Sunday, April 03, 2011

Lighthouse light dimmed to protect muttonbirds

This is criminal. People could die from failing to notice a lighthouse

A Tasmanian bird conservation group has praised efforts to protect muttonbirds that are being killed by a lighthouse in north-east Tasmania.

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Land Council raised concerns that thousands of muttonbirds are killed each year after flying into the Eddystone Point light.

The historic main light at the lighthouse has now been switched off and replaced with a lower intensity light.

Eric Woehler of Birds Tasmania says the Eddystone Lighthouse has killed many birds over several years. "We're talking about not just the shearwaters or the muttonbirds that are killed by lighthouses but a very high number of species are killed by flying into lighthouses." "So any measure that we can argue to improve the conservation of birds we'd certainly propose that," Mr Woehler said.


Reconsidering compulsory voting

Jeremy Sammut

The NSW election made me reconsider my opposition to compulsory voting.

The case against compulsion is that people with little interest in public affairs are driven into polling booths. A good citizen – according to the classic liberal conception – should not need to be forced to fulfil his or her fundamental civic duty.

The fear is that the votes of the informed and public-spirited will be discounted by the votes of the apathetic and ignorant, who only turn out to avoid the fine. The collective wisdom of the polity is reduced.

In addition, people cannot choose to stay away in disgust with the low standards of politics. If ever there was an election when voters wished to register their contempt for the political class by not turning out, last Saturday’s was it.

The counter view is that most compelled voters take their civic duty to decide who governs seriously. Most cast their ballot for one of the major parties because they know something about their programs. They do not spoil their ballot or vote for a minor party, such as the Australian Greens.

Commentators have noted the underperformance of the Greens at the NSW election. No matter the circumstances, the Green vote does not seem capable of rising much higher than 10% of first preferences.

I think compulsory voting plays a role in keeping the Greens politically marginalised, relatively speaking.

The NSW Labor Party shed an unprecedented number of votes. But most of these votes went straight to the Coalition and only a small percent to the Greens. This happened even in the key inner-city seats that the Greens were tipped to win: ‘Trotsky-ville’ (Balmain) and ‘The People’s Republic of Marrickville.’

The Greens’ agenda is radical and its constituency is the tertiary ‘educated,’ latte-left who are engaged with politics and ideologically motivated. Nothing short of a disaster of biblical proportions would keep Greens supporters away from the polls. A low turnout in NSW would have been in the interest of the Greens, as it would have increased the value of its rusted on (composted?) 10% of the vote.

But if there had been no compulsion to vote, and had Labor voters either stayed away in disgust or not taken the duty to decide between the major parties seriously and drifted to the Greens, then the election might have turned out differently.

The Greens might have won the seats they didn’t, and the election might have shifted the political culture in the state and the nation to the Left.

Instead, the compelled voters of NSW, in their collective wisdom, helped keep the Greens on the political fringe – where they belong.

This suggests that compulsory voting helps put the ‘main’ in mainstream politics. Therefore, despite what I think about compulsory voting in theory, in practice the outcomes are not malign.

The above is a press release from the Centre for Independent Studies, dated April 1. Enquiries to Snail mail: PO Box 92, St Leonards, NSW, Australia 1590.

Transport Department racks up huge taxi bill

Physician heal thyself

THE state government department responsible for Victoria's train, tram and bus network has racked up an enormous bill for staff to catch taxis.

Department of Transport bureaucrats spent up to $659,853 on cabs in a single year as Victorians were left stranded by late trains.

Financial documents obtained by the Sunday Herald Sun through Freedom of Information laws show transport bureaucrats charged thousands of cabs to the taxpayer instead of riding on the trains, trams and buses they are employed to get moving. Instead of catching public transport to city meetings, many of the workers charged the public for cab fares as low as $5.20.

Many caught taxis between Melbourne airport and the eastern suburbs at fares beyond $130.

One public servant had an $8.80 claim for a cab fare from "hotel to hotel" in the CBD at the peak of the festive season.

The big spend on taxis could have bought 173,645 zone-one two-hour Metlink fares, 94,264 daily zone-one travel tickets or 548 yearly zone-one passes.

Public Transport Users Association treasurer Kerryn Wilmot said public servants should get out of taxis and on board the services in need of improvement. "They should be using the transport that they have a responsibility for and actually experience what people who don't have the luxury of a corporate Cabcharge do," she said.

"If it's not good enough for them, then why should it be good enough for us? "Either use the services and get to know what is wrong or fix them so they are suitable."

Monthly Cabcharge reports and receipts show Transport staff spent $293,784.88 from February last year to February 2 this year, but a separate list of expenses shows the department spent $363,096.41 in the same period on taxis and miscellaneous expenses. The department spent $20,198 on cabs in May last year alone.

Former public transport minister Martin Pakula spent $3347 on cabs in the period.

With 1280 staff on the department's books at June 30 last year, the cab bill equates to more than $515 per employee.


Budget cuts at Queensland hospitals will cost lives, warn doctors

SENIOR doctors are predicting chaos and possible deaths at Queensland's biggest hospital if beds and theatres are closed as part of a budget crackdown.

The Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital specialists warn of bigger ambulance queues outside the emergency department, longer elective surgery waiting lists and damage to staff morale if threatened budget cuts are carried out.

Bed and theatre closures have been discussed at several meetings of RBWH staff as part of measures to rein in the budget, but no decisions have been made.

"Bed and theatre closures at RBWH are highly likely to cause harm and death for people in Queensland," senior doctors said in a letter to their management, leaked to The Courier-Mail.

"Bed and theatre closures will create havoc in the emergency department, with worsened access block and ramping. Bed and theatre closures will damage staff morale, and make it much more difficult to pursue efficiency measures. Poor staff morale also impacts on the quality and safety of healthcare provision.

"We want to make it absolutely clear that as health professionals, we do not support these measures."

However, they said they understood the harsh financial reality confronting Queensland Health and were committed to finding efficiencies and responding with innovative solutions. The doctors' names have been withheld on their request.

The Courier-Mail has previously revealed the RBWH is $60 million overbudget so far this financial year and QH faces a $300 million budget blowout unless savings are made.

RBWH Medical Staff Association chairwoman Dana Wainwright said doctors had a moral objection to bed and theatre closures because of their commitment to patients.

"Our hospital is underfunded for the services it supplies at a time when we've got increased demand," she said. "The budget isn't adequate for what we do. Staff are upset. We can't do any more. We're doing all we can."

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said the doctors' letter was a clear statement the budget crisis sweeping Queensland Health could impact upon RBWH with catastrophic consequences for patients. But Queensland Health Director-General Mick Reid said he had made it clear to all health service districts any budget-saving measures must first be approved by the department. "Metro North Health Service District has not proposed the closure of beds or theatres," he said.

Health Minister Geoff Wilson said Mr Reid had assured him he had processes in place to ensure any budget measures implemented were responsible.

The RBWH doctors said they would not sanction closures or having their budgets reduced so beds and theatres remained fully operational, but not funded unless directed to in writing by Mr Reid.


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