Tuesday, March 30, 2010

List of "banned" websites to be kept secret by Australia's own Geheime Staatspolizei

COMMUNICATIONS Minister Stephen Goering Conroy has agreed that greater oversight of which websites will be banned under the Government's mandatory internet filter is needed but has ruled out making the list public.

The Federal Government plans to introduce a filter aimed at blocking access to illegal material such as child pornography or content refused classification (RC) by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. But the blacklist put together by the communications watchdog has not been made public, raising concerns that governments can impose censorship without proper oversight.

Senator Conroy said conceded greater transparency was needed in terms of what was deemed RC material. "We have a discussion paper that we've issued calling for increased transparency measures," he said. The measures were needed to make sure governments could not slip things onto the list, he said.

However, Senator Conroy said making the list public would undermine what the internet filter policy was designed to achieve. "Out of all the issues in the filter (policy) this is the one that's caused me the most thought because a URL address is just that, it's an address," he told ABC Radio.

"When you publish a list of titles of books that are banned, or movies that are banned, you don't give access to the materials by producing that list. "The problem when you produce a list of URLs is you are actually giving the address of where to go and look."

Some of the world's largest providers of internet services, including Google and Yahoo, have criticised the Government's plans to introduce a filter, describing the move as heavy-handed.

Google said last week that while protecting the free exchange of ideas and information could not be without some limits, people should retain the right to freedom of expression.

The US administration has also raised concerns about the plan. A State Department official has reportedly said it was contrary to US foreign policy of encouraging open internet access and the spread of economic growth and global security.


Government-provided health insurance condemns man to death

ROBIN Stevens is dying of prostate cancer and he can no longer get the drug that was helping him. If he had breast cancer, he would still be eligible for Taxotere, a chemotherapy drug. His wife Angela says the powerful breast cancer lobby has ensured women have access to the "gold medal" treatment, but men don't have the same benefit.

His doctors have written to state and federal politicians, saying that without Taxotere, his cancer - which has spread to his bones - will "increase and overwhelm him".

His GP has written to federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon, asking her to review the case and allow further treatments. "Unfortunately, without this treatment of Taxotere, I fear that Robin's bony metastasis will increase and overwhelm him," he writes.

Mr Stevens' urologist says he has responded well to the drug and that it should be the main part of his therapy. Mrs Stevens says he received 10 shots of Taxotere, which is all men are allowed under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and then pushed to get three more. Another cycle would cost up to $30,000.

"We have . . . been advised that because the women's breast cancer lobby groups are very proactive and far more organised than men's lobby groups, they . . . have been successful in having unlimited access to the drug Taxotere," she wrote in a letter to politicians. "I would like for my husband to have every opportunity to have an extended quality of life."

Associate Professor Bogda Koczwara, head of medical oncology at Flinders Medical Centre, said the Government had to consider cost-effectiveness with every PBS listing. "There is often that sentiment . . . that some cancers have better advocacy," she said.

The Health Department said the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee used sound, evidence-based principles to decide which products should be subsidised, or restricted. The same requirements were used in all cases, to ensure consistency and fairness, a spokeswoman said.


Nursing cuts in South Australia endanger patients

COUNTRY hospitals are being ordered to slash frontline staff, raising fears patient safety will be put at risk, the state's peak medical body has claimed.

The Australian Medical Association told the Sunday Mail that the Health Department had written to regional nursing directors and instructed them to streamline nursing rosters under a major review of staffing levels.

The AMA claims the Country Health SA (CHSA) review, which affects 36 hospitals, is aimed at delivering savings of about $22 million from the country health budget.

The Sunday Mail has obtained the results of a health department review of staffing figures at the Port Lincoln Hospital that indicated it had about 130 "excess" nursing shifts per fortnight - or 13 full-time equivalent positions.

AMA western area representative and Port Lincoln GP Dr Sue Baillie said the review was accompanied by a letter to the hospital's nursing director stating the hospital was over-staffed and had to reduce staffing levels.

Dr Baillie said losing 130 shifts would be the equivalent to losing a quarter of the hospital's fortnightly roster and claimed doing so could force the closure of an entire ward.

"It will mean job cuts but the most critical thing is staffing-to-patient ratio is going to be dangerously low," she said, adding that other major country hospitals had been sent similar letters telling them to review their rosters.

"To achieve this target, they are talking about having three nurses on at night to cover accident and emergency and two wards . . . which is positively dangerous.

