Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Business leader Don Argus blasts Labor's 'woeful' record

ONE of the nation's most esteemed business leaders, Don Argus, has lashed out at the "lazy reform", "loose thinking" and lack of "political courage" of the Federal Government.

The former chairman of BHP Billiton and chief of National Australia Bank described Australia's productivity growth as "woeful" and called for more flexible workplace laws, the Herald Sun reported.

The blistering attack has stung the Government because Mr Argus conducted a review of the mining tax for the Prime Minister.

In a speech to the Minerals Council, Mr Argus said reforms pushed by the Government were "sub-standard" and there was a "lack of scrutiny" about how the proceeds of the mining and carbon taxes were being spent. "I fear our political leaders are opting for the most politically convenient outcome and not what is in the best interests of future generations," he said.

Mr Argus called for lower company taxes and said excluding the GST from the tax reform debate "is beyond my comprehension".

Mr Argus said the most important way to improve productivity was with industrial relations flexibility. "This lament is not about WorkChoices, it is about productivity and the competitiveness of Australian business," he said.

Mr Argus said Australia was "in good shape today" but that reflected decisions taken in years gone by. He feared Australia's position "can deteriorate quickly both because of bad luck and bad policy design".

A spokesman for Treasurer Wayne Swan rejected the attack, saying the Government had proved its ambitious reform agenda with record investments in transport infrastructure, broadband internet, and skills and training, while working hard to turn around the neglect in productivity growth caused by the Howard government.

The spokesman said Labor was using revenue from mining companies to cut business taxes for the parts of the economy not in the mining-boom fast lane.

Mr Argus's blast came as ministers Stephen Smith and Simon Crean - who have been touted as possible replacements for Julia Gillard - declared their strong support for the Prime Minister.


An advanced case of toxic bureaucracy

THE State Emergency Service is in crisis after thousands of exasperated volunteers quit the body, fed up with bureaucratic bungling.

As Queensland braces for another storm season after its most devastating year of natural disasters on record, the vital service has been rocked by an exodus of 5600 workers in the past five years.

Volunteers blame petty bureaucracy and excessive safety rules for pushing SES groups to the verge of collapse.

SES members regardless of their professional backgrounds or experience are required to spend days on courses learning to climb ladders and are barred from flood boat training until finishing ladder school.

"We were taught you need three people to climb a ladder and to count down the number of steps aloud: four, three, two, one, ground," said one former worker, who quit in frustration. "The training is laborious and infantile and they treat everyone like a complete idiot."

Constant refresher courses, tradesmen forced to attend courses to learn how to operate tools used every day in their jobs and impractical rules are among problems blamed for discouraging existing members and new recruits from donning the orange overalls.

One former volunteer was forced to do a one-day ladder course despite being a qualified electrician who regularly worked on 7m-high ladders.

Prior training is recognised in some cases, but members complain life skills often went ignored because they did not have the right piece of paper.

Another former SES member sat a two-day height training course but had to repeat it less than a year later after a course update made his training "null and void". Members were also told to get pole-saw retraining weeks after a two-day course because regulations had changed.

Meanwhile, some members can wait months for training before they can be put to use because of delays in courses. It has led to an SOS for the State Government to slash the red tape or face a rescue force in terminal decline.

Jandowae SES member of 30 years Tom Bradley said the Darling Downs group had reached its lowest membership with just five volunteers.

The SES controller said heavy regulation combined with a lack of interest from the younger generation had rendered the group practically non-operational.

"This is the worst it has ever been and the town population in Jandowae has certainly increased," Mr Bradley said. "I have had people say to me, 'Why would I bother joining the SES when I have to meet these stringent requirements?' "If you ring and say you want your house covered we have to say, 'Look I'm sorry, we can't do it but I'll organise to get some assistance from a group nearby'.

"And yet you may have people there more than able to do it, but not qualified to what they (Emergency Management Queensland) want with their standards. "A lot of it is common sense and that is what we have lost out of a lot of the things we were doing. Previously people just went and did it."

Condamine SES deputy controller Glen Taylor is one of the loudest voices calling for red tape to be cut, saying the "over-regulation was just madness".

EMQ figures show SES volunteers fell from 12,456 members in 2005 to 6800 active members in 2010. But Emergency Services Minister Neil Roberts said the 2005 volunteer figures were inflated. He did not believe volunteer numbers had dramatically reduced and said skills training was necessary.

Paperwork sank $600,000 boat donation

STATE Emergency Service bosses knocked back a flood boat donation worth $600,000 because it would take too long to fill in the paperwork.

A deal hatched during the January floods to donate a fleet of flood boats to the SES collapsed after those behind the plan were told Emergency Management Queensland could not complete the paperwork in time to deploy the vessels during the floods.

The Commonwealth Bank had struck a deal with Gold Coast boat retailer Sirocco Marine North to donate five vessels, worth about $600,000, provided they could be immediately put to use. The offer was made 48 hours after the floods hit.

But Sirocco Marine North dealer Tom Carlisle said the offer was rejected because red tape meant the deal could not be signed off in time.

"Because of the bureaucracy in EMQ management ... they couldn't take the boats," Mr Carlisle said.

"It was amazing watching it as an outsider. They couldn't get the paperwork done in time. Everybody was really disappointed because they had the opportunity to get $600,000 of rescue equipment for nothing."

