Thursday, March 10, 2011


In his latest offering, conservative Australian cartoonist ZEG is delighted that Pauline Hanson has returned to Australian politics.

Australia a true friend, Gillard tells Congress

An excellent speech on the whole. The anti-American Left will be fuming

JULIA Gillard received a four-minute standing ovation after making a historic address to a joint meeting of the US Congress in Washington.

During the half-hour address she hardened Australia's military commitment in Afghanistan, telling the Congress Australia remembered America's help in World War II and would always stand by it as "a true friend Down Under".

Conceding that the transition to local control in Afghanistan will take "some years", Ms Gillard threw herself fully behind President Barack Obama's Afghanistan strategy, saying the two nations were inextricably linked by shared values and common aims.

Ms Gillard also challenged the US to use its capacity for reinvention to join Australia in pressing for new rounds of trade liberalisation and economic reform.

Describing herself as a "true mate", Ms Gillard urged the US to "be worthy to your own best traditions," calling on the nation to turn its creativity to addressing climate change.

And she called for US leadership in the Asia-Pacific to balance the rise of China and India and ensure all nations in the region could enjoy the benefits of prosperity and growth.

Ms Gillard's comments came in an address to a joint sitting of Congress to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the ANZUS treaty - a military alliance which binds Australia, New Zealand and the US.

Among Australian prime ministers, only Bob Hawke and John Howard have been accorded the same honor, while Robert Menzies addressed the House of Representatives in 1955.

Ms Gillard used her speech to make clear that Americans should expect firm and ongoing support from Australia.

"In both our countries, real mates talk straight," she said. "We mean what we say. You have an ally in Australia. An ally for war and peace. An ally for hardship and prosperity. An ally for the 60 years past. And Australia is an ally for all the years to come."

Ms Gillard said Australia had not forgotten that the US helped defeat the Japanese in World War II. She said the US should expect that Australia would not swerve in its support for the Afghanistan war. "I have told Australia's parliament in Canberra ... what I told General (David) Petraeus in Kabul ... what I told President Obama in the Oval Office this week," she said. "Australia will stand firm with our ally the United States. Our friends understand this. Our enemies understand this too."

Referring to her recent visits to the war zone, she said she was convinced the Afghanistan coalition had the right strategy.

However, as she outlined her solidarity on the war, she threw out challenges to the gathered US politicians on the economy and climate change.

Calling for US support for the economic reform process through the G-20, she also appealed for the reignition of the stalled Doha Round of international trade negotiations under the auspices of the World Trade Organisation.

On climate change, she called for continuing collaboration, insisting that the world must find a way to decouple economic growth from growth in carbon emissions.

Turning to security, Ms Gillard noted that political power was shifting towards China and India, and urged the Americans to call on the same courage that saw them provide leadership during the Cold War and to apply it to the emerging new world order.

She also praised former US President Ronald Reagan, describing him as a great figure of American optimism who had displayed the same values she believed would see the US continue to prosper and provide global leadership.

"I firmly believe you are the same people who amazed me when I was a small girl by landing on the Moon," she said. "On that great day, I believed Americans could do anything. I believe that still. You can do anything today."


Ambulances still 'ramping' for hours outside Princess Alexandra Hospital

AMBULANCES continue to "ramp" for hours outside the Princess Alexandra Hospital despite a major expansion of its emergency department opening late last year.

State Government figures show the number of ambulances turning up at the hospital has increased by almost 25 per cent since the November opening, to about 450 per week. Walk-in presentations have also significantly increased, from an average of 124 per day to 146 last week.

Dean Smith, who will undergo surgery tomorrow for a benign brain tumour, said he had spent six hours on Monday last week waiting with paramedics before getting into the emergency department. "It's ridiculous what goes on," said Mr Smith, 47.

John Webb, an organiser with United Voice, the union that represents paramedics, said he had seen a dozen ambulances, with patients aboard, waiting outside the hospital. "It happens on a regular basis. I've seen it. It's still happening," he said.

The hospital's $134 million expansion has more than doubled the number of acute treatment bays in the emergency department from 20 to 45.

In the 12 months to the end of last October, emergency was under so much pressure it was forced to redirect ambulances to other facilities for varying amounts of time on 213 days of the year a situation known as being "on bypass".

