Monday, November 22, 2010

Fibre network plan has the signs of a historic stuff-up

Says Leftist economist Ross Gittins below. Note that only one independent Senator is standing in the way of this thing being enacted at the moment. It's Australia's version of Obamacare

I am starting to get a really bad feeling about Labor's plan for a national broadband network. The more it resists subjecting the plan to scrutiny, the more you suspect it has something to hide.

I fear Julia Gillard is digging herself in deeper on a characteristically grandiose scheme her swaggering predecessor announced without thought to its daunting implications, when she should be looking for ways to scale the project down without too much loss of face.

The obvious way to start that process would have been to accede to calls for the Productivity Commission to conduct a cost-benefit analysis. The determination of governments to keep their schemes away from the commission is always prima facie evidence they know the scheme's dodgy.

But as each day passes the issue is becoming more politicised, with too much of the government's ego riding on pretending the plan is without blemish. Part of the problem is the role the plan played in winning the support of the country independents.

The independents and Greens are doing the government no favours in using their votes to allow the plan to escape scrutiny. Are they, too, afraid it wouldn't withstand scrutiny?

The case for a thorough cost-benefit analysis needs no stronger argument than that, at $43 billion, this is the most expensive piece of infrastructure this country has seen.

It's true the plan has a lot of attractions. Top of the list is the structural separation of Telstra's network from its retail business so its retail competitors get fair access to the network. This is something the Howard government should have seen to before it privatised Telstra.

I don't have an in-principle objection to a network with natural-monopoly characteristics being owned publicly rather than privately, provided governments don't use their powers to shore up or abuse that monopoly in a way any private owner would and should be prevented doing.

The Productivity Commission could be required to ensure its cost-benefit analysis ranged far more widely than a mere commercial evaluation, taking account of present and potential "social" benefits ("positive externalities") and acknowledging those whose value it can't quantify.

But there are three aspects of the plan that worry me. They're things economists are trained to see but to which non-economists are often oblivious.

The first is the mentality that says we've got a lot of messy and inadequate telecom arrangements at present, so let's scrap 'em all and start afresh. Copper wire to the home - make Telstra turn it off. Telstra and Optus's existing rival optical fibre-coaxial cables to many capital-city homes - close 'em down.

This Ruddish approach would be fine if resources were infinite, or if getting a brand spanking new broadband network was the Australian public's only desire.

But resources are finite, both sides of politics have sworn to eliminate all government debt and we have an infrastructure backlog as long as your arm. In two words: opportunity cost.

Second is the idea of building a gold-plated broadband network up to eight times faster than any present application needs, so we're ready for anything that may come along some time in the future.

If you think that shows vision and foresight, you're innocent of "the time value of money". Every dollar you spend now rather than later comes at an extra cost: the interest you have to pay between now and when you start using the idle capacity.

True, it's false economy to build something today without allowing for reasonable growth in your use of the item. But there comes a point where allowing for more growth than you're likely to see in ages becomes a waste of money.

Private businesses that do this - such as home owners who overcapitalise their properties - do their dough. Government businesses survive either by overcharging their customers or falling back on the taxpayer.

The final worry is the way that - notwithstanding the break-up of Telstra - the plan involves deliberately reducing competition from other networks in the telecommunications market. Why's that a good idea?

And why would the government plan to do it? Because it knows its network will be hugely over-engineered and the only way of charging consumers the high prices needed to recoup that excess cost is to turn broadband into a monopoly.

If Gillard had any sense of self-preservation she'd be using the Productivity Commission to get herself off a nasty hook.


ANOTHER bungling surgeon allowed to run riot in NSW

Once again it took a newspaper to wake up somnolent "regulators" Complaints against him started 7 YEARS before the regulators got off their fat backsides

HEALTH authorities have begun prosecuting former obstetrician Roman Hasil over 15 serious patient complaints from his time at a northern NSW hospital. Dr Hasil was suspended from practising in NSW in 2008 after the Herald revealed he had botched eight of 32 sterilisation procedures in New Zealand.

The Herald also revealed there had been at least 10 patient complaints of sexual assault and medical negligence against Dr Hasil in relation to his time as a junior obstetrics doctor at Lismore Base Hospital from 2001 to 2005.

Complaints to the Health Care Complaints Commission allege poorly performed surgery, failure to use local anaesthetic while suturing women after birth and causing "massive" infections from not using gloves. He was also accused of inappropriate remarks and being physically aggressive with his patients.

Dr Hasil, who lives at a men's shelter in Sydney, appeared before the District Court last Thursday without a lawyer, and was told his hearing was due to start before the NSW Medical Tribunal next year.

NSW Health failed to do any reference checks with the hospitals Dr Hasil worked at in Slovakia before employing him.

