Monday, June 08, 2015

Poison bubbling out of this scab on Labor

A union sells out its workers for a bribe

LABOR has long reserved the epithet “scab” — usually howled or hissed at strike-breakers to vilify those perceived to work against the interests of trade unionists.

It will now have to find a new term of abuse to apply to trade union bosses who secretly sell out their members. As the trade union royal commission has heard, the Australian Workers Union’s Victorian branch traded workers’ benefits worth about $6 million in wages and penalty rates which should have flowed to some its lowest-paid members in exchange for ­employer contributions worth $225,000 and an extraordinary political advantage within the ALP through artificially ­increased membership, which gave it more delegates at ALP conferences.

Counsel assisting the commission Jeremy Stoljar has ­detailed the 2010 agreement between the giant cleaning contractor Cleanevent under which it provided lists of names of cleaners and paid union fees to the AWU, without their knowledge and ­despite some of them already paying union dues.

The cleaners were then paid about a third of what they would have received under a more modern award. At the bottom tier, a casual cleaner was paid $18.14 an hour instead of at least $50.17 an hour, about 175 per cent more.

Cleanevent was in no doubt about the advantage of the sweetheart deal with the union bosses, with its then general manager of operations, writing in a June 25, 2012, email that the benefit to the company ‘‘by not having the EBA and ­employing labour through the modern award is circa $2 million (per annum)’’.

‘‘The $25K was part of that negotiation and was approved by (the then general manager), the $25K is an annual cost.’’

However, the secret 2010 deal revealed by the commission merely extended the 2006 agreement, with some adjustments, made when Opposition leader Bill Shorten was Victorian and national secretary of the AWU and it was Clause 39 of that original agreement which removed all protected award conditions, including penalty rates.

The 2006 agreement ­covered cleaning workers in the company’s operations throughout Australia and, under the AWU’s rule, any agreement which covers workers in multiple states must be approved by the national secretary.

The secret 2010 deal was handled by Shorten’s factional ally successor at the Victorian branch of the AWU, Cesar Melhem, now the Labor government’s Whip in the Victorian Upper House.

Labor Premier Daniel ­Andrews has taken no action against him despite the gravity of the allegations raised at the royal commission, though ­Andrews had no difficulty standing down his Small Business Minister Adem Somyurek a fortnight ago when a staff member raised allegations of bullying behaviour.

Because of Labor’s dependence on the union movement, Andrews is stonewalling on Cesar Melhem, and Shorten is also refusing to comment on the extraordinarily serious ­allegations raised in the royal commission.

There was a time when Shorten wasn’t shy of the cameras. He was impossible to keep out of camera-shot during the Beaconsfield mine tragedy and he was happy to announce that he had organised AWU ­membership for the all members of the Australian Netball Players’ Association and members of the Australian Jockeys’ Association, though it may have been news to some of the netballers and hoops who suddenly found that their associations had done deals with the AWU.

As huge amounts of money passed from Cleanevent to the AWU when the 2010 agreement was reached to extend the original 2006 deal, did money change hands then also?

At the time of the 2010 ­negotiations, Melhem seemed to think that Shorten was sufficiently clued-in on the nuts and bolts of the secret arrangements to be able to offer Cleanevent’s senior management “a special invitation to attend a small, intimate luncheon” with him, or was the secret deal to be kept hidden from the star attraction?

Shorten obviously owes it to AWU members to explain what role he had in the creation of the 2006 deal removing various award conditions, including penalty rates, as ­either Victorian or national secretary of the AWU.

Nor can the huge political advantage gained by the AWU in Labor circles be ignored. As Stoljar said, the inflated membership numbers resulting from the secret deal “leads to greater influence over ALP policy formation, greater influence over membership of powerful ALP committees and, in particular, greater influence over the selection of ALP candidates for political office.

“Instead of securing better wages or penalty rates for members, some officials may have preferred to obtain payments which strengthened the union balance sheet and which falsely inflated membership numbers,” he said.

As he reminds us, as Opposition leader, Shorten is also the “alternate” prime minister and as such he has a responsibility to come clean about his previous role as a trade union boss in a union which sold out its workers to boost its war chest and its political clout.


New Queensland children's hospital in strife already

SERIOUSLY ill children are being turned away and surgeries cancelled at the new $1.5 billion Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital.

