Thursday, October 07, 2010

Fibre: Coming ready or not

This is just the standard Leftist resort to government compulsion. It's the only way they can get their scheme to pay its way. And even that may not be enough -- unless they ban all other forms of internet access, which they may well do. And what a lovely monopoly that would be! Australians can look forward to the most expensive internet access in the world!

TASMANIAN homes and businesses will automatically be connected to the National Broadband Network unless they actively refuse. The shift from an opt-in system for the NBN in Tasmania to an opt-out model, which could be adopted nationally, was announced by Premier David Bartlett late yesterday.

The move to shore up the viability of Australia's first fibre-optic cable rollout follows official estimates that only 16 to 25 per cent of premises passed by the rollout would take up subscriptions to access the high-speed internet it offers.

Industry experts suggest a take-up of 80 to 90 per cent is necessary if the NBN is to become a focus of service and information delivery.

The shift to an opt-out model came as some of Australia's leading businessmen called for the federal government's $43 billion NBN project to be subjected to a thorough business case. National Australia Bank chairman Michael Chaney said a cost-benefit analysis was needed to ensure productivity gains could be realised. "I feel for any investment of that size you do need to do a thorough cost-benefit analysis," Mr Chaney said at The Australian and Deutsche Bank Business Leaders Forum yesterday.

Wesfarmers chairman Bob Every agreed. "I just see this (the NBN) as another part of infrastructure that we need to go through, stocktake and prioritise," Mr Every said. "And quite frankly I don't know if it (NBN) will rank in priority. I'm not convinced."

ANZ chairman John Morschel said that although faster internet could increase productivity, the business case needed to be clearly made. "I think the lack of a business case and full publicity of that business case is throwing a lot of doubt in people's minds about the level of expenditure - $43bn is a lot of money," he said.

Those involved in the NBN rollout in Tasmania, which is thought to cost taxpayers between $500 million and $700m, have been frustrated by the need to obtain permission from property owners to connect their premises. Without written permission, the law prevents access to premises to take the optic fibre from the street to homes.

Mr Bartlett said he had obtained advice that the state government had the power to legislate to require property owners to opt out of a connection. The state would legislate to achieve this "as soon as possible" and would also consider legislation to exempt the rollout from local government planning schemes.

Mr Bartlett said more than 50 per cent of householders and businesses in the first three towns covered by the rollout had "accepted a connection to optic fibre". However, this figure has been criticised by some in the industry as misleading as it relates to those who have agreed to have their homes made "NBN-ready" - not the number taking up subscriptions to access the network.

That subscription figure, six weeks after the official start-up of the network in the first three towns - Midway Point, Scottsdale and Smithton - remains a closely guarded secret. NBN Co spokeswoman Rhonda Griffin said it was premature to reveal the figure but that "several hundred" homes had taken up subscriptions. "We are pleased with the level of interest we've had," Ms Griffin said.

Mr Bartlett insisted this was a "good early result". "But we're also determined to get that participation even higher, and ensure every Tasmanian householder and business that wants access to super-fast broadband can get it easily and efficiently," the Premier said.

Federal opposition broadband spokesman Malcolm Turnbull said the shift to an opt-out policy "confirms that the business plan of the NBN depends on compulsion and the elimination of competing technologies".

Mr Turnbull said it followed a poor initial take-up at the three Tasmanian trial sites. "The move adds compulsion to Labor's existing plans to shut down competing fixed-line technologies, such as Telstra's copper network, or voice and broadband delivered over HFC pay-TV cables, after NBN is rolled out," Mr Turnbull said. "If Australian consumers want a fixed line for telephony or internet access, they are going to have to use NBN's line - like it or not."

Mr Bartlett insisted the decision was about "finding the most practical and efficient way of connecting our citizens to the digital economy".

A spokesman for Mr Bartlett later confirmed that customers would not be forced to pay for the NBN-ready connection; this cost would be absorbed by the taxpayer-funded NBN Co.

Ms Griffin welcomed the decision to require people to opt out of the rollout.


