Tuesday, June 15, 2010

No integrity at Victoria's Office of Police Integrity

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

AS the much-trumpeted case against former Victoria Police assistant commissioner Noel Ashby collapsed in an embarrassing heap earlier this year after another bungle by the State's Office of Police Integrity, the increasingly bizarre interactions between the OPI and The Australian led its editor-in-chief Chris Mitchell to make a call.

The OPI had an abysmal track record with cases that fell over. Mitchell, who wanted someone from the paper with no connections to Victoria to look into the issues, asked Hedley Thomas to take it on from Queensland.

Mitchell's view of the OPI, now laid bare following this newspaper's decision to publish his letter of March 11 to the OPI and its federal counterpart, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, was that if the OPI could so readily distort the facts in its dealings with him over a matter in which the newspaper had been part of an investigation, its failure in other high-profile cases might not be a coincidence.

The Australian's battle with Victoria Police and its Chief Commissioner, Simon Overland, over the circumstances surrounding the publication of Cameron Stewart's scoop on the Australian Federal Police's terror raids on August 4 last year was still alive.

As is well known, Overland was critical of the paper's publication of the raids, in which a few early copies of the last edition with news of the raids made its way to some locations in Melbourne before the raids had taken place. Overland said this had endangered the lives of his officers. It set off a political firestorm and prompted an investigation by the OPI and ACLEI.

(The newspaper in turn stands by its decision, saying it abided by all the conditions set out for it in the publication of the story, holding off until the day of the raids as agreed with the authorities.)

But the OPI/ACLEI's initial report into how the paper gained advanced warning into the raid was "the greatest corruption of truth I have seen in an official document in 18 years as a daily newspaper editor and 37 years as a journalist", Mitchell wrote on March 11.

The newspaper sued in the Federal Court to have the report amended, arguing ultra vires, or beyond powers, challenging the OPI's power to make findings against the newspaper. The case was settled last Monday with what is understood to be a significantly changed report and following what is also understood to be a significant falling out between the OPI and the ACLEI over the direction of the investigation -- the ACLEI acknowledging the newspaper's concerns while the OPI continued to fight the case.

Much more HERE. See also here

More schools furious about "stimulus" waste

MORE schools are blowing the whistle on the wastage, shoddy construction and rorting of the Rudd government's $16.2 billion Building the Education Revolution program.

The schools have complained about overcharging -- including $23,044 in "landscaping fees" for 17 pot plants and four square metres of turf -- and substandard construction, in submissions to the NSW parliamentary inquiry into the BER.

Mary Brooksbank School, which caters for disabled students in Sydney, was given a $592,000 special purpose room with a door "not constructed to disability standards". Two covered learning areas were built at a cost of $235,000 without safety reinforcements, so their roofs had to removed for repairs. "We will not accept that faults, repairs, failure to comply with standards, incompetence should be paid for out of our BER funds," the school's P&C Association says in its submission.

Building costs at 10 schools have blown out by identical amounts totalling $4.5 million after the price of modular libraries soared from $850,000 to $1.3m. Each of the northern NSW schools, granted $850,000 last year for new libraries, has blown its budget by $453,505 -- bringing the total cost to $1.3m each.

Reed Constructions, the managing contractor for each of the projects, has been allocated a total of $73,000 in "incentive fees" for delivering on time and within budget -- on top of $494,000 in project management fees, according to costing breakdowns published on the NSW Education Department website.

Each of the public schools -- Scotts Head, Durrumbul, Leeville, Main Arm Upper, Green Hill, Caniaba, Tabulam, Tyalgum, Copmanhurst and Stroud -- has been charged $570,985 for modular building costs, $149,968 for design documentation and site management, $74,244 for "preliminaries", $210,263 for the superstructure, $90,363 for site works, $47,420 for site services and $50,000 for electricity upgrades.

A NSW Education spokeswoman yesterday said the schools were receiving "an entire new administration building on top of their allocation for a library". But the "extra" building came as news to the schools' P&Cs, which insisted yesterday that the libraries already included an administration section. "It was always one building -- half library, half administration, right from the very beginning," said Kylie Gorton, the P&C president of Stroud Public School, north of Newcastle.

Ms Gorton is furious the $1.3m building does not include the solar panels, water tank, covered walkways and airconditioning the school was promised. She said Reed Constructions had shown her paperwork at a site meeting a year ago putting the cost at $800,806, including GST. "We thought we'd have money left over," she said yesterday. "This is atrocious; I consider this an absolute waste."

Scotts Head P&C president Karen Woldring said her school's new building, incorporating a library and administration area, had initially been budgeted at $850,000 and the plans had not changed. She revealed that an official from federal Education Minister Julia Gillard's BER taskforce had visited the school two weeks ago. "We asked how it happened and he said that's what he would investigate," she said.

