Friday, April 30, 2010

More Multicultural delights: Polynesian versus African

From what I have seen, Africans do tend to talk loudly on their mobile phones, and anybody who does that is annoying and should in my view be reminded of good manners. The reminder in this case was undoubtedly extreme, however.

I actually have used a rather good remedy in similar situations. Without looking at the offending party, I have myself spoken up in an exceptionally loud voice saying at some length how ignorant it is for people to talk so loudly that other people have to listen to their inane conversations. I have found that remedy to be effective but you probably have to be pretty assertive to use it.

A BRISBANE father-of-four brutally bashed a young rail commuter for speaking too loudly on his mobile telephone, a court has been told. The Brisbane District Court was this morning told Popani Fala Tovale, 40, fractured the nose and left cheek of Chernor Hadi Bah, 20, after punching him up to three times in a so-called “phone rage” attack while travelling on a Brisbane to Beenleigh commuter train on September 6 last year.

The court was told Tovale, a Samoan national, attacked Mr Bah after calling him an "African" and ordering him to get off the passenger train at Coopers Plains, 15km south of Brisbane, for talking too loudly on his phone.

Prosecutor Jacob Robson said Mr Bah had been on the phone speaking with his father and was in the process of trying to end the call when Tovale repeatedly punched him in the head -- leaving him with a fractured nose, left cheek bone and numerous deep lacerations.

He said Tovale told Mr Bah: "Hey, get off the train you African. Why are you talking on the phone?" "Just get off this train or move away from here."

Mr Robson said Mr Bah replied: "I think I am allowed to talk on the phone if I don't talk loudly."

The court was told Tovale punched Mr Bah so hard he was knocked unconscious and later required surgery to insert a plate to repair his cheek and suture his numerous facial cuts.

Mr Robson said Tovale later told police he attacked Mr Bah because he was in a "bad mood" after having an argument with his sister. He said although Tovale called Mr Bah an "African" it appeared their was no suggestion the attack was not racially motivated. "It's not a premeditated racial attack," he said. "The main motivation was (Tovale) was in a bad mood and it was the way (Mr Bah) was talking that upset him."

Tovale was sentenced to 18-month's jail after pleading guilty to one count of grievous bodily harm. He will be eligible for parole on October 30.

The Crown also tendered a victim impact statement, written by Mr Bah, which revealed he now feared people of "islander appearance."

Judge Greg Koppenol, in sentencing Tovale, said unprovoked and brutally violent attacks in public places would not be tolerated by the courts. "There was no provocation for this brutal attack," he said. "Brutal violence leading to serious injury should attract the appropriate (jail) sentence."


New national curriculum looking fairly promising at this stage

The history is predictably one-sided but Rudd comes out in favour of phonics and grammar. But what the teachers actually do could be another story. That phonics and grammar are evil is almost a religion to some of them

ENGLISH and maths classes will return to basics, history will explore Sorry Day alongside Anzac Day and science will be made more interesting.

The changes form the backbone of a radical overhaul of teaching in Australia that will bring all states and territories under a single curriculum.

An eight-page liftout inside The Courier-Mail print edition today provides a comprehensive guide to the drafts of the first four subjects that span Prep to Year 10 and will be taught in classrooms from next year.

Under the changes, Prep students will be taught to count to 20, learn what a scientist is, write in upper and lower case letters and talk about how families share their history.

Within three years children will learn to tell the time on analogue and digital clocks and research a famous astronomer and by the time they finish primary school, students will be using paragraphs to write well structured English texts.

When they reach Year 10, students will be working with trigonometric ratios and discussing the major economic and political debates in Australia during the 20th century, including workplace reforms.

Parents will be able to follow the curriculum online to get an unprecedented look at their child's learning at every stage of schooling.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the new national approach would end the "pretty patchy standards" in many classrooms and give parents confidence that their children will learn the essentials wherever they live.

"When it comes to teaching the basics, let me be very frank – what we need to make sure is our kids know how to sound out letters, that they know grammar, that they know punctuation, that they know adding up, taking away, counting. These essential elements must be part of the basic knowledge in the school education of all Australian kids," he said.

Queensland has consistently trailed the nation in literacy and numeracy and the curriculum is a centrepiece of the Government's election promise to deliver an "education revolution". Premier Anna Bligh said a national curriculum would ensure Queensland students would not be disadvantaged.

The draft reveals Prep students will be expected to learn more and play less while Queensland's Year 7 students will face greater demands.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Norm Hart said the Year 7 and Prep curriculums would be a challenge, with "a significant jump" required from both students and teachers. Queensland is one of three states to currently have Year 7 in primary and not high school.

