Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gillard government's immigration policy acknowledged as "killing" the government concerned

As well it might. Australia's recent acquisition of a new red-headed Prime Minister has done NOTHING to stop the constant flow of boat-borne illegals

PRIME Minister Julia Gillard's asylum seeker policy was dealt another major blow yesterday after her Immigration Minister said the issue was "killing the Government". Immigration Minister Chris Evans was caught out in an unguarded moment at a university conference in Sydney discussing one of the key issues of the forthcoming election.

His comments came as border protection forces intercepted the 147th asylum seeker boat in two years - and the third since Sunday night.

Senator Evans was attending a conference for immigration specialists hosted by the University of NSW when he was asked how politically toxic the asylum seeker debate was. He said one of his "greatest failures" as Immigration Minister was "losing control" of the immigration debate, according to a 2UE reporter who, unknown to Senator Evans, was at the conference.

He said the debate was "killing the Government", which will be seen as an admission that Prime Minister Gillard's attempt to find a host for an offshore refugee procesing centre has not diminished voter anger on the issue. Government sources insisted Senator Evans had been referring to policy under the former prime minister Kevin Rudd but it appeared he was referring to the present.

"I have previously acknowledged that this has been a difficult debate for the Government over a long period of time and that there has been a level of public concern surrounding the issue," Senator Mr Evans said in a statement late yesterday. "The debate has changed substantially since Julia Gillard became Prime Minister and seized the opportunity to confront the issue and speak honestly and frankly with the Australian people."

But Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison accused the Government of being more interested in "polls and spin" than "real action". "It is Labor's policies that have failed, not their message nor their messenger," Mr Morrison said.

Senator Evans said the Labor Party now had a "clear way forward under Prime Minister Gillard". "We are focused on developing a regional protection framework and are already engaged in discussions with East Timor," he said.

Mr Morrison said Senator Evans' biggest failure had been to wind back the border protection regime he inherited from the Howard government, and referred to the 147 "illegal boats" and the more than 7000 asylum seekers who had arrived since then.

The latest boatload of suspected asylum seekers was intercepted yesterday morning, northwest of Browse Island in the Indian Ocean. Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said 84 passengers and three crew were on board. Since Sunday, 192 asylum seekers have been re-routed to Christmas Island.


Latest spin fails to hide emperor's con job

He spoke of the need to "cut our cloth" to suit the times but the Treasurer, Wayne Swan, has come close to resembling the emperor with no clothes.

In the Hans Christian Andersen tale, an image-obsessed emperor is duped by yarn spinners into parading around town in his birthday suit. But this time, the emperor was aware of his indiscretion.

There was no hiding yesterday the extent of the con job the Gillard government has done on the Australian people over the size of its concessions to the mining industry on its controversial resources rent tax.

Announcing the deal on July 2, the Treasurer said the changes would cost the budget $1.5 billion over two years. Yesterday, updated budget figures showed that amount to be $7.5 billion, offset by the surprise discovery of $6 billion from higher commodity prices.

"I do accept that the numbers are a bit hard to follow," Swan said, continuing the trend towards understatement.

Swan's preferred image was that of a disciplined government eking the budget back into surplus. "We have done the hard years," he claimed.

But in reality, the Gillard government is riding the same commodities boom to riches as its predecessors - only it is using the proceeds to paper over a hole in revenues created by its tax backdown.

Once again, foreigners are forking out more for our mineral exports, increasing the dollar value of our economic production.

Strip out that price effect and real activity across the economy is forecast to be slower than anticipated. The economy is expected to grow 3 per cent this financial year, down from the budget's forecast of 3.25 per cent.

As the mining sector streaks ahead, other parts of the economy are being left behind. Household spending growth is slowing as the stimulus fades and interest rates rise. The pace of home construction has stalled, putting upward pressure on house prices. Treasury has pushed its inflation forecast into the upper limits of the Reserve Bank's 2 to 3 per cent comfort band - from 2.5 per cent to 2.75 per cent.

