Tuesday, October 18, 2011

'Domus' gets Aussie visitors into the spirit of a Roman holiday

CARDINAL George Pell and most of Australia's Catholic bishops gathered in Rome yesterday to celebrate the opening of a visitor refuge that they hope will help turn ordinary Australian tourists into religious pilgrims.

About 60,000 Australians visit Rome each year. Cardinal Pell said he believed that the new Australia House, or "Domus Australia", should encourage many of them to focus on the religious aspects of Rome while lifting the church's profile in Australia and Australia's profile in the Vatican.

Valued by informal estimates at about $30 million, the new centre houses a 32-room hotel, a pilgrim information centre and a 115-year-old chapel that has been totally renovated and fitted out with paintings of early Australian Catholic leaders and symbols, including a large Australian coat of arms above the altar.

To the side of the altar is a painting of St Mary MacKillop standing beneath the Southern Cross, and the base of the ceremonial lectern or "ampo" is adorned with three moulded kangaroos.

On the first anniversary of St Mary's canonisation, Cardinal Pell yesterday celebrated a mass with 36 Australian bishops to consecrate the chapel's new altar.

He placed inside it relics of St Mary, Australia's first saint, Pope Pius V and St Peter Chanel, a Marist priest and missionary who was killed by Pacific islanders in the 19th century.

Expressing confidence that the new centre would be financed by renting rooms to tourists, Cardinal Pell said he would be shocked if the facility, in central Rome, could not pay its own way.

"I once said in a moment of rashness that Blind Freddy could make a bob out of this and I think we will be able to," he said.

"It is not an exercise in philanthropy.

"It is like setting up a parish in Rome and parishes have to be self-sufficient so certainly this house has to be self-sufficient. That is the ambition."

Led by Cardinal Pell's Sydney archdiocese, the creation of the centre from a run-down training facility for Marist priests was funded by a combination of loans, private donations and contributions from the archdioceses of Sydney, Melbourne and Perth and the diocese of Lismore.

The Australian bishops were in Rome for a five-yearly meeting at the Vatican.

The Pope is due to open the centre, on the Via Cernaia about 4km east of the Vatican, on Thursday morning (AEDT).

Cardinal Pell, whose own coat of arms adorns the chapel wall, was the driving force behind the project, beginning his search for a suitable site eight years ago.

He will use an apartment in the building as his base in Rome.

The first pilgrim centres in Rome were founded more than 1000 years ago, Cardinal Pell said, but in an era of the cheapest ever foreign travel, it made sense to have a national base for the large number of Australian visitors.


Huge volume of complaints about government hospitals in Queensland

LIFE-SAVING improvements to Queensland's health system are being delayed years because the sector's standards watchdog has been swamped processing complaints.

The Health Quality and Complaints Commission has just seven full-time investigators and last year it had to process almost 5000 complaints.

The watchdog has warned the huge number of complaints from the public is straining its "limited'' investigation resources.

The Courier-Mail understands some investigations are taking years to be resolved.

The revelations come at the same time as frontline Queensland Health staff continue to vent their frustrations over what they claim is a huge imbalance between doctors and nurses and managerial and clerical staff.

Last year, the State Opposition also revealed the number of spin doctors in the crisis-prone organisation had soared to 60.

The independent HQCC was set up by the State Government in 2006 after the Dr Jayant Patel controversy to recommend action to boost the safety and quality of health care for Queenslanders.

The HQCC launched 38 investigations in 2006-2007 and took on 83 in 2010-2011.

Almost 5000 complaints were received in the year ending June 30 an increase of 10 per cent with 58 per cent levelled at public hospitals. Inadequate treatment was the key concern.

Most investigations in the serious category take a minimum of 18 months, but The Courier-Mail understands some are blowing out by years.

The HQCC has 75 staff, including seven full-time investigators and one part-timer who each juggle 10 cases.

The watchdog's total operational budget has remained steady at just under $11 million a year.

In its latest report, it said the number of "serious and systemic healthcare issues" coming to its attention was putting pressure on its "limited investigation resources".

Mooloolah parents Andrew and Trudy Olive lost their four-year-old son, Tom, after an emergency department ordeal at Nambour Hospital on August 25, 2010. With no doctor on hand, a student nurse attended the boy with faulty equipment. Mr Olive was forced to start CPR on his dying son when medical staff failed to notice Tom's heart had stopped. The HQCC launched a formal investigation into Tom's treatment and informed the Olives that medical staff would be interviewed.

The results are expected to be handed to the State Coroner to consider whether an inquest should be held.

"We believe the HQCC investigation could take up to three years, because they are so busy," Mr Olive said. "Surely, there are no higher stakes than people's lives. We have this mechanism to improve health services and drive change, but it's far too slow. If something is going wrong, don't we want to find out as quickly as possible?"

