Friday, November 30, 2007

The Travails of being a Telstra/Bigpond customer

For the benefit of overseas readers, Telstra is the main provider of telephone services in Australia and their Bigpond subsidiary is the main provider of internet cable connections. I have the misfortune to be a customer of both.

You can read details of the problems I have had in getting some sign of intelligence from them here.

If you ever want to express your disquiet at their poor service, the phone no. of the office of their CEO is 02 9329 2274. Getting Telstra phone nos. is a rare feat so you may want to bookmark this post.

Arrogant Queensland public hospital again: Cancer patient refused transport, walks 30km

It's pretty disgraceful that only publicity humbles the hospital bureaucracies

A MAN recovering from cancer and his wife had to walk home almost 30km along dirt roads after being discharged from Maryborough Hospital in Queensland at 12.30am and refused transport. Glenn Horne and his wife Helen, both aged in their 50s, trudged for more than seven hours in sandals and thongs in the dark before finally being picked up by a neighbour about 4km from their Harris Rd property, south of Maryborough, early on Monday.

While the hospital has since telephoned and apologised for their ordeal, blaming it on "a breakdown in the communication process", the Hornes said the incident was symptomatic of administrative problems still plaguing Queensland Health. Mrs Horne said she had phoned for an ambulance on Sunday for her husband, who was in agony with an infection after enduring two operations for bowel cancer less than two months ago. They arrived at the hospital about 9pm with only $20. Mr Horne said he had expected to be kept in overnight but instead was given medication and discharged at 12.30am on a rainy night. "They said we couldn't stay even though the casualty room was virtually empty," Mrs Horne said. "When I said we lived 30-40 minutes' drive away, they just said 'well, that'll be an expensive taxi ride'."

Not wanting to bother friend and neighbour Desiree Taylor at that hour of the night and with no buses available and no money for a taxi, the Hornes said they decided they would have to walk home. "It was a moonlit night, thank heavens, but it was still very spooky," said Mrs Horne, who said they had neither water nor food. "We were exhausted, pretty worn out, when Desiree's son Kieran saw us (4km from home) and then she picked us up. We finally got home at quarter-past-eight in the morning."

Mr Horne said they had not wanted to make a fuss about their ordeal but he and his wife also wanted others who might find themselves in a similar situation to realise they had rights to transport and accommodation support options. Mr Horne said their situation had not been helped by his inability to work because of illness and the fact his car had broken down.

Tiaro Mayor Linda Harris said the incident needed to be highlighted so hospital staff could be counselled to better handle such issues. Fraser Coast Health Service district manager Kerry Winsor said that although procedures were in place to handle such situations, the support options were not brought to the patient's attention in this case and "we have apologised".


Muslim aggression towards police in Melbourne

From the picture it would seem that both black and Arab Muslims were involved. Australia has taken in as refugees considerable a considerable number of black Muslims from Sudan and Somalia

POLICE have described a violent clash with north African Flemington residents as a riot brewing for some time. But they have been forced to defend what some witnesses have described as heavy-handed tactics. What police say started as a routine arrest over a suspected rock-throwing incident led to a mob converging on 21 officers at a commission [welfare] housing estate on Racecourse Rd.

One policeman was assaulted and was taken to hospital with suspected broken ribs. Others were abused and spat on. An 18-year-old youth accused of throwing the rock denied any involvement and said police reacted violently. "They kicked me in the back and they kicked me in the head. I was screaming," he said. "I know they've got a job to do but they had nothing on me. I didn't do anything."

Restaurant owner James, who did not want to be identified, said he had just dropped off his apprentice when police falsely accused the youth of throwing the rock. "I thought it was just inflammatory from the beginning," he said. "There wasn't any mediation as such."

Police sources said delinquent youths, and even children, were constantly sniping and baiting police in and around Flemington. "The patrols are getting stoned by kids as young as 10 every second night," one police source said. Wednesday night's ugly incident began when a north African youth threw a rock at a passing divisional van about 11pm. The van stopped and called for back-up, which arrived quickly.

Residents -- mostly young African men -- appeared from the commission flats. According to a police report: "A large crowd, possibly numbering over a hundred, gathered, attempting to free the man who attacked police." Four youths aged between 14 and 18 were arrested. They have been released and are expected to be charged on summons.

Premier John Brumby condemned the mob. "It is not part of the civilised way of life that we expect from our state, and Australians more generally," Mr Brumby said. Police Minister Bob Cameron added: "If people commit crime they can expect to be dealt with irrespective of their backgrounds." Senior police said lawless north African youths viewed police as easy targets.

Jesuit Social Services youth worker Ahmed Ahmed claimed police were harassing local youths. "They are arresting kids as young as 14 years old," Mr Ahmed said. "It is the police who are aggravating the situation."

Region 3 boss Insp Nigel Howard yesterday backed his troops, dismissing claims they were racist and used heavy-handed tactics. "My members will not come down here and be insulted. Enough is enough in respect to that," Insp Howard said. Flemington police are expecting to meet African community leaders on Monday.


Australian police ready for sweep to deport New Guinea illegals

Note here that it is Melanesians (blacks) calling for the expulsion of Melanesians

FEDERAL officers are preparing an unprecedented sweep through the Torres Strait to deport Papua New Guineans illegally living on some of Australia's most remote territory. Community leaders in the Torres Strait held emergency meetings with immigration officials last week, after a surge in the number of people arriving from PNG, securing a commitment to have them deported. An immigration spokesman yesterday refused to discuss the coming operation, but confirmed meetings with community leaders had recently taken place. "The department has held recent meetings with councils in the Torres Strait. However, we will not discuss operational details," the spokesman said.

Thursday Island Mayor Pedro Stephen said communities including Saibai, Boigu, Iama, Masig, Dauan, Erub and Badu islands were in danger of being annexed by PNG because of the large number of illegal arrivals. "All seem to have more PNG nationals living there than local islanders," Mr Stephen said. "They are coming and taking over all the businesses." The situation has become particularly bad on Saibai Island in northern Torres Strait, where as many as 300 of the immigrants, dubbed "overstayers" by the locals, have strained resources and almost run the islands limited water supply dry.

Mr Stephen said the Torres Strait Treaty, which came into effect in 1985 and allows the movement of people between PNG and the Australian islands, needed to be rewritten to ensure economic development in PNG's Western Province. "There's been nothing built there for decades. What you have is the Third World just a stone's throw from an Australian community," Mr Stephen said. "It's no wonder they travel to access services. They've got nothing at home."

Even the most senior PNG national in Torres Strait, the Reverend Lawes Waia, who lives on Thursday Island, just off the tip of Cape York, has called for the borders to be closed and the Torres Strait Treaty to be torn up. "Whether we drink contaminated water, whether we carry sickness and diseases on our bodies, whether no government services are reaching us, let's stop bothering the Torres Strait Islanders with their island facilities and resources. Please close the border now and put all words into action," Mr Waia said.

Mr Stephen said communities in the northern Torres Strait were concerned the numbers might become so great they would wind up becoming PNG territory. "You have to remember that when the Torres Strait treaty was signed, PNG wanted to basically cut the strait in half and administer the islands north of Badu," Mr Stephen said. "A lot of people remember that and think maybe this is a way of getting those islands."

A senior Saibai Island community member, who asked not to be named, said the PNG nationals ignored local immigration officers, and had built a filthy shanty town on the northern edge of the island. "We are pleased the Department of Immigration is finally going to do something," the local said. "These people have brought diseases which we can not cope with. It is not good for our community."


Thursday, November 29, 2007

A small personal note

Life is not all politics (Thank goodness) so I cannot resist a little note of satisfaction here about the results my son has just got in his university examinations for the final year of his B.Sc. All his subjects were in mathematics and he got 7s (the maximum possible mark) in all subjects. He will be heading for his doctorate in mathematics now. I am sure it is very evil of me to say so (according to Leftists anyway) but it is a great satisfaction to have a very bright son. His mother is over the moon too. Neither of us have ever "pushed" him in any way. He is just a natural-born academic. I can't imagine where he gets that from! Since IQ is not genetically inherited (according to Leftists) it must just be a random event! I will be going to his graduation ceremony in a couple of weeks. I wonder if I should wear my doctoral robes?

We will be having a small family celebration of the occasion this Sunday -- at which I will of course be opening a bottle of Penfold's Grange.

Your government will protect you (NOT)

Appalling foster parents kill child. But no doubt they had a good attitude to homosexuality. That seems to be a major selection criterion for foster parents these days. And having 17 people living in one small house is no problem, of course

On the day of her death, a 12-year-old girl in foster care lay in the dirt outside her Darwin home, delirious with pain and covered in ants, a court heard yesterday. She was so sick that she defecated in her clothes and could not walk without help, Darwin Magistrates Court heard. She died after allegedly being laid outside in the dirt by one of her carers, who the court heard is alleged to have said if she "wanted to soil herself" she "might as well go outside and act like the animal".

The girl died from acute septicaemia in a Royal Darwin Hospital emergency room on July 12. Two women, one 42 and the other 43, have been charged with her manslaughter. Director of Public Prosecutions Richard Coates told Darwin Magistrates Court the girl was limping three weeks before her death and "during the last week of her life'' needed help "to go to the toilet". "There is evidence that she urinated and defecated in her clothes as she was unable to go to the toilet," Mr Coates said.

And, on the day she died, he said the girl lay in the dirt with bleeding gums and "ants on her nose, eyes and mouth", deliriously telling her siblings she could see fairies in the trees.

A niece of both women said when she asked why the girl hadn't been taken to a doctor for her limp, one said it was because it was a muscle injury from a school sports day. The niece said the girl was still limping by the second week of the school holidays, and "never moved off the couch" when she visited. But she said she was "gobsmacked" when she was told the girl had died, and St John's ambulance officer Craig Garraway also said he didn't see any injuries on the girl when he tried to resuscitate her.

