Friday, September 08, 2006

Hooray! They caught one!

Plenty more where he came from

A corrupt north Queensland police officer was jailed yesterday after video footage shot by a "suspected pedophile" showed him collecting wads of cash from his victim. Former plainclothes constable Michael Angel Cifuentes, from Mareeba, showed no emotion as he was sentenced in the Cairns District Court yesterday to 3.5 years' jail. The 39-year-old father of four, whose wife is also a police officer, had pleaded guilty to extorting up to $15,000 from Robert Nastasi, who he had arrested for drug offences.

The court was told Cifuentes had threatened Nastasi with having the Family Services Department remove his children. Crown Prosecutor Angus Edwards said Cifuentes was filmed by CMC officers taking money from Mr Nastasi outside the Mareeba police station on February 7. Minutes later, with the money still on him, Cifuentes was called to investigate a man suspiciously filming in the area - thought to be preying on children from a local school. The man was in fact the CMC officer who had secretly recorded the cash handover.

Cifuentes' solicitor Bebe Mellick argued that his client needed the money to pay for his children's medical expenses, one of whom had leukemia. But evidence detailed in court revealed that the first thing Cifuentes did with the money was buy two power drills and pay a vet bill.

In the short conversation outside the police station, Cifuentes was recorded saying to Mr Nastasi that he had one more day to pay $7000. At this stage, Mr Nastasi had handed over $8000 worth of marked bills from the CMC.

Judge Peter White said it was an important judgment for Queensland. In sentencing Cifuentes, Judge White took into consideration the early plea of guilty, but questioned Cifuentes' remorse. "I'm aware that former police officers find prison harder than any other prisoner, including child molesters," Judge White said. "The most obvious is that you will have no friends and will be unlikely to make friends." Cifuentes had also worked as a guard at the Lotus Glen Prison at Mareeba for six years before becoming a police officer. Judge White said Cifuentes would be eligible for parole halfway through his sentence. CMC misconduct investigations director Russell Pearce described the jailing as a sad day for the police service but it proved the CMC had sufficient powers to expose and prosecute any corrupt officer. [When they get off their behinds long enough to do anything. Most of the compaints about police that they get they hand over to the police to investigate!]


Greenie dam-hatred bears fruit

Brisbane could become the first capital city to wear harsh level-five water restrictions, which include a total ban on outdoor watering. Queensland Water Commission chairwoman Elizabeth Nosworthy said it was "almost inevitable" that level-four restrictions would be introduced in southeast Queensland at the end of next month. And if this summer is as dry as the last, when little rain fell in catchments, level-five restrictions could be introduced as early as next March.

Australia's capital cities have to date been able to avoid the level-five restrictions that have been imposed in regional centres such as Toowoomba in Queensland and Goulburn in NSW. Although water is a central issue in the Queensland election campaign, the Beattie Government has been tight-lipped about the forced water conservation measures, including the level-four restrictions set to be introduced after the poll this weekend.

Under level four, residents face mandatory swimming pool covers and a further crackdown on garden watering. At the same time, businesses will be forced to install water-saving devices, such as waterless urinals and water limiters on taps.

Ms Nosworthy said businesses would have to do much more to save water, but she indicated that the 180,000 swimming pool owners in southeast Queensland would be the main residential targets under level-four restrictions. She said 11 million litres of water were wasted every day through pool evaporation and mandatory covers were under consideration. "Pools is an issue that we really have to deal with," Ms Nosworthy told The Australian. "People in the community without pools would expect people with pools to be taking responsibility for doing the right thing." Industry sources put the average cost of a backyard pool cover at $500, with another $500 for a roller to operate it, but the state Government has promised rebates. Ms Nosworthy said level-four restrictions had not been finalised and proposals would be discussed with local councils at a meeting on September 11 - two days after the election.

Residents of Brisbane and other southeast Queensland centres were banned from using hoses under level-three restrictions earlier this year, with only buckets and watering cans being permitted for outdoor watering. Ms Nosworthy said that while buckets could now be used at any time, their use could be restricted under level-four rules to late afternoons and nights. She said restrictions might need to be phased in over time if, for instance, retail outlets did not have sufficient supplies of pool covers. It was unlikely residents would ever be able to again water gardens freely. "I think those days are over," Ms Nosworthy said.

Hawkins Home Garden Living Centres owner John Hawkins said more than 40 plant nurseries in southeast Queensland had been forced to close because of water restrictions, with the loss of 1000 jobs. He said the industry might not be able to withstand the impact of further restrictions. "Level five would wipe us out altogether," he said. Premier Peter Beattie has denied he called an early election to avoid community anger at level-four restrictions.


