Sunday, September 25, 2011

That evil coffee (?)

Not good for the young?? This sounds like kneejerk Puritanism. Where is the evidence of harm from coffee? When I was growing up kids in Australia were quite normally given a cup of tea with their evening meal and tea is also a caffeinated beverage. I have never heard of any harm from the practice

STUDENTS as young as 12 are being served coffee by a full-time barista employed by one of Sydney's top private schools. Presbyterian Ladies' College Sydney has opened the "Cyber Cafe" as part of extensive library renovations.

The cafe has outraged nutritionists who are concerned there are no restrictions on how many coffees students from the school in Croydon can purchase in a day.

Coffees cost $3 each (50c extra for soy or syrup flavour). Year 11 and 12 students are free to use the coffee shop all day, while Years 7-10 students can only buy before and after school and during recess and lunch.

Nutritionist Rosemary Stanton said the cafe should be restricted to Year 11 and 12 students as younger children should not be encouraged to consume caffeine. "It is too early to be introducing them to coffee," she said. "This is going to need a close watch because it is easy for girls to drink lots of coffee to keep them going instead of eating."

A barista at the cafe told The Sunday Telegraph the students drink a lot of coffee. She said they also add sweet syrups, including caramel and vanilla, which masks the taste.

The cafe makes between 10kg and 15kg of coffee per week, which equates to about 2100 cups, according to owner of coffee academy Barista Basics David Gee. "Say the coffees are $3, they'd be making about $5000 per week just in coffee sales,'' he said.

The school's director of information services Joanna Taylor said the caf is "a very popular space''. "I don't know how much coffee they drink but the reality is, in the morning, even before the caf, the girls come walking up the street holding their coffees.''


Natural medicine offers risks not relief

HEALTH authorities have failed to keep up with an explosion in natural therapists as lives are put at risk from untested, unproven and potentially dangerous services.

More than 200,000 practitioners work in unregistered health fields Australia-wide and complementary medicines generate almost $2 billion a year, but little can be done when treatments go wrong.

In a damning assessment of consumer-protection measures, Queensland's health watchdog admits it is powerless to respond to the misconduct of alternative healers and other unregistered practitioners.

"The status quo does not sufficiently protect consumers from (the) risk of harm from unregistered health practitioners," the Health Quality and Complaints Commission says in a confidential paper obtained by The Sunday Mail.

Naturopathy, faith and spiritual healing, Chinese medicine, homeopathy and massage are among the unregulated fields in Queensland, with the medical community warning of a health "time bomb".

"This is a public health issue waiting to explode," said UQ School of Population Health researcher Jon Wardle, who has found there are now more alternative medical practitioners than doctors in some areas.

"For half the healthcare sector to be non-regulated is completely inappropriate it is the black market of health."

The Australian Traditional Medicine Society says the industry is "overall very safe" but supports reforms to protect consumers.

Figures obtained by The Sunday Mail show there have been 119 complaints about alternative practitioners to the state's health watchdog in the past three years. Allegations of assault, rough and painful treatment, illegal practices, medication errors and inappropriate treatment are among the complaints.

However, the complaints commission is unable to discipline offenders and can only forward cases to other agencies for action under general consumer and criminal laws.

The state lags a long way behind NSW, where a health complaints commissioner can ban unregistered practitioners who breach a statutory code of conduct. There are no similar prohibition powers in Queensland.

An acupuncturist who caused a collapsed lung was among nine people banned in NSW since 2008.

Doctors' group the AMA says it is aware of dangerous practices, including practitioners claiming to be able to change DNA. "These practitioners sometimes lead patients to believe almost magical things can be done," Queensland AMA president Dr Richard Kidd said.

A further 80 complaints were made about complementary medicines and therapies to Queensland's Office of Fair Trading since 2008.

A huge question mark hangs over the safety of complementary medicines, with a scathing report this month revealing that nine out of 10 products were not meeting regulatory standards.

The Auditor-General's report found the 10,000 complementary medicines registered with the Therapeutic Goods Administration did not have to be tested for safety nor efficacy.

A TGA spokeswoman last week said there were 276 adverse drug reaction reports relating to complementary medicines, or 2 per cent of all reports.

Grave concerns about the policing of alternative operators this year prompted the Australian Health Ministers Advisory Council to launch a review of regulation. The body, due to report to health ministers in November, consulted with representative associations and found there were at least 200,000 practitioners.

Queensland's Health Quality Complaints Commission sent a "private and confidential" submission to the advisory council backing a national code of conduct and banning powers.

The present system allowed repeat offenders to "continue providing health services that harm the public", chief executive Cheryl Herbert wrote.


Major investigation into 'marshmallow generation'

FEARS that our children are becoming too soft and cloistered has prompted a major investigation.

