Friday, April 30, 2010

More Multicultural delights: Polynesian versus African

From what I have seen, Africans do tend to talk loudly on their mobile phones, and anybody who does that is annoying and should in my view be reminded of good manners. The reminder in this case was undoubtedly extreme, however.

I actually have used a rather good remedy in similar situations. Without looking at the offending party, I have myself spoken up in an exceptionally loud voice saying at some length how ignorant it is for people to talk so loudly that other people have to listen to their inane conversations. I have found that remedy to be effective but you probably have to be pretty assertive to use it.

A BRISBANE father-of-four brutally bashed a young rail commuter for speaking too loudly on his mobile telephone, a court has been told. The Brisbane District Court was this morning told Popani Fala Tovale, 40, fractured the nose and left cheek of Chernor Hadi Bah, 20, after punching him up to three times in a so-called “phone rage” attack while travelling on a Brisbane to Beenleigh commuter train on September 6 last year.

The court was told Tovale, a Samoan national, attacked Mr Bah after calling him an "African" and ordering him to get off the passenger train at Coopers Plains, 15km south of Brisbane, for talking too loudly on his phone.

Prosecutor Jacob Robson said Mr Bah had been on the phone speaking with his father and was in the process of trying to end the call when Tovale repeatedly punched him in the head -- leaving him with a fractured nose, left cheek bone and numerous deep lacerations.

He said Tovale told Mr Bah: "Hey, get off the train you African. Why are you talking on the phone?" "Just get off this train or move away from here."

Mr Robson said Mr Bah replied: "I think I am allowed to talk on the phone if I don't talk loudly."

The court was told Tovale punched Mr Bah so hard he was knocked unconscious and later required surgery to insert a plate to repair his cheek and suture his numerous facial cuts.

Mr Robson said Tovale later told police he attacked Mr Bah because he was in a "bad mood" after having an argument with his sister. He said although Tovale called Mr Bah an "African" it appeared their was no suggestion the attack was not racially motivated. "It's not a premeditated racial attack," he said. "The main motivation was (Tovale) was in a bad mood and it was the way (Mr Bah) was talking that upset him."

Tovale was sentenced to 18-month's jail after pleading guilty to one count of grievous bodily harm. He will be eligible for parole on October 30.

The Crown also tendered a victim impact statement, written by Mr Bah, which revealed he now feared people of "islander appearance."

Judge Greg Koppenol, in sentencing Tovale, said unprovoked and brutally violent attacks in public places would not be tolerated by the courts. "There was no provocation for this brutal attack," he said. "Brutal violence leading to serious injury should attract the appropriate (jail) sentence."


New national curriculum looking fairly promising at this stage

The history is predictably one-sided but Rudd comes out in favour of phonics and grammar. But what the teachers actually do could be another story. That phonics and grammar are evil is almost a religion to some of them

ENGLISH and maths classes will return to basics, history will explore Sorry Day alongside Anzac Day and science will be made more interesting.

The changes form the backbone of a radical overhaul of teaching in Australia that will bring all states and territories under a single curriculum.

An eight-page liftout inside The Courier-Mail print edition today provides a comprehensive guide to the drafts of the first four subjects that span Prep to Year 10 and will be taught in classrooms from next year.

Under the changes, Prep students will be taught to count to 20, learn what a scientist is, write in upper and lower case letters and talk about how families share their history.

Within three years children will learn to tell the time on analogue and digital clocks and research a famous astronomer and by the time they finish primary school, students will be using paragraphs to write well structured English texts.

When they reach Year 10, students will be working with trigonometric ratios and discussing the major economic and political debates in Australia during the 20th century, including workplace reforms.

Parents will be able to follow the curriculum online to get an unprecedented look at their child's learning at every stage of schooling.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the new national approach would end the "pretty patchy standards" in many classrooms and give parents confidence that their children will learn the essentials wherever they live.

"When it comes to teaching the basics, let me be very frank – what we need to make sure is our kids know how to sound out letters, that they know grammar, that they know punctuation, that they know adding up, taking away, counting. These essential elements must be part of the basic knowledge in the school education of all Australian kids," he said.

Queensland has consistently trailed the nation in literacy and numeracy and the curriculum is a centrepiece of the Government's election promise to deliver an "education revolution". Premier Anna Bligh said a national curriculum would ensure Queensland students would not be disadvantaged.

The draft reveals Prep students will be expected to learn more and play less while Queensland's Year 7 students will face greater demands.

Queensland Association of State School Principals president Norm Hart said the Year 7 and Prep curriculums would be a challenge, with "a significant jump" required from both students and teachers. Queensland is one of three states to currently have Year 7 in primary and not high school.

Mr Hart said the Year 7 science and history curriculum was closer to what was currently being taught in Year 8. "It's clear in the science curriculum that there is a significant jump in the expected achievement levels," he said.

Early Childhood Teachers Association president Kim Walters said it was a sad day for Queensland's play-based Prep. "Outdoor play will suffer because of this, I am very disappointed," she said.

The Opposition yesterday slammed the history and science components of the curriculum, saying it was left-wing and contained too much focus on indigenous Australians.

"If we get elected this year, we'll entirely review the national curriculum and if it doesn't measure up to what we expect then, the Coalition will scrap it and start again," education spokesman Christopher Pyne said.

Teachers in 155 schools will trial the subjects for the next three months.

Senior curriculum will be released next month for consultation and draft curriculum for geography, arts, and languages will follow next year.


Australian PM commits $2.4bn to 'non-feasible' carbon emissions storage

AUSTRALIA'S focus for slowing climate change - the planned storage of power-station carbon dioxide emissions - has been dismissed by a US study as "profoundly non-feasible".

The Rudd and Bligh governments have made carbon capture and storage (CCS) - under which planet-warming emissions from power stations would be removed and stored underground permanently - their biggest single direct investment in new technologies to fight global warming.

The Rudd government is spending $2.4 billion on CCS projects and is putting $100 million a year into the Global CCS Institute it created last year. The Bligh government is spending $102.5 million on the ZeroGen CCS project near Rockhampton and other CCS projects.

Michael Economides and Christine Ehlig-Economides, in a study published in the Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering, found that for one commercial-scale coal-fired power station, the underground storage area for the removed CO2 emissions would have to be "enormous, the size of a small US state".

"The findings clearly suggest (geological CO2 sequestration) is not a practical means to provide any substantive reduction in CO2 emissions, although it has been repeatedly presented as such by others," they wrote.

"(Storing CO2 in a closed system) will require from five to 20 times more underground reservoir volume than has been envisioned by many, and it renders geologic sequestration of CO2 a profoundly non-feasible option for the management of CO2 emissions."

Michael Economides, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at Houston University, said official figures showed the Sleipner reservoir - which is offshore Norway and often held up as an example of carbon storage - injected only a third of the CO2 that one modestly sized power plant would produce.

"Also, our information is that the CO2 injected at Sleipner is a lot less than 1 million tons per year and is closer to 1 million per three years. The whole thing is preposterous," he told The Courier-Mail by email.

Scientists say annual global carbon emissions - mainly from using coal, oil and gas - must peak about 2015 then fall away quickly to give a decent chance of keeping average temperature and sea-level rises manageable for most countries.

In Adelaide this month, University College London professor of chemical engineering and director of UCL's Centre for CO2 Technology, Stefaan Simons, called on Australian policymakers to rethink their pursuit of CCS.

In a lecture event co-sponsored by oil and gas firm Santos, Prof Simons said shifting the world's electricity reliance to coal and gas plants equipped with CCS may take so long that devastating levels of climate change would be locked in.

"(CCS) is potentially a dangerous diversion - soaking up time, resources and funding that could be better and more readily applied to achieving a low carbon future.

"I challenge our energy policymakers to reassess whether ... we should continue to use fossil fuels as our primary energy source. We could replace fossil fuel electricity production with that from renewable sources," Prof Simons said.

The Global CCS Institute said it was considering the US study findings.

A spokesman for the Queensland Government said it didn't know if any of its CCS research partners would be looking at the US findings.

State energy minister Stephen Robertson last week said Queensland had taken the next step to establishing "safe, long-term underground storage of greenhouse gases from coal-fired power stations".

He released a tender for proponents to explore land in central and southwest Queensland that may be suitable for underground storage of CO2.

Mr Robertson said Queensland and Australia would continue to rely on coal as a major source of power generation.


Now you see it, now you don't: building disappears

And the Rudd government is in denial

LAST Friday Marra Creek Public School's six students had a $150,000 building in their playground. When they returned to class this week, it was gone.

The subcontractor who supplied the 18- by 14-metre roof and the six steel posts supporting it arrived at the school south-east of Bourke on Saturday with a crane and removed the covered outdoor learning area he had helped to build.

He had waited a month to be paid under the federal government's Building the Education Revolution $16.2 billion economic stimulus scheme.

"We didn't run a bulldozer through it, but we pulled it down," said Jarrod Kennedy, a welder from Dubbo. "We employ 15 people. We've put on some more people from January because the government stimulus package came through. Then this happened."

Mr Kennedy said his company, Jarrod Kennedy Welding, was owed $30,000 for the project and $30,000 for another economic stimulus job elsewhere. "On my invoice it states that until [I am] paid for the property, it's mine," Mr Kennedy said.

The builder of the covered area, TCT Construction from Dubbo, has gone into liquidation. The liquidators had told Mr Kennedy it could take 18 months to pay TCT's bills and even then he might receive only 10¢ in the dollar, he said.

