Sunday, February 20, 2011

Vindictive and biased "regulators" in Queensland put public safety at risk

THE agency responsible for ensuring pub and club safety has been labelled a "basket case" after a series of investigations exposed gross mismanagement, unethical practices and constant errors.

Audits within the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing, obtained under Right to Information laws, have raised concerns its liquor licensing division was a "boys club" harbouring "vindictive" officers.

The State Government says it is cracking down and yesterday defended dodgy dealings within the division but industry figures say nothing has changed since independent auditors revealed systemic failures in 2009.

In its 2009 report, auditors Knowledge Consulting said: "The OLGR (Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing) operates in a contentious client and stakeholder environment which contains a potentially volatile mix of commercial vested interests, regulatory bodies, community agencies and individuals who from time to time will be working to different agendas and priorities".

One issue involved a licensee being penalised for paper on the floor and flyscreen missing from a door. In stark contrast, The Courier-Mail revealed the department failed to issue the final disciplinary action to a venue where a man was fatally stabbed.

The negative report sparked several reviews in 2010, which revealed:

* Potentially thousands of wrong fines were issued.

* Private details of Queenslanders, including IDs, left unsecured.

* Missing hotel records and investigations.

* Hundreds of risk management plans left unmonitored.

* A chronic lack of staff and resources.

Several current and former liquor licensing officers, who wish to remain anonymous, this week claimed the problem came from the top because senior managers were the only ones able to enforce disciplinary action, and officers' recommendations were often ignored.

For example, not one Fortitude Valley venue was hit with a disciplinary action decision, the toughest penalty for liquor licensing breaches, in the past two years to November, despite the region being acknowledged as one of the state's three most dangerous party hot spots (along with Surfers Paradise and Townsville).

Another audit revealed more than one in 10 fines (13 per cent) issued by police were wrong.

Other issues included five boxes of confiscated IDs left unsecured on the Gold Coast and the department's failure to destroy them.

Before his resignation yesterday, former Liquor Licensing Minister Peter Lawlor defended dodgy dealings within the division, but acknowledged reports of "misconduct and suspension of officers". He took credit for the audits and said many of the issues had been addressed.

"I made it abundantly clear that something needed to be done immediately and that I would not tolerate this continuing," he said this week. "Significant reform, ongoing change, and restructuring have been, and are being, achieved. "Liquor Licensing is a different department today to what it was 18 months ago, but there is still more work to be done, and I'm confident it can be further improved over the next 12 months."

But licensees say the department continues to favour the industry's "big powers".

Individuals refused to comment for fear of retribution. The Queensland Hotels Association, Valley Liquor Accord and Brisbane City Licensees Association did not respond to questions.

But Cabarets Queensland chairman Sarosh Mehta acknowledged a "definite need for improvement". "There has also not been any significant shift in focusing on the individual offenders via stiffer penalties, which I fully support, versus continuing the practice of hammering the licensee," he said.

State Opposition Leader John-Paul Langbroek said the findings painted a picture of a state government agency that had become "an absolute basket case". "While drunken violent thugs need to take responsibility for their actions, enforcement also needs to be effective," he said. "If the law is broken, offenders must be punished not protected."


Another Muslim pervert

A limousine driver who sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl he had been hired to pick up from a party at Bondi in 2008 has been jailed. Mohamed Sabra, 34, of Bexley, was sentenced to two years and nine months' jail in the Downing Centre District Court on February 11 for sexually assaulting the teen in his limousine.

Sabra pleaded guilty to three counts of aggravated sexual assault with a victim under the age of 16. An agreed set of facts, tendered at a sentencing submission hearing, said Sabra had been hired to pick up the girl and a group of friends. Sabra promised the girl she could ride to his next appointment, to pick up rap star Kanye West. But he said there would only be enough room for the girl, and not her friends, the facts said.

Sabra then drove the girl to central Sydney, where he poured her a drink of vodka and Red Bull. The girl then fell asleep on the back seat of the limousine and woke to find Sabra sexually assaulting her.


