Monday, March 31, 2008


Opposition claims victory in Zimbabwe vote

March 30, 2008,smh

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The immovable object and irresistible force

Zimbabwe's opposition claimed victory today in the country's general elections even before the first results had been announced, saying it would not accept any other outcome.

Despite warnings from the authorities against any attempt to pre-empt the result, the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) said President Robert Mugabe had been roundly beaten and warned it would not accept an alternative verdict from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).

Mugabe's camp meanwhile said it would treat any announcement by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai that he was now the rightful president as tantamount to a coup which would be dealt with accordingly.

"This far, short of a miracle, we have won this election beyond any reasonable doubt. We have won this election," MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti told a news conference.

Biti said the party's assessment was based on unofficial returns posted at polling stations where counting had been completed and cast doubt on the electoral commission, a supposedly independent body whose executives are appointed by Mugabe.

Asked why he was not waiting for the ZEC, Biti said: "We are protecting our vote. We don't trust the ZEC, which is not independent.

"We made a mistake in 2002 by not claiming our victory. We made a mistake in 2005 by not claiming our victory."

Tsvangirai has always insisted he was the rightful winner of the last presidential election in 2002 while the party also says it was robbed of victory in 2005's parliamentary elections.

Both claims have been vehemently denied by Mugabe who said yesterday he would not be able to sleep at night if he had cheated.

Mugabe's spokesman George Charamba meanwhile fired a warning to Tsvangirai, who has twice been charged with treason, against an early victory claim.

"How will it play?" Charamba told the state-run Sunday Mail.

"He announces results, declares himself and the MDC winner and then what? Declare himself president of Zimbabwe? It is called a coup d'etat and we all know how coups are handled."

The electoral commission meanwhile said counting could take a while and patience was needed.

"I have not received anything yet. They are still verifying and counter-verifying," commission chairman George Chiweshe told AFP.

"I would rather wait than push so I can get proper and accurate figures. I am a very patient man."

With this year's elections involving simultaneous votes for president, parliament and councils, first results were not expected until later in the day and final results may not be known until later in the week.

No Western observers were allowed to oversee the ballot but African observers have already raised concerns.

One pan-African team complained that 8,450 voters were registered on a patch of deserted land in Harare.

As he cast his ballot, Tsvangirai claimed his party had uncovered evidence of widespread vote-rigging, including the names of a million "ghost" voters registered in a northern region.

As well as Tsvangirai, Mugabe is being challenged by former finance minister Simba Makoni whose candidacy highlighted splits in the ruling ZANU-PF party.

While Makoni is not given a realistic prospect of victory, analysts say he may peel away votes from Mugabe who has ruled the former British colony since independence in 1980.

The election comes at a time when Zimbabwe is grappling with the impact of the world's highest rate of inflation - officially put at 100,580.2 percent - and an unemployment level which has breached the 80 percent mark.

Once seen as the region's breadbasket, the country is now suffering from shortages of even the most basic foodstuffs such as bread.

The president has blamed the country's economic woes on the European Union and the United States, which imposed sanctions on his inner circle after he was accused of rigging his 2002 re-election. He has portrayed the election as a chance to stand up against the West and in particular Britain.

Voting passed off largely without incident, although the security forces have been placed on high alert for fear of a repeat of the bloodshed which followed Kenya's disputed elections in December.



Refugee gets unaffordable loan

March 31, 2008, smh

ONE of Australia's biggest banks has admitted giving unaffordable personal loans to Sudanese refugees, including some with no job, no English and no concept of finance.

The Commonwealth Bank told the ABC's Four Corners it had introduced a new affordability policy after an internal inquiry into the 18 loans to families in south-eastern Melbourne.

The bank gave Deng Gatluak a $20,000 car loan, even though he did not speak the language, was unemployed and had no idea of how such a loan worked.

His wife, Nyatut, who still speaks virtually no English and has no assets, was made the guarantor on the loan. The repayments left the family of nine with next to nothing to live on.

A lawyer with the Consumer Action Law Centre, Lauren Walker, said the loan put Mr Gatluak in a position of severe financial hardship. "He has a family of eight people on his application form, which he didn't actually complete, his living expenses were estimated to be $800 per month, which calculates down to $25 per week per person, which is roughly $3.60 per day," Ms Walker said.

