Tuesday, January 29, 2008

'Quicky" Inquiry for NSW Health

NSW Health Minister, Reba Meagher (pictured below), has announced the terms of reference for the Special Commission of Inquiry into the delivery of patient care in the NSW Health System. The Inquiry will be run by Peter Garling, SC. He has assisted at other inquiries and led the Inquiry into the accident on the old Pacific Highway near Gosford, where two people were swept to their deaths when a section of the highway was washed away. A media release from the Minister can be found here.

The Inquiry will be able to summon witnesses and if necessary, compel them to answer or provide documents.

The Inquiry must report by 31 July 2008, and must identify "any systemic or institutional issues" in the delivery of health care by the NSW Health and to recommend any changes to models of patient care. This is a short time-frame for any Inquiry, but the States are under pressure from the Federal Government to improve services or face a federal takeover.

However, some of the systemic or institutional problems arise from the (former) Federal Government's argumentative and belligerent form of federalism. Under that model, states have been burdened with supplying almost all of the cost increases in health above inflation. Consequentially state health systems and hospitals, and NSW's in particular, have been run by economic managers - the focus has been on Area Health Service budgets, to the detriment of services provided by hospitals and allied health professionals.

There has been insufficient federal funding for new doctors, and restrictions on places for federally-funded university courses for nurses. Further compounding the issue is the rate of payments by Medicare, which have been held artificially low by successive federal governments; a lack of political will to tell people that the Medicare levy should rise above 1.5%; the public has not helped by using hospitals as a source of "cheap" (Medicare-funded) alternative to visiting a GP; and restrictions on funding for, and places for specialist training.

Any reforms that occur just at state level will have marginal impact unless and until Federal & State Governments; Doctor Associations and Colleges; Nurses Associations; Allied Health Professionals and bureaucrats can cooperate. That will require monumental changes in attitudes. I don't know if Federal Health Minster Nicola Roxon and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd can achieve that - time will tell.


Monday, January 28, 2008

Soeharto Dead

Former Indonesian President Soeharto (Suharto) has died from multiple organ failure aged 86. His family will miss him.

Not missisng him, but still wanting an enquiry, are those affected by his alleged:
  • human rights abuses in Indonesia, East Timor and (now) West Papua.
  • corruption, perhaps amounting to US$35 Billion.
His eldest daughter, Siti Hardiyanti Rukmana, dressed in black, and from behind a veil, sobbed, and said ""We apologise if he has made mistakes". Perhaps the family could return all of the money allegedly embezzled from the state, plus interest. Perhaps they could make reparations for the human rights abuses. They WILL keep the money and the lifestyle granted them under the umbrella of corruption.

While his "strength" as President kept Indonesia together, and that was in Australia's interests, history will likely judge him as a corrupt, abusive dictator. Former Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, described him as having a "less than desirable human rights record" - diplomatic talk meaning "butcher".

I cannot understand why former Prime Minister Paul Keating - who did little or nothing to stop Soeharto's abuses and corruption - would represent Australia at his funeral. The only diplomatic message is that we are not sending a current or immediate past member of the Australian Government. Australia need not send anybody.

Australia's official (& unofficial) comment should be:
"Former Indonesian President Soeharto (Suharto) has died from multiple organ failure aged 86. His family will miss him."


Monday, January 21, 2008

Kev's 08 Inflation Plan

Kevin Rudd has announced his government's plan to control inflation. The 5 point plan aims to increase the targetted budget surplus from 1% of GDP to 1.5%. However, this is already likely to be achieved in 2007-08 because of increased tax revenue and cuts to Government spending since November's election. Given the overheating in the Australian economy,this is not enough. Reserve Bank Governor Glenn Stevens said, in an 18 January speech, that a
"... less favourable short‑term relationship between economic growth and inflation ... might be experienced for a time. This outcome, were it to occur, would make for a more challenging environment for macroeconomic policy‑makers. It would limit the extent to which monetary policies could respond..." (in 2008)
That is, it is more important for fiscal policy (the budget) to be used to control inflation by reducing spending and increasing the expected surplus. The Government needs to aim for a $20 Billion surplus.

Other aspects of the plan include ways to encourage real personal savings, tackling skills shortages, tackling national infrastructure bottlenecks and helping more people to reenter the workforce.

The budget is the biggest, and best, weapon Treasurer Wayne Swan has to fight inflation - it is tool the previous government was unwilling to use, as it splashed ever-more "middle-class welfare" and tax cuts (from which those with more benefitted more) into an overheating economy.


Sunday, January 20, 2008

Kim Beazley-From Parliament to Next GG?

Today's media carry news of the possible appointment of former Labor leader Kim Beazley (pictured Photo: smh.com.au) as Australia's next Governor-General. There seems to be support from senior Labor members, including Cabinet Secretary John Faulkner, Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith and Treasurer Wayne Swan.