"We have had increased services and demand, and increased patient loads but staffing levels haven't changed in the 17 years I've been here, yet we are supposed to reduce them further."

Details of the review of nursing levels come as the Government and Australian Nursing Federation (ANF) are due to enter wage negotiations next month. As part of its claim, lodged on Thursday, ANF SA branch secretary Elizabeth Dabars said the union would be demanding an "increase not a decrease" in the workforce.

"It's up for negotiation but certainly we are not looking to reduce staffing levels," she said. "We don't necessarily object to the (review) process but we will be objecting if there is any impact on patient care.

"They are saying at this point there will be no change made, not at this point in any event, and no change without discussion; it's something we need to be diligent and vigilant with."

In an emailed statement, chief executive George Beltchev said CHSA was expanding hospital and community-based health services across the state, and was looking at the best way to manage demand and allocate funds.

"No recommendations have been made and the ANF will be formally consulted before any changes are made to staffing arrangements," he said. "To help with this, a working group has been set up with membership including senior nursing staff, the chief executive of CHSA and representatives of the ANF."

He said funding for country health services had grown 66 per cent since 2002, 663 extra nurses had been employed in country health, while the number of doctors had doubled.


Australia's refugee policy sunk by 100th boatload

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has reached an unwelcome milestone after the 100th boat carrying asylum seekers arrived under his watch. Yesterday's embarrassing century was immediately seized on by Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who claimed Labor had lost control of Australia's borders. And with hundreds of boat people expected to arrive in coming months, the Government is bracing for a voter backlash when the election is held later this year.

Adding to the Government's concerns was yesterday's escape by three Chinese nationals from Sydney's Villawood Detention Centre. That takes to seven the number of escapes from the centre in the past month and eight for the year so far.

Anxious Government MPs admit voters are growing increasingly concerned about the breach of Australia's borders and many are demanding tougher action.

In the latest incident, two boats carrying a total of 85 asylum seekers were intercepted by naval vessels, one near Christmas Island yesterday and another near Ashmore Reef northwest of Western Australia on Sunday night. The refugees were last night on their way to Christmas Island.

With the election year less than three months old, a near record 32 boats have already arrived in Australian waters. They have carried 1574 asylum seekers - most from Afghanistan which has seen increased hostilities following the resurgence of the al-Qaeda-aligned Taliban.

The Rudd Government claims the surge in boat people arrivals is due to global factors, however the Opposition blamed what it called Mr Rudd's softer border policies.

Fresh from completing his weekend triathlon, Mr Abbott hit out at the Government for softening its immigration policies. "The Government plainly is at sixes and sevens over this," Mr Abbott said. "Today the 100th boat has arrived at Christmas Island since the Rudd Government abandoned the Howard government's border policies.

"We've had 89 asylum seekers transferred from Christmas Island to Villawood, allegedly for security reasons, and yet some are escaping. This really is a Government that has lost control of Australia's borders."

The Opposition reported that the hot button issue was causing major concerns in marginal seats, particularly in regional areas. It will run a tough election campaign arguing that Mr Rudd's decision to scrap the Coalition's tougher border-control measures had been a key factor in the increased arrivals.

Some Labor MPs are reporting an increase in community concern over the refugee issue. "It's not going to lose us an election but it is causing us grief," one senior Labor MP said.

But the Government is unlikely to revert to Mr Howard's tougher border protection measures, which included temporary protection visas and offshore processing under the so-called Pacific Solution.

The Government is now being forced to send planeloads of asylum seekers on to the mainland as it tries to prevent the Christmas Island detention centre from being clogged with new arrivals.

Apart from the 89 moved from Christmas Island to Villawood on Saturday, another 51 detainees were transferred to various mainland locations last week. The Immigration Department has a facility at Darwin on standby to take the spillover from Christmas Island but the Government is trying to avoid using this. Another transfer from Christmas Island is expected to be made today, with many of them granted visas.

Senator Evans has said the 89 already transferred to Villawood were on a "removal pathway" after having their claims for asylum rejected.


1 comment:

Paul said...

"Senator Conroy said making the list public would undermine what the internet filter policy was designed to achieve."

Well he's right, but not in the way he wants us to believe. I still amintain that Australia is being used as the labroatory here and if those who want this judge it a success from their point of view it'll be rolled out in bigger Western Nations with the same kind of "marketing" theme about "protecting the children".