Wednesday, December 31, 2008


If Gaza falls . . .

Sara Roy . London Review of Books

Israel’s siege of Gaza began on 5 November, the day after an Israeli attack inside the strip, no doubt designed finally to undermine the truce between Israel and Hamas established last June. Although both sides had violated the agreement before, this incursion was on a different scale.

Hamas responded by firing rockets into Israel and the violence has not abated since then.

Israel’s siege has two fundamental goals. One is to ensure that the Palestinians there are seen merely as a humanitarian problem, beggars who have no political identity and therefore can have no political claims. The second is to foist Gaza onto Egypt. That is why the Israelis tolerate the hundreds of tunnels between Gaza and Egypt around which an informal but increasingly regulated commercial sector has begun to form. The overwhelming majority of Gazans are impoverished and officially 49.1 per cent are unemployed. In fact the prospect of steady employment is rapidly disappearing for the majority of the population.

On 5 November the Israeli government sealed all the ways into and out of Gaza. Food, medicine, fuel, parts for water and sanitation systems, fertiliser, plastic sheeting, phones, paper, glue, shoes and even teacups are no longer getting through in sufficient quantities or at all. According to Oxfam only 137 trucks of food were allowed into Gaza in November. This means that an average of 4.6 trucks per day entered the strip compared to an average of 123 in October this year and 564 in December 2005. The two main food providers in Gaza are the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the World Food Programme (WFP). UNRWA alone feeds approximately 750,000 people in Gaza, and requires 15 trucks of food daily to do so. Between 5 November and 30 November, only 23 trucks arrived, around 6 per cent of the total needed; during the week of 30 November it received 12 trucks, or 11 per cent of what was required. There were three days in November when UNRWA ran out of food, with the result that on each of these days 20,000 people were unable to receive their scheduled supply. According to John Ging, the director of UNRWA in Gaza, most of the people who get food aid are entirely dependent on it. On 18 December UNRWA suspended all food distribution for both emergency and regular programmes because of the blockade.

The WFP has had similar problems, sending only 35 trucks out of the 190 it had scheduled to cover Gazans’ needs until the start of February (six more were allowed in between 30 November and 6 December). Not only that: the WFP has to pay to store food that isn’t being sent to Gaza. This cost $215,000 in November alone. If the siege continues, the WFP will have to pay an extra $150,000 for storage in December, money that will be used not to support Palestinians but to benefit Israeli business.

The majority of commercial bakeries in Gaza – 30 out of 47 – have had to close because they have run out of cooking gas. People are using any fuel they can find to cook with. As the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has made clear, cooking-gas canisters are necessary for generating the warmth to incubate broiler chicks. Shortages of gas and animal feed have forced commercial producers to smother hundreds of thousands of chicks. By April, according to the FAO, there will be no poultry there at all: 70 per cent of Gazans rely on chicken as a major source of protein.

Banks, suffering from Israeli restrictions on the transfer of banknotes into the territory were forced to close on 4 December. A sign on the door of one read: ‘Due to the decision of the Palestinian Finance Authority, the bank will be closed today Thursday, 4.12.2008, because of the unavailability of cash money, and the bank will be reopened once the cash money is available.’
The World Bank has warned that Gaza’s banking system could collapse if these restrictions continue. All cash for work programmes has been stopped and on 19 November UNRWA suspended its cash assistance programme to the most needy. It also ceased production of textbooks because there is no paper, ink or glue in Gaza. This will affect 200,000 students returning to school in the new year. On 11 December, the Israeli defence minister, Ehud Barak, sent $25 million following an appeal from the Palestinian prime minister, Salaam Fayad, the first infusion of its kind since October. It won’t even cover a month’s salary for Gaza’s 77,000 civil servants.

On 13 November production at Gaza’s only power station was suspended and the turbines shut down because it had run out of industrial diesel. This in turn caused the two turbine batteries to run down, and they failed to start up again when fuel was received some ten days later. About a hundred spare parts ordered for the turbines have been sitting in the port of Ashdod in Israel for the last eight months, waiting for the Israeli authorities to let them through customs. Now Israel has started to auction these parts because they have been in customs for more than 45 days.

The proceeds are being held in Israeli accounts.

During the week of 30 November, 394,000 litres of industrial diesel were allowed in for the power plant: approximately 18 per cent of the weekly minimum that Israel is legally obliged to allow in. It was enough for one turbine to run for two days before the plant was shut down again.

The Gaza Electricity Distribution Company said that most of the Gaza Strip will be without electricity for between four and 12 hours a day. At any given time during these outages, over 65,000 people have no electricity.

No other diesel fuel (for standby generators and transport) was delivered during that week, no petrol (which has been kept out since early November) or cooking gas. Gaza’s hospitals are apparently relying on diesel and gas smuggled from Egypt via the tunnels; these supplies are said to be administered and taxed by Hamas. Even so, two of Gaza’s hospitals have been out of cooking gas since the week of 23 November.

Adding to the problems caused by the siege are those created by the political divisions between the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas Authority in Gaza. For example, Gaza’s Coastal Municipalities Water Utility (CMWU), which is not controlled by Hamas, is supposed to receive funds from the World Bank via the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA) in Ramallah to pay for fuel to run the pumps for Gaza’s sewage system. Since June, the PWA has refused to hand over those funds, perhaps because it feels that a functioning sewage system would benefit Hamas. I don’t know whether the World Bank has attempted to intervene, but meanwhile UNRWA is providing the fuel, although they have no budget for it. The CMWU has also asked Israel’s permission to import 200 tons of chlorine, but by the end of November it had received only 18 tons – enough for one week of chlorinated water. By mid-December Gaza City and the north of Gaza had access to water only six hours every three days.

According to the World Health Organisation, the political divisions between Gaza and the West Bank are also having a serious impact on drug stocks in Gaza. The West Bank Ministry of Health (MOH) is responsible for procuring and delivering most of the pharmaceuticals and medical disposables used in Gaza. But stocks are at dangerously low levels. Throughout November the MOH West Bank was turning shipments away because it had no warehouse space, yet it wasn’t sending supplies on to Gaza in adequate quantities. During the week of 30 November, one truck carrying drugs and medical supplies from the MOH in Ramallah entered Gaza, the first delivery since early September.

The breakdown of an entire society is happening in front of us, but there is little international response beyond UN warnings which are ignored. The European Union announced recently that it wanted to strengthen its relationship with Israel while the Israeli leadership openly calls for a large-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip and continues its economic stranglehold over the territory with, it appears, the not-so-tacit support of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah – which has been co-operating with Israel on a number of measures. On 19 December Hamas officially ended its truce with Israel, which Israel said it wanted to renew, because of Israel’s failure to ease the blockade.

How can keeping food and medicine from the people of Gaza protect the people of Israel? How can the impoverishment and suffering of Gaza’s children – more than 50 per cent of the population – benefit anyone? International law as well as human decency demands their protection. If Gaza falls, the West Bank will be next.

Sara Roy teaches at Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies and is the author of Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict.


Red News Readers,

The public needs to understand that this is the stupidity that nurses and midwives have to put up with on a daily basis. Managers think they are being so clever making moves like this but all it does is frustrate the nursing and midwifery staff and leave patients at risk of an error. Let nurses be nurses and midwives be midwives, for goodness sake and let the public get the best standard of care available.

Jenny Haines

Embattled hospital shuffles midwives

Kate Benson Medical Reporter, smh

December 31, 2008

MIDWIVES at the beleaguered Blue Mountains hospital are being forced to work on general wards because several surgical nurses have been given shifts in the maternity unit while the operating theatres are closed for three weeks.

The bizarre move has angered staff and comes a day after the Herald reported that two women in the late stages of labour were turned away from the maternity unit over Christmas because an obstetrician was not available to help them. One gave birth in an ambulance on the roadside, while the other, seven weeks' premature, was rushed to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, 90 minutes away, but was diverted to Westmead Hospital because the birth was imminent. The baby, born minutes later, is still in intensive care.

In September, the State Government promised to keep the maternity unit open after the community campaigned against its closure. Almost 300 babies have been delivered there this year but midwives and residents say the unit is often closed at short notice due to a lack of staff and can be shut for up to a week at a time, forcing women to Nepean Hospital, 45 minutes away.

Now staff are angry that midwives, many of whom have studied at university for 4½ years, are being sent to other wards while staff not trained in labour are taking their roles.

"This is totally inappropriate," the assistant secretary of the NSW Nurses Association, Judith Kiejda, said yesterday. "It's not safe for patients and all they are doing is making their staff dissatisfied and they will leave."

The Australian College of Midwives insists that "delegation of midwifery care to non-midwives is not acceptable".

"It is the right of all women to receive continuous pregnancy, labour, birth and postnatal care from a midwife. Compromising women's midwifery care … with non-midwifery personnel is not an appropriate strategy for addressing shortages of midwives," it says.

But the hospital denies any patients had been put in danger. The director of clinical operations for Sydney West Area Health Service, Kevin Hedge, said the unit usually had two midwives rostered for each shift, but a decision had been made to send the second midwife to work in other wards if there were no women in labour.

"Some theatre nurses have been deployed to maternity to support the midwife but it is only to fill gaps in the roster," he said. "Such arrangements are always temporary and are not continued where the midwife is required in the maternity unit."

