Wednesday, March 16, 2011


ABC TV has a program called "Q&A" which is subtitled "adventures in democracy". The recent interview there with Julia Gillard has left conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG most unimpressed -- unimpressed with both Julia and the ABC.

Medicare: Australia’s very sick sacred cow

by Jeremy Sammut

When the Prime Minister was under the gun for her ‘gushing’ speech to the US Congress on Q&A on Monday night, she said that Australians and Americans were very different kinds of people. The former believed in the ‘fair go’, whereas the later were individualistic and distrusted government.

To illustrate her point, she reached into the standard playbook of the Left and pointed to the different attitudes that prevail in each country regarding health care. According to the PM, when Australians look at the debate that has raged in the US over ‘Obamacare’, they wonder what on earth Americans are going on about. Because here in this country, we know that ‘Medicare works’.

For many people this will ring true. Medicare is widely considered to be symbol of national equity. The sentiment is that in a wealthy country like Australia, no one should go without health care due to disadvantage, nor be bankrupted by medical bills. This is fair enough as far as it goes. But whether Medicare actually ‘works’ for those who most need assistance to access health services is another question altogether.

Yet, speaking from experience, if you dare to raise any doubts about the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Australian social democracy, you will provoke every ‘true believer’ in the land. Question the wisdom of Medicare in any way, shape, or form, and you are guaranteed to provoke the following loaded response, which is calculated to kill any debate about health reform stone dead. “If we change Medicare, Australia will end up like America with people dying out front of the hospital.”

Yet there is a factual reply that confounds the popular, Michael Moore-esque, conceit.

That reply is that Medicare now kills more Australians than the national road toll. An estimated 1500 avoidable deaths occur each year due delayed emergency treatment. The facts are that one third of emergency patients have to wait longer than eight hours before gaining admission to a bed, because public hospital bed numbers have been cut by one third since the start of Medicare.

This situation has been rightly dubbed the ‘hospital crisis’, and it includes the avoidable deaths that are caused by long waiting times for elective surgery. The truth is that thousands of Australian are dying each year because of long waits to get into overcrowded public hospitals.

What this illustrates are the systemic problems with Medicare.

When Medicare was introduced in 1984, Australians were told it would be all so simple and equitable: each Australian would pay a levy on their income according to their means, and receive treatment according to their needs. The reality is that an inverse care law applies under the scheme, which means patients with the greatest health needs receive the least responsive services.

This is the result of Medicare operating as what health economists describe as a ‘reverse insurance’ system. Medicare provides GP and other medical services on demand on a fee-for-service basis. All consultations and tests are either bulk billed or eligible for a rebate under the Medical Benefits Scheme. The MBS budget is uncapped and is funded entirely by the Federal Government.

This means Medicare is fundamentally flawed in principle. No sound health insurance system should cover minor medical costs from the first dollar spent because this inevitably leads to overuse and waste. Because consumers face either no charge or lower charges, unnecessary consultations and tests are encouraged. The MBS is a political ‘sacred cow’ for this very reason: Australians are in love with bulk billing because they can go to the doctor for ‘free’ whenever they like.

What isn’t understood is that the ever-increasing and open-ended cost of the MBS has led to funding and service imbalances in the hospital sector. To offset MBS spending, the Federal Government has always limited its financial exposure to the cost of public hospital care by giving the states only capped hospital grants.

The predictable response by financially over-stretched state governments has been to impose blunt expenditure controls in the public hospital system including massive cuts to bed numbers.

The result is that many Australians with serious health needs requiring hospital care do not receive timely treatment due to the tight ‘caps’ on hospital funding that federal and state governments both use to limit the cost of our ‘free’ health system.

The perverse outcome is that Medicare leaves people over-entitled at the least serious end of the health care spectrum, while the cost of the most serious, most expensive illnesses are inadequately covered.

If Australians are serious about the fabled ‘fair go’, then the view we should take is that Medicare fails to live up to the national ethos. Medicare means that even the well and worried receive unrestricted, subsidised doctor visits, while the sickest patients languish in the hospital queues that are the daily reality around the country.

Before banging on about the evils of the US health system, Australians would be better off admitting that the way Medicare ‘works’ is deeply inequitable.


Slippery carbon claims by Julia Gillard

China IS closing down some older coal-fired power plants -- but because they emit REAL pollution, not because of their CO2 emissions. And the replacement plants emit MORE CO2

A NEW row has erupted over the extent of the rest of the world's action to combat climate change after Julia Gillard cited China's closure of "dirty" coal-fired power stations to back her argument that Australia must act to price carbon.