During John Howard's term as Prime Minister, the office of Governor-General was subjected to some controversy:
  • Archbishop Peter Hollingworth resigned following public disquiet about his handling of allegations of sexual abuse by priests under his control. His appointment was also seen by some as a statement to some groups by Mr Howard that 'Australia is a Christian country whether you like it or not'

  • Current G-G Major-General Michael Jeffrey was told to keep a low profile by ex-PM Howard - leaving Mr Howard more photo opportunities for his own political purposes.
The appointment of any person as Governor-General of Australia needs to be tempered by the need to avoid political appointments. Some such appointments include those of Sir John Kerr, Archbishop Peter Hollingworth and Bill Hayden, who lost the ALP leadership to Bob Hawke shortly before Hawke won a Federal Election. History will judge them as Governors-General, but the principle of political appointments to such an office does no good to it.

Kim Beazley might well make a good Governor-General, but he has only just retired from Parliament, his party has just won government, and his appointment will be seen as political. It is not yet time for him to be appointed as Governor-General.


Prime Minister Rudd has confirmed that Kim Beazley - nor any existing or former politician - will NOT be the next Governor-General. He said, in a media conference:

"The next Governor-General of Australia will not be a former or serving politician - conservative or Labor. The reason being is, I believe it's an office which is often best
discharged by someone from the broader community."

That agrees with Truepolitik's policy on political appointments.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Extra Health Funding No Swan Song

Treasurer Wayne Swan (official photo from http://www.aph.gov.au/) has given the States and Territories and extra $150 million to reduce surgical waiting lists. Today's meeting of Federal and State & Territory Treasurers and Health Ministers was a a Labor love-in. Much of the substance of the agreement had been decided before the meeting.

NSW gets $43.3 million - almost the one-third for which it asked. The Federal Government is also looking at requests that the States have more freedom to manage the funding. This will be a two-edged sword for the States: Yes, there will be greater freedom and less spent on administration to satisfy the Federal Government, but it also means that State Premiers, Treasurers and Health Ministers must be more accountable to the people they claim to represent.

$150 million will, hopefully, make some measurable impact on hospital waiting lists. But more is needed: more than a decade of costs increasing faster than inflation; tightly-controlled Medicare rebates and restricted funding of public hospitals by both States and the Federal Government meant that there needs to be significant increases in new and upgraded facilities.

The hospital system needs the following
  • more beds - in Emergency Departments and in wards
  • more doctors: Emergency Dept, surgical, physicians
  • more nurses
  • more hospital infrastructure and equipment.
  • more time for scheduled surgery.
That means taxpayers need to pay more, one way or another, if they want an improved hospital system. That means today's $150 million must not be a health Swan-song, so to speak. Would you give up part of your promised tax-cut, if it went to hospitals? (see survey at top right)


Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Cricket Caught Out

The second cricket test against India at the SCG 2-6 Jan 2008 has finished. The book show Australia won. But the last two days' media headlines have been all about controversy.

Poor umpiring decisions benefited Australia more than India. Sledging appears to have become more personal, and Australia complained about allegedly racist remarks from Harbhajan Singh towards Andrew Symonds. Harbhajan was subsequently suspended for 3 matched by match referee Mike Proctor in a hearing held after the match.

At the post-match interview, Indian captain, Anil Kumble, said "I think only one team was playing with the spirit of the game..." So exactly what IS "the spirit of the game"? The Preamble to the Laws of Cricket state:

"Cricket is a game that owes much of its unique appeal to the fact that it should be played not only within its Laws but also within the Spirit of the Game. Any action which is seen to abuse this spirit of fair play rests with the captains."

The Preamble goes on to say that:
The Spirit of the Game involves RESPECT for:
• Your opponents
• Your own captain and team
• The role of the umpires
• The game’s traditional values (of behaviour and honesty)

5. It is against the Spirit of the Game:
• To dispute an umpire’s decision by word, action or gesture
• To direct abusive language towards an opponent or umpire
• To indulge in cheating or any sharp practice, for instance:
(a) to appeal knowing the batsman is not out
(b) to advance towards an umpire in an aggressive manner when appealing
(c) to seek to distract an opponent either verbally or by harassment with persistent
clapping or unnecessary noise under the guise of enthusiasm and motivation of one’s own side

It seems to me that there were players on both sides who showed disrespect for umpiring decisions, who disputed decisions, who showed disrespect for members of the other team, who appealed knowing the batsman was not out (mostly caught off the pads facing a spin bowler), and who were not honest when they knew they were out. I have previously umpired at local and district representative levels, and I have seen players not 'walk' when caught at first slip, but I can't recall it happening much in test cricket . It happened in this test match.

Australian cricketers have generally behaved worse, but allegations of racism against Harbhajan would the worst incident.