The Opposition's health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, said the roster was short-changing women admitted for antenatal and postnatal care who still deserved midwifery care.

"There are many women in there who give birth at Nepean and are immediately shipped back to Blue Mountains for postnatal care," she said.

"Why on Earth would you not make the best use of the expertise available? No wonder nurses and midwives are leaving the system. This is an affront to them."

Melissa Maimann, a midwife who runs birthing classes, said nurses were leaving themselves open to deregistration if anything went wrong during labour or birth as only obstetricians and registered midwives were legally covered to deliver babies.

"Not all midwives are nurses," she said, "… so why should they be put on general wards?"

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Joel Gibson Indigenous Affairs Reporter, smh

December 28, 2008

ABORIGINES and the NSW Government are at war in the courts over the fate of unused crown land worth billions.

The Government has lost 11 out of 13 appeals against rejected land claims in the past 18 months as Aborigines fight to take back land the Government wants to sell to close its billion-dollar budget black hole.

Land rights officials are accusing the Government of racial discrimination because of the hard line it is taking against Aboriginal groups.

But it will not let up, with two crucial new cases due to come before the Land and Environment Court next year. Neither side would reveal the legal cost of the war, which went to the High Court for the first time in October, but it is understood to be in the millions.

Under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, Aboriginal land councils in NSW are able to claim unused Crown land on behalf of their members as compensation for their dispossession two centuries ago. But the state's economic woes have forced the Government to adopt a policy, since 2003, of selling it.

A game of real estate cat and mouse has developed, where Aboriginal land councils scour parish maps in search of claimable Crown land. When land is listed in the real estate pages or the Government Gazette, they have until a sale is made to lodge a claim.

The High Court found in October that a disused Wagga Wagga motor registry could be claimed, even though it was for sale.

Two cases in the Land and Environment Court early next year - over blocks in East Lindfield and North Kempsey - will determine whether a notice must appear in the Government Gazette before land is sold, which would make it almost impossible to list it for sale without attracting a land claim.

Other claims to be decided include a section of North Head and a Kiama courthouse. There were just 358 claims before 2000 but there are more than 16,000 now. A quarter have been refused but more than half await assessment.

Meanwhile, the Government has processed successful claims so slowly a 2007 report said it would take more than 20 years to transfer title to more than $1 billion of land already granted to Aborigines.

Geoff Scott, chief executive of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, said his organisation was considering mounting a racial discrimination case against the Government.

"The Department of Lands policy is to protect the state's assets against marauding blacks. It's as simple as that," he said.

He said land councils wanted to be joint venture partners with the Government, so that both parties reaped the benefits of development.

But the Government says its hands are tied. A Department of Lands spokesman said the Land Rights Act did not give the minister discretion in deciding land claims.

"Lands [Department] will be talking to Aboriginal land council groups and other stakeholders to explore other courses of action. However, there are strong legislative requirements imposed on the minister," he said.

But Steve Wright, the registrar of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, said claims had been decided by mediation in the past. "There are ways to negotiate this."



Wagga Wagga A motor registry not used since the 1980s. Warringah Shire Most of Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council's estimated $60 million estate. Kellyville Deerubbin Land Council planning the development of 158 residential blocks on a parcel of claimed land. North Entrance A 101-hectare claim was sold to Mirvac, which built the Magenta Shores golf course and resort. Byron Bay 24 blocks, valued at $100 million, granted to settle a native title claim in 2007. Menai 750 hectares granted to Gandangara Local Aboriginal Land Council in 1999. Morisset 1146 hectares near Morisset Hospital granted in 1995. Stockton Beach Eight parcels of land (total of about 750 hectares) granted in 2002.


Former government facility at North Head; old courthouse at Kiama; unused public tennis courts at Yanco; land at East Lindfield and North Kempsey.

Saturday, December 27, 2008


Courage under fire from usual suspects

David Marr, smh

December 27, 2008

With trademark self-absorption, homosexuals are making a fuss over the Pope's remarks about the "ecology of man" delivered pre-Christmas to the Roman Curia. "It is not outmoded metaphysics," Benedict XVI declared, "when the church speaks of the nature of the human being as man and woman, and demands that this order of creation be respected."

Harsh things are being said about His Holiness in the aftermath. But poofs who love the planet more than themselves should acknowledge the pontiff was onto something here: not just saving homosexuals from their "own destruction" but announcing a new role for the church defending "the earth, water, air, as gifts of the creation that belongs to all of us".

This is welcome. At a time when the Rudd Government can only muster the courage to promise 15 per cent cuts in emissions if, maybe, other countries sign up too, the Catholic Church is setting out on a campaign against global warming at least as determined as its historic mission to stamp out gays. Expect a couple of millenniums of persecution. Even burnings. Don't rule out coal miners being refused Communion.

Courage was also the word Kevin Andrews plucked from nowhere to describe his handling of the Haneef matter. "The Australian people expected me to act," said the former minister for immigration this week. "I had the courage to do so."

Did he mean ingenuity? How but by the most ingenious devices could Andrews have remained, as he claims, entirely ignorant of ASIO's cheerful view of Mohamed Haneef until ASIO's submission to the Clarke inquiry was shown to the world in July? He told The Age: "The first I knew of it was when I saw their submission."

Those 13 months of ignorance rank with some of the great blackouts of the Howard era: the five or so years Alexander Downer spent out of the loop as wheat scams to the tune of $300 million crossed the desks of his Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; the year the whole cabinet remained convinced Iraq bristled with weapons of mass destruction; and the iconic month no one got around to telling the prime minister that kids weren't thrown overboard.

Recall the problem Andrews faced in July last year: Haneef's arrest was a God-given pre-election terrorism scare that would deflate like a used party balloon if the vilified doctor was allowed to go back to work at the Southport Hospital. As Andrews prepared to cancel Haneef's visa on "character" grounds, ASIO kept reporting all around Canberra the doctor was clean.

Andrews says only the "general tenor" ever reached him though ASIO officials were briefing officers of his department almost daily. As Haneef was entering his 10th day of detention without charge in the Brisbane watch house, ASIO put its verdict in writing. Surely that got to Andrews? No. Clarke reports the assessment was delivered to the acting secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship but "Mr Correll did not circulate the report to anyone else in DIAC or to the minister."

How close it came. There must have been days the minister's cuffs almost brushed the file. Did he know not to ask? Is there some wink or nod, some Masonic handshake that tells a minister not to go there?

A thumbs-down from the spooks was all Andrews needed to cancel Haneef's visa and, though he had his lawyers searching in the dimmest recesses of the legislation for help, he never picked up the phone to get ASIO's verdict.

Hours after a Brisbane magistrate granted Haneef bail, Andrews had the rare privilege of attending a meeting of the national security committee of cabinet. ASIO was there. ASIO delivered its unchanged verdict: Haneef was clean. An impeccable source tells me Andrews was in the room at the time.

Not so, according to the then minister. He told Clarke he only arrived in time to hear the Police Commissioner, Mick Keelty, give a briefing on continued police suspicions about the Indian doctor. Immediately after the NSCC dispersed, Andrews cancelled the visa and Haneef stayed behind bars for another fortnight. It's a neat trick we can pull in Australia: imprisonment by ministerial decree …

Though probably the most crucial meeting in the whole Haneef saga, it's another of Canberra's little dark pools. We can't know what went on there. John Howard didn't front the inquiry and Clarke reports that officers of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet were told "they could not disclose to me any aspects of the discussion of the matters in question in cabinet or cabinet committees - in particular, at meetings of the National Security Committee." Ingenious.

By the way, Clarke reserves the word "courage" for ASIO. He endorses the view of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Ian Carnell, who said the organisation "showed good moral courage in expressing its views".

THOUGHTS of courage in adversity at this time bring Conrad Black to mind. The former Fairfax proprietor and convicted fraudster, Black is reviewing books from his Florida prison.

For the online Daily Beast, he's had a go at Michael Wolff's biography of The Man Who Owns The News as "a confusing and cliched account of Rupert Murdoch's life, replete with factual errors, serious omissions, mind-reading suppositions, extreme psychological liberties" etc.

Marcus Einfeld might take up book reviewing to while away the time he's going to be spending in the slammer when he's sentenced on February 25 for telling a few porkies to get out of a $77 speeding fine. Around the courts they reckon he'll be spending a couple of years thereafter behind bars.

Lord Black of Crossharbour is also lining up for a pardon from the departing George Bush - something, alas, Quentin Bryce can't extend to Marcus Einfeld. It's just one more problem we need to address in the constitution.


Louis Nowra, smh

December 27, 2008

It still comes as a shock to hear racist remarks about Aborigines. A few weeks ago I saw an inebriated Aboriginal woman fall down in a Kings Cross street. A car narrowly missed running over her. While the driver jumped out of his car and rushed to her aid, a crowd of drinkers at the nearby Bourbon hotel laughed at the woman's plight and several shouted out, "Get a look at that drunken Abo". What fascinated me was that the men and women jeering and laughing at her did so without apology as if they knew no one would criticise them. You forget that such casual racism is still a part of our national character.

