Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Horror tenants facing the boot under new Qld. State Government policy

UNRULY public housing tenants could face a "three strikes and you're out" policy.  Housing Minister Bruce Flegg has bowed to pressure from harassed neighbours and will "seriously consider" how the Western Australian laws could be mirrored in Queensland, despite ruling out the move earlier this year.

WA tenants can be kicked out if they receive three "strikes" within 12 months for "minor disruptive behaviour" such as excessive noise or parties that lead to police being called in.

A complaints hotline has been established, with a central Disruptive Behaviour Management Unit charged with investigating reports.

More serious bad behaviour such as the manufacture of drugs on premises may prompt immediate eviction.

The rules in WA were toughened this year amid public outcry over last year's explosion of a clandestine drug lab in public housing in a Perth suburb.

Dr Flegg promised to review Queensland's approach after lobbying from MPs in the state's north, but admitted he was "nervous" about possible negative consequences.  "I do not want to simply be tossing people out of public housing in order to move the problem somewhere else and increase homelessness," he said.

But any change will come too late for Keith Fraser, who fled his own house in January after battling abusive public housing neighbours for five years.  He told The Courier-Mail his family were driven from their home by constant parties, trail bike antics, burnouts, abuse and graffiti, which the Housing Department seemed powerless to stop despite repeated complaints.

Mr Fraser has been living in a shed ever since.

The tenants were finally evicted last week but Mr Fraser has vowed never to return and has instead put his house, in the small Darling Downs township of Wandoan, up for sale.

The problems are more pronounced in Cairns and Townsville, where fed-up residents have led the push for tougher laws.

Glenn Grant, who co-authored a petition signed by 238 Townsville residents, said a small section of the city's public housing tenants were wreaking havoc.

Those caught misbehaving are given 10 days to remedy a breach, after which if no action is taken, they may be evicted within 16 days.  But Mr Grant said many knew how to manipulate the system to ensure they were not booted out: "They'll wait 10 days and then they'll do it all over again," he said.

Fifty-nine households were evicted last financial year.


Australian-trained doctors 'may be forced overseas'

The Federal Opposition says about 180 Australian-trained doctors could be forced to look for work overseas if government talks fail today.

The mostly international medical students who have been trained in Australia have missed out on public hospital internships.  Without completing the internships at state-run hospitals, they cannot become fully qualified doctors.

Health Minister Tanya Plibersek will hold a phone conference with state and territory counterparts today and implore them to find extra training places for the students left empty handed.

Opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton says the Federal Government has failed to show leadership on the issue.

"If Tanya Plibersek can't get places sorted for them, we're going to lose these doctors to overseas destinations," he said.  "We've got an ageing of our medical workforce, the onset of massive numbers of chronic diseased people in our country, and we want to provide them with the primary care they deserve."

Medical Deans Australia and New Zealand president Justin Beilby says Queensland and New South Wales, in particular, seem to be causing the delays.

"We have a major problem because we have 150 students who will be caught in limbo not being able to complete their training," he said.  "It's impossible to practise as a doctor unless you finish your intern year."


Abbott unveils plan to boost defence spending

Tony Abbott has promised to "properly" index military pensions in the first year of a Coalition government along with an aspiration to eventually boost real growth in defence spending.

In a wide-ranging defence speech to the RSL National Conference, the Opposition Leader also committed to delivering a new strategic plan for the Defence Force within 18 months of taking office.

Mr Abbott has given no details about how the spending commitment will be paid for, but says the new Defence White Paper will be fully costed and focus on the desired operational capacity of the Defence Force.

"Any savings that the Coalition can find in the defence bureaucracy will be reinvested in greater military capacity," Mr Abbott said.  "Our aspiration, as the Commonwealth's budgetary position improves, would be to restore the 3 per cent real growth in defence spending that marked the final seven years of the Howard government."

A long-running concern among ex-servicemen and women is the use of inflation figures as the basis of indexation for military pensions.

The RSL has been pushing for a new method that more accurately reflects cost of living increases and one that matches the more generous arrangements used to calculate changes in the age pension.

Mr Abbott has committed to change the way military pensions are indexed.  "If it's inadequate just to lift Centrelink pensions by the consumer price index (CPI), it's even less fair to apply solely that index to those who have risked their lives for our country," he said.  "The very least we can do is pay ex-servicemen and women a retirement benefit that increases in line with the increases of ordinary pensioners."

A 2008 report into the issue estimated it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year to change the indexation method for military pension cash payments and add tens of billions of dollars to the Commonwealth's unfunded superannuation liability.

It recommended the Government continue to use CPI figures as the basis of indexation, something the then finance minister Lindsay Tanner accepted.

Mr Abbott used his speech to again attack Labor's record on defence spending, arguing that as a percentage of GDP it has fallen to its lowest level since 1938.

