Thursday, September 14, 2006

Leftist leader too patriotic for his party

Kim Beazley's plan to make a pledge to the "Australian values" of freedom, democracy and gender equality a condition of entry to the country has caused outrage within the Labor Party. The Opposition Leader, also under attack for his comments on Muslims, faced strong criticism from Labor colleagues yesterday after proposing a plan forcing visitors to Australia to sign visas endorsing Australian values. Labor MPs told The Australian last night they were deeply concerned about the proposal, which was made without consultation, was not workable and undermined the party's values. Labor sources said respected former immigration minister and party powerbroker Robert Ray was scathing of the idea in Labor caucus, asking: "Will this be dropped this week or next week?"

Staring down the critics, Mr Beazley told Labor MPs he would not give ground to John Howard on the issue and said the plan for the formal list of Australian values would help Islamic leaders deal with Muslims who refused to integrate into Australia. "It would be a bit of help for them, and for all those who have to, if you like, get up there and make sure that all the communities stick with these values, if people coming to this place had a clear understanding of them in the first instance," Mr Beazley said on Canberra radio 2CC. "The truth is in the Islamic community many of those Islamic community leaders are fighting a very serious battle and taking very strong stances in favour of the sorts of values that I'm talking about."

John Howard said yesterday that the Government was looking at setting out Australian values for citizenship ceremonies and for people intending to migrate to Australia, but that it would be useless for tourists. "I think, from a practical point of view, there are differences between people who are coming here on a visit for two or three days and people who are intending to live here," the Prime Minister said. "In principle, I think a full-bodied commitment to Australian values is something I have always supported and very, very strongly support."

Victorian Labor MP Maria Vamvakinou, who has a high Muslim population in her Melbourne electorate, started debate in the party yesterday because of concerns the ALP's multicultural policies were being undermined. On Monday night, Ms Vamvakinou accused Mr Howard and Treasurer Peter Costello of "trying to outdo each other in making political mileage out of openly targeting Australia's Arab and Muslim communities". She said the Government had been cynically exploiting community tensions by demanding "Muslim Australians openly endorse Australian values, learn English and renounce terrorism". Ms Vamvakinou was surprised to see Mr Beazley's calls yesterday for visa controls, which included signing a form endorsing such values.

Mr Beazley said Australian values were "a commitment to freedom, commitment to democracy, commitment to respect for each other's views, commitment to a sense of tolerance about people having diverse beliefs". "Also, I would add to it, as well as respect for people's different views in religious and political terms ... respect for women," he said.

Nine members of the Labor caucus spoke on the plan, with most criticising the idea, which Labor immigration spokesman Tony Burke said he had first raised in a column in Sydney's The Daily Telegraph in February. The policy was not discussed by the front bench or presented to the caucus for consideration.

Mr Beazley told some MPs he would be prepared to listen more to caucus members but would not give ground on the issue to Mr Howard. "You see, the problem with the Prime Minister at the moment is he reads a lecture to the Islamic community on what their responsibilities are, and the lecture, frankly, is a no-brainer," he said earlier yesterday.

Labor MPs told The Australian last night that Mr Beazley had responded poorly to Mr Howard and had fallen into a political misjudgment. A caucus spokeswoman said "a number of caucus members indicated their general concern that, with Howard re-raising issues associated with the Muslim community ... they were concerned that once again Howard was out there playing divisive politics". Former health minister Carmen Lawrence said she was concerned the issue was the wrong strategy for the party, which should be concentrating on the Government's values. "I thought the issue really is about the behaviour of the Government," she said.


Another dreadful encounter with one of Australia's hideous "child welfare" bureaucracies

It violates a child's "human rights" to take her to a doctor when she is ill? Only totally bureaucratized scum would think so

She was three years old, and very sick: sweating all over, with a raging fever, limp and exhausted from crying. Her Aboriginal foster mother, Dilana, tried to soothe the child to sleep. "I was very concerned," she said. "We were in what is known as the transition period of foster care: we had been given permission to foster this little girl, but she hadn't moved in with us. "She was having sleepovers but she was still a few days away from really being ours."

