Thursday, February 11, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks the wheels are coming off Rudd's global warming bandwagon

Victoria to ape failed British hospital reform

It leads either to "fudging" the figures or to hasty and inappropriate treatment -- causing death in some instances

WAITING times for patients at Victorian hospital emergency wards would be slashed by half to four hours as part of sweeping health reforms. Victoria is already testing a four-hour target for emergency departments in three Melbourne hospitals. The Brumby Government is closely monitoring the trial before deciding whether to roll out a four-hour benchmark across the state.

South Australian Premier Mike Rann - who faces a tough election fight on March 20 - is leading a national push for the four-hour target. He has been lobbying other premiers and Canberra to back the health plan - with mixed success. NSW is understood to be lukewarm, believing it would require thousands of extra hospital beds, but Victoria and Western Australia are proceeding with the target in a bid to clear emergency wards.

The plan comes as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is finishing a suite of reforms that he hopes the states will sign in the next few months. It is believed the PM is keen to offer the states extra money to speed up elective surgery waiting lists. He also supports a reform suggested by his Health and Hospitals Reform Commission to pay at least 40 per cent of the "efficient cost" of every public patient admission.

Mr Rudd, who has backed away from a threat to take over the public hospitals, yesterday raised the prospect of introducing hospital boards. This would give local communities greater control over their hospitals - but critics claim it would cost tens of millions of dollars in extra bureaucracy.

The Rudd Government has been working through options with the states ahead of a Council of Australian Governments summit, scheduled for March or April. But the states are far from united on the best way forward for health reform. The plan to introduce a four-hour target for emergency departments highlights the national split. Supporters point to the success of a four-hour target introduced by Britain in 2004. The target, along with extra cash, has produced a big [superficial] improvement at UK emergency departments.

Some concerns have been raised that hospital staff had compromised the level of patient care in order to meet the tougher benchmark. At present, patients who have been rushed to emergency departments have to wait up to eight hours to be treated and either discharged or admitted to a hospital bed.

Canberra appears lukewarm to requests from South Australia for extra money. Health Minister Nicola Roxon said the Rudd Government had increased health and hospital funding by 50 per cent to a record $64 billion.


Political snobs risk turning Barnaby into a martyr

The usual leftist arrogance and reliance on abuse

Ahhh, now we get it. Lindsay Tanner is smarter than that “freak show” Barnaby Joyce. In case we didn’t get the message in parliament last week (we can be a bit slow sometimes) Mr Tanner spelled it out again on Meet the Press on the weekend. Not only is Senator Joyce “off the planet”, his team mate Joe Hockey is a “lightweight”.

Yesterday in parliament he repeated the lesson again for those who’d wagged the last one or drifted off while doodling on our pencil cases. Mr Hockey is “out to lunch”, and again he filled us in on Barnaby. According to Mr Tanner, Senator Joyce is evidence of “a very big question mark over the leader of the opposition’s judgment for appointing him in the first place.”

For someone who’s so much smarter than his counterpart, Mr Tanner seems to have skipped the chapter in Politics for Dummies called “Australians don’t like smug politicians who reckon they’re smarter than everyone else.”

A strong collective wisdom has formed in the commentary about the Coalition Finance spokesman that he’s a dolt. Take last week’s coverage of Senator Joyce’s comments about the foreign aid budget.

* The Age: Joyce loses the plot on international aid

* The Sydney Morning Herald: Barnaby Joyce in policy whacko-land. (They’re the same piece, different mastheads, different equally snotty headlines.)

* In Irate woman interrupts Liberal trip on we read how Tony Abbott had “slapped down” his front bencher.

* And here on The Punch: Barnaby’s on his own with his comments on foreign aid.

Personally I think our foreign aid budget should be increased, not decreased, for two reasons: it’s the right thing to do, and the smart thing to do. But it is naive in the extreme to think that’s the only view out there. There’s not many people ringing talk back radio demanding we boost our funding to our troubled pacific neighbours or sling a few billion the way of Africa.

And was Saturday’s paper’s filled with people condemning Senator Joyce? No. Instead in the Daily Telegraph there were letters like:

* “Just how much longer do we have to put up with the childish antics of the Federal Labor Party who now resort to pathetic name-calling of Barnaby Joyce? It’s good to see Barnaby Joyce didn’t lower himself to their level,” wrote Gail Marsh of Riverstone.

