Friday, June 15, 2012

ADF brutality report: Senior officers suspected of carrying out horrific abuse

These allegations are undoubtedly true but it would be a mistake to apply civilian standards to them.  "Bastardization" is routine in most armed forces -- to toughen up recruits and to reveal those who would crack under harsh pressure if captured.  A line has to be drawn but only a Royal Commission would have a reasonable chance of doing so

DEFENCE Minister Stephen Smith denies there's been any attempt to cover-up the extent of physical and sexual abuse in the Australian Defence Force over the last 60 years.

The executive summary of a government-initiated review into Defence abuse was released yesterday, more than three months after Mr Smith made public extracts only.

The summary of the review conducted by law firm DLA Piper was released following a freedom of information request by the ABC.

It states "it is certain" that many boys, young men and young women were subjected to serious physical and sexual assault while they were in the ADF from the 1950s "at least into the 21st century".

The summary says previous report findings and Defence files show very little evidence perpetrators had been called to account.

"(And) there is a risk that those perpetrators now hold middle and senior management position within the ADF and there is a risk that those that witnessed abuse and did not report what they witnessed now hold middle and senior management positions within the ADF," the 25-page document states.

Mr Smith denied releasing extracts from the summary in early March was part of a cover-up.  "I released enough material to make the point that these were very serious allegations and very concerning matters," he told ABC TV.

"The materials released today simply serve to further underline the seriousness of the matters I've been dealing with for some considerably time."

The Defence Minister said he didn't know if any perpetrators of abuse were still serving in the ADF.  "If you want to get down to individual allegations to determine whether people are still in the system ... you've got to go through a proper fair process," he said, adding people had a right to respond to accusations.

The Piper review includes allegations from 775 people. It suggests the overwhelming majority are "plausible allegations of abuse".

Mr Smith said investigating so many claims over a 50-year period was "complex and complicated".  "It can't be done overnight and it couldn't be done as a job lot."

However, the Minister said the fact the Government hadn't ruled a Royal Commission proved it was serious about tackling the issue.

"That may be the most effective way of dealing with these matters," Mr Smith said, adding the Government wasn't too far away from announcing what action it would take.

The review canvasses a range of options including compensation, a public apology, meetings between perpetrators and victims and a Royal Commission.

The Government launched the review following the so-called ADFA Skype scandal in April 2011 when footage of a male cadet engaging in consensual sex with a female cadet was streamed via Skype without her knowledge to a group of cadets in another room.


Huge Australian marine reserve under fire

THE Coalition has promised to review the world's largest single marine reserve off the Queensland coast and warned it would cost Labor seats at the next election.

The Federal Government's 3.1 million sq km national marine reserve, stretching from the tip of Cape York to near Bundaberg, was yesterday welcomed by the tourism industry and environmentalists but slammed by fishing groups.

Nationals Senator Ron Boswell said the reserves would cost Labor marginal seats and the Coalition would review the network, which including about one million sq km of the Coral Sea off Queensland.

But federal Environment Minister Tony Burke said Labor was confident the issue would not prove political poison.

He said virtually all concerns of amateur fishers had been met by providing a large area outside the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park for fishing.

Conceding long-line fishers would be the worst affected, Mr Burke said boundaries had been drawn to follow the shape of reefs - a bonus for charter boats and divers, although it would affect spear fishers.  About $100 million would be needed to pay out fishermen nationally.

The proposal has angered commercial fishermen, who have warned the decision will shut down business and cost Australians more to buy their favourite seafood imported from China or Vietnam.

The Australian Marine Alliance released a cost-benefit analysis saying it would devastate the country's coastal communities at a $4.35 billion cost and hit 36,000 jobs for "little if any environmental benefit".

In Cairns alone, charter boat operators, game boats, aquarium collectors, spearfishing tours and commercial fisherman estimate it will cost them up to $60 million.

Skipper Graham Johnstone, who headlined the infamous Marlin Wars of the late 1970s, declared the industry would be "back on the warpath".  "They think we are a soft touch," said Mr Johnston, one of the pioneers of the north's promotion as an international mecca for black marlin fishing.  "We are looking into an abyss and we will not accept them meddling in our affairs."

Daniel McCarthy, president of the Cairns Professional Gamefishing Association, said members felt hijacked by the green lobby in Canberra.  "What are we protecting it from?" Mr McCarthy said.  "It is not about protection but about exclusion.  "It'll end up a huge fattening paddock for poachers."

Queensland Tourism Industry Council chief executive Daniel Gschwind said most concerns on better protection of reefs, dive sites and game boat access had been met and this was welcome.


Greater autonomy for schools leads to better academic results

Kevin Donnelly

The NSW Teachers Federation and public school advocates such as Trevor Cobbold argue that there is little, if any, evidence to support the benefits of increased school autonomy.

If true, their claims undermine the argument that choice and diversity in education, represented by autonomous government and non-government schools, is a good thing and suggest that moves around Australia to empower schools at the local level are misdirected.

