Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Victorian hospitals get badly needed money blocked by Gillard in power-play

TEN Victorian hospitals will receive $30 million from the Federal Government today, more than a month after it reversed health funding cuts.

Major hospitals are reopening beds and revising surgery lists after Health Minister Tanya Plibersek committed to return $107 million following a protracted funding dispute with the state.

She took the unusual step of bypassing the State Government by refusing to reimburse it directly and requiring each hospital to sign an agreement before the funding was paid.

Ms Plibersek's spokesman, Simon Crittle, said $30 million would appear in hospital bank accounts today, a second round of payments would be made tomorrow and the remainder would be made when the agreements with hospitals were finalised.

Royal Melbourne Hospital executive director Diane Gill said it would reopen Ward 9 West's 16 beds from Monday week, boosting surgery capacity.

Western Health chief executive Associate Professor Alex Cockram said it would revise waiting lists on the clear understanding that funds would be reimbursed. But she said it was not possible to fully reverse the impacts of the funding cuts within such a short space of time.

Up to 1000 patients will be affected, a reduction of 270 before the reimbursement announcement was made.

Peter MacCallum spokeswoman Emma Liepa said it had not lifted its bed closures, but patients who needed beds were getting them.

Austin Health spokeswoman Tessa Young said after submitting the required paperwork before Easter, it expected to get the money "any minute".

Despite this, elective surgery at the hospital's Surgery Centre remained closed for two weeks because staff had taken leave to help reduce activity. Elective surgery at the Heidelberg campus was operating at 70 per cent capacity.

Alfred Health spokesman Corey Nassau said it expected to receive the funds this month, and had not closed operating theatres.

Royal Children's Hospital spokeswoman Vanessa Whatmough said the "process (of receiving the money) was under way", but jobs losses would not be reinstated.

It came after Health Minister David Davis wrote to Ms Plibersek demanding urgent payment.

He said the payments had been delayed unnecessarily and that full-page newspaper advertisements spruiking the payments were being investigated by the Commonwealth Auditor-General.


Labor's talk against LEGAL immigrant scheme 'disgraceful and racist': Murdoch

A lot of the immigrants concerned are Chinese

Media magnate Rupert Murdoch has denounced the Gillard government's rhetoric on the skilled foreign worker visa program as "disgraceful and racist".

The News Corporation chairman took a swipe at the federal government's promised crackdown on the 457 visa scheme and promoted the importance of immigration while visiting the Northern Territory on Tuesday.

In a speech in Sydney's west last month, Prime Minister Julia Gillard declared the government had a plan "to stop foreign workers being put at the front of the queue with Australian workers at the back".

The government announced a series of measures it said were needed to close loopholes and prevent "rorting" of the 457 visa scheme by unscrupulous employers, but business groups and the opposition denied abuse was widespread.

Mr Murdoch told Sky News on Tuesday the way the government was talking about the visa scheme was "pretty disgraceful and racist".

"I'm a big one for encouraging immigration; I think that's the future and a mixture of people, just look at America. It's just fantastic," he said.

"You have difficulties [with] the first generation of migrants sometimes if there's too many from one area, but they meld [in] a couple of generations and it leads to a tremendous creativity in the community."

Senior ministers have previously brushed aside claims of racism, saying the government's position was simply that the 457 visa scheme should be used to meet only genuine skill shortages with positions that could not be filled by Australians.

The Greens recently accused the Gillard government of dog-whistling over the 457 visa scheme crackdown.

But Greens leader Christine Milne said on Tuesday the Murdoch-owned newspapers across Australia had been using the same kind of language about asylum seekers.  "If he [Mr Murdoch] is big on the creativity that immigrants bring to a community then he should tell his editors to take that view to asylum seekers," she told Sky News.

Mr Murdoch's trip to the Northern Territory included a visit to the offices of one of his newspapers, the NT News, and meetings with business and political leaders.

An arm of Mr Murdoch's News Corporation, News Limited, publishes papers including The Australian, Daily Telegraph and the Herald Sun.

Assistant Treasurer David Bradbury dismissed Mr Murdoch's comments on Tuesday afternoon, saying there was "nothing racist about standing up for jobs and job opportunities for Australians".

"What we have seen have been many examples and many instances of abuses and rorts in this area," Mr Bradbury told reporters in Sydney.

"We think it's absolutely essential that we crack down on those rorts and those loopholes."

Mr Murdoch's comments on the 457 visa program rhetoric are not the first time he and his company have clashed with the Gillard government in recent weeks.

His newspapers led a ferocious campaign against Communications Minister Stephen Conroy's ill-fated media regulation proposals, which failed to garner enough parliamentary support last month. Fairfax Media, owner of this website, also opposed the media reform plans.

Billionaire James Packer last month used a speech to the Asia Society to warn politicians from all parties against sending xenophobic messages overseas.

"Some of the recent public debate does not reflect well on any of us. Even worse, it plays on fears and prejudices and is completely unnecessary. We are all better than that," Mr Packer said.

Mr Packer's speech came after the government and the Coalition traded blows in recent weeks over the increase in overseas workers on 457 visas in Australia and the arrival of more boats carrying asylum seekers.


