Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Row over asylum health costs as Victoria leads revolt

THE Gillard government is facing a states' revolt over the soaring cost of healthcare for asylum-seekers and refugees, with the influx costing tens of millions of dollars and straining an already overloaded system.

The three most populous states want the commonwealth to be held accountable for fast-rising health costs incurred, due to the rising tide of community-based asylum-seekers and refugees since the Rudd government dumped the Pacific Solution five years ago.

The ministerial Standing Council on Health is set to demand the Gillard government share the burden of increased costs for basic services, including immunisations for asylum-seekers, mental health and dental services, interpreters and stronger support for foreigners seeking access to the primary care system.

Victoria - with the backing of NSW and Queensland - will on Friday demand a better funding deal for the states to eliminate cost-shifting and for Canberra to accept responsibility for the surge in asylum-seekers.

Victoria has conducted a detailed assessment of how the states are being forced to pick up extra health costs, when it argues that border protection is a federal issue.

Victorian Health Minister David Davis said yesterday his state was prepared to help asylum-seekers and refugees but the commonwealth needed to contribute to the cost, which was leading to further pressure on already strained budgets.

"If they are coming, you can't put your head in the sand," Mr Davis said. "You've got to get ahead of the game."

Health ministers will debate what to do to immediately help new arrivals who have been released into the community, a move aimed at easing pressures on the detention centre network, which has been unable to cope with the influx of more than 43,000 irregular marine arrivals in the past 4 1/2 years.

Paris Aristotle, a member of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, has backed the push by the three states, warning that many foreigners are being left stranded by the current system and the lack of community support.

Mr Aristotle said while Australia had a generally strong record on helping people, the large numbers had exposed many services. "Those pressures are playing out in the forms of people being destitute, people being unable to sustain themselves or their families adequately," Mr Aristotle told The Australian.

The ministers will debate whether all asylum-seekers not in detention should be eligible for Medicare.

They will also discuss forcing the commonwealth to ensure eligibility for healthcare funding regardless of their stage in the immigration queue.

"Any services, such as public hospital care, provided by state and territory health systems, which would normally be paid for through Medicare, should be reimbursed by the commonwealth on a fee-for-service basis," Victoria will argue.

It will say the commonwealth currently only funds healthcare for asylum-seekers in a form of detention and for health services under Medicare. But asylum-seekers are eligible for almost all state health and aged services, and the states are picking up the bill for hearing, dental and immunisation.

Victoria acknowledges that most asylum-seekers are eligible for Medicare.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor said: "Primary healthcare for refugees who are permanent visa holders and those in the community on bridging visas are covered by Medicare. Using Medicare . . . represents the most efficient method of providing these health services to asylum-seekers in the community, reducing the burden on the states and territories."

Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg has backed Victoria's position, saying he raised the issue last year in the context of health services and costs affecting northern Queensland.

A spokeswoman for NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said she was looking forward to the discussion: "NSW will be participating in the debate at the Standing Council on Health to ensure there is sufficient funding to cover the increased cost of healthcare for refugees."

The cost to the states of dealing with the extra community-based asylum-seekers and refugees is likely to near $100 million.

Victoria, which makes up a quarter of the national economy, allocated more than $22m extra to help deal with the issue in this year's budget.

The Victorian paper estimates the number of asylum-seekers by boat and living in the community on bridging visas was 20,000 nationally in the nine months to last month and 6600 in Victoria.


Minister Alison Anderson mauls ABC "fact-checker" Russell Skelton

OUTSPOKEN Northern Territory minister Alison Anderson has unleashed a scathing attack on the head of the ABC's new fact-checking unit, Russell Skelton, slamming his work as "highly partisan" and saying he is unfit for the role.

Skelton became the centre of controversy when a string of tweets he made targeting Coalition figures was revealed in Senate estimates hearings a fortnight ago. ABC managing director Mark Scott said the tweets had come before the former Fairfax journalist had joined the broadcaster.

"Journalists have views; journalists vote," Mr Scott said, defending the appointment. "The test is not what their views are; the test is how they do their job."

The creation of the unit has caused concerns within the ABC, with talk among some staff that it will further expose the broadcaster to claims of bias.

Ms Anderson, a former commissioner of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Commission, said Skelton's appointment was "not in the interests of the national public broadcaster, or of the nation". The pair clashed over his 2010 book King Brown Country, which slammed her and her family's involvement with the Papunya Community Council.

Ms Anderson declined to be interviewed for the book, which won a 2011 Walkley Award. She said "its principal source was deeply hostile to me", understood to be a reference to her former partner, and adding that it "contained almost 70 basic errors of fact and detail".

A police investigation cleared Ms Anderson of any wrongdoing.

The Australian understands that Ms Anderson sought legal advice last decade over Skelton's reporting and that the original publisher of King Brown Country declined to proceed with the project over fears of litigation.

Skelton has a longstanding friendship with Des Rogers, a political rival of Ms Anderson's.

Ms Anderson defeated Mr Rogers to win Labor preselection for the Alice Springs and southern outback seat of Macdonnell in 2005. She left Labor in 2009 to sit as an independent, then joined the Country Liberal Party in 2011. Ms Anderson defeated Mr Rogers, the Labor candidate, to win the seat, renamed Namatjira, at the Territory poll last August.

She said Skelton "conducted himself more like a campaigner than a reporter" in the campaign.

Scott McConnell, of Ingkerreke Outstation Resource Services, a supporter of Ms Anderson, said he had "shirtfronted" Skelton when he arrived in Alice Springs before the poll, demanding that he declare his friendship with Mr Rogers. A statement appeared at the end of a feature published days before the poll.

The Australian has found quotes from Mr Rogers in Skelton's reporting on indigenous affairs dating back to 2007.

