Thursday, April 22, 2010
Another failed government computer project
Government dreams of surveillance are constantly foiled by the necessary complexity of computer programming and the potential for errors entailed by that. The longest program I have written had only 1200 lines of code and that was no walk in the park. The longer the program gets, the more likely it is to fail. Only Bill Gates seems able to get millions of lines of code to work
A NATIONAL document verification service intended to clamp down on fake IDs and rising identity theft has been slammed as a failure by the Auditor-General.
More than 18 months past its four-year project deadline, the $25 million IT hub intended to allow authorities to authenticate a vast range of commonly used ID documents issued by legions of federal and state agencies is yet to enrol many of the expected users and is nowhere near fully operational.
The national Document Verification Service (nDVS) has been handling fewer than 10 transactions a day instead of the expected one million daily, while no fraudulent documents were identified in more than 50,000 transactions to the end of November 2009.
"This does not mean that the system produced 50,000 'yes' responses," the audit office says. "Instead, 38 per cent of the (operational system) responses have been false negatives or error responses.
"Testing of the false positives has identified these are attributable to incorrect data entry by users, or data errors due to inconsistencies between the details recorded on the (presented) proof of identity document and the electronic record held by the (responsible) agency."
The findings are from an audit of the federal Attorney-General Department's management of the National Identity Security Strategy (NISS), which found the department had failed to provide the necessary leadership.
Since 2005, the Coalition and Labor governments have allocated $31 million towards identity-related security measures under a Council of Australian Governments agreement on stronger protection of legitimate documents and easier detection of fakes.
"Progress in implementing elements of the NISS by the parties, as originally intended, has been limited," the audit office says. "A range of activities have been undertaken (but) in many cases do not align with the intended outcomes.
"The one budget-funded element, the nDVS, has been built and (some) document-issuing agencies have been connected to the system, albeit more slowly than expected.
"However, the system is rarely used and presently is making little contribution to the objective of strengthening Australia's personal identification processes."
The department said it has begun a review of the strategy and the intergovernmental agreement that underpins it. It notes that the work relating to the COAG initiative is "linked to substantial Commonwealth funding".
"In the absence of any financial incentive to offset the implementation of identity management initiatives, it may be difficult to secure the agreement of all jurisdictions to changes," the department said.
Rifts opening already in Kevin Rudd's health plan
KEVIN Rudd's claim to have delivered historic health reform is under increasing challenge, with doubts emerging about whether it achieves its aim of sidelining inefficient state bureaucracies.
As the government yesterday confirmed that as few as 165 out of the nation's 764 hospitals would be converted to the activity-based funding model the Prime Minister championed as a key driver of a more efficient health service, Canberra has also agreed to take a hands-off approach to the management of local hospital networks. This would give states and territories total control over appointments to the new bodies.
Cracks appeared in the Rudd plan yesterday, with the Australian Medical Association questioning who was in charge of the hospitals and states and territories refusing to co-operate on the proposed local health networks. Mr Rudd is also yet to seal a deal with Western Australia.
Mr Rudd's promise of greater management flexibility looked shaky, after the ACT government ruled out co-operating with NSW to jointly manage the Queanbeyan Hospital - which is just kilometres from central Canberra. Only last month, Mr Rudd visited the Queanbeyan facility to say it should be jointly managed under his reform plan.
The problems emerged as Mr Rudd blitzed the electronic media to promote his health reform plan and hammer Tony Abbott with demands for the opposition's support. The Opposition Leader, attacking the plan as "a bureaucratic muddle", refused to undertake to support legislation putting the reforms in place.
"What it looks like he's done is just create more bureaucracy and it will be less clear than ever just who is in charge of our public hospitals and just who is responsible when things go wrong," Mr Abbott said in Perth.
"No one seems to know and the more you hear Mr Rudd talking about it the less clear it gets."
On Tuesday, the Prime Minister convinced state and territory leaders (with the exception of Western Australia's) to give him control of 60 per cent of the funding of public hospitals and hand direct management to local hospital networks run by community-based boards funded on the basis of their activities, rather than in annual block grants. He backed down on an earlier threat to hold a referendum if states did not agree to surrender a third of their GST revenue to Canberra, agreeing to a pooled funding arrangement with states as its "managers".
Premiers including Victoria's John Brumby cited the concession as the deal clincher and backed the plan after Mr Rudd sweetened the deal with more than $4 billion in upfront funding for hospital beds and improved mental health services.
AMA national president Andrew Pesce, appearing unconvinced on the fine detail, yesterday gave the plan guarded support.
"There is still a concern . . . that state bureaucracies could seek to control local hospital networks," Dr Pesce said. "This would work against the spirit and intent of the COAG agreement and must not be allowed to happen."
Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon's spokeswoman confirmed last night that 165 hospitals would be subject to activity-based funding. But she said those hospitals serviced the majority of Australia's population. "Activity-based funding will mean that we fund these services to be as efficient as possible," she said.
Dr Pesce said the AMA was pleased that activity-based funds had been quarantined and would flow straight to local hospitals.
Earlier, ACT Health Minister Katy Gallagher said she expected her jurisdiction's local health network would be based on the territory's boundaries.
This appeared to be at odds with Mr Rudd's observation last month that the nearby Queanbeyan Public Hospital, in NSW, was part of a community of interest with Canberra. Visiting the facility on March 15, Mr Rudd said it had spare capacity that could be utilised by ACT people awaiting treatment.
"Surely we should start thinking about why a local hospital network in this area doesn't bring together hospitals in Canberra, in Queanbeyan, in Yass and Cooma to make some sensible, local community-of-interest decisions for the future," the Prime Minister said.
Ms Gallagher yesterday backed regional co-operation between interstate networks but said it would be difficult to manage hospitals across borders. "I just don't think that can be delivered in the short term," she said.
Ms Gallagher said a regional approach might be developed in the future.
A spokeswoman for Health Minister Nicola Roxon said cross-border services could be delivered where appropriate and efficient.
"Cross-border arrangements like these already occur in some parts of Australia, such as Albury-Wodonga," she said.
The comments came as Mr Rudd released his formal agreement with the premiers, which made clear the local area networks would be created and governed by the states. The agreement said states would appoint the boards running the hospital networks with the commonwealth specifically excluded from having any influence.
While it said board members were meant to have experience in health or management, the agreement included a clause allowing states to appoint people on the basis of other unspecified qualifications as they saw fit, leaving open the possibility of appointment of political mates.
The agreement also confirmed that states would make the decision about how many local hospital networks would be created under the new arrangements.
Earlier, Mr Rudd told a succession of radio and television interviewers he was satisfied his agreement with the premiers delivered on his initial reform intentions.
The Prime Minister said activity-based funding would drive real improvements and that the decision to enter pooled funding arrangements with the states would not prevent hospitals receiving direct funding from Canberra. He also rounded on Mr Abbott, saying he had a history of negativity. "Doesn't matter what we put forward - he is opposed - always opposed," Mr Rudd told Sky News.
New Australian "health" card will pin you down forever
Everyone already has a numbered Medicare card. Why do we need a new one?
DON’T believe the Rudd Government when it says the health number system it brings in on July 1 can’t be used to create a national identity card. That promise is just as trustworthy as Paul Keating’s infamous L-A-W tax cuts.
This new e-health number sounds innocent and the legislation underpinning it says it can only be used for identifying you in the health system.
However, the Law Council warns that pledge is no protection at all. Any government that wants to extend the use of this health ID number to the welfare system, the tax system or create a national identity card can simply introduce a new law to do so. It is for this reason that voters should be highly suspicious of this new health identification number system.
The Government promised us its new e-health system would work on an opt-in basis. This week we found that was not so.
Bureaucrats at the National E-Health Transition Authority revealed that your new health care identification number will be compulsory. On July 1 you are getting a new 16-digit health identification number whether you want one or not.
If that doesn’t make you suspicious then the fact that the Government has no intention of sending you a letter to tell you about your new e-health identification number should make you even more wary.
Why won’t the Government be notifying you about this number? Maybe because it doesn’t want you to know it’s tagged and identified you without your consent. It hopes that if it doesn’t alert you, you won’t be upset about the way they’ve invaded your privacy and they won’t have to deal with a public backlash.
Even more suspicious is that from July 1 doctors will be using this e-health identity number every time they write a prescription, order your blood tests, your X-rays or refer you to a specialist. And they may even not tell you. So much for being able to “opt in” to the new system.
The Government and doctors say we need this new health ID number because it is impossible to correctly identify an individual patient in the health system.
Medical records and tests are lost as some health providers use Christian names to identify you, others use surnames, often names are misspelled and sometimes people with the same name share the same birth date.
When mistakes occur they can be deadly. A patient could get the wrong medicine, the wrong treatment or, for example, a cancer won’t be picked up because of the confusion.
The other problem medics have is our health records are fractured. Your GP has a set of records, your specialist has another and the hospital system has its own.
To solve this, doctors want a single e-health record where all this information can be shared and accessed by different providers all over the country. Before this can happen they need you to have an e-health number that this e-health record can be attached to.
That sounds like a useful idea and it is. The problem is there are huge privacy implications for such an e-health record. For example, if this record can be seen by any health professional how can you stop your dentist or your dietitian finding you had an abortion or you were treated in a mental facility?
How do you hide the fact you sought a second opinion from your doctor?
