Sunday, February 28, 2010

Those wicked ophthalmologists

The political Left worldwide seems to regard everyone but themselves as responsible for high medical costs. The vast load of paperwork that they impose on healthcare providers and drug companies is costless, apparently. And the high incomes of some doctors frequently come under jealous scrutiny.

A high income group in Australia is ophthalmologists. Everyone wants the very best chance of preserving their vision so people are prepared to pay for a high level of care in eye-doctoring. And Australia's Federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, was determined to rein those rogue eye-doctors in.

As part of its socialized medicine system, called "Medicare", the Australian government pays a large part of the cost of privately-contracted ophthalmological services, so Ms Roxon thought she had a good weapon to cut those rich eye-doctors down to size: She would halve the amount that her government pays for such services.

The conservatives in the Senate knocked back Ms Roxon's "reforms" however, so she eventually had to accept a compromise deal which cut the government payment by only 12%.

As it happens, all this affects me personally to a minor extent: I will shortly be having a cataract procedure on my right eye from a well established and formidably equipped private ophthalmological practice a short drive from where in live in Brisbane. So my ophthalmologist explained the cost structure to me.

The cost now includes a "facility fee" -- a fee for use of a private operating theatre that is common for most types of private medical procedures. I pay a similar fee when I go to my dermatologist to have skin cancers excised. The ophthalmologist remarked to me that they used not to charge such a fee. They used to absorb it into their general fees. But after Ms Roxon's "reforms", they have instituted such a fee.

So the income of the ophthalmologists remains largely the same. Ms Roxon's attack on them has been futile. What they lost on the swings, they gained on the roundabouts.

But what about the patients? Here's the catch: Facility fees do NOT attract any government refund. So the patient pays more. The government has indeed saved itself a bit of money, but at the expense of the patients, not at the expense of the doctors: A typical "unforeseen" result of Leftist intervention.

More of that brilliant government "planning"

The shortage of aged-care places is government-created. Governments are quick to impose limits and regulations on aged-care providers without heed to the compliance costs -- thus pricing many people out of the system. So patients end up in much more expensive hospital accomodation: More "unforeseen" consequences of Leftist stupidity and hostility

QUEENSLAND hospitals are bleeding $200,000 a day looking after elderly patients, due to a critical lack of aged-care homes around the state. On any given night in public hospitals, there are about 300 patients who should be in an aged care facility. Latest figures obtained by The Sunday Mail show that elderly patients (65 or older) used up almost half of the treatment days in the state's health system last year.

The State Government said aged care patients cost the health budget $85 million each year and, if those beds were available, more than 36,000 extra operations could be performed annually. "Hospitals are not meant to be aged-care facilities," AMA Queensland president Mason Stevenson said. "They are a high-level healthcare facility to treat sick patients and return them to the community. "This is one of the bigger problems requiring attention – we can and should be doing this better."

Aged-care providers are crying poor, saying they can no longer afford to provide high-care beds for the elderly since the previous federal government legislated against charging bonds for the beds. In 2007 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd promised to solve the problem, with 2000 "transition-care beds" for older Australians waiting in hospital for an aged-care place. So far, Queensland has received 129 of those beds – 43 in Townsville.

Queensland Health assessed public hospitals on June 9, 2009. On that night, 336 elderly people were in hospital beds. Of those, 223 – or the equivalent of Rockhampton Hospital, which has 225 beds – were awaiting placement in aged-care facilities. "This means that 4 per cent of hospital beds are being occupied inappropriately, and that is an enormous waste," Dr Stevenson said. "That is one in 25 beds, and at $700 a night, that is expensive. If this was fixed, it could speed up access to acute care and reduce the number of elective surgical patients."

The Queensland Hospital Admitted Patient Data Collection shows that 35 per cent of illnesses in Queensland public and private hospitals in 2008-09 were for those 65 and older. Of the 4,959,173 patient days, 46.5 per cent were for 65-plus patients.