Dr Hasil, who was jailed in Singapore for domestic violence in 1995, has two convictions in NSW for high-range drink-driving and one for assaulting a woman.

In a document served on Dr Hasil a week ago, the commission outlined 15 patient complaints against him. One was made by Connie Sholl, who has accused him of not using anaesthetic while suturing her after giving birth and of also not wearing gloves at Lismore hospital in 2002. "He started to suture me without any drugs and I kicked him … he ordered the staff to 'stirrup the bitch'," she said. She said he "slapped" his hand on to her crotch and said: "Who's the boss now?"

Dr Hasil was sacked from Angliss Hospital in Melbourne in 2005 for being drunk. He was also investigated by Tasmanian police in relation to the murder of an Italian tourist, Victoria Cafasso. The now retired detective inspector in charge of that case, Michael Otley, said last week that Dr Hasil was still among the "half a dozen persons of interest" in the case.

Outside court, Dr Hasil said he was being prosecuted because of "racism for overseas-born doctors in this country" and denied any negligence.

"[The patients complained] it hurts, he doesn't have any heart, it's what? Don't be pregnant," he said. He said "many" had complained that he was "rude" and made "inappropriate comments", which he denied.

Ms Sholl said she was "very disillusioned" with the public health system. "I would really like to see some changes [about] who they are employing."

Dr Hasil denied Ms Sholl's claims. "It's absolute rubbish. I wouldn't touch somebody with hands on their fanny."

A civil case against the Wanganui District Hospital in New Zealand - brought by several women treated by Dr Hasil - was recently settled out of court.


$50m bill for overseas criminals filling Queensland jails

FOREIGN murderers, rapists and drug runners are clogging Queensland jails and costing taxpayers $50 million a year. One in seven of the state's inmates are foreign nationals, prompting a push for offenders to be sent home to complete their sentences.

The federal and state Opposition say criminals should be transferred "wherever possible" to ease the burden on prisons.

Britain is moving to send foreign prisoners home to reduce costs and overcrowding, with 33 Australian offenders potentially eligible to be shipped back. But there are more than 50 UK nationals in Queensland jails, and the state could save a fortune by sending them back in a twist on our colonial past.

A total of 762 foreign nationals are behind bars across the state, including a dozen awaiting deportation as they near the end of their sentences. By comparison, 243 Australian citizens are in overseas prisons, according to Federal Government figures.

New Zealand [Maori], Indonesia, Britain, Vietnam, Samoa and Romania top the list of countries filling state jails, Corrective Services said. Foreigners have been convicted of offences including murder, sex crimes, people smuggling, property crimes, arson and traffic violations. Each prisoner costs about $66,000 a year to keep behind bars - more than the cost of hiring a school teacher.

Candidates to be sent home would include Canadian Dale Handlen, jailed for at least 22 years last year for smuggling more than $130 million worth of cocaine and ecstasy into Queensland.

In the UK, thousands of foreign prisoners face being deported in a bold cost-cutting drive. British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to send foreign prisoners to jails in their homeland whether they consent or not.

Federal Opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis has backed the return of foreign prisoners. "What Mr Cameron has announced is something that certainly deserves careful consideration in Australia as well where it is feasible. Where possible they should be (sent home)," Senator Brandis said.

State Opposition justice spokesman Lawrence Springborg said more should be done to send prisoners home but added: "You would need to make sure they serve their sentence."

Kay Danes of the Foreign Prisoners' Support Service said some foreign inmates in Australia were desperate to return home to be closer to family, while others wanted to remain because of better conditions. "If you are looking at saving Australian taxpayer dollars, that is one element because it is quite expensive to have foreign prisoners in our jails," she said. "For repatriating our prisoners from jails overseas, it is logical for many reasons - cultural differences, language, access to rehabilitation, access to family and medical care."

There were 27 prisoner requests for transfer from Australia last financial year, and 21 requests for transfer to Australia.


Gay marriage demands should be left on shelf

Christopher Pearson

THE most obvious thing about arguments for same-sex marriage is their shallowness.

IN last Saturday's Focus, Paul Kelly wrote a memorable piece, taking issue with Labor senator Mark Arbib's suggestion that it's time for the ALP to support gay marriage.

"Why is it time?" Kelly asked. "Because the Greens are stealing Labor's votes, that's why. So Labor should cynically abandon its support for the foundational social institution, a move that will trigger a deeply polarising debate and brand Labor indelibly as a libertarian personal rights party ready to ditch any institution or principle. In the process, Labor will alienate permanently an important section of its base."

Kelly's analysis was in marked contrast to that of The Age's political editor, Michelle Grattan. She told ABC Radio National's Breakfast show this week that Julia Gillard would have to change tack on the subject, preferably sooner rather than later.

Mind you, she was talking to the show's presenter, Fran Kelly, whose agenda on same-sex issues is well known, and to some extent may have been framing her remarks accordingly.