Mr Hart said the Year 7 science and history curriculum was closer to what was currently being taught in Year 8. "It's clear in the science curriculum that there is a significant jump in the expected achievement levels," he said.

Early Childhood Teachers Association president Kim Walters said it was a sad day for Queensland's play-based Prep. "Outdoor play will suffer because of this, I am very disappointed," she said.

The Opposition yesterday slammed the history and science components of the curriculum, saying it was left-wing and contained too much focus on indigenous Australians.

"If we get elected this year, we'll entirely review the national curriculum and if it doesn't measure up to what we expect then, the Coalition will scrap it and start again," education spokesman Christopher Pyne said.

Teachers in 155 schools will trial the subjects for the next three months.

Senior curriculum will be released next month for consultation and draft curriculum for geography, arts, and languages will follow next year.


Australian PM commits $2.4bn to 'non-feasible' carbon emissions storage

AUSTRALIA'S focus for slowing climate change - the planned storage of power-station carbon dioxide emissions - has been dismissed by a US study as "profoundly non-feasible".

The Rudd and Bligh governments have made carbon capture and storage (CCS) - under which planet-warming emissions from power stations would be removed and stored underground permanently - their biggest single direct investment in new technologies to fight global warming.

The Rudd government is spending $2.4 billion on CCS projects and is putting $100 million a year into the Global CCS Institute it created last year. The Bligh government is spending $102.5 million on the ZeroGen CCS project near Rockhampton and other CCS projects.

Michael Economides and Christine Ehlig-Economides, in a study published in the Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering, found that for one commercial-scale coal-fired power station, the underground storage area for the removed CO2 emissions would have to be "enormous, the size of a small US state".

"The findings clearly suggest (geological CO2 sequestration) is not a practical means to provide any substantive reduction in CO2 emissions, although it has been repeatedly presented as such by others," they wrote.

"(Storing CO2 in a closed system) will require from five to 20 times more underground reservoir volume than has been envisioned by many, and it renders geologic sequestration of CO2 a profoundly non-feasible option for the management of CO2 emissions."

Michael Economides, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Houston University, said official figures showed the Sleipner reservoir - which is offshore Norway and often held up as an example of carbon storage - injected only a third of the CO2 that one modestly sized power plant would produce.

"Also, our information is that the CO2 injected at Sleipner is a lot less than 1 million tons per year and is closer to 1 million per three years. The whole thing is preposterous," he told The Courier-Mail by email.

Scientists say annual global carbon emissions - mainly from using coal, oil and gas - must peak about 2015 then fall away quickly to give a decent chance of keeping average temperature and sea-level rises manageable for most countries.

In Adelaide this month, University College London professor of chemical engineering and director of UCL's Centre for CO2 Technology, Stefaan Simons, called on Australian policymakers to rethink their pursuit of CCS.

In a lecture event co-sponsored by oil and gas firm Santos, Prof Simons said shifting the world's electricity reliance to coal and gas plants equipped with CCS may take so long that devastating levels of climate change would be locked in.

"(CCS) is potentially a dangerous diversion - soaking up time, resources and funding that could be better and more readily applied to achieving a low carbon future.

"I challenge our energy policymakers to reassess whether ... we should continue to use fossil fuels as our primary energy source. We could replace fossil fuel electricity production with that from renewable sources," Prof Simons said.

The Global CCS Institute said it was considering the US study findings.

A spokesman for the Queensland Government said it didn't know if any of its CCS research partners would be looking at the US findings.

State energy minister Stephen Robertson last week said Queensland had taken the next step to establishing "safe, long-term underground storage of greenhouse gases from coal-fired power stations".

He released a tender for proponents to explore land in central and southwest Queensland that may be suitable for underground storage of CO2.

Mr Robertson said Queensland and Australia would continue to rely on coal as a major source of power generation.


Now you see it, now you don't: building disappears

And the Rudd government is in denial

LAST Friday Marra Creek Public School's six students had a $150,000 building in their playground. When they returned to class this week, it was gone.

The subcontractor who supplied the 18- by 14-metre roof and the six steel posts supporting it arrived at the school south-east of Bourke on Saturday with a crane and removed the covered outdoor learning area he had helped to build.

He had waited a month to be paid under the federal government's Building the Education Revolution $16.2 billion economic stimulus scheme.

"We didn't run a bulldozer through it, but we pulled it down," said Jarrod Kennedy, a welder from Dubbo. "We employ 15 people. We've put on some more people from January because the government stimulus package came through. Then this happened."