Four months before this new system starts, the bureaucrats running it can’t answer these questions. You’ll only get an e-health record if you give your permission to have one set up.
But the bureaucrats running the program can’t say how the system stops a medic creating such a record just for his convenience and without your approval. Nor can they explain how they are going to authorise medical practitioners who might want to access your e-health record or use your e-health number.
Yet they want our representatives to vote this legislation through the parliament and trust them to get these very important details right later.
The Health Department has been working on this e-health project for over a decade but four months before it starts basic privacy details have not been solved.
The Rudd Government’s killer home insulation program shows what can happen when you rush a program through before the details are sorted out. The ramifications of this e-health number issue are just as worrying.
For more than 20 years Australian governments have been trying to inflict a national identity card on us.
In 1987 the Hawke government tried to set up the Australia Card. In 2006 the Howard government tried a smart card that would have linked tax, health and welfare departments and contained a photo ID with a signature and number.
This e-health number provides the building blocks for just such a system. Don’t trust it.
"Green" NSW Labor party ripping heart out of commercial fishing
THE days of being able to buy fresh, local prawns are under threat from Federal and State Labor following the release of plans to prohibit prawn trawling in the Solitary Islands Marine Park, Federal MP Luke Hartsuyker said.
The NSW Government yesterday announced a proposed new plan of management to expand the sanctuary zone from 12 to 20 per cent and to totally prohibit prawn trawling in the park within two years.
“The extreme actions of the NSW Government follow the Rudd Government’s announcement to further assess an area up to 80 kilometres off shore in order to establish a new Commonwealth Marine Reserve," mr Hartsuyker said.
“The local commercial fishing industry understandably feels very threatened by both Federal and State Labor. “The NSW Government has now made it very clear that they want the commercial fishers gone. There is nothing balanced about this approach.
"Both Federal and State Labor want to rip the heart and soul out of the local commercial fishing industry. “If Labor gets its ways we will no longer be able to catch local prawns and consumers will have no choice but to purchase imported seafood."
Mr Hartsuyker said it would not only cost jobs, but would also be a boon for the seafood black market.
“Today’s announcement also highlights why the local fishing and tourism industries are so concerned about the process to establish commonwealth marine reserves," he said. “There are serious concerns that Federal Minister Peter Garrett will be guided by the extreme ideology in his department. "Those concerns are now well based given what the NSW Government has now announced. “The flow on effect to commonwealth waters is scary.
"Sustainable fishing is vital, but I believe it is wrong to blanket ban prawn trawling over the complete area.”
“Gambling our Future on Sunbeams and Sea Breezes”
A Statement by Mr Viv Forbes, Chairman, The Carbon Sense Coalition, Australia
The Carbon Sense Coalition today accused Australian politicians of risking Australian jobs and industry on a quixotic scheme to generate 20% of 2020 electricity from sunbeams and sea breezes.
The Chairman of “Carbon Sense”, Mr Viv Forbes, said that even if this were possible, it could only be achieved by tripling power costs to industry and consumers.
“The proposed Renewable Energy Target Scheme would legislate that 20% of Australia’s electricity must come from “renewable” sources. They tell us this will reduce our production of carbon dioxide and thus reduce global warming.
“This is a foolish gamble.
“Firstly, there is no evidence that man’s production of carbon dioxide controls climate. The pulsating sun, the churning cosmos, the restless oceans, the changing clouds, the swirling jet streams and the erupting volcanoes on land and under-sea are the real climate controllers. Man’s effect on global climate is insignificant.
“Secondly, there is extensive evidence that a warmer world with more carbon dioxide plant food in the air would be a cleaner, greener and more abundant place for most people.
“Thirdly, the only non-carbon fuel that can reliably supply the legislated 20% of Australia’s grid power by 2020 is nuclear fuel. But that is currently prohibited, and there is not enough time for development.
“Man has been using wind and solar power for centuries. They were invaluable for the cottages and cottage industries of yesteryear. They are not suitable to supply large modern cities and industries – they are very dilute energy sources needing large areas of land for collection, and they can never supply continuous power. Every large solar/wind facility in the world has to be backed up 100% by a reliable power source – coal, gas, nuclear, geothermal, hydro or some not-yet-invented large capacity storage unit. Of these, only gas is immediately available and politically acceptable in Australia.
“Compulsory development of wind & solar energy will thus force the wasteful construction of backup gas-fired power plants. Soaring capital and operating costs will then force Australia’s electricity prices to at least treble by 2020.
“But, alas, burning gas also generates the dreaded CO2. And it is not “renewable”.
“Every producer and consumer should be free to use wind and solar power at their own expense, but Canberra should not enforce such job-killing and job-exporting silliness onto every consumer and industry in the land.
“Abolish Renewable Energy Targets – Australia and its climate will be better without them.”