Saturday, February 04, 2012

Hardly fair to vulnerable children

Dr Jeremy Sammut comments on how deserved is the "community worker" pay hike

For the last three years, I have been arguing that Australia’s failing child protection system is being run in the interests of social service providers and not ‘at risk’ children.

In the name of ‘family preservation,’ state community service departments are leaving children for far too long with highly dysfunctional families and only remove them as a last resort when they have been damaged, often permanently, by parental neglect and abuse.

While the childhoods and life opportunities of children ebb away into intergenerational disadvantage, social workers employed in the public sector and non-government ‘charitable’ organisations receive taxpayer funding to provide an array of support services that try and fail to do the impossible – fix broken families with serious drug and alcohol, domestic violence, and mental health problems that can’t be fixed.

The Fair Work Australia decision on Wednesday to award ‘equal pay’ to more than 150,000 community sector workers at a cost of $2 billion to taxpayers is indecent in its illustration of the political problems in the child protection system.

Forget that the decision is based on dodgy comparisons – why should someone with a three-year social work degree have income parity with a trained economist or scientist? Sadly, the federal government was not only willing to support the claim but also provided the $2 billion additional funding to foot the higher wage bill at a time of looming economic woes.

Many commentators are justifying the pay rise by saying those who choose to work with the poor are saints. The real question is why is failure being rewarded? Public choice, dear reader. I just wish vulnerable children had a public sector union to advocate on their behalf, replete with tame factional serfs in the Labor caucus.

That feathering their own nests has been the priority at a time when the child protection system is crumbling all around us and stumbling from one crisis to another means that social workers have surrendered any pretensions to their ‘professional’ status.

This sorry episode has reinforced my belief that the answer to the perpetual crisis engulfing child protection is to restore citizen-control over the system by re-establishing decentralised, community-governed child protection agencies.


Another sinking renews 'stop the boats' call

OPPOSITION immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says efforts in the Malaysia boat disaster are focused on "recovery and rescue". At least eight asylum seekers were found dead early yesterday after their boat capsized off southern Malaysia while en route to Australia. Grave fears are held for about six others who are missing. Thirteen people made it to shore.

"The effort at the moment always has to focus on recovery and rescue," Mr Morrison said in Sydney today.

He said the Coalition remained committed to its policy of reopening the detention centre on Nauru, the reintroduction of temporary protection visas (TPVs) and the towing of boats back to Indonesia. "That is the policy that's proven, that is the policy that's strong and that's the policy that should be restored to stop the boats," he said.

Mr Morrison said there would be no more talks with the Government about resurrecting the offshore processing of asylum seekers. "There is no further talks because the Government has refused to change the legislation," he said.

"The Government clearly has been seeking to do nothing other than trash the Nauru option with their ridiculous costings, which have been lampooned around the country. "They have no serious intention of destroying temporary protection visas, we know they won't turn the boats back."

This week's boat accident comes two months after more than 200 asylum seekers drowned when their vessel sank after leaving for Australia from East Java in Indonesia.


Shortage of State school places in Victoria

Rapid population growth fuelled by out of control immigration must bear much of the blame

Exclusive figures from the Education Department reveal for the first time the increasing struggle many parents face to get their children into popular government schools.

The records show 224 primary and secondary schools now have enrolment restrictions. They are either capping the number of students or using map boundaries. Some use both.

Families missing the cut are forced to move closer to their first choice - boosting real estate prices around the most popular schools - or settle for other options.

Both the State Government and Opposition say there are enough schools to cater for demand overall.

But some parent groups, principals and community advocates argue there are not enough schools where families need them most, and that "unpopular" public schools need more resources.

Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said while increasing numbers of parents were opting for public education, they could not be blamed for picking some schools over others. "It's laughable that governments advocate parental choice when they're not comparing apples with apples," she said.

Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Frank Sal was surprised by the number of schools with restrictions, but said state and federal funding of public education was too low. "We must provide the support needed to all government schools that enables them to attract and retain teachers, as well as instil confidence in their local community," he said.

Education Minister Martin Dixon said the Government was closely monitoring the changing needs of communities.

There were many reasons schools got to the point of needing caps and boundaries, including reputation, areas of specialisation and population growth.

"Some parents choose a school on a drive-by, so if there's a brand-new building out the front, that's often an attraction," Mr Dixon said. "It's so important for parents not just to listen to their neighbours, but to go into the school ... and make an informed decision."

Pitsa Binnion, principal of McKinnon Secondary College, a successful zoned school in Melbourne's east, believes boundaries create some misconceptions.

"We have to de-mystify the boundary issue," she said. "Many parents ... need to understand that wonderful things are happening in government schools (across the board)."

Opposition teaching profession spokesman Steve Herbert said the Government had undermined schools' ability to provide for their communities by "slashing capital works funding".


Officialdom closes ranks over dam coverup

There is even an implied threat to freedom of the press

FLOOD Inquiry commissioner Justice Cate Holmes has defended her deputy, dam expert Phillip Cummins, against conflict of interest allegations as the flood inquiry resumed this morning.

The Courier Mail today revealed Mr Cummins was working as a consultant for a company on the payroll of Wivenhoe Dam operator SEQwater. "There has been no conflict," Ms Holmes said when the inquiry convened.

But Ms Holmes also said she only became aware yesterday that Mr Cummins was a staff member with a consultancy hired by SEQWater to oversee the revision of the dam manual.