"The stimulus package is there to create jobs and, come the end of the job, we're not getting paid."

The Parkes MP, Mark Coulton, supported Mr Kennedy's actions. "This was supposed to be a stimulus package to create employment and now they're not going to be paid," Mr Coulton said.

"I don't blame him at all. He can't afford to lose $60,000.

"I'm laying the blame right at [the Education Minister's] feet. Julia Gillard could have implemented checks and balances."

Ms Gillard said there would be no investment in school infrastructure if the federal opposition had its way.

"It's hardly surprising that Mr Coulton is criticising the government's investment in schools.

"He and [the Opposition Leader, Tony] Abbott voted against every dollar and in every school," she said in a statement.

"If it was up to them, the projects never would have happened at all." The NSW Department of Education, which manages the BER scheme, said the subcontractor would have to raise the issue with the company that engaged it.

"The managing contractor has confirmed to the BER program office it has paid its contractor for the work undertaken," a spokesman for the department said. "They paid this contractor because they received confirmation that they had paid their subcontractors."


Former ally David Penington savages Kevin Rudd's 'status quo' health reforms

ONE of the nation's eminent medical experts has turned against the Rudd government's health reforms, declaring they will make little difference to how hospitals are run.

David Penington, a senior fellow at Melbourne's Grattan Institute who initially backed the deal Kevin Rudd struck with the states, said yesterday he was "appalled at the lack of any agreement on governance that differs from the status quo", and had little faith any real change would be forthcoming from the reforms.

He also deplored the fact there was no commitment to the key issue of "a vastly better interface" between the hospital sector and primary care, or aged care and mental health - "all issues of critical importance for the longer term".

Like some other experts, Professor Penington was cautiously positive about the deal struck at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra on April 20, but said his views had changed since reading the 56-page formal agreement circulated the following day. "Inevitably, this (COAG) trading, as always, degenerated into arguments about money and control, not about healthcare reform," Professor Penington told The Australian.

"The thing that will come back to bite Kevin Rudd will be that he will have achieved nothing to improve quality of hospital services, as they just continue to be controlled on numbers, as in every state at present."

This involved a disproportionate focus on budgets and not always meaningful measures for variables such as waiting times, instead of a more direct focus on patient outcomes.

While it was essential that the local hospital network boards included and heeded doctors and nurses, the "fact that implementation . . . is now to be left to meetings between commonwealth and state bureaucrats leaves me feeling no real reform will be delivered", Professor Penington said.

The broadside comes at a critical time for the government's reform push, with Western Australia apparently no closer to signing the deal and doctors in other states increasingly restive over some of its details and omissions. Forty of the country's top health experts, including top federal government figures, are gathering for a forum in Sydney today to discuss the health reform agenda.

John Dwyer, another senior doctor and longstanding reform advocate who has been critical of aspects of the proposals, said last night he, too, had found fresh points of concern in the agreement detailing the COAG deal. One was the doubt hospitals would have the computers necessary to track their activities in the detail needed to claim payments under the proposed activity-based funding formula.

Professor Dwyer said he attended a meeting at a leading Sydney hospital yesterday where the doctors agreed the process was "going to be a nightmare".

"We couldn't see how it was going to happen without a huge increase in bureaucracy," Professor Dwyer said.

Another point was the requirement for clinicians who joined the governing councils that run the local hospital networks to be drawn where possible from other networks.

"That just shows that whoever drafted that doesn't have a clue about the importance of local management," Professor Dwyer said. "I do think this (reform process) has been an opportunity lost . . . nothing is more important than seeing if we can't salvage something that would give us genuine reform."

Some experts also have concerns about the plans, with former federal Health Department deputy secretary Philip Davies, now a health policy academic at the University of Queensland, saying it was a matter of "regret" that COAG's compromise deal had weakened Mr Rudd's original plan.

However, some experts said they considered the COAG compromise an improvement on the original. Jane Hall, professor of health economics at the University of Technology Sydney, said the plan would in time allow a different approach to planning and long-term funding that would benefit patients in the long run.


Dr Penington in his own words below

THE Council of Australian Governments meeting on April 19 and 20 was the culmination of events with origins in Kevin Rudd's political commitment in 2007 to take over and fix the health system if the states had not done so. Following the prolonged study by the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission and more than 100 hospital visits across the nation by the Prime Minister and Health Minister Nicola Roxon, hopes were high. In reality, the COAG communique is a mixed bag and must be tested as to whether it represents a workable framework for reform.

Rudd rightly discerned the system was at a tipping point in respect of funding for the future. In every Western country, health costs are rising well ahead of the consumer price index. This is even more critical in the light of costs associated with our ageing population detailed by this year's Intergenerational Report in January. The capacity to fund future growth has now been resolved by COAG, subject to ongoing negotiations with Western Australia, with significant funding from the commonwealth with its access to growing revenue.This is the one big tick.

The premiers at COAG were concerned primarily with public hospitals, always a big issue for state budgets. These views were put most stridently by Victorian Premier John Brumby.

Concern in the community, however, is for the quality of health care more broadly and people's access to it. Primary care, and its interface with hospitals, matters as much as hospitals themselves, as services increasingly will be delivered outside hospitals.

Aged care is becoming an urgent issue. There is a need for elderly people to be looked after in or near their homes, with expanded community nursing and nurse practitioners and access to rehabilitation hospitals and services, rather than seeing the elderly as a negative issue for public hospitals, just needing more nursing homes.

Mental health entails hospital and community services and needs urgent development. There is a crying need for better preventive health services.

These are all seen in the COAG communique as commonwealth responsibilities, but there is nothing in the proposed governance arrangements to assure us that they will operate as a unified system.

During the past 15 years, states have seen controlling hospital costs as their prime concern, although taking note of public complaints about waiting times in emergency departments and waiting lists for surgery. Hospitals are managed against budgets, numbers of patient separations and waiting times. In NSW and Queensland, management is controlled directly by health departments. In Victoria, former premier Jeff Kennett had established network boards, filled largely by people with finance and business backgrounds, used to management by numbers and with little or no understanding of medical issues. Casemix funding somehow removed a need to understand what was being done.

Calls for intervention in 2007 were stimulated by events in Bundaberg, Queensland, later reinforced by happenings at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, and then in the trauma unit at the Alfred in Melbourne, all hospitals performing well on their budgets and numbers.

The Garling review in NSW identified the problem as being due primarily to the profound separation between management and medical staff, who felt they no longer had any respected role in their hospitals.

Many times every day, doctors need to make difficult, urgent decisions, often on incomplete evidence. The tradition of professional review, now termed "clinical governance", is a crucial component of ensuring continuing safety and quality of a hospital's performance. Public hospitals are there to provide medical services to sick people, not to provide numbers to state governments, and where medical staff members feel ignored by management, these processes of review fall quickly away. Moreover, university-linked teaching hospitals are the standard setters with their clinical research, testing the quality of outcomes and assessing the value and safety of new developments.

This largely was ignored by the NHHRC and is in danger of being lost following COAG.

Rudd, after his hospital visits, recognised that management needed to be delegated to hospital network boards and that these should include medical input. He indicated support for hospital research. If boards are to be appointed and supervised by the state bureaucracies, however, there is little to give confidence that change will occur in hospital management.

NSW introduced medical executive positions in all its hospitals after the Garling review, but Victoria believes its hospitals are fine. The problem, though, has not been confined to NSW.

The further issue of how the local network boards will relate to the sectors of primary care, aged care, mental health and other services remains for oversight by states' officers with limited background in these areas.

The communique refers to new state-based "joint intergovernmental authorities" that will have "no policy or operational role" but act as "funding authorities". This was no doubt agreed in the final stages to get across the line, leaving no role for the commonwealth to monitor use of the funds in terms of hospital performance.

In reality we need, state by state, a joint health service authority overseeing co-ordination in planning and service delivery for all sectors. To use state bureaucracies to oversee hospitals is sensible to avoid duplication, but there must be a framework to ensure approved national policies are delivered through reporting to such bodies.

As the commonwealth is the main funder, it should lead such bodies, bringing planning and delivery of its own sectors into joint planning and delivery.

In Britain, the National Health Service had become strangled by bureaucratic regulation. The reforms led recently by Lord Darzi have vastly improved services there, with the principle that at every level, there must be a partnership between doctors and administrators. He used medical schools as the principle tool for this package. We need similar changes here, embracing the whole system.

The proposed further consultations that will lead to the COAG meeting on June 30 do not give confidence.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

Still no problem with Australian banks

ANZ first-half profit soars. I have quite a lot of ANZ stock so this is very pleasing -- JR

ANZ posted a 36 per cent rise in first-half profit today, boosted by lower charges for bad loans and higher profit margins amid improving economic conditions in its home market.

With a war chest of over $4 billion, Australia's third-largest bank by market value also said it was considering whether to bid for Lone Star Fund's controlling stake in Korea Exchange Bank.

The stake would give ANZ a significant foothold in South Korea as part of its ambitions to become a "super-regional" bank in Asia.

The Melbourne-based lender said net profit for the six months ended March 31 rose to $1.93 billion from $1.42bn a year ago and the group declared an interim dividend of 52 cents a share, up from 46c last year.

The group's net interest income rose 8 per cent to $5.19bn while its net interest margin widened to 2.43 per cent from 2.22 per cent last year.

