Friday, April 23, 2010


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG thinks Kevvy's health reforms will be about as successful as all his previous schemes

A government health Dept. that has to hire security guards to protect itself from its own medical workers!

Can it get any worse than this?

PRIVATE security guards have been enlisted for round-the-clock protection of payroll staff amid fears about their safety as the Queensland Health pay fiasco continues to worsen.

The guards have been posted at payroll hubs across the state at a cost industry sources estimated would be $7000 a day.

Australian Services Union branch secretary Julie Bignell demanded the private security for payroll employees during their 15-hour shifts after staff endured a tirade of "emotional abuse".

She said one unpaid doctor told a payroll worker he would shut down a hospital transplant unit if she didn't pay his credit card bill. "The situation in payroll hubs is critical," Ms Bignell said. "And these people aren't being paid either."

The State Government was not able to say how much money it was spending to fix the pay bungle.

Meanwhile the number of workers still left unpaid continued to climb. Another 600 workers have been affected in this pay cycle and the entire six-week payroll debacle has caused financial hardship for tens of thousands of employees.

Last night the Queensland Nurses Union committed to a state day of industrial action next Thursday amid Opposition accusations it had "gone missing" on the issue. Secretary Gay Hawksworth said the union's 20,000 nurses would not strike but instead conduct workplace "demonstrations".

"It is time now to highlight across the state how angry nurses are that people have not received their full wages . . . because there is no indication of when those wages will be received," Ms Hawksworth said.

The move came only hours after 500 Queensland Health maintenance workers downed their tools, promising to work only in emergencies. "The action taken (yesterday) is a direct consequence of Queensland Health's inability to pay these workers' wages, or even provide a timeline for resolution of the problem," AMWU organiser Scott Stanford said.

Queensland Health pay kiosks handed out cheques and cash to more than 300 people yesterday who had received no pay in this cycle.

And Premier Anna Bligh yesterday defended a move by Gold Coast hospitals to placate out-of-pocket health workers with free coffee. "Nobody has been offered free coffee instead of wages," she said. "It was a gesture of goodwill from a management who cares about their staff."

She issued a personal email apologising to Queensland Health's 75,000 staff early yesterday morning, labelling the payroll bungle "unacceptable".


Rudd's axed home insulation program to cost taxpayers $1 billion in cleanup costs

TAXPAYERS face a $1 billion bill to clean up the Rudd Government's botched home insulation scheme, which has wasted 2 per cent of its $42bn economic stimulus package.

After months of revelations of dodgy work and rorting of the $2.45bn program, the Government yesterday scrapped it on the basis of an independent report highlighting massive failings in its design and administration, The Australian reported.

As Tony Abbott attacked the scheme as the worst government bungle in Australian history, the Prime Minister left it to junior minister Greg Combet to announce the about-face on an earlier promise to redesign and relaunch the program.

Doing his best to put a positive spin on the debacle, the Assistant Energy Efficiency Minister focused on rorting by unscrupulous installers, rather than poor regulation, as the key cause of the scheme's problems.

The report, by former senior public servant Allan Hawke, blamed weak oversight by ministers and public servants, a rushed time frame, inadequate audit systems and poor communication with state-based regulators.

"Internal management structures, particularly early in the program, did not provide the necessary senior management oversight or allow for considered review at appropriate times," the report said.

"A program of the profile and significance of the HIP (Home Insulation Program) involving an industry that had minimal regulation warranted very close attention."

Dr Hawke's report also questioned whether any of the scheme's aims had been achieved, including energy efficiency, greenhouse gas abatement and job-creation.

The insulation scheme, designed to insulate 2.7 million homes, was announced in February last year as a stimulus measure.

It was suspended two months ago because of serious concerns about fraud and safety that followed the deaths of four young installers, 120 house fires and claims that up to 1000 roofs may have been electrified.

Big fix-up job ahead: The Government now faces the task of finding and fixing safety and quality problems in 1.1 million homes fitted with insulation under the program.

So far the Government has committed to inspecting all 50,000 homes fitted with foil insulation and 150,000 homes with non-foil insulation.

Dr Hawke has warned that significantly more than 200,000 homes might need to be inspected.

He said this work could leave little change from the $1 billion still remaining in the scheme's budget.

Mr Combet defended the program's role in stimulating the economy during the downturn.

"This was a very important program, the home insulation program, in the context of the global financial crisis and it resulted in 1.1 million homes having insulation installed," he said.


Rudd breaks election pledge to build 260 new childcare centres

Another backflip over a stupid promise

THE Rudd Government yesterday dumped its election promise to build 260 new childcare centres at schools and community hubs and end the daily nightmare of the "double drop-off".

Minister for Child Care Kate Ellis blamed the Government's policy backflip on the changes to the childcare market in the wake of the ABC Learning Centres collapse. "The insolvency of ABC Learning is the greatest ever shock to the Australian childcare market," she said. "What that evidence tells us is that an injection of more centres would threaten the viability of existing services and cause disruption for Australian families."

Instead of the promised 260 new centres, the Government has decided to call a halt at the 38 centres already in train, including six in Queensland.