Mr Kennedy said his company, Jarrod Kennedy Welding, was owed $30,000 for the project and $30,000 for another economic stimulus job elsewhere. "On my invoice it states that until [I am] paid for the property, it's mine," Mr Kennedy said.

The builder of the covered area, TCT Construction from Dubbo, has gone into liquidation. The liquidators had told Mr Kennedy it could take 18 months to pay TCT's bills and even then he might receive only 10¢ in the dollar, he said.

"The stimulus package is there to create jobs and, come the end of the job, we're not getting paid."

The Parkes MP, Mark Coulton, supported Mr Kennedy's actions. "This was supposed to be a stimulus package to create employment and now they're not going to be paid," Mr Coulton said.

"I don't blame him at all. He can't afford to lose $60,000.

"I'm laying the blame right at [the Education Minister's] feet. Julia Gillard could have implemented checks and balances."

Ms Gillard said there would be no investment in school infrastructure if the federal opposition had its way.

"It's hardly surprising that Mr Coulton is criticising the government's investment in schools.

"He and [the Opposition Leader, Tony] Abbott voted against every dollar and in every school," she said in a statement.

"If it was up to them, the projects never would have happened at all." The NSW Department of Education, which manages the BER scheme, said the subcontractor would have to raise the issue with the company that engaged it.

"The managing contractor has confirmed to the BER program office it has paid its contractor for the work undertaken," a spokesman for the department said. "They paid this contractor because they received confirmation that they had paid their subcontractors."


Former ally David Penington savages Kevin Rudd's 'status quo' health reforms

ONE of the nation's eminent medical experts has turned against the Rudd government's health reforms, declaring they will make little difference to how hospitals are run.

David Penington, a senior fellow at Melbourne's Grattan Institute who initially backed the deal Kevin Rudd struck with the states, said yesterday he was "appalled at the lack of any agreement on governance that differs from the status quo", and had little faith any real change would be forthcoming from the reforms.

He also deplored the fact there was no commitment to the key issue of "a vastly better interface" between the hospital sector and primary care, or aged care and mental health - "all issues of critical importance for the longer term".

Like some other experts, Professor Penington was cautiously positive about the deal struck at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra on April 20, but said his views had changed since reading the 56-page formal agreement circulated the following day. "Inevitably, this (COAG) trading, as always, degenerated into arguments about money and control, not about healthcare reform," Professor Penington told The Australian.

"The thing that will come back to bite Kevin Rudd will be that he will have achieved nothing to improve quality of hospital services, as they just continue to be controlled on numbers, as in every state at present."

This involved a disproportionate focus on budgets and not always meaningful measures for variables such as waiting times, instead of a more direct focus on patient outcomes.

While it was essential that the local hospital network boards included and heeded doctors and nurses, the "fact that implementation . . . is now to be left to meetings between commonwealth and state bureaucrats leaves me feeling no real reform will be delivered", Professor Penington said.

The broadside comes at a critical time for the government's reform push, with Western Australia apparently no closer to signing the deal and doctors in other states increasingly restive over some of its details and omissions. Forty of the country's top health experts, including top federal government figures, are gathering for a forum in Sydney today to discuss the health reform agenda.

John Dwyer, another senior doctor and longstanding reform advocate who has been critical of aspects of the proposals, said last night he, too, had found fresh points of concern in the agreement detailing the COAG deal. One was the doubt hospitals would have the computers necessary to track their activities in the detail needed to claim payments under the proposed activity-based funding formula.

Professor Dwyer said he attended a meeting at a leading Sydney hospital yesterday where the doctors agreed the process was "going to be a nightmare".

"We couldn't see how it was going to happen without a huge increase in bureaucracy," Professor Dwyer said.

Another point was the requirement for clinicians who joined the governing councils that run the local hospital networks to be drawn where possible from other networks.

"That just shows that whoever drafted that doesn't have a clue about the importance of local management," Professor Dwyer said. "I do think this (reform process) has been an opportunity lost . . . nothing is more important than seeing if we can't salvage something that would give us genuine reform."

Some experts also have concerns about the plans, with former federal Health Department deputy secretary Philip Davies, now a health policy academic at the University of Queensland, saying it was a matter of "regret" that COAG's compromise deal had weakened Mr Rudd's original plan.

However, some experts said they considered the COAG compromise an improvement on the original. Jane Hall, professor of health economics at the University of Technology Sydney, said the plan would in time allow a different approach to planning and long-term funding that would benefit patients in the long run.


