Thursday, January 13, 2011

Contempt for Australians from Australia's Federal government

Gillard pledges $500M to Indonesia for Islamic schools

Gillard promises $160M to Vietnam for new bridge

Gillard offers $45M to aid Indonesia for climate change

So how much did she donate to Queensland flood victims?

Wait for it ....

A token $1M.

After pressure on her some increase will no doubt flow through but her initial reaction shows her priorities -- and it's not Australians. Getting Kevvy a United Nations seat is another matter, however: No expense spared to buy that.

Government is part of the problem with flood insurance

AUSTRALIA is subjected to increasingly frequent and severe weather-related events, particularly flooding.

Yet the tragedy in Queensland and the resultant economic devastation for so many individuals and communities will inevitably happen again if changes are not implemented promptly.

Weather-related disasters cost Australia billions of dollars each year. The economic costs are escalating, with a great proportion of these costs directly attributable to flooding. Yet despite this trend our insurance system is grossly inadequate to deal with widespread flood-related devastation.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that many living in areas traditionally prone to flooding are effectively denied access to insurance. The legal regulatory system dealing with insurance allows for the private insurance market to be selective about risk and to decline insurance in areas where flooding may occur.

Even where flood insurance is available, the cost is so high that only the very rich have access to a service that should be available to all members of the public.

This cost is partially attributable to profiteering of the commercial players, but is equally the responsibility of state governments. Where profiteering occurs, it is the result of a systematic failure to ensure that there is adequate transparency and accountability within the legal regulatory regime controlling insurance.

One hidden aspect of insurance is that the cost is substantially increased by an inefficient state tax regime which creates a double tax burden. As a result, these products are taxed at the same level as luxuries such as alcohol and tobacco. Creating such costs is a disincentive and falsely suggests insurance is a luxury rather than a necessity.

In Queensland, insurance is subject to GST and stamp duty on top of the base premium. In other states, such as Victoria and NSW, there is a third layer of taxation, the fire services levy. These taxes inflate insurance without filling government coffers. For example, if insurers charged the Insurance Council of Australia's recommended rates for this levy in Victoria between 1999 and 2003, they would have collected $46.85 million , supposedly for the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, and $3.68m purportedly for the Country Fire Authority. Yet this amount, which exceeded the taxes they actually had to pay, did not need to be given to the government, the fire authorities or returned to policy holders, and hence was kept by insurers. This inefficiency in the tax system has led to a situation where some Australian states are notorious for taxing insurance policies at the highest rate in the world.

The problem with the way insurance is taxed has been earmarked for change, yet nothing has been done. As early as 2003, with the collapse of the insurance giant HIH, calls were made to reform state taxation of insurance.

Last year there were two further calls for change to the state taxation of insurance products. In May, the Henry tax review suggested state transactional taxes should be abolished. In July, when the final report of the 2009 Victorian bushfires royal commission was handed down, state governments were reprimanded for the inefficiency with which insurance products are taxed and the resultant financial ruin for those without adequate levels of insurance.

Essentially, these recommendations have been ignored.

It makes no sense to preclude access to insurance and leave vulnerable individuals to suffer the outcome of inadequate insurance regimes. The market failure is obvious. If the risk is too high, private insurers will simply decline insurance products.

Yet the government has shied away from providing such insurance. Individuals are left emotionally drained by the events and unable to recover financially. The heartache is even greater for those who tried to obtain insurance and were rejected.

At the same time, the inefficiency within the existing insurance regime creates a huge burden for the government, exposing it to potential liability of $53.3 billion in uninsured property and $48.4bn in uninsured household contents. An event of the magnitude of the floods in Queensland has national ramifications. Enabling access to affordable insurance would alleviate the burden for all: individuals, the community and governments.

Essentially the government's failure to acknowledge the problem and create workable solutions is increasing the levels of poverty in society. Having no insurance or inadequate insurance is a huge sociological problem that simply cannot be ignored.

Ultimately, these people are forced, in the absence of access to insurance, to rely on government handouts and public benevolence. For many people, this is not a situation they want to be placed in. Our leaders must wake up: how many more floods need to occur? How many more lives have to be devastated before the government will realise flood insurance should be a priority? The government has the power and the resources to remedy the potential economic consequences of weather-related disasters.

Australia should learn from the international experience. In the US, many lenders will not finance a mortgage unless the borrower has insurance, discouraging people from buying properties in high-risk areas. Where the insurance market declined the risk of insuring people in flood-prone areas, the government has worked with communities to develop flood plans to foster resilience should a flood occur, as well as subsidising insurance products.

The lesson to be learned from the US example is that the system facilitates choice so that individuals can have access to insurance to protect their financial interests.

Australian governments should also be more proactive about not allowing areas to be zoned for development if there is a likelihood that it may be subject to extreme weather-related disasters, whether flooding or bushfire. The government should not, however, change the residential zoning of areas where people already reside, as this could lead to financial ruin for property owners in the area. Rather, given that the government has allowed residential properties in areas that are subject to flooding, it should make sure these people at least have the option to insure.

Much money is spent in the aftermath of a catastrophic event. More funding needs to be allocated to resilience and education. People must know of the risks and the methods that can be adopted to mitigate any losses they may suffer. More significantly, however, insurance should be available at an affordable rate where catastrophe strikes.