Grattan's argument is the same sort of vulgar inevitabilism that she, Paul Kelly and the press gallery at large displayed on the outcome of the republican referendum. But Kelly at least has more of a feel for the values of blue-collar workers in the outer suburbs. As he says, Arbib's push to change the law on marriage "testifies to how politicians can be fooled by opinion polls and miss the bigger picture".

The most obvious thing about the arguments in support of same-sex marriage is their shallowness. The best Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young could manage last week was to remind us breathlessly that we are living in the year 2010, as though that settled the matter. The Greens' line that all loving couples deserve to be treated equally is just as specious.

Few have argued more consistently over many years than I have done that same-sex partners should get a fair deal on superannuation and other entitlements of that kind. Labor's reforms in the last parliament mean that couples are treated pretty much equally except in the matter of marriage.

But the few remaining privileges reserved for matrimony are there for sound, practical reasons.

Men and women tend to have different needs and priorities when they enter a mature sexual relationship.

Most men are not naturally disposed to be monogamous, for example. One of the purposes of marriage is to bind them to their spouses and children for the long haul and to give the state's approval to those who enter such a contract and abide by its terms.

Another of the purposes of marriage is to affirm that parenthood is a big, and in most cases the primary, contribution a couple can make, both to their own fulfilment and the public good.

It follows that societies which want to sustain their population size, let alone increase their fertility level, should positively discriminate in favour of stable, heterosexual relationships and assert the preferability of adolescents making a normal transition to heterosexual adulthood.

It should be obvious to unprejudiced observers that, while there are plenty of well-adjusted gays who manage to lead satisfying and productive lives, rational people do not of their own volition choose to be homosexual.

It should be equally obvious that those who, through whatever mixture of nature and nurture, end up at whatever age identifying as homosexual, bisexual or whatever, need to be protected from any kind of persecution.

Among the reasons the Greens are so keen on same-sex marriage is that they want to reduce the population and drive down national fertility. Their refusal to discriminate positively in favour of heterosexuality and uphold the distinctive value of normal marriage shows their political project yet again for what it is: a dead end.

Speaking of dead ends, some American bishops have recently given a persuasive account of why same-sex marriage has come to look like a modest reform. They put it down to a culture where contraception and abortion are so widely practised that the crucial differences between a fertile couple, a couple childless by choice and a gay couple have been largely obscured and each partnership is seen as morally equivalent. They also lay some of the blame on a UN version of entitlement, in which marriage could be reduced to an unqualified abstract right.

The blue-collar social conservatives of the outer suburbs inhabit a less theoretical world. They are often unapologetically tribal in outlook and their best hopes are often invested in their children.

Most parents on low wages routinely make sacrifices on their kids' behalf in ways middle-class couples seldom do these days. There is also still something self-sacrificial among many of them on marriage: the notion that it's hard work much of the time but worth the effort.

There is another core constituency, sometimes overlapping, who have been critical to Labor's victories in the past two elections. I'm talking about not just the Christian vote but the votes of people who are adherents of all the main, organised religions.

Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists all take the institution of marriage very seriously. As things stand, Labor can normally count on a fair share of those people's votes. However, the electoral implications of giving them a faith-based reason for voting for the Coalition are obvious.

Perhaps Arbib should look beyond the Galaxy polling commissioned by an advocacy group, Australian Marriage Equality. A sample of 1050 found, after a prompt-question on gay marriage being introduced overseas, that 62 per cent supported changing the law.

Another 33 per cent were opposed and 5 per cent were unsure.

The Greens in triumphalist mode have claimed more support for their cause than these figures warrant.

Far more substantial polling comes from Roy Morgan's Single Source face-to-face surveys, which reach more than 50,000 people each year. His data uses proxy questions: Do you think homosexual activity is immoral and are you in favour of gays getting adoption rights?

Attitudes vary widely, of course, between the regions and the inner and outer suburbs, which is why Galaxy's 62 per cent in favour should be treated with caution.

The strongly negative territory included most of regional Queensland, traditional Labor turf comprising three western Sydney seats (Blaxland, Chifley, McMahon), three more in Sydney's southwest (Barton, Banks, Watson), some parts of suburban Melbourne (Lalor, Hotham, Bruce) and the north Tasmanian seats of Bass and Lyons.

Running the risk of alienating so much of your traditional support base, at this stage in federal Labor's history, is daylight madness. At least Gillard seems to have grasped that fact.

SOURCE. (Note: Christopher Pearson is himself homosexual)

1 comment:

Paul said...

"Among the reasons the Greens are so keen on same-sex marriage is that they want to reduce the population and drive down national fertility."

I hate being used as a political football. This nonsense is going on too long, and wasting too much oxygen. It is just NOT needed. Chris Pearson is a god of the keyboard for this one.