When I was growing up I never heard my parents make a racist comment. My mother's first husband had been Javanese and two of my aunties also married Indonesian men. I didn't think there was anything unusual about this until I was a teenager when one of my cousins decided to enter the Miss Australia contest. She was beautiful and intelligent. When it looked like she was going to win the state title one of the judges took her aside and said she would have to withdraw because she was coloured. It's all too easy to imagine her profound hurt.

In my early 20s one of my closest friends was a drag queen. He was Aboriginal but told everyone he was Indonesian because, as he once confided in me, he hated being called "a boong" and other such names. My ignorance of such abuse was telling because I thought he was exaggerating. I had no idea, nor did I probably care, of what he had gone through to reach such a stage as to deny his own background.

For most people it is the personal experience that transforms the way you see the world. So it was with me. In my late 30s I began to live with an Aboriginal woman, Justine Saunders. She had come from desperate conditions and had been taken from her mother, placed in a Catholic girls' home and, at the age of 14, forcibly sent to a distant country town to become a maid. She had risen above these circumstances to become a model, then actress on the stage, in film and on television. I remember being in the outback with her once, and a group of Aboriginal children who had just seen her on television rubbed her skin to see if she was really a white woman made up to be black because they just could not imagine a real Aboriginal person being on TV.

There were many things that Justine taught me about the awful, dismal things Aborigines have had done to them and in many parts of Australia still have to endure: the cruel remarks, the constant belittling, the poverty and the cold indifference of government authorities. On the other hand she grew tired of those white people who sought her out as some sort of spiritual guru, just because she was Aboriginal. It was as if she did not exist as a person but as an answer to these white people's lack of their own identity. Perhaps her greatest scorn was for small 'l' liberals who seemed to be merely parroting platitudes about their love for Aborigines; but it always seemed to be talk and no action. "Sometimes I prefer rednecks," she would say after a meeting with such people, "because at least you know where you stand with rednecks."

Through Justine I also got to know many Aborigines, including actors. It was the first time I mixed on such a personal level with actors and I saw aspects of them in private life that I wanted to put on stage. I began to write characters especially for them. I have been asked if I wrote these plays because I was keen to write about Aboriginal "topics". The truth is that I had no ideology. I just wanted to see these men and women playing roles I had written especially for them. Perhaps the culmination of this was the play Radiance. The original production starred Lydia Miller, Rhoda Roberts and Rachel Maza. The idea for it came from a story one Aboriginal woman told me about half-sisters attending the funeral of their mother. During rehearsal it was decided that there would be no mention of the fact that the characters were Aboriginal. We didn't want to write a "problem" play but one about the emotional interplay between three sisters who hardly knew each other and only had their mother in common.

I didn't set out to write a political play but the difficulty about writing for Aboriginal characters is that Aborigines on stage become more than people; they personalise an issue for many critics and audiences. I suppose it was my naivety, but I was amazed when audiences saw it as a work about the stolen generation rather than something more primal and personal.

In 1998 Radiance was made into a film directed by the indigenous film maker Rachel Perkins. She did a superb job. Yet there were a few people, most of them white, who criticised her for being involved in a story written by a non-indigenous writer and a man at that. I was abused by one white woman for "appropriating black women's stories".

In early January 2003 Rachel and her producer, Darren Dale, met me for lunch. They had embarked on an eight-part documentary series for SBS on Aboriginal history and they wanted me to be script editor on episode two, which was centred on the arrival of the English in 1788. I was reluctant because of my lack of time but then the original writer of the episode left and I found myself writing it. A similar thing happened with episode three, and eventually I went on to write eight episodes.

These four years proved to be exhausting, profound, exciting and at times depressing. When you study the history of Aboriginal and white relations since the First Fleet, the great difficulty is dealing with the distressing information that confronts you. It seems that wherever white men appeared in Australia, Aboriginal dispossession, deaths from violence and disease, and suffering followed. It took me some months to be able to deal with such horrific matters.

As our template we used Ken Burns's magnificent The Civil War documentary series, so we wanted to concentrate on characters and story to bring the episodes to life. Of course, at first, we had to depend on white sources - documents, letters and photographs - but it enabled us to find our way to help tell each story.

As time went on I began to realise something - what I was learning was our true Australian history. I loathed Australian history at school. Who can make the Gold Rush or Federation interesting? It's laughable to think that the Eureka Stockade was a major historical moment when compared with what happened in other frontier societies like America.

But Aboriginal history since Governor Philip contains all the elements of an astonishing history: great men and women, evil doers and flawed men, bloodshed, corruption, ideals and government deceit, racial conflict, broken treaties, love and hate, ideological warfare, bad science, companionship and the survival of a people who were thought to be dying out.

Sometimes the stories had Shakespearean grandeur and moral complexity to them, other times they were as grim as a Samuel Beckett play. This history was breathtaking in its scope and its importance to all Australians. I felt I had come to understand that unless we learned this history then Australians were missing out on something extraordinary and essential for an understanding of how we came to be the nation we are.

As the production process continued over the years I became even more aware of the terrible irony that, while the Aboriginal population is increasing rapidly and its artists are celebrated, many of the urban and rural indigenous communities are being torn apart by male violence and sexual abuse. The combination of history, government inertia, welfare dependency and alcohol had created a perfect storm of community dysfunction. So last year I wrote a slim book about it called Bad Dreaming.

The book was based on government reports, anthropologists, historians and journalists and Aborigines themselves. I can claim no originality. I wanted non-indigenous people to understand just what was happening to our indigenous population. Writing the documentary series convinced me that we owed an obligation to help a people we have treated so badly too much of the time. There were critics of course. One Queensland academic ridiculed me, saying:

"Everybody knows what's going on in these communities." Well, as far as the response to Bad Dreaming was concerned, the academic was wrong. I received many letters and emails, some from people who worked with Aborigines who confirmed my research, indigenous men who had tried to do something about the situation but had been ostracised by elders, but the overwhelming reaction from people was, "We didn't know." I have to say that most were horrified not only by the examples I gave but also the fact that they had paid no attention to it before. I was hoping that First Australians would attract such people who wanted to know more about our common history.

Now, as any documentary writer can tell you, a script is merely a vague blueprint that can be considerably altered by the experts you interview and the visual material you can find. Some interviews can totally change the way you approach a topic. And that's what happened in First Australians. Rachel and the other director, Beck Cole, also an indigenous filmmaker, took the scripts and put them through the exhilarating blender of interviews and visuals to create a fabulous series.

Characters like Bennelong, the young Patyregarang, William Dawes, the charismatic William Barak and the heroic and stubborn Eddie Mabo came alive. Above all Rachel and Beck created a documentary series that did not go out of its way to blame white people for what had happened to the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, nor did it portray them as victims as other documentaries had done.

SBS publicised the series brilliantly. The reviews and articles about it were excellent. There were very few negative reactions; perhaps one of the most silly was by Patrick McCauley, in this month's Quadrant, who thought it was another example of the constant reaffirmation of "the invasion/genocide/stolen generation/racist version of Australian history".

The general reaction of people was that they had thought they knew about Aboriginal history, but the series had been a revelation to them.

I was detached enough from First Australians to believe that this wonderful response would result in big audiences. But I was wrong. The numbers generally hovered around the 300,000 mark. A figure that's a little bigger than the quarter of a million people who walked across Sydney Harbour Bridge in the Reconciliation March. To put it into even bigger perspective, a bland middle-class family drama, Packed to the Rafters, attracts about 2 million per episode.

I was mentioning this to a friend, a well known writer. She told me she had not seen the series. "I don't have any excuse," she said. "Actually, to be honest, I am totally indifferent to the whole subject of Aborigines." This stunned me, but I was grateful for her honesty. When you've lived with and worked with Aborigines you forget just how many Australians have never met an indigenous person or really care about them.

And really this goes back to the arrival of settlers. Once the white man discovered that Aborigines had nothing to trade nor did they till the land then they could quite easily be gotten rid of or forgotten. The last 200 years saw them pushed onto poverty-stricken reserves, bleak missions or shunted away in communities or urban ghettos so that the general population did not have to be reminded of them.

Those drinkers heckling the Aboriginal woman who had fallen onto the road expressed not so much their racism but the general populace's attitude towards the first Australians - they are indifferent. It's a shame because our historical identity as Australians is inextricably bound up with the Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. I can only hope that a younger generation realises this, because, as far as history proves, indifference can be a callous and even cruel thing.

Louis Nowra is a playwright, novelist and screenwriter. His latest novel is Ice.


New law fails young families

Mark Davis Political Correspondent, smh

December 27, 2008

Latest related coverage:
Maternity leave exposes 'culture of antagonism'

THE Rudd Government's much-vaunted new right for working parents to seek flexible employment arrangements to help with their family responsibilities will turn out to be a "Clayton's right" because it cannot be legally enforced, according to labour law experts.

The Government's Fair Work Bill - due to replace the Howard government's Work Choices next year - gives employees with preschool children a legislated right to request family-friendly work patterns such as different starting and finishing times or part-time employment.

But while the bill says employers may refuse such requests only on "reasonable business grounds", the fine print confirms that where working parents believe their employer has breached this obligation, they will have no means to enforce their right.

A clause in the bill provides that where an employer contravenes the flexible working arrangement requirement, the courts will not be able to impose penalties or issue any other orders enforcing the employee's right. This contrasts with wide powers the bill gives courts to penalise employers who breach any of the other nine of the 10 national employment standards the Government plans to introduce in the legislation.

