Friday, December 28, 2012
Wrongly treated man in mental hospital was an Aborigine
Which may help explain the mis-identification but does not excuse it
A mental health advocate says the case of a man who was arrested and drugged after being mistaken for a patient from a Perth psychiatric hospital is not a one-off.
Police arrested the man while on lookout for an involuntary patient who left Graylands Hospital without permission.
The man was wrongly identified as the missing patient and then given an antipsychotic drug.
He had a bad reaction and was taken to hospital, where the mistake was discovered.
Western Australia's Mental Health Minister Helen Morton says she was shocked to hear about incident.
"The policies and procedures are stringent about identifying people when they are made involuntary and when they are about to receive a Schedule 4 drug, and it would appear those policies and procedures weren't carried out," she said.
Mental Health Law Centre principal solicitor Sandra Boulter says there were probably several errors.
"There are a series of people, there were the police, there were the admitting staff, there's presumably the treating psychiatrist, and the Aboriginal Health Service, all of whom could possibly have identified the error," she told AM.
"It is always the case when there is a mistake, as even an airline pilot will tell you, it is never one mistake, it is a series of errors that accumulate leading up to the big error.
"I think it is a critically important that an independent person such as an official visitor is appointed or contacted so there is independent oversight of any admission."
Ms Boulter says this is not the first time an incident like this has occurred.
"I am certainly aware of one patient, one client of ours, who was admitted mistakenly and another two clients who were admitted on a false report where [it] was subsequently established that they did not have a psychiatric illness," she said.
She says she it is not sure if authorities are aware of the second incident. "I'm not sure about that," she said.
"Our clients were unwilling to complain about what happened to them because they were fearful of being further traumatised by taking an action against the state."
Ms Boulter says she wants to confirm that authorities are in contact with the wrongfully detained man.
With law on their side, everyone's a victim
WHAT advice might a Boston teenager in the foster care system or a small business owner in New Mexico give to the Australian government about expanding anti-discrimination laws? Chances are, they'd suggest caution.
On November 20, Australia's Attorney-General Nicola Roxon released exposure draft legislation for the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012. The laudable stated purpose of this initiative is to consolidate five existing anti-discrimination acts into one law, making them easier to understand and more consistent across jurisdictions. But the bill actually makes a number of changes to anti-discrimination legislation in Australia.
In light of Americans' experiences, Australians should be wary of the changes this bill puts forward. One proposed change is to shift the onus of proof from the accuser to the accused, meaning that those charged with discrimination will be declared guilty unless they can prove their innocence.
Another change is to extend the definition of discrimination to include conduct that merely "offends" or "insults", which could unreasonably dampen freedom of speech. A third change is to extend the list of protected attributes to include both religion and sexual orientation, making these factors grounds for alleging discrimination in the workplace.
America's experience with anti-discrimination legislation is particularly relevant at this intersection of religion and sexual orientation. An excess of such laws in the US has increased litigation, weakened religious liberty, and threatened services to the less fortunate.
First, excessive US non-discrimination legislation has gone hand-in-hand with a ballooning culture of victimisation. As more individuals and groups perceive themselves as victims of injustice and receive protected status in the law, more litigation tends to flood the courts.
Second, expansive anti-discrimination laws have weakened Americans' freedom to operate their businesses according to their deeply held convictions. Indeed, such legislation has created a legal train wreck where the right to not be offended has derailed religious liberty.
Several years ago, a photographer in New Mexico declined to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony on the grounds that doing so would violate the photographer's religious beliefs about marriage. After the lesbian couple filed a complaint, the New Mexico Human Rights Commission found the photographer guilty of violating a non-discrimination law and imposed thousands of dollars in costs.
Across America similar cases abound of anti-discrimination laws trumping religious freedom. One commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (a federal agency that enforces laws against workplace discrimination) has even declared: "There can be a conflict between religious liberty and sexual liberty, but in almost all cases the sexual liberty should win."
Third, the legal landscape in the US threatens the effectiveness of social service providers, especially small, faith-based organisations. These groups lack the ability and resources of larger institutions to handle formal complaints and cover the costs of lawsuits brought against them. Hence, they face pressure to divert resources away from serving the needy and towards securing legal protection. To avoid compromising their faith, some organisations choose to stop providing services.
This is what happened in 2006 to Catholic Charities in Boston. An anti-discrimination law in Massachusetts required the ministry to place children in the custody of homosexual couples, a violation of the Catholic Church's teaching concerning marriage, sexuality and family. When that state refused to grant an exemption, the Catholic Charities adoption agency, which had placed more children than any other private agency in Massachusetts, was forced to end its services.
The US has now reached the point where private photographers must pay fines and adoption agencies must close their doors to follow the tenets of their faith.
This troubling state of affairs reveals a significant change in the way Americans have come to think about discrimination. To discriminate used to mean to make a distinction among things. Making sound distinctions is necessary when it comes to making sound decisions.
But "discrimination" has ceased to carry this sense and instead become a bad word. The US seems to have lost the ability to distinguish between acts based in relevant distinctions and those based in hate or ignorance, that is, genuine discrimination from genuine bigotry.
As discrimination has become synonymous with evil, it has ceased to help us think better about making moral judgments. Instead, it has become a legal trump card.
In short, Americans now wield "discrimination" in public debates less as a supple tool of moral discernment than as a blunt instrument of ideology.
In light of the American ex- perience, Australians should be wary about expanding anti-discrimination legislation. If "discrimination" becomes a legal trump card whenever it is asserted, Australia will likely see increased litigation and government interference and deterioration of serious public debate.
