Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Immigration support plummets in Victoria, survey finds

There is a lot of crime from African refugees in Melbourne

SUPPORT for immigration has plummeted in Victoria, a survey shows. With the nation marking Harmony Day today, the Monash University study has revealed that 52 per cent of Victorians believe the migrant intake is too high.

This compared with only 30 per cent in 2007, according to the Mapping Social Cohesion 2010 survey.

Rampant population growth was a major federal election issue last year, and state Opposition leader Daniel Andrews admitted last week that the Brumby Government's mishandling of it was a key reason for Labor's state election loss.

More than half of all Victorians rated the Federal Government's record in providing roads, rail and housing needed for future growth as poor or very poor, the survey found. Just under a quarter thought it had a good or very good record while a similar percentage believed it was neither good nor poor.

The national survey, conducted in June last year, revealed that 47.3 per cent of Australians agreed immigration was too high, compared with 36.3 per cent three years earlier. But it also found that 64 per cent of Victorians agreed with the statement that “accepting migrants from many different countries makes Australia stronger". This was down from 70 per cent in 2007.

Report author Prof Andrew Markus, from Monash's Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, said there was surprising support for immigration given the extent of public debate over the issue last year. “On past record, the level of negative sentiment may well have reached the range 55-60 per cent," he said.

The survey also found that a small majority of Australians, 53 per cent, thought it was important that Christianity stay as the main religion. About 40 per cent believed it was unimportant while 7 per cent said it was neither important or unimportant.

The survey was sponsored by the Scanlon Foundation, a charitable organisation created by Melbourne businessman Peter Scanlon to promote “a larger cohesive Australian society".


Victoria's welfare binge

More than one in four Victorians now rely on welfare, prompting renewed calls for an overhaul of the system of handouts. A Herald Sun investigation has found at least 1.3 million men, women and children received federal payments in the past year. And about half of those were handed more than one benefit.

The payments are part of the nation's $84.2 billion annual welfare bill, administered by Centrelink at a further cost of $3 billion a year.

For the first time the Herald Sun can reveal the full extent of welfare after being given access to Centrelink data for every postcode in the state. More than 2.6 million "clients" are recorded in Victoria receiving some of 27 benefits administered by Centrelink.

Broadly they fall into three groups: 1.2 million who receive working-age income support, 830,000 who receive family benefits, and 540,000 aged pensioners. In addition, 1.4 million Victorians have health care and concession cards.

In two-thirds of communities, more than half the population received some form of federal help in the past year. In one in 14 communities, welfare payments outnumbered residents.

The findings have spurred fresh debate about Australia's welfare system. "The sheer number of payments being made, and the number of Victorians receiving them, is astonishing," Jessica Brown, a policy analyst from the Centre for Independent Studies, said. "We need to ask ourselves what more we can do to get people off welfare and into work."

Ms Brown said the system had become too complex and it needed to be simplified to ensure payments were going to those most in need of them.

Victorian Council of Social Service chief executive Cath Smith said the geographic distribution of payments was stark. "This data presents decision-makers with an opportunity to focus economic development and investment in new services in the areas that are seriously disadvantaged - where people currently have less access to education, jobs and services than (those in) more affluent locations," she said.

"The fact that so many Victorians can rely on our social safety net is reassuring, yet (we) see the human faces behind these numbers every day. And we know that life is tough when you are poor or chronically ill."

Eight in 10 families nationally receive Family Tax Benefit payments, despite their being designed to focus on lower income groups. These payments alone will cost taxpayers nearly $18 billion this year. Nearly $2 billion more will go to pay for parental leave and the baby bonus.

Treasury secretary Ken Henry last year recommended a major welfare shake-up. Among the Henry Review's suggestions was a reduction in the number of welfare payments to fewer than a dozen, better means-testing of people's true wealth, and more encouragement of single parents to go back to work.

Since then, the Federal Government has extended the welfare system, introducing 18 weeks' paid parental leave on January 1, extending Family Tax Benefits to cover children aged 16-18 at school or in training with payments of up to $4000, and providing up to $6000 for unemployed people to move for work.

The Federal Government has also promised tougher penalties for job-seekers who miss Centrelink appointments.

And middle-class welfare is expected to come under the microscope in the coming federal Budget.


Some small businesses CAN compete with the big boys

Small local hardware stores have been dying like flies since hardware megastores started popping up -- but it is still possible for little guys to find a niche

WITH a major battle looming between Bunnings and Woolworths for the $36 billion home improvement market, it may seem like Helen Morton's independent hardware store has the odds stacked against it. But Morton's Hardware at Wynnum is enjoying a brisk trade with access to 45,000 lines of stock, customers on a first-name basis, and not a single bargain bin or sausage sizzle in sight.

"The stock is predominantly brand names and from middle to top-quality," she said. "There are no $5 or $10 bins. One reason is because there is no room and secondly I cannot tolerate customers whingeing and returning rubbish goods."

In fact, just about everything the 43-year-old Morton's Hardware business does goes against the grain of conventional mega-store wisdom. It is in an out-of-the-way residential position, is not computerised, does not have a website, has a small yard, highly stacked shelves, narrow aisles and does not advertise.

Yet, according to the Mortons, the business has grown by about 19 per cent every year for the past decade, and when you see them in action, it is not hard to see why.