On Thursday last week, the Princess Alexandra, Logan, Mater Adults and QEII hospitals were all on bypass at the same time, increasing pressure on other Brisbane facilities.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said the situation put lives at risk. "It means paramedics driving around and around trying to find an emergency department that is either open or they have to wait potentially hours to get into one," he said. "Treatment delayed is a risk factor in any recovery. Delay in treatment can cost a patient their life." Mr McArdle said that while paramedics were ramped outside hospital EDs, other patients needing an ambulance may have to wait too long.

Mr Webb said he was hopeful new Health Minister Geoff Wilson would address the ongoing problem. "A positive is that the new minister wants to meet with us," he said. "Hopefully, we've got a new era."

Queensland Health's Metro South District CEO David Theile said the Princess Alexandra Hospital treated more trauma patients than any other facility in the state's southeast. "We are working closely with emergency clinicians and other hospitals to improve ED treatment times and reduce ambulance waiting times," he said.


Pharmacies selling 'quack' health products, CHOICE investigation reveals

AUSTRALIAN pharmacists have been called out for including "quack" healthcare products on their shelves. A CHOICE review of items commonly sold through pharmacies has uncovered a range of products that have purported health benefits but "no credible evidence that they work".

These included ear candles, herbal weight loss remedies and plastic bracelets with a hologram sticker which claim to improve balance, muscle strength while alleviating jet lag and motion sickness.

"Antisnor" rings - a metal ring worn on the little finger - were also for sale despite the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) taking action against its manufacturer to halt its claims it could actually prevent snoring.

"There is an onus on pharmacies to sell products that work and for pharmacists to stand by the safety and effectiveness of products in their store," said CHOICE spokeswoman Ingrid Just. "Pharmacists hold a four year specialist degree in chemistry, and consumers rely on their expert advice."

CHOICE also raised concern about homeopathy remedies appearing in pharmacies, stating the question of whether they had any real effect on the body had been "long debated (and) systematic reviews of clinical trials say no".

Ms Just said many pharmacies had expanded their offerings and they now resembled "full blown retail enterprises" selling "all manner of things from from toilet paper and confectionary to cosmetics and sunscreens".

This was not an issue, she said, where items for sale did not have a therapeutic of health claim attached to them. "But when it comes to health products, they should stick to selling ones that are safe, effective and supported by scientific and clinical evidence," Ms Just said.

The CHOICE probe also asked pharmacists about the efficacy of certain products and some offered "insightful, medically sound advice when asked." Others were "indifferent or who gave advice on quack products with no scientific or medical basis".

Ms Just said the problem was consumers could find themselves out of pocket, and with no relief for the problem they are seeking help for. "When products don't work the consumer may not only have wasted their money, they may have also delayed the opportunity to seek more appropriate treatment," she said.

CHOICE said people should, when considering a new or novel health product, ask their pharmacists if there was any evidence supporting its use.

The Pharmacy Guild of Australia agrees. "Pharmacists take their professional responsibilities very seriously," a guild spokesman told AAP. "The guild agrees with CHOICE's recommendation that the best course of action is to speak to the pharmacist about any new or novel product you're considering, and ask for further information."


What the Australian Federal government is not telling about its proposed carbon tax

The government is making numerous claims to justify imposing a tax on carbon in the face of Julia Gillard's solemn promise prior to the last election that,"There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead".

Each one of the government's claims in support of its carbon tax will require detailed scrutiny. In fact, what the government doesn't tell the public is already proving to be as revealing as what it does say.

One of the key reasons the Prime Minister uses in support of her decision to impose a carbon tax is that Australia will be left behind the rest of the world in pricing carbon, claiming, "there are more than 30 countries with emissions trading schemes and 10 American states with emissions trading schemes".

The latter reference is to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, involving a form of cap and trade scheme in 10 north-eastern and mid-Atlantic states in the US.

However, what the Prime Minister fails to reveal is that this initiative is in the throes of unravelling.

In the past few weeks, New Hampshire has taken steps to leave the scheme. One of the reasons it did so was because its state government had recently raided the money raised by this cap-and-trade fund, using it to help plug a black hole in the New Hampshire budget.