If the Coalition wins the next election, Mr Abbott is promising to make national security his highest priority with a new White Paper to reset the strategic direction of the Defence Force.

Within 18 months, he says the Coalition would make decisions about the acquisition timetable for the new Joint Strike Fighter jets and make the choices necessary to ensure there is no submarine capability gap.

"Probably the most urgent big procurement decision is the replacement of the submarine fleet," he said.

The Coalition is also promising to immediately start the process of buying unmanned surveillance planes, called drones, to help protect Australia's oil and gas interests on the North West Shelf and allow earlier detection of asylum seeker boats.

Finance Minister Penny Wong says Mr Abbott should explain how he would pay for them. 

"We've got one question for Tony Abbott: where's the money coming from?"  "We have (shadow treasurer) Joe Hockey and others claiming that they have their policies costed, claiming that they've done their numbers, but refusing to let the Australian people in on the cuts to services, the cuts to jobs that they will impose," Senator Wong said.

Mr Abbott also touched on the war in Afghanistan, declaring it could "easily revert to the dark ages" once Australian and allied troops withdraw.

And he says it would be pointless to have Australian soldiers fighting the consequences of religious fundamentalism in Afghanistan if strong action was not taken to deal with religious extremists back home.

"Ten days ago, hundreds of people gathered outside the US consulate in Sydney, many demanding death for everyone who dishonoured the Prophet (Mohammed)," Mr Abbott said.

"This notion that there is only one path to God, with death for all who disagree, is simply evil.

"It's probably the greatest threat to the world's security because it admits of no compromise and here was a kindred spirit, aggressive and outspoken, on our own streets.

"The Sydney riot was so shocking because it seemed that Australia was not immune to lethal hatreds."

Mr Abbott says Australians owe it to the troops serving in Afghanistan not to let the "hatreds" they are fighting against disfigure their own country.


Do you know how much your submarines cost?

When doing research for an upcoming report on submarines, I had the task of looking at the current costs and availability of the Collins Class submarine. What I found was deeply troubling.

The Collins Class acquired a reputation as ‘dud subs’ because of some well-publicised problems with their capabilities at launch (a good summary of these issues can be found in the 1999 report by John Prescott and Malcolm McIntosh).

This reputation may have been somewhat unfair, or if not unfair, it was formed for the wrong reasons. The initial problems with the program (cost, schedule, issues with the first of type) are common to risky developmental projects. Many of these problems have been, or will soon be, solved (even if some, like reliability issues with the diesel engines, are unsolvable).

However, there are serious, ongoing problems with the availability and maintenance of the submarines. These sustainment problems seem to be systemic within Navy (this is essentially the findings of the Rizzo and Coles reviews) and only seem to be getting worse.

A quick look at some figures raises alarm bells.

The cost of operating and maintaining the Collins Class in 2011 was $642.9 million, which included operating costs of $165.6 million and maintenance costs of $477.3 million. Maintenance costs have increased 50% in the last four years, with most of that change coming after 2009–10.

Operational and maintenance costs only need to increase at an annual compound rate of 4.5% to exceed $1 billion a year by 2021. As the 2012 Defence Capability Plan (DCP) indicates that, ‘sustainment expenditure is expected to rise at a compound annual growth rate of 4.7%, primarily associated with support for the Collins Class’, this growth rate may be an underestimate.

This massive annual cost is on top of the approximately $1.6 billion committed for Collins Class upgrades between now and 2021. What are these billions of dollars buying us?

At no stage between 2009 and 2011 (I have been unable to find data for October 2009 to December 2009) were more than three submarines available, because of ongoing maintenance issues. For most of that period (aside from a few months in mid-2010), no more than two submarines were available.

Worse still, at different stages totalling approximately six months, it appears that only one submarine was available – the rest had defects, were in maintenance, or were laid up awaiting maintenance.

It was recently claimed that availability will ‘soon be up to a respectable three of the six submarines at any time.’ Of course this was before our submarine ‘sprang a leak’ on its way home from RIMPAC.

A former submarine commander said ‘lack of platform reliability is the single most limiting factor for the Collins Class, let’s never repeat that mistake.’ Given that the replacement of the Collins Class, the Future Submarine project, ‘will be the largest and most complex Defence project ever undertaken by Australia,’ we must look at all potential solutions to these issues, not just politically opportune ones.


1 comment:

Paul said...

Yeah, they may say that but you wait and see when the Commission denizens are a floating population of indigenous/islander/Maori/Cook Islander causing all the trouble (as is usual up here). I've even known the Commission to go to Court to defend troublesome tenants against complaining neighbors. They lost because the tenants themselves didn't bother to show up, pleading cultural issues (Murri time). Luckily the Judge wasn't having any of it but there a few here who would have allowed that as an excuse.