Chief executive Mike Smith said: "The backdrop to our improving business performance is a considerably better outlook for provisions, which reflects the strength of the economic recovery, particularly in Australia and Asia."

Australia's banks held up well during the global financial crisis, with provisions for problem loans among the only major blemishes during the downturn. Executives at the major banks have said they believe that provisions have passed their peak.

ANZ's provisions for problem loans came in at $1.08bn for the first half, down 23 per cent.

The group's cash profit -- a smoothed measure closely watched by investors -- was $2.38bn, up from $954 million last year and ahead of the average forecast of $2.29bn of six analysts polled by Dow Jones Newswires.

Its underlying profit, which strips out other items including credit intermediation trades and other one off items, rose 20 per cent on year to $2.3bn....

There was a threat that the Greek debt crisis would impact on credit spreads globally, Nr Smith said. "I think the contagion issue is now very real", he told reporters.

Still, the problems in Greece were unlikely to affect underlying economic growth globally and were not going to be very significant for Australia, with Asia still projected to grow solidly, Mr Smith said.


Kevin Rudd's Department of Hot Air costing taxpayers $90m

TAXPAYERS will fork out $90 million a year to keep more than 400 public servants employed within the Federal Climate Change Department - despite most of them now having nothing to do until 2013.

More than 60 of them are classified as senior executive staff on salaries between $168,000 and $298,000 a year. Their salary bill alone will cost an estimated $12 million every year.

A further $8 million will also be paid in rent for plush offices at Canberra's Constitution Place until 2012, where it is believed 500 new computers will be delivered this week.

It can be revealed that despite Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's decision on Tuesday to suspend the failed Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme until at least 2013, the department has ruled out plans to cut back staff.

A formal response by department secretary Martin Parkinson to a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday - the same day as the scheme's suspension - claimed the department would not offer redundancies.

The formal response, obtained by The Daily Telegraph, said there were no plans for "the immediate future" of any scaling back of staff, despite the agency losing its core function.

According to official figures, the number of top-paid bureaucrats being paid up to $298,000 a year has almost doubled since January this year from 39 to 61. That was to gear up for establishment of the Australian Climate Change Regulatory Authority, which will also now have no function.

Overall agency staff has also been ramped up since last year with total climate change employees having risen from an initial 246 to 408.

Of the 61 senior agency officials, only nine have been inherited from the scrapped home insulation scheme. The majority, 38, were employed on the CPRS and a further 19 were employed on the renewable energy scheme which has also been axed.

But none of the 408 staff within the department will be shed even though the department's key function, the CPRS, has been axed.

Its own tender documents reveal a lease contract of $16 million for its offices which expires in 2012.

"The hundreds of public servants who have been beavering away on this policy, the 114 public servants who they took to Copenhagen for that matter in support of this policy . . . none of that's changed," Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said yesterday.

"Which is why I think that Mr Rudd for political reasons doesn't want to talk about his great big new tax on everything but as sure as night follows day, if he gets re-elected, we'll be stuck with it."


Greatest moral challenge turns out to be Rudd's dearest folly

Despite all the denials, we now see in black and white how the defunct - or in Kevin Rudd's language "extended" - emissions trading scheme already has an impact on electricity prices.

No sooner had the Prime Minister announced he was scrapping - sorry, "extending" - the scheme, all the energy companies came out to say the extra cost factored in for a scheme that hadn't even passed the Senate was, miraculously, no longer necessary. So now they'll only increase our already inflated bills by 36 per cent instead of 60 per cent, in EnergyAustralia's case.

There you have it - a glimpse at the tip of the iceberg that was Rudd's dearest folly, that had him prancing around the world stage and which he pitched as the defining achievement of his first term.

Rudd's mission to rush out in front of the rest of the world with an ETS because climate change was "the greatest moral challenge of our time" has finally been exposed as flimflam. "It's very plain that the correct course is to extend the implementation date and to assess the action by other states at the end of 2012" was Rudd's way of announcing his backflip this week.

It vindicates the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, and his backer, Senator Nick Minchin, in their refusal last year to be coerced by their former leader Malcolm Turnbull into supporting the ETS.

In hindsight, it is even more extraordinary Turnbull was so obstinate. From the moment he rolled his hapless predecessor Brendan Nelson for articulating the exact wait-and-see position Rudd has now adopted, Turnbull and his supporters claimed the Coalition had no choice but to back Rudd.

They were supposedly terrified of handing Rudd a trigger for a double dissolution election on climate change. But even before Climategate, before the flop at Copenhagen, it was obvious that wasn't the case. As I wrote last August, Turnbull should have called Rudd's bluff, and embraced an election on a new energy tax.

Well, sure enough, Rudd blinked. He never wanted to go to voters with a new tax. He wanted to walk to the polls hand in hand with Turnbull, as a great statesman with his patsy, having pulled a fast one on an electorate soon to be burdened with the costs.

Yet one of the ABC's political sages, Alison Carabine, was claiming yesterday Turnbull was the only politician to emerge from the ETS with any "credibility". Hello?

Now all the ETS boosters in the business community, the rent-seekers whom Danish statistician Bjorn Lomborg has dubbed the "climate-industrial complex", who stood to profit the most from carbon regulations, are right behind Rudd's backflip. It's business as usual, with a reported $2.5 billion saved to the economy.

Rudd is clearing the decks of anything smelly before the election, in that curiously Zen way he has of ignoring the fallout.

He is banking on the electorate forgetting his astonishing catalogue of flops and fiascos, from home insulation, school halls and his mishandling of the asylum seeker issue that has led to an influx of boats, to GroceryWatch, Fuel Watch, the 2020 Summit, Aboriginal housing, solar rebates, green loans and so on.

Even his much-promised Mandarin-speaking new relationship with China, our biggest trading partner, is a flop, with China's People's Daily last September stating "relations between China and Australia have now hit their lowest point in a decade, since John Howard met the Dalai Lama".

Rudd hopes the electorate will remember only the images of him visiting hospital after hospital, plonking his bottom on the bed of another astonished sick person.

There are very real human costs for all his posturing policy wonkery. The ABC's Four Corners reminded us on Monday night of another of Rudd's green-tinged follies, the catastrophic home insulation scheme, which resulted in the deaths of four young insulators. That's not to mention the $2.5 billion spent - almost half of it on fixing the bungles. That's half of the $5 billion he's thrown at the states to get them to agree to his hospitals funding rejig.

Even when he sat down next to the father of Matthew Fuller, the 26-year-old insulation installer who was the first to die under the scheme, Rudd could not bring himself to apologise.

As Kevin Fuller, Matthew's father, told Four Corners: "Kevin Rudd burst into the meeting after about 15 minutes and sat right next to me and he didn't, he didn't remember my name, so I shook his hand and said it's Kevin, it's not that difficult to remember."

There was no apology to the Fullers, "no looking in my eyes or Christine's eyes and saying I'm sorry. Even sorry for your loss would've been good."

Rudd seems to be one of those people whose self-belief never falters, even while everything is falling down around him. But he has few cheerleaders left, outside of the increasingly unhinged Crikey blog. Even the ABC's Chris Uhlmann was scathing this week: "If you really believe that climate change is the greatest moral and economic challenge of our age, then you wouldn't retreat, would you, because if you did, people might begin to wonder what you actually believe in?"

Perhaps the best assessment of the Prime Minister this week comes from the Roman senator Tacitus, via letter writer Harry Gelber, of Hobart: "Omnium consensu capax imperii nisi imperasset."

Roughly, it means: everyone agrees he would have been thought capable of governing, if he had not already governed.


Rudd retreats on web filter legislation

Another retreat! And again a welcome one

KEVIN Rudd has put another election promise on the backburner with his controversial internet filtering legislation set to be shelved until after the next election.

A spokeswoman for Communications Minister Stephen Conroy said yesterday the legislation would not be introduced next month's or the June sittings of parliament.

With parliament not sitting again until the last week of August, the laws are unlikely to be passed before the election.

Labor promised before the last election it would force internet service providers to block access to illegal content such as child pornography and X-rated images.

But the US government, Google and free speech advocates have said any efforts to censor the internet would slow download speeds, stop the free flow of information and be ineffective.

Senator Conroy's spokeswoman said the government was not deterred by this criticism.

The government was still consulting with internet service providers and considering public submissions; once that process was complete, it would introduce the legislation into parliament, the spokeswoman said.

Australian Christian Lobby managing director Jim Wallace was disappointed. "The minister has done an excellent job on this . . . and I would like to see it legislated because it was an election promise," he said.

Opposition communications spokesman Tony Smith said Senator Conroy should come clean on when he would release the legislation.


Negligent bureaucracy behind big payroll meltdown

Queensland Health broke basic safety net in payroll push, experts say

QUEENSLAND Health has been savaged over its rushed rollout of the failed payroll system by the co-developer of the software. Workbrain co-founder Scott Morrell claims Queensland Health ignored the most basic of safety nets, seeing the department drop 75,000 workers into an untested system and hoping for the best.

Speaking from Toronto, Canada, Mr Morrell said clients implementing the system – or any new payroll system – should transfer employees gradually into the new system, after running several parallel pay cycles with the old system.

Queensland Health took neither precaution, instead just testing 10 per cent of employees in three "dry runs", where no one was actually paid. But a department spokesman said the results of the 10 per cent dry runs were "within the average range and were considered acceptable by auditors".

