Saturday, February 25, 2012

Health chiefs gag University of Queensland medical students with legal threat

IN AN affront to free speech, Queensland Health has demanded all medical students sign a gag order or be turfed out of their courses.

Students are furious that the University of Queensland medical school has gone along with the ridiculous ban they fear will prevent them from speaking out against wrongdoing or mistreatment of patients.

The students fear they are being coerced into signing the seven-page student deed poll agreeing not to reveal anything. The medical school's online forum has run hot with complaints.

"Of primary concern is the contents of the document which seems to provide disproportionately harsh penalties for students in relation to extremely vaguely worded 'breaches', most of which seem designed to protect Queensland Health, not patients," said one student. "Also of concern is the manner in which students are being forced to sign these documents as a 'requirement' of their placement.

"If students choose not to sign this deed - a document which the students have had no role in writing or drafting and have not even been informed about - then Queensland Health will disallow the student to continue on a placement, effectively meaning their medical studies are over.

"This penalty is by virtue of paragraph 17 (which says): 'This Deed Poll will continue for the duration of the placement, subject to the student's right to withdraw this consent. The student acknowledges that they may withdraw this consent by providing written notice to Queensland Health and the education provider. A withdrawal of consent will affect the student's ability to continue with the placement'."

The unsigned deed warns that "Queensland Health may seek and obtain an ex parte interlocutory or final injunction to prohibit or restrain the student, from any breach or threatened breach of this Deed Poll".

The deed contains a direct threat of legal action. It says: "In the event of a breach or threatened breach of the terms of this Deed Poll, Queensland Health shall be entitled to seek the issue of an injunction restraining the student from committing any breach of this Deed Poll without the necessity of proving that any actual damage has been sustained or is likely to be sustained by Queensland Health."

Another student said there were already adequate privacy regulations. She added: "It strikes me that this is Queensland Health out of control. With an election imminent, they are inappropriately trying to control all aspects of information about their organisation and inappropriately entitle themselves to take harsh punitive action against students. "The document seems to have more to do with protection from comment or criticism about Queensland Health than patient privacy."

Matthew Ramsay, a student from the US, said the document appeared to be an attempt to shut down media scrutiny of Queensland Health and the university medical school. "It's very disconcerting," he said. "It appears to be a cover-up. The medical profession is dangerously close to allowing the Hippocratic Oath to degenerate into the Hypocritical Oath."

He said the medical school was racked with discontent following the nepotism scandal that claimed the scalps of vice-chancellor Paul Greenfield and his deputy Michael Keniger.

Ramsay said he wondered whether it was linked to the controversy surrounding medical student Margaret O'Connell, who kept a diary of shortcomings at the school. O'Connell said students were not properly supervised during a seven-week "rotation" at a Queensland private hospital catering chiefly for the mentally ill. She said doctors made fun of suicidal patients, including one who had threatened to jump into the Brisbane River.

O'Connell complained doctors would not let students attend consultations with them. And doctors made it clear to students they didn't care whether they turned up. The doctors didn't even know the students' names and didn't want to know. "I suspect this gag order is directly or indirectly related to the case of Meg," said Ramsay.

O'Connell said she was asked to see a psychiatrist and failed on a rotation to far north Queensland. But her case was strengthened when she won a glowing report card from Dr Peter Chilcott, director of medical services at Gove District Hospital in the Northern Territory.

Chilcott went further, accusing the university of a witch-hunt. In evidence tendered to the university, he said: "I applaud your courage in taking on the Queensland medical establishment. As you are aware, your time in Gove was cut short by similar slurs and innuendos concerning your mental state. I had no concerns about your time at Gove.

"I was contacted by the medical school to provide reports. "There was no doubt in my mind that the medical school simply wanted me to falsify reports and would have been quite happy for the whole mess up here to simply go away. I told the medical school that I had many concerns about how your case was handled.

"If someone had concerns about your mental state at that time then who better to look into the matter than myself with 38 years of GP experience. I also had at that time a GP trainee who is very experienced in mental health because she was originally on a psychiatric training pathway before switching to general practice. "From my perspective your case had all the signs of a witch-hunt."

Chilcott saw no signs of mental illness, adding: "I did see someone who is 'eccentric'. However, do not take offence at this because I am considered 'eccentric' as well." He said he was happy to support O'Connell's complaints to the CMC and the Ombudsman.

O'Connell has applied for a transfer to other universities. Her complaint is being considered internally.


'Live in the real world' - Judge backs smacks

SMACKING your kids can be OK, a judge said yesterday. Judge Paul Conlon yesterday overturned the assault conviction of a stepfather who cuffed his 13-year-old stepson lightly over the head after he swore at his mother and refused to wash the dishes.

