Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Julia Gillard enlists Tony Abbott on offshore processing of asylum-seekers

JULIA Gillard has taken her first step towards enlisting the opposition to restore offshore processing of asylum-seekers, writing to Tony Abbott in defiance of pressure from the Labor Left and the Greens to switch to an onshore regime.

And the Opposition Leader has agreed to co-operate on legislation to circumvent last week's High Court ruling that struck out Labor's existing border security system, conceding that the national interest demands collaboration. The move to bipartisanship came yesterday as senior government figures admitted to a sense of urgency about the need to deliver a policy response to the High Court declaration that Labor could not proceed with its plans to send 800 boatpeople to Malaysia in exchange for 4000 proven refugees.

With the policy aimed at discouraging people-smuggling, it is understood a cabinet meeting on Monday night heard it was vital to deliver a swift legislative response to avoid a new flood of boats arriving off northern Australia.

But cabinet delayed a resolution, calling for more information amid concern any decision made in haste could expose the government to further High Court challenges.

Since last week's verdict shifted the goalposts on border security, the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader have traded blows. Mr Abbott has urged Labor to reopen a Howard-era processing centre on the Pacific island of Nauru; Ms Gillard has insisted her legal advice makes it clear that the court decision put a cloud over offshore processing in any location. As Greens, Labor and Liberal MPs and former Labor ministers yesterday continued arguing against offshore processing, the phony war ended.

The Prime Minister wrote to Mr Abbott to offer him briefings from senior bureaucrats about the implications of the High Court decision and "their analysis of

the different policy approaches that are available to respond".

"I note your recent comments about your willingness to work in the national interest to restore the capacity of the executive to enact legislation which will establish appropriate processes for Australia's management and handling of asylum-seekers," Ms Gillard wrote, before leaving Australia for a meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum in New Zealand.

In a written response accepting the briefings, which are expected to be given today, Mr Abbott made it clear he agreed with Ms Gillard on the need to re-establish the legal framework to allow offshore processing.

"Since the High Court's decision last week, the government has effectively lacked a policy to deal with illegal boat arrivals and it's hardly in the national interest for this to persist," he wrote.

He told Ms Gillard he still believed the High Court ruling did not affect processing on Nauru and he supported the use of temporary protection visas and turning boats around as they approached Australia if it was safe to do so.

"Still, if the government remains committed to offshore processing, as it has been since you first announced the so-called East Timor solution, the opposition will co-operate in putting this beyond legal doubt," he wrote.

As necessity drove the political enemies together, Greens leader Bob Brown accused them of being out of step with public opinion on the matter. "When you do look at the most recent Nielsen poll, 53 per cent of Australians believe that asylum-seekers should be brought ashore and processed," Senator Brown told ABC radio.

He said offshore processing eroded the nation's belief that it observed the concept of a fair go.

Michael Lavarch, who was attorney-general in the Keating government, questioned the effectiveness of amending the Migration Act to allow offshore processing to continue.

Professor Lavarch, the executive dean of the Faculty of Law at the Queensland University of Technology, said the High Court had signalled it was uncomfortable with offshore processing and attempts to lock up people for indefinite periods.

"Maybe it's time to go back to the starting blocks and accept that Australia should be dealing with asylum-seekers in mainland Australia through onshore processing and assessment regimes," he said.

Another former Keating government minister, Carmen Lawrence, said the government should view the High Court's decision as an opportunity to move towards mainland processing of asylum-seekers, saying it was "beyond the pale" to transfer people to third countries.

"They should take the opportunity to rethink entirely the offshore processing of asylum-seekers and move to what is the only sensible option in my view, which is onshore processing with brief detention and put the money that's saved into working in the regional community and beyond into trying to reduce the pressures that are pushing people out of their homes and into boats," she said.

Dr Lawrence quit the Labor front bench in 2002 because Ms Gillard, then the party's immigration spokeswoman, developed a policy that retained the concept of mandatory detention.

Current Labor backbencher and former human rights lawyer Melissa Parke said the High Court judgment made clear that the Howard government's Pacific Solution was illegal under the Migration Act.