Thousands of Queensland Health workers have missed out on pay during three fortnightly cycles.

Two Australian payroll companies also slammed the Government for the rollout, labelling the decisions to ignore safety procedures "amateur hour".

Mr Morrell co-founded the Workbrain system in 1999 and ran the project development team. He said after spearheading the Workbrain project for six years, he was stunned by the Queensland Health rollout. "Yes, things can go wrong, but the usual issues that occur in a client rollout are typically addressed quite quickly," he said.

With staff of about 75,000, Mr Morrell said Queensland Health should have transferred just 100 to the Workbrain/Sap system first. "Any problems are then isolated and you then grow slowly as you get a comfort level," Mr Morrell said.

Australian payroll software companies also expressed dismay at the rushed rollout. The chief executive of Aussie Pay, Dean Morelli, said it was unheard of for any company to launch a new system without testing it on population subsets. "The level of risk taken indicates a complete amateur show – it is not the software at fault," Mr Morelli said.

HR3 payroll software provider general manager Frank Rizzeri labelled the rollout "reckless". "If one of our project managers did it that way, they would be terminated," Mr Rizzeri said. "To bypass those basic safety nets shows a complete and utter lack of due care."

A spokeswoman for Acting Premier Paul Lucas said the decision not to take a parallel pay run was made by the IT expert project board.

The decisions to bypass safety nets are under investigation by KPMG.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rudd's hot air over global warming

THE great fraud has been found out, and his country saved - for now - from the greatest of his follies.

Here's the worst lie that Kevin Rudd, perhaps our most deceitful Prime Minister, once told about global warming and his Emissions Trading Scheme: "The biggest challenge the world faces in the decades ahead is climate change. "It is the great moral and economic challenge of our time."

But on Tuesday Rudd decided "the great moral challenge" of our time wasn't, after all. It was just "a" challenge, he said.

And with public trust falling in his ETS "solution" - a great green tax on gases - he cut and ran. His ETS would be shelved until at least 2013. Two elections away. Yet only last year this same Government claimed "delay was denial", and we could not wait to save "our jobs, our houses, our farms, our reefs, our economy and our future". To stop "700,000 homes and businesses" on our coast from drowning. (Another lie.)

Rudd had his excuses, of course. The naughty Opposition now opposed the ETS in the Senate, and other countries were "slower to act" on global warming themselves. But it was just more Rudd spin.

For years he's mocked warnings from sceptics and some Liberals that it was reckless for small Australia to make cuts that almost no other country would make. As I've often argued, we'd just export jobs overseas without making a scrap of difference to any warming, which seems to have halted since 2001 anyway.

Rudd pretended then that such arguments were mad. Almost criminal. "The clock is ticking for the planet," he said six months ago. "The resolve of the Australian Government is clear - we choose action, and we do so because Australia's fundamental economic and environmental interests lie in action. Action now. Not action delayed." The costs of delay would be "severe".

So why does Rudd only this week agree that waiting for the world is not mad, after all, but responsible? Was he spinning then, or is he spinning now?

Almost as empty is Rudd's excuse that his hand was forced by the Opposition's rejection of the ETS since the accidental rise of Tony Abbott to the Liberal leadership by a single vote.

IF Rudd truly believed his ETS was so desperately needed to meet the world's "biggest challenge", why didn't he fight like sin to get it through the Senate, as President Barack Obama fought to get his health reforms through his Senate?

Why didn't he throw everything into cutting a deal with the Greens and the two independent Senators to vote through an ETS to "save" the planet?

That deal may yet come, of course. Rudd's ETS is not yet a corpse but a zombie, and with an election looming, Rudd wants that zombie down in the crypt, so timid voters won't tremble.

You may think I'm harsh on Rudd, but I say little that he hasn't said himself - and of delayers just like him.

I remember his speech last November to the Lowy Institute in which he vilified me and a few other sceptics he named: "The third group of climate deniers are those who pretend to accept the science but then urge delay because they don't want their country to be the first to act. "What absolute political cowardice. What an absolute failure of leadership. What an absolute failure of logic."

You said it, Prime Minister. Or were you just spinning then, too?


'Lenient asylum' pulls Sri Lankans

AUSTRALIA'S "lenient" asylum policy, easy access to citizenship and generous welfare benefits are the main pull factors attracting Sri Lankan asylum-seekers, says the head of Colombo's anti-human-trafficking operation.

Prabath Aluthge, chief of Sri Lanka's National Counter Human Trafficking Resource Centre, told The Australian the recent wave of boat arrivals was driven by success stories spread by Sri Lankans who had travelled to Australia.

But as authorities intercepted another boat carrying 41 asylum-seekers near Ashmore Reef on Monday, Mr Aluthge said a crackdown by the Sri Lankan authorities and the toughening of Australia's asylum regime had led to a decline in the number of boats leaving Sri Lanka.

And Malaysian authorities announced they had stopped an Australia-bound boat carrying 75 Sri Lankans from leaving Malaysia on Friday.

In an exclusive interview, Mr Aluthge said he expected the changes in procedure, which include the suspension of processing of all new Sri Lankan asylum claims for three months, would have a deterrent effect, as would the deportation of people whose claims had been unsuccessful, a move foreshadowed by the Rudd government.

Australia was considered to be a soft option by prospective Sri Lankan boatpeople, Mr Aluthge said. "I think you have a very lenient asylum policy," he said. "These people, they want to go to a country where asylum policy is very lenient, where it is easy (to obtain) citizenship, easy to get welfare benefits from the host government," the Sri Lankan official said.

Mr Aluthge said neither Tamil nor Sinhalese Sri Lankans had any grounds for claiming asylum in Australia now the country's bloody civil war had ended.

Since 2009, almost 1000 Sri Lankans, mostly minority Tamils, have arrived in Australia by boat.

All told, they comprised about 20 per cent of the total number of boatpeople to arrive as part of the present surge.

"The successful people informed their friends about Australia - to come there and you can earn something and you can get political asylum very easily," Mr Aluthge said. "They motivate with this information."

However, Mr Aluthge said there had been a decline in boats leaving Sri Lanka for Australia. "We have an awareness campaign. There are police very alert. We have established a coast guard department," he said. "And . . . now the war is over, the entire navy can work with the coast guard."

Most smuggling rings in Sri Lanka were organised out of Colombo or the Negombo region north of the capital, he said. But the market is mostly Tamils in the northern part of the country.

Mr Aluthge said the organisers paid agents across the country to recruit passengers, sometimes even guaranteeing their debt for the journey, which could run from $5000 to $10,000. "They sometimes mortgage their properties, sometimes they get bank guarantees," he said.


Token Crackdown on disability pension racket

WITH around 778,000 Australians on disability pensions and the number rising steadily, the Rudd government will today announce tougher rules that will make 6500 people ineligible for the payment.

Paying disability pensions costs the commonwealth more than $11 billion a year, and that sum is expected to reach $13.2bn in just two years.

Under today's changes, 6500 disability support pensioners will be judged to be capable of work but an additional 1500 people will become eligible to receive the welfare benefit.

The net reduction in DSP recipients by 5000 is a first step in slowing the rate at which the system is ballooning. Those no longer eligible for the payment may be able to apply for the dole.

The government will also close a loophole for people on the DSP who live permanently overseas but who return to Australia every 13 weeks in order to retain their pension. That will take effect from January next year.

The new assessment process includes an overhaul of so-called impairment tables used to measure how a person's disability affects their ability to work.

Impairment tables are used by doctors to make their assessment of a person's work capacity, with points allocated to particular disabilities. A person must accumulate a certain number of points to be granted the DSP.

The growing number of people on disability pensions is a growing problem for the Rudd government because it has become a parking lot for those who are out of work, particularly mature workers, in times of rising unemployment.

During the recession between 1990 and 1993, the number on disability pensions rose from 300,000 to 400,000. At the end of December last year, 777,725 Australians were on the DSP.

Community Services Minister Jenny Macklin said it was essential that the level of a person's impairment was assessed using the most up-to-date medical information.

The current impairment tables were last comprehensively reviewed in 1993 and were not consistent with contemporary medical and rehabilitation practices, she said.

Ms Macklin will also establish a new Health Professional Advice Unit within Centrelink to give DSP assessors independent advice. That would include advice on suitable treatment to help someone return to work and on assessment of borderline claims.

The government believes that over the years, the impairment tables have led to anomalies and inconsistencies which have distorted the assessment process.

For example, when hearing impairment is assessed, a person with a hearing aid is not required to wear it, but someone who is having sight assessed must wear glasses.

Ms Macklin said an advisory committee was being established to provide advice on updating the tables, drawing on consultations with the medical, allied health and rehabilitation sector, disability peak bodies, mental health advocates and government agencies, with the revised impairment tables to be used from January 1, 2012.

Ms Macklin said the DSP was an essential element of Australia's safety net. But she said it was vital it supported the people who needed it -- those Australians who, through disability, are unable to work to fully support themselves.


Rising wave of voter anger over housing

High prices are mainly the result of Greenie-inspired land-use restrictions. There is not enough land on which to build all the new houses needed

Pity the prophet who gets it wrong on housing. Economics professor Steve Keen recently marched from Canberra to the top of Mount Kosciuszko – while also wearing a shirt that read "I was hopelessly wrong on house prices" — after losing a bet for claiming that housing prices would drop by 40 per cent after the global financial crisis. Instead prices fell in the single digits before climbing again in double digits last year.