In retaliation, opposition politicians were able to gather the numbers to legislate for New Hampshire's exit from the scheme.

Similar raids on revenue from the cap-and-trade schemes to help fund general spending have occurred in at least two other states, including New York and New Jersey. Cross-party support is reportedly building to withdraw New Jersey from the scheme.

If that occurs, commentators suggest the viability of the whole scheme is doubtful. It would be at risk of total collapse.

Given the experience in the US, Treasurer Wayne Swan should be required to give a guarantee that he will not use Labor's proposed carbon tax to fund his budget black hole.

It is also worth noting that the much-heralded Chicago Climate Exchange, partly owned by Al Gore and Goldman Sachs, which was supposedly helping shape a $US10 trillion market in carbon credits, collapsed in November last year. Its last trades in credits costed carbon at 10 cents a tonne.

The Prime Minister also reminds us that the European Union has an emissions trading scheme and that Australia would do well to follow the example set by the EU.

What she fails to add is that the European police agency, Europol, announced on December 28, 2010, that it had discovered a €5 billion ($A6.7 billion) fraud within the EU's trading system. More than 100 people were arrested in connection with it.

There are other claims worth investigating. The Prime Minister is insistent that, as Australia is one of the largest emitters of carbon on a per capita basis, we must impose a tax carbon - even if larger contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions do not take significant steps to reduce emissions.

According to a Reuters report of November 14, 2010, which used data from the US Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre, the top per capita emitters of fossil fuel carbon dioxide (in tonnes) in 2007 were: Qatar 51.3, Kuwait 34.0, United Arab Emirates 30.9, Bahrain 29.5, Trinidad and Tobago 27.7, Luxembourg 24.2, Brunei 19.5, United States 19.0, Australia 17.7 and Saudi Arabia 16.9.

In the context of a global picture, the level of emissions per capita is less important than total emissions.

Again Reuters has reported, based on data from the German renewable energy institute IWR, that the top national emitters of carbon dioxide (in millions of tonnes) in 2009 were: China 7426.4; US 5951.0; Russia 1534.4; India 1529.1; Japan 1225.2; Germany 796.6; South Korea 664.2; Canada 605.9; Saudi Arabia 544.4; Iran 544.4.

On this list, Australia comes in 16th, with 374 million tonnes - or 1.28 per cent of global emissions.

Taking the EU as a whole, we can conclude that 67 per cent of all emissions come from the top five emitters, namely China, the US, EU, India and Russia.

The Copenhagen climate change conference and its aftermath demonstrated that there is unlikely to be any co-ordinated effort by the big five emitters any time soon.

Imposing a tax on carbon in Australia to address our 1.28 per cent share of global emissions has the potential to cause enormous damage to our economy and our standard of living, while making little to no difference to global emissions.

Little wonder that recent polls reveal considerable opposition to yet another tax from this Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister should not impose a carbon tax without putting it to a vote of the Australian people at the next election.

In the meantime, just watch her lips.



Computers and bureaucrats just don't mix. When are governments going to accept that software "upgrades" rarely work? "Legacy" software generally worked because it was a lot simpler. Expecting much more complex software to work is usually a step too far.

Bill Gates spends years getting new software to work. As soon as he releases a new version of Windows, he starts work on the next one. Even so, it took 8 years to get from Windows XP to Windows 7, with an abortive Windows Vista in between. Lesser effort than that is doomed.

Three current reports below

Over a year to get payroll software working properly

Queensland Health staff still missing pay a year later

One year after Queensland Health's disastrous payroll system went live, workers are still being underpaid and some are going empty-handed. But new Health Minister Geoff Wilson yesterday said the system was stabilising and "good progress" had clipped the number of affected people to 274 from a staff of 78,000.

The new SAP system, implemented last March, is now believed to be outperforming its predecessor although a true comparison cannot be made because the old system did not collect performance data.

Mr Wilson warned that the complex new system, which covers more than 15 awards and industrial agreements, would never be perfect. "In any big payroll system there will be, fortnight by fortnight, some corrections that need to be made," he said. "What we need to do is make sure that number is not a number that is a product of any flaw or deficiency in the system."

