Sunday, December 05, 2010

The misrepresentations just keep coming

Piers Akerman

THE Victorian election result and the continuing decay of Labor governments federally and in every state the ALP still holds highlights the failure of Labor's claim to be the party of good management and the problems of its shift toward the Green-Left.

Former Treasurer and Prime Minister Paul Keating may have draped himself in a Zegna suit to project an air of Gordon Gekko business savvy but his Labor successors, state and federal, have demonstrated that running a business, a department or an economy requires more than a spivvy set of duds and a pre-programmed publicist from the Hawker Britton stable.

Gauging by their sentiment, voters across the country now know that Labor cannot differentiate between spin and substance. If a minister - state or federal - makes an announcement, Labor has attempted to con punters into believing that something has really happened but, as the polls show, the voters are tired of being lied to. They are over spin.

Writing in The Australian yesterday, Noel Pearson noted that "one of the problems with the popularisation of the word spin is that it has trivialised what is the deliberate and systematic misrepresentation of the truth and the promulgation of misleading interpretations of facts designed to deceive the listening and viewing public.

Spin ends up trivialising a scourge in our democracy, because it sanctions a subtle process of suggestive misleading by elected representatives."

In NSW, the ABC's morning radio presenter Deborah Cameron's Green-Left program features a regular segment called the Spin Doctors which contributes to the normalisation of Labor's deceitful distortions.

A master of the art of spin is Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon who promised before the 2007 federal election that Labor's $645 million roll-out of GP super-clinics would provide "after-hours care" with links to relevant health care call centres and would be "encouraged to bulk bill".

Obviously a winner with focus groups, 36 super-clinics were to be delivered in 2008 Labor's first term, and, with focus groups still supporting the promise, a further 28 during the current term.

In reality, only seven of the clinics are actually operating, and, in reality, only one - in Devonport, Tasmania - is providing an in-house after-hours service, according to an audit conducted by The Australian newspaper. The others either had no available after-hours doctors or provided the contact number for a GP who serviced the local region on their answering machine.

Only two of the seven clinics audited - Ballan in Victoria and Strathpine in Queensland - provided universal bulk billing, with most only providing it to under-16s and concession-card holders, the newspaper found.

Yet Roxon has the hide to defend her failure to deliver as evidence of the Government's determination to "get it right".

Seven out of a promised 36 and then two years late does not sound like a successful program or a well-managed one and the failure to meet the key objectives of providing after-hours care and bulk billing cannot be wished away, though Roxon has now begun downplaying these items as just mere factors to be taken into account in the assessment of the super clinics.

It doesn't take too much to understand that is service delivery failure with a capital "F".

Which gives the lie to Labor senator Doug Cameron's excuses for the loss of the Victorian Labor government last weekend. On Sky's Agenda program on Thursday, Cameron made the claim that one of the major issues was the delivery of services before bizarrely blaming the privatisation of transport services in Victoria as the problem. Transport, he said, "has never recovered from privatisation. It's a big problem and I think that people see that as a key issue."

Privatisation? As if the Victorian public wanted a return to the bad old days of poorly run government railways with all of the attendant problems caused by the brothers in the trade union movement.

Coming from NSW, where commuters have to face overcrowded trains daily, where buses don't run to time and where the ticketing is as problematic as it is in Victoria, Cameron seems as divorced from reality as Roxon and provides a real clue as to the reason Labor is losing across the nation.

As one of his senior NSW Labor colleagues told me when reviewing the Victorian election, "Labor didn't connect with the suburbs" and the reason it didn't is because Labor (at every level) no longer knows what it stands for.

Try standing at a suburban railway station waiting for a non-existent train and talking to the commuters about the need to revisit the US alliance, work harder (in the dark) for a carbon-free future and spend more time rethinking our Middle East policy, or even, engage the average person on the pressing need to debate gay marriage and euthanasia and there's a reasonable chance of provoking an outburst of commuter rage.

Remember, though, that the political climate can only get worse from next July when the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate and begin pushing their social agenda, a social agenda that the gibbering Independent Rob Oakeshott has already enthusiastically embraced.

The more optimistic of Labor's more serious thinkers are hoping that the effect of the Greens might be hampered by their own in-fighting, predicting a split between the former communists Lee Rhiannon and Adam Bandt, and those who came up through the dwindling ranks of the environmentalist movement.