"The terrible irony is that while the Coalition wrongly demonised asylum-seekers as illegals, they were busy administering an illegal policy," Ms Parke said. "My view is that onshore processing is the safest, most humane and cost-effective approach to what is a difficult issue, but not a particularly big problem."

Liberal MP Judi Moylan, who during the Howard government's term strongly rejected offshore processing, said she remained opposed to processing in Nauru and believed the Malaysia Solution was "dreadful".

"I think we should be processing onshore and we should put an end to mandatory detention - just long enough to do the necessary health and security checks of people," Ms Moylan said.


The real danger to our children

Frank Furedi

SOMETIMES the most well-intentioned initiatives to protect children end up with unexpectedly disorienting consequences for everyone concerned.

The experience of the past three decades indicates that an understandable concern with the safety and wellbeing of children can swiftly mutate into a zealous crusade that often incites parents into a state of panic. That is why the announcement by Queensland Premier Anna Bligh that the Daniel Morcombe Child Safety Program will become part of the school curriculum for Prep to Year 9 students fills me with dread.

The Daniel Morcombe Foundation will receive official support for its campaign to promote awareness about child protection in schools. Bruce and Denise Morcombe, whose 13-year-old son was allegedly abducted and killed eight years ago, were appointed as child safety ambassadors by Bligh, who stated that she hoped the child safety curriculum would be adopted nationally. At first sight there appears to be little that is objectionable about the initiative. To his credit Morcombe has stated that his program does not aim to scare children but to give them "lifesaving skills". Apparently aware that a lot of previous stranger danger initiatives have led to a dramatic erosion of adult-child encounters, Morcombe indicated that "we're not saying everyone is bad; we're saying you need to trust some people".

Unfortunately in today's climate, where intergenerational relations are fraught with tension, the institutionalisation of this initiative in Queensland schools is likely to make a bad situation worse. Teaching children to trust "some people" conveys the idea that it makes sense to mistrust every other adult. Take the example of one of the first stranger danger campaigns launched in 1988 in Leeds by the British Home Office. The campaign created a profound sense of anxiety and as far as the children were concerned the message was that they should mistrust people they did not already know.

Other campaigns organised by the Home Office offered a list of "grown-ups you can trust" -- police officer, security guard, shop assistant, mum with a pram. But apparently everyone else signifies danger. It is likely that children in Queensland who will be instructed that it is OK to trust some people will draw the conclusion that other adults are potential threats to their wellbeing.

What children are likely to learn from such instructions are not so much precious life skills but the habit of suspicion towards the adult world. In circumstances where so many adults are perceived as potential predators, children are actually disempowered from developing the kind of intuition that helps them to distinguish between friend and foe or how to anticipate trouble. The division of a world into people who can and cannot be trusted provides little guidance for the negotiation of the ambiguities of routine personal encounters.

The questions that Australian policymakers and educators should be asking themselves is do we need to introduce even more suspicion towards intergenerational interaction in schools? Parents already carefully scrutinise the behaviour of adults who talk to their children. Time and again, mothers and fathers will tell you that "the world has changed" and "you just don't know who is out there". Australia already possesses a flourishing child protection industry and anxieties about the prevalence of pedophilia are widespread. So if there is a problem, it is not that Australians are not suspicious enough but that when it comes to adult-child relations they are often prone to suspecting the worst.

That's why it is difficult to understand Bruce Morcombe's statement when he stated that "Daniel's abduction is a defining moment in terms of Queensland parents collectively recognising that child safety is important".

Queensland parents may have many failings but a failure to recognise the importance of child safety is not one of them. And the last thing Australian children need is yet another safety campaign that will have the unintended consequence of discouraging them from engaging with an uncertain world.