The framing of the bill comes as a report has found that pregnant women frequently lose their jobs, despite having had legal protection from discrimination for 30 years. The report, by the Women's Employment Rights Project, found the old Work Choices laws had expanded employers' dismissal powers and provided broad operational reasons for making employees redundant.

The bill also bars employers, employees and unions from agreeing to allow the industrial tribunal, Fair Work Australia, to settle individual grievances over refusals of flexible work requests.

Campaigners for women's workplace rights have criticised the Government for watering down the requirement that employers must not unreasonably refuse requests for flexible working arrangements for parents of young children.

The director of the University of South Australia's Centre for Work and Life, Barbara Pocock, said legal rights were meaningful only if they were backed up by sanctions for non-compliance.

"The concern is what happens in workplaces where the employer is intransigent or where the internal culture is hostile towards workers with family responsibilities," Professor Pocock said.
"It really runs the risk of being a Clayton's right, one the Government can say it has provided but where the reality is a long way short of such a right.

"If the employee knows that where they get a knock-back from the employer there will be no avenue of appeal or review, the right becomes very weak or in practical terms, non-existent."

The president of the ACTU, Sharan Burrow, said she was extremely disappointed "the Government had buckled to employer pressure by backing down on what it promised".

"To be meaningful, there must be an external review process available to employees when their boss refuses to consider their request for more flexible hours," Ms Burrow said.

"Under the proposed legislation, employers will have no obligation to consider other ways to accommodate workers with family responsibilities."

The Minister for Workplace Relations, Julia Gillard, said the national standards on flexible work and a similar one allowing employees to ask for an extra 12 months' maternity leave were designed to promote discussion between employers and employees.

"They are not intended to be prescriptive as this is likely to act as a disincentive to genuine discussion," she said.

"The bill does not identify what may, or may not, comprise reasonable business grounds. The Government believes such matters are appropriately assessed at the workplace level."

Friday, December 26, 2008


Ronan O'Connell, smh

December 26, 2008

STAFF at Christmas Island's main detention centre have been told to prepare for the arrival of about 70 more boat people in what would be the biggest single influx into Australian territory this year.

It is understood that staff at the $400 million North West Point detention centre have been told that the refugees could arrive within a week. They would bring to about 150 the number of asylum seekers to be transported to the island in the space of a month.

A week ago, 37 people were taken to the remote Indian Ocean island and less than two weeks before that 44 people, believed to be from Afghanistan, were transported there.

The total would be more than the 148 illegal immigrants intercepted at sea in all of last year.

The RAAF has at least three P3 Orion aircraft at Exmouth in Western Australia conducting regular surveillance, and a navy patrol boat has been anchored off Christmas Island.

At present 171 asylum seekers and illegal boat crew are being held on Christmas Island, with 113 of them housed in the North West Point detention centre, which was opened last week.

The construction camp on the island houses 29 refugees and one boat crew member, while the Phosphate Hill camp is empty after its occupants were shifted to North West Point.

A spokesman for the Department of Immigration said the detainees would be placed in community accommodation once health, identity and security checks had been completed.

Twenty-eight asylum seekers live in the community and are allowed to move freely throughout the island.

The 171 asylum seekers and boat crew are made up of Afghans, Iranians, Iraqis, Sri Lankans and Indonesians.

A spokesman for the Minister for Home Affairs, Bob Debus, would not deny that the Government was expecting the arrival of more boat people in the coming days.

However, a spokesman for the Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans, said he was not aware of any impending arrival.

The Rudd Government has softened its stance on the detention of asylum seekers by abolishing temporary protection visas and ending the so-called Pacific solution introduced under John Howard.

Its moves against hard-line detention are believed to be behind the initial reluctance to open the new Christmas Island centre that was commissioned by the Howard Government following the Tampa affair in 2001.

Refugee advocates have complained that the continuing detention of asylum seekers on Christmas Island and the decision to open the centre raised concerns about the Rudd Government's commitment to its police of "detention as a last resort".

Senator Evans has said that all unauthorised boat arrivals would be detained and processed at Christmas Island while health, identity and security checks are carried out.

The West Australian

Thursday, December 25, 2008


On day two, ASIO knew he was clean

David Marr, smh

December 24, 2008

Latest related coverage

No grudges, and he may even return
Advice from ASIO was ignored by police
Questions over delay in releasing report
Clarke gets inquiry done despite no-shows and other hurdles
Howard's sedition laws to be abolished

Editorial: The Christmas call to hope

Audio: Dr Haneef reacts to findings

Other related coverage

Jury verdict in London clears way for judgment on Haneef fiasco

MICK KEELTY is no more than a ghost in the Clarke report. Though the Australian Federal Police are revealed on page after page to have made an absolute mess of the case, Commissioner Keelty is barely an extra in the narrative. He gets three mentions in the first 100 pages. There's no discussion of his direction - or failure to direct - the officers below him. There are no findings on his role. Nothing.

Keelty appears to be a protected species. Both the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, yesterday and the former NSW Supreme Court judge John Clarke, QC, in his report share the notion that the AFP's most senior officer is somehow not responsible for the glaring faults exposed in its senior ranks. Clarke makes no bones of it - the evidence against Mohamed Haneef was "completely deficient".

He blames one man above all for the mess: the federal police's Manager Counter Terrorism Domestic, Commander Ramzi Jabbour. Though Clarke called him "impressive, dedicated and capable", he found Jabbour had lost objectivity and was "unable to see that the evidence he regarded as highly incriminating in fact amounted to very little".

Once the British police discovered Haneef was no longer in Britain, they all but lost
interest in the case. Not Jabbour. He persuaded reluctant police to arrest Haneef as he was about to board a plane to India. It was a "cynical" Jabbour, said Clarke, who kept evidence that might exonerate Haneef from the magistrate detaining the doctor in the Brisbane watch-house and from the then minister for immigration, Kevin Andrews, who was to cancel his visa.

In popular mythology, police are the hard heads and spooks the dreamers. But Clarke reveals a pattern in this case of ASIO giving Haneef a clean bill of health while the police, led by Jabbour, continued to put the worst possible slant on the scant evidence against him.

Clarke writes that Haneef could be held without charge only while police continued to have "reasonable grounds" to believe he had committed a terrorist crime. But as the days passed and no information turned up to contradict Haneef's story, that belief became "difficult to sustain", said Clarke. "The 'evidence' supporting this premise consisted largely of Commander Jabbour's asserted experience in counter-terrorism."

Two heroes emerge from Clarke's narrative. Federal agent Neil Thompson of the federal police and Detective Sergeant Adam Simms of the Queensland Police were the officers who had to be persuaded to arrest Haneef and the ones who interrogated him over the best part of 24 hours, at the end of which they refused to put their names to any charges.

Clarke wrote: "Simms and Thompson told the inquiry that the usual course would be for them, as the arresting officers, to make the decision about whether or not to charge, and that consequently they felt 'under considerable pressure' at this time. Both said, however, that in their opinion there was insufficient evidence, and they refused to charge Dr Haneef."

So Jabbour took over and charged the doctor with recklessly assisting a terrorist organisation by giving his cousin Sabeel Ahmed an old SIM card - still registered in his name - one year before Sabeel's brother tried and failed to blow up a London nightclub and Glasgow Airport.

Though the charge was withdrawn after only a fortnight in a welter of public embarrassment, the federal police continued to pursue Haneef. Simms got a trip to Britain out of it and there discovered how easy it is to buy a SIM card in anyone's name, real or false. He told Clarke "he wished that 'someone had come forward and said that a lot earlier', noting that it 'begs the question as to why terrorists would want to use SIM cards that are registered in the names of affiliates, associates or relatives. It just doesn't stand to reason'."

It never did. Clarke talks like an old judge but without a judge's power. He doesn't allow himself to reach cut and dried conclusions. Everything is veiled in the languid rhetoric of concern, surprise, bewilderment, etc. "I record my surprise that not one of the people involved in the police investigation and the charging whom the inquiry interviewed stood back at any time prior to the decision to charge and reflected on what Dr Haneef was known to have done."

Bugger all. Aficionados of the case will find hundreds of fascinating details in the report that clarify the complicated interaction of police, ASIO and the minister's office. We discover that though Haneef was begging to be allowed to talk to his wife, it took the federal police eight days to do it. Clarke refused to accept police claims that such contact might have allowed the prisoner to wreck the case.

ASIO's role behind the scenes is the most eye-opening aspect. We knew it had cleared Haneef before he was charged. What now emerges is that within 48 hours of his arrest ASIO told the government in writing that it "had not identified information to suggest that Haneef: posed a specific threat to security, in Australia or overseas; was planning to undertake an act of violence in Australia or elsewhere; was involved in, or had foreknowledge of, the failed UK attacks."

That advice never changed. It proved correct. But the government essentially ignored it. The federal police come out as cowboys and ASIO as the cool professionals. But the cowboys were running the show.

Jabbour gets another caning: "There does not appear to have been any systematic process for recording and updating the information received in the course of the investigation and for keeping track of significant avenues of inquiry for the purposes of assessing the grounds for the belief that Dr Haneef had committed an offence . . . In the absence of such a process, any review by Jabbour of the reasonableness of his belief was likely to have been an impressionistic exercise."

