Monday, May 18, 2020

Ensuring a safe workplace? None of your business

Perils of the tracing app

A person’s home is their castle, but their business is not. Your family and friends can be bossed around, but an employee or a flatmate cannot.

This is the illogical approach our federal government is taking with its confusing and draconian new rules around the COVIDSafe tracing app.

Don’t take this issue lightly; everyone must wade through the detail and avoid any breaches because the penalties are excessive.

The Privacy Amendment (Public Health Contact Information) Bill 2020 clarifies the offences that can be applied to anyone who might require a person to use the app.

The bill typifies the Morrison government’s authoritarian bent. It is confusing and contrary.

An action is either allowed or prohibited, depending on the type of premises a citizen is in when they take the action, as well as the type of relationship the citizen has with the person they take the action against.

The bill is unfair to commercial operators. The government has seen fit to place extraordinary restrictions on business, which is understandable in a pandemic. However, in the same pandemic, the government prohibits business from placing restrictions or requirements on employees and customers.

In a personal context, if a person doesn’t have the app, you may be able to deny them entry to your home. However, this depends on the nature of your relationship.

“A person will not be liable for this offence if they require a person to use COVIDSafe before entering their private residence, reflecting the normal expectation that a person is generally free to deny another person access to their home for any reason,” Attorney-General Christian Porter said this week.

So your home is your castle when it comes to family and friends. Your home is not your castle, though, if the person without the app is a flatmate or if a commercial relationship applies.

To clarify, I am told by the government that you are not allowed to insist a cleaning lady, for instance, must download the app, but you can deny her entry to your home if she doesn’t. Clear as mud?

Porter says “this exemption is limited — it would not apply to other situations covered by the offence involving a commercial relationship, such as a landlord-tenant relationship, a share house relationship or an employment relationship”.

When it comes to a business context, the government has decided that a business owner has fewer rights than a residential occupier.

If a person owns a business, the government thinks the business is not the person’s castle, because they are not free to deny another person access for any reason.

A person may own the building, may own the business, may have built it from nothing, and may have more invested in it than their home but, nevertheless, they are not allowed to insist their staff members have the app, or deny entry to someone without it.

Anyone who gets these rules wrong, in a personal or business context, can be fined $63,000 and sent to prison for five years. Imagine being sent to prison for telling someone they must download an app.

I guess this is the sort of nonsense we must expect when there are too many ex-lawyers in the political ranks.

This issue will prove to be of particular interest to our hospitality sector. As the industry attempts to emerge from an enforced shutdown, it will face extraordinary challenges.

During the period of closure, hospitality businesses incur fixed costs with zero revenue. Payment can be delayed but not denied; loans and losses won’t disappear once doors reopen, and many operators are fast approaching a debt cliff.

Your pre-pandemic favourite haunts cannot be taken for granted.

According to the Australian Hotels Association, which represents more than 5000 hotels, pubs, bars and taverns, the typical pub, before interest, wages and rent, has fixed costs of about $32,000 a month.

This includes $7000 a month on insurance, $10,000 on land tax and $3000 on electricity network charges, which apply even when all the power is turned off.

Spare a thought here for the venue owners.

They’ve been shut down and now, depending on which state they are in, they are being allowed to open with restrictions that may or may not make it viable.

On the one hand, they have their customers, who want service in a safe place; on the other, they have the layers of government, with all their demands, and somehow they need to earn enough to keep going and pay back all the debts incurred while shut down.

Finally, they must manage all this with the threat of public humiliation and closure should a staff member or patron come in while infected and cause a cluster to form.

And in all this they are not allowed, with the threat of prison, to make their premises as safe as possible by insisting that all staff and patrons have the app.

You may think this extreme, but a person who owns a business should be allowed to decide who they employ and who they serve.

Further, they should be allowed to make their premises more appealing by declaring it a safe place, to the extent that safety is possible.


Coronavirus: Newmarch House nightmare exposes fatal flaws in care homes

During this pandemic, “We are all in this together” has been the morale-boosting slogan du jour. However, while we are patting ourselves on the back for our success in handling the pandemic, people in aged care have suffered this terrible illness and died alone.

They were the collateral damage of a system that herds old people together in institutions that we call care.

The outpouring of praise for aged-care workers by federal Health Minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday is all very well, but this is no substitute for the immediate questions that must be asked about Sydney’s Newmarch House and the whole model of an institutional system that has been found wanting.

As I know from bitter experience, the relatives of these people are probably too numb with grief and misplaced guilt to ask the questions that must be asked right now. However, the public deserves to know why the residents were not vacated from this facility and placed in isolation in hospital as soon as the first case was diagnosed. We know most of the intensive care wards around NSW are empty of COVID-19 patients, and a surge workforce at Newmarch was put in place only after three residents had already died.

Nursing infected patients within a hospital is very different from within a nursing home, where barriers were apparently so lax that infected people were being moved through common areas. Why were the families of residents kept out of communication, and why were those who tested negative not allowed to be removed by relatives, even to their own homes?

