Queensland Health dentist.

New figures show that the average wait for someone with bad tooth pain in Queensland is about 30 days to see a publicly-funded dentist. Those with lost fillings or broken teeth have a median wait of 50 days, while most people wanting a dental checkup from a Queensland Health dentist face a two-year wait.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said the long wait for public dental treatment in Queensland was unacceptable. ``Everybody understands what it's like to have a toothache and the pain that can generate," he said. ``Multiply that over a 30 to 60-day period without any relief's an appalling situation."


Special favours needed to get prompt treatment in a NSW government hospital

Federal MP Belinda Neal was last night embroiled in a new political row as the bitter pre-selection for her marginal seat of Robertson erupted into a war of words over alleged favours for a senior branch member. Last night Ms Neal denied allegations that she had offered to help a 72-year-old senior Labor Party branch figure get her hip-replacement surgery performed earlier if she voted for Ms Neal in the pre-selection.

The allegations have been made by Louisa Sauvage, the acting president and treasurer of the Wamberall/Terrigal branch of the ALP, in Ms Neal's seat of Robertson. Ms Sauvage said Ms Neal visited her home last Friday to ask whether she would sign the MP's preselection nomination form. "She saw me with a walking stick and asked me what was wrong," Ms Sauvage said. "I told her what the problem was and she said, 'I think I might be able to do something for you'. I said that would be nice," Ms Sauvage said. But she said she didn't feel obliged to sign the form at that time. She said she provided her doctor's name and number to Ms Neal.

Ms Sauvage said that on Monday morning Ms Neal called her about 8.30am and told her to promise not to tell anybody "but I think we can organise something for you". "She then told me I had to promise that I would vote for her," Ms Sauvage said.

But last night Ms Neal denied acting improperly. She said: "After I visited Ms Sauvage and requested her support . . . she then raised her pain and her distress at having to wait a long time for an operation. "She asked if I could help. I told her I was happy to try but it was sometimes successful and sometimes not. "Over the next couple of days I investigated and determined it might be possible for her to have her operation earlier if the operation were undertaken by a doctor who might have an earlier available vacancy.

"I rang her on the Monday and told her that I would do a representation on her behalf and that I might have some success if she was prepared to consider another doctor. "She said she would consider that and I said I would go ahead and do a representation. I directed my staff to make this representation and they were sent the morning of the following day."

Ms Sauvage has been on a waiting list with the NSW Health system for three months and was told last week that it would be another 10 months at least before she could expect to have her surgery done. Late yesterday Ms Sauvage said she was phoned unexpectedly by the Wyong Hospital and told that a place had been found for her in April.

Ms Sauvage has been a member of the ALP since 1977. "I don't like to be pushed around," she said. "I felt like a second-class citizen, like she thought I must be stupid."

Ms Neal last night claimed that the allegation that anything was requested in exchange for assistance being provided to a constituent was entirely false. said: "I have made representations on many occasions and am happy to do so for any constituent who needs assistance."

Senior officials in the NSW Labor Party have been made aware of the claims made by Ms Sauvage. Ms Neal is being forced to recontest pre-selection for the seat because fellow Labor Party member Deb O'Neill is challenging her for the Labor endorsement.


1 comment:

Paul said...

"Queensland Health employs – at last count – over 60 full-time equivalent spin-doctors."

At least they're employing Doctors. Not they seem any better at their job than half the Medical Doctors they have these days.