The man also grabbed the boy on top of his arm when he tried to go to the bathroom to get out of chores.

The man had been convicted in Wollongong Local Court of assault causing actual bodily harm after the boy's birth father called police. The court had rejected the man's rarely used defence of "lawful correction".

In a decision that will further inflame the debate about smacking, Judge Conlon said children needed effective discipline. "One of the reasons that so many young persons find themselves in trouble with the law is that there has been an absence of any effective discipline in their lives," Judge Conlon said in the NSW District Court.

"I find that the application of that physical force was reasonable, having regard to the fact that the complainant was a healthy 13-year-old boy," he said.

The judge said there was no way he was condoning violence against children. "However, it is a sad day when caring parents, attempting to impart some discipline to the little princes and princesses, are dragged before our courts and have convictions imposed against them in circumstances such as the present," he said.

Judge Conlon said anti-smacking "experts" did not "live in the real world".


A corrupt Reserve Bank!

Reserve knew of bribes two years before police called. It is hard to know which is worse, the initial offences or the coverup

THE Reserve Bank governor, Glenn Stevens, has admitted his deputy was told in writing of corruption inside the bank's operations in 2007, two years before the scandal became public and it called in the federal police.

But the bank is refusing to release the briefing or the legal advice it relied on when it decided not to report alleged corruption to the police.

Mr Stevens told the federal parliamentary economics committee yesterday the reserve's deputy governor, Ric Battellino, who retired earlier this month, was informed in writing about corruption inside the reserve's currency firm, Note Printing Australia.

The briefing was written by an unnamed Note Printing employee and detailed admissions made by its Malaysian and Nepalese agents that they had paid bribes on behalf of the Reserve's firm.

Last year, federal police charged Note Printing with bribing officials in Malaysia and Nepal as part of a criminal inquiry that begun in 2009 after revelations in the Herald. It is fully owned by the bank and overseen by serving and former Reserve senior officials.

The Herald revealed last October that Reserve officials were told in 2007 about the corrupt conduct involving Note Printing's overseas agents, but sought to cover it up instead of alerting police.

Under questioning from the Liberal MP Tony Smith yesterday, Mr Stevens initially told the committee the bank had received no written briefing on corruption inside Note Printing and that concerns raised in 2007 were only verbal and inconclusive.

Mr Stevens also used the hearing to strongly deny claims bank officials engaged in any cover-up, saying he "unequivocally" rejected the claim.

But after Mr Smith interrupted the conclusion of the hearing to press Mr Stevens on the bribery scandal, Mr Stevens conceded his earlier evidence to the committee was wrong and the bank had been advised in writing of corruption concerns in 2007.

"Well, actually, that [what I said earlier about their being no written briefing] wasn't quite true. I have been reminded while we have been talking that in fact the deputy governor invited that person [the Note Printing employee who raised bribery concerns] to put that in writing, which he did and give it to the deputy governor."

When he attempted to further press Mr Stevens about the briefing, Mr Smith was told he had run out of time.

It is the second committee hearing in which the RBA has been forced to correct the evidence it has given about its handling of the corruption scandal, which has so far led to the charging of 10 former bank note executives.

Note Printing's sister company, Securency, which is half owned by the RBA, is also facing bribery charges. At the time of the alleged bribery, both companies were chaired by the former Reserve Bank deputy governor Graeme Thompson. They shared the same agent in Malaysia, who has been charged with paying bribes.

Instead of alerting police to the allegations of corrupt conduct in 2007, the Reserve Bank appointees on Note Printing's board confidentially referred them to the corporate law firm Freehills. The Note Printing board also agreed to conceal from the Nepal central bank information about improper tender dealings involving secret commissions.

The RBA claims Freehills later advised there was no need to go to the police. It has also refused to release the Freehills report.

Mr Stevens told the committee yesterday the bribery scandal was "quite easily the most unpleasant, difficult set of issues I've ever had to deal with in my job".


The Gonski paradox: more red tape, more autonomy, less choice in Australian education

Kevin Donnelly

If we project the Gonski school funding recommendations into the future, it is possible to make some hypothetical predictions.

It is possible they would improve state schools by making them more autonomous and giving parents more input into their running, but they would also further bureaucratise school funding and reduce the range of choices for mothers and fathers.

The contradiction in the Gonski report is this: it argues giving schools increased flexibility and freedom will improve results and raise standards, but at the same time recommends increased bureaucracy and red tape and an accountability regime that will restrict innovation and diversity.

