Saturday, July 10, 2010
Gillard bombs again: PNG rejects role in her asylum seeker plan
What does she need a new "processing centre" for anyway? The U.N. has said Sri Lanka is no longer a refugee concern so she could put all the Tamils on the next plane back
PAPUA New Guinea yesterday joined the East Timor Parliament in saying "no" to Prime Minister Julia Gillard's asylum seeker "solution", leaving a key plank of the Labor Government's re-election campaign in tatters.
Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith had on Thursday briefed his PNG counterpart on the plan, under which asylum seekers bound for Australia would have been processed at Manus Island detention centre.
Betha Somare, the spokeswoman for PNG Prime Minister Sir Michael Somare, said the PNG Government had closed down the centre and considered the matter ended.
"Our official position has been that the asylum seekers issue is an internal Australian problem," Ms Somare said.
East Timor's Parliament has resoundingly rejected Ms Gillard's plans to process asylum seekers there.
The setback comes amid reports that the number of people smugglers caught bringing asylum seekers to Australian shores has risen to such a level that they are now being farmed out to the states to hold.
The Daily Telegraph has been told that Queensland has been forced to take 10 traffickers while NSW's jails will take 40 over the next five weeks.
A NSW government source said the states' prisons were needed because with the growing number of asylum seekers came the traffickers paid to bring them illegally to Australia.
The Federal Government had at least 120 people smugglers in its care, the source said.
Mr Smith briefed PNG Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Abal of his Government's hopes to create a regional processing centre while attending a prescheduled meeting in Milne Bay.
Ms Somare said Mr Abal would need to discuss any PNG solution with cabinet. "It will depend on when Foreign Affairs brings that forward in a submission to cabinet," she said.
Other countries in the region which are signatories to the UN Convention of Refugees are New Zealand, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu.
If PNG did not show any interest, the only options after East Timor are the Solomons and Tuvalu.
Mr Smith said it was a general conversation and he had not made a request to use PNG for a facility or discussed the reopening of the Manus detention centre. "I have not sought from Sam any indication about any particular location," Mr Smith told reporters.
Ms Gillard's proposal for an East Timorese processing centre was rejected by its parliament on Wednesday amid claims she had been wrong to brief President Jose Ramos Horta rather than the man with true power, Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao.
On Thursday Ms Gillard backed down from claims she was seeking a Timor Solution but yesterday she maintained that the East Timor option was still open to her Government. "We're focused on a dialogue with East Timor, I couldn't be any clearer about that," she said yesterday. "Let's be very clear, we are in dialogue with East Timor . . . we are now pursuing that dialogue in circumstances where the President of East Timor and Prime Minister said they are open to that dialogue."
Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said Ms Gillard was being inconsistent. "She's now mentioned PNG, and she's still talking to East Timor," he said. "No one really knows what's going on because it's changing as they desperately try to backfill for the domestic political debate."
Ms Gillard indicated she would not rule out using Manus Island, which belongs to PNG and became notorious under John Howard's Pacific Solution. Port Moresby radio was yesterday reporting that Manus Islanders were interested in offering their island to Australia.
But Sir Michael's Government inherited and then shut the Manus facility - now completely dismantled - from the previous Morauta Government, which had struck a deal with John Howard.
The Opposition said Ms Gillard's hopes of getting neighbours to participate in the creation of the facility would take years.
Gillard told to slow down on climate
Good advice, if not for the best of reasons
LABOR'S closest business adviser, Heather Ridout, has warned Julia Gillard to slow down as the PM prepares to rush out a climate change policy. As chief executive of the Australian Industry Group, Ms Ridout has offered consistently strong support to the Labor government and was a member of the Henry tax review panel.
She told The Weekend Australian yesterday that it would be "over-reaching" for the government to roll out a replacement for the emissions trading scheme ahead of the election and cautioned Ms Gillard to avoid embracing a carbon-tax quick fix, warning that business was not prepared nor ready.
"It is totally the wrong atmosphere -- we are getting way ahead of ourselves," Ms Ridout said. "I think the confidence of business has been really shaken by the breakdown of the domestic consensus on this issue. Business doesn't want the government to be in any hurry to come up with this in the lead-up to the election."
When she replaced Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister, Ms Gillard identified the government's position on climate change as one of her key priorities that had to be fixed before going to the polls. She has sharpened the position on the other two priorities -- the mining tax and asylum-seekers -- but has since been embroiled in debates over both.