Australia's growing pains are back. For a government that came to power three years ago promising to ease the squeeze on families, this could prove difficult to explain. Infrastructure bottlenecks are back. Employers are complaining about skills shortages - perhaps loudly enough to awaken the inflation genie from his slumber. All the while we grow ever more exposed to the mining boom going bust.

In the meantime, the boom in one part of the economy is ripping out the heart of other industries, as resources and labour shift to the faster growing parts. Swan said the new mining tax was designed to generate the extra revenue needed to extend "a hand up" to the other parts of the economy.

It is now abundantly clear that helping hand is much smaller than it could have been.


Veteran conservative observer, Arthur Sinodinos, says Rudd is undermining Gillard

LA Gillardine is poised to call an election. That will be a mistake. Voters frown on transparent attempts to capitalise on a honeymoon. Julia Gillard needs time to establish genuine authority and steady the ship.

She is looking and acting poll-driven. Her gesture in having the member for Lindsay accompany her on a trip north to view patrol boats hit a new low in the boatpeople genre. Her shifting language on East Timor undercut any impact of her announcement.

Her election program will largely reflect Kevin Rudd's ideas for re-election. There has been little time to do more than change the face on election material. But the coup was all about the messenger rather than the message, OK?

Rudd would not be human if he did not feel some satisfaction at recent government stumbling. But he is up to something more than self-satisfaction. He is running a campaign that threatens the unity of Labor before and after the election.

Rudd is messing with Gillard's mind. He's a past master of the art. He messed with John Howard's mind in 2007 by putting up Maxine McKew in the seat of Bennelong. Her media profile gave McKew a platform to muster the anti-Howard forces in the seat.

Now Rudd is at it again. He is stalking both the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith. Rudd has made it clear he deserves and expects to get the foreign affairs portfolio after the election. It is his right as a former prime minister.

He is now in Washington, ostensibly attending the Australian American Leadership Dialogue of which he is a founding member. He has been busy lining up appointments with members of the Obama administration. The press has been briefed, allegedly by the American side, that Barack Obama rang him before talking to Gillard. He is running hard for Smith's job.

Rudd's future is already destabilising the government: witness the outburst in support of the ex-prime minister by the member for Flynn. More important, consider what could happen if Gillard wins the election.

Foreign minister Rudd would brook no interference in the portfolio from the Prime Minister or anyone else. Defence could also come more under his sway in the absence of a strong minister such as John Faulkner. The mooted replacement for Faulkner is Greg Combet, who would be no match for Rudd on international security matters.

Rudd may well envisage a diarchy in which Gillard reigns supreme on the domestic front while Rudd is the external supremo. This is no Hillary Clinton falling into line behind Obama. More of a co-prime ministership.

Some old hands will no doubt argue that Alexander Downer as a former leader went on to be a very good and long-serving foreign minister in John Howard's cabinet. Very true, but Downer put his leadership baton firmly back in his knapsack and knuckled down to the job as a team player. He contributed across the board to government policy and was a highly respected voice in cabinet; he did not upstage Howard at home or abroad. In turn he was given plenty of latitude in interpreting his brief.

Rudd fancies himself. He looks around the room and feels he is the smartest person in it. He consoles himself with the thought that Bill Clinton and Obama have said as much.

With a perspective such as that, imagine meetings of the cabinet's security committee, Rudd doing his PowerPoint presentations and neither officials nor other ministers getting a word in.

Cabinet meetings could become very difficult if Rudd is present to second-guess the Prime Minister. Consider his likely reaction every time some policy of his came up for review. The pressure on Gillard to revert to a kitchen cabinet would be inexorable, with all its attendant dangers of hasty and ill-thought-out decisions.

One argument in Rudd's favour at present is the policy debacle surrounding the on-again, off-again regional processing centre in East Timor. Where were Smith and his department when this all-too-clever plot was hatched? Who was consulted about whom to contact in East Timor? Why was the suggestion only casually dropped into a congratulatory conversation between Gillard and the President of Indonesia, our most important near neighbour?

Smith was visiting the region this week to talk up the proposal and consult. Maybe he can rope in Don Argus so they can visit the neighbouring countries and small miners in one go. The reaction in the region suggests a regional processing centre is dead on arrival. This week the Home Affairs Minister effectively conceded the point when he admitted that we won't see anything built in the next term of government.