Mr Carlisle said one of the amphibious vessels was authorised for use by the SES on a loan basis during the floods provided it was driven by himself and not SES volunteers, who had not been given clearance to drive the vessel.

He spent more than a week driving the vessel around Logan on behalf of the SES.

"The only way we could get that into active service with them is if I actually drove the boat for them," he said.

The Bligh Government has announced funding for 56 new flood boats and extra flood boat training for SES staff in response to the flood inquiry.

An EMQ spokeswoman said the boats were a different configuration to its usual flood vessels, requiring different training for staff and proper testing of the boats.


The not very multicultural council

Miranda Devine

WITH little fanfare last week Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced her new Multicultural Council. But a curious feature of an advisory body that is supposed to be a "socially inclusive" representation of multi-ethnic Australia was the fact that at least five of its 10 members are Muslims, and not one member has a Chinese or Indian background.

This glaring oversight is despite the fact that China was Australia's largest source of migrants in 2010-11, comprising 17.5 percent of the total intake. And Indians made up 12.9 percent of migrants. There are no representatives from the indigenous community, either.

The 10 members of the council are: Rauf Soulio (chairman), a South Australian judge active in the Albanian community; Gail Ker, a board member of the Ethnic Communities Council in Queensland; Dr Hass Dellal, Executive director of the Australian Multicultural Foundation; Samina Yasmeen, Director of the Centre for Muslim States and Societies and Professor of Political Science at the University of Western Australia; Talal Yassine, a lawyer and director of the Whitlam Institute; Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a mechanical engineering student at the University of Queensland; Dr Tanveer Ahmed, a psychiatrist, author and newspaper columnist; Dr Tim Soutphommasane, a research fellow at Monash University's National Centre for Australian Studies, Peter Wertheim, executive director of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and Carmel Guerra, chief executive officer of the Centre for Multicultural Youth.

New council members said they had been told not to speak to the media. But others in the multicultural community expressed surprise at the heavy Islamic presence, while pointing out the Muslim members could not be said to be monocultural, being drawn from such diverse ethnic backgrounds as Lebanese, Sudanese, Bangladeshi and Turkish.

Eminent Chinese community leaders such as Dr Anthony Pun, founding National President of the Chinese Community Council in Australia, might have been snubbed but last week he refused to have "sour grapes".
"I am sure the members have been appointed on merit and I would like to congratulate them. I would just ask that if they want to make decisions concerning Chinese-Australians they would they consult us."

All the new council members have significant CVs. But to have allocated half the spots to a religious group which represents just 1.7 percent of the Australian population seems peculiar. As does excluding the largest ethnic groups in the country.

It looks like yet another own goal from the Gillard government.


Qld. Health payroll debacle: they were warned

A GROUP of concerned IT professionals warned the Bligh Government the new health payroll system was hurtling towards "catastrophic" failure six months before it went live. The experts cautioned that because the payroll system was being created from the remnants of another failed IT project, it would be a disaster.

The Courier-Mail has learnt the meeting, on September 21, 2009, was held with then Department of Public Works associate director general Natalie McDonald. The revelation the industry was well aware of the system's looming problems will spark further questions about why it was activated in March last year.

Hundreds of health staff have been routinely left with little or no pay because of faults with inputting details about their work hours and duties.

The Government is spending more than $200 million on improving the technology and employing extra payroll staff to ensure details are input on time.

In speaking notes from the meeting, IT consultant John-Martin Collett, who has worked for both governments and blue-chip companies, said the health payroll system was "hiding behind political outcomes and agendas".

"This project is most likely to fail as a result of where the project started from, how the project is managed and most importantly what the project is covering up," Mr Collett said in the speaking notes. "The outcome will be simply catastrophic."

It is believed Mr Collett was referring to a whole-of-government financial system which was a precursor to the health payroll.

Ms McDonald, who has now been promoted to director general, said she could not remember if health payroll was discussed but she wouldn't be surprised. "While I do not recall discussing the health payroll project during the meeting, it would not be surprising for a company to make comments about a project that was already understood within industry to be the subject of delays," she said in a written statement.

Ms McDonald said she was not a member of the payroll project board and the history of its implementation had been "thoroughly canvassed" by the Auditor-General.

Opposition waste watch spokeswoman Fiona Simpson said it was extraordinary that even the industry knew the system would be a disaster but no one in Government had acted. "And the cost is being borne by the state's doctors, nurses and allied health professionals," she said.



Paul said...

"We were taught you need three people to climb a ladder and to count down the number of steps aloud: four, three, two, one, ground," said one former worker, who quit in frustration. "The training is laborious and infantile and they treat everyone like a complete idiot."

Its the Safety Lesbians again! They've got control of everything!

Paul said...

There's another. QH has an online Nurse ongoing education program that is Statewide. Lots of money has been spent on it (it used to be paper-based but today's kids want everything in multi-choice with pretty colours), and far too many people have been seconded as "project" officers to work on it. "Consultants" have decided it isn't any good and basically canned it, forcing them back to the paper-based system (which was actually very good). The problem is that they started with a good product but the "Let's do everything online" crowd got involved, the committees started throwing their bits in, and the "Thank Anna I don't have to look after patients for at least six months" Project Secondment Nurses stuck in their bits and in the end...too many cooks spoil....Sounds obscure I know, and wouldn't make for good media because you'd need to much background information just to help the public understand what it was about, but its another example of unwieldy bureaucracy wasting valuable time and resources and wrecking something that worked because they just couldn't leave it alone.