But Labor wasn’t forced to wear a T-shirt — maybe just a metaphorical hair shirt — when it announced it was reversing some of the Foreign Investment Review Board changes made last year that controversially relaxed laws on foreign home ownership. This was in the face of admitting that it had no hard figures of sales of existing homes being sold to temporary residents since the changes, exact details of cases of possible rorting and previously claiming that the FIRB changes had had any significant impact on the market.

"The re-imposition of compulsory notification, screening and approval at the front end, and the forced sale of properties when temporary residents leave Australia, will ensure that investment is in Australia’s interests, and in line with community expectations," assistant Treasurer Nick Sherry said.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and state leaders also announced a review into housing affordability and availability at the Council of Australian Governments meeting in April, with a view to seeing whether such factors as zoning and planning, taxation and the first home owners grant had affected the market, and possible measures to alleviate the situation.

Kudos to the government for moving on the FIRB changes. But what does all this activity on housing mean? It means that Labor has figured out what many already know — that there is a voter groundswell of anger over housing in Australia. But it’s not the sort of transitory anger that one might have over many issues of the day — it’s a deep anger, a bitter anger that extends not only to those trying to buy their first house but also the parent who sees his children potentially locked out of the market forever, a fear his children share.

A widely quoted survey by the Mortgage and Finance Association of Australia and Bankwest Retail claimed that the majority of the Generation Y polled thought they would never own a home and were doomed to a life of renting. "We have never seen such pessimism among prospective first-time buyers throughout the past five indexes," said Victoria Shortt, chief executive of Bankwest Retail.

It is an anger that grows as prices continue to spiral upward, rising to higher, ridiculous multiples of average yearly wages. It is an anger that festers over the outrage of negative gearing. It is an anger that grows as mortgage stress sweeps the land. It is the impotent anger of letters to the editor and calls to late-night radio programs, desperately searching for answers and reassurance.

It is the resentment towards endless weekends spent futilely searching for an affordable place. It is a fury upon hearing interest rates are rising while overexposed banks are cutting back on home loans, creating a perfect storm for first-home owners. It is an outrage that burns over the scandal of "land banking" by companies, drip-feeding bits of real estate into a market with acute housing shortages.

It is, one might say, an electorally significant anger. Upon such angers are elections won and lost. The majority of votes may be home owners, but it only takes a small swing to unseat a government. And the army of the angry and dispossessed is growing by the day, seeing no solution in sight and paralysis at a state and federal level. And parties of both sides take heed – that army isn’t going anywhere. Not until you fix the problem.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sydney ANZAC day march led by a hero of heroes

Trooper Donaldson VC on the right above. He was awarded the VC for his actions when his patrol was ambushed in Oruzgan Province, Afghanistan, on September 2, 2008. In this action, he deliberately exposed himself to enemy fire in order to draw attention to himself and thus away from wounded soldiers. "This selfless act alone bought enough time for those wounded to be moved to relative safety," the citation says.

AUSTRALIA'S only serving Victoria Cross holder, Mark Donaldson, made it crystal clear where his heart lay yesterday at Sydney's wintry dawn service-- with his mates, back in Afghanistan.

But Trooper Donaldson faces similar problems to those experienced 40 years ago by our other living VC recipient, Keith Payne: he's an action hero whom the Australian Defence Force wants to keep from harm's way.

Trooper Donaldson, 31, like past VC holders, is living with the brass's reluctance to put such a prized target for the enemy in the field. "I took a moment this morning at the dawn service to pay my respects to those guys over there," Trooper Donaldson said of his comrades still in Afghanistan, where he won the VC in 2008.

"I'm sure they are worried about the job they are doing at the moment. They are probably taking a moment to reflect and respect and say thankyou and then just getting on with the job at hand." After attending the dawn service at the cold and wet Cenotaph in Martin Place, Trooper Donaldson took pride of place at the head of the march that wound through the city, cheered on by tens of thousands. It was a heart-swelling experience, he said.

"I would encourage everyone, if they are still serving today to come in and march. It's a pretty special thing." He went on to toss the coin in the Anzac Day rugby league clash at the Sydney Football Stadium between the Roosters and St George.

The defence establishment also wrapped Mr Payne in cotton wool after he was awarded the VC in Vietnam in 1969, posting him to the Royal Military College, Duntroon, as instructor, rather than meet his request to return to unit. But after leaving the army in 1975, Mr Payne continued to press the army to let him visit soldiers on active duty.

He was finally given permission to participate in last year's Anzac Day service at Tarin Kowt, in Afghanistan's south, where the bulk of Australia's forces are stationed. Most recently, Mr Payne harnessed his star power to campaign for a new Aboriginal War Memorial at Cape York, which he unveiled in Weipa yesterday.

Trooper Donaldson's superiors have kept the door open for his return to duty but there are risks to sending such a prominent figure back to the frontline.

"We've been careful to ensure this can be managed without compromise to Mark's safety," a Defence spokeswoman said. "Any decision Defence makes in relation to the deployment of Trooper Donaldson will be made with great consideration, and take into account the safety of all those on deployment."


Koran caution for Australian tax laws

From what I can gather, Sharia compliant lending treats interest as capital, which would be illegitimate under existing Australian tax law. I can foresee some juicy evasion schemes coming up if that rule is relaxed

AUSTRALIA will check our tax laws to ensure they don't offend the Koran and prevent our access to the $1 trillion Islamic financial market.

The toughest restrictions are linked to Islamic law, or Sharia, which prohibits the payment of interest, known as riba, and bar investment in gambling and alcohol products.

However, the most complex issue relates to finding compatibility between Western tax systems, which concentrate on the details of a transaction, and Islamic "instruments' which looks at the "economic substance” and can have another outcome.

At stake is the vast network of the Islamic banking and insurance market worth almost $1 trillion and calculated to soon expand to reach $5 trillion.

"Accessing this major source of capital could assist Australian businesses to diversify their funding base in the future,” Corporate Law Minister Chris Bowen said.

Assistant Treasurer Nick Sherry yesterday announced the launch of the tax law review during a visit to the United Arab Emirates.

"This is not about special treatment or concessions for Islamic finance or its providers, but about ensuring that our system doesn't unfairly disadvantage or preclude such instruments and, in doing so, deprive Australia of capital, jobs and growth,” Senator Sherry said.

"Islamic finance is a rapidly growing part of the global financial system and Australia is in an excellent position capitalise on that growth, but we have to identify if our tax system doesn't unnecessarily prevent that from happening.”

The review will be conducted by the Board of Taxation.


Warmist laws postponed

Labor's thwarted emissions trading scheme has become an inconvenience for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, the federal opposition says.

The government has shelved plans to push ahead with plans to begin operating its carbon pollution reduction scheme by July 2011, The Sydney Morning Herald said today.

The scheme will not start before 2013 at the earliest following a decision by cabinet's priorities and budget committee, the newspaper said.

Climate Change Minister Penny Wong would not confirm the report. "The blocking of the CPRS legislation by the opposition has caused delays and created uncertainties which will of course affect the budget treatment of the CPRS," a spokeswoman for the minister told AAP. "The government remains committed to the CPRS as the best and lowest cost way to reduce carbon pollution."

Small Business Minister Craig Emerson also refused to confirm the report, saying it was the Coalition that was thwarting efforts to address climate change. "We will take the climate change issues to the next election and the people will have another opportunity to determine their position," he told Sky News. "I know what position they will adopt, and that is that their must be decisive action on climate change."

Opposition climate change spokesman Greg Hunt said the decision would save the government $2.5 billion, and was contrary to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's past claim that climate change was "the greatest moral challenge of our generation". "Now it is an inconvenience for him," Mr Hunt told ABC Radio.

The decision means the government is likely to take its ETS legislation off the table until after an election, expected later this year.

It also means Labor will not use its latest legislation as a double-dissolution trigger, nor its original bills twice rejected by the upper house last year. The Senate was expected to vote on the legislation when parliament resumes sitting in May.

"The Prime Minister clearly has no commitment to climate change," Mr Hunt said, adding the ETS was a tool to get Mr Rudd through an election. "And he's dropped it the moment it's become inconvenient."

Non-government senators have thwarted Labor's bid to win parliamentary approval for its scheme.

The opposition backed away from supporting amended legislation that a Malcolm Turnbull led Coalition negotiated with Labor late last year. Now under Tony Abbott, the Coalition is pushing what it calls "direct action" to address climate change.

"The Prime Minister is not willing to take his emissions trading scheme to the electorate, to the election because he didn't want to put it up against the idea of direct action to reduce emissions," Mr Hunt said.

Resources Minister Martin Ferguson said he had not seen the Senate program for the coming weeks, but believed there was little hope for the scheme with the Coalition and Australian Greens both opposed to it.

It was disappointing if it had been shelved, but there were other issues to think about ahead of the election, he said. "There are plenty of issues around," he told ABC Radio on Tuesday. "The issue of healthcare is going to occupy a lot of people's minds, I might also say, so is the question of economic management.

"We've come out of this global financial crisis in a stronger position than most economies, they are the type of issues that are going to be in people's minds. "Even if we don't get a price on carbon there's still a lot to be done."

Mr Ferguson said energy efficiency and new technologies were still government priorities.

The latest development comes as a poll showed trust in Mr Rudd to manage climate change had dropped to 36 per cent. The result in the Auspoll survey was a fall from 46 per cent in February 2009.