This was the first time the new machinery of detention without charge had been used. Guarantees against misuse of the system are theoretically provided by the oversight of a magistrate, in this case Jim Gordon of Brisbane. But Clarke shows how difficult Gordon's position was. Essentially he was flying blind with only the information police let him have.

Clarke found Haneef "was not told he had a right to personally make representations to the magistrate" and his lawyers never saw sensitive intelligence evidence against him. The material the police gave the magistrate was seriously inaccurate and did not include important evidence that supported Haneef's innocence. Clarke keeps some of his strongest language in reserve for urging changes to a system with "simply no provision covering procedural fairness problems".
That there is presently no limit to the time a person can be held without charge he calls "the most obvious deficiency" of the legislation.

But he also recommends the machinery be operated only by skilled lawyers and senior police, which was not the case with Haneef's detention. "Having regard to the fundamental importance of the extended deprivation of liberty, there is a strong case for requiring the application to be made by more senior officers, trained in the process and familiar with all the facts, including those arising in sensitive material."

All that is for down the track. Nothing in the report mattered so much to Haneef yesterday as Clarke's simple exoneration on its opening page: "I could find no evidence that he was associated with or had foreknowledge of the terrorist events or of the possible involvement of his second
cousins Dr Sabeel Ahmed and Mr Kafeel Ahmed in terrorist activities.'

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Out of Africa, a cry for help

"We need outside assistance" … the Zimbabwean opposition politician Brian James.

Latest related coverage:

Unity pact dead with Mugabe at helm: US

Other related coverage:

Mugabe claims cholera epidemic over
'Zimbabwe is mine': Mugabe defiant as criticism mounts
Mugabe says he will never surrender

December 23, 2008

Brian James took up Robert Mugabe's call. Now he's been run off his farm, writes Russell Skelton, smh.

BRIAN JAMES resents the suggestion that the people of Zimbabwe should do more to rid themselves of the disaster that is the Mugabe regime.

"What more can people do?" he says. "People voted for change and then had the election stolen.

People lost their lives and political abductions are still going on. We have 40 members of the MDC [Movement for Democratic Change] unaccounted for. There is a systemic culture of fear."

The popularly elected mayor of Mutare, Zimbabwe's third-largest city with a population of nearly 300,000, Mr James is a prominent member of Opposition Leader Morgan Tsvangirai's MDC.

He is also one of a handful of popularly elected white politicians that have survived the era of liberation politics that began with President Robert Mugabe.

Mr James is a second generation Zimbabwean who took up farming after hearing Mr Mugabe's independence speech in 1980 calling for the nation to pull together. Twenty years later he was run off his farm. He is in Melbourne to visit his daughter before travelling to New Zealand.

The mayor said he welcomed the United States's decision to call the power sharing agreement between Mr Mugabe and Mr Tsvangirai "dead" on the grounds that "Mugabe had lost touch with reality".

The US Assistant Secretary of State, Jendayi Frazer, announced yesterday that the Bush Administration would continue to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe because Mr Mugabe had "reneged on the principle of power sharing".

"We need this outside pressure, it all helps. Our treason laws are such that it is impossible to call for anything … We need outside assistance," Mr James said.

He said Mr Mugabe's response - a threat to call a snap election - was full of bravado because he knew he would lose. "I would welcome an election especially if it was held under international supervision, there could be no escaping the verdict."

Mr James said he was initially discouraged from entering politics by members of the country's diminished white community who thought it best for business to avoid being identified with the MDC. "Some white business interests are working with the Government, they are helping to prop it up. When this is all over, there will be a need for a truth and reconciliation commission."

Cholera has spread to Mutare and the crisis is far from over despite claims by Mr Mugabe that it is. "We are worried that a nest of cholera could develop in the city, because the whole infrastructure including the sewerage system is in decay."

The disease has already claimed 1123 lives and aid agencies have warned that another 60,000 are likely to be infected unless decisive action is taken.

Elsewhere the situation continues to deteriorate with reports of corruption and extravagance among the military and the ruling political elite intensifying. Members of the elite send their children abroad to be educated while teachers go without basic pay. Local markets are bereft of food, but supermarkets for the wealthy remain well stocked.

Mr James remains optimistic. He said that even in Mutare, where Zanu-PF party members sit on the council, there was an increasing consensus. "There is a growing moderate group in the Zanu-PF that knows this cannot continue, that wants change."

Mr Mugabe's statements at the weekend that Zimbabwe was his and that he would "never surrender" would have been counterproductive. "We work on three pillars of principle: democracy, transparency and accountability. We explain to the people of Mutare what the hurdles are and I believe we have their backing, especially when it comes to transparency.

"The people are enthusiastic for change and we are feeding on that. These are poor people but the enthusiasm they have has opened my eyes to what was being felt across the entire country. It has kept me going."


From SMH, 23.12.08:

The Health Department's assertion that the reduction of registered nurse numbers in rural hospitals is because many patients are low-care cases waiting for nursing home placement is patently wrong ("Skilled nurses axed in cost cuts", December 19).

I am a registered nurse at Moruya Hospital. This is a busy district hospital with regular surgical and gynaecological operating lists, a busy maternity department, a medical-surgical high dependency unit, a renal dialysis unit, oncology and a busy accident and emergency department.

Greater Southern Area Health Service is cutting registered nurse positions in all these acute areas and has closed the long-stay ward so that for the first time there are regularly patients on trolleys all night waiting for beds. These cuts are obviously economic and not in the interests of patients, staff or efficiency.

Joy Fenn Moruya


From SMH 22.12.08

After years of concern about standards of care and untimely deaths in the NSW hospital system, the Government has just paid millions of dollars for the Garling report. Was this all just window dressing?

Now NSW Health comes up with a plan to downskill the nursing workforce further by making half the workforce in rural hospitals untrained nursing assistants ("Skilled nurses axed in cost cuts", December 19).

It comforts itself that these staff will be supervised by a registered nurse, but they are increasingly new graduates, as the older staff retire. Placing increasing pressure on new graduates will do nothing for their retention in the workforce.

Jenny Haines Newtown

Aged people with dementia require skilled nurses to care for them - registered nurses as well as enrolled nurses and assistants in nursing.

NSW Health says the cuts are justified as many hospitals are working as aged care facilities, which implies that aged care facilities require only basic nursing skills.

Yes, aged care facilities send their residents to hospital for treatment, as there is inadequate coverage by GPs. But caring for the sick elderly in the aged care facilities provides better outcomes with qualified staff who know them. It is also much cheaper.

Anyone who has cared for a person with dementia, who most likely also has other diagnoses, knows the skill, education and experience required.

With skilled registered nurses and adequate GP services, these people can be cared for without transferring them to hospital, where their confused state is only exacerbated by the unfamiliar environment. Having more aged care beds, with qualified staff, will keep acute beds free.

Rosemary McDonald Towradgi

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Centre to set emergency care guidelines

Louise Hall, Health Reporter, Sun Herald

December 21, 2008

PATIENTS who go to emergency departments anywhere in NSW should be treated with the same level of care and the most up-to-date methods, says Health Minister John Della Bosca, who will launch Australia's first Emergency Care Institute today.

The $700,000 institute will develop standard guidelines for emergency doctors and nurses and encourage them to share information and innovations.

But some senior clinicians who had been charged with advising the Government on how to fix the problems plaguing emergency departments - chronic overcrowding, staff shortages and lack of trainees - believe the institute will be a "white elephant".

Tony Joseph, chairman of the NSW faculty of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, quit the Ministerial Taskforce on Emergency Care in disgust last month. Dr Joseph said the institute would not achieve anything unless the number of emergency specialists in NSW was increased by at least 150.

There were 399 trainee specialists at various stages of the seven-year course in NSW. Yet high levels of burnout, lack of supervision and comparatively low salaries meant only about 20 trainees graduated each year.


Eamonn Duff, Sun Herald

December 21, 2008

THE NSW Health Minister has ordered an investigation into claims of a cover-up at a Sydney hospital, where a woman had part of her intestine removed without her knowledge.
Rachel Hale arrived at Campbelltown Hospital on December 12 expecting routine surgery to have her appendix removed.

When she woke up, she was told part of her bowel had also been removed, because "a lump" was detected.

But hospital insiders allege Mrs Hale's bowel was ruptured because she fell from the operating table while under general anaesthetic just prior to the operation. They allege the fall also caused a minor head injury.

The insiders claim there were no staff in the operating theatre when she fell. They allege Mrs Hale was told "a pack of lies" by hospital officials to conceal the truth.

It is alleged that once she was anaesthetised, a doctor and nurse left her unattended to work on another patient elsewhere in the hospital.

When staff re-entered the room, it is alleged they found Mrs Hale hanging head first because her feet had been strapped to the table.

When she hit the floor, a trocar - a hollow sharp cylinder used to introduce cannulas into blood vessels - that was inserted in her side had sliced through her bowel.

A source said: "It could so easily have killed her.

"They had to open her belly up, remove the section of perforated bowel then stitch her back up and rush her to intensive care." Mrs Hale spent five days in hospital.