Opposition climate action spokesman Greg Hunt leapt on the comments, accusing the Prime Minister of failing to mention that China, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, was experiencing huge growth in emissions, but the Climate Institute's John Connor backed Ms Gillard's remarks.

He said China's action strengthened the argument for Australia to cut its emissions by 25 per cent of 2000 levels by 2020.

Appearing on the ABC's Q&A program on Monday night, Ms Gillard argued the rest of the world was moving on combating climate change. "There's this image that somehow we're the only ones - simply not true," she said. "You know, China [is] closing down a dirty coal-fired power generation facility at the rate of one every one or two weeks. Putting up a wind turbine at the rate of one every hour. They set their own targets by 2020 of reducing carbon pollution by 40 to 45 per cent per unit of GDP," Ms Gillard said.

Ms Gillard's comments followed closely the words of her climate change advisor Professor Ross Garnaut, who made the point about coal-fire power station closures in China in a recent climate change paper. However, Professor Garnaut went on to say the unsafe and economically inefficient plants were "replaced by larger, and economically and environmentally much more efficient plants".

A briefing to members of the Minerals Council of Australia cited research by economist and Reserve Bank Board member Warwick McKibbin that China's voluntary offer to reduce the emissions intensity of GDP by 40-45 per cent by 2020 would see its CO2 emissions rise by 496 per cent by 2020 on 1990 levels.

"While China has undertaken substantial efforts to increase renewable energy generation capacity, coal-fired power generation will continue to dominate," the note said.

The International Energy Agency projects that China's forecast new coal-fired power generation capacity (600GW) by 2035 would exceed the current entire generation capacity for the US, EU and Japan combined.

Executive Director of the Australian Coal Association Ralph Hillman said stations were being closed in China largely to address health concerns from their mercury emissions rather than their CO2 emissions.

But Mr Connor said China's actions were consistent with international efforts to limit global warming to 2C.

China's latest five-year plan dictates that carbon pollution per unit of GDP should be cut by 17 per cent. This was part of a long-term target to reduce pollution intensity by 40-45 per cent by 2020.

Mr Hunt said Ms Gillard had talked up China's actions on climate change without mentioning that China, "the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, is experiencing huge growth in emissions and this is expected to continue for some time".

"If the Prime Minister wants to talk about China, she should release the figures on China's annual emissions growth for the last five years, and the projections on how much China's emissions are expected to increase by over the next five years," Mr Hunt said.


Australia's proposed national school curriculum is full of Leftist indoctrination

by Kevin Donnelly

In the lead-up to the 2007 federal election, ALP leader Kevin Rudd staked the middle ground in education by advocating a conservative agenda, embracing a back-to-basics curriculum and a return to traditional subjects.

During her time as Education Minister Julia Gillard also defined herself as an education conservative and described the ALP’s national curriculum as exemplifying a return to academic standards and rigour.

In one speech Gillard described herself as “a passionate believer in the benefits of a rigorous study of traditional disciplines”, and in a second speech she boasted, “What we’re on about is making sure that the absolute basics of knowledge, absolute basics of education are taught right across the country.”

On replacing her as Minister for Education, Peter Garrett maintained the ALP line that education is a major priority and described the national curriculum as “world-class” and “vital to our goal of giving every child a great education”.

Has the ALP government delivered on its promise to develop a national curriculum that embraces the “traditional disciplines” and “the absolute basics of knowledge”? Based on the English, mathematics, history and science documents (dated December 8, 2010) the answer is “No”.

Instead of heralding a return to traditional learning, the proposed national curriculum represents a continuation of the type of substandard, politically correct approach to education that has bedevilled Australian schools over the last 30 to 40 years.

The more traditional approach to the curriculum, while acknowledging the importance of the learner and the fact that disciplines evolve over time, places subjects like history, mathematics, the sciences, the arts, music and languages and literature centre stage.

Matthew Arnold’s view that education should introduce students to the “best which has been thought and said” is often referred to in this context, as is Michael Oakeshott’s metaphor of education involving a conversation that is larger than the individual and that has been going on for hundreds of years.

This liberal view of education, while drawing on a range of cultures and traditions, is closely associated with the rise of Western civilisation and our Judeo-Christian heritage. In the same way that the nation’s legal and political systems and language and literature owe a great debt to and can only be understood in the context of this Western heritage, so to with education.