Advocacy group GetUp!, which commissioned the poll in conjunction with the Climate Institute and four other non-profit groups, says the result reflects voter frustration with stalling climate change action.

However, 35 per cent of voters would be more likely to vote for the Rudd government if it took stronger action on climate change, and only 16 per cent would be less likely.

Mr Rudd, as late as last week, was maintaining support for an ETS. "Our policy hasn't changed," he told The Sydney Morning Herald. "We maintain our position that this is part of the most efficient and the most effective means by which we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions with least cost to the economy."


Conservatives claim cost of housing 4200 asylum seekers has topped $344m

THE arrival of another boat carrying of asylum seekers has set a record for the number of arrivals in one financial year - and the Federal Opposition is demanding to know how much it's costing taxpayers.

A boat with 49 suspected asylum seekers and two crew was intercepted north-north-west of Ashmore Islands on Sunday night, the 114th to arrive since the Rudd Government softened John Howard's border regime. This took the number of people in 2009-10 to 4210, the highest in a financial year, with two months to go.

Opposition immigration and citizenship spokesman Scott Morrison said the number eclipsed the 4175 in 1999-2000 and the 4137 in 2000-01. "To paraphrase Kevin Rudd, he had a gold medal year on boat arrivals in 2009-10," Mr Morrison said.

Mr Howard still holds the record for the most number of boat arrivals in a calendar year - 5516 in 2001. That may be broken, with the rate of boat arrivals this year exceeding the pre-Tampa Howard era.

A spokesman for the Immigration Department yesterday said 2063 asylum seekers were housed on Christmas Island, which will rise to 2114. Christmas Island's capacity is 2040, with 400 extra beds still weeks from being ready after bad weather stalled work.

The Federal Opposition is demanding Mr Rudd and Immigration and Citizenship Minister Chris Evans admit what it's costing the Government to house the influx. "Figures obtained from Senate Estimates earlier this year revealed when the Rudd Government prepared the 2009-10 budget they believed only 200 people would arrive," Mr Morrison said.

"In November last year Senator Evans asked for an [extra] $134 million to cover 1400 arrivals, with each arrival costing $81,900. "With this year's arrivals now at 4210 we can expect an additional bill of more than $200 million, based on the figures previously provided by the Immigration Department."

He said Senator Evans should release a statement of the increased costs of flights between Christmas Island and the mainland. "The Minister must also detail new costs such as reopening the Curtin detention centre and increased operational costs at the other detention centres around Australia . . . taking the spillover from Christmas Island."

On Friday another boat en route to Australia, containing 75 Sri Lankans, was stopped by Malaysian police.


Monday, April 26, 2010

A public hospital experience

Don't expect civility from bureaucrats

Last week I had reason to visit the emergency department of a metropolitan hospital. My family doctor had become alarmed at the quantity of over-the counter pain killers I’d consumed – an orgy of paracetamol brought about by the agonising fallout from a routine a bit of dentistry – and strongly advised me to visit ER, to have my blood toxicity levels checked. It was not an adventure to which I looked forward, and as I traveled toward the hospital I braced myself for what would undoubtedly be a wait of many hours, there surely being more important emergency cases than my own. It was perhaps naïve of me to think the hospital would greet me sympathetically, but the hostility I encountered left me, for one of the few times in my life, speechless.

Upon arrival at the hospital, I presented myself to the woman at the front desk, who smilingly took my details and told me to take a seat and wait for the call from the admissions nurse. Only a few minutes passed before she called my name and I approached her booth. Housed behind protective glass (for reasons which would become obvious), she was a short woman in her late 40s, with a teardrop-shaped body that I conservatively figure would weigh in at about 140 kilos. This would not be worth mentioning but for what happened next (her hair do – a ginger coif swept behind the ears with the extreme slick favoured by teddy boys and butch lesbian stereotypes – is perhaps not worth mentioning at all...probably). Without taking her eyes from the computer screen in front of her, she asked me what I was there for, and I told her, to wit:

“My doctor suggested I come here for blood and liver toxicity tests, on account of the large amount of pain killers I’ve taken over the last five days.”

I smiled for the benefit of her right ear and pointed to my tooth. “Bad bit of dentistry,” I said.

At this she thrust her right hand towards the gap in the protective glass and, in a voice entirely free of humanity, said: “Show me the letter.”

“I don’t have a letter,” I replied. “I spoke to my doctor on the phone and she suggested to me that I come here.”

Her eyes still on the computer screen, she took a deep breath of tedium, her beanbag bosoms awaking for a moment and stirring like two huge Gullivers before her sigh of expulsion nestled them back into the doubtlessly sweaty hell in which they sleep. I got the distinct impression that, somehow, I’d done something I oughtn’t.

“How many have you taken?” she asked, in the kind of bored, sing-song tone one might employ when asking the family dog which part of the carpet it has poo-pooed upon this time. I decided it best to be honest, as the only loser of a lie would be me.

“Probably between 20 and 30 in the last 24 hours,” I replied. “It’s the only way I’ve been able to...”

At this point I stopped talking, because her face had turned toward me for the first time this afternoon. Upon it was a look that I see most commonly these days on American teen TV shows, when the nerd in the clique says something common and the the silver-spoon bitch turns with her head bowed, her mouth agape and her dead eyes peering up through her fringe as if to say: “Like...duh!” Only there was no humour in this face at all – it was designed to convey pure contempt, and that is precisely what it did.

“You’re joking,” she said, disgusted, though she knew I wasn’t joking at all, being that I was in the emergency ward of a public hospital. “No,” I replied. “Like I said, it was the only way I could kill the pain.”

For a few long moments she was silent, her voiceless eye contact prolonging the humiliation I was meant to be suffering.

“Did you bother to read the label?” she finally asked, her eyes fluttering closed until the very last syllable, after the fashion of the grotesquely superior (what I would have given for a gorilla suit into which I might have swiftly changed before she opened her eyes again).

“Like I said, I was in pain, which I guess makes people do silly things sometimes.”

And I would have continued with this line of argument, describing the desire for pain relief as not unlike hunger, which can cause some people to eat like filthy @#$%ing swamp hogs until their silhouettes are indiscernible from those of the Teletubbies. For it occurred to me that, if you took our surroundings out of the equation – if the buildings and uniforms and name tags evaporated until there were just two people and nothing more – what we had here was a woman the size of a small 4WD vehicle, who couldn’t walk (I was to later observe) without swaying like a sumo from one point of the compass to the opposite other, berating someone for unwise consumption.

But we were in a hospital, she was in a uniform, and there are signs on the walls of all emergency departments declaring that abusive behaviour will not be tolerated – signs that, at time like this, can be interpreted to suit passive aggressives in uniform. And I needed help. If ever there was a situation where one had to suck up the contemptible rudeness of another, it was here, at the emergency department of a public hospital. That we were in such a place, and she employed by it, made her next comment the most reprehensible of all.

“You do realise, don’t you” she fumed, that look still on her face, “that you could quite possibly die?”

Now, the fact that I was in the emergency ward of a hospital should have been proof enough that I was concerned about my condition. I would have thought one of the core duties of the staff of any triage unit would be to alleviate, to the best of one’s ability, any anxiety that a patient may be feeling. Well, somebody didn’t tell Makka Pakka, who seemed to think it was her job to fill me with self loathing and alarm.

She did a bit of typing, during which she repeatedly shook her head in demonstrative disgust, then said: “Sit down over there and wait till you’re called.”

I waited in emergency for four hours before my name was finally called. It would have been a long four hours if I’d had the mental space to dwell upon this hideous gobbledock’s prophesy regarding my imminent death, but I was more furious than anything, and time tends to fly by swiftly when you’re butchering someone in your mind, weighing up methods of dispatch and disposal (I spent a good deal of the time trying to calculate how many weather balloons I’d need to ferry her off into the stratosphere and out to sea, provided I cut the pieces small enough).

Once inside the hospital proper, the doctors and nurses were bloody wonderful, not a one of them failing to appreciate how I’d come to be there. One doctor I spoke to went so far as to blame my whole adventure on the over-cautious nature of pharmaceutical classifications, and the society that deems the most effective pain killers off limits to people in pain, lest they might enjoy themselves. “It’s madness,” the doctor said, and I agree.

Emergency departments are unhappy places, full of people whose pain and panic tends to make them impatient, and the reason for those signs that warn about abuse is that health providers deserve better than to be shot as the messengers of a notoriously ill-equipped and understaffed system. But this has to be a two-way street - the people who visit emergency wards are frightened and hurt, and any health provider who makes them feel worse is a bad one. I cannot imagine the sort of spray that Nurse Charles Laughton has in her arsenal for the addicts, the alcoholics, the chronically depressed and anxious, who should never, ever be discouraged from visiting hospitals. Her argument is doubtless that they’;re wasting public resources, but we all pay for those resources, and I can promise her that, in ten years time, when her obese arse will doubtless be strapped to a bed haemorrhaging money from the public system, I won’t be bedside abusing her for what she’s done to herself.

I’m willing to accept that my experience with this particular nurse was an isolated incident, but then, all experiences are isolated incidents - we deal with them one at a time. Which is why I’ve written this today, and why I’ll be printing it out and making another quick trip to emergency tonight, just to silently slip something under the glass.