The most regrettable outcome of child protection policies that target strangers is the diminishing of intergenerational encounters. It is no exaggeration to state that a growing number of adults feel awkward and confused when they are in close physical proximity to children that they do not know. Nor is this sense of unease confined to intergenerational interaction between strangers. Many teachers and nursery staff confide that they often feel self-conscious in their relationships with children in their care. They understand that frequently an unintended remark or a physical gesture can be easily misinterpreted by others and that they will be judged guilty until they can prove their innocence.

In the present climate adults often feel uneasy about acting on their healthy intuition and feel forced to weigh up whether, and how, to interact with a child they have encountered. Such calculated behaviour alters the quality of that interaction. It no longer represents an act that is founded on doing what a man or woman feels is right -- it is an act that is influenced by calculations about how it will be interpreted by others and by anxieties that it should not be misconstrued.

Worse still is the fact that many adults have decided the best policy to adopt is to keep their distance from other people's children. Such a course of action is motivated by the conviction that they should avoid putting themselves in situations where their actions can be misinterpreted. Arguably, the disengagement of many adults from the world of children represents a far greater danger than the threat posed by a -- thankfully -- tiny group of predators. The best guarantee of children's safety is the exercise of adult responsibility towards the younger generation. It is when adults take it on themselves to keep an eye on children -- and not just simply their own -- that youngsters can learn to feel genuinely safe.

Instead of fostering suspicion towards grown-ups, society should encourage and cultivate a sense of trust in the good intentions of the older generations. Instead of disrupting inter-generational trust, schools should be cultivating it.


Extraordinary: Optus signs up to National Broadband Network gag order

A government business must not be criticized???

OPTUS has promised not to criticise the National Broadband Network in key regions for 15 years under a deal that raises new warnings the $36 billion project will stifle competition.

Just a week after the competition regulator warned that parts of an $11bn deal with Telstra could prove detrimental to competition and consumers, official documents reveal that an $800 million deal with Optus includes an "anti-disparagement" provision.

The provision, designed to help shore up the number of customers using the NBN, stops Optus from being "expressly critical of" or making "any express adverse statement" about the performance of the network.

The ban would apply in the areas where the No 2 telco has agreed to shut down its cable network, which presently passes 2.4 million premises, and is also likely to affect the 504,000 Optus customers who would be migrated to the NBN.

The deal also stops Optus from marketing its wireless data services to target those households in a way that criticises the NBN. But Optus is still "free to compete in the market for the supply of wireless services".

Telstra has promised not to promote its wireless internet services as a direct substitute for the NBN for the next 20 years.

But last week the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission warned Telstra that a clause in its deal with the NBN Co, which is building the network, had the potential to undermine the competition for wireless services.

The development comes as The Australian can reveal that despite forecasts in the NBN Co's corporate plan that up to 35,000 premises at new housing developments would be connected to the NBN by June 30, the first development was not connected until August 8.

NBN Co's executive general manager of new developments, Archie Wilson, said when the corporate plan was issued in December last year it was expected developments already under way would receive fibre.

But the government later clarified that only developments that received council development approval after January 1 would receive fibre, typically about nine months after works start on a new estate.

Mr Wilson said there were already more than 2000 applications to connect about 175,000 premises on so-called greenfield estates over the next three years, with about 50 new applications a week.

The first fibre rollout to a major housing development will be unveiled today at Bunya in western Sydney.

Yesterday, NBN Co said it had reached 600 premises as part of its main rollout on the mainland, 200 more than expected.

The comments came as NBN Co chief Mike Quigley said it had awarded two key contracts that would take to 60 per cent total construction activity to have been allocated.

NBN Co yesterday signed construction contracts for work in Victoria and in Western Australia, following a deal to build in Queensland, ACT and NSW. The timing of the awarding of contracts for the Northern Territory and South Australia remains unclear.

NBN Co has asked the ACCC to authorise its $800m deal with Optus. This is where the ACCC provides immunity for otherwise anti-competitive arrangements on the grounds that the public benefit outweighs the detriment.

The restrictions that NBN Co is seeking with both Optus and Telstra are more akin to the types of clauses found in severance arrangements in employment contracts that restrain employees from speaking negatively about a former employer.

