Saturday, September 04, 2010

The prostitutes of Parliament Drive

Paul Sheehan

The night I took Bob Katter to dinner at the Royal Hotel in Paddington was, I believe, the first time he had been to the gentrified inner urban bubble that is historic Paddington. He wore his large beige cattleman's hat. He ordered a steak. (I have never witnessed Katter not have steak for dinner.) At the end of the meal, carrying his hat, he disappeared into the kitchen to thank the staff. I would love to have seen their expressions.

It is widely reported that Katter is mad. He is mad, but there is method to his madness, and he is mad only by the sensibilities of inner urban Australia. In his own element, Katter is the Prime Minister of the Gulf country. He is what all politicians would like to be, unassailable and unmistakable.

Nine days ago he was re-elected to federal Parliament for his seventh term. He won almost twice the vote of his nearest opponent, the Liberal National Party of Queensland candidate. He had more than four times the vote of the Labor candidate. Before entering federal Parliament, he spent 18 years in the Queensland Parliament. He has a smart, elegant wife, Susie, and four daughters, all of whom are university graduates. He has a self-made son who runs his own successful business in Mount Isa. Katter is no hayseed.

It is also widely reported that Katter, along with his fellow regional renegades Tony Windsor and Rob Oakeshott, is an independent. However, as the past week unfolded, and this trio emerged as the people who will decide the ultimate outcome of the federal election, the more they talked about the importance of parliamentary democracy, the more they painted themselves into a moral corner. The more they extolled the virtues of their independence, the less independent they became. This may sound counter-intuitive, but let's compare their rhetoric with their reality. Look at the numbers.

Across regional Australia, a brace of electorates profoundly rejected Labor and the Greens at this election. When you add the combined votes of the ALP and the Greens, the four seats where these parties polled the lowest combined totals were: New England (11.4 per cent), Lyne (17.2 per cent), Kennedy (24.7 per cent) and O'Connor (25.7 per cent).

And who are the four MPS who hold these seats? None other than Tony Windsor (New England), Bob Oakeshott (Lyne), Bob Katter (Kennedy) and Tony Crook (O'Connor), who was elected as a West Australian National but says he considers himself separate from the Liberal-National coalition. I'm not even going to consider that Crook will help deliver power to the Labor machine that has strip-mined his state's resources boom to funnel money into its eastern urban base.

Then there is the Senate vote. It further confirms these four seats as the worst for Labor and the Greens. In Western Australia and Queensland as a whole, Labor's primary Senate vote sank to 29.75 per cent, reflecting the animus in these states towards the proposed extra tax on mining companies.

Now we get to the critical point. The independence of these independents only exists in the context of electorates where Labor is not a viable alternative and the Greens are regarded as dangerous and alien. Their voters were thus able to choose former National Party renegades because they promised to be even more parochial for rural voters than the Nationals themselves.

These men have been given no mandate whatsoever to form a government with the party their electorates so comprehensively dismissed. The only reason the Gillard Labor government is still even a caretaker government is because of its alliance with the Greens. Even with Green preferences, Labor lost a thumping 18 seats, offset by two gains. It was saved from disaster by Green preferences. The only Green elected to the House of Representatives, Adam Bandt, has already said he could not even countenance an alliance with the Coalition. He will only support a Labor government. This merely confirms the de facto alliance between Labor and the Greens.

Labor has topped out at 72 votes. Even with the support of the one Green and the one former Green, it still can't form a government without the representatives from the most implacably anti-Labor and anti-Green electorates in the nation.

This is rich, given that the average Labor vote in the electorates of Katter, Windsor and Oakeshott was a pathetic 13.9 per cent.

The idea that this trio can set aside this resounding anti-Labor sentiment in their electorates and install and sustain a Labor government for the next three years undermines their expressed concern for the democratic process. Their voters expect them to drive a hard bargain for their votes, but not put the Labor machine back into power. If they do, their days of preening political purity will be over.

These men are never going to be easy company for the Coalition, especially the Nationals, but their ultimate mission is to reflect the will of their electorates. So if either Katter, Windsor or Oakeshott throw their fate in with the Labor-Green alliance, they may as well buy themselves some fishnet stockings, follow-me-home stilettos and micro-miniskirts because, for many bushies, they will have become streetwalkers, the prostitutes of Parliament Drive.


Another big blunder in government ratings of websites

Such nincompoops are far too incompetent to be trusted with censoring the internet. A major and mainstream Australian news site rated as "adult"!

An audit of politicians' internet use that claimed the scalp of a state minister ranked as the most visited "adult website".

NSW Ports and Waterways Minister Paul McLeay resigned this week after results of the audit were revealed. The audit supposedly showed whether MPs had been visiting adult links such as gambling and pornography sites.

However Legislative Council president Amanda Fazio yesterday revealed the audit had incorrectly classified news sites as adult because they contained links to or advertisements for adult dating sites. Both and were classified as adult sites in the audit.

"The definition of what has been classed as an adult site is something we're reviewing," she said. "What surprised us... the biggest (site) of what is classed as an adult site being hit by the parliament is the site. "Because there are adult matchmaking links or ads on their site, every time someone accesses and they go from one article to another, that's counted as an individual hit on an adult site."

The bungle is one of the most embarrassing examples to date of the problems that can occur when governments and organisations try to regulate internet use.