The impact of over-protective parenting will be the focus of the VicHealth study, amid psychologists' concerns of a "marshmallow generation", the Herald Sun reported.

The three-year study will examine the impact of parental fear on reducing children's independence and physical activity levels.

It comes as psychologist Michael Carr-Gregg said parents were raising a generation of children too afraid to fail.

VicHealth acting chief executive John Fitzgerald said irrational fears of stranger danger and a strong desire to protect children from injury were barriers to them walking to school or playing outdoors.

The study, to start in December, would examine these issues, and interventions would be developed to minimise parental fears and its negative effects on children, Prof Fitzgerald said. "We want to be able to help parents work through it, so it doesn't impact on kids exercising," he said.

The Australian Health Survey 2010 found 42 per cent of children aged nine to 16 failed to meet activity guidelines of an hour or more on most days, he said.

Dr Carr-Gregg said some schools were awarding participation ribbons rather than first, second and third prizes to minimise competition.

It comes as Education Department report cards do not give failing grades, but note that work "needs attention" or is "below the standard expected".

Psychologists said some children were seeing them:

IN tears because they had been beaten by parents or siblings in backyard family sport or board games.

REPORTING minor friendship tiffs to school authorities as bullying.

THROWING tantrums because their teams lost.

VIEWING rough-and-tumble sporting games as violent attacks.

INCONSOLABLE because they had a bad mark for school work.

Dr Carr-Gregg said a lack of competition meant children did not learn to deal with disappointment. "Where is the incentive to achieve and get better? When you take away the ability to win and lose, you are taking away the capacity to develop resilience and the ability to overcome adversity," he said. "We are raising a 'marshmallow generation,' but we are doing them no favours because life does not work like that."


Huge corruption in the Federal bureaucracy covered up

At the end of 1999, a team of immigration analysts was facing a curious problem. Asked to compile statistics on where new migrants were living, the staff had to dig out original forms to match against later data. But as they moved through the department's old Cumberland Street offices in Sydney, they found scores of files had vanished.

About the same time, another official arranging a citizenship ceremony was annoyed to find a child's name missing from a key certificate. He searched for a hard copy original to check the name but he came across the same problem. The file couldn't be found.

There was another link. That child's citizenship file and the documents missing from Cumberland Street had been handled by the same senior officer - David Moon. The missing papers were later found stashed inside his office.

It was later revealed 110 Chinese migrants whose applications Moon had approved should never have been granted citizenship. Moon had been taking thousands of dollars in kickbacks and luxury overseas holidays to illegally fast-track them through the system. In 2008, the 69-year-old was jailed.

Now, a Herald investigation has found evidence to suggest there may be hundreds of similar cases lying in wait. Confidential files obtained using freedom of information show thousands of allegations of graft and abuse of office are being levelled against government staff each year - but only a handful are properly investigated.

Last year, almost 1800 misconduct cases were handled inside just 5 per cent of the agencies that make up the federal government. In the past six years, more than 3200 investigations have been conducted inside the Department of Defence alone. Almost one-fifth of Australian Customs and Border Protection's workforce has been investigated since 2007 for offences including bribery and "prohibited imports".

In January, customs joined two law-enforcement bodies already under the purview of the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, a corruption watchdog. But for the rest of the Commonwealth, no one is watching. Moon's is a salutary lesson because he wasn't exposed by someone blowing the whistle. There was no one inside the Department of Immigration who would have been willing or able to do anything with allegations that controversial - at one point, Moon simply declined to be interviewed by department officers.

The Australian Federal Police, which concentrates on drug trafficking and counter-terrorism, is reluctant to deal with Commonwealth fraud matters. It is likely the police took the case because the evidence was too conspicuous to ignore. There may be hundreds of bureaucrats in the public service who have previously been the target of internal investigations.

In one confidential memo obtained by the Herald, senior Department of Immigration personnel are told that several staff had resigned "to avoid incurring a breach of the APS [Australian Public Service] code of conduct on their employment record and likelihood of serious sanction being imposed".

This is not a rare occurrence. In the past six years, no fewer than 919 fraud investigations into Commonwealth public servants were prematurely terminated because they resigned.

THE senior executives who lead Canberra's public service promulgate the myth the Commonwealth does not have a corruption problem.

Carmel McGregor, then the acting public service commissioner, told a parliamentary law enforcement committee in mid-2009: "There is no evidence that corruption … is widespread in the APS." That may be true. But it is also true that corruption in the Commonwealth government is just as prevalent as elsewhere in Australia.

Not only are a substantial number of allegations formally lodged every day against APS staff, but most of those are never independently examined. Previously unpublished audits obtained by the Herald record more than 3800 internal investigations in nine departments in roughly the past three years.