I’m sorry for the offense, lady, but, frankly, you deserve every spit of it. Whatever you do to kill the pain is more than alright by me.


One Victorian State high school enforces standards

NOT many people would figure that as school girls' skirts rise, education standards fall. Last week Ms Wade made headline news when it was revealed her state high school regularly checks the length of its girls' skirts.

Yes, that's right, headline news. This "back to basics" stuff sure did cause a fuss. This was a revolt against the slackness of the post-'60s decades and so was news.

And I was relieved to hear it. Until I checked what else the school is doing to warrant such gasps of shock. In fact, Bentleigh shows that our social pendulum may still have a long way to go before it's swung back to anywhere near where it was.

The school won praise for also insisting students line up in an orderly fashion before class and sign good behaviour contracts in the senior years. What's more, they risk failing subjects if they wag school too often. Talk about revolutionary. Or, as Ms Wade put it more demurely: "We are raising expectations".

I so don't have a problem with any of this. It's all the little things - the skirt lengths, the nose rings, the coloured beanies, the hooded jackets - that give a school an identity, or, rather, an oh-dear reputation.

Sometimes such fashion statements can be refreshing - or surly - assertions of individuality outside school. But in a school they can be signs the school is failing to teach the kids that individuality often has to be balanced with a sense of community if we're all going to get on with each other and thrive.

Such sloppiness also signals that the school doesn't dare to impose any expectations on children, who signal back that they owe the school no duty.

Same story with lining up, which is a basic acknowledgment that life can't be a me-first free-for-all if we want a civil, well-run school or any other form of society. Cracking down on wagging and bad behaviour is also basic stuff in socialising children, teaching them that some kinds of discipline are actually going to make their lives better, not worse.

I most certainly am not hankering for a shut-up-or-smack kind of teaching, but the fact that Ms Wade's very modest changes have made such news makes you realise many other schools must have given up insisting on anything at all.

No wonder there's been such a drift away from state schools to private schools, which for some years have insisted on the kind of things that in a state school seem so brave.

But I'm still worried, and not just because Bentleigh's new rules are not so much back to basics as plain basic, yet are seen as so new. Why do Bentleigh's students now need to sign "contracts" to behave well, when it should be a school's unchallenged right to insist they must?

Why are students under this "tough" policy allowed as many as seven unexcused absences a semester before they fail a subject? Why does the school make a boast of having just two assemblies a term at which the national anthem is played?

When all this is hailed as "tough rules", I'm reminded again how soft the rest must be.


The Leftist Premier of Victoria is just a blowhard

JOHN Brumby was quite a different bloke as leader of the Opposition compared to his recent years as Premier, as you'd expect. Back then he tended to deal in absolutes - and wasn't too hesitant about recycling a few urban myths.

He was vehement in his support for a thorough clean-up of what he saw as systematic corruption throughout the state under Jeff Kennett, with a particular interest, since waned, in the tendering process for Crown casino.

But he also wanted a robust, rigorously independent inquiry into police corruption, and many agreed. If only we had attacked it back then, so much that is now the black legend of these last few years might never have taken place. As later Liberal Opposition leader, now Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle, observed: "Who would know that it would lead to 27 killings?"

Brumby could also be sidelined by fiction, even gossip. He once tackled Kennett in State Parliament claiming the government had a list of journalists who could be ethically "corrupted" to support Kennett's huge and contentious privatisation agenda. Kennett denied such a list existed and asked Brumby for a copy of it. In the excited session that followed, Brumby called Kennett a liar.

Brumby later admitted he did not have the list, but he was reported as being "fairly sure" of its existence, because he'd heard it being talked about on 3AW.

Brumby also named in Parliament 20 Victorians he said were "cronies" of the Kennett government. One of them, Ron Walker, said he was considering legal action.

But most extraordinary was the claim that two top businessmen, who Brumby named to the Herald Sun, would be in jail by the time he was elected Premier. "I mean, some of them will be in jail. Seriously, some of them will be in jail. I won't be working with them in jail!" Brumby said. As it turns out, he doesn't have to go to jail to do business with either of them. Neither was locked up, nor charged with anything.

I called one of those two wealthy businessmen yesterday, and was surprised that he had never been made aware what had been said of him (the Herald Sun chose not to publish the names at the time). "I was never, ever a crony of Jeff Kennett's," said the well known Victorian adding that he never had a poor relationship with Brumby.

"It's the first I've heard of it," he said, laughing, but annoyed. "I am most surprised to hear it. There would be no logical reason why he would say that. A comment like that is defamatory. He didn't know me."


Camera-shy Rudd is exposed by Libs

WITH the Liberal machine convinced they will have to be on an election footing any time from August, the opposition leadership group has taken the irrevocable decision to make Kevin Rudd's character an issue. There will now be two lines of attack: competence and cowardice.

This high-risk strategy reflects the fact that the Coalition has precious little time to deconstruct the Prime Minister's persuasive public persona, the "dentist between appointments" as Barry Humphries so nicely put it. Labor will claim that this new assault is playing the man and not the ball. But this argument will not be sustainable. The opposition leadership group, which has been discussing this new tack for the past few weeks, wants to concentrate on the flaws in Rudd's political persona, not on the man himself.

As one senior Liberal told this column, "We have always believed that there is hollowness at the centre of Rudd." The difference now is the Coalition believes this impression is crystallising in the public mind. Three indicators that reinforced the opposition's confidence voters are finally waking up to the Prime Minister have tumbled out in the past week.

They involve what the opposition argues is Rudd's "gutlessness" in sending out his juniors to cop the blame for failures that, when they previously looked like successes, he was more than happy to be associated with.

One senior frontbencher involved in the leadership group's tactical discussions put the argument this way. "This is based on increasing fundamental incompetence: the pink batts roll-out, pink batts small business false promises on the steps of parliament, Green Loans fraud, the inquiries into the Building the Education Revolution rorts. It just rolls on . . . This is all about the difference between the grand moral gesture and the reality of governance, which in the case of the pink batts program has led to 120 home fires, 1500 electrified roofs, 240,000 dangerous or dodgy roofs and the four fatal tragedies."

That's the competence front. Then, says the Liberal frontbencher there's the associated issue of cowardice: "The failure to front the cameras to deal with the abandonment of the pink batts program after having personally promised to restart [it] in a classic grand gesture in front of the cameras.

"The breaking of the election promise on building childcare centres [announced on the day the Melbourne Storm story broke by junior Minister for Early Childhood Education Kate Ellis who now says only 38 centres will be built compared to the 260 trumpeted during the 2007 campaign] . . . The schools and the Green Loans announcement are all examples of a fundamental lack of leadership and courage. In short, character does matter and Rudd's incompetence and cowardice are now front and centre. The opposition believes that there was a turning point when Rudd ran away from, in particular, the pink batts program announcement and that both Canberra insiders and the public felt there was a failure of leadership that puts him in a new light. "These are deep issues of character and after having been a wonderful presenter, the fact that `there is no there there' to quote Gertrude Stein is becoming evident to the public in the view of the opposition. Against that background, Tony Abbott's authenticity, love him or hate him, shows up well," the frontbencher says.

In fairness to Rudd, that last proposition will also be well and truly tested as the Coalition develops its new line of attack.

In terms of competence the next hurdle for Rudd could be his "activity based funding model" developed as part of his buyout of the state Labor premiers at last week's Council of Australian Governments meeting. Rob Messenger thinks he'll fall at that hurdle.

Messenger is the LNP member who blew the whistle on Jayant Patel, the former Bundaberg surgeon who is now facing charges in the Brisbane Supreme Court. Patel has pleaded not guilty to unlawfully killing three patients and causing grievous bodily harm to a fourth. The charges relate to his time as director of surgery at the Bundaberg Base Hospital between 2003 and 2005. Bundaberg Hospital is in Messenger's electorate and he has taken a keen interest in Rudd's health reforms. While Patel deserves the presumption of innocence until his trial is done, Messenger nevertheless fervently believes that Rudd's COAG agreement on health will only lead to more such cases.

And there are royal commission findings that back what he has to say. "One of Rudd's key structural changes to health is [the] activity based funding model," says Messenger. "The phrase and name is immediately appealing to the layperson . . . [It's] a grouping of words carefully put together by spin doctors and designed to swing the worm in your favour during a televised health debate. As soon as Rudd spouts, `we are going to reform health nationally with activity based funding" you know that the voters are pressing the worm button in [Rudd's] direction," Messenger says.

"But the voters of Burnett and Bundaberg have had a different experience with [the] activity based funding model."

Messenger says that the Davies Royal Commission, which examined the Patel case, found that health bureaucrats put budget bottom lines before people's lives. Two quotes from the royal commission illustrate Messenger's point: "Budgets became heavily linked to activity and activity indicators without fundamentally ensuring there was no erosion of quality." The "evidence showed budgetary concerns and activity targets figured prominently in management strategies generally, as it did at other Queensland public hospitals; in particular, in relation to the employment of the two Senior Medical Officers. The emphasis was on reducing elective surgery waiting lists, not patient safety."

Messsenger says that because Patel was carrying out so many operations, some of which are at the centre of the Brisbane Supreme Court case, the local area hospital board treated him as "the goose that laid the golden egg" in terms of continued funding levels.

"Rudd's activity-based funding model was one of the reasons why Queensland's health system crashed and burned," charges Messenger. "He needs to be challenged and held to account for this failure," he says.