Criticism is building that Ms Gillard is moving too quickly to address Labor's policy weaknesses in her haste to clear the deck for an election.
The government is considering a suite of measures to reclaim support from voters lost to the Greens when Mr Rudd ditched the ETS. These include a controversial idea to place tough new restrictions on all new coal-fired power stations and a national energy-efficiency target.
Reports this week have suggested the government is considering setting a price on carbon pollution, while green groups have urged the government to adopt an interim carbon tax. "I think we need to develop a deep and lasting community consensus about pricing carbon," Ms Gillard said yesterday, declaring herself to be a believer in human-induced climate change.
The Prime Minister's special taskforce on energy efficiency has concluded its report to hand to Ms Gillard, calling on her to adopt a national energy efficiency target. The target will lead to bans on many energy-sapping appliances being sold in Australia.
The Weekend Australian understands the government is considering placing an energy-efficiency target on retailers. They could meet the new target by buying "white certificates", which represent an amount of energy they have saved.
In practice, certificates can be awarded for a wide range of actions, including replacing inefficient heaters or airconditioners with more efficient models, installing insulation, improving the thermal efficiency of windows, installing energy efficient lighting and buying efficient refrigerators.
There is no national energy efficiency target. Some states have their own energy efficiency schemes such as the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target and the NSW Energy Savings Scheme. South Australia also has a scheme that provides incentives to adopt energy saving measures.
While the Greens are pushing for a 3 per cent annual energy efficiency target, The Weekend Australian understands the government's target will be lower.
In an interview with ABC TV's Lateline this week, Ms Gillard would not be drawn on whether her climate plans included a carbon tax, declaring she still supported an emissions trading system from 2012, while saying there were things the government could do in the meantime.
Although not wanting a hasty solution, many business figures do want whichever party is successful at the forthcoming election to set a clear direction on climate policy. AGL Energy chief executive Michael Fraser said yesterday a price on carbon was needed to guarantee Australia's energy future. "It is my firm view that a broad-based cap-and-trade emissions trading scheme is the best way to deliver least cost solutions for reducing emissions," he said.
An interim carbon price has been backed by MPs. One said a carbon tax was now the only option to restore Labor's battered reputation.
Bad doctors stay under the radar
MEDICAL authorities will not be obliged to publish details of fatal cases of gross misconduct and negligence involving doctors, with the Federal Government refusing to close a loophole that would help prevent another case like that of former surgeon Jayant Patel.
Medical Board of Queensland files obtained by The Courier-Mail showed in some recent cases, the board decided disciplinary action for doctors found guilty of professional misconduct would not be published other than as part of the register of disciplinary proceedings the board is legally obliged to maintain and keep open to public inspection.
Under new laws introduced last week some state authorities, including the medical board, were disbanded and replaced by the Commonwealth regulatory body, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.
The Medical Board of Australia "may" choose to publish details of disciplinary action for professional misconduct involving Queensland doctors in the many cases not referred to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal, which already publishes its results, but it is not compulsory.
A spokeswoman for federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon said current provisions were adequate. "The Medical Board of Australia is responsible for disciplinary action and remediation for doctors . . . and makes these judgments with the primary task of protecting the public," a health department spokeswoman said in a statement.
Slater and Gordon solicitor Margaret Brain, who specialises in medical negligence, said she would support publication of decisions regarding professional misconduct.
But in the meantime she said she hoped new mandatory reporting laws forcing health professionals to dob in an employee who was unwell, or practising incompetently or unethically, would "prevent a repeat of what happened at Bundaberg Hospital".
"Serial offenders, for example cosmetic surgeons with a long history of botched operations, should not be allowed to practise, or at the very least the public should be warned," she said.
In the past 18 months, there have been more than 600 complaints against Queensland doctors, and about 10,000 are currently practising.
Australian Medical Association Queensland president Gino Pecoraro said patients needed to be protected and to know what was going on, but he did not want a situation where doctors were afraid.
"The effect this may have is to increase rapidly the number of investigations they need to do, and that can actually – apart from causing fear and panic for both patients and doctors – also cost money, and we don't want money taken from areas of clinical need to fund this," Dr Pecoraro said.
NSW ambulance bureaucracy deliberately slows down response times
THEY are meant to save lives but NSW Ambulance Service officials have been accused of putting the public at risk with their latest cash-saving move. From this week ambos known as "rapid responders" can no longer attend emergencies on their way to and from work after being ordered not to take their cars or motorbikes home.