The Sun-Herald was told an internal critical incident report was compiled hours after the surgery, which stated Mrs Hale's injuries were sustained because she was left "unattended."

On December 19, the same day The Sun-Herald began making inquiries, NSW Health Minister John Della Bosca was briefed that no such report existed. The hospital then told the minister, that same day, the report had just been compiled - a week after the incident.

Mrs Hale said she was seeking legal advice. "This is absolutely not what they told me," she said.

"I was there because my appendix needed removing immediately. When I woke up, they said there had been 'complications'. They said part of my bowel had been removed because they discovered a small lump. They added it had been sent to a pathologist and it came back fine. I had a bump on my head. They said I hit that on a control panel."

Mrs Hale said she wanted the truth. "I need to know what the lasting implications are and how this is likely to affect the rest of my life."

Hospital insiders said they chose to speak out because Campbelltown Hospital was providing the same "sub-standard care" that in 2003 had sparked the state's largest inquiry into patient care and safety standards.

"It's become routine practice to leave anaesthetised patients unattended and to cover up negligence using any means necessary," the source said.

Royal Australasian College of Surgeons executive director Dr John Quinn said: "I find the episode you are recounting almost non-tenable. Patients in a hospital operating theatre, who are given a general anaesthetic, are not left unattended. It just shouldn't occur."

Australian medical experts meanwhile have cast doubt on the hospital's version of events.
Cancer Institute NSW head Jim Bishop said for a complex operation involving the removal of bowel cancer, it would be "very unusual" not to gain the patient's consent first.

Professor Bishop said it was common practice for doctors to first perform scans, biopsies and follow-up tests to see whether the cancer had spread and if so, how far.

Director of Research at the Sydney Cancer Centre, Bruce Armstrong said: "Best practice would generally be to seek formal consent, from the patient … to inform them of what was found and to conduct further investigations."

Medical Error Action Group spokeswoman Lorraine Long said: "Doctors and nurses are swamping our hotline with stories of negligence that make you want to cry."

Mr Della Bosca said the incident was being fully investigated. "If the family has concerns, we would urge them to contact the Health Care Complaints Commission. Alternatively, they can contact my office."

Opposition health spokeswoman Jillian Skinner said: "This is one of the worse examples of patient care. To claim an internal report wasn't compiled until a week later is suspicious, to say the least."

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Detention practice not part of policy, say advocates

Connie Levett Immigration Reporter, smh

December 20, 2008

FASTER processing of asylum seekers, rather than opening the prison-like $396 million detention centre on Christmas Island, is the answer to the detention-housing shortage there, refugee advocates say.

The continuing detention of asylum seekers on Christmas Island and the decision to open the Howard-era centre raised "fundamental concerns" about the Federal Government's commitment to its "detention as a last resort" policy, said David Manne, of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre.

Eleven weeks after being taken into custody, the first group of seven unauthorised boat arrivals is still in detention on Christmas Island. Mr Manne said the policy, set out by the Immigration Minister, Chris Evans, in July, was supposed to make detention a final, not first, option - for health, identity and security checks to establish if they posed a risk to the community.

"There is a danger this Government is swapping a 'Pacific solution' for an 'Indian Ocean solution'," said Mr Manne, who is representing 10 Afghan asylum seekers on the third boat, which was intercepted on November 19. "It's a complete mystery why those who arrived by boat remain in detention."

The first of this year's boats carrying asylum seekers was intercepted near Ashmore Island on September 29 and arrived at Christmas Island on October 2, 11 weeks ago. Since then, another six boats have arrived, bringing to 160 the number of asylum seekers to be detained on Christmas Island.

Mr Manne said: "My understanding is they have undergone these checks; the policy puts the onus on the Government to say why they should be detained. Why are these people still being detained?"

Susan Meyer, co-ordinator of the Refugee Advice and Casework Service, which is helping asylum seekers from the first two boats, agreed with Mr Manne. "Eleven weeks is too long. I don't know why they are not releasing the people who have been processed."

Senator Evans said the Government had made it clear that all unauthorised boat arrivals would be detained and processed at Christmas Island while health, identity and security checks were undertaken. "While health assessments are usually completed within a week, security and identity checks can take time."

Senator Evans said the 14 people from two boats that arrived in late September and early October would shortly be released from detention to live in the community while their asylum claims were processed.

The Human Rights Commissioner, Graeme Innes, said it was valid to hold people in detention for initial checks, but in most cases that should take a couple of weeks. Two months was "above the reasonable period". He supported the Government's "detention as a last resort" policy but said "let's see it in practice".

Three asylum seekers at the Phosphate Hill detention centre on Christmas Island escaped briefly yesterday before being recaptured.

with AAP


Ramsey saw things as they were and walked a tightrope without a safety net

David Marr, smh

December 20, 2008

For a man who was absolutely right so often, Alan Ramsey could be magnificently wrong. Not weasel wrong in the political fashion he so deplored, but no wiggle room, up on the high wire without a net, entirely wrong. "Latham?" he asked himself on the morning of the 2004 poll. "I think he can get there."

He was rough on himself; he ran risks; and every time he came a cropper he picked his battered body up again and was back on the field next Saturday laying into the players, the ref, the crowd, the press, the linesman - everyone in sight down to the kid with the oranges at half-time.

This week is the last time Ramsey stakes out his familiar territory in the middle of the Saturday Herald. After 21 years, four prime ministers, eight federal elections and God knows how many hundreds of thousands of furious words, he's hanging up his columnist's hat.

Bad temper is hard to sustain. Mere rage isn't particularly attractive. In this trade we're schooled to keep our tempers and pretend detachment. Not Ramsey. And his readers loved him for breaking the rules. They loved his naked anger - and his subjects had little choice but to respect it - because Ramsey was one of the few in the Canberra press gallery who wrote from his heart.

So he was right passionately, wrong passionately and patronised at times by his hardboiled colleagues for taking a stand in their shifting world. He was a moralist - still is, of course, and will be to his dying day - and as an unflinching moralist he did the work over the last decade that mattered most to his readers: seeing John Howard for exactly who he was.

The old prime minister was not among the walking dead who came to Ramsey's farewell dinner at Old Parliament House a few weeks ago. What an extraordinary gathering. Ramsey, it seemed, had wandered into Madame Tussauds and offered the waxworks one last outing in the capital.
Andrew Peacock was looking trim, suspiciously trim. Bill Hayden had misplaced his equerry. Tony Eggleton represented the Pleistocene. Keating picked the eyes out of the room. Still busy. Max Walsh had the satisfied look of a man caught up in a financial catastrophe more appalling than any of the disasters he's spent his life predicting.

And Ramsey was king of them all for the night: subjects, sources, victims and colleagues. The breadth of his friendships on display was astonishing. One of the silliest men in parliament, Bill Heffernan, was in the same room as one of the sanest, John Faulkner. The senators had nothing to say to each other on this occasion, but each has spoken eloquently over the years through Ramsey.

In an age addicted to the grab, Ramsey never lost faith in the big speech. His head was full of Hansard. Yes, he quoted in slabs, but through great speeches he brought parliament and its arcane drama alive. And he did what commentators rarely do these days: he allowed his subjects their own voice. Not infrequently, they had the privilege of speaking from the grave.

As time went on, Ramsey lived with legions of the dead in his imagination. Perhaps because he had explored the territory too often himself, the border between this life and the next became rather hazy for him. He honoured the known and the unknown dead in his columns. History was alive in his analysis. One of Ramsey's signature lines is: "Nothing changes."

So the fact that he was out the back working frantically on his own speech that night - even while the video tribute was playing - surprised none of his many editors in the room. Ramsey is a chronic late filer. He is loved by his colleagues for this alone: that he is the worst of us, the one that's always last to finish.

If once or twice in the last couple of decades you weren't woken by the satisfying thump of the Herald on your doormat on Saturday morning, know that all the official excuses - the talk of paper breaks at the Chullora printing plant - were only ever a cover. Ramsey was to blame.

On the night of his farewell dinner he was coping with a late final version of an elegant speech of thanks to most of the people in the room. Ramsey was always a generous acknowledger of his debts. Perhaps it was the scribble over the typing read in dim light that led him to call Laura Tingle his "lovely wife Lorrie".

A coward would have surged forward at that point hoping to leave the gaffe behind. Ramsey paused deliberately. His face registered swiftly disbelief, despair, confusion and then, as the room erupted in ridicule, huge amusement at himself. Ramsey had done it again.

I never thought he got native title. Somehow refugees didn't engage his heart. These were quirks loyal readers like me bore for the satisfaction of finding Ramsey next week, say, spewing lava over the Howard government for its servility to Washington and neglect of the Guantanamo prisoner David Hicks.

Every election was Howard's last in Ramsey's mind. Then came 2007 and on the morning of the poll his readers found him at his scornful and triumphant best. Celebration calls for a slab of his own words. There is no one now, and no one coming along, who can write like this:

"The end of the line. Remember that heading in the Herald a few weeks back, after one of the opinion polls bumped up the Government's lousy standing a point or two? "Lazarus stirs", it said optimistically of John Howard. Wrong. It was just the flies moving.

"Yesterday, in the nation's Parliament, with hardly a politician to be seen anywhere, we got some election realism. Three rows of recycling bins, whacking big green ones with yellow lids. More than 300 of them.