Moreover, the capacity for Australians to exercise their religious beliefs in public will likely decline.
Foster kids in Boston might have an opinion about which Australians would suffer as a result.
Secret deal in Victoria claws back carbon tax
Another budget hit for Gillard
THE state government and Alcoa have stitched up a secret deal to trigger more federal compensation to pay for Victoria's increased costs under the carbon tax, generated by subsidising the aluminum giant's electricity use.
The deal could also deliver tens of of millions of dollars in extra government benefits to Alcoa at the expense of Victorian taxpayers.
Details of the deal are shrouded in secrecy, with the two parties signing a confidentiality agreement. The value of financial dealings over electricity between the government and Alcoa have long been undisclosed.
Alcoa spokeswoman Nichola Holgate said a "mutually beneficial agreement" had been reached earlier this year, but would not provide details, citing confidentiality.
The deal follows a federal-state $44 million bailout of Alcoa's Port Henry smelter at Geelong earlier this year. Alcoa has also received just under 6 million free carbon permits as federal compensation for the carbon tax.
Alcoa's two smelters in Victoria - at Point Henry and Portland - employ almost 1200 people. The industry uses around a fifth of the state's electricity.
Under arrangements signed in the 1980s, the State Electricity Commission - a corporate shell used by the state government to manage contracts supplying electricity to Alcoa - subsidises power for the two smelters based on the global aluminum price.
As the carbon tax pushes up power prices, the state government's bill under the Alcoa power arrangements increases, potentially by hundreds of millions of dollars, but it is not eligible for federal compensation.
Alcoa, however, is. It is understood negotiations on the deal centred on moving some of the electricity onto Alcoa's books, triggering federal carbon compensation because it is deemed an "emissions-intensive, trade-exposed" company.
The deal means the state government will cover some of the higher electricity costs on the subsidised Alcoa power contracts, which end in 2014 and 2016.
While much of the extra compensation would be passed back to the state to cover its increased costs, during the negotiations Alcoa made it clear it wanted to retain some of the compensation.
A senior source told Fairfax Media in June that Alcoa was arguing it should be allowed to keep a proportion of the extra federal compensation because the carbon price would reduce the working lives of its smelters.
"There is a negotiation about how much we can pass through to Alcoa. That is significant," the source said at the time. "They only want to give 80 to 90 per cent back."
Last week, neither party would say what compensation Alcoa had been allowed to retain, if any.
Treasurer Kim Wells refused to say how much the agreement would cost taxpayers.
His spokeswoman, Stephanie Ryan, said the commission was party to an agreement that may have exposed the Victorian taxpayers to a significant carbon tax liability. "The state negotiated amendments to the electricity supply agreements in relation to the Portland and Point Henry smelters in July. The government is limited in what it can say given the commercial nature of these arrangements," she said.
Fall in demand dents shift to low emissions
THE shelving of EnergyAustralia's gas-fired power plant in Victoria raises fresh doubts about the incentives for power companies to move from high-polluting coal to lower-emitting technology, with one expert saying more projects could be cancelled.
The proposed plant, on the Yallourn power station site, was one of several gas-fired projects put on the drawing board several years ago by power companies to reduce emissions, and therefore costs, under the carbon price.
But the downturn in electricity demand due to retail price rises and the strong dollar has put pressure on generators to abandon new projects.
Bruce Mountain, the director of Carbon Market Economics, said more energy companies would be forced to consider moving away from low-emissions investments because of these changes.
"Many market pundits had three years ago indicated there would be more rapid transfer to low-emission technologies like gas-fired power generation," he said. "But with lower demand and higher gas prices, that shift is being pushed back in time."
He said power companies were more likely to close parts of their coal capacity to save money.
"Existing generators are having to fight very hard to compete in the market," he said. "The partial closures of brown coal plants makes more sense, because although they lose contribution to their profits, they are able to drive prices higher."
Greens platform 'will fail'
ANY attempt by the Australian Greens to make policies more palatable for mainstream voters is deceptive and doomed to fail, says Senate opposition leader Eric Abetz.
On Thursday The Age reported that the Greens had redefined the party platform to portray many core beliefs as "aims and principles" rather than explicit policies, to present a smaller target to critics in a federal election year.
Acting leader Adam Bandt said on Thursday the revised policy platform would give voters more information on what the party stood for and how its ideas would be funded.
Mr Bandt said the minor party wanted to go to the next election able to tell voters it had a fully costed set of policies. "Treasury wouldn't cost them for us and there wasn't an independent body that would do it," he said.
"So what we now have is a very strong policy platform that has been voted on and determined by our members by consensus."
Mr Bandt said the Greens would go to the next election on the same footing as the two major parties. "So our updated policy platform, together with the new parliamentary budget office, will allow the Greens to go to the next election as the most economically responsible party out of all the parties contesting the election."
But Senator Abetz said the Greens were trying to hide "extreme impulses" and this would fail. "The Greens will always be 'watermelons' - Green on the outside and red inside - no matter how they cloak their policies," he said. "The Greens need to actually repudiate their extremist policies before people will believe they've changed. Deciding simply not to talk about them simply will not wash."
Senator Abetz said the public viewed the party not as "benign environmentalists", but a hard-left movement bent on "Marxist social engineering".
The Greens were simply trying to change tack after setbacks in several recent state elections, he added. In the ACT election in October, the party's Legislative Assembly seats were cut from four to one.
The Greens will reportedly soften their stance on cutting federal government funding for private schools, and stop calling for the abolition of the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate.
Senator Abetz said the party had a history of supporting controversial ideas.