Queensland Health Minister Paul Lucas said aged care was a core responsibility of the Federal Government. The Queensland Government currently operates 5 per cent of the state's homes in regional and remote locations. "I do expect that older people will use the hospital system more, and they have contributed through their taxes to being able to do that," Mr Lucas said. "What I am saying is when they are eligible for a nursing home, they should have a reasonable expectation that a place can be found for them in a place far more suitable."

Aged Care Queensland CEO Anton Kardash said providers were not applying for new licences because the return on their investment was less than 2 per cent. Mr Kardash said providers were losing money as aged care moved more and more into high needs. "It costs $175,000 to build a bed – which is a huge cost impost – and the fact is, those costs were offset by bonds," he said.

The Federal Government said Queensland would receive 382 transition-care places. This year there are 1265 community care places on offer in Queensland. As at June 30, 2009, there were 31,361 operational aged-care places in Queensland.


Coalition draws level with Labor as Abbott bites

But pollster for a Left-leaning newspaper thinks Abbott was just "lucky"!

THE Rudd Government's bungled home insulation program is costing it crucial support among NSW voters, who are turning to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. An exclusive Sun-Herald/Taverner poll shows Labor is now level-pegging with the Coalition. On a two-party preferred basis, both sides have 50 per cent of the vote - a drop of almost 3 percentage points on Labor's election-winning 52.7 per cent in 2007.

The results come after a horrific run for the government in which it failed to shake off Coalition criticism and growing community concern about the safety of its home insulation scheme.

The poll of 609 NSW voters, conducted on Wednesday and Thursday nights, shows Mr Abbott has succeeded where his predecessors failed. Mr Abbott has shored up his own voter base while convincing swinging, and some Labor, voters to listen to his message.

But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd remains the preferred choice for prime minister - 53 per cent say he is the better man for the top job while 40 per cent favour Mr Abbott. It is a drop in popularity for Mr Rudd. At his best former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull could convince only 22 per cent of people that he would be the better PM, according to Newspoll.

Pollster Philip Mitchell-Taverner said people were surveyed during an "atypical" period when several issues were rattling Labor. The ALP was also having to cope with a "tenacious" Mr Abbott, Mr Mitchell-Taverner said. "Malcolm Turnbull never had such an opportunity as the Rudd halo stayed so strong for so long and Mr Turnbull was never able to generate any viable negative emotions about the government," Mr Mitchell-Taverner said. "Times dramatically changed in such a short time and the swinging voters noticed. Mr Abbott must consider himself to be very lucky, coming into leadership when he did."

Mr Abbott might be basking in the sunshine of the customary honeymoon period enjoyed by new opposition leaders but Labor strategists believe the figures just reflect the public response to a new leader with an aggressive media presence. The strategists are still banking on a Labor victory later this year. Mr Rudd acknowledged yesterday the insulation program would cost the government in the polls but promised to fix the problems.

Labor still wants to get its emissions trading scheme up, but is prepared to go to an election with a broader message based on soon-to-be-revealed changes to the health system. It will also play its trump card - taking the plaudits for getting Australia through the global financial crisis.

Today's results show a majority of those polled (59 per cent) believe the government's economic stimulus package was justified. The Coalition's message about the size of the debt taken on to finance that stimulus is resonating only with its own supporters - 43 per cent of people think Australia is now in too much debt, while 47 per cent think it is manageable.

The poll also shows both Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott are the most popular choices to lead their parties. Close to half - 49 per cent - of those polled said Mr Rudd was more appealing, compared to 36 per cent who preferred Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Only 15 per cent of people said they would be more likely to vote for Labor if Ms Gillard was leader, while 23 per cent said they would be less likely to vote Labor.

Treasury spokesman Joe Hockey fared better, with 39 per cent of people saying they preferred him to lead the Coalition. But Mr Abbott is still ahead of the field, with 45 per cent of people saying he is the better leader for the Liberal Party.