DPP won't appeal WA death driver Christopher Caddick's sentence

PROSECUTORS won't appeal against the sentence of a man who has avoided jail despite killing an 81-year-old wheelchair-bound woman while driving unlicensed and with alcohol in his system.

Christopher Ryan Caddick, whose P-plate licence was suspended, was convicted of causing the death of wheelchair-bound Joan Woodcock, 81, when his Holden Commodore careered into the back of a Mercedes van last March at Ocean Reef in Perth.

Mrs Woodcock, a passenger in the van driven by her husband, was thrown through its side window onto the road.
WA's District Court heard Caddick, 24, had a blood-alcohol level of 0.036 at the time - over the limit for a probationary driver - and had five previous convictions for drink-driving.

But despite his record and the fact he was driving on a suspended licence at the time, Judge Ronald Birmingham imposed a suspended jail term.

WA's Department of Public Prosecutions today confirmed they had decided not to appeal against the sentence because there was not a high prospect of winning an appeal.

The trial last year heard Caddick had drunk two cans of pre-mixed vodka before attempting to overtake three vehicles on Ocean Reef Road north of Perth, colliding with Mrs Woodcock's vehicle on the wrong side of the road as it tried to turn right at an intersection.

While Caddick was not speeding, and the alcohol in his system was not said to have been a contributory factor in the crash, the jury still found his dangerous driving caused Mrs Woodcock's death.

Caddick was not entitled to drive at the time because of non-payment of fines and had admitted to a drink-driving offence two months earlier.

Following the sentencing last month, Mrs Woodcock's daughter Joanne said the family was still trying to make sense of the sentence.

"She got a death sentence and he got a suspended one," Ms Woodcock said.


W.A.: Anti-booze wowsers take it a step too far

Alcohol is a difficult subject to have an un-emotive public discussion on as it brings out the best and worst in all of us.

Australia is a country that likes its grog, which is exactly what anti-alcohol crusaders and born-again wowsers Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan and Professor Mike Daube are on the warpath over.

Both these blokes are good people who have contributed significantly to the betterment of this state, however on this issue I think they have taken one step too many.

A nation that once revered the big drinking bloke, the ABS tells us that we have changed by sobering up and we've reduced our alcohol intakes.

The National Preventative Health Task Force on which Professor Daube sits also reinforces the view that alcohol intake is falling and they expect it to fall further in coming years.

Despite the wowser-based negativity – we know that moderate use of alcohol actually provides health benefits, but we also accept that, used improperly, alcohol causes harm. Alcohol is a difficult subject to have an un-emotive public discussion on as it brings out the best and worst in all of us.

The dilemma of alcohol is enjoying a good wine in a good restaurant with good friends, or being in a good pub enjoying a few beers and listening to a good band, or the family BBQ with a few tinnies are things that no thinking person wants to end.  On the other side are the abuses, deaths, violence (both domestic and public), the civil disorder and stupidity, which are all things that thinking people do want to end.

Just how to do it is the question we grapple with; and I am far from convinced that the path chosen by the wowsers is the best one.

It came as no surprise when the Police Commissioner on radio 6PR supported his case by quoting federal research that 75 per cent of the public believe we have a problem with alcohol and it is getting worse.

The default position in public debate in Australia is that people think things are always getting worse.  Laws should be changed on evidence, not belief; and when changing laws that affect us all there is a clear obligation on those seeking change to demonstrate the need for change.

History tells us that restrictive hours lead to more problems than they solve and the same can be said for excessive price increases. Making laws tougher and tougher, restricting the rights of good people to control a few malcontents has gone about as far as it can go without forcing good people to simply disregard the law.

The late Herb Graham, (my uncle) was the liquor licensing head honcho in the 1970s who grappled with these complex issues; his view was that the availability of alcohol in a family and suburban setting was a beneficial thing.  Moving away from big booze barns and nightclubs had worked elsewhere and there was no reason why it shouldn't work here.

Tavern licenses, licensed restaurants, bottle shops and Sunday Sessions came out of his deliberations, as did the end of gallon licenses.  While there is no definitive answer to these issues, those initiatives were successful in reducing the alcohol related carnage of his time.

Now that parties are illegal in WA, the major difficulty for the police seems to be the appalling and inexcusable excesses of the moronic nightclub scene.  Clearly it is a question looking for an answer – but where to look for an answer?

Nowhere better than the cops themselves; in his Annual Report, the Superintendent of Police on 8 March 1878 said:  "If the cases of drunkenness in the towns were examined it would be found that this vice was in the main confined to a certain number of habitual drunkards who are constantly being locked up from year's end to year's end.

The Temperance Associations throughout the colony, in their efforts to abate this vice, are certainly to be commended where they confine themselves to inculcating temperance, and do not mar the good they are doing by a fanatical attempt to induce people to abstain altogether from fermented and spirituous liquors."

This was good advice from a cop to the wowsers 136 years ago; the problem now is that the cops have turned into the wowsers. The advice, however, is still valid and maybe it is time they took it.


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