When the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission finally threatened to take away the institution’s licence, I, like many others, thought: “It’s about time.”

All these questions must be answered. However, blaming just one system failure in one institution or one set of bureaucrats is not going to be the answer here. The real underlying culprit is the aged-care system itself. We have come to rely too much on the institutional model of aged care in Australia. We have comforted ourselves with the idea that care in an institution equals real care. Blithe reassurances by politicians and the sector that “overall” they did a good job just don’t cut it.

I have had multiple experi­ences with institutional aged care. My parents were in not one but three institutions across a period of four years. All of these institutions were top quality, with all the latest facilities, kind staff, with reasonable staffing ratios. Of course, families always have to fill in the gaps, which was not a problem. Most of these places welcome the families and the best institutions regard their job as helping the family rather than the other way around. My husband and I even moved in for a week when my dad was dying, and we fed and nursed him ourselves. However, in every single one of these institutions there were problems, and none was the result of neglect or abuse but simply a result of the institutional mentality.

An aged person’s welfare is totally subsumed by the necessities of institutional life and its basic routine. In our experience, this led to my parents — married for 68 years — being separated in the first institution they were placed, simply because they had different needs. That is the way an institution is efficiently run, but needless to say they were moved to a place where they were not apart.

I came to see that long-term ­institutional care is fundamentally damaging to old people. First, their physical health is always precarious, and they are constantly exposed to some level of infection. No matter how clean the institutions are, minor infections — typically things such as eye infections — spread like wildfire and major ones are common, especially in large institutions. There are often minor epidemics. While my parents were in the last of the three places, there was a gastro outbreak. However, fundamentally, the major problem with institutional care is the subtle mental effect of isolation from a normal family and social milieu. Many experts have pointed to this.

Aside from the effects of sudden removal from their home where they have lived for decades, everyone in aged care is old. Think about it. The mostly young female staff do not interact with the residents in the same way as people would interact outside the institution. There is no real freedom.

The language we use betrays this. We speak of putting people intocare, and there they will stay. The principle of “ageing in place”, the preferred Australian institutional model, is somewhat ironic since the place is where they do indeed stay — with a few outings.

They mentally stagnate. In short, there is no chance to experience any normal life or social ­interaction — one of the most important bulwarks against progressive dementia.

So what can be done in a ­society where people are very loathe to look after their aged parents themselves? In 2018, a Flinders University-sponsored study found that smaller group housing produced much better physical and mental outcomes. This is pretty consistent with other overseas research and practice. However, the first thing is to give people who are generous enough to look after their own parents the proper support and incentives.

Countries that have the most innovative models of aged care have recognised the fundamental flaws in an institutional model. In many ­European countries, including France and Germany, which have family unit taxation systems, the elderly in a family are counted as double tax deductible. In other countries, respite care, both in the home or in a small institution, is also favoured.

Australia is behind the times in pushing a large institutional model of care for the aged. However, unfortunately, social workers and medical staff are fixated on it as the only outcome. I will never forget the bland fatalism of the doctor and social worker at the hospital where my mother was languishing long after a broken shoulder had healed, telling me that taking Mum home was not a good idea — because “after all, she is institutionalised now”.


Tutoring industry slumps, with least-coached cohort to take next tests

Students sitting next year's selective school and opportunity class tests could be the least-tutored cohort to undertake the competitive exams, as fewer students receive academic coaching during the coronavirus pandemic.

Chief executive of the Australian Tutoring Association, Mohan Dhall, said the tutoring industry had taken a "massive hit" as centres were forced to suspend face-to-face teaching and parents paused discretionary spending during an economic downturn.

Leila Bunguric used to tutor face-to-face. She now runs her business online from her Lugarno home.
Leila Bunguric used to tutor face-to-face. She now runs her business online from her Lugarno home.CREDIT:BEN RUSHTON

The majority of centres have lost between 30 and 50 per cent of students since late March. Some have salvaged businesses by moving online and seen demand for digital services surge. A small minority have continued in-person tuition while others have closed altogether.

"Most centres have seen a massive downturn in student numbers and are struggling to get by," Mr Dhall said. This could give rise to the "least-coached" cohort sitting the next round of competitive entry tests to selective schools and opportunity classes.

"There will definitely be a difference in how students go. But I think that’s a healthy thing," he said.

Dux College, with centres in Bondi Junction and Parramatta, moved online but attendance dropped by 40 per cent.

"This is due to both students' financial situations being impacted, and their preference for face-to-face classes. There are also as much as 80 per cent fewer new inquiries than this time last term," a spokeswoman said.

Fifty per cent of Alchemy Tuition students stopped tutoring in the two weeks following lockdown restrictions in late March. New bookings were also down 30 per cent in April.

"We are an in-home service and even as far back as February we had some parents cautious of having people come in to their home," chief Nic Rothquel said. "As family budgets tighten up, they are less willing to spend the money on extra support."