Tabulam P&C treasurer Sharon White said the school was "getting one building with the library and administration in it". Durrumbul P&C vice-president Abby Bliss said her school was receiving only the single building originally planned.


Costly "asylum seekers"

The good ol' generous Australian taxpayer again

ALMOST $200,000 a week is being spent on charter flights to ferry asylum seekers and federal staff to and from Christmas Island to ease pressure on the overcrowded off-shore detention centre.

New figures on the cost of the Government's border protection policy reveal it has been forced to double the number of charter flights on and off the island this year, to an average of one every five days. The cost of the aircraft has also more than trebled in just 10 months to $8.2 million, or $134,000 a flight. And it is forecast to keep rising, with the Government admitting it will cost an extra $8.1 million next year.

According to the latest figures - detailing the cost of flying asylum seekers from the island to 12 locations on the mainland, including Sydney - in the 10 months to April 30, 62 aircraft were chartered to carry 6500 people to and from Christmas Island. In the 2008-09 financial year 32 charter flights carrying 2500 people to and from the island cost $2.7 million - an average of $84,000 a flight.

But the latest figures do not include the recent transfer of 30 Sri Lankan, Afghan and Iranian family groups - 86 asylum seekers in total - from the island to the former mining camp in Leonora, in Western Australia. They also do not include the 189 single Afghan males who were flown from the island on two charter flights to the Curtin Airbase in the remote West Kimberley region of WA at the weekend, costing more than $250,000.

The cost blowout is expected to continue, with the Government also confirming at the weekend it was looking for more sites to house asylum seekers on the mainland, to cope with overcrowded facilities on Christmas Island.

There are already at least 11 detention centres, residential housing or transit accommodation facilities on the mainland at various sites including Sydney, Perth, remote Western Australia, Melbourne, Brisbane, Darwin and outback South Australia.

At a Senate Estimates hearing less than three weeks ago the Federal Opposition claimed the operating costs at Christmas Island were "increasing markedly".

Immigration Minister Chris Evans was sarcastic in his response. "You have discovered [an] awful truth, which is that as the number of detained [sic] on Christmas Island increases the cost of running Christmas Island increases," Senator Evans told the committee. "You have got us; we confess; the costs have increased. I know it is amazing, but the costs have increased . . ."

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was spending more time "running his own airline than stopping the boats".


Bus drivers ditch children in violation of rules

What does it take to get one of these b*stards fired? Government employees sure are a protected class

A 14-YEAR-OLD schoolboy has been left behind on a suburban road by a Brisbane bus because the driver refused to break a $20 note. The incident was the second serious case in a month for Brisbane Transport after a 10-year-old girl was left stranded in Mt Gravatt.

The boy's father, Nick Smith, told The Courier-Mail he had dropped his son Joshua off on Meadowlands Rd at Carina early last month, with a $20 note to pay for his week of bus trips to school. But the boy, who was dressed in school uniform, was told by the driver he would have to leave the bus because there was not enough spare change to break the note.

"He had a $20 note and then the driver said to him that he couldn't change the note and that he had to get off the bus," Mr Smith said. "I had to pick him up and then take him down to Cannon Hills bus terminal . . . but where he was on Meadowlands Rd there are no shops or things close to hand for him to get change.

"Being in full school uniform, showing his ID and being of a relatively minor age, I felt it was extremely disappointing that the decision was made not to let him on, given the problems that we have had in the past."

Both TransLink and Brisbane City Council have a "no child left behind" policy, which states that children of school-age or younger cannot be left behind by buses regardless of whether they are carrying the sufficient fare.

Mr Smith said his wife had rung TransLink to complain, and was told the driver had the right to refuse entry if passengers were not carrying the correct fare. "Initially when we complained, my wife actually rang them and they said, 'Look, passengers do have to tender the right change – there is a sign on the bus'," he said.

"If it was an adult, or if he was abusive or the behaviour was not appropriate you would understand but he did nothing wrong, he was very upset, very shaken and quite disappointed that he wasn't allowed to get on the bus."

A spokesman for TransLink said yesterday incidents of children being left behind were "very serious" and the driver had been disciplined but not sacked. "In this instance, following a thorough investigation by Brisbane Transport and TransLink, the driver involved has been disciplined and counselled and an apology has been issued to the child's parent," he said.

Public and Active Transport chair Jane Prentice said a memo had been sent to council drivers, reminding them of the "no child left behind policy". "I understand the latest incident was before we sent the alert but the bottom line is that it is not acceptable behaviour."


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