Instead of respecting and acknowledging this liberal view of education, the national curriculum gives primacy to three politically correct “cross-curriculum priorities” (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and cultures, Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia, and sustainability) and seven “general capabilities” (including intercultural understanding, competence in information and communication technology, and critical and creative thinking).

Every subject in the national curriculum must incorporate the aforementioned perspectives and capabilities. As a result, the disciplines of knowledge are undervalued and distorted to make them conform to the ALP’s and the Left-intelligentsia’s preoccupation with Asia, indigenous Australians, and teaching so-called work-related generic skills.

Instead of Asia and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, why not define the curriculum in terms of Australia’s Western heritage and Judeo-Christian tradition?

In relation to the seven capabilities (most of which are subject-specific and impossible to teach as abstracted skills) the case can also be put that it is more important that students commit themselves to the qualities and dispositions associated with a liberal education, such as civility, morality, objectivity, compassion, kindness, humility, creativity and truth-telling.

The history curriculum provides a clear example of this unwillingness to acknowledge the grand narrative associated with the rise of Western civilisation and the importance of Christianity. In one section the document asks students to act with “moral integrity” and to “work for the common good” but the curriculum writers refuse to acknowledge that such ethical values are culturally specific and can only be understood in Australia in the context of the Western tradition.

In an early draft of the history curriculum, while “Christian” appeared once, there was no mention of Christianity. While the most recent document refers to Christianity a number of times (and once to the Catholic Church) the focus is very much on diversity, difference and cultural relativism. When Christianity is mentioned it is usually in the context of other religions (Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Islam) and there is no attempt to detail the historical and cultural significance of Christianity.

When studying ancient Rome, for example, students are asked to consider the rise of the Roman empire and the spread of religious beliefs, but there is no mention of Christianity. In the study of Medieval Europe, Christianity is included, but the stated aims, that students should learn about “the dominance of the Catholic Church and the role of significant individuals such as Charlemagne”, “the Church’s power in terms of wealth and labour” and “the nature and power of the Church in this period”, indicate that students will be left with a less than favourable impression.

The decision by the curriculum writers to ignore the terms BC (Before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini) in favour of the politically correct alternatives, BCE (Before the Common Era), BP (Before Present) and CE (Common Era) further illustrates the extent to which Christianity is ignored and undervalued.

It should be noted that the most recent history document represents a slight improvement on earlier drafts. While the draft dated March 2010 made no mention of the Magna Carta, the Westminster system of government and concepts like the separation of powers, the most recent edition does when stating that Year 6 children should learn about “the Westminster system”, “constitutional monarchy” and “federalism”.

Unfortunately, though, instead of representing a balanced approach by recognising the debt Australia owes to its Anglo-Celtic heritage, it is clear that the curriculum writers are still committed to a view of history that uncritically promotes diversity and difference (code for multiculturalism) and that presents Australia as a nation of tribes.

The document’s treatment of migration provides a good example of this bias. Even though migration to Australia since the First Fleet has been primarily Anglo-Celtic and European in origin, teachers are told that students must be taught about “the long history of migration to Australia by people from Asia and appreciate the contributions made over time by Asian Australians to the development of Australia’s culture and society”.

Instead of praising the fact that Australia has welcomed so many immigrants from often hostile foreign shores and allowed them to live in peace and prosperity, the history document, when asking students to study migration, refers to “internment camps”, “assimilation policies” and “mandatory detention”.

Another example relates to slavery, where the history document is happy to refer to slavery during the Roman empire and to the European trans-Atlantic slave trade but, no mention is made of slavery under Islam. It is also no surprise that, when dealing with ideas and movements during the period 1750–1918, Year 9 students are only expected to study “progressive” ideas, with no mention of classical liberal philosophy or the type of conservative ideas associated with Edmund Burke.


Australia's vast and bungling welfare bureaucracy

CENTRELINK has been slammed by a commonwealth ombudsman for having 'systemic weaknesses' in review processes, including lack of transparency and insufficient education about available options to customers, often leading to delays and inaction.

A staggering 207,000 requests for review of Centrelink decisions were lodged during 2009/10, with almost half of reviewed decisions changed, often because new information became available according to the ombudsman report released today.

"Although some improvements have been made by Centrelink, we identified several deficiencies in administration which delay reviews and in some cases result in a failure to act on a request," ombudsman Allan Asher said.

Whilst approximately 47 in 100 reviews resulted in a changed decision, that did not necessarily mean that the original decision was wrong.

It did, however, reinforce the need for timely collection of information to enable a quality decision in the first instance as well clear explanation of decisions to enable effective access to review, the ombudsman said.