But that may not be enough to erode the Greens' influence on Prime Minister Julia Gillard who rushed into signing a written agreement with Greens leader Bob Brown in return for his support in her mongrel coalition.

The Greens lost an upper house seat in Victoria and failed to win any lower house places. Even the inner-urban latte lappers might be seeing through the Greens' simplistic propaganda, which leaves Gillard looking as if she went ugly early.

This view was supported by Keating in an interview with the ABC's Lateline last Wednesday when he said "the climate-change fiasco gave the Greens a real opportunity".

He went on to say that "the Labor Party should never concede space to the Greens. Minor parties always, through the proportional system, climb into the Senate and get into a bargaining position", and he advocated moving Labor back into "the mainstream, and we will, then the relative position of the Greens will change.

But I wouldn't be giving them any space unnecessarily.

The two-party system matters to this country and fracturing it won't be a good thing."

The task for Gillard and her government over Christmas will be to show that she is capable of managing something, anything, and that she can stand up to the Greens. Otherwise, Labor's new year is looking very bleak, indeed.


Poll paints grim picture for Keneally

KRISTINA KENEALLY'S quest to present a fresh face before the election has failed, with support for NSW Labor slumping further.

A Roy Morgan poll completed on Wednesday has found Barry O'Farrell's Coalition is on track to what the pollsters say will be a "crushing" victory, with 65 per cent support on a two-party preferred basis.

Support for the Coalition is up 7.3 per cent since June while Labor has fallen 7.0 per cent over the same period to just 35 per cent.

The ALP's primary vote would be just 22 per cent if an election was held this weekend, according to Roy Morgan. Ms Keneally, who has presided over an unprecedented clean-out of veteran MPs over recent months, has fallen behind Mr O'Farrell for the first time, with her approval rating down 7.5 per cent to 38.5 per cent.

Mr O'Farrell's approval climbed 1.0 per cent to 43 per cent. Just under 70 per cent of the 365 electors polled believe O'Farrell will lead the coalition to victory.

Pollster Gary Morgan said Mr O'Farrell was on track to achieve a "devastating electoral victory". A spokesman for Ms Keneally said she was well aware Labor faced the "toughest election we will ever face".

Meanwhile, veteran state MP Richard Amery has avoided the clean-out of Labor's ranks and will stay on to fight the election. Mr Amery, the member for Mount Druitt, has become the notable exception among the exodus of long-serving Labor MPs including Joe Tripodi, Paul Gibson and Tony Stewart, forced out as part of the Premier's quest for renewal.

After the resignation on Friday of environment minister Frank Sartor, a total of 18 Labor MPs will now not recontest in March.

Sartor joined former opposition leader Peter Debnam and other MPs to deliver valedictory speeches on the last day of Parliament on Friday but Mr Amery was absent at the dispatch box. "I've expressed my interest in staying and head office has been supportive," he told The Sun-Herald.

"Preselection for my seat has not yet been called and no final decision has been made." The Sun-Herald understands he has the backing of the Premier.


Pre-election doctoring in NSW

PUBLIC hospital doctors are being pushed to work weekends and extra shifts to cut elective surgery waiting lists ahead of the State election. The NSW Australian Medical Association said public hospitals were pressuring surgeons to work weekends to reduce waiting times. AMA NSW president Michael Steiner said patients were being treated like "pawns".

"In election years, doctors are pushed very hard to cut down on elective lists, and as soon as it's not an election year [it's back to normal]," he said. "In a proper system, we would know the surgery is in such-and-such a month. It's not fair that just because the Government wants to get re-elected that suddenly operating theatres become available. Patients are not pawns."

New Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures show that procedures have been dropping since a peak in 2007, the year of the last State election.

Westmead Hospital neurosurgeon Brian Owler said he and his colleagues had been asked to take on more than double their normal workload, on weekends and during already busy weekdays. On Thursday, he performed seven elective surgeries instead of his typical two to three because there were suddenly extra anaesthetists, nurses and beds made available to handle surgeons' extra workloads.

He said the election, as well as $30 million in Federal funding that was dependent on eliminating waiting-time breaches, were behind the pressure. "There are probably going to be some nice figures coming out in the first quarter of next year right before the election," he said.

