Tuesday, August 31, 2010

AAAH! That lovely global cooling

Coldest year on record for minimum temperatures in the capital of Western Australia

Perth is shivering through its coldest year for overnight temperatures, but at the same time bathing in the sunniest winter on record.

Meanwhile, farmers are battling the second driest year since records began, as the WA Bureau of Meteorology rewrites the history books for rain, sun and temperature extremes.

Perth's minimum temperature for winter this year is 1.9C colder than the average 8.2C, according to the bureau's climate information officer John Relf.

And the city has received just 402.6mm of rain compared to the January to August average of 648.3mm.

While daytime temperatures are on average at 18.8C, the number of sunlight hours are well above the 6.4 hour average with a 7.3 hour average recorded for August. ``We've literally had an extra hour of sunlight a day in August this year," Mr Relf said. ``Our weather has been dominated by high pressure and when you get high pressure for extended periods of time the lows just run underneath. ``We seem to be going on some sort of parallel with 2006 at the moment, which recorded the driest year on record and it's been going like that for a long time."

The dry conditions spell devastation for many wheat and cattle farmers across large parts of the state. WA Farmers Federation president Mike Norton said some farmers in the eastern Wheatbelt stand to lose entire crops this year because of drought. ``You don't have to go very far inland to be at half our normal rainfall," Mr Norton said. ``We desperately need a very, very wet September.

``When you start to talk about livestock, there is going to be some real problems across a very large area of the Wheatbelt. Pastures are doing worse than what the crops are."

Perth dams are also low. At 35.3 percent capacity, dams are down 52.38 gigalitres compared to this time last year - one gigalitre is the size of Subiaco oval filled to the brim.

Despite the dry spell, the Bureau of Meteorology says the outlook for spring holds some hope. The bureau is predicting a 65 per cent chance that the median rainfall will be exceeded from September to November in the South-West, while remaining average across the state in spring. ``The pattern of seasonal rainfall odds across Australia is dominated by the recent warm conditions in the Indian Ocean as well as a cooling trend in the equatorial Pacific Ocean associated with a La Nina," it says.


More Qld. medical board craziness

They allow dangerous doctors to keep practising (Jayant Patel take a bow) and then ban a really popular doctor with zero complaints against him

A SMALL town is so desperate to hang on to its deregistered GP that it is taking on the medical board. Lowood, west of Brisbane, is fighting to save South African-born Dr Rajendra Moodley despite the GP – who sees 50 patients a day – failing a critical Medical Board interview.

Dr Moodley has worked in the town under supervision for six years with special registration that allows doctors to work in areas of need. Last year he failed his first attempt at the written Royal College exam to earn full registration before subsequently failing an interview based on unsatisfactory examination, interview skills and familiarity with cultural idioms.

Despite later passing part of the written exam, the Australian Medical Board advised Dr Moodley he was no longer allowed to practise. It would not elaborate yesterday, citing privacy concerns.

But the results mean nothing in the town of Lowood, where there is a chronic GP shortage. Residents have rushed to defend Dr Moodley, drawing up a petition to save the GP.

The Australian Medical Association Queensland president Dr Gino Pecararo said the case highlighted just how chronic the doctor shortage was in the western growth corridor.

Somerset Regional Council Mayor Graeme Lehmann said Dr Moodley was loved by a community that desperately needed him. "Good doctors are hard to get and hard to keep here," Cr Lehmann said. "To be really honest, to be liked as much as Dr Moodley and to have helped as many people as he has says a lot."

Lowood Medical Centre practice principal Paul Crowley said the Australian Medical Board had "egg on its face" after allowing Dr Moodley to practise for six years. "I knew as soon as they advised him to stop working there would be riots," Dr Crowley said. "He's worked without incident, without complaint for six years. These 50 patients a day will now have to join the queue at Ipswich."

Dr Moodley's registration was contingent on him working towards the Royal College exams and yearly supervision reports by Dr Crowley.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said he believed it was a case of bureaucracy "running riot". "This appears to be a case of a dedicated doctor who has the support of his colleagues and the community being hung out to dry," Mr McArdle said.

A Medical Board spokesman said: "For doctors with limited registration, the board must decide if the individual doctor has the skills, qualifications and experience to provide safe care to Australian patients". [But evidence that he DOES provide safe care doesn't count, apparently]

Dr Moodley, who has hired lawyers to fight his case, said he was humbled by the community's support. He said he believed he was more than competent in his role.


History wars set to break out again

THE new national school curriculum could be delayed under a Coalition government, which would review it and address ideological concerns it has about some history topics.

The Coalition's education policy broadly supports Labor's moves towards a nationally consistent curriculum, due to be introduced next year, but it accuses Labor of politicising the draft curriculum in history.

The policy is critical of the absence of references to the Magna Carta and the Westminster parliamentary system, which underpin Australia's legal and political systems. It is critical of students being taught about the "day-to-day activities of trade unions and the history of the Australian Labor Party".

School teachers have complained that the history and English curriculums have been politicised by governments.

The Howard government commissioned a Monash University historian, Tony Taylor, to draft a new Australian history curriculum, but sidelined its recommendations. The conservative historian Geoffrey Blainey and the political commentator Gerard Henderson were later appointed to rewrite the curriculum.

Associate Professor Taylor acted as a consultant in the drafting of the new history curriculum introduced under the current Labor government, and said a "huge amount of work" had gone into it. "In the history area, the sequence of drafts have been devoid of ideological overtone," he said. "From a professional point of view, it would be inexplicable if any new government decided to go back to square one."

NSW English and maths teacher organisations are unhappy with the draft national curriculum, saying they favour the existing NSW Board of Studies curriculum. Eva Gold, a spokeswoman for the NSW English Teachers Association, said teachers would be relieved if the national curriculum was scrapped.

"Teachers in NSW would be greatly relieved to teach the NSW curriculum rather than the national curriculum," she said. "Our members are not happy at all with the K to 10 [kindergarten to year 10] curriculum."


Churches get opt-out from same-sex adoption bill in NSW

Sounds like it will get blocked in the upper house anyway. Fred Nile should see to that. It's a big contrast with bigoted Britain where church agencies have been driven out of adoption services

THE independent state MP Clover Moore has moved to shore up support for her same-sex adoption bill by giving church adoption agencies the right to refuse services to gay and lesbian couples without breaching anti-discrimination laws.

Ms Moore wrote to MPs on Friday announcing she would amend the bill and reintroduce it to Parliament on Thursday. She told the Herald she was amending the bill "in line with requests" from church adoption agencies to help ensure its passage through Parliament.

"Some members of Parliament have told me that they will not support reform without an exemption for church-based adoption agencies," she said. "While the amendments do not reflect my strong belief that there should be no exemptions in the Anti-Discrimination Act, the bill is so important to the security of families headed by same-sex couples that I cannot risk possible defeat."

The convener of the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby, Kellie McDonald, said the group had argued against the amendment, but was taking a pragmatic approach. "We're obviously not in support of religious exemptions," she said. "However, if the amendment means the bill gets passed, we are in support of this happening. If it means that it will persuade some of the more conservative MPs to support the bill and it gets support, that's a good outcome."

However, news of the amendment has not changed the view of church leaders. A letter co-authored by the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell and the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Jensen, arrived on MPs' desks yesterday urging them to vote down the bill.

It follows a similar letter to MPs earlier this month from one of the state's leading adoption agencies, Anglicare, which has said the original proposal would force it to cease offering adoption services.

The chief executive of Anglicare Sydney, Peter Kell, said yesterday that the amendment did not change the agency's opposition to the principle of the bill, but he was pleased it would allow Anglicare to continue adoption services if it becomes law.

The NSW Council of Churches will hold a protest meeting in the NSW Parliament House theatrette today in opposition to the bill.

The Premier, Kristina Keneally, and the Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, have agreed to allow their MPs a conscience vote on the issue.

However, the Christian Democratic MLC, the Reverend Fred Nile, said the proposed amendment would not alter his view. "I'm pleased that [Ms Moore] is amending it," Mr Nile said. "But it doesn't change our opposition in principle to the objects of the bill. I believe every child has a right to a mother and a father".

The amendment brings Ms Moore's bill into line with the recommendations of a Legislative Council committee into the issue last year.


More hospital bungling in NSW

Trauma plan puts lives at risk, say doctors

A DECADE-long plan by the health department to limit the number of hospitals allowed to treat seriously injured patients is on the brink of collapse and has been labelled dangerous and under-funded by senior doctors.

Under the state trauma plan, introduced in March, paramedics in Sydney were ordered to take patients with multiple injuries to Royal Prince Alfred, Royal North Shore, St George, Westmead and Liverpool hospitals - even if they were hurt in the city or eastern suburbs.

But the plan is now in disarray after senior doctors from St Vincent's successfully lobbied to have the hospital reinstated as a trauma centre. Staff at Nepean Hospital are also pushing for an upgrade, arguing that Westmead Hospital is not coping with a surge in the number of trauma patients since the plan was introduced.

"It's dangerous … the people who should be coming to Nepean are not," the chairman of NSW Health's surgical services taskforce, Patrick Cregan, said yesterday.

He cited the case of a man shot at Werrington last week, five kilometres from Nepean Hospital. The man, conscious when he was loaded into the ambulance, was taken to Westmead Hospital, 28 kilometres away but died on arrival.