Warnings about Lebanese Muslim "refugees" ignored -- to Australia's cost

The latest headache for NSW prison authorities is how to safely house the five terrorists convicted this month of plotting bomb attacks in Sydney. With sentences ranging up to 28 years, the challenge will be how to prevent these unrepentant Islamist extremists from radicalising other inmates in Goulburn's supermax high security prison. This week the Premier, Kristina Keneally, told Parliament the men are still a danger, as presumably were their four co-accused who were sentenced earlier. She has reportedly ordered a "deradicalisation program", although clearly the only surefire way is to keep them in isolation.

This reminder of the reality of home-grown terrorism came as the Prime Minister released the government's counter-terrorism white paper this week. As the Herald's Jonathan Pearlman reported, Rudd insisted on highlighting the threat from jihadist and home-grown terrorists in defiance of advice from departmental officials, who had deemed it inflammatory. The timing of the release of the white paper was questionable - in the middle of the insulation furore - but it is still a credit to Rudd that he did not follow advice to sugarcoat the truth about terrorist threats.

Among other things, the white paper states the scale of the threat of home-grown terrorism depends on "the size and make-up of local Muslim populations, including their ethnic and/or migrant origins, their geographical distribution and the success or otherwise of their integration into their host society".

This is something that is rarely discussed. Debate over the make-up of immigration programs has been largely shut down and marginalised as a redneck racist pastime. But we have vivid evidence of the consequences of poorly managed immigration in the disproportionate number of problems that have emerged from some Lebanese families who arrived in 1977 and integrated poorly into south-west Sydney.

The prime minister of the time, Malcolm Fraser, has been out and about lately, accusing the modern Liberal Party of extreme conservative tendencies, while promoting his new book. But he has never adequately explained why he ignored warnings from his immigration department that relaxing normal eligibility standards to accept thousands of Lebanese Muslims escaping the civil war was problematic.

As cabinet documents from 1976 revealed, he was warned that too many of the new arrivals were unskilled, illiterate and "of questionable character", and there was a danger "the conflicts, tensions and divisions within Lebanon will be transferred to Australia". The consequences of poor integration today include social unrest, which culminated in the Cronulla riots and their violent aftermath.

And some of our worst home-grown terrorists have come from that community. They include M, the 44-year-old ringleader of the five men convicted of preparing a terrorist act this month, who cannot be named for legal reasons. He came to south-west Sydney with his family from Lebanon in 1977, along with 11 siblings.

NSW Supreme Court Justice Anthony Whealy said in sentencing M this month: "There is no present indication that [he] will ever renounce the extremist views. [He] has all the hallmarks of an offender whose motivation is not that of financial or other material gain but … from an extremist religious conviction."

Also born in Lebanon was his co-conspirator, Mr K, 36, who migrated to Sydney in 1977 when he was three. Justice Whealy said K had "absolute contempt for the Australian government and its laws [and an] extremist conviction that sharia law should rule, even in this country." Also convicted was his brother, L, 32, born here and likely to represent a danger to the community "even upon his release many years hence".

The court heard the five men had bought laboratory equipment and chemicals that could be used to make bombs: vast quantities of battery acid, acetone, hydrogen peroxide,methylated spirits and sulphuric acid. They shopped at Bunnings for PVC pipe and silver tape.

Whealy said they had on a USB stick "step-by-step" instructions for manufacturing explosives; electronic copies of The Sniper Handbook; and DVDs "glorifying the 9/11 hijackers". There were videos showing the execution of hostages or prisoners by the mujahideen which were "particularly brutal, distressing and graphic".

Justice Whealy also refers to an instructional video found in all but one of the offender's houses. On it, "a masked mujahideen speaks in English with a very obvious Australian accent and says: 'You kill us, so you will be killed. You bomb us, so you will be bombed'. This is an overly simplistic but reasonably accurate summation of the mindset of each of the offenders in this trial."

It's hard to believe in hindsight, now the evidence has been laid out and the men found guilty, but in 2005, when counter-terrorism laws were being amended and the men arrested, there was strident criticism of police and the government. Instead we should have been thanking police and security agencies for protecting us from attack.