NSW public hospitals killing babies

NSW hospitals will be ordered to review the way babies are put to bed after an explosive report revealed that one in eight newborns who die from cot death have been placed in unsafe positions by midwives.

The report, by the NSW Child Death Review Team, also found that most of the babies who died unexpectedly at home had been exposed to cigarette smoke, had suffocated while sleeping with a parent or had been put to bed on their stomachs or sides - despite a $15 million, 13-year public health campaign advocating safe sleeping methods.

The campaign had cut cot deaths by 85 per cent, saving more than 6000 babies, but had become "a victim of its own success", with midwives and parents becoming dangerously complacent, the general manager of SIDS and Kids, Ros Richardson, said. "People now see sudden infant death syndrome as a thing of the past. It isn't," she said.

She has called on NSW Health to provide about $100,000 for an educator to visit every hospital to inform midwives of the importance of putting babies to bed on their backs after researchers found 15 neonates (babies under 28 days old) had died in maternity units from side-sleeping or sleeping with their mother.

"Complacency is the product of a stretched public health system but even one death is one too many," Ms Richardson said. "We still have some midwives who have some naivety that babies should be put to sleep on their side so they can drain secretions. This is simply incorrect. "It is one thing to have a poster about safe sleeping on the wall at the hospital, but if no one heeds it, what's the point?"

Hannah Dahlen, a spokeswoman for the Australian College of Midwives, conceded there had been a tradition of putting babies to bed on their sides to help clear their chests, particularly those with fluid on their lungs after being born by caesarean section.

"But babies now are almost always placed on their backs. It is drummed into [midwives]," she said. "I really don't believe this is an issue any more."

More than 3720 babies died in NSW between 1996 and 2008, including 123 neonates. Of those, about a quarter died from metabolic and cardiac problems or infection and two-thirds from cot death, a diagnosis applied when no other cause can be found. About 73 per cent had been exposed to tobacco smoke, 57 per cent had not been put to bed on their backs and 60 per cent were co-sleeping.

"So they were avoidable," Ms Richardson said. "Deaths that occur where a baby is put to bed on its back, has no covers around its face and there's no smoking in the house are extremely rare."

One study suggested cot death babies had abnormalities in their brain stems - the part responsible for controlling breathing. Another study identified a link between some bacterial infections, but no definitive cause has been found.

The NSW Commissioner for Children and Young People, Megan Mitchell, said the report, which was tabled in Parliament yesterday, indicated that "we still have a long way to go to help parents to remember the safe sleeping messages".

A spokesman for NSW Health said clinical midwifery consultants would "work closely with staff in maternity units to look at current practices and educate staff on the policy".


Business 'threatened' by Labor

BUSINESS leaders claim they are being threatened by "thin-skinned" politicians when they choose to speak out on policy issues.

They also believe a culture of "consequence and retribution" has emerged in Australia that threatens free speech and could stifle reform.

Speaking at The Australian and Deutsche Bank Business Leaders Forum yesterday, four of the nation's most senior company chairs said corporate leaders had a responsibility to speak out to set the agenda in the public policy debate.

But they warned that some had been "threatened" by politicians for expressing their views. "I have been amazed how thin-skinned some politicians are," said Michael Chaney, chairman of National Australia Bank and of Woodside Petroleum. "I have found that some politicians have been particularly spiteful about it and have gone around threatening people who have spoken out, which is pretty unfortunate because they are the same people who would extol the virtues of freedom of speech."

Mr Chaney's comments came as the chairs - including Telstra's Catherine Livingstone, ANZ's John Morschel and Bob Every from Wesfarmers and building products group Boral - laid out a bold reform agenda for the government, calling on Julia Gillard to review Labor's new mining tax and potential changes to the GST as part of a reconsideration of the Henry tax review. They also said the government should conduct a cost-benefit analysis on its $43 billion National Broadband Network plan and provide business with greater certainty over its plans for a price on carbon.

Mr Chaney, a former Business Council of Australia president, said corporate leaders had a responsibility to speak out on issues amid concerns that the unstable political environment could damage the prospects for crucial reforms and cause uncertainty for local and international investors.