"If there was proper planning in place throughout the year, there should not be any breaches. Some people are saying no [to the requests], but a lot of people are saying yes and pitching in to help out. "They asked me at my hospital: 'Would you be willing to do a Saturday?' I said no because I do a lot of Saturdays as it is with my emergency workload. But I would run extra rooms during the week."

Elective surgery patients are divided into three categories.

Category 1 includes those deemed to be the most critical, with a surgery waiting time set for 30 days, while category 2 have 90 days and category 3 have a 365-day time frame. Breaches were measured in terms of the number of days a patient must wait beyond their category's time frame.

Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said the Government had a record of neglecting hospital waiting lists for three-and-a-half years of a term, and then trying to lower the numbers to look good for the next election.

A spokesman for Health Minister Carmel Tebbutt said there was "no directive" doctors should work excessive hours to cut lists. "I'm advised that the overwhelming majority of planned surgery continues to be done in normal operating times," he said.


Refugees are exploiting a loophole in Australian laws

I have commented on this some time ago. Good to see that it is now getting wider recognition

AGAIN, I ask: how old are all these Afghan "boys" who came by boat and will soon be freed into our community?

More than 300 say they are under 18, which makes them "minors" who qualify to bring out their families.

"But I'd say some are in their early 30s," says one of their guards at Melbourne Immigration Transit Accommodation. "I'd say there were only two of the 168 we've got here in Melbourne who are really under 18. "None of the other 'boys', in inverted commas, speaks to them, and they are frightened out of their minds."

And so evidence grows of a massive rorting of a loophole in the Gillard Government's boat people laws.

In fact, the guard, a staff member of Serco, the firm now running detention centres, claims an extraordinary 128 of the 168 "Afghan boys" in the Melbourne centre have listed as their birthday December 31, 1993.

That's not necessarily the birth date they gave, but the one that Immigration Department officials were forced to put down, unable to get from the "boys" a real birth date.

How odd that so many should be just young enough to qualify as a minor under the boat people laws. And how lucky. If they were one year older, they would lose their right to sponsor their families once they got permanent residency. Nor would they now get all these excursions and the nicer accommodation.

And they wouldn't now be eligible for the Government's latest "compassionate" plan to send unaccompanied minors out to live in the community, looked after by religious groups and charities.

No wonder teachers, doctors, immigration officials and now detention centre staff are privately warning that few of the more than 300 "Afghan boys" who arrived here on boats, without their families, are what they actually claim.

One interstate official told me most of the "Afghan boys" he'd seen given school lessons were clearly young men, older than their classmates.

And the Serco officer says not only do most boys in the Melbourne centre seem older than 18, many do not seem to be from Afghanistan, either.

One month ago, some 40 of those "boys" staged a wild brawl that sent seven to hospital. The Immigration Department claimed the fight started over access to the centre's computers. The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre even argued the boys used those computers to track American bombing raids in Afghanistan to see if their families were safe.

In fact, says the Serco staff member, who has asked not to be identified, the brawl started when some 40 Afghans at the centre were joined by 98 more "Afghan boys" flown in from Christmas Island, now full to bursting, after the flood of boats unleashed by Labor's softening of boat people laws in 2008.

The Afghans at the centre became angry when they realised the newcomers were not Afghans but Pakistanis, who could hurt the "real" Afghans' chances of staying.

The Serco staffer thinks they were right to be suspicious: "Most of the newer boys speak fluent Urdu (a Pakistani language) and some even understand French and Italian as well." He suspects some are actually children of Pakistani officials who served overseas, and that they went to international schools. "Australians are so naive. These are boys with hair gel and Manchester United or Chelsea T-shirts."

The statistics alone should have warned the Government its rules were being rorted by Afghans and Pakistanis who saw a way to get entire families to Australia just by sending over a son by boat and have him say he was not yet 18.

Of the 2278 Afghans in detention, an extraordinary 326 claim to be boys aged under 18. Just 22 are girls. Compare this with the 602 Sri Lankans in detention. Only 23 say they are boys under 18, and they are nicely matched by the number of girls -- 21. So, while one in seven Afghans says they are just boys, only one in 26 Sri Lankans claims the same.

The Opposition has now asked what checks are run on "unaccompanied minors" to establish their age, but it already seems clear the Government has yet again been outwitted by mere fly-by-nighters. Or sail-by-dayers.

You must admire the smarts of these "boys". And worry about the brainlessness of the politicians.


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