The revelation could also absolve some MPs tangled in the web porn scandal at NSW parliamentary offices that erupted this week. Christian Democratic MP Fred Nile, for example, has defended his office's viewing of certain "adult websites", saying they were merely for "research purposes".

Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell said every politician had been tainted by the scandal and asked for the matter to be settled quickly. His office had questioned a Nationals MP whose name emerged as part of the audit into online activity, including gambling websites.

But the nature of the audit has thrown up even more questions.

Earlier this week Ms Fazio and Legislative Assembly Speaker Richard Torbay said internal audits covered site categories but they did not commission any reports on MPs' internet use. Ms Fazio said she did not know how the internet use patterns of MPs were gathered. editor David Higgins said the auditing error showed governments could not be trusted to censor the internet. " is one of Australia's most visited news websites featuring award-winning journalism from the country's most respected newspapers," he said.

"The fact that a government agency has classed us as an adult site only demonstrates the deep flaws in government-mandated internet filtering of the type put forward by the Gillard Government."

"If governments can't get it right within their own IT departments how could we possibly trust a nationwide mandatory web filtering system based on a secret list of banned websites put together by politicians?”


Publicity causes backflip by the Labor Party's industrial piranhas

The workplace watchdog has backed away from legal action against a business owner who feared the company was facing a $700,000 wage bill.

The federal government's Fair Work Ombudsman had told the design company Pop Art Australia that it had been underpaying its workforce. Colin Robertson, the company's managing director, maintained his firm had previously been told by government employees on eight occasions over five years that it was correctly paying its employees under the manufacturing industry award.

But acting on a complaint from a former employee, Fair Work Ombudsman inspectors visited Mr Robertson's factory in suburban Cheltenham in March, later telling him he should have been paying the workers the higher rates that apply under the storage services award.

Mr Robertson was told his company had committed award breaches and the former employee should receive $25,380 in backpay. The Ombudsman might also commence legal action to recover outstanding amounts owed to affected employees, totalling as much as $700,000, as well as litigation against the company.

After The Australian reported on the case in July, the Ombudsman conducted a further review and yesterday confirmed it had decided to withdraw the contravention notice. "The Fair Work Ombudsman remains of the view that its original finding was accurate on the basis of the information gathered at the time," a spokesman said.

"However, a further site visit to Pop Art and consideration of additional evidence provided by the employer has allowed greater clarity about the nature of the Pop Art business and the diverse range of products it manufactures from many different components."

The spokesman said three industrial instruments could apply to Pop Art employees but, on balance, it was the manufacturing and not the storage award that provided the best fit for the work performed. Fair Work inspectors will meet with Pop Art on Monday to discuss previous and ongoing compliance with the manufacturing award.

Mr Robertson declined to comment yesterday. But lawyer Grace Collier, employed as a consultant by Pop Art, asked, "What if Colin had just coughed up the $700,000 instead of fighting the issue? "How many other businesses have paid money when they perhaps shouldn't have? Anecdotal evidence indicates that a vast amount of inspectors are ex-union officials.

"How do we know that these people are not using their powers to simply choose the most expensive award, like it appears happened with Pop Art, to get the best result for complainants? "All this comes back to the injustice of the situation," she said. "If the Ombudsman can form an opinion to prosecute, why can they not form an opinion to tell employers what their obligations are?"


NSW Labor government hides health data

A DAY after the state government pledged to be open and transparent about the performance of the health system, leaked documents show hospitals in Sydney's west have fallen far short of recommended treatment times during winter.

The Minister for Health, Carmel Tebbutt, launched a new website, Your Health Service, on Thursday, saying it would give people "the most current information, hospital by hospital", to help them find the healthcare they needed.

However, the website is already six months out of date. Information about waiting times in emergency departments, for elective surgery and to be admitted to a ward based on the January to March period.

The performance of hospitals during winter, a peak period for flu and gastroenteritis, will not be publicly available until well into spring.

The opposition spokeswoman on health, Jillian Skinner, said: "By the time April figures are released by Carmel Tebbutt they will already be five months old, hardly timely access to vital performance information."

Mrs Skinner accused Ms Tebbutt of hiding the most recent data, which was leaked to the Liberals by a frontline clinician, and given to the Herald yesterday.

"Carmel Tebbutt claims to have increased transparency, but these leaked documents show she is hiding monthly reports that detail how our hospitals are performing, and frontline health workers are sick of her secrecy."

The report, by NSW Health's Demand and Performance Evaluation Branch, shows Westmead and Blacktown, two of the largest hospitals in Sydney's west, failed to see many patients and find them a bed within benchmark times in July.

Fewer than 38 per cent of patients bought into Westmead's emergency department by ambulance were seen by a triage nurse within 30 minutes, far short of the recommended 90 per cent. About 46 per cent of patients in triage category three were treated within 30 minutes; the target is 75 per cent. Fifty-five per cent of patients were not admitted to a ward within eight hours; the benchmark is 30 per cent.

At Blacktown Hospital the internal report shows off-stretcher times and admissions to wards were 15 per cent lower in the last week of July than the March quarter average.

The official figures for April to July will not be publicly available until later this month.

Ms Tebbutt said the website would also list the number of people who contracted infections in each hospital, yet only last year's figures are listed. "As new performance data is released by the Independent Bureau of Health Information it will be uploaded to the website, to ensure patients continue to have access to up-date-information," Ms Tebbutt said.


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