But as the white paper says, past successes "should not give us any false confidence that all plots here can be discovered and disrupted". "Australia is a terrorist target," it says. "Public statements by prominent terrorist leaders and other extremist propagandists have singled out Australia for criticism and encouraged attacks against us both before and after September 11, 2001. "There are Australians who are committed to supporting or engaging in violent jihad in Australia and elsewhere. Most of these were born in Australia or have lived here since childhood."

The paper says one of our strengths is our "inclusive multicultural society" and we must all work together to "reject ideologies that promote violence" and work at "reducing disadvantage, addressing real or perceived grievances and encouraging full participation in Australia's social and economic life".

Home-grown terrorism is as much a threat to the vast majority of law-abiding Australian Muslims as anyone else. So efforts to suppress the facts are counterproductive and ultimately lead to distrust and disharmony.


If more Muslims are truly a problem…

By Andrew Bolt

WE didn’t need the Rudd Government to tell us this week that, ahem, our own Muslim community is now a growing terrorist threat. What we needed was to hear what the Government planned to do about it.

And the answers in its new White Paper on counter-terrorism? Virtually zilch. Not even a word on whether it would be wise to cut immigration from Muslim nations, now running at about 28,000 a year. Nor was there anything about ending the mad multiculturalism that rewards most those who integrate least.

Rather the reverse. The Government promised more of the stuff that’s clearly not doing the job - more of that “multiculturalism and respect for cultural diversity to maintain a society that is resilient to the hate-based and divisive narratives that fuel terrorism”.

Hey, guys. If multiculturalism has made us so “resilient to the hate-based and divisive narratives” of jihadism, why does your White Paper admit that “numerous terrorist attacks” have had to be “thwarted” in Australia since 2001, and that we now have 20 people jailed on terrorism charges, 38 people charged after anti-terrorism operations (presumably all, or mostly, Muslims, too) and 40 more denied passports? That’s sure a lot of strife from just 340,000 Australian Muslims, as measured by the last census. We’ve actually got more Buddhists here, but when did you last hear of any plotting to blow us up?

Like I said, the threat from our own home-grown or imported jihadists was already perfectly clear. We could figure that out just from this month’s news that another five Muslims in Sydney had been jailed for plotting terrorism and gathering 12 firearms, 28,000 rounds of ammunition and four boxes of material for high explosives. But even more of a wake-up were the comments from so many leaders of our Muslim community. Uthman Badar, from the Australian arm of the extremist Hizb ut-Tahrir, cried persecution, and claimed poor Muslims were being prosecuted merely for their ideas: “The anti-terror laws were designed to silence Muslims through fear and intimidation.”

Samir Dandan, from the Lebanese Muslim Association, also fed the poor-us-against-them division, saying Muslims believed they were punished harder than the rest of us, while Keysar Trad, of them Islamic Friendship Association, blamed the “anger” of Muslims on our own alleged violence against Islamic countries. Even more worryingly, 10 imams and 20 Muslim “community leaders” met in Lakemba, at Australia’s biggest mosque, to sign a statement demanding police show them proof that the five jailed men had criminal intentions.

Never mind that the police evidence had been enough to convince an Australian jury: “Until we see the real evidence, we believe that the reason for the arrests and convictions is that these young men expressed or hold opinions that contradict Australia’s foreign policy towards majority Muslim countries." Meanwhile, outside the mosque, The Australian reported, “a group of young men pumped their fists in the air and accused ASIO of being dogs”.

This is the scenario, repeated so often over the past decade, that every Australian could see for themselves - of Muslims planning or waging jihad, only to be defended or excused by “community leaders”. And this is the reality that the Government’s White Paper now concedes in the frankest language I’ve heard in public.