The no vacancy sign has gone up and staff told that Queensland’s showpiece hospital in South Brisbane is “absolutely full”.

Doctors have warned there are not enough general overnight beds as the winter flu danger period approaches when admissions are expected to soar.

Nurses and doctors broke their silence last week after serious “bed block” prevented a child from Caboolture Hospital requiring tertiary care from being admitted.

And a child from Nambour requiring specialist treatment had to be diverted to the Gold Coast because Lady Cilento was full.

The Sunday Mail was told other children en route to Lady Cilento have been diverted to the Gold Coast Hospital, Prince Charles Hospital at Chermside and the Royal Women’s Hospital at Herston.

Some doctors are exploring the possibility of flying acute patients interstate for emergency surgeries.

An email to staff on May 8 from the divisional director at Lady Cilento warned of trouble ahead: “As has been the case all week — and to be expected in the foreseeable future — the hospital is at absolute capacity. In the absence of early discharges, major surgery will need to be cancelled.”

Doctors and nurses were urged to attempt to discharge any patients they could before 10am each day. “This should be ‘usual practice’ now given the ongoing bed pressures,’’ the email said.

The crisis escalated last week when the Paediatric Intensive Care Unit became overloaded yet again.

Doctors said the crisis was due to a shortage of general overnight beds, a shortage of nurses and a lack of funding. Nurses have told their union they believe there is a shortage of up to 40 nurses in the operating theatres alone.

And some doctors have queried the arrival of student nurses who have not completed their training.

“There are simply insufficient beds to meet demand,’’ said one Queensland Health chief. “And the operating budget is inadequate.”

The hospital now has one less overnight bed than the total number of beds in the two children’s hospitals it replaced — the Royal and the Mater. Hospital planners say Lady Cilento has 92 fewer overnight beds than required to meet current demand.

Health Minister Cameron Dick referred The Sunday Mail to Fionnagh Dougan, the chief of the Children’s Health Queensland Hospital and Health Service.

Ms Dougan declined to be interviewed but said in a statement: “Elective and urgent elective surgical cases are scheduled and booked for the PICU every day but priority must be given to the emergency cases from around the state. Additional emergency and acute theatre capacity has already been developed but despite this, there will always be days or occasions when acute demand will exceed planned or expected levels.

“We understand how distressing and disruptive it can be for parents when an elective surgery is cancelled.”


Cheating scandal: Sydney university to review medical school

The medical faculty at the University of Sydney will review one of its study units after an academic scandal which involved students falsifying records and interviewing dead patients.

A spokeswoman for the university announced it would review its year-long Integrated Population Medicine (IPM), a unit of study in the Sydney Medical Program provided by the university's School of Public Health, after it was revealed students had falsified reports that were supposed to document the experience of patients living with chronic diseases. It came to light when university staff tried to contact a patient to thank them for their involvement, only to find out they were dead.

"The faculty is conducting a review of the unit of study and its methods of assessment," said the spokeswoman.

The revelations about the medical school have brought mixed reactions from medical students who claim the unit was flawed, and from the medical fraternity, some of whom said it raised wider ethical issues.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Medical Association said it was "a matter between Sydney University and its students".

The president of the Australian Medical Students Association, James Lawler, said while academic dishonesty was an important and serious issue, from a public perspective the cheating had not put patient safety at risk.

A practising hospital doctor, Tom Forfa, said the issues had raised much wider concerns about the way that the university was selecting its medical students.

Dr Forfa said some universities around Australia were putting much more emphasis on marks and money than they did on ethics and personality traits when choosing medical students.

Dr Forfa said that the selection process at some universities did not include personal interviews and was not conducive to breeding the kind of doctors that would be ethical and honest in their future behaviours.

"There is a change required in the process of selecting future doctors," he said. "They tend to overlook other selection criteria (apart from marks) and so they are not doing due diligence when choosing future doctors."

Several medical students who contacted Fairfax Media described the IPM program as "useless" and "meaningless" and said students had made mistakes but were not cheats.

"During the IPM program, students were asked to follow up on a patient with chronic illness over the 12-month period. Some students got into a situation where their patients died several months into the follow-up and it was nearly impossible for the student to pass", one student wrote in an email.

"The options for the student were: (a) notify the faculty, obtain a new patient and restart the 12-month assignment after already having invested several months in it or (b) "be dishonest" and just get the assignment done by the end of year.