The toddler, who was also Aboriginal, had never been in good health. When first introduced to the family -- who wanted to be identified but cannot for legal reasons, because it would identify the child -- she was extremely weak and thin, and her hair was matted. "But this was different," said Dilana. "I am a mother, I have raised two children, and I could see straight away she was extremely unwell." Then, when she was trying to change the toddler, she saw something that set her parental instincts on fire. She thought the little girl might have been sexually abused.

A frantic Dilana, a successful businesswoman who owns a thriving Aboriginal art gallery with her husband in Sydney, wanted to call a doctor. But under the foster care rules, she first had to seek permission from the NSW Department of Community Services. She tried to contact the DOCS caseworker but she could not be reached. "I tried over several hours," she said. "I left messages. I heard nothing." By morning, the little girl's temperature had soared to dangerous heights and she was limp in Dilana's arms. "I called the DOCS caseworker again," she said. "But there was still just an answering machine."

Dilana then took what most people would regard as a sensible decision: she called her family doctor -- a white woman she had known for almost 30 years -- and asked if she could see the suffering child. "I didn't tell her I believed she might have been abused," said Dilana. "I simply asked her, 'Could you please examine her because I think something is wrong'." The GP immediately agreed. She prescribed antibiotics for the child's fever and also gave Dilana a referral, urging her to see a pediatrician.

The discovery of abuse was shocking, but sadly not uncommon: a report by the NSW Government in June found the abuse of indigenous children is a monstrous problem. Not a single family in the 29 indigenous communities surveyed said they were unaffected by it.

Dilana took the little girl home. She couldn't give her the antibiotics because she couldn't be certain she knew her medical history and was not sure she didn't have allergies. She tried DOCS again. It was hours before she was able to get through -- and, when she did, all hell broke loose. "They said to me: 'You did what?"' said Dilana. "You took her to a doctor?" Dilana said DOCS was more concerned about the fact she had taken the child to a doctor than they were about what the doctor might have found. "They told me I was in big trouble. They said I could be charged with something. They told me -- and I'll never forget this -- I had abused her human rights."

DOCS said it was "inappropriate" for Dilana to ask a doctor to examine the sick girl. Half an hour later, DOCS workers marched into her home, removed the little girl's toys, books and photographs, and carried the distraught child from the house. "It was the most traumatic thing I've ever experienced," said Dilana. "I could never have guessed what was to come." For weeks afterwards, Dilana and her husband tried to find out what happened to the little girl, to see if she was ever treated by a specialist.

DOCS does not comment on specific cases but in a statement to The Australian last night, the department said: "In all instances, DOCS make decisions in line with the best available information. The best interests of the child are always the paramount concern. Critical decisions such as medical examinations are generally made in conjunction with the department, depending on the provisions of the court order in place." [Bullshit, Bullshit, Bullshit]

Reluctantly, Dilana's family tried to put the disappointment behind them. Then, a year ago, they applied to adopt another Aboriginal girl, a child that had been born to a member of their extended family. To their horror, DOCS tried to block the application, saying Dilana and her husband of more than 20 years were "not suitable parents". "You can imagine their reaction," said their lawyer, Michael Vassili. "They were just destroyed." The charge humiliated the family. They have two adult children, both of whom have completed university. They are also both teachers. "In many ways they are perfect parents," said Mr Vassili. "They had done precisely what any person in those circumstances would have done. "But for some reason, DOCS was concerned they had supposedly broken some rule, and not nearly as concerned about what might have happened to the little girl. In my opinion, it was a vendetta -- a way of avoiding dealing with the real issue."

Dilana was denied permission to take the new baby into her home. She was fostered instead to a Chinese couple. DOCS asked the court to prevent Dilana from even having access. "I was just stunned by the ferociousness, the bullying, of DOCS," Mr Vassili said.

Unlike many other indigenous families, Dilana and her husband had resources -- and they would not give in. They assembled more than 20 references, including two from indigenous MPs -- Aden Ridgeway, then in the Senate, and NSW MP Linda Burney. The couple turned up to court every two or three weeks, with a solicitor. They spent $20,000 on legal fees. And in the end, they won. The Children's Court magistrate found that when Dilana took the sick child to a doctor to be examined, she had done what any adult in that situation would do. The court gave Dilana permission to take the new baby home, and her house now sings with the sounds of a thriving toddler. "But it's still extremely painful," she said. "We had bonded with that little girl. We wanted to help the indigenous children in our community."