Nepean was stripped of its trauma status because it could not maintain a 24-hour neurosurgical roster after one of its neurosurgeons, Suresh Nair, was charged with the cocaine-related murder of a Brazilian student. Nair was also charged with manslaughter over the death of a prostitute.

"That issue has been resolved and we can now provide a full roster … so we should be allowed to function as we were," Dr Cregan said. "We had an effective process in place. It is not acceptable to have people picked up out the front of Nepean Hospital and taken to Westmead."

Westmead was struggling to see its emergency patients on time before the trauma plan was introduced, with less than two-thirds of those with potentially life-threatening problems seen within the required 30 minutes.

The NSW chairman of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, Richard Paoloni, said he was "not overly surprised" the trauma plan was collapsing as it had been poorly funded.

Royal Prince Alfred and St George hospitals had been expected to absorb an extra 400 patients a year and Westmead another 200 with a limited increase in bed numbers or staff.

"You increase the number of patients but you don't increase the hospital's resources? Of course some centres will not be able to manage that," Dr Paoloni said. "There's a lot of kudos in being a trauma centre but if the health department is serious, it truly needs to put money into emergency departments, radiology and extra beds, rather than extra care co-ordinators."

The director of trauma at St Vincent's, Tony Grabs, said the plan had been short-sighted because it did not take into account inner Sydney's unique needs, particularly around Kings Cross where alcohol-fuelled violence was common.

"The model wasn't broken, so why fix it? Sending our patients to RPA seemed a little unusual when we do stabbings better than anyone else. We do shootings better. We don't want to position ourselves as a major trauma centre but we do want to look after our locals," Dr Grabs said.


Monday, August 30, 2010

Another watermelon -- A Trotskyite, by the sound of it

GREENS MP for Melbourne Adam Bandt has defended comments he made on a Marxist student website 15 years ago, in which he denounced capitalism and labelled the Greens a "bourgeois" political party that could be used to push a socialist agenda.

The comments, made in a two-page memo written by Mr Bandt on March 4, 1995, while he was a student activist at Murdoch University, first surfaced on Victorian political blogger Andrew Landeryou's website VexNews.

As Mr Bandt and Greens leader Bob Brown continued discussions yesterday with Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Treasurer Wayne Swan about the formation of the next federal government, the memo raised questions about Mr Bandt's student politics and his views of the Labor Party, which he referred to in the 1995 memo as "almost as right-wing as the US Democrats".

In the 1995 memo, Mr Bandt said he was "towards an anti-capitalist, anti-social democratic, internationalist movement".

Identifying himself as a member of the Left Alliance, Mr Bandt said, "the parliamentary road to socialism is non-existent". He called the Greens a "bourgeois" party but said supporting them might be the most effective strategy.

"Communists can't fetishise alternative political parties, but should always make some kind of materially based assessment about the effectiveness of any given strategy come election time," he wrote in the 1995 memo.

The Greens leader said there was absolutely no need for Mr Bandt to publicly distance himself from his remarks in 1995.

Mr Bandt, a former industrial relations lawyer with Slater and Gordon, made history last weekend by becoming the first Greens candidate ever to be elected to the House of Representatives in a general election.


Tired surgeons risk lives in Australia's most dangerous public hospital system

Fatigued surgeons have been ordered to work up to 80 hours a week to slash the state government's surgical waiting lists, putting lives at risk.

Angry surgeons say they are so tired during operations that their cognitive and motor skills are similar to drivers who have had five standard alcoholic drinks. "It's totally dangerous," said a surgical registrar from one of Sydney's biggest hospitals. "Would you allow someone who's had five beers to drive you or your family home? Of course you wouldn't. Then why are you allowing them to operate on you?"

Research carried out by the Centre for Sleep Research at the University of South Australia suggests that after 20 to 25 hours of wakefulness, performance of shift staff is equivalent to someone with a blood alcohol content of 0.1 per cent - double the legal driving limit.

The registrar, who did not want to be named, said patients were paying the price and government needed to acknowledge the long hours were "a direct result of their policy of trying to cut the waiting list at all costs".

"Instead of really trying to get absolutely every last lymph node out of a particular patient, which if we'd been a bit more spritely and awake and alert we might have, we may not push 110 per cent and just accept 100 per cent," he said.

While doctors are typically rostered on for 40 hours a week in theatre, they must visit patients before and after theatre in their own time. Often they are then on call for an additional 12 hours after spending 12 hours at the hospital.

"It is a lot easier for bosses to implicitly require you to work unsafe hours. It is either you or them that has to be there operating on the patient, and obviously it's not going to be them," he said.

Simon Suliman, a surgical registrar, said surgeons deserved more support from the government: "You need all your commitment to save patients - they need you. It puts a lot of pressure on the surgeons … It can affect [a patient's] life directly."

Royal Australasian College of Surgeons surgical affairs executive director John Quinn acknowledged "it is hazardous to work for more than 14 hours at a time".

He said while the college provided guidelines to protect surgeons from fatigue, the responsibility fell on the health department and hospitals to ensure safe working hours. "We would prefer regular breaks and a minimum of 10 hours sleep in a 24 hour period," Dr Quinn said.

Australian Medical Association president Andrew Pesce confirmed that fatigue among surgical registrars was a black cloud looming over the struggling health system. "The public hospital system is under a lot of pressure and asking people to work harder with less support wouldn't surprise me," he said.

Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said forcing surgeons to work long hours was akin to making a pilot fly long-haul without a co-pilot: "It's not allowed and yet surgeons have as much responsibility."

One surgical registrar, who did not want to be named, said he felt "delirious, emotionally labile and cloudy" after being on call for four days at a NSW hospital and would refuse to do so again. "I've never experienced that sort of sleep deprivation in my life. I couldn't cope with anything."

A spokeswoman for Health Minister Carmel Tebbutt said there was "no such directive" to surgeons and the "system does not support doctors working 80 hours a week".


The war on photography continues

Photographers protest new permit for shooting at landmarks

SYDNEY'S two most iconic landmarks have formed backdrops to hundreds of photographers protesting against laws that require them to have permits to do their work.

As many as 1000 commercial photographers from all over Australia positioned themselves at Campbells Cove, behind Sydney's Overseas Passenger Terminal, on Sunday morning, to take part in the protest. With the Harbour Bridge and Opera House in the background, they carried banners emblazoned with words including "Artists have rights to sell their work," and "Capture the moment, not the photographer".

Landscape photographer Ken Duncan said the permits were destroying passion. "It's not just the cost of photographic permits, it's the logistics of getting a permit ... " he said.

He expressed concerns up-and-coming photographers would be put off by the red tape attached to getting permits, and would consequently give up pursuing their creative dreams.

He also said the tourism industry was missing out on the special skills of professional photographers. "It's a free advert for our country," he said in relation to photographs of iconic Australian landmarks posted on the internet.

Permit costs vary, depending on the time of day, location, and number of crew involved, Arts Federation Australia spokeswoman Renee Dandy told AAP. The Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, for example, requires commercial photographers to pay a minimum $150 per session if more than 10 crew are involved. No fee is charged if there is less than 10 crew.

The $150 fee does not include $65 an hour for a site coordinator, along with another $65 an hour for security, and an additional $65 an hour for cleaning, with each service being provided for a minimum four hours.

Wedding and portrait photographer Graham Monro said the permit fees were unfair, given many photographers pursued their craft for love, rather than money. "Many (photographers) are nowhere near as affluent or well paid as many people believe," he said. "Many lose money ... there are so many expenses, including travel expenses, accommodation and the cost of permits. "When you take all that into account, it's questionable whether they make any money at all."


Food for thought about political donations

A far-Left union has switched its donations from the Labor Party to the Greens, to the clear disguntlement of the writer below. Her suggestion that all political donations from collective bodies should be banned has some merit, though. The American experience of such laws is not encouraging, however. Does Australia really need "bundling" and all the other American evasions, both legal and illegal?

So anyway, electoral reform. Looks like something could actually happen if there is enough pressure from a loose, very loose, coalition of square glasses and Akubra hats in Parliament.

The Akubra hats, those three country independents, are seeking "advice as soon as possible on a timetable and reform plan for political donations, electoral funding and truth in advertising reform" from the major parties. Let's hope that they can force change in one of the grubbiest aspects of our system of government: donations to political parties by corporations, trade unions and front groups.

Traditionally the Greens have been the party at the forefront of the fight for donation reform, with the purity and sincerity possible when no one wants to give you big wads of cash.

But something curious happened during the recent campaign. The Greens got a big chunk of money from a trade union. The Age reported last week that the Victorian branch of the Electrical Trades Union gave $325,000 to the Greens, aiding in the successful campaign to elect Adam Bandt to the lower house. It also reported it was the largest donation the party had ever received. The head of this branch of the union, Dean Mighell, explained on Fairfax Radio that the donation was given because the Greens had the most attractive industrial relations policy. "Certainly having policies that say we're going to abolish the building industry commission, that we're going to have one law that's fair for workers and respects our human rights is enormously attractive to a union," he said.

Mighell is right that it is no longer possible to assume that Labor is naturally the only party which can represent the rights of workers, or is naturally the party most likely to hold big business to account, especially when so much of Labor's funding also comes from big business. The people who are best served when unions automatically hand over funds to the Labor Party are union bosses themselves, who may be seeking to curry favour with the party in the hope of being preselected for a safe seat in the future.