But there is increasing international evidence that freeing schools from centralised and bureaucratic control is beneficial.

A 2007 paper commissioned by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development analysing the characteristics of stronger performing education systems argues that school autonomy is an important factor.

The paper's authors say: "Various forms of school accountability, autonomy and choice policies combine to lift student achievement to substantially higher levels."

They clearly argue autonomy is beneficial when they say: "Students perform significantly better in schools that have autonomy in process and personnel decisions."

The 2007 OECD paper also puts the lie to claims that autonomy exacerbates disadvantage, concluding that "there is not a single case where a policy designed to introduce accountability, autonomy, or choice in schooling benefits high-SES students to the detriment of low-SES students, ie, where the former gain but the latter suffer". (SES refers to a student's socioeconomic status.)

A second paper, written by Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann and commissioned by the US National Bureau of Economic Research, also argues that autonomy helps to strengthen education. "Students perform significantly better in schools that have autonomy," the authors write.

A third paper, involving researchers at Britain's University of Buckingham and published in 2008, also argues that one of the reasons non-government schools achieve such strong results is because decisions are made at a local level. The authors argue non-government schools generally outperform government schools because such schools enjoy "more autonomy than do those in state schools".

Such is the growing consensus that school autonomy leads to stronger results that a 2008 Australian budget paper, Statement 4, Boosting Australia's Productive Capacity: the Role of Infrastructure and Skills, argues school autonomy is "likely to have significant positive impacts on student performance".

The benefits of freeing schools from centralised control are also endorsed in Britain's The Importance of Teaching: The Schools White Paper 2010. "Across the world," it argues, "the case for the benefits of school autonomy has been established beyond doubt."

While not directly addressing the impact of autonomy, Gary Marks from the Australian Council for Educational Research has also argued that non-government schools consistently outperform government schools in literacy and numeracy tests and year 12 results - even after adjusting for a student's socioeconomic status.

Implied in this is that school autonomy is beneficial since Catholic and independent schools, unlike government schools, have greater freedom over areas such as staffing, curriculum focus and academic environment.

It is true that some studies are equivocal about the benefits of school autonomy, as Cobbold noted in the Herald this week. A 2010 paper titled Markets in Education notes that while there are some positive effects related to a more market driven approach to education, they "are very modest in size".

But what Cobbold fails to acknowledge is that the same paper suggests one of the reasons the evidence is less than clear is because schools, as a result of government micromanagement, are not truly autonomous.

"Complicating the ability to give a clear answer is the fact that many policies attempting to introduce market mechanisms in education do so simultaneously with increased accountability," it says.

Australian schools are being micromanaged in this way and all roads lead to Canberra - best illustrated by the Rudd/Gillard education revolution, where schools are forced to follow government dictates in national curriculum, national testing and teacher standards, even though the rhetoric is about autonomy.

Positive student outcomes are not just related to test results. Pioneering work in the US by James Coleman argues that empowering schools at a local level leads to increased social cohesion and stability too.

In the Catholic school system, it is known as subsidiarity - where decisions are made at the level of those most affected by them. Subsidiarity strengthens community ties and values such as reciprocity and a commitment to the common good.


REAL public service cuts may be coming in Qld.

Mostly they end up as tokenism

There’s a very cold winter coming for the Queensland public service. Premier Campbell Newman’s shock-and-awe strategy is about more than just cutting job numbers and costs. It’s all about reshaping and redefining what the public service looks like, how it operates, and what services it will actually deliver in the future.

Most of the $186.5 million in savings do not come from cutting budgets for tea, coffee, sandwiches and plants. The savings are being generated by the sacking of "temporary" employees.

Directors-general currently have a weekly meeting with the public service commissioner where they are required to provide an update on their progress. And this is the first wave. Some staff have been given an assurance that they have a job until September but there are no guarantees after that.

The Public Service Commission has prepared a three-stage strategy to move "unwanted'' public servants out of the system.

Stage one is to try and find another position, which seems unlikely at a time of job shedding.

Stage two is to offer a voluntary redundancy package. If you don’t take that, then there is stage three which is retrenchment.

Senior public servants are now saying that the government is looking at shedding not hundreds of jobs but thousands – not temporary positions but permanent positions. The government has been setting the platform for deep job cuts under the umbrella of the audit report, with the interim findings due out today.

On top of the job shedding, departments have also been told that they have to come up with a range of innovative cost cutting proposals – for that read what services can be out sourced (commonly known as privatisation) - and what services can be scrapped or wound back.  So long as it does not fall within the definition of a "frontline service", no service is off the table and no department is immune.

When he won last year's New South Wales election, new premier Barry O’Farrell ordered his own commission of audit into the state’s finances, which found the public sector was dealing with cumbersome structures, unnecessary barriers, poor data, unclear reporting lines and ineffective systems.