On Friday morning the shop floor was chock-a-block with customers none of whom seemed to spend more than a few minutes there before leaving with exactly what they were after. Morton's business mix is 70 per cent trade and 30 per cent retail most of which comes from the Wynnum-Tingalpa-Manly area.

Manly plumber Peter Lamb has been going to the store since before it became Morton's when it specialised in plumbing. "I started coming here with my dad when I was 15. It's got whatever you need and really great service. I wouldn't go anywhere else," the 59-year-old said.

Rose Dallas, of Hemmant, accompanied her trucker husband to the store to pick up supplies. "Here it's very personal, very helpful. At a place like Bunnings you find lots of staff, but you never find what you're looking for," she said.

In the next aisle, Wynnum man Ken Fuller said despite the illusion of size, bigger stores had limited stock. "They always start off saying they have what tradesmen need, but they only have their own brands. At Morton's they know things and have a great variety of stuff."

Despite the threat of a hardware battle in the community, most customers believed independents like Morton's would survive on its "excellent reputation and great service".

The Mortons said it was not always like that, with the turning point coming about eight years ago, when they signed on as members of the Hardware & Building Traders (HBT) buying group, whose membership consists of 312 independently owned stores.

Through HBT, Morton's accesses more than 260 suppliers a supply chain it will need to remain competitive in the months to come. It is that sort of supply chain certainty that led Woolworths in a joint venture agreement with American home improvement giant Lowes with whom it plans to roll out its Masters hardware megastore concept. Lowes will own one-third of that enterprise.

Both companies bought out a major industry buyer Danks which services about 600 independent members of Home Timber & Hardware, Thrifty-Link Hardware and Plants Plus Garden Centres, and more than 1200 non-affiliated stores. Danks provides about 25,000 product lines from more than 600 suppliers.

Woolworths community relations manager Simon Berger told The Courier-Mail they were already halfway towards a 150-site target for the hardware stores, including Tingalpa, Morayfield, Nerang and Springfield.

"We have 11 stores under construction, four of which are in Queensland. We can't nominate a precise number of Queensland stores into the future; suffice to say we are looking to provide a great new home improvement offer in cities and towns right across Australia," he said.

Each store was expected to generate about 130 to 150 retail jobs, with many more created in construction and other flow-on benefits to the economy. "Our stores will have approximately 40,000 products, which include home improvement, not just hardware," he said. "For example, you'll be able to get the things you need to renovate your kitchen, along with appliances for the kitchen."

Woolworths would not be drawn on the ramping up of activity by the Wesfarmers-owned Bunnings hardware group, which last week announced a $385 million spend over three years to open a dozen stores and two trade centres in Queensland.

"What Bunnings does is a matter for them," Mr Berger said. "Our focus is on raising the bar in terms of range, service and value, which will deliver more choice for customers and competition in the home improvement market."

With Woolworths already in heavy competition with Coles a subsidiary of Bunnings' owner Wesfarmers it's no surprise that, almost two years after first announcing its hardware push, Woolworths still prefers not to reveal too much. "We are deliberately maintaining an element of surprise," Mr Berger said.

Bunnings last week preferred to stay away from Woolworths' references, with managing director John Gillam adamant that his Queensland push was not driven by the upcoming rival.

"We've been growing our business in Queensland for a long time now," he said. "What we announced is the next three years. There will be more. It's our intention to continue to grow our presence."

For "fiercely independent" smaller players such as Helen Morton in Wynnum, there is no doubt there's a big fight ahead. But, she's prepared to hold the line for the little guys. "They might be able to kick the guts out of some of our prices, but they'll never be able to match the service we can give."


Fed-up doctors lift the lid on Melbourne's emergency departments

A dying newborn had to be taken from her distressed grandparents' arms and resuscitated on a chair because nowhere else was available in an overcrowded emergency department. The horror case is just one of dozens of incidents in which patients' lives are being needlessly put at risk because of a lack of resources, emergency doctors claim.

Fed-up doctors have decided to lift the lid on the issues in Melbourne's emergency departments, saying shocking ambulance bypass figures released by the Victorian Government last week barely scratched the surface of the crisis.

Cases highlighted by the Victorian Emergency Physicians Association show a wider risk to public safety because of bed shortages. Last March, a heartbroken doctor had to ask a grandparent holding an infant to leave so they could treat her on a bedside chair - no other space was available and all resuscitation cubicles at the hospital in Melbourne's southeast had patients on life support.

"Although baby survived, the incredulous looks between the grandparent, the infant's family, myself and staff are unforgettable," the doctor said.

Melbourne's busiest emergency departments turned away ambulances for more than 4300 hours in just six months last year. But VEPA president Dr Con Georgakas said the situation was even worse, with hospital administrators blocking physician requests to go on bypass when it was in the interests of patient safety.

"If we were able to get those patients who need to stay in hospital overnight up to the hospital wards promptly, then new patients arriving by ambulance would go straight to a bed in the emergency department," he said.

"The real problem here is a lack of capacity in our hospital system. "VEPA is calling on the State Government to fulfil its promise of more beds before this situation deteriorates further. We need those beds available 24 hours a day, seven days a week."

Health Minister David Davis said "the Government is determined to turn around Labor's 11 years of mismanagement".


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

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