The management of both the Indian and Australian Cricket teams, along with captains Ricky Ponting and Anil Kumble must meet and discuss how they will play the remaining tests within the spirit of the game. That is, without personally derogatory or inappropriate comments, and with honesty. Australia might have won the match, but cricket, and Australian cricket in particular, has been the loser. Captains also need to be held accountable, by the ICC, for the extreme actions of their players - just read the the first paragraph of the Preamble!


Friday, January 04, 2008

Costa Spins Electricty Sale

I have previously expressed an opinion about the sale of electricity assets and business by the NSW Government.

Yesterday, Treasurer Micheal Costa continued his and Premier Iemma's media campaign to justify the political decision. An article appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald, and can be viewed here. An analysis of his comments is below.

The statements and arguments he makes reek simply of politics, and there are significant questions that need to be asked of him.

He states that “Professor Tony Owen said … it would cost the Government $15 billion to build … new baseload generators, maintain the … electricity business and (upgrade) existing power stations”. What he didn’t say is that his proposal will shift these costs to the private sector, which will (ultimately) recoup them from higher prices to us consumers.

He further uses emotional blackmail to argue that the $15 billion would mean a reduction in health, education or police spending. His argument is: ‘Do you want electricity, or hospitals?’ – an argument that is not valid. He doesn’t say that it is perfectly responsible for governments to borrow to build long-term infrastructure that lasts for generations. Indeed, there is a strong argument that future generations should contribute to the cost of infrastructure from which they benefit. That occurs when governments borrow to invest in infrastructure. In this respect, Mr Costa has been disingenuous towards the people of NSW.

Mr Costa asserts that spending on this infrastructure would lead to the “loss of our triple-A credit rating”, but presents no evidence that this would be so. Further, is the objective of the NSW Treasurer to responsibly fund services for the people of NSW, or is it to preserve a credit rating. Every non-politician in NSW would argue that Governments exist to provide services to the people.

Mr Costa’s argument that the drought is responsible for price rises of up to 17% in Victoria are only a half-truth. Certainly the Victorian Government has said that “the drought has limited hydro-electricity production, driving up energy costs.” (ABC ) Neither that statement, nor Mr Costa’s, provide evidence that the costs justify a 17% increase. The drought has limited power from hydro-electricity stations, so there is less electricity in the grid. The price rises could be partly due to profiting from demand for reduced supply.

Mr Costa tells us that the Government is “guaranteeing the job of every worker in their present locations” – he did NOT add the “but only for 3 years” part. Again, he has told us a half-truth.

He later launches into an attack on opponents with “the xenophobic undercurrent of claims of a foreign takeover”. This is typical political strategy:- if you don’t like the message, shoot the messenger.

In short, Mr Costa’s article contains omissions, half-truths, ill-directed political objectives and “shoot the messenger” arguments. That is, it is full of political spin.

The people of NSW don't need, or want, that. They want politicians who will act in the best interests of the people of NSW.


Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Conroy's Communication Collision

Federal Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, has announced Federal Government plans to use ISP's for Internet content filtering. Senator Conroy has said it will be mandatory for ISPs to filter pornography and "inappropriate material" to houses and schools. He claims the scheme will protect children from pornography and violence.

He said he would not apologise to people who argued that Internet regulation was "like going down the Chinese road" (of heavily restricted, state-controlled filtering). Here, Senator Conroy is thumbing his nose at those who argue for 'freedom of speech'. No-one of fair mind would argue against protecting children, but governments, both Liberal and Labor, have a poor record on openness. Consider how the former Liberal Coalition government, and the current NSW Labor government used FOI laws to minimise accountability.

Senator Conroy went on to say, "If people equate freedom of speech with watching child pornography, then the Rudd-Labor Government is going to disagree." Here, he is simply disparaging anyone who argues against him, consigning all and sundry to the depravity of paedophiles. Mandatory filtering might be one of a number of appropriate methods of protection, but Senator Conroy is trying to stifle debate about them.

The OpenNet Initiative (ONI) gives its mission as:"to identify and document Internet filtering and surveillance, and to promote and inform wider public dialogue about such practices."
This is what they said about Australia, BEFORE the current government's announcement:
"Australia maintains some of the most restrictive Internet policies of any Western nation, while its neighbor, New Zealand, is less rigorous in its Internet regulation. Without any explicit protection of free speech in the constitution, the Australian government has used its 'communications power' delineated in the constitution to regulate ..."

The BBC quotes an ONI report that list 25 countries that apply Internet filtering:Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Burma/Myanmar, China, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, UAE, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Yemen.

It would seem Australia is to join that list. Freedoms? Protection? Or another step in the race to become a police state? Senator Conroy does not want press comments and editorials - his comments made that clear. Just how will the media respond?