But far from being the principled hero of the story, Mighell's actions only emphasise why it is wrong that trade unions are allowed to donate to political parties at all. He has personal reasons for fighting against the Labor Party, given that he was expelled from it by Kevin Rudd for boasting to his members that he had conned employers into giving bigger pay rises than necessary.

It is sad to think that the election of the first Green to the lower house may have been facilitated by the grudge of an individual union boss. Surely it should be up to individual union members to decide which political party best represents their interests rather than having union membership fees siphoned off to support the party union bosses like.

Tony Abbott is all pointing fingers and dirty hands when it comes to political donations. He demands reform of trade union donations while his party merrily accepts dollars from tobacco companies, including $158,000 from Philip Morris and $140,000 from British American Tobacco in a single year, according to the most recent figures reported by the ABC. (Labor does not accept tobacco donations, by the way.)

The arguments against political donations from trade unions equally apply to those from corporations. Just as it should be a matter for individual union members to decide who they want to support politically, it should be up to individual shareholders to decide where their interests lie at the ballot box.

Rather than singling out particular industries for exclusion, it makes a lot more sense to do away with this form of institutionalised bribery altogether. A blanket ban on political donations from corporations, unions and front organisations is what is needed.

This is what has happened in Canada. Since 2007, corporations, trade unions, associations and groups can no longer make political contributions to Canadian political parties. Individual Canadians can give no more than $1100 a year to political parties and contributions above $20 must be publicly disclosed.

The outrageous state of affairs which exists in Australia has gone on so long because both the major parties are hooked on donations. Let's hope things can change while the Greens are still only recreational users.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Australians still support the monarchy

To the dismay of the arrogant Leftist intelligentsia. Not mentioned anywhere below is the result of Australia's referendum on the subject in 1999. In defiance of all the talking heads, 55% voted for the Monarchy. Even many people of non-British origin voted for it. In my home State of Queensland nearly two thirds voted for the Monarchy: An aptly named State (actually named after Queen Victoria)

Public support for a republic has slumped to a 16-year low with more Australians in favour of retaining the monarchy for now.

A Sun-Herald/Nielsen poll conducted two weeks before the federal election showed that - when asked straight out if Australia should become a republic - 48 per cent of the 1400 respondents were opposed to constitutional change (a rise of 8 per cent since 2008) while 44 per cent said we should change (a drop of 8 per cent since 2008). But when asked which of the following statements best described their view:

- 31 per cent said Australia should never become a republic.

- 29 per cent said Australia should become a republic as soon as possible.

- 34 per cent said Australia should become a republic only after Queen Elizabeth II's reign ends.

Backing for a republic is at its lowest since 1994 - five years before Australia had a referendum on the topic.

Nielsen pollster John Stirton said yesterday that, despite the slump, there was a sense of inevitability Australia would one day become a republic with a large number backing Prime Minister Julia Gillard's stance that the issue should be closely considered after a change of monarchy.

"These results suggest Australians will be more likely to support a republic when Queen Elizabeth II is no longer on the throne," he said.

Our top politicians are divided over the republic issue. During the election campaign Ms Gillard echoed the sentiments of her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, who said a republic was not a first-term priority and would only be considered after a monarch change. Ms Gillard said a Labor government would work towards an agreement on the type of republic model - a sticking point in the 1999 defeat of the referendum.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott - an open monarchist along with his mentor and former leader John Howard - said Australians had shown little desire for change. He would not seek to put the republic question to a vote under a Coalition government.

"The Australian people have demonstrated themselves to be remarkably attached to institutions that work," he said. "I think that our existing constitutional arrangements have worked well in the past. I see no reason whatsoever why they can't continue to work well in the future.


Vast area to be locked away from development in Queensland

The pretext is to protect farmland but there is no threat to farmland. It is just the usual Greenie hatred of development

MORE than 70,000sq km of Queensland could be subject to new legislation that would lock away areas from housing, mining and even forestry, according to business. Land from the NSW border to Cairns and west to central Queensland will be investigated under a plan aimed at identifying and protecting important cropping areas.

One industry source said the area under review was about as big as Ireland and "enough land to have its own flag and compete in the Olympics".

The State Government's draft policy includes restricting the controversial underground coal gasification on strategic cropping land, adding another hurdle for trials under way in Kingaroy and other food-producing parts of the state.

It would mean a paddock-by-paddock assessment that will delay resource development, cost millions and cause companies to question whether it is worthwhile, according to the Queensland Resources Council.

And the resources minister will be given "arbitrary" powers to grant approval to developments, even on important cropping land, raising concerns about the impact of vested interests.

Urban Development Institute Australia chief executive Brian Stewart said the policy could add to the cost of housing. "Uncertainty adds risk and risk adds to the cost," Mr Stewart said.

QRC chief executive Michael Roche said mining projects will need to be assessed to see whether they sit on the best of the best cropping land or not. "The maps put a question mark over projects, many of which have already spent tens of millions of dollars," he said.

A company at the centre of the issue, Ambre Energy, yesterday rejected suggestions its $3.5 billion coal-to-liquids project at Felton was not put in doubt by the new policy, but said an assessment would have to be made.

The Friends of Felton farming group said the policy was a step in the right direction. FOF president Rob McCreath said he hoped the policy meant the end to Ambre's scheme. "We can't see any way the development could possibly be allowed in the Felton Valley," he said.

He said the most crucial issue from the policy paper was that coal-seam gas mining would still be allowed on good cropping land and could potentially affect it by depleting water.


Government continues to allow dangerous doctor to harm patients

A BABY boy could be left with brain damage after a WA obstetrician's bungled attempt to use forceps during his delivery.

The Sunday Times revealed earlier this month that the doctor, who has a history of medical negligence, was involved in the botched birth at St John of God Hospital in Subiaco in late January.

The baby's parents plan to take legal action against the obstetrician.

It comes as other patients, left with injuries or ongoing complications as a result of mistakes made by the doctor, called for him to be banned. Among the parents' allegations:

* The baby spent more than four weeks in intensive care because of incorrect use of forceps.

* He had scratches to his face that required plastic surgery.

* There are fears he may be brain damaged after a heavy loss of blood.

* The doctor dropped the forceps several times during the delivery.

* The parents were not told of the obstetrician's disciplinary record.

SJGH banned the obstetrician from working at the site shortly after the incident, though he was still able to work at other hospitals.

It was one of many disciplinary actions taken against the doctor during his career.

In 2008, the State Administrative Tribunal found the obstetrician had conducted surgery on several patients - including removing their ovaries - without providing them with adequate advice.

The tribunal determined he could continue to practise medicine, but would not be allowed to perform hysterectomies and had to undergo further training.

Three weeks ago, The Sunday Times revealed, despite the January incident and his past misdemeanours, the obstetrician was allowed to continue to practise medicine in WA.

He was one of 51 doctors considered so dangerous they were allowed to practise only under strict conditions.

Several days after the newspaper report, the doctor was given an interim 30 days suspension by the WA Medical Board. The board is now preparing a new case against the doctor.

Past patients this week called for him to be banned for life.

Leanne Bramwell, of Cannington, said she was left permanently incontinent after a botched hysterectomy in May 2006. The 40-year-old was awarded compensation after litigation with the doctor's insurance company. "My life will never be the same. No amount of compensation makes up for it," she said.

Ms Bramwell said she wanted to create a support group for victims. Health Consumers Council chief executive Michele Kosky confirmed yesterday that several patients had contacted the organisation in recent years to receive advice about making a complaint against the obstetrician.

Among them was a 62-year-old patient who suffered complications after undergoing gynaecological surgery.

Yesterday the patient said she needed an excessive amount of recovery time after the operation and was now booked in for remedial surgery to fix the complications.


Food fanaticism hits charity fundraising in South Australia

There's no proven harm in any of the stuff banned and people will get it elsewhere if they want it anyway

THEY'VE been a staple of hospital waiting rooms and reception desks for decades, but charity fundraiser chocolates, mints and lollies will be banned from all SA Health buildings under a crackdown on "unhealthy" food.

Butter, pies, pasties, sausages, bacon, soft drinks and even cordial are among more than 20 food items on a "red" list which will also be banned at department events, meetings and functions under the new state food policy which becomes mandatory on October 1.

Workers will even have to seek permission from department executives if they want to serve alcohol such as sparkling wine and fried food such as spring rolls at their staff Christmas party.

Already boxes of charity chocolates and Lion Mints have been removed from counters at the Royal Adelaide and Women's and Children's Hospitals.

However, while the sale of confectionery to raise money for good causes will be banned, chocolates and lollies will still be able to be sold at hospital and office cafeterias and in vending machines, as long as they make up only 20 per cent of the food on display.

SA Health's 30,000 staff were sent an email about the policy last week by chief executive Dr Tony Sherbon, who wrote: "Healthy eating is important for healthy lifestyle, which is why SA Health is making healthy food and drink choices easier in the workplace through the Healthy Food and Drink Choices for Staff and Visitors in SA Health Facilities policy."

The email stated "RED (unhealthy) category food or drinks should not be provided" at functions, meetings, events or even in "social club fridges".

The new policy also bans staff and charities from holding fundraiser sausage sizzles or lamington drives at SA Health sites, instead recommending staff seek sponsorship for "climbing stairs", playing hacky sack or having their head shaved.