Two Family and Children's Services officers told the court they had seen the girl lying on the kitchen floor crying, and although she was "unsteady'' on her feet they considered she did not need medical treatment. A neighbour, who is also a NT police officer, said the "bubbly" girl became "real crook" just before her death and "was in pain". The court heard that nine of the two accused's children were living in the three bedroom Woodroffe home, as well as another adult and five foster children.


Businesses race to escape Leftist labour laws

SMALL businesses are being urged to sack workers before Labor overhauls the industrial relations laws, as one of Australia's biggest employers races to put 15,000 staff on five-year employment contracts before Work Choices is scrapped. Telstra yesterday outlined a post-election strategy to urgently sign up thousands of its staff already employed under Australian Workplace Agreements to new deals that do not guarantee pay rises. The AWAs being offered by the telecommunications giant could also be offered to new employees who join Telstra before the new laws are passed.

The move comes as small businesses were being advised to seize the "window of opportunity to take advantage of Work Choices" before Labor's new laws are implemented. "The exemption from unfair dismissal laws for businesses with 100 employees or less could be gone by early 2008," says Smartcompany, an online magazine for business that attracts 80,000 hits a month. "SME (small and medium enterprise) owners who move quickly to get rid of unsuitable staff could save themselves on legal costs and go-away money down the track. "There is also an opportunity for SMEs to maximise the benefit they derive from (AWAs). Labor has promised AWAs signed before its laws come in will be allowed to operate until 2012."

While Julia Gillard, the incoming deputy prime minister and industrial relations minister, has warned companies against rushing in new AWAs, Labor has acknowledged that employers would be free to keep signing up workers until the legislation is passed - potentially months away. Even then, the Rudd Government could face problems in the Senate, with the remnants of the former Coalition government divided on whether they should respect Labor's election mandate to scrap Work Choices. The Coalition will retain control of the Senate until at least July next year.

The ACTU last night attacked the moves, accusing business of ignoring the federal election result, which it said was an unqualified repudiation of the Work Choices laws. And a wary Council of Small Business of Australia rejected the call to sack staff now, describing the advice as "just a red rag to a bull". "Running out now holus bolus sacking staff because they might be unsuitable now or in the future, I don't think is the way to go," said the council's chairman, Bob Stanton.

ACTU president Sharan Burrow urged small business to ignore the advice. "Surely, small businesses would be appalled to think that staff they had with them for quite a long time would suddenly be feeling insecure because they were being urged to sack them," she said. Ms Burrow said Telstra's move was "extraordinarily provocative", accusing the giant telco of trying to intimidate workers to sign away their right to a collective agreement for five years. "Clearly some CEOs and many Liberal Party members still haven't heard the voters' message that they want the Howard government's extreme IR laws abandoned," she said. "We would urge the Telstra management to respect the rights of their staff, allow them to negotiate a collective agreement and rebuild a working relationship that is based on rights at work that Australians just overwhelmingly voted for."

Telstra said its strategy was entirely legitimate, despite the change of government. "Telstra is giving 15,000 employees on AWAs the opportunity to renew their contracts -- a choice allowed by the new government," a spokeswoman said. "It is a voluntary process. If employees don't wish to sign an AWA, they will just say 'no thanks'. "Giving employees a choice to renew their workplace agreements and achieve certainty around employment terms and conditions over the next five years is an opportunity, not an imposition. Some will choose to renew. Some will choose to do otherwise. But it is the employee who gets to choose, not Telstra and not the union. And that is the way it should be."

Telstra confirmed the AWAs did not contain automatic pay rises for employees, saying annual wage increases would be "based on market reviews and individual performance". The Telstra spokesman said many Telstra employees earned significantly more money on AWAs than existing collective arrangements. For example, communication technicians on AWAs earned, on average, $30,000 a year more than those on the current enterprise agreement.

Ms Burrow said Telstra employees on AWAs had no certainty about receiving a pay rise for up to five years. Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Stephen Jones said Telstra management was pressuring staff on existing AWAs to sign new five-year contracts, regardless of how long their current agreement had to run. "Even Joe Hockey has declared Work Choices dead," Mr Jones said. "Yet Telstra remains hell-bent on moving as many staff as possible on to Work Choices agreements."


Huge mob of blacks attacks Melbourne police

AN attempted arrest descended into a mass brawl last night as police came under attack from up to 100 youths in Flemington. One officer suffered a bruised chest and ribs as the aggressive crowd turned on police. When police stopped to speak to a rock-throwing suspect on Racecourse Rd he became abusive and was arrested. It was during this arrest that another man - also believed to have been involved in the rock-throwing - attacked police officers. After he was also arrested, scores of youths and adults - many believed to be of African descent - surrounded police and attempted to free the men.

One police officer was injured and a total of 15 police units from the CBD and inner suburban areas attended to disperse the crowd. Two further teenagers were arrested. Four males aged between 14 and 18 years of age were eventually taken to the Moonee Ponds Police Station before being released. They are expected to be charged on summons at a later date.


Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sperm donors to ban Muslims, lesbians?

Why is discrimination bigotry? We ALL practice discrimination in our personal life. Women tend to choose tall men and men tend to choose busty women, for instance. Hence boob jobs for women and Filipina brides for short men. And what is more personal than your offspring? More practically, I believe that there is a shortage of sperm donors -- hence the new legislation -- as men are scared away by possible legal obligations to offspring (Obligations that have in fact been imposed by courts in Sweden). So giving donors the right to express personal preferences should encourage more of them to come forward

A BIZARRE row is set to erupt over claims that reproductive donors will be given the right to direct their sperm or eggs not go to certain groups such as Muslims, Jews, single mothers or lesbians. Critics believe the Iemma Government's Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill allows sperm and egg donors to specifically discriminate against ethnic, religious and other minorities.

The Bill, due to be debated in the NSW Legislative Council, is primarily aimed at allowing donor-conceived children to access information about the donor parent when they turn 18.

But Greens MP John Kaye said yesterday there was widespread concern the Bill, as currently drafted, allowed donors to nominate classes of people to whom their sperm or eggs may not be given. "While the Bill contains a number of positive features, it is simply unacceptable to enshrine discrimination into the law," Mr Kaye said. "Granting legal sanction to bigotry and prejudice sends an appalling message that it is acceptable to discriminate on grounds that are irrelevant."

Under the Bill, the names of donors in NSW will be recorded on a compulsory central register to guarantee they can be found by their offspring. But Health Minister Reba Meagher has said the legislation will not oblige donors to have contact with their offspring or make them legally or financially responsible for the children.


Rudd: Is the mask slipping already?

By Andrew Bolt

NOW that Kevin Rudd has won the election, Peter Garrett's quip that Labor will change its me-too promises may be coming true. The phoney election is over. Only the dumb or desperate Liberals ever thought Labor would lose. Now for the real election. Which "Kevin Rudd" will we get as Prime Minister: the conservative, or the Left's pet muppet?

Right now there's one "Kevin Rudd" looking tough, but there's another "Kevin Rudd" talking mush. So the answer hangs in the balance, although I fear it's already tipping to the kind of faddish symbolism that gets black children hurt.

Oh, I know, you'll think I'm just choking on sour grapes. But no. It's actually the triumphant Left that most wants to know if Rudd really is the me-too conservative he claimed he was before the election. To be blunt, they're hoping he was just fooling you and will now leap out of the closet dressed in red, or at least the pink of a nice Laurent Perrier Rose. They are hoping, in short, that Labor's environment spokesman, Peter Garrett, spoke the truth when he quipped that Labor's me-too promises didn't matter, because "once we get in we'll just change it all".

You doubt such moralising folk could be so cynical? Then hear it from Leftist journalists, who screamed loudest that Howard was a liar but now pray that Rudd is one, too. Hear it, for instance, from David Marr, the Sydney Morning Herald journalist and writers' festival darling, who joined Labor party workers at Rudd's victory bash and said: "Many frankly hope Peter Garrett was right: that despite all the non-promises of the campaign, something is going to happen in Australia now. Their leader seems a mystery to them." Count Marr among those hopers, left flat by Rudd's post-victory press conference: "It was a performance so passionless, so grey that it raises the terrible possibility that our new leader is not channelling John Howard but Philip Ruddock . . ."

Indeed, The Sunday Age is demanding Rudd be the radical he promised he wasn't. "Cast off Me Too," it urged him the day after his win. "The truth is many, if not most of us, voted against the other bloke -- it really was time -- and not actually for you. And many of your voters hope Peter Garrett was right; we'll see the real Rudd and ALP now that you have the keys to The Lodge."

Will Rudd oblige, and reveal his inner Whitlam? From the pictures and TV footage, you'd assume no: conservative Rudd will stand firm. Already he's dropped the vote-for-me grin and adopted the I'm-the-boss frown, as he tries to assert himself as head of a government whose members are mostly well to his Left, from what we'd guess of Rudd's beliefs. He's even ordered all Labor politicians to visit two schools this week to get in touch, which should make them feel as patronised as the poor students they're about to bore.

Indeed, I'm sure Rudd would like to do the Bob Hawke consensus thing, and govern, as he said on Saturday, "for all Australians" -- which means governing from the centre, where the next election must be won. Yet listen carefully. Hear the first sounds of Rudd doing a Garrett? I don't count Rudd's boast that he'll sign the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases within days. He promised that futile gesture in the campaign, after all, and how well it's worked. US satellites now say 2007 is likely to be the coolest year since 1983. Saved by Rudd!

No, it's the other bones Rudd is tossing to the Left, now voters can't complain to anyone about the mess. Here's one: before the election, Rudd was so keen to seem conservative that he supported -- and voted for -- the Howard government's intervention in troubled Aboriginal settlements in the Northern Territory. That meant backing such moves as checking children's health, sending in more police, opening Aboriginal towns to visitors, banning booze traffickers, and making sure welfare payments went on food for children.