Mr Rogers accompanied Skelton as his guest to the 2011 Walkley dinner in Brisbane, where he won the award for King Brown Country, and also appeared with him at a function in a Melbourne bookshop promoting the book weeks before the Territory election.

Mr Rogers yesterday acknowledged their friendship. He said he had introduced Skelton to the Papunya community, but denied he had been a source for the book.

He praised Skelton's reporting, saying "he only writes stuff from an evidence-based perspective", and dismissed Ms Anderson as "a headline grabber" after "anything to get her in the media".

Opposition leader in the Senate Eric Abetz, who first raised the matter of Skelton's tweets, said: "Even the ABC's own Media Watch appreciates the grave issue of apprehended bias with Skelton's appointment."

Skelton dismissed Ms Anderson's claims, saying she was approached on "countless occasions over a number of years" for comment during the writing of his book. "Since publication . . . Ms Anderson has not approached nor disputed any of the facts contained in King Brown Country -- the Betrayal of Papunya with either me or my publisher," he said.

Skelton said the book was "informed by multiple sources including members of Ms Anderson's extended family".


Unfounded accusation of racism from a black

An Indigenous broadcaster has used his nationally-syndicated radio program to say the Northern Territory town of Katherine "reeks of racism".

Tiga Bayles, who hosts a talk show on Brisbane's 98.9 FM, is also the chairman of the Australian Indigenous Communications Association.

After visiting Katherine last week, he told his radio audience he was shocked to learn the shopping centre in the town, about 300 kilometres south of Darwin, charges $2 for people to use its toilets, a move he believes is targeted at Indigenous people.

"I said how the town of Katherine reeks of racism, you can smell it in the air, it hits you between the eyes when you drive into the place, when you walk down the street, when you go for a coffee," he said.

"I believe this policy of keeping toilets locked is aimed at First Nations people, Aboriginal people."

Katherine mayor Fay Miller said Mr Bayles' comments were out of line.

"I resent people who arrive in our town and make disparaging comments on the basis of their five-second experience," she said.

She says the shopping centre's pay-per-use toilet fee applies to all members of the community.

"It has been running for some time now," she said.  "I know that everybody who goes in there has made comments about how wonderful and clean it is."

Ms Miller said she may write to shopping centre management to ask for the fee to be reduced to $1.

The shopping centre operator has denied that the pay-toilet system is racist.

Federation Centres owns the shopping centre and spokesman Brandon Phillips says the policy ensures the toilets are clean, and it is not discriminatory.  "We have no intention to discriminate against anyone," he said.

"It is a matter that we were required to address in some way, given the health and safety concerns for people utilising the facilities.

"It's designed to provide a clean and safe surrounding for people in the centre, which I think is to the benefit of all people.

"I acknowledge it's a difficult situation and the charge will be reviewed over time."


Opposition accuses Julia Gillard of stoking 'gender war' with abortion comments

And her strange horror of blue ties!

The Opposition has ruled out making any changes to Australia's abortion laws after Prime Minister Julia Gillard warned the issue would become the "political plaything of men" if Tony Abbott becomes prime minister.

Ms Gillard made the comments yesterday while launching a fundraising organisation linked to the Labor Party, called Women for Gillard.

"We don't want to live in an Australia where abortion again becomes the political plaything of men who think they know better," she told the gathering.

The launch was closed to the media but vision was provided by the Prime Minister's office.

This morning Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop called the comments a "crude political ploy from a desperate PM leading a bitterly divided party" and demanded an apology from Ms Gillard.

"She's clearly trying to distract attention from her own self-inflicted political woes," Ms Bishop told ABC News Breakfast.

"I think Australians deserve better than this from the top leadership in the country.  "We would expect a PM to seek to unite the country, not divide it through some false gender war."

Ms Bishop reiterated the Coalition would not make any changes to abortion laws if it wins Government, something Ms Gillard "well knows".

"I find it offensive that she's raised it as a political issue and quite frankly she should apologise for raising false and offensive claims," Ms Bishop said.

"It's a very crude political ploy as I say, and it surprises me that the PM is playing to such base politics.

"This ridiculous notion that men in blue ties shouldn't be leading the country - there's a photograph doing the rounds of the social media of [US] president [Barack] Obama in his blue tie, with vice-president Joe Biden standing next to him in a blue tie.

"I'm sure that Julia Gillard wasn't trying to suggest that the United States leaders were incompetent."

In her speech, Ms Gillard drew attention to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's recent decision to wear pale blue ties to soften his image.

"It's a decision about whether once again we will banish women's voices from the core of our nation's political life," Ms Gillard said. "I invite you to imagine it: a prime minister - a man with a blue tie who goes on holidays to be replaced by a man in a blue tie.  "A treasurer who delivers a budget wearing a blue tie, to be supported by a finance minister, another man in a blue tie.

"Women once again, banished from the centre of Australia's political life."

Labor backbencher Stephen Jones, a Kevin Rudd supporter, was surprised by Ms Gillard's comments on abortion.

"I'm not convinced of the wisdom of kicking this into a political debate," he said yesterday.

"I think the 2013 election should be faced up around the big policy issues, as important as that one is."

However, he said it was unremarkable that Ms Gillard raised the issue in a speech to women.

Another backbencher told the ABC the Prime Minister's comments in support of women were completely inconsistent, given her decision to endorse Senator David Feeney for the safe Lower House seat of Batman.


1 comment:

Paul said...

Up here they live in some of the toilet blocks, and I suppose in the interests of hygiene they do their business outside the "house", finding shop doorways and parks a handy substitute. It doesn't reek of racism, it just reeks.

The public toilets at the hospital look like the first battle of the Somme by lunchtime most days. More racism I guess.