It's the model, of course that Rudd developed as former Queensland premier Wayne Goss's chief cabinet officer. Now that we have it nationally, the opposition will no doubt want to know if it will be Rudd who'll front the television cameras if it produces another Patel.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

"Refugees" at work

No-one who knows the African crime-rate will be surprised

A YOUNG Adelaide woman has lost an eye and narrowly escaped permanent brain damage after she was stomped on with a stiletto shoe during a vicious assault in a popular city nightclub.

The attack was believed to have been sparked after the 25-year-old victim accidentally stepped on another girl's foot in the women's toilets of the West Tce venue during an African-themed Rugby Sevens party last month.

The victim, who would give only her first name, Tash, has described how she thought she was going to be killed as up to four women of African descent bashed her in what she maintains was an unprovoked attack in the early hours of March 21.

The retail worker said she was bashed and knocked to the ground in the toilets at about 3am by a group of women, before one stamped on her face - plunging her stiletto heel into Tash's left eye, missing her brain by millimetres.

"I remember getting smashed (on) either the sink or the hair-dryer and (I) went straight to the ground," Tash said. "They were kicking my face and I remember the heel going in, I felt the heel going in. "I was basically three millimetres away from permanent brain damage - the heel went in 23mm."

She said she could not think of anything that may have provoked the attack but recalled she may have stepped on the foot of one in the group when she entered the toilet.

The western suburbs woman later underwent 90 minutes of surgery at Royal Adelaide Hospital but doctors could not save her sight. Her eye was removed on March 26 and she will shortly be fitted with a prosthetic eye.

The incident was reported to police but Tash said she believed her attackers were from interstate, complicating the task of identifying them.

Three days after the attack, HQ applied to the Liquor and Gambling Commissioner to trial a six-month lockout banning people from entering the venue between 3am and 8am, to tackle alcohol-related crime. It is understood the application was not related to the assault. HQ licensee Rod Rose could not be reached for comment.

Details of the incident emerged after the Sunday Mail last week reported on a surge in crime among young women, including a 40 per cent increase in assaults.

The viciousness of the attack has left Tash shell-shocked. She said she is now too scared to go out at night and wears sunglasses every day to hide her disfigurement. "It's not human (what they did), especially females," she said.

"I've never heard of something so vicious . . . I had a feeling I was going to die; as soon as I tasted my own blood, I thought `I'm gone'.

"It's awful out there; I'm scared in years to come people are going to start carrying guns into clubs."

Tash said she was "trying to be strong" despite her life-changing ordeal but desperately wanted justice over the attack. "They (the attackers) don't deserve to live a happy life; I don't know if they realise what they have done . . . maybe they have done this before," she said. "I have my down days; it took me a week to cry after I got out of hospital, I was just really angry.

"I would really like to speak to anyone else who has gone through what I have."

Tash's mother said nothing could justify what the women had done to her daughter. "Hopefully they get a conscience and give themselves up, and somebody who knows them does the right thing and reports it to the authorities," she said.

"She's got a strong family unit supporting her and good friends; she's got a battle in front of her but she's a fighter. She's not going to bury her head in the sand and will carry on the best way that she can."

Eastern Adelaide CIB Senior Constable Christian Ruckert said police were appealing for anybody to come forward, as CCTV footage seized from HQ had offered no leads.

"This was a pretty brutal attack and I've never heard of anything like this before," he said. "You don't expect females to do that to each other; blokes glass each other but you don't expect this from girls."


The age of bureaucracy

I make this point in trying to fathom the catastrophic failures of leadership we keep seeing lately - from the billions wasted on pink batts and school hall rorts, to the 173 deaths in the Victorian bushfires last year. Even more unfathomable is that no one seems accountable. Failed leaders can't explain what went wrong and are showered with sympathy. We seem destined never to learn from our mistakes.

When the former Victorian police commissioner, Christine Nixon, 56, admitted in the bushfire royal commission this month that she was getting her hair cut, meeting with her biographer and having dinner at a restaurant with friends on Black Saturday last year, she was enveloped in a warm group hug.

A few troglodytes, such as the former premier Jeff Kennett and the Liberal MP Fran Bailey, said she should be punished for dereliction of duty, and sacked from her $8000-a-week position as chairwoman of the Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority.

But they were quickly drowned out by Nixon supporters, such as Heather Ridout and Joan Kirner, who claimed the criticism was a sexist plot. The sisterhood enveloped her. After being forensically eviscerated by counsel assisting the commission, Rachel Doyle, SC, Nixon appeared unperturbed, saying she had been buoyed by the support from Black Saturday families.

We seem to be impressed by leaders skilled at looking confident and brazen through catastrophe, as incredible amounts of money are wasted, their core business disintegrates and, sometimes, people die. What was most telling about Nixon's testimony to the royal commission were the mundane details of her performance that day and how she perceived her role.

She was the No.1 person in the state with operational responsibility, yet she didn't know what to do. When she dropped into the State Emergency Response Co-ordination Centre about 3pm on Black Saturday, February 7, after meeting in her office with her biographer, she seemed to just float around, lost, not asking for a briefing, observing that people seemed "very busy".

"I thought the people in those areas were carrying out their responsibilities effectively, the best I could tell, and that they were very busy trying to respond to a range of issues." But, asked Doyle, "What were they busy doing?"

Good question. As for her role, "I would look at computer screens over people's shoulders. "And what," asked Doyle, "what did you glean by looking at … screens over people's shoulders?"

"I just saw that they were very busy, that people were working on a range of issues … and that people were going about their work."

"It sounds rather passive, Ms Nixon."

So it does. What the people in that control room weren't doing, for example, was warning towns in the path of the fires that they were next in line. Asked if she had "considered" whether the towns might have been warned, Nixon said she "assumed" they had.

The paralysis in the co-ordination centre on Black Saturday, as revealed in the commission testimony, is a textbook demonstration of what managerialism or bureaumania does to organisations. It causes everyone to lose sight of their core aim, which is to run an emergency response system that warns people a fire is on its way, or a police force that protects good people from bad people, or a land management system that doesn't allow fuel to build up to lethal levels in the bush.

As police commissioner Nixon became the posterchild for bloated bureaucracies everywhere.

And the media adored her. She was progressive! She took part in the gay and lesbian pride march! She was a woman! She was consultative! She relaxed uniform standards! She recruited women and minorities! She answered emails, had lots of meetings and set up myriad committees. She was the nana feminist, who humbled the most masculine, testosterone charged militaristic symbol of the patriarchy itself. She was perfectly chosen and trained to spend her days being busy doing her job, whatever that was. Busy, busy, busy. The truth is her defenders are right, she can hardly be blamed.

Christine Nixon is the perfect leader for our age.


NSW Government staff paid $11.8 million to not work

THE State Government is paying staff a staggering $11.8 million every year to sit around and do nothing. It can be revealed that 164 Government workers remain on the payroll although their jobs are redundant.

The struggling Transport and Infrastructure Department accounts for almost a quarter with 40 workers paid to do nothing, including three who have been on the payroll for seven years.

A Freedom of Information document reveals there were 164 excess employees across the government agencies in December. But a former HR manager still employed with a government department said the the real figure was much higher.

Under the FOI, the Service Technology and Administration Department has eight excess employees listed. "I know for a fact they have in excess of 30 staff, however they fudge the figures by saying they are doing meaningful work inside or outside their department," the woman said. "A person could be on a salary of $90,000 and doing the work of someone who is paid $50,000."

"Taxpayers would be appalled to know millions are being wasted paying public servants for jobs they don't have," NSW Shadow Treasurer Mike Baird said. "It is extraordinary some public servants are being paid for up to 7 years to float around the bureaucracy. The frightening thing is that this is clearly the tip of the iceberg. "Not only is this taxpayers' money pouring down the drain, these workers would have zero job satisfaction so it is a lose-lose situation."

The FOI shows in June 2009 there were 253 employees on the Excess employees list which was cut in December to 164. The Justice and Attorney General Department had 22 people.


Too-hot topics out of NSW secular ethics course

THE state government made a last-minute decision to remove a hypothetical scenario involving designer babies from secular ethics classes being trialled in public schools as an alternative to scripture classes.

A hypothetical terrorist hijacking has also been removed from ethical scenarios put to students.

The baby scenario was removed some time between late last week and early this week after the Herald reported the Anglican and Catholic churches had lobbied the Keneally government over the ethics trial as a threat to the future of religious education.

Phil Cam, an associate professor of history and philosophy at the University of NSW, who developed the ethics curriculum, confirmed the two scenarios had been omitted, saying they were considered "age inappropriate".

The Catholic Bishop of Wollongong, Peter Ingham, the spokesman for the NSW and ACT bishops on the ethics trial, said he was not aware that the designer baby and terrorist scenarios had been part of the original draft and their inclusion was not something the Catholic church had lobbied against.

A spokesman for the Anglican church also said the Anglican church had not been aware of these topics in the curriculum.

A spokesman for the NSW Education Minister, Verity Firth, confirmed that the controversial topics had been removed.

The NSW Greens MP and spokesman on education, John Kaye, said: 'There are no reasons why these issues should not be discussed in primary school classrooms as students are exposed to them through news reports and television."

Bishop Ingham said he did not oppose the teaching of ethics in schools but did not want children enrolled in scripture classes to be excluded from them. He said he would call on parishioners of the Catholic diocese to sign petitions asserting the importance of scripture classes.