During the campaign, Rudd was asked if he'd change what had been done. His answer: "We don't intend to roll it back at all. Therefore when I say that we will be implementing and backing the intervention, it is as I have described before, and that is without qualification." But that was before the election. Here is Rudd now, as reported in The Australian: "The incoming prime minister said through a spokesman he was open to altering John Howard's unprecedented intervention. These include reintroducing the controversial permit system, which regulates non-indigenous access to communities, and modifying rather than scrapping the Community Development Employment Projects work-for-the-dole scheme."

Here's another example of a Garrett: Just days before the election, Rudd was asked six times by 3AW's Neil Mitchell if he'd say "sorry" to Aborigines as Prime Minister. Rudd, still playing at being conservative, tried every which way to avoid promising that "s" word.... But that was then, when voters still had a choice, and this is now. Which is why, just two days after the election, you read this in the papers: "Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd says that his government will make a formal apology to indigenous Australians early in its first term. "His deputy, Julia Gillard, made the same pledge earlier in the day, saying it was Labor policy to say 'sorry'." Suddenly "sorry" wasn't so hard to say, after all, at least not for Gillard, the Left's spearhead, even if Rudd yesterday was still choking on it, promising nothing but more talks.

Cross? Well, Garrett did warn you: "When we get in, we'll just change it all." But who will complain? Not journalists like Marr. Not The Sunday Age. Not the Liberals, desperate not to seem nasty any more. Not the many Australians who think a symbolic gesture like a sorry can't hurt, and will at least prove we have good hearts. Yet there is a price to pay, and it will be paid by the very weakest. Here's an item from Marr's own paper last week:
Aboriginal social workers in Brewarrina say the indigenous community there is confused and fearful after the attempted removal of four children from their families last week, which sent two of them into hiding. Grace Beetson, who runs the Ourgunya women's refuge, described scenes reminiscent of the film Rabbit-Proof Fence when Department of Community Services workers and police arrived at the children's house to take four of them into care on Thursday . . . But the department said the two babies were taken into care amid serious fears for their safety and that department case workers were thrust into a scene of escalating violence and personal risk when attending the premises.

I'll say it again: the "stolen generations" myth is killing black children. Rabbit-Proof Fence was a film which rewrote history, so that the peaceful removal to a boarding school of a half-caste bush girl who had been abandoned by her father, rejected by her tribe and apparently preyed upon by white men, was portrayed instead as the violent stealing of a loved daughter from a Garden of Eden. Nor has this been the only lie told. Students read in their Jacaranda school histories that "more than 100,000" Aboriginal children were stolen simply for racist reasons, even though the top "stolen generations" propagandist, Prof Robert Manne, cannot name me even 10.

The result? Child protection workers are now often too scared to remove black children from dangers they'd never tolerate for white ones. As Labor's national president, Warren Mundine, says: "They are in a no-win situation -- if they take the child's view, they are accused of being stolen-generation cultural, genocidal pigs, and then if they leave the kids in the (risky) situation, they are blamed for the dreadful and horrific outcomes." Think of the children who have died or suffered terribly for this myth. Here's just one of the many news reports I've collected:
An Aboriginal baby who died lying on a filthy mattress between her passed-out mother and father could be alive today if Western Australia's Department of Community Development had intervened to take her away from her alcoholic parents . . . The Coroner . . . said it was particularly alarming that there was a reluctance by DCD to intervene to save Aboriginal children at risk.

Here's another, from Victoria:
A violent man who inflicted horrific injuries on his toddler nephew was given custody despite fears expressed by childcare workers that he posed a danger . . . But court documents claim the magistrate ruled (Aboriginal) cultural identity a priority.

Myths have consequences. And here is Kevin Rudd's first test. Is he of the Left, more concerned with seeming good than achieving it? Then he'll say his "sorry" to the stolen generations that never were, and sabotage the intervention that is trying to save black children from cultures gone rancid. Or is he truly a conservative, more concerned with getting good results than flaunting good intentions? We'll find out sooner than I suspected, and I do hope Marr will be disappointed -- not least because blacks' lives really are more important than white lies.


Pom discovers Oz kulcha

Graham Boynton finds high art in Australia. Many Poms have deluded views of Australia. They mistake bluntness for stupidity -- just as we often fail to see that the point of British hypocrisy is usually concern for other people's feelings

Australia is a country of culture, style and taste. There, I've said it. Sport-obsessed, brash, uncouth, belligerent and teeming with larrikins it may also be but, as I discovered on my fifth visit to the Lucky Country, there is a more civilised side to a place that is usually more closely associated with the rough and ready aspects of 20th-century frontier societies.

In Sydney I found an Irishman - Fergus Linehan, the artistic director and chief executive of the Sydney Festival - to confirm my views, and a good 10 days later in Adelaide I discovered a valley full of cultivated winemakers to drive the point home. In between, visits to the theatre, to a string of outstanding restaurants serving memorable fusion cuisine, and to the country outfitter RM Williams, followed by a few days just wandering around one of the most pleasant cities on the planet (Adelaide) finally convinced me that my previous misgivings about Australia had been unfounded. I am now persuaded that as the 21st century progresses the Lucky Country will become increasingly alluring not only as a tourist destination but also as a place to live.

The sobriquet Lucky Country was meant ironically and as an indictment of 1960s Australia. It was the title of Donald Horne's 1964 book and was taken from the opening sentence of the final chapter: "Australia is a lucky country run by second-rate people who shared its luck." Horne maintained that the country's economic prosperity was derived from its natural resources rather than the intelligence of its inhabitants and that Australia "showed less enterprise than almost any other prosperous industrial society". Forty years later Horne wrote an article in The Age, a Melbourne newspaper, arguing that although things had changed for the better the jury was still out.

Fergus Linehan, who was brought to Sydney on a three-year contract to run the annual showcase of dance, theatre, opera, popular music and visual arts, says there is nothing wrong with the intelligence of modern Australians. He cites as an example the thriving creative arts scene and says that whereas in the past the big cultural festivals were all about British philharmonic orchestras and national ballet companies "going out to the colonies to keep them civilised" they now have a healthy combination of international and indigenous talent that performs to tens of thousands of enthusiasts

Nobody's pretending that this is fine arts central, but Linehan - who comes from what he describes as "that autumnal, literary city of Dublin" - says that the right mixture of high art and popular culture has been embraced by Sydney's population: Ralph Fiennes performing the Samuel Beckett novella First Love, Lou Reed's Berlin, Rosanne Cash, the Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg performing Chekhov, acrobats, jugglers, children's theatre. "It is a hedonistic paradise," he says. "January, when the festival is on, is like August in France: beach in the morning, lunch theatre, concert party. Just a great time. And Aussie crowds are very well behaved - socially responsible and well behaved. It's an orderly place, a prosperous, egalitarian community."

Linehan directs me to the satirical musical Keating!, which is playing at the Belvoir Street Theatre, as an example of great indigenous creative arts. That night I go with an old friend who has lived here for years and, with her acting as a simultaneous translator, I get the satirical nuances. Even without the nuances it is a splendid piece of comedy theatre and as I write this the thought of the foreign minister, Alexander Downer, in bustier and fishnet stockings, looking like a cross between Billy Bunter and the Rocky Horror Show's Frank'n'Furter, makes me laugh out loud.

Then there is the boom in Aussie sartorial chic, formerly rudimentary attire that was made locally for a small clientele of cattlemen, surfers and farmers, but now internationally famous and very cool because it has been endorsed by such celebrities as Bill Clinton and Daryl Hannah. For example, Uggs or Ughs were once cheap, simply constructed sheepskin boots, made to keep the feet of South Australian surfers warm after a day in the cold Southern Ocean - the company logo of Pacific Sheepskins, which starting making the original Uggs in the early 1970s, is a sheep on a surfboard. Then one day Daryl Hannah walked into the Sheepskin Shop in the Rocks and out with a pair of Uggs at the end of her very long legs, and suddenly every young woman east of Hollywood Boulevard wanted to be seen in them.....

All of this is not to say that Australia's - and Australians' - essential qualities of earthiness and of being a bit rough around the edges have evaporated in a cloud of cultural perfume. As one friend said as I was waxing lyrical about style and taste, "the culture is based on metaphysics - if you really want to get belted in an Aussie pub, walk in quoting Keats and Plato." And that flinty, laddish humour remains.

During last year's Ashes, I was watching Australia applying the ritual stuffing to our hapless English cricketers and turned to a group of Aussies sitting behind me. I asked them if they thought their team was going to win the series. "Win?" came the genuinely astonished reply. "Win? Mate we're going to s*** in because for us an ordinary win is little better than a draw."

So, with all this newly acquired cultural and sartorial baggage on board it is appropriate that I decide to spend my last few days of this cultural odyssey in what some Australians call - without irony - "the Renaissance Capital of the Southern Hemisphere", the lovely city of Adelaide. It is, like its spiritual sister city Cape Town, physically pretty, on the coast and at the centre of a booming wine industry.

Viticulture attracts gastronomy and gourmands tend to be civilised, so if you are looking for cultured Australia planted in an architecturally pleasing city with a generous green belt of parks, golf courses and botanical gardens, this one really fits the bill. In between long sessions of glorious cricket at the most beautiful Test match ground in the world I find myself walking the parks, strolling around Victorian buildings and catching the tram to and from Glenelg, the seaside resort that is Adelaide-by-the-Sea. Had I discovered this place 20 years ago I'd have emigrated.