Dr Penington in his own words below

THE Council of Australian Governments meeting on April 19 and 20 was the culmination of events with origins in Kevin Rudd's political commitment in 2007 to take over and fix the health system if the states had not done so. Following the prolonged study by the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission and more than 100 hospital visits across the nation by the Prime Minister and Health Minister Nicola Roxon, hopes were high. In reality, the COAG communique is a mixed bag and must be tested as to whether it represents a workable framework for reform.

Rudd rightly discerned the system was at a tipping point in respect of funding for the future. In every Western country, health costs are rising well ahead of the consumer price index. This is even more critical in the light of costs associated with our ageing population detailed by this year's Intergenerational Report in January. The capacity to fund future growth has now been resolved by COAG, subject to ongoing negotiations with Western Australia, with significant funding from the commonwealth with its access to growing revenue.This is the one big tick.

The premiers at COAG were concerned primarily with public hospitals, always a big issue for state budgets. These views were put most stridently by Victorian Premier John Brumby.

Concern in the community, however, is for the quality of health care more broadly and people's access to it. Primary care, and its interface with hospitals, matters as much as hospitals themselves, as services increasingly will be delivered outside hospitals.

Aged care is becoming an urgent issue. There is a need for elderly people to be looked after in or near their homes, with expanded community nursing and nurse practitioners and access to rehabilitation hospitals and services, rather than seeing the elderly as a negative issue for public hospitals, just needing more nursing homes.

Mental health entails hospital and community services and needs urgent development. There is a crying need for better preventive health services.

These are all seen in the COAG communique as commonwealth responsibilities, but there is nothing in the proposed governance arrangements to assure us that they will operate as a unified system.

During the past 15 years, states have seen controlling hospital costs as their prime concern, although taking note of public complaints about waiting times in emergency departments and waiting lists for surgery. Hospitals are managed against budgets, numbers of patient separations and waiting times. In NSW and Queensland, management is controlled directly by health departments. In Victoria, former premier Jeff Kennett had established network boards, filled largely by people with finance and business backgrounds, used to management by numbers and with little or no understanding of medical issues. Casemix funding somehow removed a need to understand what was being done.

Calls for intervention in 2007 were stimulated by events in Bundaberg, Queensland, later reinforced by happenings at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, and then in the trauma unit at the Alfred in Melbourne, all hospitals performing well on their budgets and numbers.

The Garling review in NSW identified the problem as being due primarily to the profound separation between management and medical staff, who felt they no longer had any respected role in their hospitals.

Many times every day, doctors need to make difficult, urgent decisions, often on incomplete evidence. The tradition of professional review, now termed "clinical governance", is a crucial component of ensuring continuing safety and quality of a hospital's performance. Public hospitals are there to provide medical services to sick people, not to provide numbers to state governments, and where medical staff members feel ignored by management, these processes of review fall quickly away. Moreover, university-linked teaching hospitals are the standard setters with their clinical research, testing the quality of outcomes and assessing the value and safety of new developments.

This largely was ignored by the NHHRC and is in danger of being lost following COAG.

Rudd, after his hospital visits, recognised that management needed to be delegated to hospital network boards and that these should include medical input. He indicated support for hospital research. If boards are to be appointed and supervised by the state bureaucracies, however, there is little to give confidence that change will occur in hospital management.

NSW introduced medical executive positions in all its hospitals after the Garling review, but Victoria believes its hospitals are fine. The problem, though, has not been confined to NSW.

The further issue of how the local network boards will relate to the sectors of primary care, aged care, mental health and other services remains for oversight by states' officers with limited background in these areas.

The communique refers to new state-based "joint intergovernmental authorities" that will have "no policy or operational role" but act as "funding authorities". This was no doubt agreed in the final stages to get across the line, leaving no role for the commonwealth to monitor use of the funds in terms of hospital performance.

In reality we need, state by state, a joint health service authority overseeing co-ordination in planning and service delivery for all sectors. To use state bureaucracies to oversee hospitals is sensible to avoid duplication, but there must be a framework to ensure approved national policies are delivered through reporting to such bodies.

As the commonwealth is the main funder, it should lead such bodies, bringing planning and delivery of its own sectors into joint planning and delivery.

In Britain, the National Health Service had become strangled by bureaucratic regulation. The reforms led recently by Lord Darzi have vastly improved services there, with the principle that at every level, there must be a partnership between doctors and administrators. He used medical schools as the principle tool for this package. We need similar changes here, embracing the whole system.

The proposed further consultations that will lead to the COAG meeting on June 30 do not give confidence.


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