More social-worker evil

Abused children have been left to die and the social workers couldn't give a damn

Child-protection workers in Victoria have been slammed by the Bracks Government's child death watchdog for failing to properly investigate warnings of sexual abuse, chronic neglect and family violence against up to 20 children who subsequently died. In two cases, child protection workers were told on 16 and 18 occasions respectively that children were suffering chronic neglect, but only got involved when the neglect was entrenched. In four cases, child protection workers did not investigate despite being told of the abuse in its early stages. Allegations of physical and sexual abuse involving three children were not given proper attention by authorities. Child protection workers also failed to properly investigate claims by children they were victims of family violence and prematurely closed cases after parents promised to go to support services but never did.

The damning findings - which follow strong criticism of child protection workers in other states - are made by the state Government's Child Death Review Committee, which investigated the deaths of 20 children known to the Department of Human Services. The committee published new figures showing child protection workers received 37,242 reports of alleged abuse and neglect last year. Fewer than one third - 11,346 - were investigated and just 7250 were substantiated.

Joe Tucci, chief executive of the Australian Childhood Foundation, said the report was further evidence child protection workers across Australia were out of step with community attitudes. "There is a difference ... between what the departments think child abuse is and what the community is willing to tolerate kids experiencing," he said. "The departments will tolerate much more violence towards children before they intervene ... Most professionals want the departments to act more strongly and they are not. That is at the heart of why the system keeps failing a lot of these kids."

Influential Howard Government backbencher Bill Heffernan last week demanded changes to the way the states handle such cases, accusing them of protecting abusive or neglectful parents at the expense of children.

There have been similar revelations in Western Australia of hundreds of cases of suspected child abuse being left in queues for weeks because of a shortage of child protection caseworkers. In an exclusive interview yesterday, West Australian Premier Alan Carpenter promised more money and more staff for the embattled Department for Community Development.

The Victorian committee spent 11 months investigating the deaths of 20 children from 2003 to 2005. Its report, tabled in state parliament in May, has received no media coverage. Seven of the children were found to have been chronically neglected, but child protection workers deemed some of these cases were not of sufficient concern to warrant intervention. Chronic neglect includes not being given food, clothing, shelter, education or medical care. "In four of the seven cases reviewed, early notifications of neglect were screened out of the system without investigation," the committee said. "In two cases, the families were the subject of 16 and 18 notifications respectively. By the time child protection became actively involved, the child was already experiencing developmental delay and other long-term adverse effects."

Victorian Minister for Children Sherryl Garbutt said the Government had recently made changes to child protection backed by significant funding. "Unlike other states, Victorian reforms were not sparked by crisis but by an ongoing assessment of the system based on reviews of case management practices ... and supported by the latest scientific research from Australia and overseas," she said.


More surgery cancellations in Queensland public hospitals

The State Government has cancelled elective surgery for up to 500 patients who would have had their operations after the election. The Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital cancellations span 151 surgical sessions - up to 500 operations - over five weeks. Premier Peter Beattie said the cancellations were planned months ahead.

But Liberal leader Bruce Flegg said yesterday surgeons were only advised on Wednesday and patients would not be told until Monday - two days after the election. Dr Flegg said it was a slap in the face for patients, some of whom would vote for Labor. He produced leaked documents with the subject heading, "rolling cancellations", which showed that more surgery could be postponed. The documents reveal general, vascular, orthopedics and urology surgery will be suspended.

The memo from the hospital's surgical team to "interested parties" said that from September 25 to October 6, upgrades were scheduled for the surgical day care unit and the sterile processing centre. However, it does not reveal why operations need to be cancelled from Monday.

"These massive surgery cancellations are right across the board, from category one to category three," Dr Flegg said. "There is no doubt that cancelling people's operations in urgent cases put people's lives at risk. "Again we have hundreds and hundreds of Queenslanders getting a little slip in the mail saying, 'Don't come in on Monday, we have cancelled your operation'. "This is a Premier who stood with his heart and said, 'We're getting more doctors and nurses. We're fixing health'."

Mr Beattie accused Dr Flegg of "political mischief" and said very few surgeries would be cancelled. But Dr Flegg said Mr Beattie's blase excuses were a reason why visiting medical officers, who were among the backbone of public hospitals, were leaving the system. "Constant cancellations are exactly why the number of visiting specialists in Queensland has almost halved under the Beattie Government."


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