More here

Australia ranked world's third most livable nation

Ratings such as this are highly arbitrary. They are interesting only if you agree with the critieria used. The criteria behind this one seem reasonably down to earth. Silly old Donald Horne got one thing right when he called Australia the lucky country. Though Australia's easy life has more to do with the hard work and good sense of our forebears than luck. Still, we are lucky that they generally were people of such good attributes

AUSTRALIA is the third most desirable country to live in, according to an annual United Nations report that looks at wealth, life expectancy and educational levels. Australia came in behind top-ranking Iceland and Norway in second spot. The top three nations have not changed since last year's report, when Australia was again third but Norway was on top and Iceland second. AIDS-afflicted sub-Saharan African states occupied the lowest rankings of the UN Human Development Index. As expected, rich free-market countries dominate the top places. Behind Iceland, Norway and Australia come Canada and Ireland. But the US has slipped to 12th, from eighth last year."


Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Cardiology meltdown at major Queensland public hospital

A leading Queensiand cardiologist is on the brink of resigning out of frustration with the state's failing health system. An investigation into problems in cardiac services at Brisbane's Prince Charles Hospital has been launched by the Crime and Misconduct Commission. The specialist cardiologist, who declined to be named, had initially raised concerns with hospital managers but they failed to respond to her complaint. Details of the complaint have not been revealed, but are believed to concern management conflicts stemming from bed and staff shortages.

It is not the first time senior doctors at the Prince Charles cardiac department have been forced to quit. In 2000, heart surgeon Dr Julie Morton resigned, citing workplace environment as the problem, and in 2004 Dr Con Aroney also left the cardiology department. Only last year, renowned heart and lung transplant surgeon Dr John Dunning was so appalled by the state of Queensland Health that he returned to Britain.

Dr Don Kane, president of the Salaried Doctors Queensland union, said Queensland Health had failed to fix on going problems. Managers at the Prince Charles Hospital refused to comment.

The above article by Hannah Davies appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on November 25, 2007

The Senate battle begins

Leftist rage in evidence already. A wiser man would start negotiating -- and do so in a civil manner. But I guess his glass jaw is showing already. Flying into a rage when frustrated seems to be his form

Prime Minister-elect Kevin Rudd says the Coalition is being "arrogant" if it thinks it can stand in the way of his Government's workplace reforms. Senior Coalition figures admit that Labor now has a mandate to abolish WorkChoices, but they warn that Senate support for the ALP's changes is not guaranteed. The Coalition will retain control the Senate until July next year but Mr Rudd says Opposition senators must listen to the voters.

"There could not be greater clarity about what we stand for and propose," he said. "Are the Liberals still so out of touch with working people in Australia that they think they have a mandate to retain WorkChoices? "Is that the sort of arrogant statement we're hearing from the Liberals two or three days after an election?"

Earlier the former workplace relations minister Joe Hockey said he believed Labor had a clear mandate to get rid of the IR legislation. "The Labor Party has a mandate to tear up WorkChoices," he said.

Liberal leadership candidate Brendan Nelson says the Liberal party has received a strong signal on WorkChoices, but he has concerns about the impact of Labor's plans to change unfair dismissal laws. "We've got to make sure that the Labor Party does what it said it would do," he said. "We'll look very carefully at any legislation that is presented. I feel very strongly about any retreat at all on unfair dismissal law provisions."


Encroaching sanity about GM

NSW, Vic lift GM bans in landmark moves

The Victorian and New South Wales governments have become the first in Australia to allow farmers to grow genetically-modified (GM) food crops. NSW Primary Industries Minister Ian Macdonald has announced the state is ending its four-year moratorium on GM canola crops, despite a last-minute plea from Western Australia and Tasmania to maintain the ban. Mr Macdonald says the move will put NSW farmers on a level playing field with overseas farmers because GM canola now accounts for 70 per cent of the global canola market.

But NSW farmers will need to get approval from authorities before they plant the crops. "It is a cautious approach to this issue to balance the various stakeholder interests and concerns," Mr Macdonald said. He says GM canola crops will be segregated to protect non-GM crops. But Biological Farmers Australia director Scott Kinnear has questioned the effectiveness of that strategy, saying the wind tends to carry GM seeds into non-GM areas.

Mr Macdonald says growing GM canola will have a positive impact on the environment because it reduces the need for pesticides. He says strict labelling laws will also be in place so people will know what they are eating.

Greens MP Ian Cohen is strongly opposed to the move. "We really are moving into a new set of circumstances in agricultural production and consumption," he said. "It's going to be very difficult, if not impossible, to turn it back."

Mr Macdonald says South Australia is also due to make a decision on GM canola soon. He says his Government's decision was made after an inquiry chaired by former Nationals leader Ian Armstrong. "This panel received 1,375 submissions and conducted more than 30 interviews on issues associated with the marketing and trade aspects of GM crops," he said in a statement. "The review found that it was time for change and that farmers and markets wanted the choice. "There is a confidence out there in the industry that it is time to move into the future on this important issue." Mr Macdonald says GM canola will be available in a limited supply for next year's planting season.


Kids must not run in park

Obesity, anyone?

A GROUP of children have been nabbed for running around a park and threatened with fines by their council. Glen Eira Council has ordered these cute "crooks" out of a Caulfield park and threatened to hit each one with a $250 fine if they return. The children and their parents are furious after they were challenged by Glen Eira officers last Thursday and ordered out of Princes Park during after-school exercise.

The council says it is trying to protect the drought-affected park by making it off limits to any organised sporting groups without a permit. However local families say the fun police are a bad joke. In recent weeks, about eight children and parents from the three families have been meeting at the park after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The energetic youngsters run a lap of the three-oval park and play games.

Dad Grant Cohen said they were approached last week by a Glen Eira local laws officer who told them organised groups weren't allowed on the grounds. "It's ridiculous -- we're just three families who all live five minutes away," Mr Cohen said. "We started coming down here because the kids would be getting home after school and playing computer games all arvo. We wanted to give them a chance to run around. "This park should be full of kids doing exactly that."

Now the kids have gone from running around to being on the run -- forced to be fitness fugitives. "We rang the council and they said that even if we went down the road to Caulfield Park, as long as we were in a group we'd still be fined," Mr Cohen said. The group were told even a single family of eight kids would not be allowed to run around together.

Glen Eira director of community relations Paul Burke said the by-law banning unauthorised groups from parks had been in place since 2000, and council had stepped up enforcement because of the drought. While Mr Burke wouldn't say the minimum number that constituted an organised group, he stuck by the decision to ban the kids.


Monday, November 26, 2007

Medical negligence in regional public hospital ruins a life

Jamie Oxley is only 22 -- but he already feels like a 60-year-old. Three years ago, Mr Oxley went to the Cairns Base Hospital emergency department after experiencing severe abdominal pain and vomiting. About four hours later he was discharged without his twisted bowel being diagnosed, despite X-rays that allegedly showed "classical" evidence of the problem.

He was rushed back to hospital by ambulance nine hours later and doctors had to remove about 3m of his small intestine, resulting in a permanent disability. Mr Oxley, who worked as a seafood processor before his operation, now struggles to work due to fatigue. Mr Oxley, of Yorkeys Knob near Cairns, is suing for $540,000 damages for pain, suffering, loss of amenities of life, economic loss and loss of earning capacity.

His statement of claim against the State of Queensland, filed in the Supreme Court in Brisbane on November 13, alleges Mr Oxley lost a major portion of his small intestine as a result of the failure to diagnose the obstruction early enough to treat it. A filed medical report by Dr John Raftos, a senior Sydney emergency medicine specialist, said X-rays taken when Mr Oxley first went to hospital showed air-fluid levels in the small intestine. "It would be reasonable to expect any ordinary skilled doctor would interpret this X-ray as being diagnostic evidence of small-bowel obstruction," Dr Raftos said.

Before the emergency operation Mr Oxley and his partner Nichola Easton, 21, had bought their own unit and were working hard for their future. Mr Oxley, who had won a regional trainee award, then lost a chance of promotion to a manager's position and later had to give up his job. "I'm only 22 but I'm finding it hard to do a week's work," he said.

Lawyer Damian Scattini, of Quinn and Scattini, said it was another case of a young Queenslander "being left with a life sentence because a Queensland public hospital dropped the ball". "The problem is that it was entirely preventable, but now Jamie is left to live with the consequences of the hospital's neglect," he said.

The above article by Kay Dibben appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on November 25, 2007

Good to see the end of the cloud-cuckoo-land party

OUTGOING Queensland Democrat Senator Andrew Bartlett yesterday warned the party may never recover from its electoral rout. Mr Bartlett lost his Queensland Senate seat, with less than 2 per cent of the primary vote - well short of the 14 per cent needed after preferences. The Queensland makeup of the Senate is likely to be Ian Macdonald and Sue Boyce (Liberals), Ron Boswell (Nationals) and John Hogg, Claire Moore and Mark Furner (Labor). But The Greens believe they could still win the sixth spot from Labor.

Senator Bartlett said yesterday he was disappointed with the result. "I'm not totally shocked at not winning, but the vote being as low as it is was a surprise," said Senator Bartlett. Party leader Lyn Allison also lost her Senate seat in Victoria, meaning the Democrats will have no representation in Federal Parliament after July. Senator Allison said: "I think we've lost our four remaining seats. I don't call that an annihilation entirely - we will still have one member of parliament in South Australia," she said.

Greens Queensland Senate candidate Larissa Waters has 7.44 per cent of the primary vote and says the result will be determined by postal votes. Pauline Hanson won more than 4 per cent of the primary vote while Family First polled just over 2.3 per cent. Ms Hanson's result means that under Australian Electoral Commission guidelines she stands to pocket funding of $2.10 a vote or $200,000.

Apart from the Liberals with 39.78 per cent, Labor with 39.31 per cent and the Greens (7.44 per cent), Ms Hanson's Pauline's United Australia Party was the only other in Queensland to crack the 4 per cent mark. The ALP looks set to pick up four new Senate positions, building on its 28 seats in the 76-seat chamber.