"When the government announces something like the employee share changes, which were announced without consultation, or the (resource) super-profits tax, which is clearly, in our view, against the national interest and against national productivity, there is an obligation to speak out because ... it is the national interest," he said.

Earlier this week, opposition Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey called on business to find its voice on issues such as industrial relations reform. "I think it's hugely important that members of the business community engage more directly in the policy debates that will shape Australia's economic future," he said.

A spokesman for Wayne Swan said he spoke to chief executives on a regular basis. "Of course they agree sometimes and they disagree other times, but the Treasurer keeps the content and nature of those conversations private," he said. "The Treasurer welcomes the contribution of the business community in the key debates about our economy and how we set it up for the future."

But Reserve Bank board member and Brambles and BlueScope chairman Graham Kraehe said he, too, had been targeted after speaking out on key issues. "Certainly I have experienced retribution and there would not be too many business leaders who haven't, and it is not in the nature of our free enterprise and democratic society," Mr Kraehe told The Australian on the sidelines of the forum in Sydney.

Ms Livingstone said there were "consequences and retribution" when executives disagreed with the government, while Mr Morschel said "the retribution situation has been rather prevalent of late".

Their views were supported by Westfield director and former Productivity Commission commissioner Judith Sloan, who also said the culture of retribution was "a great pity. What we need is open and impartial debate about issues rather than people being fearful they will be punished if they express a point of view."

Mr Every said there was a responsibility in being a business leader. "You don't just speak as Bob Every Citizen, you are speaking on behalf of the companies you represent. I think we should be prepared to speak out," he said.

Mr Chaney, Mr Every, Ms Livingstone and Mr Morschel represent six companies with a combined market capitalisation of more than $220 billion, almost 20 per cent of the ASX/S&P 200 index. They also represent a total of 176,000 employees.

Several business leaders have told The Australian they have been subjected to private attacks by senior ministers when they have publicly disagreed with government positions. Earlier this week, the Treasurer warned the big four banks against increasing interest rates beyond any moves made by the Reserve Bank, echoing criticisms he has made over 18 months.

There have also been concerns in business circles that Minerals Council of Australia chief Mitch Hooke could be sidelined by the returned government because of his stand against the resource super-profits tax. Then-prime minister Kevin Rudd reportedly criticised Mr Hooke at a mining function in May and later told a media function: "We've got a long memory." He subsequently insisted the comment was a joke.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said yesterday she had made it clear to all members of the government that she expected them to abide by the Standards of Ministerial Ethics.

Ms Livingstone said a more sophisticated model was needed for public policy development. She said this would require that the public service, which had been "diminished over the past five to eight years", be rebuilt. "Unless we move to a more consultative model which deals with issues before they become issues, we are always going to end up with this reactive situation to policy development," she said.

Mr Morschel said recent positive discussions between the major banks, the prudential regulator, the RBA and Treasury on the G20 Basel 3 amendments covering bank stability showed behind-the-scenes lobbying could be successful.


W.A. transit cop charged with assaulting unaggressive passenger

A TRANSIT officer has been charged with assault after a football fan was pepper-sprayed and left with a bloodied face at Subiaco train station in March.

Police say Liam Barry McCalmont, 22 of Maylands, assaulted James Hagerstrom, 46 of Bassendean, after the March 28 AFL game between Fremantle and Adelaide at Subiaco Oval. It will be alleged the assault occurred while transit guards tried to apprehend Mr Hagerstrom and charge him with obstruction.

The victim received facial injuries after his head was slammed into a platform during the altercation.

A Perth magistrate withdrew the obstruction charge against Mr Hagerstrom in July after viewing CCTV footage of the incident.

The Public Transport Authority conducted an internal inquiry into the incident in July and handed its findings to the Corruption and Crime Commission. Mr McCalmont has been charged with assault occasioning bodily harm and will face the Perth Magistrates Court on October 19. The PTA has placed him on "alternative and non-operational duties in the immediate term".

SOURCE. Earlier report here

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