Nurses, doctors, unions and charities have lined up to oppose the policy, describing the bans as "heavy-handed" and a "ridiculous" waste of money.

Service organisation Lions Club, which has raised funds through the sale of its trademark mints for more than 30 years, said the banning of its fundraiser boxes "was of course disappointing". National executive officer Rob Oerlemans said the organisation was looking into the impact the ban would have on fundraising at its national board meeting in Sydney today. "We will just have to abide by these regulations, but the money we raise from these sales fund things like research into child cancer, spinal injury and diabetes prevention," Mr Oerlemans said.

Elaine Farmer, general manager of Surf Life Saving South Australia, which relies on funds raised through annual chocolate drives, was also disappointed by the ban. "It's getting tougher and tougher out there to raise money and every door that is closed on us just makes it worse," she said. "We have quite a few clubs that have chocolate runs for five to six weeks every year, which raises thousands of dollars, and it's very disappointing to now be banned from public hospitals and health departments."

Australian Medical Association state president Dr Andrew Lavender labelled the banning of foods "patronising and ridiculous". "There is no such thing as bad foods, it's all about how you use them, and this arbitrary banning is using a sledgehammer to crack a nut," Dr Lavender said. "This policy is a waste of resources. It's a nanny state approach and it would be much better putting that time and money into education programs."

Australian Nursing Federation state secretary Elizabeth Dabars also described the policy as heavy handed. "It is getting to the point people are not sure if they can bring a chocolate cake to work to celebrate someone's birthday," she said. "It seems extraordinary that people will have this type of control placed on them in the workplace.


NSW: The State of corruption

The police, the ambulance service and now the fire brigade

THE corruption watchdog is expected to next month announce public hearings into widespread fraud, rorting and corruption within the NSW Fire Brigades. The Sunday Telegraph understands the Independent Commission Against Corruption has been compiling an extensive dossier of evidence through secret investigations for the past 18 months.

Few ranks of the NSWFB are to escape the spotlight on the rot, which allegedly extended up to the level of assistant commissioner.

The NSWFB has established an executive crisis team to manage the fallout over the misuse and abuse of public funds and entitlements.

The investigation follows a tumultuous year for the NSWFB in which The Sunday Telegraph exposed a hidden culture of bastardisation and ritualistic abuse from the 1970s and 1980s. Seven former and serving firefighters have been charged with indecent assault and an additional 56 matters of assault, abuse and bullying were reported to police.

In this new investigation, a deluge of whistleblowers have reported to ICAC allegations of credit card and petty cash rorting, double-dipping and travel allowance fraud.

Among the divisions to face intense scrutiny are the rescue section at Greenacre, the State Training College at Alexandria and the travelling Firefighter Championships.

Some stations have also been reported to ICAC for rostering fraud, allegedly involved highly organised collusion which has allowed individuals to pocket bonuses they fraudulently attained. Other officers are accused of falsifying statutory declarations in order to obtain leave while they worked elsewhere.

The hearings are expected to explore allegations NSWFB employees used brigades' facilities and equipment to run their own private training business and pocketed cash for hiring out NSWFB equipment such as a bobcat.

One section clocked up $25,000 in petty cash spending in one year. but after ICAC investigators began asking questions, that section's petty cash bill plunged to $5000. Others have been accused of selling raffle tickets to the public and buying beer with the proceeds.

The NSW Firefighter Championships are expected to receive particular scrutiny over allegations senior officers and executives stayed in luxury hotels, and on a single night charged $9000 for alcohol to their taxpayer-funded account.

The misuse of frequent flyers, a secret donations account and kickbacks from travel agents are other allegations related to the championships that have been reported to the ICAC.

The ICAC was expected to report on its investigations in March and the delay has given rise to speculation that fraud and rorting were more endemic than first believed. "I think the reason why it's taking so long is because every time they lift a rock there's more underneath it," a NSWFB insider said.

The probe has created a divided brigade, with deep mistrust over who is a whistleblower and who is a rorter. "There is widespread corruption and it's still going on. People aren't being held accountable," one insider said.

The result of a separate investigation referred to ICAC last year that senior officers covered up a ritualistic and sexualised assault and told the victim to keep quiet is not known.

The Department of Public Prosecutions is yet to make a decision about whether to pursue ICAC's recommendation in December 2008 of criminal charges against several people over fake and fraudulent station upgrade contracts worth $2 million.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Helmet liberty upheld

In 46 years of bike riding, Sue Abbott has never worn a helmet. So when the highway patrol pulled her over in country Scone and fined her for a no-helmet offence, she decided to fight. The 50-year old mother of four has never been in trouble with the law, has never fallen from her bike, and thought it ridiculous she could not ride at 15km/h on a dedicated cycleway with an uncovered head.

A police video of the incident last year records the sergeant surmising "it's a hair thing", a view shared by many people when they first meet her. But Ms Abbott says it's nothing to do with her exuberant hair. Her objections are based on her belief that wearing a helmet increases the risk of brain damage - and that forcing her to wear one is a breach of her civil liberties.

When she tried that argument in the Scone local court, the magistrate would have none of it. He fined her $50 plus costs. But when she appealed and laid out her view in the District Court in March, she went a long way to persuading the judge that, 19 years after the laws came into force, there is still no clear evidence of their benefit.

Ms Abbott argued that if she fell from her bike while wearing a helmet she would be at greater risk of brain damage from "diffuse external injury" (see box), an injury similar to shaken baby syndrome, than if she fell on her bare head.

It may seem ridiculous to suggest helmets could do anything other than improve one's chances in an accident and reduce the number of brain injuries, but there is a serious debate under way on the subject in international medical and transport safety journals - and Judge Roy Ellis happily admitted his own doubts about the laws.

"Having read all the material, I think I would fall down on your side of the ledger," the judge told Ms Abbott after she had spelt out her case against the laws that exist in few countries other than Australia and New Zealand. "I frankly don't think there is anything advantageous and there may well be a disadvantage in situations to have a helmet - and it seems to me that it's one of those areas where it ought to be a matter of choice."

He found Ms Abbott had "an honestly held and not unreasonable belief as to the danger associated with the use of a helmet by cyclists", and quashed her conviction, although he still found her offence proven.

Now Scone police ignore Ms Abbott as she cycles to town, although one yelled at her "you're not in Paris now" - a remark which prompted her to send police a photograph of herself bareheaded on a bike on the Champs-Elysees marked "Greetings from Paris".

Ms Abbott's success in court delighted Bill Curnow of the Cyclists Rights Action Group. In several peer-reviewed publications he has argued there has been no reduction in brain injury levels due to helmet laws.

Why force cyclists to wear helmets when politicians ignored a 1998 report from the Federal Office of Road Safety that showed brain injury rates among motorists would be cut by up to 25 per cent, even where airbags were fitted, if drivers wore bicycle helmets, he said.

Associate Professor Chris Rissel and his colleague Dr Alexander Voukelatos of the University of Sydney's school of public health fuelled debate on the issue with a recent paper saying we would be better off without the laws.

But Professor Frank McDermott, who led the original campaign for them, said repealing them would be guaranteed to increase head injury rates and Dr Rissel's paper was flawed. "It'll be as backward a step as it would be to tell motorists they don't have to wear seatbelts," he said on ABC radio.

Ms Abbott said that was a ridiculous comparison. "I should be entitled to make this call about whether I can wear a helmet. "You can still smoke, we are eating and drinking ourselves into early graves, but you can't ride a bicycle without a helmet," she said.


"Insensitive" school

An Australian primary school apologised after a student was awarded first prize at a costume party for dressing as Adolf Hitler. The school sent a letter of apology yesterday to parents after several complained about the child's Nazi-inspired getup, which included a swastika emblem, The West Australian newspaper reported.

The school's principal denied allegations that classmates had roared approval with chants of "Hitler, Hitler" explaining that youngsters had simply been calling out the name of the character they thought should win, Sky News Australia reported today..

Parents at the Catholic school also objected to several more "nasty" costumes, including a vampire outfit and a student dressed as the Grim Reaper, the newspaper said. The school, in Perth, Western Australia, has not been identified.


More understaffed hospitals

The Rural Doctors Association of Queensland says central Queensland's ailing health system continues to be neglected by the state government. The RDAQ says the widespread problems experienced by region have stemmed from understaffed hospitals and failed attempts to attract doctors out west. Currently Biloela hospital is only staffed by locum doctors.

President of the RDAQ Dr Dan Halliday believes the challenge to develop a sustainable health service in the area will be a long and uphill battle for all involved. "A co-ordinated, on the ground approach needs to be taken," he said. "When one area falls behind it has an affect on the rest."

Dr Halliday said he had recently engaged in a "frank" conversation with Queensland Health district chief executive, Dr Coralee Barker where he raised concerns about staff not being overseen by a manager at rural sites.

Dr Halliday says it is crucial that Queensland Health re-investigate the ways rural doctor training programs can be enhanced. "It was agreed by the health minister Paul Lucas that the Queensland country practice model would be further developed," he said. "We are however yet to see any development on the ground."

The Qld country practice model is an employment regime that cuts the red tape and allows for doctors to work and move around remote Queensland hospitals more freely.


Extreme drunk driving OK now?

No jail, no fine. You just have to feel "depressed", apparently

Teenager Toyah Tate was so drunk she could hardly walk when police stopped her car after clocking her speed at 180km/h. She later recorded a blood-alcohol reading of 0.168 - more than eight times her legal limit as a P-plater.