But the Coalition will hold on to its majority of 39 until next July - putting the Labor Government on a collision course with its rival. Mr Rudd's plan to ratify the Kyoto protocol and scrap industrial relations laws may not happen until the second half of 2008, as the Coalition firmly opposes both policies. Once the new Senate takes shape, Mr Rudd will have to negotiate new laws with the Greens, an Independent and Family First, who will hold the balance of power.


Only a slight move to the Left

By Paul Sheehan

Ideology is dead in Australia. The electorate made sure of that at the weekend. Australia now has a new leader as conservative as the one the public has just cast aside. The transition was seamless, bloodless and ruthless. Seamless, because the prime minister-elect has committed himself to policy pragmatism, fiscal conservatism and border security. Kevin Rudd is also the only member of the Labor Party who has regularly attended the federal parliamentary prayer group (dominated by social conservatives like Bronwyn Bishop and Bob Katter).

Bloodless, because the election campaign, at least as contested by the principals, was never grubby or personal but remained a contest of ideas. It was left to a few Liberal hacks to provide the grubby, and a few media commentators to provide the personal, the mean-spirited and the one punch thrown in the campaign. Ruthless, because the Prime Minister, John Howard, the supposed political master, may have lost his seat in Parliament, while his deputy, the supposed new leader, Peter Costello, self-decapitated as the heir-apparent yesterday, after he had considered the magnitude of the rebuilding that lies ahead.

So the Australian political system, one of the oldest and most stable democracies in the world, has delivered an emphatic change of leadership with a modest change in direction. The electorate has chosen a Labor leader who locked his party's utopian left wing in a broom closet for the election campaign, and is giving every indication he intends to keep them there. In his final keynote address of the campaign, not once did he mention the words unions, Aborigines, indigenous, apology, refugees or multiculturalism.

It's taken almost 40 years to learn from mistakes and apply the necessary discipline. What rolled over the Howard Government in the past eight months was Labor 3.0, built on the experiences of Labor 1.0 and Labor 2.0. Labor 1.0 was the Whitlam government; after emerging from 23 years in the wilderness in 1972 many of its members behaved like pigs at a trough and it was rejected overwhelmingly by the public in 1975. Labor 2.0 was the Hawke-Keating government, vastly more sophisticated and accomplished, but eventually undone by arrogance and the culture wars, as Paul Keating, Gareth Evans, Nick Bolkus and Robert Tickner led the charge of "racism" every time anyone dared to question its misguided policies on immigration or Aboriginal affairs. It took 10 years for Labor to recover.

Labor 3.0 is encapsulated by Rudd's refusal to contest the culture wars with Howard. The rhetorical tendencies of firebrands like Julia Gillard, Peter Garrett and the trade union ideologues have been conspicuously tempered or measured, or non-existent, since Rudd took charge. On Saturday night, we had the spectacle of Stephen Smith, a senior member of Rudd's shadow cabinet, complaining about "the worst excesses, the ugly face of unionism, which hasn't helped us at all". He was referring to Labor's relative failure in Western Australia.

The utopian Left inside Labor and the Greens will have to come to terms with the reality that Australia will soon have a Labor prime minister who has a temper, an iron will, a fierce intellect and an enormous mandate, who has given the Australian electorate what it wanted. What it wanted was an end to the excesses and the hollowness of the Howard Government, not a deviation from policy pragmatism.

More here

Sometimes you can't win

And trying to protect Aboriginal children from abuse will almost always be an example of that

ABORIGINAL social workers in Brewarrina say the indigenous community there is confused and fearful after the attempted removal of four children from their families last week, which sent two of them into hiding. Grace Beetson, who runs the Ourgunya women's refuge, described "scenes reminiscent of the film Rabbit-Proof Fence" when Department of Community Services workers and police arrived at the children's house to take four of them into care on Thursday.

"Bystanders watched as police used capsicum spray on emotional fathers and ripped two children [aged three and six months] from their 18- and 19-year-old mothers' arms," Ms Beetson said. "Aboriginal women outside of the house and across the street were crying, whilst children were running around distraught, fearful and screaming."

Ms Beetson said neither mother was aware she was under departmental scrutiny, but a spokesman for the department said it had been working on the case and "seeking to engage the family without success".

Two other children aged eight and 11, who were sisters of the young mothers, had since gone into hiding after learning that they were also scheduled to be removed, Ms Beetson said. "Their mother . has desperately requested support from DOCS in the past. These children had been taken into care and then returned when appropriate placements could not be found. Whilst a care plan was drafted and respite specifically requested, the family received no further support or resources from DOCS," she said.

A protest march was being organised in Brewarrina, amid fears that a radical crackdown like that in the Northern Territory was being planned for western NSW. But the department said the two babies were taken into care "amid serious fears for their safety" and that department case workers "were thrust into a scene of escalating violence and personal risk when attending the premises". "The decision to remove these children was not taken lightly. Such decisions are always difficult," the spokesman said. "DOCS recognises the distress of the family and the community in this case but must put the safety of these children first."

Earlier this month, Brewarrina was the scene of the funeral for two-year-old Dean Shillingsworth, an Aboriginal boy whose body was found in a suitcase in a pond in Ambarvale. Dean's death was the first of a series of tragic incidents this month that has put unprecedented pressure on a department already under strain. Dean's father, Paul Shillingsworth, grew up in Brewarrina. Dean's mother, Rachel Pfitzner, of Rosemeadow, has been charged with his murder.

The Minister for Community Services, Kevin Greene, said two new DOCS case workers began work in October in nearby Bourke and two more positions were being advertised as part of a NSW Government strategy to boost child protection resources in western NSW.


Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Ruddslide

Some readers may be looking to me for a comment on the implications of the recent Australian Federal election. As I see it, one centre-right government has been replaced by another. As Andrew Bolt has pointed out, there are even some ways in which Rudd is to the Right of John Howard. And the policies of the two major parties on social issues such as illegal immigration, abortion and homosexual marriage seem to differ only in the smallest of details.

There are some causes for concern, of course, but nothing major is likely to change much. The Australian Labor party is arguably the world's most conservative Leftist party and they strongly reinforced that in the recent election campaign by their constant "me-toos" to the policies of the Howard government. They NEEDED to do that. Any hint of traditional Leftist policies would have sent them to oblivion again -- as it did in the previous election under the leadership of Mark Latham. In other words, they won by promising that there would be only micro-changes. That is pretty conservative in at least one sense.

There will certainly be a lot of rabid Leftists in the new Labor cabinet (government) but Rudd has immense authority for having led them out of the wilderness and he is also an obsessive bureaucrat who will not let much past him and he knows full well what his victory depended on. So any Bolshevik tendencies in the cabinet will undoubtedly be stared down.

If Rudd WERE to depart from his election promises to any substantial degree that would be a strong confirmation of what his electoral opponents constantly harped on during the campaign: Can he be trusted? And that would almost certainly lead to his defeat in the next Federal election in 3 year's time. And I know without looking that Rudd has far greater ambitions than being a one-term Prime Minister. So, ultimately, it is the electorate that is the watchdog watching him. And his recent success shows that he is too good a politician to be unaware of that gaze.

The biggest danger that I see is in his High Court appointments. Judges generally seem pretty power-mad and Rudd appointments could take the brakes off that. Australia has had a lot less legislating from the bench than the USA has had so it would be a great pity to lose that restraint.

The Rudd stance on the Iraq involvement is certainly weaker than that of John Howard but I again think Rudd will be cautious. His habit of caution and avoiding controversy should see any moves being slow and well-considered rather than hasty. He is certainly a lot less frantic about it than the U.S. Democrats are. Britain is already in the process of pulling out of Iraq, however, so that makes whatever Rudd does fairly inconsequential by comparison.

Food fanatics now targeting hospitals

Apparently adults have to have their decisions made for them by these Fascists too

CANCER Council Victoria is heading an alliance of key health groups accusing the Brumby Government of failing to fight obesity by refusing to ban junk food in hospitals. The cancer council, Diabetes Victoria, Vic Health and Deakin University - which form Victoria's Obesity Policy Coalition - want to ban junk food in vending machines and canteens.

The New South Wales Government has done so, but a spokesman for Victorian Health Minister Daniel Andrews said canteen and vending machine food was a matter for individual health services to address.

Health groups say hospitals should be leading by example. "In hospitals we are dealing with the effects of chronic diseases, conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer which are all affected by weight," OPC senior policy adviser Ms Jane Martin said. "These conditions are a big burden on hospital budgets yet chocolate bars, sugary drinks and chips are available in vending machines 24 hours a day. "We have seen changes made in school canteens and suppliers to schools have been able to make this shift. "It is not difficult to refrigerate vending machines in order to supply healthy choices."

Hospitals were also one of the first places to go smoke-free and tackle tobacco, she said. "We need to treat being overweight like tobacco," Ms Martin said. "It's about doing the right thing for people who are sick and their families." "Patients, visitors and staff need to be surrounded by the right messages."

Department of Human Services spokesman Bram Alexander said hospital canteens did provide a range of healthy choices, but they could not make people buy them


Only a government would provide a third-world school in a first-world country

PARENTS at Victoria's most forgotten school have issued a plea for help as its dilapidated classrooms crumble around their children. Wodonga South Primary School is old, inadequate and unsafe. For 15 years the State Government has promised to rebuild or relocate the ageing school in Victoria's northeast. But, despite significant sections of the school falling down and failing to meet the Government's minimum standards, nothing has been done to fix it. The school has no heating, no counselling room, no canteen and no physical education facilities.

It has seven permanent classrooms - fewer than half the prescribed minimum. Classrooms show signs of structural faults, cracked walls and peeling paint and many have mildew, leaky roofs and broken windows. And the school is so crowded the music teacher has to conduct lessons in a storeroom at the back of the library.