Ms Holmes opened the hearing on Saturday by addressing The Courier Mail's front page headline and report. "All of that has the appearance of a calculated attempt to undermine the Commission and its work but I will not draw any conclusion about intent until I have given the editor and the journalist involved the opportunity to explain themselves," she said. "Whatever its intent the potential for its effect on public confidence in the Commission is obvious."

News Queensland editor-in-chief David Fagan and The Courier-Mail editor Michael Crutcher released a statement in response to Justice Holmes' words.

"The Courier-Mail stands by today's front-page story and by the journalists who wrote it," Fagan and Crutcher said in the statement. "Our obligation is to present the facts to our readers. The facts of this story are not in question. "The inquiry has substantial work ahead. This includes explaining to Queenslanders how it missed pointers to crucial evidence that forced the inquiry's resumption. If not for the work of newspaper journalists, that evidence may not have been uncovered."

The inquiry reconvened last week only after reports by The Australian and The Courier-Mail newspapers forced the commission to question its earlier findings.

Meanwhile, Deputy Premier Andrew Fraser sprang to the defence of the flood inquiry on Saturday. He says claims of a a cover-up by the government were "baseless". "Commissioner (Cate) Holmes has set out all of the relevant details and set out why there is no conflict of interest here. There is no benefit to the commissioner concerned," he said in his Mount Coot-tha electorate.

Asked if inquiry member Phillip Cummins should stand down, Mr Fraser said: "This government continues to have confidence in Justice Holmes who is fiercely independent and fiercely capable ... there is no conflict here.

"This is a commission which is holding extra hearings because it wants to get to the truth. Any suggestion that this is anything other than a truth-hunting exercise and one which is being carried out with fierce independence I think it false and is not reflected in the facts."

Mr Fraser said it was a mistake to suggest Mr Cummins had done anything wrong. "What he has done is agreed to work for a company into the future on other projects after the end of the inquiry."

Mr Fraser also disputed claims that further documents had been withheld from the inquiry. "All documents that the government had available were provided to the commission of inquiry. No document is being withheld. All relevant evidence and all people are available to provide both statements and to appear before the inquiry.

"This government wants to get to the truth as much of the people of Queensland. We have provided absolutely everything ... there is to be no stone left unturned."


Hostile b*itch found wanting again

It would seem that it is only her Aboriginality has kept her in her job as long as it has

THE career of the magistrate Pat O'Shane has been delivered another blow, with the NSW Supreme Court finding she was biased and prejudged matters before her in court when she dismissed a traffic infringement case last year.

Already referred to the NSW Judicial Commission over her decision to dismiss the charges against a man accused of assaulting a paramedic, Ms O'Shane, 70, was yesterday lambasted by a Supreme Court judge who found her conduct in the traffic case "fell short of the required standard of a trial judge".

Justice Peter Garling overturned the magistrate's decision last August to dismiss the police case against Ali Elskaf, who was fined for turning left against a red arrow. The NSW Director of Public Prosecutions had appealed against the decision.

Justice Garling ordered the matter be returned to the local court to be "dealt with by a magistrate other than O'Shane". "In light of … the failures identified in this case I can have no confidence that Magistrate O'Shane would, if this matter was returned to her to complete, undertake the further hearing of it in accordance with the law," he said.

Justice Garling found Ms O'Shane threw the matter out of court before the police prosecutor had a chance to make his case, refusing to allow him to present two of his four police witnesses and accusing the two who did give evidence of delivering "claptrap" and a "bag of lies".

Ms O'Shane told the prosecutor that he could call only two police to give evidence because it was only they who allegedly saw Mr Elskaf run the red light while driving his black Ferrari in Macleay Street, Kings Cross. "I can indicate to you immediately, sergeant, that it won't assist you in the least," Ms O'Shane told the prosecutor when he tried to call the other two police.

Ms O'Shane then told the prosecutor she did not believe the evidence of the first two police and, on this basis, he did not have a case. "The court doesn't just accept a bag of lies and say that's enough to establish a prima facie case. In this case that's exactly what I've received," she said.

When the prosecutor objected to the officers being described as liars, Ms O'Shane responded: "Sergeant, I don't want to have to really dot every 'i' and cross every 't' for your benefit."

Justice Garling found that, in forming her opinion of the witnesses, Ms O'Shane had ignored the fact that much of their evidence had gone unchallenged during cross-examination.

To accuse the officers of lying in these circumstances was "a clear error of law and a denial of procedural fairness". The magistrate had been "biased" and had already made her mind up about the case.

She had treated the prosecutor like "an errant school student", taking over the conduct of his case, and had been unwilling to listen to his submissions about the strength of the evidence. "In that respect, her honour's conduct of this matter fell short of the required standard of a trial judge acting properly," Justice Garling said.

The judgment is a further blow to Ms O'Shane, whose career is already in doubt after the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, ordered that her behaviour be examined by the Judicial Commission following her decision in a case where she had suggested that a paramedic, Christopher Martin, didn't like "blacks".

Justice Garling said it was difficult to understand how she had made such errors, given it was not the first time the "proper procedure has been … pointed out".

Last night, the Attorney-General, Greg Smith, said he would be asking the Judicial Commission to consider this latest case in its inquiry into the conduct of Ms O'Shane. She could not be contacted by the Herald for comment.


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