In a memo sent to the ambos on Tuesday, the service has claimed that taking operational vehicles home could be deemed as personal use and attract fringe benefits tax.
The practice of taking home the vehicles, which are equipped with medical supplies, began in 1994. "Do they think they are riding the bikes around on the weekends doing burnouts?" Health Services Union organiser Gerard Hayes said. "Operational lights and siren vehicles are exempt from fringe benefits tax. We can't work out why, now, they have decided to change the policy."
Rapid responder units are used in metropolitan areas to get fast access to patients in built-up areas. They cannot transport patients but can begin immediate treatment until an ambulance arrives. Until now paramedics have been able to take their cars home and if needed after-hours will respond to emergency calls.
"They will go on-air as soon as they leave home and quite often have answered calls on major arterial roads," Mr Hayes said. "They can respond to traffic accidents and sometimes have saved an ambulance attending."
After a backlash by paramedics last week, the service agreed to allow "operational managers" to take their cars home, but is still refusing to budge on the motorcyclists.
Paramedic Simon Bedwell is part of the Motorcycle Rapid Responder Unit operating in Sydney's CBD and travels from Bundeena, in Sydney's south. "I normally respond to jobs while I am travelling to and from work. Sometimes it means I can even call off an ambulance, it also eases the pressure on the crews on the road," the Health Services Union representative said. "They've told us it's because of fringe benefits tax but we are exempt."
An Ambulance Service spokesman said there was no need for motorcycle paramedics to respond after hours.
NSW Hospital patients treated in driveway
AMBULANCE crews are being forced to care for a soaring backlog of patients in hospital loading areas and corridors because overcrowded emergency departments cannot take over.
Internal Health Department figures obtained by the Herald show that in recent weeks several of Sydney's largest hospitals accepted only about half of the ambulance patients taken there within 30 minutes - far short of the recommended 90 per cent.
Prince of Wales, Blacktown, Westmead, Royal North Shore and Sutherland hospitals and the Calvary Mater in Newcastle were the worst affected in May and June.
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In one week, Blacktown took over the care of only a third of its ambulance patients within 30 minutes, taking ambulances off the road because paramedics must wait with people they have transported.
The figures present a grim portrait of NSW emergency departments as the states negotiate emergency performance targets with the federal government. Meeting these would attract bonus payments under health reforms agreed by the Council of Australian Governments.
The statistics illustrate how hospitals struggle during the peak winter flu and pneumonia seasons. The department publishes the data quarterly after a lag of several months, masking the most problematic period by averaging it over the warmer spring and autumn months.
A spokeswoman for Sydney West Area Health Service, which runs Blacktown and Westmead hospitals, said there had been a 30 per cent jump in the number of emergency patients whose condition was deemed imminently life-threatening between the first and second quarters of this year. Such patients' care "requires more intense clinical interventions" and could affect treatment times for more stable patients, she said.
A spokesman for the ambulance service said it "recognises the impact delays have on ambulances and prioritises triple-0 emergency calls". "Every effort is made to minimise delays to non-urgent conditions and routine patients."
Budget papers show that NSW Health expects ambulance response times to lengthen this year, growing to an average of 10.6 minutes, from 9.8 minutes three years ago. For May and June the average was 10.5 minutes.
The president of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, Sally McCarthy, said the delays were due to a lack of acute hospital beds available to keep pace with the rising admissions to acute hospitals. "It's just a gradual decline," she said.
Emergency doctors spent up to 40 per cent of their time caring for people who needed in-patient care but could not find a bed, she said. Solutions such as paying paramedics to work shifts in hospitals were a distraction from the need to increase bed numbers and "improve patient flow" in hospitals.
Across all main Sydney hospitals, the proportion of emergency patients needing an in-patient bed who were allocated one within eight hours fell to 66 per cent in late June. The target is 80 per cent.
A spokesman for the Emergency Medical Service Protection Association of NSW, which represents about 700 paramedics, said morale was affected "because really paramedics want to be out there treating patients". It could harm people who needed emergency department care, he said.
A spokeswoman for NSW Health said there had been a 4 per cent rise in emergency department visits in the past year, well above the 1 per cent growth in the state's population. She said the situation would be eased by the opening of 380 beds this financial year.