“A ... shift apparent since 2004 has been the increase in the terrorist threat from people born or raised in Australia, who have become influenced by the violent jihadist message,” it warns. “A number of Australians are known to subscribe to this message, some of whom might be prepared to engage in violence. Many of these individuals were born in Australia and they come from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds.” And then this warning, so pregnant with implications: “The scale of the problem will continue to depend on factors such as the size and make-up of local Muslim populations, including their ethnic and/or migrant origins, their geographical distribution and the success or otherwise of their integration into their host society.”

Let me decode that. The Government admits the size of this growing terrorism threat depends on the size of our Muslim population. Isn’t that then the debate we must have? Yes, I know most Muslims here, my friends included, are peace-loving Australians, and I do not mean to offend them or expose them to unmerited suspicion. I also admire those Muslims I know who have stood against the extremists. But I do mean to have a frank conversation.

After all, this report also points out terrorism isn’t necessarily related to poverty, and that our wanna-be terrorists are often not the Muslims we accepted as immigrants, but their born-here children. What’s more, they come from a “wide range of ethnic groups”. That means we can’t keep out tomorrow’s terrorists just by bringing in only nice, hard-working Muslims from countries we trust. What of their later children, newly radicalised in mosques, universities or prisons?

Surely one way to minimise the danger, then, is to cut Muslim immigration, or at least freeze it until the jihadist wind blows out. Should we really be bringing in more than 28,000 people a year from Muslim lands such as Pakistan, the Middle East, North Africa, Bangladesh, Somalia, Afghanistan and Indonesia?

But on this issue the Government says nothing. Nor will it discuss dismantling multiculturalism, which at one stage had taxpayers funding the pro-bin Laden Islamic Youth Movement of Australia. But why is multiculturalism sacred, when even this White Paper says one “pathway to violent extremism” is through “identity politics”? After all, multiculturalism subsidises identity politics with your money while making Australia seem too weak or even shameful to deserve the first loyalty of a confused young man.

So what did the Government, badly needing a distraction from its insulation debacle, propose instead? Only easy, uncontroversial tinkering with controls at our borders, rather than anything to deal with the people who’ve got through already. There will be better border checks, for instance, and our spy agencies will help try to stop the flood of boat people unleashed by the Government’s rash softening of our laws.

I don’t mean to single this Government out as unusually weak on the threat within. In some ways the Howard government was even worse. Example? The White Paper warns that a “small number” of Muslims here support foreign terrorist groups that might use Australia as “a suitable or convenient location for an attack on their enemies”. It adds: “This includes groups with a long history of engaging in terrorist acts and a current capability to commit them, such as Lebanese Hizballah’s External Security Organisation.”

So Hezbollah (our spelling) has an active terrorist wing and could strike here? Then why did John Howard as prime minister pick for his Muslim Community Reference Group at least five Muslim leaders who defended Hezbollah, including Sheik Taj el-Din al-Hilali, then the Mufti of Australia, and Sheik Fehmi Naji el-Imam, who succeeded him?

I am not saying these men would ever support Hezbollah terrorist attacks here, but how many of their followers could be trusted to draw the line? Answer: no one knows, but our experts fear. So until we get more reassurance, we’ll need more action than this paper proposes.


Europcar again

Nobody in the know would deal with them. See previous post here (31 January)

My wife and I travelled on Virgin Blue recently for a weekend in Adelaide and we booked a car with Europcar.

When we returned the car at the airport, before our flight, it was given the all-clear during an inspection.

Imagine our surprise to receive a letter from Europcar saying that I had been charged, through my credit card, $435 for damage to the vehicle.

- Ray Lewis


Tony Abbott fears political correctness run riot in school curriculum: "Sorry Day and Anzac Day should not be treated similarly in the national school curriculum, Tony Abbott says. A draft curriculum for English, Maths, Science and History will be released for public consultation tomorrow. Newspaper reports have suggested there will be a strong focus on indigenous issues, with Sorry Day being taught as a community commemoration in the same way as Anzac Day is. The Opposition Leader said he didn't like the idea. "You always worry that there will be political correctness run riot in these things and I hope those reports are wrong," he said on Channel 10. "If that is what we do see, I think a lot of people will be very disappointed."

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