Teachers reveal why they walked

PROBLEM students should face harsher penalties, including Saturday-morning detention and fines for their parents, say WA teachers who have walked away from the classroom.

A disproportionate number of public school teachers are also blaming increased workloads and stress for their decision to quit, new reports show.

The exit surveys of 260 teachers and other staff who resigned from the Education Department in the past year are outlined in two reports, which were released to The Sunday Times under Freedom of Information laws this week.

It is the first time such exit surveys have been publicly released and they give a rare insight into the challenges facing our state's 35,000 public school teachers and staff.

One teacher recommended "harsher penalties for disruptive students", including more frequent suspensions and exclusions for "lesser disruptive behaviour" to stem violent behaviour.

The teacher also called for after-school and Saturday morning detentions.

Another said: "Start making parents accountable for the actions of their children. Financial penalties for disruptive students."

A third teacher said: "I feel this may be a sign of the times, but the students seem to have more control than the teachers.

"I have been assaulted by a student in the past and due to inexperience I did not pursue it. The school at the time seemed to brush it under the carpet and the student went unpunished.

"It seems suspension or expulsion would look bad on their school record. Behaviour like that is a major concern for all teachers. Crowd control is used instead of teaching in some schools."The surveys, conducted by the Education Department between October 2009 and July 2010, reveal:

* About a third (87 people) of those who completed the survey said they would not consider returning to work for the Education Department in the future.

* More than one in 10 teachers and staff (30 people) identified family reasons as the main reason for leaving.

* Almost 8 per cent (20 people) of teachers and staff were retiring, while a further 8 per cent (20 people) quit to "pursue other interests".

* Eighteen people (7 per cent) said they walked away from teaching for a work-life balance.

* Ten people (almost 4 per cent) blamed their decision to quit on harassment, discrimination or workplace bullying.

* The number of teachers and staff who blamed workload and workplace pressure for their decision to quit was more than three times the benchmark average.

* The number of teachers and staff who cited work-life balance as their reason for leaving was up to seven times the benchmark average.


Fibre network a dodo even before it is built

The USA is going for a mobile service instead: wireless

There's nothing very surprising about the public's ability to spot ill-conceived government programs. Apart from the fact that we end up paying for them, programs that turn out to be lemons tend to conform to a familiar pattern.

Their proponents always seem to fall for the temptation of promising more than the scheme can possibly deliver. Stephen Conroy's broadband proposal back in March 2007 already sounded like the modern-day equivalent of a cargo cult. It was going to sweep the continent into an unimaginable world of connectivity for a mere $4.7 billion. Fibre-to-the-node technology would give 12 megabits per second to 98 per cent of the country within five years.

Having unrealistically raised the expectations of the impressionable young and people in the backblocks accustomed to poor services or none at all, the Rudd government found itself in a bind in 2008. Maintaining the prime minister's unusually high approval ratings, which were his main claim to the office, began to depend as much on service delivery as on messianic gestures.

Telstra, led by Sol Trujillo, wasn't co-operating with Conroy, who was also having troubles with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. To make matters worse, Telstra's bid to participate in the scheme was judged to be non-compliant and a panel of experts found that none of the remaining telcos' bids constituted value for money.

Conroy, as Communications Minister, had another big problem. Rudd and his office had by then become so dysfunctional that the only way for most cabinet ministers to get face-time with the prime minister was to travel with him on his VIP jet. During a long and by now legendary flight across Australia in January 2009, Conroy won Rudd's approval for an upgraded scheme.

Whether Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan or Lindsay Tanner found him as persuasive is not known, but it's a question that will no doubt be answered in due course when the blame is being laid.

The new proposal launched in April 2009 had all the signs of a lemon. It was going to throw nearly 10 times as much money at the problem, with the expectation that $43bn would spellbind the public and reduce critics and the opposition to stunned silence. It conceded the previously preferred technology was clunky and would be replaced by fibre-to-the-home.