Publicity works wonders. Below is a followup to the story above:

The NSW Government has ordered an investigation into the removal of a three-year-old Aboriginal girl from her indigenous foster parents because they allowed a family doctor to examine her for signs of sexual abuse. State Community Services Minister Reba Meagher said yesterday she had asked the director-general of her department to explain why the parents' decision was considered "inappropriate" by the child's caseworker.

Ms Meagher said Neil Shepherd would examine why the Department of Community Services refused the same couple, Gavan and Allana Rose, another Aboriginal foster child the following year because their hopes for the child to attend university or become part of the family's art business were "unrealistic". "Foster carers can and should take their children to the doctor when they require urgent medical attention," Ms Meagher said. "For other treatments, a caseworker needs to approve the procedure. In any event, it is important a caseworker be informed about any treatment to a child so a comprehensive medical history can be kept. "Furthermore, we select foster carers on their ability to provide nurturing and support to vulnerable children, affording them the opportunities they deserve to achieve their potential - including going to university."

The Roses' battles with DOCS to take permanent care of an indigenous foster child, revealed in The Australian this week, attracted widespread concern yesterday. Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough said that if the reports were accurate, he would be "shocked by the inference that somehow a child's cultural background may be a determining factor in their expectations or ambitions". "Any attempt by bureaucracy to limit the expectations or ambitions of a child or that child's parents is appalling," Mr Brough told The Australian.

The head of the Howard Government's National Indigenous Council, Sue Gordon, said foster parents should teach children how to be successful adults and take a long-term view. Foster parents take on the role of parents, so they should take on a role that encompasses all of those issues: school, higher education etc," she said. "It shouldn't be short-term thinking, it should be long-term thinking and encouraging children. "Their role as a parent is to take on any role that a parent would have, and that includes counselling kids in relation to alcohol and drugs, counselling kids in regard to education, and getting them to start thinking about more than tomorrow."

The Roses, who own the successful Gavala Aboriginal Art Gallery in Sydney's Darling Harbour, first struck trouble when looking to care permanently for a three-year-old Aboriginal girl. In the latter stages of the process, Ms Rose took the girl to the family GP with a rapidly escalating fever, having been unable to get in contact with the caseworker. She also feared the little girl might have been sexually abused, and the doctor advised she should see a pediatrician.

On discovering the child had been to the doctor and examined for possible sexual abuse, DOCS told Ms Rose she had abused the child's "human rights" and came to collect the girl, saying the couple would not be allowed to see her again. About a year later, a member of Ms Rose's extended family could not care for her baby and asked the Roses to take her in. But DOCS intervened. One of the reasons given for not allowing the couple to take over care of the child was that they had "too high" expectations for the child's future. "They gave me the impression that foster children weren't expected to achieve much," Ms Rose told The Australian yesterday. "I was shocked because I believe you can climb up, you can improve a situation."

DOCS insisted it always acted with the best interests of the children in mind. But NSW Community Services spokeswoman Gladys Berejiklian said yesterday she was shocked to learn of the experiences of the Rose family. "It's frightening to think DOCS has such severe cultural problems, which are putting the future of children in foster care at risk," Ms Berejiklian said. "Having positive expectations about a child in your care should be regarded as a good nurturing environment, not a reason for removal of the child. "This example demonstrates what a basket-case DOCS is in relation to foster care."


Black crookedness finally recognized

Aboriginal land councils in NSW will be forced to seek the approval of regulators for all business and investment activities under reforms designed to bring an end to decades of cronyism and corruption. NSW Aboriginal Affairs Minister Milton Orkopoulos will today announce the biggest overhaul of the NSW land rights system since 1983, when about 79,000ha of Crown land was divested to 121 local Aboriginal land councils. The combined holdings of the LALCs now amount to about 1per cent of NSW and have an estimated value of $1billion.

Mr Orkopoulos said yesterday the changes would "provide greater accountability and stamp out nepotism" by transforming land councils from small-scale community organisations into "the million-dollar corporate structures some have grown into over the past 23 years". He hopes the reforms will realise the intention of the 1983 act to provide local Aboriginal communities with permanent income to fund benefits such as superannuation and education scholarships.