National Welfare Rights Network president Maree O'Halloran said the Mr Asher concluded that some problems are "intractable" and that Centrelink's internal review system fell short of being "legally sound, efficient and effective".

"After criticisms from five commonwealth ombudsman annual reports, three reports from the Australian National Audit Office, years of criticism by Welfare Rights and numerous internal reviews, Centrelink has finally agreed to overhaul their deeply flawed internal review system," she said.

The ombudsman has urged Centrelink to consider delaying action to recover alleged debts from recipients while they are appealing.

Other common problems identified in Mr Asher's report included repeated requests for reviews that were denied, with people having to ask five times for a review; delays in obtaining appeals quickly, with the worst case being a two-year wait for review; Centrelink recipients afflicted by "appeal fatigue", giving up because the process is too difficult to navigate.

The ombudsman said Centrelink failure to consistently implement appeal findings, and failure to adequately prioritise cases needing urgent review, failure to adequately explain the reasons for decisions; and important letters, faxes and emails from clients have been lost or misplaced.

The report reinforces the importance for Centrelink customers to be told of the different types of reviews available and options open to them in particular the implications of the type of review and whether further avenues of redress can be accessed for example, the choice to escalate a review or to suspend debt recovery.

It also draws attention to the vulnerability of customers and the severe consequences that an adverse decision might have.

"Centrelink customers have a right to independent review of decisions and the review process should be transparent, timely and result in the best outcome for the customer. "The options for review, including benefits and implications need to be clearly explained," Mr Asher said.

The report also highlights the phenomenon of 'appeal fatigue' where customers give up pursuing their right to a review after long delays have extinguished their resolve.

One case study of Mr 'J' highlighted that he made many calls over several months and was finally told that his request for review had not been upheld but he could appeal to the Social Security Appeals Tribunal. He told the ombudsman that he 'didn't know if he had the strength' to pursue the matter.

The report highlighted the need for Centrelink to identify and rectify causes of delay in the review model, including obstacles to recognising and acting upon requests for review. "The office recognises that Centrelink has put significant effort into developing effective review processes, however, it presently falls short of the ideal," Mr Asher said.


$53m Federal government welfare scheme helps only ONE person

(By its own criteria). Is this a record for bureaucratic waste?

ONLY one person has received the full $500 available under the Gillard government's $53 million matched savings scheme for welfare recipients launched last July.

Welfare advocates say the savings scheme has failed because it is unrealistic to expect people struggling to survive to put any of their limited money away.

To receive the payment, which matches savings dollar for dollar up to $500, those on income management must complete a money management course and show a pattern of saving for a minimum of 13 weeks. Centrelink quarantines the money, available only to those whose income is managed.

It is a successor to the scheme introduced in the 73 indigenous communities subject to the NT Emergency Intervention. The new scheme, funded for four years, has been expanded to those on welfare in the rest of the Northern Territory, and will be introduced to the rest of the country.

Between July 1 and December 31, 102 people entered the scheme, and of these 53 completed the money management course, 36 were still doing it and 12 had dropped out. To date only one person has successfully completed both requirements and received a full matched savings payment.

Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin said this would increase with the number of applicants still in the program.

At a Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs workshop with financial counsellors this month, it is understood concerns were raised about the progress of the schemes.

Ms Macklin said the matched savings payment was an incentive for welfare recipients on compulsory income management to improve their money management skills, encourage positive savings and increase their capacity to set aside money for major expenses and purchases.

"The initiative is one of several financial counselling and money management services that are available to people on income management to help them manage their money," she said.

But National Welfare Rights Network president Maree O'Halloran said there was a serious policy misconception that people on low incomes could not budget effectively. "Nothing could be further from the truth," she said. "In fact, the opposite is true. People on low incomes are excellent money managers - they have to be.

"The Matched Savings Account appears to be yet another one of the government's income management-linked policies that, it seems, is untried, untested and unpopular.

"The revelation of a next-to-zero take up comes as no surprise to Welfare Rights. The scheme is both complex and misguided. It fails to recognise the reality of such low levels of payments and the proven levels of deprivation that social security recipients experience. "Even among the most thrifty and frugal there is limited capacity to save."

Ms O'Halloran said the government was disingenuous in promoting the scheme, as the limited capacity to save meant few people would be able to take advantage of the payment of $500.

"People with full-time jobs would have difficulty saving the suggested amount in the government propaganda about the scheme, but to expect a person to save $500 from funds that are income managed is laughable."


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