Despite a magistrate yesterday finding her dangerous driving was "one of the worst cases" he had seen, she escaped jail as she is young, pregnant and depressed.

Tate, 19, of Gorokan, had a female passenger in her car on the F3 in New South Wales when she was observed speeding and weaving between traffic on her way to a Gosford nightclub in June. A motorist had reported her vehicle was travelling so fast he was "unable to further describe the car".

Police eventually caught up to the trainee hairdresser at Ourimbah - after she was clocked at 180km/h. She told police: "I've been drinking and driving." An empty 750ml vodka bottle was found near the front seat.

At Wyong Local Court yesterday, Tate pleaded guilty to dangerous driving and high-range drink-driving and was given a 12-month suspended jail sentence. Her licence was suspended for two years. She was ordered to pay $76 court costs but escaped a fine.

Magistrate Glen Walsh said that he accepted findings of psychiatric and pre-sentence reports, which the court heard found she was diagnosed with depression after the deaths of her father and boyfriend. The court heard that Tate had "ceased alcohol" since discovering she was pregnant.

Mr Walsh described her offence as "one of the worst cases, in my view" of driving in a dangerous manner but took into consideration her age, the fact it was her first offence and that she is now nine weeks pregnant. Tate declined to comment when approached outside the court.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Complexities of Australia's Senate system mean that Gillard can't win

Fielding is a Christian Senator and is very hostile to Labor. And Julia's atheism and living arrangements with her bisexual lover no doubt horrify him even more than when Rudd was in charge. He was also instrumental in seeing that Rudd could get nothing major through the Senate.

So even if Julia gets all her other ducks in a row, Fielding can block Labor for nearly a year. An Abbott government, on the other hand would have little trouble from Fielding -- if only because Abbott is a sincerely committed Christian

Abbott has said that he would not block supply (the budget) to a Labor government but that leaves open blocking everything else

The Senate is emerging as a new threat to a stable minority government. Steve Fielding is threatening to put a Labor government in gridlock next year and Nick Xenophon is vowing to force a new national crackdown on poker machines.

Victorian Senator Fielding, who can hold the Senate to ransom until July 1 next year by voting with the Coalition, has declared the "voters are not happy with Labor", and he has to decide whether to block everything it does.

The new challenge to the attempts by Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott to form minority governments comes as it emerges that the Coalition will almost certainly have 73 lower house seats and Labor 72 after the Liberals retained Hasluck, appeared to have won Brisbane but failed to pick up Corangamite.

As the Prime Minister and the Opposition Leader continue to negotiate with the three independents in the House of Representatives to form a minority government, Family First's Senator Fielding, who is facing defeat, has warned he has to decide whether Labor deserves a second term. Senator Fielding has warned that stable government depends upon the ability of the Senate to function as well as the House of Representatives.

The pressure from independent senators came as Mr Abbott was attacked by the three independent MPs he hopes to woo for refusing to submit his policies to Treasury for costing. Mr Abbott yesterday cited a Treasury leak during the campaign as a reason for not agreeing to the independents' request for the costings.

The three independents are claiming their prime aim is to choose the side with the best chance of forming a stable, long-term government and insisting the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader guarantee serving a full term.

Senator Fielding said yesterday there could not be stable government up to July 1 next year if the Senate was deadlocked. "The Australian people have decided they don't want Labor returned for a further three years. The voters are clearly not happy with Labor," Senator Fielding told The Australian yesterday.

Senator Fielding said he was "keen to work out stable government". "At the end of the day, one of the two major parties has to form government, not some half-baked dream of power-sharing," he said. "You need to know who is to be held responsible for government decisions."

In the current upper house, Senator Fielding has the power to neutralise the government's agenda by joining his single vote to the Coalition. "I have to ask, is Labor worthy of a second term?" Senator Fielding said. "Obviously without the Senate, you can't form stable government and there is one year . . . to be served under the present Senate."

Labor does not control the upper house, which has 32 Labor senators, 37 Coalition, five Greens, Senator Xenophon and Senator Fielding. If Senator Xenophon, Senator Fielding or the Greens join the Coalition in a vote, they can negate government motions.

The new Senate, with the expected nine Greens senators holding the clear balance of power, does not sit until July 1 next year.


Universities teach knowledge but not wisdom (?)

What a lot of Stalinist crap! Who is to say what wisdom is? Some people think global warming is wisdom. I think the Bible is humanity's greatest store of wisdom. So is the Bible going to be taught to all university students? Fat chance!

Schwartz has always had grandiose and only semi-coherent ideas and has been dogged by controversy wherever he went. I would diagnose him as an egomaniac, if not a psychopath

MODERN universities are neglecting the teaching of wisdom to the detriment of its students, says vice-chancellor Steven Schwartz.

In his second annual lecture last night, the vice-chancellor of Macquarie University argued that worldwide the higher education sector was focused on teaching practical skills necessary for a career, with disastrous results. The financial crisis, the parliamentary expenses scandal in Britain and the home insulation program were cited as evidence of educated leaders making choices lacking in wisdom.

Professor Schwartz said a fixation with money had led to the decline in teaching students how to think broadly. "We once were about character building but now we are about money," he said at the university's North Ryde campus.

He said university courses had become more vocational with courses in golf-course management or hairdressing-salon management alongside the traditional subjects of law and pharmacy.

Professor Schwartz used the lecture to unveil a proposal to allow final year students at Macquarie to tie together the theoretical and practical sides of what they have learnt.

One of these capstone courses will be called "Practical wisdom", which the vice-chancellor nominated himself to teach. All new students will also be required to study both science and arts to broaden their education.

Dom Thurbon, a panellist for the lecture, said the premise forwarded by the vice-chancellor was an attractive but dangerous generalisation. He said the wisdom gained by a student depended on several factors such as degree choice and exposure to certain teachers.

"There is a a trend, however, towards a more instrumentalist view of education," said Mr Thurbon, the co-founder of ChangeLabs, an organisation that builds large-scale education and behaviour-change programs.

"The drive to commercially ready degrees means less time is spent on broad philosophical underpinnings of education. Ironically industry is genuinely needing people with a cross-functional expertise."


Hiring of all overseas nurses stopped by dithering new Federal bureaucracy

Dozens of nurses are unable to start work in Queensland because of bureaucratic red tape delaying processing of their registrations. Despite a shortage of nurses across the country, English migrant Ann-Marie Rossiter has been forced to wait more than four months for her registration application to be processed so she can begin work as a registered nurse.

The newly created Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency took over in July as the national body responsible for the registration of health professionals, after statewide organisations including the Queensland Nursing Council were shut down.

Queensland Nurses Union assistant secretary Beth Mohle said she had received "dozens" of complaints from nurses in Queensland about the registration processing problems. "It's absolutely unacceptable, it's nonsensical . . . the processing shouldn't take very long at all," she said. "It's actually having an impact on the workforce and it's delaying big cohorts of people potentially coming from overseas to work in regional and rural hospitals."

Ms Rossiter, 27, who lives at Maroochydore on the Sunshine Coast, said she accepted a job at Nambour Hospital as a registered nurse but red tape has stopped her dead in her tracks to start her job. "I'm frustrated and I'm really disappointed as well," she said. "I feel let down. I was meant to start my job at Nambour Hospital on July 22 but I haven't been able to.

"Because I have a job at the hospital as a registered nurse they felt really sorry for me and they got me a job on the casual pool as a nursing assistant while I waited for my registration."

Ms Rossiter said she initially applied for registration with the QNC, but her application was not processed before they shut down so she was told to reapply through AHPRA.

An AHPRA spokeswoman yesterday defended the delay and said a consistent criteria to assess applications for overseas-qualified nurses would be completed this week. She said once a framework was established AHPRA would begin processing applications from next week.

AHPRA came under fire from the nurses' union this month after Australian citizen Gerard Kellett was told he must pass an English language test to be eligible for registration. The union has urged Health Minister Paul Lucas to act on the registration issues.


Victoria’s Jewish community leaders slam the bias at Australia's most Leftist major newspaper

Jewish Community Council of Victoria President John Searle and Zionist Council of Victoria President Dr Danny Lamm have again strongly criticised Melbourne broadsheet The Age for its ongoing anti-Israel bias over a number of years.

The leaders of Victoria’s peak Jewish bodies jointly observed that during the tenure of Andrew Jaspan and particularly that of his successor Paul Ramadge, The Age had increasingly engaged in a war of words against Israel. Apart from steering its readership to a more anti-Israel position, Searle and Lamm consider that The Age’s strident line had also had the hopefully unintended by-product of legitimising antisemitism in this country.

“There is no particular reporting or opinion piece that has prompted our criticism at this time. Frankly, our community has simply just had enough of The Age’s lack of balance”, Searle noted. ”Despite our best efforts to present Israel’s case, there have been too many instances of anti-Israel statements to count, ranging from the blatant such as Michael Backman’s ugly smear job in 2009 to the more subtle and insidious”, Searle continued.

“An example of the latter includes a recent article reprinted from The UK’s The Daily Telegraph which stated “Netanyahu will come under fierce pressure from Obama to extend a 10-month freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank”. The Age’s version made the following insertions “illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank” (The Age, 070710). Such changes make a world of difference.”