In another case, she said, a girl of nine acted as an interpreter for a family and the bank. Under pressure from consumer advocates, the bank has now waived most of the outstanding debts.

A former NAB employee, Kim White, told Four Corners he was pressured to talk people into taking bigger loans than they wanted. "I up-sold someone to $80,000 on more than one occasion when they only came in for a $20,000 or $30,000 loan," Mr White said.

"The pressure was sell them, sell them, if the system will let them do it sell them as much as you can possibly sell them." The bank said it had "strict credit polices, processes and controls".


Sunday, March 30, 2008


Cot death: mum seeks truth

Louise Hall, Sun Herald

March 30, 2008

A MAJOR hospital has admitted that it failed to properly treat a disabled woman who died while in its care.

Karen Stone, 41, was admitted to Sydney's St George Hospital in October 2004, with acute leg pain.

She died a few days later from pulmonary thromboembolism after an undiagnosed clot in her leg travelled to her lung, the State Coroner found the following year.

Now her mother wants to know why doctors at the hospital failed to give her routine preventative treatment.

Lynette Stone said both she and her daughter repeatedly asked hospital staff to investigate if the pain was caused by deep vein thrombosis. Their concerns were dismissed, even though Ms Stone was a high-risk patient.

Mrs Stone questions if her daughter's disability meant she received less care and attention from staff.

Ms Stone had a rare medical condition called Prader-Willi Syndrome that causes an obsession with food and eating, poor muscle tone and learning difficulties.

Debora Picone, who was in charge of the hospital at the time and is now the Director-General of NSW Health, said in a letter to the Health Care Complaints Commission soon after the autopsy that there was no excuse for the failure.

"A satisfactory explanation was not documented in the clinical record nor was the caring medical team able to provide one when questioned," she wrote. She admitted the hospital should have provided anticoagulant therapy.

The simple, but life-saving, injection was finally ordered by a professor who was taking a group of medical students on tour of the ward two days later, but the treatment was still not administered for another 24 hours. Ms Stone died the next day.

"It cannot be ascertained why the omission of treatment occurred," Professor Picone wrote.

The Health Care Complaints Commission did not investigate the death, instead offering conciliation - an informal discussion with no power to make any decisions. Lorraine Long from Medical Error Action Group said government departments set up to deal with complaints had proved to be "ineffective" and a "waste of time" for bereaved families.

"I have not encountered a person to be satisfied with a health-care complaints commission anywhere in the country," she said. "They want you to conciliate a death - it's obscene."

Mrs Stone said her daughter was a "wonderful soul" who brought endless joy to her family and friends.

"In my heart I feel she should still be with us. If only they had taken more care, questioned more about why the pain wouldn't go away, she would not have died," she said.

"If she'd been 'normal' would they have taken more notice of her?"

Venous thromboembolism, which refers to deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, causes 10,000 deaths each year in hospitals - more than lung and breast cancer combined.

Professor Beng Chong, a hematologist at St George Hospital and head of the Department of Medicine at the University of NSW, said many hospitals did not assign the task of venous thromboembolism risk assessment to particular doctors or nurses, while many simply forgot.

Source: The Sun-Herald

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Australian healthcare 'still in the 8Os

March 29, 2008 - 8:22AM, smh

Australia has a 1980s healthcare system attempting to deal with 21st century problems - and it could get worse, a Melbourne conference has heard.

According to Professor Anthony Scott of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, healthcare in Australia is on a downward spiral.

"We are heading toward the situation that exists in the United States, which has the most ineffective health system in the world," Professor Scott said.

Speaking just days after the Federal Government announced a further $1 billion injection into hospitals, Professor Scott painted a picture of a lopsided, over-governed system that would greatly benefit from centralised funding.

In a presentation to the New Agenda For Prosperity Conference entitled Making Hospitals Work, he said Australia had a hospital system that benefited the rich ahead of the poor and one in which public hospitals provided significantly poorer outcomes than those run privately.

"The rich have greater access to health care, but at the same time it is the poor who tend to need it more," he said.

While Professor Scott advocated schemes that rewarded performance in healthcare he warned of the difficulties of assessing complex medical environments.

"Some degree of performance management is necessary," he said.