They can also be used in other contracts to protect an investment where the size of the investment is particularly large.

Last night, opposition communications spokesman Malcolm Turnbull lashed the provisions as anti-competitive and said they were evidence that federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy would "sacrifice consumers so that the holes in the NBN business case don't become a political problem before 2013".

"The NBN Co's deal with Optus has not been provided with the same statutory waivers from ACCC oversight that the Telstra deal was granted. I would expect that the ACCC will find these anti-competitive measures to be very objectionable," he said.

Prominent economist Henry Ergas said the clause appeared to be designed to restrict Optus's ability to comment freely "because it will create the fear that the comment they make could be viewed as disparaging".

NBN Co spokeswoman Rhonda Griffin would not comment on whether the company would seek to revise the restraint clause in the Optus contract after last week's ACCC concerns, saying the "marketing of Optus wireless services will continue in their HFC (hybrid fibre coaxial) areas and elsewhere".

"What it does is restrict the use of adverse statements about the performance of the NBN, and even then, only within the confines of Optus HFC service areas," she said.

Optus defended the provision as limited in scope.

An Optus spokeswoman said that to the extent that further developments in wireless technology enabled faster wireless services to be provided to consumers, Optus would be free to offer those services to its customers.

NBN Co has admitted that wireless internet services in some areas could reach 12 megabits per second -- the NBN entry-level speed -- although in reality advertised rates of 10-25Mbps for wireless connections can drop to less than 2-3Mbps when there are more users.

NBN Co insists that the anti-disparagement clause will have no effect on competition for wireless broadband services because the plan was "to support the migration of customers by ensuring a discouraging marketing environment does not arise".

"In this regard, it is important to note that Optus does not currently promote its wireless services with reference to either its HFC network or Telstra's copper network," NBN Co has told the ACCC.

"On the contrary, Optus promotes its wireless network in terms of speed, coverage, reliability and the value for money that it provides."



Three current articles below. It's all a far cry from my recent experience in the private healthcare system

Patients are experiencing long delays in Queensland emergency departments

SOME patients at Queensland emergency departments are waiting more than two days to be admitted to hospital, a study has found. A snapshot of 19 Queensland emergency departments at 10am on August 29, found three had patients who had waited more than 48 hours for admission to a ward.

The hospitals were included as part of a national study by Australian National University researchers on behalf of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine.

Study author Drew Richardson, a Canberra-based emergency specialist, said while most states had improved since a similar study a year ago, the situation in Queensland and NSW had worsened.

Among 13 Queensland emergency departments which took part in both the 2010 and 2011 studies, the number of patients waiting more than eight hours for admission to a hospital bed a situation known as access block increased from 55 to 78. Thirty-six patients had waited more than 16 hours, up from 23 in 2010.

"Queensland really needs to get its act together," Associate Professor Richardson said. "Overcrowded emergency departments, unfortunately, are dangerous places to be. You're still better off in hospital than not in hospital if you need to be there but when waiting times blow out because the departments are overcrowded, the hospitals just can't deliver the high quality care that they'd like to."

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said the State Government needed to do more to address the problem. "No matter how much money this Government spends on health, they can't get it right," he said. "Access block is a killer and until we start tackling this issue as a whole-of-government hospital question, it will not improve the outcomes for patients in this state.

"If you try to look at the emergency departments in isolation, you miss the point. You have to consider bed numbers, elective surgery waiting lists, discharge of patients and other factors."

Queensland Health's Centre for Healthcare Improvement acting CEO Michael Daly said while the number of people attending public hospital emergency departments had increased by 9.6 per cent in the past year, the time taken to admit patients to a ward had remained "relatively unchanged".

"Queensland Health is investing significantly in initiatives to improve flow through its emergency departments," Dr Daly said.


Patients diverted from RAH for a second night

PATIENTS have been turned away from the Royal Adelaide Hospital for the second night in a row as the state's health system buckles under record demand. It is thought to be the first time in history ambulances have been placed on diversion two nights in a row.

