Monday, April 30, 2012
Abbott promises crackdown on wayward unionists
The Federal Opposition says a Coalition government would significantly increase penalties for union officials who breach their duties.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says union officials found guilty of breaches will suffer the same penalties as company directors, with fines of around $200,000 and potential imprisonment.
Mr Abbott says there will also be a new body to ensure the rules are enforced. "Under the Registered Organisations Commission it won't take more than three years to investigate an open-and-shut case of wrongdoing," he said.
"Our commitment today is to ensure that essentially the same governance rules that apply to businesses and that you adhere to in your business life will apply to unions and union officials as they go about the business of running their unions."
But Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten says Mr Abbott is using the controversy surrounding the Health Services Union to justify an attack on all unions. "Let's not smear millions of trade unionists with some cheap political propaganda to pump yourself up in the polls," he said.
Mr Shorten says that the proposed changes would be made to laws that Mr Abbott introduced during his time as industrial relations minister.
Australians now 'indifferent' to environment
CONCERN for the environment has dwindled into a "middling" issue that many people do not have strong feelings about, a major study into Australian attitudes towards society, politics and the economy has found.
Food, health, crime, safety and rights to basic public services - the tangible things that people confront on a daily basis - are dominant national concerns.
"Australians are effectively indifferent to global and societal issues, rating these significantly lower," said the report What Matters to Australians, produced by the University of Technology, Sydney and the Melbourne Business School, with the support of the Australian Research Council.
"What we see in these results is a picture of a relatively conservative society concerned with local issues that influence its members' daily lives."
People's concerns about industrial pollution, climate change, renewable energy and depletion of energy resources plummeted when compared with an identical study in 2007, with only logging and habitat destruction remaining among the top 25 issues of concern to Australians.
In 2007, environmental sustainability was the only set of global issues that was ranked as highly important. When the same questions were repeated last year, no global issues appeared among the nation's top concerns.
"Overall, this reveals a startling decline in the Australian population's concerns about environmental sustainability," the researchers wrote.
"It is possible that 2007 was nothing more than an aberration when the debate about environmental sustainability became a matter of ordinary, everyday concern. What we now see in Australia and across Western countries is likely closer to a long-term trend in the value of environmental matters to the general population."
The study is based on a sample of 1500 adults, weighted to represent the population as a whole, who completed detailed questionnaires that forced them to rate a vast array of issues relative to each other.
The subjects were forced to select a series of different issues they felt strongly about and gradually exclude the least compelling ones until only the most important remained.
Parallel studies were conducted in the US, Britain and Germany, with Australians exhibiting a similar range of concerns to Americans and Britons. The German responses, however, were markedly different.
"You can pretty much read German history in the German responses," said a lead author, Timothy Devinney, a professor of strategy at the University of Technology, Sydney.
"They are very concerned about privacy, civil rights, global issues, questions of peace and turmoil. While Australia is globally oriented in some ways, the tyranny of distance means most people aren't actually engaged with global issues as much as some might expect."
Professor Devinney said the lower priority accorded environmental concerns might indicate that 2007 was an "outlier" year in terms of large attention being placed on environmental issues, with last year being a return to the norm.
The findings also show that Australians are relatively disengaged with party politics.
"More than two-fifths of people in the study were either aligned with an independent political position or did not feel their political values aligned with any of the political representation options available to them through organised party politics," the report said.
Health ministers warn of 'unsustainable' services
The report shows in recent years Australia has imported more doctors than it has produced local medical graduates.
The report shows in recent years Australia has imported more doctors than it has produced local medical graduates. Photo: Louie Douvis
AUSTRALIA'S dependence on imported doctors and nurses - which faces rising international criticism - will continue to grow without reforms in supply and use of local graduates, the first national report on the health workforce says.
The report by HealthWorkforce Australia shows in recent years Australia has imported more doctors than it has produced local medical graduates.
That is despite endorsement eight years ago by health ministers of the goal of "national self-sufficiency" in health workforce supply.