Family First senator Steve Fielding slammed the decision as "a kick in the guts to mums and dads who really need a helping hand when it comes to affordable and accessible childcare".

Ms Ellis yesterday released a report into the state of child care in Australia that showed more children were using child care and they were using it for longer periods. Since 2004, children on average spend an extra day a week in child care. "The number of children using long daycare has also increased by 15 per cent over the last four years," Ms Ellis said.

She said the number of long daycare centres had increased at a rate of about 250 centres a year since 2005, meaning supply was keeping up with demand.

The Government also released the first quarterly snapshot into childcare vacancies which found 90 per cent of Australian childcare centres had vacancies and there were, on average, 65,780 long daycare vacancies available each day.

Childcare Queensland president Gwynn Bridge yesterday said she was "absolutely delighted" with the decision to can the promised 260 centres. "There is no demand for them at this stage," she said.


Three cheers that Australia won't have charter of rights

By Bob Carr, a former Labor Party premier of NSW

THE advocates of a human rights charter must be walking around as if they've suffered concussion or been mugged by reality.

The federal government gave them an inquiry. The inquiry took nine months to agitate public opinion over rights. Geoffrey Robertson stumped the country and produced a book. And the federal cabinet said no.

It makes me feel happy about Australia. There will be no charter of rights because there's no crisis of rights in Australia. If the public believed the executive arm of government were stifling freedoms, Australia slipping behind other democracies, there would have been a decided shove towards a human rights act. Something like the political shift against big government in the US. Instead, when Frank Brennan launched his report in September, it sunk below the water, not leaving a slick of printer's ink.

Australians have a high civic IQ. They know their country is robustly free. They wake each day to see their elected leaders, state and federal, traduced in the media. They have seen victims such as Mohamed Haneef triumph against the authorities in the courts. The people have changed a federal government and have made two recent state elections look competitive.

Yet the people are probably reasonably happy that government can take action to limit liberties, as the Victorian government did in November when it gave police the power to target knife and alcohol violence. This included the right to stop and search people without suspicion (in unapologetic contradiction of Victoria's own charter).

Governments state and federal have also strengthened laws against terrorism and, far from feeling threatened, people feel more secure.

In November I debated a charter with Michael Kirby. The former High Court Judge showed he was a politician manque with a capacity to play to the gallery that I, a mere amateur, could only envy. When he noted the teachers and students of an Islamic school in our audience, he quickly adjusted his rhetoric to assert that a charter was the only way to protect the rights of Australian Muslims.

Before the month was out French politicians were stripping Muslims of the right to wear Islamic dress in public, a proposition rejected by Canberra.

Yet France is covered by the European Union charter that we were told had made Europeans freer than Australians.

By the way, Kirby was one of the few judges backing a charter. If there were no phalanx of judges behind the idea of more judicial review, what chance did it have?

No newspaper editorialised for a charter and the Left of Australian politics did not adopt it. The last ACTU congress heard a debate from advocates and opponents of the charter and declined to take a position. The national Young Labor conference voted down six versions of a charter. The Left of the parliamentary ALP evinced little enthusiasm.

In fact nobody was able to nominate a right that Australians lacked that would be rectified with a charter. Robertson tried when he referred to a hospitalised maritime worker who had his beard shaved off and a married couple who were separated in a nursing home. Both were cases easily sorted out by administrative appeals, not a shift in the constitutional balance of Australia.

Paul Kelly, writing in The Australian on February 17, made the point that Brennan's report was based on the notion that all our problems as a society could be reduced to rights and solved by having them judicially reviewed, what I would call "rights fundamentalism". This approach falls to pieces if you think how it might be applied in many areas: in schools, for example (and Robertson had proposed that a bill of rights for Australia recognise the rights of children). Do we want schools where students are agitated to assert rights, presumably the right not to be disciplined, not to take compulsory subjects, to challenge the authority of principals?

Perhaps a respectful learning environment is undercut by thinking of schools as arenas for these arguments.

Looking back, there was a simple-mindedness about the charter proponents. Give us a poetic list of rights, they said, and - oh joy, oh joy - extra litigation and judicial review will expand freedoms. What has triumphed - and we owe this to the Prime Minister - is a more politically literate view, a wisdom that understands that when you codify rights you freeze possibilities; that political culture counts more than pious abstractions.

I'm told that during the period cabinet was considering the Brennan report Kevin Rudd was reading Steven Pincus's 1688: The First Modern Revolution. That we've avoided a lurch towards a charter reflects Rudd's understanding that the untidy ebb and flow of common law, free elections and freedom of speech will keep us freer than lawyers' arguments over every word and clause in a charter. His reading would confirm it's the ethos of a country that counts, the spirit of a people. The rejection of the Brennan report shows Rudd does not feel intimidated by a leftover item from two previous Labor governments.

Apart from Brennan and members of his inquiry, the biggest loser is the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission. Under its chairwoman Cathy Branson, it spent an estimated $500,000 supporting one side, the pro-charter case.

It was taxpayers' money and should have been used to prosecute cases of discrimination.

That, after all, is the kind of bread-and-butter work that keeps us free.


1 comment:

Paul said...

The Queensland Nurses Union has always carried water for the Labor Government.