“We make this statement with regret”, Lamm continued. “However we have spoken to Mr Ramadge on a number of occasions, both privately and in public forums. While he is adept at making the right noises about The Age’s impartiality, his follow through leaves a great deal to be desired. We believe that The Age’s record speaks for itself. Quite simply The Age is not a friend of our community.”

A recent matter of concern was the reportage of Israel’s response to a flotilla of so-called peace activists that broached Israel’s territorial waters in an attempt to reach Hamas-ruled Gaza. The ZCV and JCCV addressed strong letters of complaint to Mr Ramadge which were ignored. Searle’s subsequent phone call to Ramadge was not returned.

As Searle concluded in his letter, “The JCCV has had ongoing communication with you for a number of years on The Age’s bias. Predictably you have consistently stated that The Age is even-handed and that your door is always open to the Jewish community. I will remind you that these were your exact words when you addressed an audience at the Beth Weizmann Jewish Community Centre on 5 October 2009. You soberly assured audience members that The Age was interested in their concerns and that you would always be responsive to them. In this regard, I will also remind you that you took certain such concerns away with you.

To this day, you have not responded, despite our follow-up request that you do so. And indeed, I am still awaiting your reply to my telephone call to you of 4 June 2010. Your attitude bespeaks scant respect for the Jewish community.

I am not requesting your response to this letter – because frankly your assurances are no longer seen as credible by our community – other than a clear policy change to even-handedness as evidenced in The Age’s future content. Until this is forthcoming I have no doubt that those of your readers who value Israel receiving a fair go will dwindle even further.”

Both Searle and Lamm concluded that the JCCV and ZCV will continue to monitor The Age and take any steps they consider appropriate.


Polished Abbott rises in stature

The alternative PM made fools of those who doubted him

Janet Albrechtsen

TONY Abbott is "unelectable". He will "reduce the party to a reactionary rump". "No one thinks Abbott can win in 2010; he would be doing well if he held the line." The Liberals' choice represents the "spirit of kamikaze fundamentalism". The Liberal Party has chosen "the least electable" candidate. The Liberal Party will likely face "a lengthy period in the wilderness of opposition".

Huh? Anyone want to repeat these observations now?

Even clever commentators can be blinded by orthodoxy. So, too, the hardheads in the Labor Party and the union movement who thought Julia Gillard would secure a slam-dunk election win over Abbott. Post a YouTube video about the freaky Addams Family, trot out Work Choices, and voters would side with Labor. Coalition members muttered similar things among themselves.

The Opposition Leader has confounded them all. Even if the Coalition fails to form a minority government, this election is about the rise and rise of an eminently electable Abbott, and the demise of brand Labor.

Those who prefer to underestimate Abbott will explain his success as a case of timing and lashings of good luck. And maybe a little talent. State Labor governments on the nose in NSW and Queensland. Howard battlers unhappy with a dud leader in Kevin Rudd. A brutal execution that upset the electorate. Leaks that spelled disunity in government.

But it was far more than that. Abbott's success is about Abbott.

NSW voters have endured a rotten state Labor government and ineffective premiers for years. With no meaningful opposition, there was nowhere for voters to go. Abbott pulled together a united, effective federal opposition. So effective that he started pulling the strings of those powerful Labor strategists who, in turn, pull the strings of the Prime Minister.

When Abbott spurned an emissions trading system, Labor strategists forced Rudd to dance to Abbott's tune. But the story didn't unfold as Labor planned.

The contrast between the Liberal conviction politician and the Labor Prime Minister who ditched the "greatest moral issue of our time" became too great. Abbott's spectacular rise caused Rudd's equally spectacular demise. Factional bosses in Canberra copied the NSW brutal model of politics. Execute the leader. Put in a new face. It had worked for Sussex Street for years. Gillard's elevation would fix everything. Feisty and female, Gillard would unnerve Abbott.

Except she didn't. Abbott was still pulling the policy strings. The new Prime Minister started mimicking the Opposition Leader, darting over to the conservative side on everything from border protection, offshore processing and climate change. When Abbott went all progressive with his generous paternity leave policy, Gillard tried to follow. But still Abbott, not Labor, was in control of the plot. The Opposition Leader didn't implode as Labor, and some Liberals, assumed he would. He was no Mark Latham as Labor, and some Liberals, had assumed he was. Instead, Abbott's success in the polls was unnerving the hardheads in Labor and surprising the doubters in his own party. Gillard turned into an overly cautious, two-dimensional character only marginally more credible than robotic Rudd.

Not even the outbreak of the "real Julia" could stop Abbott reclaiming the Howard battlers. Consider Abbott's success in numbers. While the count continues, Labor's loss is already historic. Not since 1931, off the back of the Depression, has the Australian electorate denied a first-term government another term. The history buffs said it wouldn't happen. Abbott made sure it did.

In the seats that matter, the Howard battlers turned away from Labor, with its primary vote falling by 6.4 per cent in NSW and 8.9 per cent in Queensland. Even in seats Labor held, margins have been slashed. Anthony Albanese's safe seat of Grayndler, once on a margin of 25 per cent, has been cut to 2.5 per cent. Peter Garrett's cosy 13.3 per cent margin in Kingsford-Smith is down to about 5 per cent.

For the Coalition to come so close to winning government with the seats so far evenly divided is equally historic.

"Something went right for the Coalition" said Barrie Cassidy on Sunday morning. That something is Abbott. When he won the leadership by a single vote, many predicted trouble. The Sydney Morning Herald's David Marr suggested the party "photographer shouldn't tarry" as Abbott's framed face would be replaced by another leader soon enough. Instead, Abbott did what those before him failed to do. He united the party. And he, not Brendan Nelson or Malcolm Turnbull, started to look like a credible alternative prime minister.

With due respect to Turnbull, the Coalition pushing an emissions trading system would not have won seats in Macarthur or Macquarie, or Longman, or Flynn, or Forde, or Dawson; seats picked up by the Coalition. Turnbull chose to martyr himself on climate change, an issue Rudd, Gillard and Labor strategists dropped. Much of the world has dropped it too. Anyone remember Copenhagen? Anyone following what's happening or not happening in the US on climate change? Abbott was responsible for changing the politics of climate change in Australia, putting it back in the real world.

While Abbott was right to tell his supporters on Saturday night that there was no room for triumphalism, he was correct to point out that the Coalition was back in business. By contrast, Labor is a hotbed of vituperation and recriminations. NSW Premier Kristina Keneally blamed Rudd and his undelivered promises for the poor NSW poll results. Gillard blamed the Labor governments in NSW and Queensland even before the campaign ended, pleading with voters to punish them, not her. The factional bosses and Gillard supporters blamed the leaks from the Rudd camp.

Others were closer to the mark. Former premier Morris Iemma says ALP national secretary Karl Bitar should be flipping hamburgers over the hopeless strategy from Sussex Street. No wonder Mark Arbib has gone into hiding, failing to show at ABC1's Q&A on Monday.

At some point, Labor may wake up to its failings. While much has been said, in time tomes will surely be written about the ALP machine's obsession with poll-driven policy and quick-draw political assassinations, its failure to manage a burned leader and its own hubris. It treated voters as mugs with ill-conceived policies, promises that stretched credulity and confused messages about a party that lost its way only to request help from its assassinated leader. And even more hubris when it underestimated its new Liberal opponent. If Labor does take a good long at itself after the election, Abbott can take the credit for that, too. Meanwhile Abbott must hope people keep underestimating him.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Were Australian troops in Afghanistan forced to cut and run?

Due to a lack of backup

THE former Australian chief of operations in Iraq has raised concerns about the gun battle that resulted yesterday in the Army's 21st combat death in Afghanistan.

Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney - attached to the Mentoring Task Force - was killed in action yesterday in the Deh Rawud region west of Tarin Kowt during a three-hour battle with Taliban insurgents.

Major General Jim Molan, now retired, told The Australian several aspects of the fire-fight as described yesterday by the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston, were of concern. "We can't tell from what the CDF said whether they were running out of ammunition or . . . backing off because quite literally you can run out of ammunition in 10 or 20 minutes in a serious firefight," he said.

He also queried why there appeared to be no rapid reaction force acting in reserve to provide assistance to the beleaguered joint Australian-Afghan National Army foot patrol.

"In a logically-run war, if you bumped a large group of enemy such as this then you would try to defeat them. "It doesn't appear that we did that. We fought for three hours, fired cannon, dropped a missile, and then we left the battlefield," he said. "Now to me, that sounds a bit inconsequential."

In Oruzgan the Taliban were coming into contact with Australian-led Afghan troops and members of the 300-strong Special Forces Task Group, said Raspal Khosa from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.


Global cooling hits Australia

HUGE overnight snowfalls have delivered Victoria's best skiing conditions in years. Falls Creek had the biggest dumping, with 54cm of fresh snow recorded in the 24 hours to 6am. Mt Hotham had 46cm, Dinner Plain 30cm, Mt Buller 29cm and Lake Mountain 25cm. There was 10cm of new snow at Mt Baw Baw and Mt Buffalo.

Falls Creek resident Chris Hocking said 226cm of snow had fallen in the area so far this month, already higher than any August figure in at least a decade. "The volume of snow we have seen in August is just staggering,’’ Mr Hocking said. "I haven’t seen anything like this in so many years.’’

