Saturday, August 12, 2006

Army expanding

The Howard Government will hire an extra 3000 soldiers to reinforce the army as it fights a growing number of campaigns around the world. Defence Minister Brendan Nelson will next week ask his cabinet colleagues to approve the expansion as a matter of urgency. He will also seek approval to completely overhaul the methods used to hire troops and their pay and conditions in a bid to attract new members and to keep those already in uniform. It is understood the extra troops will be based at either Townsville or Darwin.

More than 4200 military personnel, or 8 per cent of the 51,000 strong force, will be posted overseas by November. That will include 2000 in East Timor, 1400 in Iraq and the Gulf and 650 in Afghanistan. In addition, more than 430 Ausralian federal and state police are also working in overseas trouble spots.

A total of 1500 soldiers will be hired as part of the program to "harden" the army and up to 2000 further soldiers will be recruited to fill operational shortfalls. Dr Nelson, who has taken direct responsibility for recruiting, wants a complete overhaul of the system used to hire military personnel. Extra pay is only part of the equation and according to well placed sources other issues such as longer postings, educational facilities, spouse employment and more relaxed health requirements will also be implemented. "We are very busy and one of the things that I'm looking at, along with the Prime Minister at the moment, is the size of the Australian Defence Force and whether we need to increase it, but I can assure you that we still have additional troops to send to our region or our borders or other parts of the world if we need to do it," Dr Nelson said.

The army has an infantry company on permanent 24 hours' notice to move, with another on a week's notice. About 10 per cent of the army's 25,000 personnel are deployed offshore. Given that 10 per cent will replace them and another 10 per cent are getting ready, that means 30 per cent of the nation's Diggers are tied up with offshore deployments



Two current articles below from Queensland and two from Victoria

MP accuses Egyptian surgeon

North Queensland hospital has been accused of allowing an incompetent surgeon to perform unauthorised operations, with dangerous consequences for a host of patients. In a case certain to draw comparisons with Bundaberg's Jayant Patel affair, it has been alleged that an Egyptian-trained surgeon, known only last night as Dr Khalifallah, performed operations at Mackay Base Hospital against expert advice.

Federal Nationals MP DeAnne Kelly told Federal Parliament last night that Dr Khalifallah was employed by Queensland Health in 2004 and by July last year the hospital's credentiality committee determined he must be supervised during all major surgery. "Within four weeks he undertook three major surgical cases without supervision, with complications arising," she said. Ms Kelly said that in one case the removal of a bowel tumour resulted in faecal matter entering the intestinal cavity.

In November last year, the hospital wrote to Dr Khalifallah directing him to cease performing elective abdominal surgery altogether and emergency abdominal surgery unless he had consulted superiors. Ms Kelly said duty of care to patients was overlooked because the hospital reversed its position out of fear that Dr Khalifallah would lose his job. Earlier this year, Ms Kelly said the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons contacted the hospital again, listing a host of operating and clinical errors.

The cases detailed included: botched keyhole surgery; performing a procedure in a ward which should have been done in an operating theatre; wrongly ordering "no further visiting" for a patient, who subsequently - after intervention from staff - required five to six operations; claiming a cow kicking a patient was the cause of post-operative complications and tampering with surgical notes to "cover up" that he had operated alone.

Despite being backed by the hospital's director of surgery Raad Almehdi to return to full duties, Dr Chris Perry from the college wrote to the hospital on July 19 this year warning of serious concerns about Dr Khalifallah. A spokesman for Queensland Health Minister Stephen Robertson last night said: "We are aware of the case and appropriate undertakings have been put in place. The doctor is working under close supervision by senior doctors and he has been on restricted practice since February."


Intensive care shortage in Queensland

The Queensland Government has conceded that hospital intensive care units had too many patients and not enough beds in the state's southeast on Monday night. Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg yesterday quizzed the Government in Parliament over claims that after 8pm Monday not one intensive care unit bed was available in any ward south of Nambour on the Sunshine Coast. Mr Springborg said patients on life-support systems were put in corridors and ambulances were put on bypass. "Minister, if that is the present situation in our hospitals, isn't there going to be a major crisis when the flu season strikes in earnest and what will happen if a major incident occurs?" Mr Springborg asked.

Health Minister Stephen Robertson said he had been advised that only two patients in the whole of southeast Queensland could not immediately access a hospital intensive care bed. But he said it was true that all available staffed ICU beds in both public and private hospitals in southeast Queensland were full on the night. He said the two patients at Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital who could not immediately access an ICU bed were kept ventilated and cared for in the emergency department.