Instead, profits have been squandered on dubious investments, redirected to the mates and families of council board members and staff, or siphoned off by unscrupulous developers. A number of LALCs have become embroiled in financial and bribery scandals and there are currently 12 councils under the control of administrators.

Under the reforms, councils will need the approval of their members, as well as of their regulating body, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, before selling off land or setting up businesses with the proceeds. The NSW council will also, for the first time, have full access to the financial records of related corporate entities set up by LALCs. When such entities fail, the risk will be borne by the directors, not the land council. In addition, the members of the NSW land council will be elected from six regions under a collegiate model designed to short-circuit cronyism and prevent the domination of elections by a few large Aboriginal families. The revised act will also insure that the powers and responsibilities of board members are clearly defined and made distinct from those of staff.

Last year, The Australian revealed a joint venture between the NSW land council and Macquarie Bank to develop Aboriginal land and create income streams for communities. Tim Hornibrook, head of Macquarie Indigenous Financial Services, said yesterday he was confident the reforms "would push the less reputable operators out of the market, on the commercial side". "At the moment the councils are asset rich and cash poor," he said. "You've got to look at improving their ability to transact in an open and transparent manner with commercial entities."

Murray Chapman, administrator of the NSWALC, said he hoped the changes would "drag the council network into the 21st century". "It will put land councils on a more commercial footing and make them better able to deliver services to their members," he said. "Our mob have got their fair share of crooks, like any other part of Australian society. "You'll never get rid of them, but (the reforms) will make things far more difficult for the standover men and the outright crooks," Mr Chapman said.


When is the stupidity of vastly overworked public hospital doctors going to stop?

It is bad for the patients and bad for the young doctors

On Saturday March 11, as the city [Melbourne] preened itself for the Commonwealth Games, a young man, loved for his warmth and generosity, walked for the last time into The Alfred hospital, where he was a trainee surgeon. Chanh Thaow had come a long way since his Hobart childhood. The pride of his parents, leading members of Tasmania's Hmong community, Chanh had clocked up 14 years of training. To achieve his dream of being a surgeon, he needed only to pass one more exam. His teachers believe he would have passed the test, had he lived to take it. But on that day in March, Chanh walked to the registrars' room and closed the door. He then intravenously administered to himself a lethal dose of anaesthetic drugs - enough to end his life. He was 32.

In an interview with The Age, Chanh's father, Vue Thaow, has spoken for the first time of his concerns that his son was overworked and alienated by the surgical culture at The Alfred. Mr Thaow said his son was told to stop recording his level of tiredness during marathon shifts.

Chanh's death, which is being investigated by the State Coroner, is the second suicide of a young doctor in the past nine months. On December 16, Lachlan McIntyre, 29, an intensive care registrar at St Vincent's, died of an injected drug cocktail in his North Melbourne bedroom. He was found with a suicide note nearby.

These young men were struggling with private demons and no one will ever know what tipped them over. Their deaths shocked Melbourne's medical fraternity and sparked a wave of introspection and questioning about support for young doctors and the culture of overworking trainees. A working party of doctors from across the medical colleges, headed by North Carlton GP Raymond Martyres, has requested a meeting with the coroner investigating Chanh's suicide to raise concerns about the treatment and emotional health of young doctors. The coroner's workplace unit is also aware of the details of the death. "These unexpected suicides have focused our attention," the head of the Victorian Doctors Health Program, Dr Naham (Jack) Warhaft, told The Age. "They are particularly tragic because they are usually the really good ones. They are competent clinically, they are high achievers." Dr Warhaft has called on the medical profession to openly discuss and address the problem of "unexpected suicides". The doctors involved asked for no help and felt an "acute hopelessness", but had no outward signs of depression.

The call comes as the Australian Medical Association prepares to release its "safe hours" survey of trainees working in hospitals, nine years after its first campaign to stamp out shabby treatment of young doctors. The results, to be released next month, are still being analysed, but AMA president Mukesh Haikerwal told The Age there had been only minor improvement since the last survey in 2001, which found many young doctors were working long shifts. (Studies have shown the performance of doctors after more than 18 hours awake is the same as having a blood-alcohol reading of more than .05). Dr Haikerwal said the survey had found that long and unsafe shifts were still too common. "If hospitals think they can get away with it, they will try," he said.