* “Senator Barnaby Joyce is one of the few politicians who is making sense. His foreign aid comment made a lot of sense. We are billions in debt and borrowing more and more ... and we are still offering foreign aid. We should be looking after ourselves first,” wrote Bonny Nobrega of Earlwood.

* (Completely off track but worthy of sharing is this letter to the Tele from Susie Colvin of Bilgola Plateau: “All this talk about Tony Abbott wearing budgie smugglers is childish but I would like to say to his detractors that he at least appears to have a budgie to smuggle.”) [For overseas readers, she means that his manhood is evident. "Budgie Smugglers" is slang for a brief swimming costume]

I wonder how these people feel when Mr Tanner calls the man with whom their views accord a “freak show”? Or when commentators say his position makes him politically untenable? Pretty cheesed off I imagine.

The government’s “the opposition is stupid” theme was expanded during Question Time yesterday when Kevin Rudd called Tony Abbott “the straight talker from central casting.” Taking the piss out of people for speaking in coherent sentences is a high-risk political strategy, especially from the man who coined the phrase “programmatic specificity.”

I would have thought the left, and the more mainstream elements of the conservative side of politics would have learned how ineffective it is to write someone off as a half-wit when that strategy didn’t work with a certain red-headed fish and chip shop owner from Southern Queensland. You don’t have to agree with Barnaby Joyce but mocking him is going to have the effect of cementing his existing support base, and possibly giving him a leg up with some people who were undecided but don’t like smug bastards.


Sydney bids to poach Indian students from "racist" Melbourne

SYDNEY is making a bid to poach Indian students from Melbourne with a campaign to promote NSW as a safe study destination. NSW Premier Kristina Keneally said some Indians were failing to differentiate between the two cities after claims in India of racist violence in Melbourne.

Premier John Brumby has repeatedly denied claims that Victoria is racist. He has called on the services of cricket king Shane Warne to try to smooth relations in India. Opposition Leader Ted Baillieu this week said Mr Brumby was burying his head in the sand about the problem, claims backed by Indian student leaders.

Ms Keneally said a minister would be sent to India to tell education representatives students would be helped into safe accommodation in NSW. "The difference between Sydney and Melbourne may be lost in the overseas market. We want to send a message NSW is a welcoming place for international students," Ms Keneally said.


Australian bank the world's best for profits

A CAGEY interest rate strategy and lower bad debt charges have propelled Commonwealth Bank to a record first-half cash profit of $2.94 billion. The country's largest home lender and deposit-taker boosted the profitability of its lending operations by driving volumes through the Government's first-home-buyer grant and keeping a tight lid on costs. The bumper result, which puts the bank on track for a $6 billion full-year bottom line, was signalled to investors two weeks ago when CBA upgraded its earnings guidance. It establishes CBA as the world's most profitable retail bank with a return on equity of 18.5 per cent.

Chief executive Ralph Norris was upbeat about CBA's prospects as the Australian economy recovered from the global downturn. He defended CBA against claims it had gouged customers to achieve the stunning cash result, which was 54 per cent up on the previous first half. "There's nothing worse than a bank that can't make money," Mr Norris said.

"Over the last six months the outlook for the global and domestic economy has improved to the extent that Australia now appears to be on the road to a sustainable economic recovery. That is likely to bring with it a gradual improvement in demand for credit in the 2010 calendar year accompanied by continued upward pressure on our funding costs."

Mr Norris, now in his fifth year at the helm, said he wanted to continue as CEO. "I'm sticking around a for a while yet - although that's at the board's discretion," he said. He said the bad debt cycle, which eroded the performance of the banking sector in the past two years, had probably peaked after CBA's charge for impaired loans fell 29 per cent.

The recovery on global equities markets also fired the result, with investment activities generating a $142 million return compared with a loss of almost $200 million in the previous first half.

However, the bank can thank its depositors for helping to keep a lid on funding costs. CBA did not gouge most borrowers in the December half, relying instead on heavy volume growth to drive interest revenue. The interest take from home and personal borrowers actually fell. It was depositors who were forced to absorb the pain, with the bank delaying rate increases on leading deposit products until the end of the reporting period. The average interest paid by CBA to depositors with transaction accounts and fixed deposits fell to 3.48 per cent from 5.52 per cent a year earlier. The bank's interest margin rose because of this sharp decline in the cost of raising retail deposits.


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