School council president Stephen Hudson said businesses would be fined or shut down if they provided work conditions as poor as those of the school. "It's not fair on the kids," he said. "We're going to have two generations of children that have gone through primary school without the basic things that most kids take for granted."

The school is only 2.2ha, well below the Department of Education's 3.5ha standard. Teachers are so scared some of the school's 500 children will be injured in the tiny schoolyard that they are forced to stagger lunch breaks. Principal David Hinton said parents, teachers and students were desperate for a new school and an end to the government inaction. "It's untenable for teachers to teach in and it's unsafe for children to learn in," he said.

Education Department spokeswoman Melissa Arch said the school would receive funding in the next three years. "The school will be rebuilt on another site and the department is currently negotiating to secure land for the site," she said.


The good ol' crooked Queensland police again

ALMOST five years after graduating from the Queensland Police Academy, Caboolture officer Jason Cuttler has the dubious distinction of being Australia's longest serving probationary constable. The 34-year-old is paid at entry level and will remain on the lowest pay point until next year and maybe even longer. But according to him, his stagnant police career is not the result of a lack of ambition or determination. Instead, Constable Cuttler says he has been "victimised and harassed" by senior officers ever since he sued the police service in order to gain entry.

The former radio promotions worker first applied to enter the service in 1993 but was rejected because he had "too many speeding fines". He tried again and again while working as a corrective services officer and eventually took the matter to the Supreme Court, which ruled in his favour. In 2002, Constable Cuttler took his place at the Oxley police academy, graduated and was posted to Rockhampton, aged 29. But within six months of taking up his post, senior officers ordered an investigation into alleged disciplinary breaches by him.

These included lying about a single sick day, presenting for work two hours' late on one occasion and the incorrect storage of his capsicum spray. The investigation took almost three years and resulted in Constable Cuttler being fined $75 and defaulted to the lowest pay point. He is now taking action against the QPS to have that decision overturned and will face the Misconduct Tribunal for the ninth time next week.

But if that is not enough, Constable Cuttler is taking on the QPS in the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission over alleged "victimisation and harassment" by senior officers whom he believes are preventing him from being promoted. By his own estimate, Constable Cuttler should be a senior constable by now rather than a probationary constable.

He made his 14th appearance at the commission yesterday, represented by Queensland Police Union official Des Hansson, who declined to comment on the case. Commissioner John Thompson ordered the matter to go to arbitration if it was not resolved by the QPS within seven days. Outside the commission, Constable Cuttler was optimistic of a favourable outcome. "I've done nothing wrong mate," he said. "I've been told it would be easier for me to sign a confidentiality agreement and go but why go away for something you haven't done? Justice has to prevail."

The QPS refused to comment yesterday.


Judge criticises non-judicial bias in a colleague

He is referring to homosexual judge Kirby, who seems to judge all matters by their effect on his anus

Retired High Court judge Ian Callinan has accused fellow judges of carrying "personal baggage" when handing down decisions. Mr Callinan, who was appointed to the High Court in 1998 and retired in September, was yesterday critical of some colleagues and aspects of the legal system.

On his appointment as an honorary fellow of the Institute of Arbitrators and Mediators Australia, in Brisbane, he said judges bringing personal baggage to a constitutional question had an obligation to make it clear what that philosophy was and to be "absolutely candid" about it.

"When I was at the bar, I sometimes thought, and not just in constitutional cases, that judges were not always as candid about their real reasons for deciding a case as they might have been," he said. Mr Callinan also criticised High Court judgments as "too long, too wordy and too numerous" and often "self indulgent" and "productive of uncertainty".


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Big day for Australia today

I have just gone and voted in Australia's Federal election. My local polling place was VERY well-staffed and well managed. I was in and out in 10 minutes -- unlike the way many Americans have had to line up for hours in their previous Federal elections. And because all votes are on paper, recounts are fairly easy and disputes about the results are rare.

We have separate ballot papers for the Senate and the lower house and the fact that the two ballot papers are very different in size means that it is almost impossible to get the two mixed up. Nonetheless there was a lady standing by the ballot boxes to see that everybody put their paper in the right box. Very good for absent-minded people like me!

I gave my Senate vote to Pauline, of course. Her policy of restricting Muslim immigration is the only sensible one for any Western nation, in my opinion.

This election gets weirder and weirder

Andrew Bolt comments on some of the odd policy alignments of the two major parties

KEVIN Rudd looks like winning and there shouldn't be much left to surprise us as Labor's Light on the Hill somehow becomes the Light on the Till. How strange this election is. It's not just that voters seem ready to sack a government that's left them richer than ever. That's weird enough. But want weirder? Then pick which leader - John Howard or Kevin Rudd - glared through his glasses and said this at his campaign launch:

"I don't stand before you with a bagful of irresponsible promises ... I am saying loud and clear that this sort of reckless spending must stop."

Now pick which leader - Howard or Rudd - said this at his launch:

"I want to be prime minister ... so that we can achieve a lasting recognition in our constitution of the first Australians, the indigenous people of this country."

The story of this election is in those two quotes. So is the story of why Howard is in a trouble he never saw coming. It was Rudd, of course, who promised an end to reckless spending, to roars of applause from a Labor audience including, believe it or not, Gough Whitlam. Even Whitlam? Clapping with his greedy hands a promise to spend less? Live long enough and you'll see even this.

That was the quote that might well steal Labor this election. And Rudd has since gone even further, promising this week to slash government spending programs by $10 billion and even take "the meat axe" to a public service that has been "bloating".

It's just spin, you'll say. These promises to slash the public service, for instance, come from the same whatever-you-want-me-to-say candidate from Focus Group Central who's also promising 81 new bureaucracies and 119 review committees. Indeed, so keen is this former public servant on bureaucracy that a group of his staffers worked even on an answer to the question Rove McManus put on television on Sunday: who would Rudd go gay for?

So Rudd will cut bureaucracy? Cut spending? Yeah, and my name's Joan Kirner. Yet that is indeed what he's promising, firmly, and in words John Howard would be proud to utter if he dared to himself. Sure, you can complain that Rudd's new Tightwad Party is just some PR flim-flam. You can protest that Rudd in Opposition actually opposed most of the Government's spending cuts and economic reforms, and even in this campaign has matched Howard's spending almost dollar for dollar. And you can warn that Rudd's plan to wind back the workplace reforms that have helped make us richer will also make a lot of people a little poorer. It's the dole for them.

I worry about all that, too, even though I feel Rudd at least hopes to be as fiscally tight as Labor premiers now tend to be. But Rudd's failings are still to be seen in practice, while Howard's failings, real and mostly hyped, are already in full view. And a key failing is this: that Rudd can pose as Scrooge because Howard can't.

Does anyone think Howard is not a spendthrift? Seen all the Government advertising? Your money, folks. Added up his election promises? That's $50 billion right there. In fact, over the next four years the Government will spend $1 trillion in all. Of course, Howard has good excuses. As in: his biggest promise is to give you back $34 billion in tax money that government would otherwise spend for you. As in: we're spending big because, under the Liberals' management, we're earning big, too. As in: Labor will spend that same fortune - provided, that is, it lets us keep earning it. All true, even if too often overlooked or taken for granted after 14 years of growth.

But with all this money coming in - and Howard shovelling it out - Rudd got the chance he's now snatched. Can anyone really say that, compared to Howard, Rudd looks like Whitlam? He looks rather like the bank clerk querying the number of zeros on Howard's withdrawal slip. In playing that role he's rubbed out some of that big question mark always hanging over Labor - can it be trusted with our cash? As a Sydney paper put it, forget Light on the Hill; will it be Light on the Till?

It's not just the scale of Howard's spending that has helped Rudd to pose as a conservative by contrast. It's also the way Howard has spent it, seeming to buy off interest groups, one after the other, like the clever politician Rudd keeps calling him. The Liberals need votes in Tasmanian marginal seats? Then take over a state hospital there and tip in a few million. The Liberals need more votes in a New South Wales seat? Then bung it $1 million for some wild plan for an ethanol plant, that never ends up getting built. For years this has worked well ... until now. Look at the Liberals' string of election giveaways to one lot of must-have voters after another. Is there a pattern to them, a philosophy, a story? Or does it just look too much like more tacky dosh for votes?

Which brings me to that campaign promise of Howard's -- to put to a referendum a change to our Constitution to recognise Aborigines are our "first people". Did anyone buy that line? To the Left, this was just Howard offering to do something he should have done years ago. Like his late alleged conversion to the global warming faith, it was more a confession of past failure than a promise of a new dawn. Like his big dollar bribes, it was a promise that seemed made only to keep sweet one more bloc of votes. Howard's adoption of the (Not Quite) Sorry agenda did little for conservatives, either. It seemed just one more cultural surrender, just one more sign Howard may indeed have stayed on too long. Here was an exhausted Howard giving in to what he'd been so right to resist for so long -- a symbolic gesture that would entrench the New Racism, and make it even harder to smash the victimhood that has made victims of many Aboriginal children.

I shouldn't be too hard on him, though. Howard still has the fine instincts that make him on his guard against the New Age faiths and their bogus preachers who'd beggar us. Only Howard, not Rudd, would have dared intervene in troubled Aboriginal communities, risking the fury of city romantics who prefer their blacks to be quaintly tribal and tethered to handouts.

Rudd, in contrast, blows with whatever wind will puff the giant sails of his ambition. Even many of the keenest Labor voters seem to sense that he stands for little but himself. That he'd have been in favour of the Iraq war had the polls been different, just as he backed the booting out of the innocent Dr Mohamed Haneef. No wonder there is no excitement about his campaign - other than the thrill of probable victory.