How comfortable would Rudd be in pursuing regional consultations, given that the East Timor idea appears to have been raised and rejected during his watch? And how would he feel about pushing, in his own words, a "lurch to the Right" on asylum policy?

Labor hardheads will say that if Gillard wins this election she will owe Rudd nothing and can treat him accordingly. Rudd will counter that he is owed for going quietly and not recontesting the leadership, as well as for his many other splendid qualities.

A lot hinges on the size of her victory. The smaller the margin the more vulnerable she will be and more likely to want to keep her enemies in the tent. Based on present polls, Gillard has hardly improved on Rudd's last polls.

This week the Prime Minister was under pressure to nominate her ministers in the finance, defence and foreign affairs portfolios. Her cabinet line-up has been considerably weakened by the departure of Rudd, Faulkner and Lindsay Tanner. Simon Crean may not serve out a full term either, with talk of a diplomatic posting in the air.

Rudd came under pressure in 2007 to confirm Wayne Swan would be treasurer if Labor won. She should too, if only to stop the speculation about these now vacant senior positions.

Bill Shorten, Mark Arbib and David Feeney are owed for their part in knocking off Rudd.

Imagine a cabinet with one or two of these characters and Rudd. Or worse, the damage that could be wrought if the cabinet included them and not Rudd. Plenty of time for mischief on the back bench.


More dangerous negligence at Casey public hospital

Cheapskate attitude to ordering scans again

TONY Read visited Casey Hospital three times in five days suffering agonising headaches before doctors performed scans and revealed he was in imminent danger of dying from bleeding in his brain.

When the reality kicked in Mr Read was made to lie perfectly still and rushed to Monash Medical Centre for emergency brain surgery to deal with an aneurism suffered days earlier.

He is one of more than a dozen disgruntled Casey Hospital patients to contact the Herald Sun since last Wednesday, when a woman complained publicly that she had not been treated for dangerous bleeding during an ectopic pregnancy.

Health Minister Daniel Andrews said his department would meet Southern Health to discuss the complaints so it could advise him about the situation. The hospital and health authorities have insisted there is no endemic problem.

But after an investigation into Mr Read's treatment in June last year prompted Southern Health to apologise and promise to fix its procedures, the former patient is worried nothing has changed.

"The doctors just wanted to get rid of me, they just assumed it was dehydration from food poisoning," he said. "It was very scary, and bloody lucky I lasted five days. "I know they are very busy, but with cases like this they need to do more, and the second time I went they should have given me a scan."

Having twice been sent home and told he had food poisoning, before the danger was revealed in his third presentation, Mr Read received an apology from emergency department deputy director Ian Summers assuring him steps had been taken to ensure it did not happen to others.

Southern Health director of emergency medicine Prof George Braitberg said Mr Read's initial diagnoses were appropriate for complicated symptoms, but an error in not having his second presentation reviewed by a senior doctor contributed to the delay, which had since been rectified.

But he said a thorough examination of other cases found medical staff had treated each patient appropriately, underlining the fact there were only 68 complaints lodged among the hospital's 47,000 presentations last year. "Our complaints are not higher than anywhere else; in fact, I would say they are lower," Prof Braitberg said.

"One of the things we could do better is explain to the public that we move patients according to their need, so if a patient enters an emergency department at Southern Health they could get into a specialist bed in another hospital. I think a couple of these cases point to that. "We have great confidence in our staff."

Over the past three years the Casey's emergency presentations had jumped 13.7 per cent and Australian Medical Association Victoria president Dr Harry Hemley explained that all hospitals were struggling due to increased demand and lack of beds.

But Dr Hemley said Mr Read's and several other recent cases would be extremely difficult for any hospital to diagnose.

Health Services Commissioner Beth Wilson said she had not received any complaints about Casey's emergency department, adding all hospitals struggled to deal with symptoms such as those Mr Read presented with. "If a scanner is available they can order a scan, but it is not possible to scan everyone who presents with headache," she said. "It is not so easy in practice to make the diagnosis."


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