HQCC chief executive Adjunct Professor Cheryl Herbert confirmed nine investigations were yet to be finalised, having run for 12 months or longer.

Mrs Herbert said these investigations were inherently more complex, and involved multiple witnesses, clinical opinions and legal/medical indemnity providers all of which could extend the investigation process.

"We are currently reviewing the composition of the investigations team as part of a broader operational review. This is likely to result in an increase in staffing in the investigations team," she said.

Mrs Herbert said the HQCC had previously sought additional funding for staff, including investigations officers, through the Cabinet Budget Review Committee process (2008 and 2009). These funding submissions were unsuccessful.


The huge cost and poor performance of "made in Australia" defence equipment

The defence bureaucracy don't have a clue -- which will be no news to most diggers

AUSTRALIA'S Collins Class submarines are more than twice as costly to operate as US Navy nuclear submarines. New figures obtained by The Advertiser show the six Collins boats cost about $630 million a year or $105 million each to maintain, making them the most expensive ever put to sea.

At present, just two of the fleet of six boats could go to war and with a maximum of three available at any one time, the costs are even higher when applied to serviceability.

The annual price for "sustainment" (maintenance and support) is $415.9 million for 2011-12, with operating costs (fuel, rations, wages, weapons) running at $213.4 million.

By comparison, a US Navy Ohio Class nuclear attack submarine, which is more than three times the size of a Collins boat, costs about $50 million a year.

The disturbing cost figures come as Defence officials revealed that at least two possible contenders for the navy's new submarine fleet, the Spanish S-80 and French-Spanish Scorpene class boat, have been ruled out of the future submarine project.

Answering questions on notice from Opposition spokesman David Johnston, Defence said both vessels did not meet "Australia's broad needs as outlined in the Defence White Paper". They are smaller than the Collins and the White Paper calls for 12 larger submarines to cost up to $36 billion.

In 2008, an embarrassed navy brass ceased to report on the performance of the Collins fleet in the Defence annual report. The 2007-08 performance outcome for the Collins fleet showed that it achieved just 64 per cent of its mission capability or 559 days of actual availability.

Since then the figures have been classified as "secret", but assuming a similar outcome then sustainment and maintenance of the subs now cost taxpayers a total of $1,643,835 a day for the six vessels or $273,972 a day each. With only two or three available for duty that cost blows out to more than $500,000 a day.

Senator Johnston accused the Government and Defence Minister Stephen Smith of taking their eye off the ball when it came to the submarines. A decision on the direction of the future submarine project is due to be made late this year or early in 2012.


Another big government computer bungle

When will they learn to buy off the shelf?

THE Baillieu government has frozen work on a major computer project involving Victoria Police and VicRoads after the state IT agency, CenITex, blew its budget by $20 million. The agency, which was set up to centralise IT services across the public sector, now faces an uncertain future, with a review to examine its governance and finances and whether it can achieve its aims.

New work will now have to be found for some of CenITex's highly paid external consultants, some of whom get the equivalent of up to $500,000 per year — more than the Premier. "They are in trouble [and] they can't get their act together," a source close to the project told Fairfax Media.

Aiming to save public money by consolidating email, help desk services and internal systems for more than 40,000 computers, CenITex spends $220million each year. Its 269 contractors account for more than a third of its workforce.

In July, the government called in police and sacked six contractors after two CenITex staff allegedly awarded themselves a tender that led to work worth $1.5 million.

Critics of Cenitex claim it is captive to private contractors who are more interested in profits than public sector performance. But its supporters say private contractors are complaining because if CenITex succeeds, there will be less work for consultants.

"There's an endless queue of people lining up Collins Street, waiting for the opportunity to put the boot in [to CenITex], and it's all because by and large it doesn't suit their interests," said IT analyst Steve Hodgkinson. He said the agency wasn't perfect, but all governments struggled with similar tasks.

CenITex chief executive Michael Vanderheide wrote to each government department last week, saying all "transfer related work" is on hold, pending a review by the State Services Authority.

The review will also cover staff morale. A former worker said: "Staff are overworked and poorly supported... [they] live under fear and the imposed threat of what might happen if they ask questions."

A senior CenITex insider denied there were major problems, saying: "Everybody's doing reviews and the government is doing nothing."

Some within CenITex believe it needs more funding to cope with Victoria Police and VicRoads, which handle sensitive data and need more expensive computer security.

CenITex was about to begin merging other department systems with those used by VicRoads and Victoria Police. Now every department head will be asked for their view of CenITex's governance and service delivery.

A major shake-up or revamp is possible, as Fairfax understands CenITex board members have not been told whether their appointments will be renewed beyond next year.


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