Even a Labor booster as keen as Professor Robert Manne is left to only hope there's more to Rudd than he's letting on: "I think that we will only know what the Rudd government will do in three or four years' time because at the moment the Rudd government is avoiding the kind of polemical stoushes with Howard because it knows it can't win ... When he gets into government then we'll begin to see the differences again." Or, um, not.

How far this is from the campaigns of Whitlam in 1972 or Bob Hawke in 1983, who led Labor to victory in tides of idealism and hope. I remember the emotional pull of Hawke's great campaign promise: "Bringing Australians Together." I remember the hairs standing on the back of my (naive) head as Hawke led politicians, unionists, business giants and academics into his great summit of consensus at the old Parliament House, to work out the Big Deal. History seemed on the hoof, and I leapt on, working bright-eyed on Hawke's next two election campaigns.

What was different was that Hawke had a purpose -- to bring us together. Rudd offers only administration -- "New Leadership". New leadership? But to do what, exactly? Rudd hasn't said, other than promise he'll be just like Howard, but less old. Less old, yes, but also less experienced, less calm, less decisive, less predictable, less competent and -- on past performance -- less honest. But what policy differences is he offering? A few more computers in schools? Hardly the "education revolution" he promised. Less spending? A billion a year less in a $250 billion budget won't even be noticed.

No, the difference boils down to Rudd's three big symbolic promises, each of which is wrong in principle, and bogus in delivery -- to cut greenhouse emissions by 60 per cent by 2050; to pull out combat troops from Iraq; and to "scrap" WorkChoices. The first is a promise to make cuts that won't work in ways Rudd won't detail at a cost he can't reveal to reduce temperatures that won't budge -- and to do all this by a deadline he won't be around to see. The second is to pull out troops from a war largely won, signalling a defeat we haven't suffered, to send them to where they're not wanted, while actually leaving twice as many still in Iraq. And the third - well, a leader's got to give unions some return for the $30 or $50 million they've put into Labor's campaign, even if some workers then find they've suddenly become too expensive or risky to hire.

For someone who worked for Labor, this agenda does not thrill. It hurts the people I'd hoped to help. And as a conservative, I fret. Rudd represents a lurch into the irrational and faddishly impractical. Yet he looks like winning. Weird, but I guess when Whitlam cheers a Labor leader for promising to be even more Howard than Howard, there shouldn't be much left to surprise us. Except, perhaps, the result.


Freedom of information coming?

It's probably the most broken promise in politics so wait and see. The Leftist writer below seems to think it will happen though. Typical of the poor reality contact among Leftists. With governments of both Left and Right there is normally an initial opening up followed by a gradual closing up again

Matthew Moore argues today that, despite the government successfully suppressing information this week about their earlier plans for Workchoices, some good came out of the decision:
Although [Channel 7 journalist] McKinnon lost, there were some important victories in the fine print. The Government won because the tribunal upheld one argument against release. But most of the other arguments were demolished by the deputy president, Stephanie Forgie. ...Ms Forgie turned on its head the claim that public servants have a reasonable expectation the documents they prepared would remain confidential, and said it really meant this: "If the work they did as Australian Public Service officers were revealed they would not in future do the work required of them as APS officers holding senior positions ... whichever way the claim is stated, it cannot be said to have a rational basis." There is much more of this uncharacteristically blunt language, but you get the drift.

He says that the only reason the government ended up winning the case was because of the use of so-called "conclusive certificates", the ruling that in the opinion of the government, releasing the material would not be in the national interest. This very flexible tool has been used constantly by the government to block FoI access.

But, as Moore points out, Labor has promised to abolish these certificates. If they happen to win tomorrow, the abolition of the certificates will greatly improve public access to government information, which is a good thing. But that promise is one of many against which the credibility of a new government would be held to account and for which there will be no wiggle room. As I've said before, I wonder if Kevin Rudd (if his party happens to win) realises the extent to which people will expect such standards to have changed.


Black activist slams Leftists

Kevin Rudd has betrayed aboriginal people after abandoning a promise to pursue a constitutional referendum on reconciliation if he is elected Prime Minister, Noel Pearson said today. The director of the Cape York Institute said he "dreaded a Rudd Prime Ministership" who he branded "innately contemptuous of indigenous people" after The Australian reported that the ALP would not pursue a reconciliation preamble to the Constitution. "Mr Rudd's (support for the referendum) has been thrown into the dustbin two days before he hopes to become Australia's prime minister," Mr Pearson said. "Mr Rudd has now reneged on the commitment.. it shows a flagrant contempt for indigenous policy."

Despite the ALP committing to a referendum on reconciliation in October, Mr Rudd said that while he understood the proposal for an Aboriginal reconciliation preamble to the Constitution was a big change for Mr Howard, but he did not feel the need to pursue it. "From my point of view, the key thing is closing the gap (between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal living standards) and the key to this also is to introduce policies that give effect to closing the gap,'' Mr Rudd said. "I am concerned about making advances on the practical front first. Let's take other things subsequent to that.''

Mr Pearson said Mr Rudd, who he once worked with in Brisbane, had "innately contemptuous view of indigenous people". "From this betrayal I dread a Rudd prime ministership," Mr Pearson said.


Crowding in public hospitals kills people

NSW emergency departments are so overcrowded that the situation is contributing to deaths and will continue to do so until more beds are opened, a leading academic has said. New figures, to be released at an emergency medicine conference next week, show that, nationwide, the number of emergency patients waiting to be seen increased by 32 per cent between June and September. Associate Professor Drew Richardson, from the Australian National University medical school, said yesterday the September 3 snapshot of emergency departments also showed a continuing upward trend in patients waiting for a bed since the last snapshot, on June 18, at the same time of 10am.

The new data backs up concerns of emergency staff that chronic overcrowding is affecting patient care, highlighted by Jana Horska's miscarriage in a toilet at Royal North Shore Hospital two months ago. "I believe that mortality is higher in Australian hospitals than it should be because people are being delayed in the emergency department," said Professor Richardson, chairman of road trauma and emergency medicine at Australian National University. "It's about available beds - there's no other way of looking at it . The assumption I make is that hospital overcrowding is contributing to deaths in the Australian community and that until we decide we're going to work our hospitals on the basis of efficiency rather than utilisation, this will continue to happen."

Most of Sydney's major hospitals operate well above 85 per cent capacity - the recognised safe benchmark - to up to 5 per cent over capacity. Professor Richardson will tell the annual scientific meeting of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine on Tuesday that emergency departments are frequently grinding to a halt - a trend that has been worsening over the past 10 years - because patients are waiting for beds. He said the September survey of 71 hospitals showed a 6 per cent nationwide increase in the number of emergency patients waiting for a ward bed and a 3 per cent increase in those waiting for more than eight hours, known as access block, since the June survey.

NSW had only a 4 per cent increase in patients waiting due to access block but a 20 per cent increase in patients waiting for treatment. However, he said the figures were significantly skewed downwards because the September snapshot was taken in the APEC week in which NSW hospitals cut back services. "NSW deserves a modicum of praise for being better than they used to be, whereas the other states are not, but nationally we have a huge problem," he said.

Professor Richardson said research published in the international journal Critical Care Medicine in June showed that if a patient spent more than six hours in emergency waiting to go to the intensive care unit, their in-hospital mortality rate was 17.4 per cent, compared with 12.9 per cent if there was no delay. He said similar studies in the ACT and Western Australia, published in the Medical Journal of Australia last year, showed emergency department overcrowding was associated with increased mortality.


Friday, November 23, 2007

Asylum bid likely to sink

THREE Indonesian families plucked from a leaking boat west of Darwin would have little chance of securing asylum on the basis of economic hardship under current Australian laws. The three men, their wives and their 10 children are "bajo laut", or sea gypsies, who are used to perilous journeys across treacherous waters. Their decision to seek economic asylum in Australia was probably based on "little knowledge" of immigration law and the simplistic assessment that "if Australian detention centres are good, how much better must the rest of it be?", according to Australian National University anthropologist James Fox.

The 16 were rescued in the Timor Sea by HMAS Ararat on Tuesday after their fishing boat took on water and was accidentally capsized by navy personnel. The three heads of the families involved - Sukardi Liri, Sadar and Sangaji Jawa - had all previously been arrested by Australian maritime border patrols while fishing in the Timor Sea. Australia only recognises asylum-seekers who meet the United Nations definition of a refugee: people who are outside their country of nationality or their usual country of residence and are unable or unwilling to return because of persecution over race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

A spokeswoman for Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said yesterday the Indonesians were "at least a day away" from Christmas Island where they would be held at the island's original detention centre, as the new $356 million complex is not ready to be occupied.

Figures from government agencies reveal Indonesia's fishing fleet has largely retreated from Australian waters, or been reduced in size, as a result of increased enforcement and education. After John Howard ordered an October 2005 review of the threat of illegal fishing, the agencies came up with a new enforcement strategy as an education program was rolled out in eastern Indonesian villages. Although the 2006-07 budget included a $389 million, four-year funding boost to "more than double the number of apprehensions each year", the agencies have been so successful their focus has shifted to deterrence.

As well as surveillance, a cut in Indonesian fuel subsidies two years ago and poor weather helped reduce the number of incursions last year. The number of vessel sightings - some legitimate and some counted more than once - fell from 8619 in 2005-06 to 3609 in 2006-07. In the same time, the number of apprehensions also fell, from 367 to 216, as did the number of forfeitures of boats. Fisheries Minister Eric Abetz said it appeared Indonesian fishermen were getting the message.

Professor Fox described the Roti Island sea gypsies as "the poorest of the poor". He speculated that the voyage was "a desperate misguided flight from poverty to some kind of imagined wealth, if they could find acceptance in Australia". The bajo laut are an ethnic group spread across southeast Asia who make their living from the ocean but often regard themselves as having no long-term fixed address. If their claims for asylum are rejected, they will most likely be returned to Roti, where the boat's owner, Sukardi, will probably undertake extra poaching trips to pay off the debt on the vessel that sank.