The Advertiser today revealed ambulances were diverted from the state's main hospital for two hours on Monday, the second time in three weeks. AdelaideNow has today learnt a diversion was put in place last night from about 10pm to midnight.

The practice of diversions is put in place when an emergency department reaches full capacity and non-critical patients are sent to the closest available hospital. Patients suffering from life-threatening conditions are received and treated.

Before the August 11 incident, the RAH had only diverted patients three times since early 2007.

The RAH is usually used as the hospital of last resort when others reach capacity and the Australian Medical Association has warned that the recent diversions are a sign of systemic strain.

In statement yesterday, acting RAH general manager Di Rogowski said that ambulances were diverted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital between 7pm and 9pm on Monday evening after "an unexpected peak" in emergency patients.

"While the hospital had bed capacity, emergency department staff asked for a diversion to allow them to treat and clear nearly 90 patients who arrived in a short space of time, including nearly 30 in the space of an hour," she said.

"Such diversions are a fact of life within any health system and the RAH regards this as normal operating procedure to ensure the proper treatment of patients during times of peak load."

Opposition health spokesman Duncan McFetridge said the system was clearly in crisis and there was no sign of looming improvement.

"This is not just a winter crisis. This is a rolling crisis which has been going on month after month after month," he said. "All we are being given is promises of more beds in two years' time. "(Health Minister) Johh Hill is in complete denial."

Data from the SA Health's emergency department dashboard shows four hospitals had emergency department average waiting times of over an hour as ambulances were diverted from the RAH.

These included Lyell McEwin Hospital - which had a wait time of up to 107 minutes - Noarlunga Hospital and Women's and Children's Hospital.

Health Minister John Hill said the diversions were the sign of an integrated hospital network functioning well.

"These things happen from time to time and there was capacity in other hospitals which was utilised."

Surveys showed the South Australian health system was one of the best functioning in the nation, he said.


Queensland Health computer glitch causing long delays in producing vital cancer data

ANOTHER Queensland Health computer "catastrophe" is causing long delays in producing vital cancer data used to plan for patient treatment services and in research.

As the department struggles to fix payroll system problems, damning documents obtained by The Courier-Mail outline major issues with the Queensland Cancer Registry (QCR).

The database of information is crucial for health bodies that must decide where best to locate cancer services and ensure they are appropriately funded, equipped and staffed to cope with demand. Researchers also review the data to analyse cancer trends aimed at shedding light on possible causes.

While Cancer Council Queensland houses the registry, Queensland Health manages and maintains its information technology.

Ongoing software issues have prevented Queensland Health from providing accurate 2008 cancer incidence and mortality data to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

The AIHW was due to provide the information to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) as part of its National Healthcare Agreement Performance report later this month. But Queensland Health has only been able to provide estimates that are based on 2005-2007 figures, and population increases.

Cancer Council Queensland CEO Jeff Dunn said Victoria and Western Australia had already published 2009 data.

"Can Queensland still call ourselves the Smart State? We're the only state in the Commonwealth that can't produce this data," Professor Dunn said. "If we don't know how many people are getting what sorts of cancers and where, how are we going to try and control it? It's just not good enough. It's a big problem."

Letters and emails leaked to The Courier-Mail reveal problems date back to August 2009 when responsibility for the registry transferred within the department to the Queensland Cancer Control Analysis Team.

"On May 5, 2011, CCQ was first notified by Queensland Health that the 2008 cancer incidence and mortality data compiled by the QCR to meet benchmark performance timelines could not be published until June 2012, a major setback to CCQ's anticipated publication date of April, 2011," Prof Dunn wrote in a letter to acting director-general Tony O'Connell in June.

"Specifically, Queensland Health advised that the system functionality was irreparably damaged in the transfer of management of registry operations to the Queensland Cancer Control Analysis Team in 2009."

In a written statement, Queensland Health's deputy director-general, Michael Cleary, said the department hoped to provide 2008 data to AIHW "in the coming weeks".


1 comment:

Paul said...

Three patients waited over 48 hours? Three?? Where did they hide the other twenty?