Inconsistencies could continue for another 18 months but Mr Wilson promised to meet fortnightly with unions to "hear directly" about any problems. The first meeting is scheduled for this afternoon.

A project to fix system defects will probably finish in the coming months but a second scheme to simplify rosters could take more than a year to implement.

It is designed to relieve the clerical burden on frontline managers and will include localised pay hubs staffed with people who understand the highly individualised work arrangements of each health district.

Some underpayments had been blamed on last-minute roster changes or rosters not being passed to payroll on time, including 31 workers who were unpaid during the most recent pay cycle because of form-processing issues.

Another 243 people were underpaid in January and had to take emergency hardship payments until the errors were rectified.

Mr Wilson labelled the debacle a "terrible ordeal" for workers and said "no stone would be left unturned" to improve the system.

Shadow health spokesman Mark McArdle called for the release of all Government briefing notes prepared about payroll issues to determine who was responsible for the system's failure.

"This has caused enormous pain and misery to many Queenslanders and culpability has never been established," he said.

Mr McArdle also questioned how the system's repair bill could top $210 million, more than three times the system's original cost.


Firearm registry in meltdown

FIREARM dealers are ready to fire a class action at the State Government over income lost because of the failure of a new online permit application system.

Many of the state's 150 dealers are facing ruin because of ongoing problems with a $6 million computer system introduced last November to "streamline" processing.

The Queensland Police Service implemented the Weapons Licensing Management System, saying it would save $7.5 million over five years in staff efficiencies.

However, the QPS has had to bring in 20 additional employees to help process thousands of outstanding permit-to-acquire applications from already-licensed shooters.

Weapons Licensing has revealed the current backlog is 4400 applications 400 more than when The Courier-Mail first reported the issue on February 7.

Dealers say their income has dropped by up to 80 per cent, as only a trickle of approvals are coming through, preventing them from being paid by customers.

"This has seen staff lay-offs and some dealers going to the wall. There is no doubt many won't be here in a few months if the situation continues," Firearm Dealers Association of Queensland president Robert Nioa said.

Mr Nioa, also the national president, said Queensland was the only state with this problem and in other states the process took one day to complete.

"Dealers can't sell their firearms and they have also lost out on being able to sell accessories. The estimated damage to the industry is well into the millions and climbing," he said.

Mr Nioa said there was "a big call" for a class action to recover lost profits and compensate businesses set to close.

He said this would be on the agenda at a special meeting in Brisbane on March 21 to be attended by dealers from throughout Queensland.

Some of the larger dealers now have 900 customers waiting for permits and up to $1 million tied up.

The QPS said the problems had been largely caused by the need to "temporarily suspend data processing for a period of time" during the system change.

"The QPS is unable to provide a definitive deadline, as the time taken to process applications for PTA is dependant on a number of factors, including the number of new PTA applications received each week, the complexity of the applications and the completeness of the supporting information," a spokeswoman said.

Shooters Union of Queensland president Graham Park said shooters were angry because they could not get approvals.

Mr Park said shooters had been told at a meeting with police that the situation might not be resolved for at least four months.

"Like the Queensland Health payroll bungle, the computer system introduced to handle firearm permits has turned into an omelette," he said.


NSW hospital software loathed by staff for its errors

HOSPITALS around the country are struggling to cope, with patients forced to wait for hours in corridors and a $115 million spent on a computer system that assigns treatments to the wrong patient.

In New South Wales, a review of the FirstNet computer system found it is crippled by design flaws and is compromising patient care.

FirstNet allows treatment details and test results to be assigned inadvertently to the wrong patient, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Difficulties retrieving patient records could delay treatment, and the system - on which $115 million has been spent - automatically cancelled pathology and radiology requests if the person was transferred from the emergency department without checking whether these were still needed, the review found.

The system is so compromised it should be scrapped, a specialist doctors' group said.

Sally McCarthy, president of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, said the review by Professor Jon Patrick confirmed that the system, loathed by doctors and nurses, is unsuitable for its purpose. The potential for records to be linked to the wrong patient raised a serious risk they would be given incorrect treatment, she said.

A NSW Health spokesman said in a statement the department agreed with Professor Patrick that "the ability to have two patient records open on a screen is a patient safety issue and this will be addressed through a software upgrade".


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