"Where? In the basement corridor of the ministerial wing. The bins seemed a more apt commentary than all the desperate, last-minute Coalition windbaggery going on around the nation on what is about to descend on the Prime Minister after 33 years in public life and almost 12 years remaking Australia in his own miserable, disfigured image. They arrived two days ago and whoever they're for, 48 hours before a single vote is cast today, you felt somebody, somewhere, finally got it right.

"The end of the line."

It's said all political careers end unhappily. That's where journalists enjoy a distinct advantage over their raw material. Ramsey is not defeated. He's going simply because it's time. He will be missed.

Friday, December 19, 2008


Zimbabwe 'is ruined' says US envoy

Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980 [File: EPA]

From New Matilda, 19.12.2008

Zimbabwe has completely collapsed under Robert Mugabe, the president, and he should resign, the senior US envoy to Africa has said.

"We think that the person who has ruined the country ... that he needs to step down," Jendayi Frazer said on Friday.

Her comments came hours before Mugabe was due to address ruling Zanu-PF party delegates in a policy meeting.

"There is a complete collapse right now ... we're watching Zimbabwe become a failed state," she said.

"We need to act now, proactively, in Zimbabwe."

The US assistant secretary of state for African affairs gave the interview in South Africa, where she was meeting regional leaders to discuss what could be done to help Zimbabwe.

The 84-year-old president's party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change have been in deadlock over a power-sharing deal since September as the economic and humanitarian situation has deteriorated.More than 1,000 people have died in a cholera epidemic exacerbated by a devastated health care system and poor sanitation.Kgalema Motlanthe, South Africa's president, has said that he believed the proposed unity government was still the best way to resolve the situation and it should be formed quickly.

'Basically unbearable'Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa, reporting from Bindura where the Zanu-PF conference was being held, said "things are basically unbearable" for the majority of people in Zimbabwe.

In video

Zimbabwe strife 'shakes troops' loyalty to Mugabe'

If you don't have the US dollar you can't buy basic products in the supermarkets ... the Zimbabwe currency is pretty much worthless," she said.

Mutasa said that Mugabe remained defiant despite the widespread international criticism.

"He is blaming the United Kingdom, he is blaming the United States, he is blaming Western nations for Zimbabwe's problems," she said.

Cholera crisis

More than 20,000 suspected cases of cholera have been reported in the impoverished nation since the epidemic began in August, according to the UN Office for the Co-ordination of
Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said.

More than 1,100 people have died across the country with Harare, the capital, hardest hit with 224 people killed by the disease and more than 9,000 believed to be suffering it.

Nine out of Zimbabwe's 10 provinces have reported cases of cholera and the World Health Organisation has said the total number of cases could reach 60,000 unless the epidemic is stopped.

The British charity Oxfam has asked international donors for $6m to fight the epidemic.

'Grave crisis'

Oxfam said it was preparing to "substantially" scale-up its work in Zimbabwe, where it is providing food, water purification tables and soap to one million people."The rapid deterioration of the situation in Zimbabwe makes this an extremely grave humanitarian crisis which could deteriorate even further in 2009," Jane Cocking, Oxfam humanitarian director, said.

"While the international community battles for a political solution in the country, millions of Zimbabweans are going hungry."Mugabe has blamed the West for the cholera outbreak accusing Britain and the US of using "biological weapons".He has frequently attacked the West, including Britain, the former colonial ruler, accusing it of seeking to overthrow him and causing the the country's woes through sanctions.


John Howard's detention centre to open

The Australian, 19.12.2008

IMMIGRATION officials have been forced to open the 800-bed, Howard-era detention centre on Christmas Island to accommodate a growing number of unauthorised boat arrivals intercepted in the past three months.

Immigration Minister Chris Evans yesterday gave permission for the Immigration Department to use the facility, which has been empty since completion this year.

The development followed signs Mr Evans will consider a push by refugee advocates to allow those in mandatory detention access to Australian courts in a bid to improve oversight of the system.

The decision to open Christmas Island comes after the arrival on Tuesday of a seventh vessel, intercepted by the Australian Navy 200km northeast of Darwin.

It brings to 164 the number of unauthorised boat arrivals intercepted by Australian authorities -- compared with last year's 148.

The boat's 37 passengers and crew -- believed to be a mix of Afghans and other Middle Eastern nationals -- will be the first immigration detainees housed at the $400 million facility built by the Howard government.

The 37 men are expected to arrive on Christmas Island this weekend.

A spokesman for the Immigration Department said they would be held at the North West Point facility for health, identity and security screening.

"Accommodation arrangements are determined by the numbers of arrivals as well as the need to separate groups for processing, public health management, gender, culture and other reasons," the spokesman said. "The Government's policy is to open the new facility when numbers and separation arrangements required it."

No women, children or families will be housed at the facility, the spokesman said.

The decision was condemned by refugee advocacy groups, who predicted the facility would have a damaging effect on the psychological health of detainees.

Pamela Curr of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said she was very sad the Government had taken this step. "I've seen the detention prison and I know from past experience that places like that make people sick," Ms Curr told The Australian.

Yesterday, Senator Evans said the move was consistent with Labor policy. "The Rudd Government's policy is to accommodate small groups of unauthorised boat arrivals in the Phosphate Hill and Construction Camp facilities while they undergo health, security and identity checks," he said.

The move comes after Senator Evans told The Australian he envisaged Australia's detention principles "evolving" over time.

"There's a bit of a push for judicial review of the decision to detain," he said.

"I don't have a closed mind to that, if that makes the system more accountable."

Since coming to office last year, the Rudd Government has instituted a raft of changes to Australia's migration policy, as well as boosting the number of migrants.

In one of his first acts as minister, Senator Evans shut down the so-called Pacific Solution -- a series of offshore processing centres for unauthorised boat arrivals.

In May, the Government abolished the system of temporary-protection visas for refugees -- a move some have said has contributed to the recent spate of unauthorised arrivals, something the Rudd Government denies.


Red News Readers,

Heard Deborah Cameron talking about this on ABC 702 and my blood pressure started to rise and I started to growl! Rang ABC 702 and they put me on hold. While I was on hold listening over the phone, Deborah interviewed Richard Matthews from NSW Health, who said this was only about aged care facilities in the country. Bullshit!! That's what they said about EENs, and in five seconds flat they were everywhere in the system!! Matthews said of course nurses would be consulted. Then they interviewed Brett Holmes from the NSWNA who made it clear the NSW Health Memo had gone out without consultation with the union, and that he was concerned because many of these country hospitals are multi functional, they do maternity, paediatrics, minor surgery, road trauma, as well as aged care. Deborah Cameron let him have his say then introduced me - I thought they were going to cut me off for lack of time!

I said that NSW Health were obviously not listening to what Garling was telling them. While Matthews might claim that these AINs were supervised by RNs, increasingly in the system, the RNs were new grads replacing the older staff who were retiring, and that one of the biggest problems in the system now was retention of new grads, because of the pressure being placed on them. Brett agreed with me, how could he not!! I went on to ask what has happened to the money that Rudd gave to the health, education and welfare system? Is that all going to be spent on infrastructure, when they can even fund the operational functions that they have got? No answer from Brett or Deborah to that question.

Jenny Haines

Skilled nurses to be replaced by cheaper alternative

Louise Hall Health Reporter, smh

December 19, 2008

REGISTERED nurses will be replaced by cheaper, less-qualified nurses and unqualified assistants, in the latest round of cost cutting by the State Government.

The plan to substitute university-trained registered nurses with enrolled and trainee nurses contradicts a $1.2 million study commissioned by NSW Health last year, which found that increasing the proportion of less-qualified staff in hospitals caused a range of preventable complications and deaths.

Hospital managers have been ordered to save $32 million within four years by downgrading nursing cover at small and rural hospitals. The ratio of assistants-in-nursing will increase to 50 per cent of the combined registered and enrolled nurse numbers.

Assistants-in-nursing have no minimum level of education and are not regulated by any nursing body. Some are students and others have a TAFE certificate in aged care. Since 1993, registered nurses have been university trained.

NSW Health says the cuts are justified because many hospitals are, in effect, working as aged-care facilities due to a shortage of nursing home places.

But the lead author of the Glueing It Together study, Christine Duffield, said the plan flew "in the face of the evidence that shows the more RNs you have, the better the patient outcome".

The three-year study used data from 27 NSW hospitals and found that a higher proportion of registered nurses produced lower rates of bed sores, intestinal bleeding, sepsis, shock, pulmonary failure, pneumonia and death of patients from a hospital-acquired complication.

"In the mini-budget [the Government] said no frontline services will be cut, but nursing is a frontline service," said Professor Duffield, from the Centre for Health Services Management at the University of Technology, Sydney. "They're just doing it to save money."

Area health services have been identifying registered nurse positions that can be replaced since August, pre-empting the $32 million edict in the mini-budget last month.

A leaked memo shows Greater Southern Area Health Service will turn 53 full-time equivalent registered nurse positions into enrolled nurse roles, each saving about $20,000 a year in salary, for a total of $800,000 by June.

Karen Lenihan, the director of nursing and midwifery at Greater Southern, said most registered nurses would be lost through natural attrition, not redundancy. "It's not really about saving money; it's about being efficient."