Rudd would turn back boatpeople

It looks like the limpwristed approach to illegals that is common elsewhere will not be coming to Australia

KEVIN Rudd has taken a tough line on border security, warning that a Labor government will turn the boats back and deter asylum-seekers, using the threat of detention and the nation's close ties with Indonesia. In an interview with The Australian, the Opposition Leader advocated a layered approach to border security based on "effective laws, effective detention arrangements, effective deterrent posture vis-a-vis vessels approaching Australian waters".

Mr Rudd also said that a referendum on Aboriginal reconciliation, a separate Aboriginal treaty and a republican referendum would not occur in the first term of a Rudd Labor government, if at all. And he refused to give any commitment to a statutory bill of rights, saying Labor's only promise was to "consult the community" on the issue.

With the campaign closing amid Liberal exploitation of fears about Islam in Sydney's west and the arrival of 16 boatpeople from Indonesia off the West Australian coast, Mr Rudd promised a tough and integrated border-protection policy from Labor. This would mean close co-operation with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the Indonesian Government. Mr Rudd said Labor would take asylum-seekers who had been rescued from leaky boats to Christmas Island, would turn back seaworthy vessels containing such people on the high seas, and would not lift the current [much reduced] intake of African refugees.

"You'd turn them back," he said of boats approaching Australia, emphasising that Labor believed in an "orderly immigration system" enforced by deterrence. "You cannot have anything that is orderly if you allow people who do not have a lawful visa in this country to roam free," he said. "That's why you need a detention system. I know that's politically contentious, but one follows from the other. "Deterrence is effective through the detention system but also your preparedness to take appropriate action as the vessels approach Australian waters on the high seas."

Mr Rudd heads into the final two days of the campaign with an election-winning lead in the polls, although early figures from Newspoll and the latest Galaxy poll in News Limited newspapers give the Coalition some hope. Newspoll is detecting strong gains for the Coalition in Western Australia and a minor recovery in Queensland and Victoria, with full figures to be available in the final poll of the campaign exclusively in The Weekend Australian tomorrow. The Galaxy poll, which surveyed almost 1200 people on Tuesday and Wednesday, had Labor and the Coalition equal on 42.5 per cent of the primary vote. Taking into account preference flows, this gives Labor a lead of 52per cent to 48 per cent - the Government's best result this year. Such a swing, if uniform across the country, would deliver Labor 15 seats, one short of the 16 it needs to form government. An ACNielsen poll in Fairfax newspapers gives Labor a two-party-preferred lead of 57 per cent to 43 per cent, which would deliver a landslide victory.

John Howard accused Mr Rudd, in an interview with The Australian this week, of forming an alliance with the Greens in the Senate and with all state Labor governments. The Prime Minister warned this would form an unprecedented coalition in the Senate, House of Representatives and all state and territory governments, without checks and balances.

Mr Howard said yesterday he believed Mr Rudd "would change the country" if elected. "When there's been a change of government, there's been a profound change in the direction of the country," he said. "Now if the country were going in the wrong direction, it would be understandable that people would want change, but if it's going in the right direction, why would you change something that's going in the right direction?"

But in his interview with The Australian, Mr Rudd rejected or played down a series of social policies and issues that Labor and the Greens had pursued for years during the Coalition Government. He said a referendum on the republic was not a priority, flatly rejected the prospect of a separate treaty with Aborigines and said he was unlikely to pursue Mr Howard's plan for a reconciliation preamble to the Constitution if he were elected tomorrow. Instead, he will pursue practical outcomes for indigenous communities that "close the gap" between the living standards of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities.

Mr Rudd said he understood the proposal for an Aboriginal reconciliation preamble to the Constitution was a big change for Mr Howard, but he did not feel the need to pursue it. "From my point of view, the key thing is closing the gap (between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal living standards) and the key to this also is to introduce policies that give effect to closing the gap," Mr Rudd said. "I am concerned about making advances on the practical front first. Let's take other things subsequent to that."

Mr Rudd also said he was "absolutely" committed to following through on the Coalition's federal intervention in the Northern Territory. "I am steeled and seized by the report, The Little Children Are Sacred," he said. "You can't read that and just pretend it's business as usual in the Northern Territory, so I am prepared to give it a go." Mr Rudd said Labor would review the intervention after 12 months to ensure it was working effectively against a series of benchmarks on infant mortality and education standards. "I am fundamentally committed to making a difference on those areas of disparity between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australia," Mr Rudd said. "If that is done, perhaps we can look at other initiatives." He emphasised there would not be a separate Aboriginal treaty under his government.

Mr Rudd said a referendum on Australia becoming a republic was "not a priority" and he could not see it happening in his first term. "The republic is not a priority," he said. "I doubt therefore we would see any action on a republic during the first term." Mr Rudd said the ALP conference had agreed to look at a bill of rights but he did not put it as a priority. "It's not a priority," he said. "We had this debate, it's a highly contentious area." Mr Rudd said he was aware of the implications for national security legislation if a bill of rights were introduced. "I think it is an area to proceed very cautiously with," he said. "We are committed to consulting the community on the need for one, we are not committed to implementing one."


House full, overstretched midwives at NSW hospital warn

SENIOR staff at the state's busiest hospital have threatened to close its doors to women in labour because there are not enough midwives or beds to cope with the baby boom and they fear lives are in danger. Angry midwives at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Camperdown wrote to the Herald to complain women were left to labour in chairs because the beds were full, and that they were asked daily to work double shifts to cope with demand. They said the maternity unit was down 29 midwives, and some staff were working three shifts in a 34-hour period.

"Our maternity services are stretched beyond a safe working capacity. We are constantly . asked to care for more mothers and babies than is humanly possible," one midwife, who sought to remain anonymous, said. "Patient safety is continually compromised . bed block is occurring every day. Delivery suite is constantly overcrowded with 14 women in an 11-bed unit and unsafe staffing levels." She said staff had requested that the maternity unit be closed to new patients when full or overcrowded to ensure its safe operation, and that women be transferred to other maternity units in the area.

"Our members have told us it is a complete crisis," said Hannah Dahlen, secretary of the NSW Midwives Association. "They have had vacancies they cannot fill, the staff are burning out and going elsewhere - they are getting desperate." While Ms Dahlen said that many other hospitals were in similar dire straits, she said Royal Prince Alfred was experiencing particular pressures because of a local baby boom. More than 5000 babies were delivered at the hospital last year - almost 1000 more than expected. "That is a 25 per cent increase in the birthrate, and there hasn't been a staff increase, in fact staff have been leaving." Add to that a crisis in the midwife workforce, where up to 600 positions are vacant across the state, and there was an increasing likelihood of mistakes and other problems occurring.

"The gold standard is one midwife to one woman, yet what we currently have is three labouring women to one midwife - it isn't the best care and we do know that the risk of adverse events increases when that happens." It was understandable that the midwives had chosen to make their complaints via a series of unsigned letters to the Herald, given all staff were under threat of disciplinary action if they spoke out against the state's area health services, she said.

However the executive director of Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Di Gill, disputed the figures, saying there were only 15 vacancies in the unit. Miss Gill also denied that the delivery room was ever overcrowded and insisted "no woman has ever given birth in a corridor". She scoffed at the idea that nurses or midwives might feel that their jobs were under threat if they spoke out about conditions in the unit. "That is rubbish. I am not in the habit of sacking people and certainly not midwives."

Yet the nurses' union backed the midwives' claims. Its general secretary, Brett Holmes, confirmed to the Herald that less than two months ago, there were 29 vacancies in the unit.


New Victorian public hospital will have everything

Except enough doctors and nurses and beds. That's too hard. One billion dollars just to provide 46 extra beds? Unbelievable. But I guess that it compares with the $702m for just 27 more beds that the NSW government is spending

THE new $1 billion Royal Children's Hospital will have its own aquarium, Scienceworks, cinema -- even visits from zoo animals -- to help take patients' minds off their illness. Plans for the Royal Park hospital were unveiled yesterday, with work to begin within five weeks and finish by 2011. The new buildings will contain 353 beds -- 46 more than the existing hospital -- capable of treating an extra 35,000 patients a year. The original $850 million price tag has grown to an estimated $1 billion to accommodate a 90-room hotel, gym, two childcare centres and a small supermarket.

Premier John Brumby said the $150 million "add-ons" would be paid for by private investors with no cost to taxpayers, under the public-private partnership with the Children's Health Partnership consortium. "It will make it the most state-of-the-art, environmentally and family-friendly children's hospital, not just in Australia, but anywhere in the world," he said. Patients and families will have more privacy, with 85 per cent single bedrooms complete with bedside entertainment systems and pullout double beds for parents. It will be built in parkland immediately west of the present hospital.

A two-storey coral reef aquarium will dominate the hospital entrance, while Melbourne Zoo will bring animals to the hospital for interactive education programs. A Scienceworks display with 20 hands-on experiences and two large exhibit spaces, and a bean-bag cinema, will also help children relax between treatments. McDonald's has the option of keeping a store at the Royal Children's.

Having spent a combined three years in the hospital fighting cystic fibrosis, Leanna Babet, 15, said the comforting surrounds of the new design would put patients at ease. "It is overwhelming when friends come to visit sometimes because this hospital looks so much like a hospital, and with the new designs it just looks funky and cool," she said.

The Royal Children's will be Australia's first five-star green hospital, with a 45 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases and 20 per cent reduction in water demand [What a hot and smelly place that will make it -- if other "Green" buildings are a guide]. But that has not eased the concerns of Melbourne City Council environment committee chair Fraser Brindley, who said the Government missed the opportunity to increase the size of Royal Park by relocating the hospital to Docklands. The Government has promised to demolish much of the old hospital by 2014. It has also said there will be no net loss of parkland.