Academic paints a picture of arts as a priority in classrooms

The recommendations below seem overblown but there is no doubt that our cultural heritage should be taught: Poetry, drama, literature generally. Yet precisely that has been largely erased from school curricula in recent decades. I doubt that all children should be taught specialized skills such as painting, potting, sculpture and dance, however. I think that can safely be left to specialized courses for those with a particular inclination in that direction

The arts should be embedded in the teaching of all subjects as a way of cultivating creativity and imagination in schoolchildren, according to a paper published yesterday by the Australian Council for Educational Research.

The paper, by the University of Sydney academic Robyn Ewing, highlights international research that shows students who are exposed to the arts achieve better academic results, are more engaged at school and less likely to leave early, and have better self-esteem than students who do not have access to the arts.

Professor Ewing said integrating the arts with other disciplines had the potential to engage students who were unmotivated by traditional forms of learning, lifting their performance in other subjects, such as science and maths.

She expressed concern that the publication of results from national literacy and numeracy tests was contributing to a neglect of other kinds of learning.

"If we don't empower kids to think creatively and to be imaginative and also to see things from a range of different perspectives, which is what the arts do, we're selling them short in a world in which actual knowledge is changing so rapidly," she said.

The review of hundreds of Australian and international research studies comes as the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority develops a national curriculum for the arts.

Under the proposed curriculum, due to be published next year, the arts, including dance, drama, media arts, music and visual arts, would be mandated for every student from the first year of school to year 8 for a minimum of two hours a week.

Professor Ewing said policymakers needed to change the way they thought about the arts, and treat it as a priority rather than an add-on.

She said governments had not matched their rhetorical commitment to the arts with resources for arts education and teacher professional development.

"In lots of schools the arts is on the fringe, but it could be so powerful if it was embedded."

She said children from affluent families were more likely to be touched by the arts through visits to museums and art galleries, and through theatre and concert performances, and their parents were more often able to pay for art and music lessons. Yet children living in poverty or who were vulnerable or at risk often stood to benefit the most from the arts.


Medical training in critical condition

By Professor Bruce Robinson, dean of the Medical School at the University of Sydney. He fears a shortage of internship places similar to what has been seen in Britain and elsewhere. He offers some solutions

In my office recently I saw a patient with a large pituitary tumour. It was causing multiple symptoms, including partial blindness. The patient didn't require surgery; his condition can be managed with medication and he will be cared for entirely as an outpatient.

Consequently, although young doctors in training - interns, residents and specialists-in-training - could have learnt much from this person and his condition, it is unlikely they will cross paths with him.

This is not an isolated case. During my 30 years of practice, hospitals have become places where only acutely sick people and those requiring elective surgery are admitted. This represents a small fraction of the work of clinicians in 2011, much of which deals with chronic illness.

Clinical training programs for young doctors, though, have changed little in the past three decades. While opportunities have increased for students and young doctors to undertake some of their training in general practices, they rarely spend time in specialist rooms. Nor in private hospitals or health centres, such as Aboriginal Medical Services. Nor do they benefit from the brilliant training opportunities available internationally, particularly in Asia and the Pacific.

Postgraduate medical training in Australia generally consists of a one-year internship and one or two years of residency. Graduates cannot be registered to practise without completing an internship. To become a specialist generally requires between five and seven years' further training either in a hospital or in general practice, depending on the specialty.

The theme that has underpinned most of the clinical training of young Australian doctors is "only public hospitals and only in Australia". The result: not only are we unnecessarily placing additional pressures on the already struggling public hospital system, but trainee medical staff are missing many important lessons in patient care. This is to our detriment.

The Herald recently reported on the predicament of international medical students in the invidious position of being able to complete their medical degrees but unable to secure internships. Training certainly does not stop after internship; further training is required for all young doctors to become proficient, and there are inadequate places to accommodate future requirements.

So far the state has fortunately been able to provide intern positions for all who require them. All graduates from last year were offered places and in NSW we understand there will be sufficient positions for those who complete their studies this year.

But if it ever comes to the point where medical graduates are denied the opportunity to work as doctors because governments have not provided sufficient training places, it would be both a disaster for the individuals and a poor reflection on the state and federal governments who fund and manage health workforce training.

We have a critical shortage of medical practitioners. Australia spends millions advertising internationally for doctors. Denying work opportunities to smart, well trained and motivated medical graduates from our own universities when we need doctors defies reasonable sense.

Governments and their agencies responsible for ensuring adequate numbers of health professionals need to improve their performance.

A shortage of internship places looms and new positions must be provided. Unless the number of specialist training positions increases significantly, a similar shortage is inevitable. But it is not simply a question of numbers.

Broadening the training opportunities for young clinicians will, ultimately, improve the quality of our medical workforce. We know the solutions. Instead of relying on big city hospitals, we could have more specialty training positions in country hospitals. We could have more young doctors learning in specialist rooms, and we could place these doctors overseas where they would be exposed to different ways of preventing and managing illness and allocating resources. All these non-traditional settings - that is, non-Australian public hospitals - offer rich opportunities for gaining one ingredient that contributes to becoming a good doctor: experience.


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