"But there can be difficulty defining good performance.

"It can be difficult to use incentives in complex environments.

"They can be good in a factory making widgets, but healthcare can be more complex."

Leading health economist Dr Stephen Duckett told the conference the health system laboured under gross funding inequities.

Dr Duckett, the man given the task of restoring credibility to the Queensland health system after the Dr Death scandal, said the hospital system could not work as it should while public hospitals treat many more patients than private hospitals, but get much less money from the Commonwealth.

Using cataract surgery as an example, Dr Duckett said a procedure that cost $3,800 in a private hospital cost $1,200 less in a public hospital.

"A public hospital pays the surgeon $10 a minute, but (in a private hospital) he charges the patient $100 a minute," Dr Duckett said.

As a result, doctors understandably spent less time treating public patients.

He said commonwealth support was 78 per cent higher in the private than the public system.

"What is needed is more money and more equity and balance in the system," he said.

Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon told the conference the latest funding represented the largest injection of money into the health system in a decade.

© 2008 AAPBrought to you by


Treat alcoholics too: Macklin

Russell Skelton, smh

March 29, 2008

THE Indigenous Affairs Minister, Jenny Macklin, believes violent Aboriginal men - many in the grip of alcoholism - have been largely ignored by the the emergency intervention, which has correctly focused on the victims of abuse.

Speaking after a visit to Aurukun and Weipa on Cape York Ms Macklin said: "We cannot treat these men as a lost cause. We need to deal with why these men turn to alcohol and violence.

There are programs, but there needs to be more."

Ms Macklin also flagged that the new bipartisan commission to deal with indigenous issues would initially focus on housing, because it was such a complex area involving co-operation across three levels of government - local, state, federal and territory.

Asked if there was any longer a need for an indigenous affairs minister, Ms Macklin, who also has responsibility for families, housing and community services, said: "Goodness no, the commission is concentrating on housing and that is a significant issue."

The shape and future direction of the commission has been tightly controlled by the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, who has been consulting the Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson.

Ms Macklin strongly backs the Prime Minister's approach to closing the life expectancy gap and quarantining welfare payments for food and other necessities.

Ms Macklin said reforms being undertaken in Queensland to prevent councils from managing alcohol outlets was also a step in the right direction because it would clear the way for bans on the sale and consumption of booze in communities like Aurukun.

The Government would also extend hostel accommodation for secondary students in the Northern Territory so children could complete their education outside the chaos of remote communities battling dysfunction.

with Tim Colebatch

Friday, March 28, 2008


Dear All,

A tribute to a brave nurse!! No wonder the San never liked the union snooping around!! But sadly, the manager behaviour here would not be limited to the San these days!!

Jenny Haines

Facing off a Butcher

By Kate Sikora,dtm

March 28, 2008 12:00am

RALLIES are being held around Australia today by women fighting for justice against former doctor Graeme Reeves, dubbed the Butcher of Bega.

Women, including victims, will protest outside Parliament House over the health system's inaction on Reeves, who allegedly mutilated and sexually abused hundreds.

And more nurses who worked with the doctor are breaking their silence.

Robin Moon, a midwife with 30 years' experience, told The Daily Telegraph of the burden she has carried for a decade.

Mrs Moon, 47, of Epping, said she made several complaints to management at the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital in Wahroonga, where Reeves worked between 1989 and 1998, but was told: "Don't take this any further."

"I feel like I have been a voice lost in the wilderness and finally I can now speak," she said yesterday.

"I am appalled. I was told by management my complaints would be taken care of. As far as I know they did nothing."

While assisting Reeves to deliver a baby in October 1996, Mrs Moon said she was horrified when he used forceps on the baby, which was in danger of dying.

She said the boy was born with severe disabilities. Reeves was taken to the Health Care Complaints Commission and later sued over the incident.

"He was screaming at me. He screamed at the husband to stop crying," she said.

"I used to see him walk up to female patients and just grab their breasts without even asking and then make a remark.

"We made several complaints for two years to our managers. I want his victims to know that we were complaining."

Mrs Moon thought she would not be able to return to work as a midwife after being blacklisted as a troublemaker.

She suffered a breakdown and left the system for two years. The mother of three has since returned to midwifery.