"The student chose the wrong option under the immense stress and workload of the USyd medical program."

Another said students felt compelled to "self-declare" that they had falsified dates and meetings or they would face serious repercussions if the audit found they had been dishonest but did not own up to it.

"They would be required to repeat the entirety of third year – effectively delaying graduation by two years and accruing thousands of dollars in additional university fees," the student said.


Our $42m World Cup bid: Show me the money

THE Abbott government could kick a quick goal if it speedily provided Australian taxpayers with a full ­accounting of the $42.25 million of taxpayers’ money that was gifted to Frank Lowy’s pet soccer project — the bid for the 2022 World Cup.

Independent senator Nick Xenophon and Labor senator Sam Dastyari are poised to announce a senate inquiry into the handling of the money to sit when the senate resumes in a fortnight.

The approximately 600,000 active players who contribute fees to Football Federation Australia, the millions more followers of the round ball game across the nation, the entrenched cohorts of supporters and the millions more who have little interest in the sport but who, through their taxes, paid for FFA’s ambitious plan — all deserve more than the explanatory letter released by the billionaire chairman of the FFA on Wednesday.

“World football might just be at the dawn of a new era,” the Mr Big of Australian soccer wrote. But there will be no dawn unless there is absolute transparency.

Federal Police officers are currently evaluating allegations of the misappropriation of funds from FFA to the world body FIFA by a FIFA executive.

Fourteen top FIFA officials were arrested by US authorities in Zurich last week before FIFA’s congress, at which Sepp Blatter was re-elected president. Blatter said later he was resigning but didn’t leave the office compound.

It was later revealed that four others had already been charged, including American Chuck Blazer, formerly the second most-senior official in FIFA’s North and Central American and Caribbean ­region (CONCACAF), and a former member of FIFA’s executive committee.

In a just-released transcript of a 2013 hearing in a US court, Blazer pleaded guilty to 10 charges and admitted that he and other members of the executive committee agreed to accept bribes in connection with the selection of South Africa as the 2010 World Cup host.

He said he also helped ­arrange bribes connected to the 1998 Paris World Cup.

The only clear Australian connection to any of the allegedly corrupt parties at this time is FFA’s $500,000 contribution to CONCACAF through its Centre of Excellence in Trinidad and Tobago.
In his explanatory letter, the 84-year-old Lowy ­acknowledged the president of CONCACAF, Jack Warner, was well-known as a “colourful character” — think of all those “colourful Sydney racing identities” and you’ll get the drift.

Warner asked Australia for $4 million for the centre but someone at FFA was sharp enough to knock that down to $500,000 — and even sent a team to examine the site and hired a sports facilities consultant to prepare a report.

FFA met with CONCACAF officials to agree to the terms, the chief executive of the centre (not Warner) gave FFA CONCACAF’s banking details (not Warner’s) and the cash was transferred.

But it wound up with Warner anyway, as a subsequent investigation by two former judges and an accountant working for CONCACAF found, and it determined that he had committed fraud and stolen the money from CONCACAF, among other instances of wrongdoing over many years.

Faced with growing international disgust, FIFA threw Warner to the wolves.

But to try to and limit the fallout, the parent body then took over the CONCACAF inquiry, while secretly the US team continued its secret ­investigation, charging officials and convincing key players to rollover.

Warner wasn’t the only “colourful character” FFA rubbed shoulders with as it mounted Australia’s $42.25 million bid for the 2020 2022 World Cup. As newcomers to the international soccer sewer it needed guidance.

Which, as Frank Lowy said: “… led us to recruit, on the advice of FIFA’s leadership, consultants who ultimately proved less than effective to say the least”.

They helped FFA splash our money around the region with football-related and ­humanitarian projects calculated to win votes and goodwill from Oceania to China and Africa. It was a totally ­ineffectual use of Australian taxpayers’ funds.

Lowy justifiably feels he has been nursing a bitter grievance since Australia ­received that sole vote in ­December 2010.

Despite acknowledging paying dodgy consultants and assisting shady FIFA officials, he is comfortable with the claim that Australia ran a clean bid.

For the rest of us to be as comfortable, he must show us the books so we can be as sure that public money has been handled with due diligence and probity — FFA will ­receive a further $3 million from the Australian government this year.

The corruption and cronyism that has infected international soccer concerns all, and will not go away until FIFA is totally decontaminated.


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