It's already been the wettest winter since 1996, with Melbourne's rainfall almost 10mm above average for the season. And if you've been cranking up the heater on a daily basis, it's probably because the mercury hasn't made it past 18C in Melbourne, forcing us to shiver through an average maximum of 14.6C.

Weather bureau senior forecaster Terry Ryan said there had been a return to the icy winters of more than a decade ago. "It's been a return to average temperatures, which we haven't had for a while," Mr Ryan said.

The wet weather had been great news for our dams, currently about 40.2 per cent and growing by 0.2 per cent a day, according to Mr Ryan. "There's no reason why we can't be up to 45 per cent by the end of spring, and there's an outside hope to touch 50 per cent," he said.

And, while the weather has kept most of us inside it has also been a boon for snow bunnies, with conditions among the best in several years. Falls Creek is leading the way and, with more snow expected overnight, it could break records.

Local resident Chris Hocking said last night the snowfall had been amazing. "It's already the best in six years, minimum," he said. "And it's likely to go into the 20-year margin before the end of the month."


Pakistani doctor at black settlement "too busy" to see little girl -- who then dies

THE grieving family of a four-year-old who died in the Doomadgee Hospital has developed such a "deep mistrust" of the health service they are reluctant to take their other children back there, an inquest has been told. The girl's mother, Regina Nero, who has a seven-month-old baby, Renae, wept yesterday as the state's Northern Coroner Kevin Priestly began an inquest into the pre-schooler's death on July 23 last year.

Counsel assisting the coroner, Helen Price, said the inquest would consider the medical cause of the child's death, the circumstances, and the quality of treatment. The child is being referred to as "little Gungaleeda girl" during the inquest out of respect for local Aboriginal culture, which forbids mention of a dead person's name.

Ms Price said Doomadgee Hospital records showed the little girl was taken there three times in the five days leading to her death, but was sent home without seeing a doctor. "I wasn't allowed to see the doctor," an emotional Ms Nero told the inquest, sitting in Doomadgee, yesterday. "They said the doctor was busy."

Ms Price said the child was finally admitted to the hospital in the early hours of the day she died, in distress and breathing rapidly.

The inquest was told the hospital's only doctor, Zulfikar Ali Hudda, diagnosed a respiratory tract infection and prescribed antibiotics. But 12 hours after her admission, she deteriorated rapidly.

Ms Price said Dr Hudda, who had only been working in the community for about a week when the death occurred, organised for Gungaleeda to be transported to Mount Isa for specialist care. However, she died before the Royal Flying Doctor Service could get there. "Unfortunately, little Gungaleeda girl's condition deteriorated. She vomited and went into cardiac arrest – all attempts to resuscitate her were unsuccessful," Ms Price said.

The court was told Dr Hudda unsuccessfully tried to perform a tracheotomy – an incision in the windpipe – to insert a tube to help the child breathe.

Barrister Frank Richard, for the family, told the inquest that events leading up to, and after, the little girl's death had since made them question seeking medical assistance for their other young children. He also said Ms Nero and the girl's grandmother, Katrina Walden, had been taken into the hospital's resuscitation room where the child lay dead, without being told she had died. Mr Richard said they were "inadequately prepared" for what they saw.

The inquest, which will move to Mount Isa today, will hear evidence the little girl had pneumonia when she died, as well as a rheumatic heart condition.

Mrs Walden told the inquest yesterday her granddaughter had a rapid heartbeat when she was taken to the hospital in the days before her death.

With the coroner's blessing, Doomadgee pastor Guy Douglas said a prayer in the town's courthouse before the start of the inquest, calling for peace and comfort for the family. "I feel that there's still a lot of hurt and a lot of anger," he said.


Fathers 'stereotyped' by Australian Child Support Agency

THE government watchdog responsible for overseeing child support payments has been unfairly focusing on parents who do not pay enough while ignoring those who are getting too much, the Commonwealth Ombudsman says.

In a report that might not be well received by some single mothers, the acting Ombudsman, Ron Brent, found that the Child Support Agency had at times been unduly influenced by stereotypes about fathers not meeting their obligations. He found that, as a result of this and other factors, the agency had "not been even-handed" in its role as an investigator.

Those required to make payments - usually fathers - were made the subject of rigorous investigations including their property holdings, tax minimisation arrangements and involvement in complex corporate structures.

The review found that on some occasions these investigations were intrusive and insensitive - assuming that fathers deliberately rather than accidentally mis-represented their ability to pay child support.

In a number of cases the financial records of a father's new partner were demanded without sufficient explanation as to why they were needed and what they would be used for.

At the same time there were "very few investigations" into those who received payments - usually mothers - to see whether they were getting too much.

"The CSA needs to change its case selection procedures, to be more even-handed in its approach to the two parties," Mr Brent said. "It is also important that investigations are carried out with sensitivity and without implying that all investigated parents are trying to avoid child support obligations. "I do not think that fathers have been victimised, but I can understand why they might have that impression."

While greater balance was needed, Mr Brent said it was right that more attention be paid to fathers because they were more likely to have complex financial arrangements where errors were more common.

He also said that up until recently, government policy had in fact encouraged the agency to focus on fathers rather than mothers.

Elspeth McInnes, a policy adviser to the National Council for Single Mothers and Their Children, said she did not believe the Child Support Agency applied a gender filter to its investigations. "I think the filter is the law," Dr McInnes said.


Australian students asked to plan lethal 'terror attack'

The teacher must be some sort of Leftist nut

Western Australia's Education Department chief has apologised after a high school teacher set students an assignment to plan a terrorist attack to kill innocent people.

The society and environment teacher at the Kalgoorlie-Boulder Community High School asked Year 10 students to pretend they were a terrorist planning a chemical or biological attack on "an unsuspecting Australian community". "Your goal is to kill the MOST innocent civilians in order to get your message across," the assignment read. The students had to explain their choice of victims and decide the best time and place to release their weapon.

The assignment was withdrawn and the teacher counselled following a complaint made to the school after one 15-year-old student refused to do it, saying she was horrified and disgusted.

Education Department Director-General Sharyn O'Neill on Wednesday said the teacher had exercised "poor judgement" and was remorseful. She said the teacher, who has been teaching for three years, was "well intentioned" and her heart was "in it for the kids".

Ms O'Neill said her "deepest sympathy" was with families of victims of terrorism who may have been offended by the assignment. "We are very sorry for the pain and discomfort that this situation has caused," she said. "Certainly no ill was meant by this assessment task. I'm incredibly disappointed with the assessment item that was set by the teacher. "I think it was inappropriate, it was insensitive and rightly, people are upset. "This is not what we expect of professional educators."

School principal Terry Martino said he had the assignment withdrawn as soon as he was aware of its content, and he had talked to the teacher. "This is one mistake by a hardworking, keen young teacher who is highly regarded by staff, students and community," he told the West Australian.

Education Minister Liz Constable said she was pleased Mr Martino acted quickly to ensure the assignment was withdrawn and the teacher was counselled. "It was certainly an inappropriate method of exploring the issue of conflict and had the potential to offend and disturb parents and impressionable students," she said. "Schools take the education and teaching of these issues very seriously but this must be done in an appropriate way."

State School Teachers Union president Anne Gisborne said Mr Martino had taken the "appropriate" action under the circumstances. "I don't know the motivation behind the program... in hindsight the teacher is probably wishing they hadn't done this." Ms Gisborne said the objectives of the assignment could have been achieved in a more sensitive manner.

The issue ran hot on talkback radio in Perth on Wednesday with one caller saying he had a son fighting in Afghanistan who he thought would not appreciate the assignment. Another caller told Fairfax Radio the teacher should be jailed for giving the students the assignment.


Can Victoria police do anything right?

They apologise for failing to protect children from known pedophiles. Once again it needs a newspaper to budge them into doing the right thing

VICTORIA Police has apologised over its failure to protect nearly 700 children who have been knowingly exposed to convicted sex offenders. This follows revelations in The Australian today that police failed to notify child protection authorities that children were coming into regular contact or living with hundreds of registered sex offenders.

Victoria Police says an audit has revealed that 667 children have been exposed to 376 offenders since 2005. In most of the cases, sex offenders had told police they were in contact with children, but police didn't notify child protection authorities, which is a mandatory obligation under state laws.

Assistant Commissioner Jeff Pope has admitted Victoria Police did not meet its basic child protection responsibilities. “Unfortunately what it means in this case is that on these occasions we haven't properly notified DHS and properly discharged our obligations to mandatorily report that children are at risk,”Mr Pope said today. “It won't happen again, and it's a very unfortunate oversight, and we're very sorry that it's occurred.”

The offenders included a parent or a parent's new partner or spouse, housemate or close friend.

The state Ombudsman's office announced it is investigating Victoria Police management of the sex registry and the Department of Human Services has formed a taskforce to review all of the cases.

Previous Ombudsman reports have criticised the government's management of child protection, which has been under fire following revelations DHS had placed children in the care of convicted sex offenders and failed to conduct criminal checks on prospective carers.

The police have confirmed three offences involved the same family, but no charges were laid because the offender had died.

Opposition community services spokeswoman Mary Wooldrige said the government must overhaul the child protection system. “The Ombudsman's already revealed children have been placed with sex offenders by John Brumby's government,” she said. “Now we find hundreds more children have been placed in harm's way by the most basic failures in the government's responsibilities. “We believe these situations need to be exposed in a comprehensive review of the system.”