Melbourne ambulance service deteriorating

Health Minister Bronwyn Pike is under fire for claiming ambulance emergency response times are on target. The claim comes just weeks after Herald Sun reports highlighting growing delays and a state Budget report that found emergency response targets had been missed by an average of two minutes. Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey accused Ms Pike of misleading Victorians and Parliament. Ambulance Employees Association boss Steve McGhie said all the evidence from paramedics and data seen by the union showed response times were getting worse.

Responding to a question from a government MP on improvements to ambulance services, Ms Pike said Melbourne's ambulance service now ranked among the best in the world. She said money provided had more than doubled to add 652 extra paramedics, 54 extra ambulances and to upgrade and build new ambulance stations. "While caseloads are up -- 64,000 additional emergency services in metropolitan Melbourne and 30,000 extra emergency services in rural areas -- response times are on target," she said.

The May Budget reported that the ambulance response time for 90 per cent of code one emergencies in metropolitan Melbourne was two minutes slower than the 13-minute target for 2004-05 and was expected to be 14 minutes in 2005-06. Statewide, response times were also two minutes slower than the 15-minute target for 2004-05 and were expected to be 16 minutes in 2005-06.

"If the Minister is referring to the past then I'm astounded she is claiming the response times have been on target because clearly they have never been met by this Government," Ms Shardey said. "And if she's referring to this current year she must looking into her crystal ball because we are only six weeks into the current year." A spokesman for Ms Pike said when the impact of lengthy industrial action in 2004-05 was allowed for, the target had been met.

In May the Herald Sun revealed ambulances called to emergencies took at least 20 minutes to respond on more than 900 occasions in Melbourne last year. Documents seen under Freedom of Information revealed Sunbury was the worst-hit suburb, with 60 delays, including one 77-minute wait for a patient with breathing problems. Leaked ambulance figures revealed that just 68 per cent of metropolitan Code One emergency calls were reached within 14 minutes in March, 74 per cent in February and only 72 per cent in January.


Hospital waiting lists in Victoria

Health Minister Bronwyn Pike has attacked the Liberals for using sick people as political pawns -- but conceded the tactic could get them treatment sooner. Her comments came amid growing political controversy over the number of people on hospital waiting lists.

Ms Pike defended the handling of the case involving 11-year-old Georgia Duncan, who suffers a life-threatening illness and is fed through a tube. Georgia's family say they were told she would have to wait from six to 18 months for surgery to improve her mobility, but Labor and the Royal Children's Hospital say she had only been on the waiting list for nine days and would have to wait for up to three months.

Her case has sparked a political row, and Ms Pike accused the Liberals of using Georgia and her family as political pawns -- but then admitted the strategy could help her get treatment sooner. "When people draw public attention and the Government's attention to their particular plight it does give an opportunity, as it does when you go to your doctor, to have a reassessment," Ms Pike said. "We genuinely care that people do have the opportunity to be reassessed if they are in pain."

The Opposition has set up a phone hotline for Victorians who have been left languishing on hospital waiting lists. But Ms Pike said the Liberals are giving false hope to sick people and called on them to release the details of those who had called the hotline. "It's not up to the Opposition to set themselves up as some kind of quasi-triage operation," she said. "I . . . am open and accountable about the fact that our system doesn't always provide the most timely care for some people. "We know we have to improve it. We are committed to improving it . . . but there is a lot more work to be done."

Royal Children's Hospital spokeswoman Julie Webber said Georgia was always listed as a category two patient. "Before this time, Georgia was not on a surgical waiting list and therefore not classified," she said. Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said Georgia's case was systematic of a public health system in crisis, but she refused to detail what policies the Liberals would put forward.


Ignorant Pom

Sydney is racist, sexist and backward, according to a British newspaper columnist. The columnists writes that the events of the past week or so - Dean Jones labelling a Muslim a terrorist and Mel Gibson unleashing an anti-Semitic tirade - have done nothing to dispel Britain's perception of Australia as a nation of Sir Les Pattersons.

Evening Standard writer Hannah Pool criticised Australia as homogenous and its national mood as smug. "Forget about popping out to the corner shop and coming back with a feast of Polish bread, Turkish cheese and Indian vegetables," she wrote of Sydney. Pool clearly did not take the time to visit one of the many Italian restaurants in Leichhardt, enjoy a Lebanese kebab, sample the city's plethora of south-east Asian cuisine, or take advantage of the fact that sushi in Sydney is extremely fresh and affordable by London standards.

Further weakening her argument was her admission that she had been to Australia about five years ago with her then boyfriend who was on a business trip. They stayed at the Observatory Hotel near Sydney's CBD and she began to form her opinions after a couple of days.

"Far from being a hip, modern city, I found Sydney racist, sexist and deeply backward," she said. "I couldn't wait to come back home to London. On the journey from Heathrow to Hackney I saw a greater mix of people than I would in a lifetime in Australia." Her views are presented to readers of a newspaper with a circulation of more than 300,000 - many of whom may not have been to Australia to form their own opinion.