The Department of Defence has been home to another 1300 in the same period and there are scores of other agencies whose files remain secret. The Australian Taxation Office has conducted 883 internal investigations in the past two years.

Last year, in 10 agencies, there were 21 cases of alleged corruption, 65 conflicts of interest, and 247 cases of fraud.

The public has heard about none of these, and many, on the evidence seen by the Herald, appear to have been handled discreetly to avoid public embarrassment. Indeed, there were only 11 referrals to the federal police by the entire Commonwealth government last year.

The internal audit files obtained by the Herald also show widespread corruption risks - poorly-managed procurements worth many millions of dollars, shoddy information security measures such as passwords which are never expunged and a culture of rorting travel benefits, salary entitlements or department credit cards.

In 2007, Griffith University published data from a survey of 8000 public servants about fraud and misconduct.

Canberra scored as well, or as poorly, as NSW, Queensland and Western Australia, which all have corruption-busting agencies. A total of 22 per cent had direct evidence of the rorting of entitlements, 31 per cent had seen a cover-up of poor performance and 10 per cent had seen someone use their status to obtain personal favours.

More federal employees had seen money stolen, resources improperly used for personal gain or pornography downloaded to a work computer than their state counterparts.

Crucially, only marginally fewer Commonwealth employees (2.4 per cent) had direct evidence of the payment of bribes than those in NSW (2.9 per cent).

The Australian Public Service Commission guides the bureaucracy on values and conduct. The Australian National Audit Office audits spending and performance. The Commonwealth Ombudsman handles complaints. And almost every department has its own audit unit.

They say where cases of serious corruption emerge - Moon is an example, as is Nick Petroulias, the former assistant tax commissioner jailed in 2008 for selling classified information - the AFP has the powers needed to investigate. But there are several problems with this position.

"They have a conflict of interest," John McMillan, the former Commonwealth Ombudsman, says. "They do not want to expose a weakness in their own procedures or have the public questioning the integrity of their process. By and large the interest of an agency is to avoid any publicity questioning … its efficiency or integrity."

Of 500 internal fraud cases recorded in the Department of Immigration in the past two years, only six were referred to the AFP.

Last year, Centrelink investigated 337 of its employees for misconduct including conflicts of interest, fraud and abuse of office. In 2008, the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs investigated 138 allegations that staff obtained a benefit by deception, and 475 misconduct cases between July 2007 and December 2009. How many cases were referred to the AFP by each agency in the past two years? One.

The reluctance of departments to bring ignominy upon themselves is one reason for the low rate of referrals - if someone has defrauded the agency it is because financial controls allowed them to do so. But there is another important reason. Internal investigators might find an invoice is missing, but they are unlikely to uncover one that was forged.

Then there are questions about the AFP's capacity to take up the cudgels. That it does so already is a myth, says Professor A.J.Brown,one of the country's most recognised public law experts. Unless the matter touches on criminality at the top end of the spectrum, the AFP has other priorities. "There is currently no expectation [among Commonwealth agencies] that the AFP would ever help deal with other types of alleged official misconduct, such as conflicts of interest, even in complex or serious cases."

Even the former AFP commissioner, Michael Keelty, has suggested as much. In 2006, he said the anti-corruption agency that oversees the AFP could have its jurisdiction expanded. "If we are serious about this, and if it is not just a quick fix, then the AFP could benefit in its investigations if the ACLEI [Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity] had a wider remit than what is proposed," he said.

FEDERAL governments have been forced to install a series of royal commissioners to address misconduct when it makes its way to the surface. Brown cites the Palmer and Comrie inquiries into the Department of Immigration which exposed a "far-reaching pattern of systemic organisational failures"; the Cole inquiry into the payment of $220 million in bribes by AWB; and the Clarke inquiry into the government's handling of the Mohamed Haneef affair.

Then there is the Securency scandal. So far, eight executives and a former deputy chairman of the Reserve Bank of Australia have been charged here and overseas with the bribery of officials in Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam to secure banknote printing contracts.

This week, the government announced a "National Anti-Corruption Plan" at a cost of less than $700,000 which is to be compiled by people inside the Attorney-General's Department. The government says it will "involve a thorough review of existing measures".

But on Thursday, the Home Affairs and Justice Minister, Brendan O'Connor, said those around him had yet to present a compelling argument that Australia's largest body politic needs a standing royal commission.

The former diplomat and long-time Canberra watcher Bruce Haigh says such arguments are never going to be mounted by the vested powers that run the federal government. Corruption is not a topic discussed at dinner parties in Canberra.

"Canberra is a closed place," he says. "There is a culture that we're separate and we're apart. It is a phony culture."


1 comment:

Paul said...

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