Note that I have a special blog on Queensland cops, there is so much misbehaviour among them. And there's been plenty of posts lately. Two today.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Declining trees spell gloom for planet -- say Greenie nuts

Since global temperature changes over the last decade have been in tenths of a degree only, whatever is happening to trees is not the result of global warming. There IS no global temperature change to speak of. Besides, any ocean warming would INCREASE overall rainfall, which is good for trees -- and increased CO2 is good for them too.

The study below blames the decline in trees that they saw on drier weather overall -- but drier weather overall is a sign of global COOLING! Pesky! How come these so-called scientists know nothing of the most basic physics of evaporation?

LESS rainfall and rising global temperatures are damaging one of the world's best guardians against climate change: trees. A global study, published in the journal Science, shows that the amount of carbon dioxide being soaked up by the world's forests in the past decade has declined, reversing a 20-year trend.

It diminishes hopes that global warming can be seriously slowed down by the mass planting of trees in carbon sinks. Although plants generally grow bigger as a result of absorbing carbon-enriched air, they need more water and nutrients to do so, and they have been getting less.

A fierce drought that dried out vast areas of the Amazon Basin in 2005 is seen as a key to the global decline in carbon sinks in the past decade, but Australia is not immune. "Australia is a significant contributor to the global pattern, and the findings are consistent to what we have seen here," said a senior CSIRO researcher and director of the Global Carbon Project, Dr Josep Canadell.

"There has been a measurable decline in the leaf area of plants this decade, though we don't have all the data for Australia yet. What we have seen is strongly consistent with projected patterns of climate change."

The Science study, Drought-induced Reduction in Global Terrestrial Net Primary Production from 2000 through 2009, used data from a NASA satellite that orbits Earth every 15 days to build up a global map of changing leaf density and forest cover. It estimated net primary production, a measurement of how much CO2 is taken in by plants and stored as part of their biomass.

The study found that in some areas of the world, higher temperatures had driven more plant growth. But these gains have been cancelled out by drier conditions in rainforests, leading to the overall decline in total amount of CO2 the forests are soaking up.

The findings reinforce work being done at the Australian Bureau of Rural Sciences, which is researching how much carbon can be stored on a long-term basis in the landscape.

Scientists say that a sustained decline in the amount of carbon being stored in forests risks locking in a vicious cycle, in which trees absorb less carbon because the world is warmer and drier, while the rising carbon levels in the atmosphere continue to trap heat.

"There is no single silver bullet answer to this, but one of the partial solutions is the protection of old-growth forests, which store a lot of CO2, and the replanting of those that have been removed," said Professor Andy Pitman, the co-director of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of NSW. "This doesn't actually get to the heart of the problem though, which is rising CO2 emissions from human activity."

Rainfall patterns in Australia are expected to alter significantly over the next few decades as average temperatures increase, with more rain likely to fall in the north and north-west and less precipitation likely in southern Australia. This means that many of Australia's existing old-growth forests, which are located in NSW, Victoria and Tasmania, can be expected to become less efficient carbon sinks.


Hung parliament may be just what Canberra needs

Minority government can be a useful corrective

THE political catastrophists are already counting down to the parliamentary Armageddon they predict will strike Canberra once a minority government is sworn in. We're not so sure. Stable government is a pre-requisite for competent administration, and vital for economic reform. A ruling party is helped considerably if it can command a workable majority in the lower house. Whoever emerges as prime minister this time, however, won't have that luxury. And that might not be such a bad thing.

If the major parties and independent MPs can work together, as the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have been in what first appeared an unlikely coalition in Britain, we might see more checks on wasteful spending and a useful circuit breaker against encroaching big government. The hubris that has infected both sides of politics in office will be kept in check. The Howard government, for example, would never have taken Work Choices too far had it not commanded both houses of parliament. The ultimate outcome of that excess, unfortunately was the reversal of 20 years of vital workplace reforms. In a finely balanced parliament, it is also doubtful whether the Rudd government's judgment would have been so badly clouded by the adulation fanned by the "Kevin07" campaign.

No government relying on the support of crossbenchers would have dared bypass the process to launch a revenue grab against the mining industry as blatant and excessive as Kevin Rudd's original resource super-profits tax proposal. Underpinned by public accounts and other committees with real teeth, a minority government would also have faced intense scrutiny of the school building stimulus. If independent MPs remained true to their pledges about protecting the public interest, such vast expenditure would not have been sanctioned in a form that wasted billions of dollars. Nor would the shambolic pink batts program have been anything more than a thought bubble, quickly discarded. A minority government might have asked tough questions before the Governor-General was sent of a grand tour of Africa to drum up support for Australia's questionable bid for a UN Security Council seat. Unlike in the US, with its in-built checks and balances in the different powers afforded the president and congress, legitimate concerns raised in parliament in Australia have been sidelined too often.

A clear-cut election result would have made life easier for everyone. But provided the players rise to the challenge responsibly, a few years of minority government could put a much-needed brake on the trend towards bigger government as any blatant attempts to buy off various constituencies are likely to be blocked. Some may object to the kingmaking status granted to independents Tony Windsor, Bob Katter and Rob Oakeshott, but they have little to fear. The trio will not pick the winner without serious thought, knowing that they will be out of a job in three years, or sooner, if they make the wrong call. A democracy as vibrant as ours never gets it wrong for long. No one wants to see the semi-permanent inertia that hung parliaments have inflicted in Europe. But, for a while at least, the experience will not be entirely negative.


There was no room at the hospital for gravely ill child. He died 16 hours later

The killer NSW hospital system again

The parents of a dead toddler have lodged a complaint with the NSW Ambulance Service, saying paramedics arrived at their house but told them there was no point taking their ill son to hospital because there were no spare beds.

A coroner's inquiry has been ordered into how Connor Williams, 18 months, died only hours after paramedics treated him at his home near Dubbo.

Paramedics say the tragedy highlights an under-resourced health system struggling to cope, and fear they will be forced to shoulder the blame for a chronic lack of hospital beds across the state.

Sarah and Graeme Williams called paramedics to their home after Connor became "shaky on his feet", "tired and lethargic", and "couldn't even hold his head up", but were told they should keep him home because the emergency department at Dubbo Base Hospital was full.

"[The paramedic's] words were, Dubbo hospital is full, they have no beds in the ED, they have no beds in the hospital, [but] if we were worried [to] bring him back," Mrs Williams said. Sixteen hours later Connor was dead.

Tess Coates, a spokeswoman for the Emergency Medical Service Protection Association, which represents about a third of paramedics in NSW, said paramedics were "extremely frustrated" and were being "stretched to the limit" by a shortage of beds across NSW.

She could not comment on the case involving Connor, but said paramedics were being "screamed at all the time to get to another job" and were continually facing increasingly aggressive patients and their families who were upset at waiting longer for treatment.

"Bed availability is absolutely crazy. There are unending delays, and at some hospitals they will wait … up to six hours to get the patient off the trolley. Paramedics are the meat in the sandwich. And every time there is a bad outcome the ambulance services takes it out on the officers."

A spokesman for the NSW Ambulance Service said the paramedics involved, who face dismissal if found guilty by the service's Professional Standards and Conduct Unit, had been interviewed. He said Mr and Mrs Williams had signed a form saying they did not want Connor taken to hospital, but he could not comment on their reasons.

"We don't know what happened in this case yet, but ambos know whether there are any beds, and if a patient asks if they'll have to wait long at the hospital, the ambo will say yes or no," he said. "It's then up to the patient to decide if they want to go."

Connor had been diagnosed with an ear infection three days before his death. Later that night, after he developed ulcers on his tongue, his parents took him to hospital, where he was seen by three doctors. He was later sent home, but his condition worsened two days later, when his parents rang triple-0.

Five hours after the paramedics left, Mr and Mrs Williams took him back to the hospital. He was kept in overnight and a helicopter was ordered to transfer him to the Children's Hospital at Westmead, but he died before he could be flown out.

The general manager of Dubbo Base Hospital, Andrew Newton, extended sympathy to the family but said Connor was seen promptly in the emergency department.

The opposition health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, said the case was tragic and deserved a coroner's inquiry. "Whenever I speak to ambos they are so frustrated because so often beds are not available. And the poor ambos are the ones who end up copping the blame."


The charming Victoria police again

And note that these are top cops

POLICE up to the rank of superintendent are being investigated over racist, homophobic and pornographic emails circulated through the Victoria Police email system.

In March, police announced more than 100 officers were being investigated over the emails.

A police statement today said those under investigation included a "small number of senior officers up to the rank of Superintendent''.

The statement says a number of police members have been interviewed and charged with disgraceful conduct, or failing to comply with an instruction of the Chief Commissioner of Police, a breach of section 69 of the Police Regulation Act.

Ten are scheduled to appear at internal police hearings over the next two days, which will determine what, if any, sanctions will be handed down. These determinations may be appealed.

Two other members have resigned rather than face the hearings this week. In March, Healesville Sergeant Tony Vangorp resigned and took his own life after being caught up in the investigation.

Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland has previously described the racist, homophobic and pornographic emails as too "offensive'' and "shocking'' to ever be publicly released.

The police statement described the emails as "material of the most extreme nature''.


Note that I have a special blog on Queensland cops, there is so much misbehaviour among them.