There are no official figures on how many trainee doctors commit suicide, although it is estimated to be at least one or two each year in Victoria. Doctors are twice as likely to commit suicide as the rest of the population, and female doctors are five times more likely than the average person.

Mr Thaow said his son's death came "out of the blue", but Chanh had been exhausted. "My son told me it was an environment where you would have to go on a 24 or 36-hour shift and never say that you were tired." Chanh told his father that "snobbish and selfish" senior surgeons pressured young doctors so they felt they could not speak up about their concerns. "No matter how hard he had to work, he would have to bear it and then do the same thing to the people who followed him."

The Alfred hospital refused to allow its senior medical staff to be interviewed for this report and would not say whether it had investigated Chanh's death. Instead, it issued a short statement that declared the health of young doctors a "priority" and detailed a mentoring scheme and career support for trainees. Spokeswoman Tracey Ellis refused to answer questions about average working hours for surgical trainees and the surgical culture. If the coroner decides to hold an inquest on Chanh's death, The Alfred will probably be called on to justify its roster system for young doctors.

Dr Warhaft said some hospitals supported their young doctors, but there was still "a long way to go for all of us". The profession needed to work on its emotional intelligence and provide a more supportive environment - particularly when doctors were under personal stress - where admissions of despair and suicidal thoughts were better accepted. "There are extraordinary pressures on young doctors," Dr Warhaft said. "They are trying to make huge advances in their career, they have their clinical load, their studies, often a new relationship and a few young kids, and they are working perhaps up to a 100-hour week."

Dr Deborah Amott, chairwoman of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons' trainees' association, said that although working hours for some young doctors were improving, the culture had to change. "There is this awful culture around medicine which involves the complete bastardisation of junior staff. There is this hyper-masculine, balls-to-the-wall culture in surgery of cure at all costs - both to the patient and doctors. It is quite a struggle to turn that around."

Professor John Collins, the dean of education at the college of surgeons, denied there was a general problem with the culture of senior surgeons, but said some hospitals were more demanding than others. "It is a huge thing for a major international college to lose one of its trainees," he said. "We try to do everything we can to prevent this." As part of the college's accreditation of training hospitals, trainees could reveal confidentially any concerns, he said. The college had recently reprimanded a Victorian hospital for unsafe working practices for young doctors, but he would not say which one.

After Chanh's death, the college is looking to strengthen the criteria around safe and healthy working conditions it requires of hospitals to keep their accreditation as training institutions. "We are committed to the safety and wellbeing of these young people, but at the end of the day we have no power over the hospitals," he said. "All we can ask for is some evidence that the rosters and work schedules take the AMA's code of practice on safe hours into account."

Professor Collins often hosted Chanh and his study group at his Carlton home as they prepared for exams. He remembers him as an old-fashioned gentleman, loyal and considerate of the young doctors behind him, and someone who always arrived at the door with a gift, chocolates or soft drinks in hand. "It was a sombre occasion at the (Alfred) debrief," said Professor Collins, who said he was devastated by Chanh's death. "Watching the young doctors and their reactions to this - I mean, they loved him."


Strangely selective weight loss

Odd that they forgot to mention the $14,050 worth of plastic surgery below

Big Brother bum-dancer Sara-Marie Fedele hopes to inspire overweight young people with her stunning new body. Once tipping the scales at 86kg, the gregarious reality star is now 24kg lighter due to a regime of balance and moderation. The new slimmed-down Fedele will act as a mentor for a group of 16 to 25-year-olds on Channel 9's The Great Weight Debate tonight.

Fedele said she believed young people often battled with their weight because they did not realise how flexible healthy living can be. "Everybody and their body is different," the 2001 Big Brother contestant said. "Don't put pressure on yourself to lose 10kg in 10 weeks. Choose a diet that suits you and your lifestyle. "You don't want to be waking up every day thinking you're on a diet."

Fedele said she dropped the 24kg last year by taking a long-term approach. "I didn't weigh myself, I just took measurements. "And I probably eat more than I ever did before. I just eat healthier food and I make myself eat breakfast, lunch and snacks. "It's all about moderation, which is how I have kept the weight off." Fedele said young people should be wary of thinking weight loss would solve all their body image issues. "I didn't actually change within myself."


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