A defining characteristic of the Kevin Rudd/Julia Gillard education revolution is its top-down approach. While the Commonwealth government neither manages schools nor employs staff, its national curriculum, testing, teacher registration and certification, and partnership agreements - all linked to funding - have centralised control of education and led to more micromanagement.

Schools would suffer additional compliance costs and red tape under the Gonski recommendation for additional government-sponsored agencies such as the National School Resources Body and School Planning Authorities in the various states.

Then there is the impact inside the classroom. Linking funding to measures such as National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results would exacerbate the negative influence of standardised testing.

The curriculum will narrow, teachers will feel pressure to be bean counters and schools will be forced to contrive ways to ensure that test results improve. As in the US, especially New York, where there is a history of standardised tests and public accountability, there will also be pressure on governments and education authorities in Australia to water down tests and artificially lift results to convince a sceptical public that standards are being raised.

Over the past 20 years or so, school choice in Australia has become a reality. Many parents have voted with their feet, choosing non-government schools. While enrolments in Catholic and independent schools have grown by approximately 20 per cent, government school enrolments have flatlined at a little more than 1 per cent.

Across Australia, some 34 per cent of students attend non-government schools; more than 50 per cent in some capital cities. Critics argue non-government schools have been so successful because of the Howard government's supposedly inequitable socio-economic status (SES) funding model. They also argue the success of Catholic and independent schools residualises government schools and exacerbates disadvantage as they are left with high concentrations of at-risk and poorly performing students.

But there are two problems with Gonski's team accepting these arguments, which will only make the situation in state schools worse. Firstly, parents are choosing non-government schools because of their values, not just their resources. Secondly, labelling state schools as underperformers will lead to fewer enrolments. Parents are naturally averse to sending their children to a school characterised as serving at-risk students, especially when non-government schools are seen to achieve better results.

The report does nod in the direction of increased school autonomy and allowing schools to better respond to the needs and aspirations of their communities. So parents in future could expect co-operative state governments to free schools from a one-size-fits-all model of educational delivery and ensure that schools, both government and non-government, are more able to manage their own affairs.

Gonski argues for more community engagement with schools, for example, and a greater role for parents, businesses and philanthropic groups. This will add to the pressure on governments to give schools control over budgets, hiring and firing staff and their culture and curriculum focus. So parents could have more input into how the local state school runs.

Then again, the Gonski report could also have an unintended consequence. By recommending that government and non-government students with a disability receive equal funding and that such funding should be portable, it could produce a sort of pilot study for a voucher system for all students. Governments would then be forced to acknowledge that parents have a right to choose where their children go to school and to ensure money follows the child and parents are not financially penalised for their choice.

Of course, given the Gillard government's decision to put the report on the backburner, postponing any decisions until after another round of consultations and submissions, its future is uncertain at best.

Given that the opposition education spokesman, Christopher Pyne, has argued for the existing SES model and expressed doubts about the report, any future Coalition government is likely to shelve it or accept its proposals very selectively.

SOURCE. A lot of interesting commentary here on Finland, genetics and such things

WA should invest and lower taxes before hoarding revenue

Stephen Kirchner

On 22 February, WA Premier Colin Barnett said his government would announce a sub-national sovereign wealth fund as part of the forthcoming state budget and legislate to introduce the fund later in the year.

The Liberal-National government is committed to ensuring future generations of West Australians have a legacy from this historic period of economic development, built predominantly on the significant but finite resources available to us at present.

Robert Carling and I explain why the premise behind the WA move is flawed in our just released CIS Policy Monograph, Future Funds or Future Eaters? We note that Australia’s resources are not finite in any economically meaningful sense. Well before these resources are exhausted, substitution on both the supply and demand side of commodities markets will have consigned them to being an economic irrelevance. In the meantime, continuing productivity growth and technical progress will mean future generations of Australians will enjoy a much higher standard of living in an economy that will increasingly be dominated by service industries.

To the extent that Western Australia is now enjoying windfall revenue gains, there is no reason why the state government cannot invest this revenue in productivity-enhancing infrastructure and other projects that will yield a stream of valuable services into the future for the benefit of future generations. Government expenditure programs should aim to do this anyway, but it is particularly important to the extent that the revenue streams from the current mining boom are thought to be temporary. Mining revenue could also be used to lower or abolish inefficient state taxes that will expand the economy and grow the state tax base for the benefit of future generations.

Hoarding revenue in financial assets will produce a return in line with the future performance of those assets, but this is likely to be poor compensation for not using the revenue today to increase spending on productivity-enhancing infrastructure and lowering the state tax burden.

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.


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