The report was released after yesterday's meeting of state and federal health ministers, who warned that "without strong reform intervention these estimates will mean services may be unsustainable".
The ministers gave their support to the prospect of big changes in the working scope of doctors and nurses which is likely to include increased use of assistants and technology such as ehealth.
"This … reform and innovation is imperative to the future sustainability of quality health services for the Australian community," the ministers said in a communique.
On current trends, Australia by 2025 would be short of up to 110,000 nurses and 2700 doctors, the report says.
The figures would worsen substantially if Australia were to retain current local training numbers but stopped importing international medical graduates and nurses, leaving a shortfall of more than 15,200 doctors and 148,000 nurses.
The report says there has been increased concern about the impact of international recruitment of health professionals on the workforce in developing countries.
It cites recent research showing that the loss of medical graduates in training and other costs to developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa amounted to more than $2 billion, while recipient countries like Australia saved billions of dollars.
The report says that to achieve greater self-sufficiency in the supply of doctors and nurses, Australia would have to make significant reforms in productivity and scope of practice to reduce reliance on doctors and nurses.
Reforms may include greater use of assistants, the introduction of "new workforces" and broader application of technologies such as ehealth and telehealth (the use of telecommunications for consultations, diagnosis and procedures).
Yesterday's communique said the report presented the need for "essential, co-ordinated, long-term reforms by governments, professions and the higher education and training sector to ensure Australia has an affordable and sustainable health workforce to meet the changing health needs of the Australian community".
Because of the magnitude of some of the increases in graduate numbers needed in coming decades, training alone would not close the projected gaps.
While the government had increased funding for clinical training of doctors and nurses it was "not likely to be sufficient to meet projected future requirements for growth in training capacity, nor was it intended to do so", the report said.
Melbourne loves its cobbled laneways
DOZENS of historic bluestone laneways will be replaced with cement paths in Brunswick and Coburg, and heritage advocates fear lanes in other inner suburbs will face the same fate.
Residents say the replacement of about 47 kilometres of 19th-century bluestone lanes will tarnish the period charm of the suburbs. "Brunswick will eventually be a network of concrete driveways," said Meredith Carter, whose home of 30 years in Sutherland Street backs onto the first lane earmarked for replacement.
Under a Moreland council maintenance program, the lane's cobblestones will be pulled up for drainage works from next week. "In the guise of making repairs, they're going to be undermining the beauty and the amenity of the area," Ms Carter said.
The works - which will occur over 30 years - are focused on "right of way" laneways, which were built in Brunswick from the 1850s to allow the "night man" to empty backyard toilets, but now give residents rear access for cars. Moreland has 67 kilometres of these laneways, 20 kilometres of which are heritage protected and will be maintained.
But former Sutherland Street resident and heritage planner Chris Johnston said all the laneways were equally valuable. "Ask Melburnians what they see as having heritage value, and the image of a bluestone laneway really resonates," Ms Johnston said.
Mayor John Kavanagh said repairing damaged bluestone, or pulling it up for drainage works and relaying it, was expensive because of specialised labour costs, and the concreting program would save council up to $7 million over 10 years.
"Our budget is limited, and when you look at our other priorities, like footpaths, road reconstructions, bike lanes, maintenance of open public space … these facilities cater to a greater number of people than the aesthetics of bluestone laneways," he said. But heritage advocates say the practice sets a dangerous precedent, as most of Melbourne's bluestone lanes do not have heritage protection.
Paul Roser, conservation manager at the Victorian branch of the National Trust, said councils should conduct surveys looking at the potential significance of all laneways before they "disappear under concrete".
"The advantages of traditionally set bluestone pitchers is that they can settle, move, and any problems are localised and can be easily repaired."
Councils such as Maribyrnong, Yarra and Stonnington repair their bluestone laneways using bluestone. But Darebin council uses asphalt or concrete if lanes are not in heritage protected areas.
Melbourne City Council "encourages" the retention of bluestone laneways outside heritage zones, but this year sold bluestone laneway Elliot Lane, home of the St Jerome's Laneway Festival, to a developer.