Since then, he has cut 5000 jobs through the voluntary redundancy program and another 10,000 jobs are earmarked to go in the next four years to produce the projected saving of $2.2 billion. Those that are left have been told they will simply have to work harder.  It’s not too big of a stretch to suggest the Queensland commission of audit will find something similar and the rhetoric and savings will not be lost on Newman’s cost cutting team.

The government has already given itself a range of extra weapons for a looming battle with the public service. Significant changes to the public sector industrial relations environment were crashed through parliament as a priority before its “urgent” Cost of Living Bill. Given the Liberal National Party holds 78 of the 89 seats in Parliament, the current joke in George Street is that Newman faces more opposition from die-hard Nationals than he does from the ALP and independents in Parliament.

The amendments brings about two significant changes – firstly it allows a minister to terminate industrial action if he or she is satisfied that the action is threatening the safety and welfare of the community or is threatening to damage the economy. Secondly it means that the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission must consider the state’s financial position and fiscal strategy when determining wage negotiations. All useful weapons to have in your political arsenal when you are faced with an audit report which will tell you the state is broke and you are facing 25 enterprise bargaining agreements.

The drive to renovate and reshape the public service will be by the newly formed Office of Public Sector Renewal set-up to “achieve a renewed, refocussed and more efficient public service, realise significant savings and drive cultural change” – which is a nice way of saying cutting jobs, making departments smaller and controlling their staffing and privatising anything that can be pushed out to the private sector. It’s being headed by Amanda Pafumi who has been brought in from the Brisbane City Council.

The Queensland Premier is not the first politician to be drawn to the rhetoric promising to make government and public services more customer-focused. It has attracted public sector reformers around the world from all across the political spectrum. For many it was just a mantra – but Newman has come at a time when the public sector has been hit with a perfect storm for change.

Firstly, it has been overwhelmed by escalating community expectations that are now accustomed to convenient, accessible and tailored services from the private sector and are demanding – not unreasonably – the same from the public sector. They want to see clever use of technology as part of the citizen focus – an area that has been a failure for past Queensland governments.

Secondly, taxpayers are sick and tired of seeing the administrative requirements of the bureaucracy being more important than the needs of the long suffering taxpayer.

Thirdly, in the post-GFC world, there is a desire to embrace changes that might lead to lower costs.

Fourthly, it comes at a time when the long suffering taxpayer has had a gutful of the fiascos in health – there are only so many Doctor Deaths; payroll screw ups; fake princes and a missing $16 million that the public will tolerate.  None of these were of the LNP’s making but, ironically they stand to benefit. The circumstances will give the government the carte blanche to cut and reshape the public sector in its mould of small government is good government.

A range of changes coming though the Public Service Commission will allow the government to directly control staffing levels and costs. There is an audit of frontline and non-frontline staffing which will be completed by June 30. This will be followed by public sector renewal reviews to look at staffing levels within the budgets. What this means is that directors-general will be told what their staffing establishment will be (that is: how many executives; how many front line staff; how many support staff they can have) and a budget and told to make it work.

On top of that the Public Service Commission is preparing a directive, sweetly named - management of employees requiring placement – due out in mid June – which will give them the power to direct agencies and displaced workers to an agency or position. Neither will be able to refuse a “reasonable” offer.

But there is a big difference between slicing off a number of jobs and changing the way services are delivered. The messaging coming out of the government is defining a two-class workforce. This suits the short-term political agenda but you have to wonder how much damage will be wrought before the rebuilding process starts.


Surgery wait deaths grow in Tasmania

NEW figures show 125 people died while waiting for elective surgery in Tasmania in the financial year to May, up from 107 last year.

A Government response to questions raised in Budget Estimates hearings reveals the Royal Hobart Hospital is the state's worst performer when to comes to elective surgery, with just 67 per cent of category one patients seen within the clinically recommended timeframes, compared with 88 per cent at the Launceston General Hospital and 77 per cent at the North-West Regional Hospital.

Just 50 per cent of Category two patients were seen within the timeframes, with 561 waiting for operations at the Royal for more than 12 months, while for the least-urgent category three patients, performance was slightly better with 55 per cent of patients seen in time and 474 on the waiting list.

One category three patient has been waiting more than 10 years for their operation.

Figures show 16558 people were removed from waiting lists last year, 85 per cent because they had received their operation.

Liberal health spokesman Jeremy Rockliff said Tasmania was performing worse than other states by a large margin in every category of elective surgery.

"The Government has no one else to blame but itself for our appalling elective surgery waiting lists," Mr Rockliff said.

"This shows that the biggest problem with the health system in Tasmania is this Government.

"The Government has had over a decade to deliver on its promises to cut elective surgery waiting lists, but they've failed."

Health minister Michelle O'Byrne said the Liberal party had adopted the Government's health savings as part of its own alternative budget.

"So while they feign concern, the fact is that by their own position, they accept the need for health spending to be managed, and would have needed to make exactly the same decisions around elective surgery in order to meet that target," she said.


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