But the president of the NSW Nurses Association, Brett Holmes, said the modelling used to devise the skill mix was "based on budget, not patient need". He had serious concerns about patient safety and nurses' workload.

Less qualified nurses did not have the training to deal with critical emergencies and trauma, such as car accidents, he said.

The Opposition health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, said the changes would put lives at risk.

Thursday, December 18, 2008



Media release

17 December 2008

Zimbabwe: Australia Strengthens Sanctions, Supports Cholera Response

Australia will strengthen its sanctions against the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe.

The strengthened sanctions are a clear signal that the Australian Government holds the brutal Mugabe regime and its closest supporters accountable for the tragedy occurring in Zimbabwe.

The Government has added 75 individuals and four companies to the list of regime members and supporters against whom financial and visa restrictions apply.

Australian sanctions are carefully targeted against the regime to avoid harming the Zimbabwean people.

At the same time, the Government is announcing further humanitarian assistance for the people of Zimbabwe.

The United Nations has reported more than 18,000 suspected cases of cholera in Zimbabwe, and 1,000 deaths. Cholera cases have also been confirmed in the neighbouring countries of Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa.

In response to the severe cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe, Australia will provide a further $1 million for assistance in emergency relief for the people of Zimbabwe.

Of this, $800,000 will go to the United Nations Children?s Fund (UNICEF) to help meet the immediate needs of women and children affected by the cholera epidemic. Australia?s funding will help provide safe drinking water, water treatment chemicals, hygiene kits and essential medicines.

The remaining $200,000 will be provided to the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to support measures in border areas for mobile and vulnerable populations. This support will help prevent the cholera epidemic spreading further to neighbouring countries.

These latest contributions through UNICEF and the IOM are part of a larger commitment by Australia to help relieve the suffering of the people of Zimbabwe and brings Australia?s total humanitarian assistance to $21 million in 2008?09, making Australia the fifth largest humanitarian donor to Zimbabwe.

It follows $8 million in humanitarian aid announced on 25 November. This comprised $6 million in essential food aid through the World Food Programme (WFP) and $2 million to the UK?s Department for International Development?s (DFID?s) Protracted Relief Programme implemented through NGOs. This will help improve food security and improve access to clean water and sanitation.

The best solution for Zimbabwe would be for Mr Mugabe and his regime?s close supporters to stand down to allow Zimbabwe to rebuild its economy, society, and democracy.

Australia remains deeply concerned by the most recent wave of violations of human rights by the regime, including arrests and harassment of members of the opposition, and union and human rights activists.

Australia calls on the Zimbabwean authorities to respect fully the human rights of the Zimbabwean people, in this time of terrible hardship.

SEARCH FoundationLevel 3, Suite 3B, 110 Kippax St,SURRY HILLS NSW 2010AustraliaPh: 02 9211 4164; Fax: 02 9211 1407
ABN 63 050 096 976
promoting democracy, social justice and environmental sustainability


Erik Jensen, smh

December 18, 2008

AHMAD SULTANI spent the final year of high school studying under a quote from the Koran: "Make an attempt and I shall finish it," the print-out read, "God."

This week, the son of Afghan refugees found out how that attempt was finished. He was equal first in mathematics extension 1 and third in mathematics extension 2.

"It was seven in the morning on Sunday [when the Board of Studies telephoned]. I was a bit cranky until I found out what they were telling me," he said yesterday. "I wasn't expecting it but it was nice - probably one of the best feelings I've ever had."

Ahmad's was not the only success for refugees or their children in the past week.

In Victoria, Shaheen Hasmat was celebrating after being named dux of his high school and finishing with a tertiary entrance score of 99.8. Only five years earlier he was an Afghan refugee with almost no English.

In Cabramatta, in the room he shares with his younger brother, Vanno Tang was celebrating his HSC. He had a near-perfect score in the hardest two maths courses and topped NSW in Khmer.

"I didn't study much but in the last few days I did a lot," he said.

Three years earlier he had only a few sentences of English and was impressed by how different Australian desks were, compared to the benches at which he had worked in Cambodia. He said he was planning to study medicine.

"My family was very happy," Vanno said about his marks.

Parramatta High School, where Ahmad studied, is an average comprehensive school. About 15 per cent of students are refugees or the children of refugees. "Those who get here early enough show a lot of natural ability but also have a lot of determination," its principal, Peter McFarland, said of the refugee students.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


John Faulkner: Captain transparency

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Canberra correspondent Bernard Keane writes in Crikey 17.12.08:

The 2010 election will be held under significantly stronger funding and disclosure requirements if John Faulkner has his way. Faulkner this morning released the Government’s long-awaited Electoral Reform Green Paper and declared that it was critical that reforms be in place prior to the next election.

The paper, prepared by a team of officials from Prime Minister and Cabinet, Finance and the Australian Electoral Commission, has been delayed from mid-year due to extensive consultations with State and Territory governments and their respective electoral authorities.

However, Faulkner stressed that there had been no discussions with any political parties so far, including the Labor Party. They would, he said, be consulted in the future and were welcome to make submissions on the Paper.

The Paper contains no recommendations but canvasses a number of fundamental reforms in electoral funding and disclosure, including:

Bans or caps on donations and external funding of political parties

Different regulation for different types of donors, such as corporation, NGOs and individuals

American-style links between public funding and restrictions on private funding

Greater rigour in disclosure, including relating to “associated entities” and third parties, and electronic reporting

Caps on, and disclosure of, election expenditure, and possibly expanding the definition of expenditure to activities not currently caught

The regulation of third party participants such as trade unions, and their expenditure on political activities

Greater financial transparency of political parties, including disclosure of their balance sheets and disclosure by branches and campaign committees

Expansion of the definition of “associated entities” controlled by political parties

Greater harmonisation of Commonwealth, State and Territory laws to reduce confusion

Faulkner stressed that while he had personal views on most of the Green Paper issues, the Government was looking for genuine consultation, including with the Coalition. However, he attacked Malcolm Turnbull for failing to explain why the Coalition had stymied reforms currently before Parliament to reduce disclosure thresholds and ban foreign donations. Those reforms should have already been in place, Faulkner said.

The Government is seeking submissions by late February and has also invited comments on what should be canvassed in a second Green Paper in 2009, relating to issues such as electoral enrolment.

In Faulkner’s view there are serious problems with the current framework that mean Australia is well behind international best practice and that there are growing questions about the integrity of governments and their decisions. “Accountability and transparency are crucial to integrity in government,” he said.

Any real change, however, will depend on Faulkner's capacity to convince the Greens, Nick Xenophon and Steve Fielding of the benefits of reform. The Coalition has so far shown no inclination to reverse any of the Howard Government’s assaults on funding disclosure and, under a cynical opportunist like Michael Ronaldson, who has carriage of the issue within the Opposition, there's unlikely to be any.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


Longer wait for elective surgery

Louise Hall Health Reporter, SMH

December 16, 2008

THE number of people waiting for elective surgery in NSW has increased by more than 4500 this year, despite $43.3 million in federal funds to cut waiting lists.

But the State Government withheld figures showing the 8 per cent year-on-year rise in patients waiting for non-urgent surgery when it made the latest quarterly hospital statistics public last month.

The Minister for Health, John Della Bosca, said: "Elective surgery waiting times have decreased substantially, with 91 per cent of patients treated within the recommended time frame of either 30, 90 or 365 days, up 4 per cent on the previous quarter."

However, the full data, made public this month after the Opposition health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, submitted a freedom of information request, shows the average waiting time has increased by 5 per cent, to more than 2½ months, since September last year.

It was the first time in 13 years of Labor Government that elective surgery waiting times and data on emergency department performance had not been made publicly available.

A total of 57,707 patients were waiting for booked surgery last September, compared with 53,176 12 months earlier. An additional 13,512 patients had been categorised as "not ready for care", for personal or medical reasons.

Mr Della Bosca said the state's ageing and growing population and more diagnostic testing for conditions such as breast and prostate cancer was the reason for the increasing caseload.

"So we have more people being detected with medical conditions and needing to undergo surgery - which means the overall list gets bigger which is to be expected," he said.

But Ms Skinner said the blow-out was caused by the Government's decision to slash surgeons' operating times, close operating theatres and cut funding for area health services in last month's mini-budget.

"Not only are more patients waiting, those on the list are waiting even longer and waiting lists will blow out even more following this summer's extended surgery shutdown," she said.

Mr Della Bosca said ensuring more people were seen within the recommended benchmarks was the critical factor, not the overall size of the list. Ninety-three per cent of category one patients were admitted for surgery within the recommended 30 days, up 2 per cent on September last year, and 96 per cent of category three patients were admitted within less than 12 months, which was steady, he said.

However, even with an 8 per cent improvement year-on-year, almost 20 per cent of category two patients were still not treated on time.

The situation in the Illawarra is expected to worsen next year, the Government having decided to end elective surgery at Bulli Hospital "in the medium term" despite opposition from doctors and the public. Mr Della Bosca said transferring Bulli's lists to Shellharbour and Wollongong hospitals "was good news for the people of the Illawarra".

The Federal Government announced in January that NSW would receive $43.3 million to cut elective surgery waiting lists. The money started flowing in March.