Among the millennial claims made at the time, this was going to mean that we'd be "future-proofed", as though such a thing were possible. Speeds of at least 100 megabits per second would connect 93 per cent of the country, with the prospect of speeds up to 10 times faster in the near future.

For those of us who believe in markets, the absence of a cost-benefit analysis and the fact that NBN Co was going to be a monopoly were telltale signs. The government's decision to back one technology with an awful lot of public money was another.

The embarrassingly low rate of take-up in Tasmania, which in terms of communications historically has been very poorly served, didn't augur well either.

When Australian governments of either persuasion start talking about nation-building, anyone who's ever written a press release or a ministerial speech knows it's the rhetorical equivalent of clutching at straws and that we're about to acquire another white elephant.

It was the US government, via President Barack Obama's State of the Union speech in late January, that best put our National Broadband Network into perspective. He said America was poised "to win the future", with the commitment to providing 98 per cent coverage with high-speed wireless digital communication.

There are plausible arguments that with the present state of the technology, for Australia it's not a case of either fibre or wireless but of them complementing one another in a mix yet to be determined and fibre is likely to be the best solution for backhaul. It's certainly too early to claim, as one commentator did the other day, that Obama's decision "will do for fibre optic what aviation did for rail travel" , but the preference for mobile services among a growing number of customers is clear.

One consequence of the US commitment to wireless is that it's bound to shift virtually all of the research and development dollars in one direction rather than the other.

Households that invested in Beta video systems in the 1980s will remember how it felt when, regardless of Beta's advantages, VHS's market domination rendered it obsolete.

On Tuesday, as Telstra prepared to unveil its upgraded mobile network, there were reports that a government-commissioned review had found the growing popularity of wireless internet was likely to have an adverse influence on the economics of the NBN.

Greenhill Caliburn's report described the risk in these terms: "Trends towards 'mobile-centric' broadband networks could have significant long-term implications for NBN Co's fibre offerings, to the extent that some customers may be willing to sacrifice higher speed transmissions for the convenience of mobile platforms."

On Wednesday, The Australian's Mitchell Bingemann and Annabel Hepworth reported that analysts and senior telco executives thought Greenhill Caliburn may have understated the case. Martin Mercer, chief executive of Vividwireless, said: "With iPads and tablets and smart phones driving this rich media experience for people anytime, anywhere, it's inevitable that many people will go mobile as their primary connection. We are assuming that the penetration of wireless-only homes will eventually get to the levels seen in the UK and US, where it's currently at about the 25 per cent mark."

According to Geoff Johnson, a Gartner analyst, wireless-only homes will plateau at 25 per cent within the next decade. By contrast, the NBN Co corporate plan assumes that although 13 per cent of residential premises are already wireless-only, that will only increase to 16.3 per cent by 2025.

However long it takes Australia to get to the 25 per cent mark, in the light of Obama's announcement it's plain that the wishful-thinking projection of 3.3 percentage point growth in wireless-only during the next 15 years will have to be revised. It will be fascinating to see an analysis of the expected effect if wireless-only were indeed to grow by 12 percentage points in the next 10 years and what, if anything, would be left of the notional business case.

As with the pink batts fiasco and the Building the Education Revolution scandal, the scale of Conroy's folly has taken a while to register in people's minds.

But there always seems to be a phase in the unravelling of a government program when it is simply overtaken by events. For NBN Co, it has been the past three weeks. It needs radical surgery and Conroy will have to be replaced.


Note: I have two other blogs covering Australian news. They are more specialized so are not updated daily but there are updates on both most weeks. See QANTAS/Jetstar for news on Qantas failings and Australian police news for news on police misbehaviour

1 comment:

Paul said...

Regulators and regulations have all but destroyed Live music played by real people here in Cairns but the drug-f**ed Nightclub scene continues unhindered despite the OD's, streetfights etc. Must be all about who you know.