More here

Australian Taliban Feted Again - Via the Medium of Dance

Post below lifted from Daily Ablution

News of a Sydney theatrical production called Honour Bound - during which "in a vast steel cage, six performers, choreographed superbly by Garry Stewart, are surrounded by projected texts and video, enveloped in sound and voices, and awash with light …as they fly, hang or turn in the air" - recalls to our attention the case of David Hicks, an Australian Guantanamo detainee described in promotional material for an earlier film as "a freedom fighter for Islam".

Needless to say, the appeasers and apologists are fawning over the piece - the heady combination of dance, aerial performance and support for Taliban freedom fighters is obviously irresistable to those in certain circles, among them the editor of the Australian arts publication RealTime:
"The quest for national security as part of the 'war on terror' has become an excuse for a radical reduction in human rights by governments around the world, most blatantly in the case of the US incarceration of David Hicks."
"Most blatantly"? What's under discussion is the incarceration - for the duration of a war which is ongoing - of an admitted Taliban recruit fighting to bring about the time when "the Western-Jewish domination is finished, so we live under Muslim law again" (whither RealTime, come that glorious day?). If this is the "most blatant" case of the alleged assault on our rights, it would seem as if we don't have terribly much to worry about.

Such thoughts would be incorrect, however, as our dance-reviewer-cum-moral-philosopher reminds us:
"Hicks has become a living symbol of what could happen to any citizen given the draconian nature of Australia's anti-terror legislation..."
Why yes - "any citizen" could be sent to Guantanamo! The unfortunate Mr. Hicks just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time; specifically, Kunduz, Afghanistan, where he was captured fighting alongside the Taliban in December, 2001. We must all be vigilant in ensuring that none of us is as unlucky as Mr. Hicks - his fate could easily await any one of us. Especially, it need hardly be said, those of us in the arts:
"... and that includes the special place it holds for journalists, cartoonists and artists, all less than assured by John Howards' 'trust me.'"
Rather humorously, the editorial immediately undermines its own argument by pointing out that:
"Australian artists of many kinds and in many media have kept their audiences alert to the issues pertaining to refugees, political spin and the escalating erosion of social democracy. Filmmaker Curtis Levy's documentary The President versus David Hicks has been widely seen. Now writer-director-designer Nigel Jamieson, with ADT's Garry Stewart, sound designer Paul Charlier, video artist Scott Otto Anderson and co-designer Nick Dare, brings a multimedia performance perspective to one man's plight and the ramifications for social democracy."
It's nothing short of astonishing that, "given the draconian nature of Australia's anti-terror legislation", these brave voices remain unsilenced. For now.

Although insignificant on an individual level, the views of the unnamed RealTime editor are worthy of passing note in that they mirror those which characterise a particular mindset on the left. As he's more influential, those of Chris Levy - director of the film about the noble "freedom fighter for Islam" - are perhaps more interesting. To examine them brings us even greater insight into the mentality of the terror-apologist - and the willful blindness and the contorted justifications are quite literally jaw-dropping.

Those with strong stomachs are directed to the complete 2004 interview with the World Socialist Web Site, in which Mr. Levy describes the Australian Taliban member - who "became a fervent Muslim because he saw it as a way of redressing the injustice he saw in the world" -- as "a caring and considerate kind of person", an "ordinary person", who was "misled into supporting undesirable groups".

It's admittedly unusual to hear the likes of Mr. Levy describe the Taliban with such strong language as "undesirable " - but he hastens to point out that this harsh description in no way applies to Mr. Hicks, despite his proud boasts of Taliban membership:
"I don't see him as undesirable or anything remotely like that. I find him a fascinating character and hope to meet him some day."
Not even remotely undesirable - certainly not! But what of those remarks about the "Western-Jewish domination"? Isn't that just a tad less than completely attractive? Well, maybe. But Mr. Hicks, a manipulated childlike figure, is not to blame - as Mr. Levy explains:
"That's true. But from my reading of the letters [to his father], he always seemed to retain a fairly innocent or naive outlook—someone caught up in something he didn't fully understand."
In the finest liberal tradition, Mr. Hicks' trivial misdemeanors are construed as not his fault, as being the acts of a naive, exploited innocent previously victimised by "a difficult family situation". This characterisation is evidenced by a poem he wrote in 1998 - quoted in Mr. Levy's film - which contains the line:
"Mohammed's food you shall be fed/To disagree, so off with your head."

Need it really be said yet again? Must we really continue to call attention to the utter moral bankruptcy of a "progressive" mindset so warped by blind anti-Americanism that it views people like Mr. Hicks as "not even remotely undesirable"?

Given the adulatory reception of such work as Honour Bound, the sad answer seems to be an unqualified "yes".

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