Mr Dhall said he anticipated a slow recovery for the industry. "On the other side, there will be fewer good operators. Those who understand learning well will thrive, but a lot of businesses will not continue," he said.

Leila Bunguric runs separate online and face-to-face tutoring businesses. She has observed a small decline in face-to-face appointments but a surge in digital interest. "The website has had an increase in sales and schools requesting access to our resources," she said.

But Mr Dhall said while some businesses had moved online effectively, most were traditional in the way they tutor. "Some are doing three-hour online classes where the tutor is speaking at them, with notes on PDF," he said.

"Kids are experiencing very mixed results from online learning. The transition has been hotchpotch at best, or ill-considered and reactive. It then becomes a disappointing learning experience."

Some centres are optimistic. Kumon coaching college has been providing digital instruction while distributing paper worksheets through pick-up or postage services.

Its enrolments were down 10 per cent in April, but it expects to see an increase in demand when schools go back. "Parents will naturally be concerned that their children’s progress in maths and English has possibly declined throughout this disruptive period," a spokesman said.

Other operators are stepping into the vacuum left by the closure of many tuition centres, offering free content, online resources or scholarships to new students.

Tony Hanlon, national director of teaching at North Shore Coaching Colleges Australia, said there had been a drop in attendance but it had been "really great to trial new delivery modes".

Majeda Awawdeh, founder of Global Education Academy, said while some parents had been hesitant about online delivery, they were getting new enrolments from interstate.


Full-time school to put extra pressure on transport, roads

Principals are bracing for public schools to return to full-time teaching on Monday week, but there are concerns about how a transport system already nearing its safe social distancing capacity will cope with an influx of thousands more students.

The government will reveal the next stage of its back-to-classroom plan in the next few days, but has already flagged it wants all students back by month's end. "That is still our goal, and our hope," said Education Minister Sarah Mitchell on Friday.

A public transport plan is also expected this week, to explain how the system will cope with thousands of students who travel long distances by public transport or car every day. At some popular schools, students travel from 150 different postcodes.

Last Wednesday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the staged return to school was progressing well. "We anticipate that after next week there is a chance the vast majority of students will be back to face to face learning."

Principals are hoping for details soon, so they can prepare. They have not been formally informed of changes to the original plan, which was to move from one to two days per week, but "we're expecting to skip that [two-day] phase, and go directly to full time [on May 25]," one principal said.

Even when students began returning back for one day of face-to-face teaching last Monday, many stayed for more, said Primary Principals Association President Phil Seymour. "As the week went on, [primary schools] got more and more kids," he said. "The parents were saying they loved it so much, they wanted to keep going.

"Principals are saying, 'if it's going to happen, let's get into it' - just give us some notice so we can get ready. I think it will go back into full production." Across the whole public system last week, numbers were steady at about a third of students on campus daily.

Late last week, Ms Berejiklian asked workers who were not already using public transport to avoid it during peak hour (which runs from 7am to 11am), amid concerns that mass transit systems drove the spread of COVID-19 overseas.

There were also concerns about 'carmageddon', if those commuters drove to work instead.

But school students are heavy users of public transport. NSW Department of Education figures show that at some popular selective schools, such as Sydney Boys and Girls, students come from about 150 different postcodes across the city.

Others travel long distances to private schools, while almost half of students at public secondary schools live outside their catchment areas. School buses are exempt from social distancing guidelines, but many students use trains.

School-related travel also represents about a fifth of vehicle traffic on the roads during term time.

Geoffrey Clifton, a transport expert at the University of Sydney, said the government's transport plan needed to factor in schools, given social distancing rules might limit trains to a third of their seated capacity, or about 33 people per carriage.

"[Students] make up a fair portion of the peak hour," he said. "If parents who would have let their kids go on public transport decide to drive them to school, that's going to have an impact on the road network.

"I'd recommend that [if school resumes full time on] the 25th of May, as many adults work from home as they can, to give it some space to function. If we declare that a work from home day, at least in the first couple of days we'd work out what's working and not working."


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

1 comment:

Paul said...

I've always said that the quality of Aged Care in this country reflects the amount of money the people are willing to pay. With that comes the food, the staff and their relative lack of qualification, the cleanliness, the diversions....the lot. You can't have it all on a shoestring. If you expect so much more from the system (as this commentator seems to) than it will cost you extra time and money. If you take them home to care for them there it will likely cost at least as much, probably more, and its likely one of you (assuming some couples know how to remain married in this world of sinful temptations) will have to stop working to be a carer. Guilt articles like this (so obviously written by a woman) really don't address any of the issues except those involving casting a first stone.

My suspicion with Newmarch is that the "nurse" who caused this by working while sick was in reality a low-skill care attendant, and probably thought she (I'm assuming she) would have to miss work if she fessed up (those houses in Australia don't buy themselves). Possibly similar recently in Toowoomba, though that may have been a student nurse working as an AIN (Assistant-in-Nursing) to pay her way through Uni, going by some of the linkages that were made public. Either way, both seemed to involve carers who weren't at the stage of putting 2+2 together professionally.