"He scarred me, as I feel I can't trust doctors now, or be part of a team. Being a midwife is about teamwork and he was terrible to everyone he worked with," she said.

Women have taken their rage to Facebook, setting up a club site called "Hang the Butcher of Bega".

The site has spread the message about today's rallies, organised by the Joyous Birth Network. It has 86 members.

Reeves was banned from obstetrics - but not gynaecology - in 1997.

The Medical Board deregistered him in 2004 - 15 years after first receiving the complaints against him.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Iemma vows to crash through

By Linda Silmalis, Sunday Telegraph

March 23, 2008 12:00am

NSW Premier Morris Iemma is set to go down in history as the first Labor leader in NSW to defy the wishes of the party.

While union and senior party officials remain hopeful the premier will back down on his plan to privatise energy ahead of the ALP state conference, Mr Iemma has stated in no uncertain terms that he plans to ignore the views of party delegates.

In an interview with The Sunday Telegraph to mark his first anniversary as elected premier, Mr Iemma said work had already begun on the legislative framework to allow for the privatisation.

"It's the right decision for the state,'' he said.

"The Cabinet and the Caucus have endorsed the Government's package.

The package will be implemented.''

The view is set to further tear apart the party, which has endured one of its rockiest rides since Mr Iemma led Labor to victory on March 24, including controversies involving some of his ministers and the still unfolding health crisis.

However, the greatest challenge for Mr Iemma will be at the March 3-4 ALP state conference, where a vote on energy privatisation will take place.

Mr Iemma maintains the plan is about securing the state's future energy supplies. He argues that MPs voted for the move at Cabinet and in Caucus.

However, many NSW MPs claim they were not aware the policy would not result in additional energy.

The policy entails the sale of the retail arms of EnergyAustralia, Integral Energy, Country Energy and the long-term lease of generators.

Mr Iemma believes removing the Government from the state's electricity industry will create the right market conditions for the private sector to become involved and invest in a new _ necessary _ base load generator.

However, some NSW MPs fear the Government could be left with egg on its face if the private sector does not come on board within two years. It is understood there has also been discussions within the State Government of funding a generator of last resort if this scenario eventuates.

"The reason Caucus endorsed it was that Morris made an argument that we were going to run out of energy supplies if we didn't do something about it,'' one MP said.

"What he didn't say was that this policy does not deliver one extra kilowatt of energy.

"All it does is set up the right conditions so that the private sector will be enticed to get involved and invest in new base load generation.

"But just because we bail out of the market, it does not mean the private sector will necessarily come on board and we could be left with the embarrassing situation of being forced to fund it ourselves on the eve of the next election.''

It is understood ALP general secretary Karl Bitar is desperate to resolve the issue to avoid a showdown at the conference.

However, negotiations between the unions and Treasurer Michael Costa, who has driven the policy, have all but stalled.

More than 900 delegates will attend the conference where a vote will be taken on the sale.

NSW MPs are under pressure from their branches to cross the floor in State Parliament if Mr Iemma proceeds with the contentious legislation.

At least 15 MPs have publicly come forward opposing the sale.

One MP told The Sunday Telegraph that MPs are angry at Mr Iemma for making them choose between him and the party.

"The backbenchers are pretty s****y that Morris is making them choose between their loyalties to him and their loyalties to the party,' the MP said.


Unions go for wages grab

By Glenn Milne, Sunday Telegraph

March 23, 2008 12:00am

THE powerful Maritime Union of Australia is beginning to flex its industrial muscle after a successful meeting with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at The Lodge in Canberra on Australia Day.

A leaked union strategy document marked "confidential'' reveals the MUA believes it has "strong support'' from Mr Rudd and plans to push for new industrial relations arrangements that will drive up inflation.

The union wants a return to "pattern bargaining'', a technique to negotiate increased wages and conditions.

However, opponents of pattern bargaining say it would also increase inflation and interest rates.

The document also reveals plans to pressure employers into watering down tests that "penalise'' workers with a recreational cannabis habit.

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin met Mr Rudd in Canberra where, according to the document, the Prime Minister agreed to give the union access to personal security information collected by the Government on so-called "scabs'' crewing non-union ships.

"The National Secretary was invited to The Lodge by the Prime Minister on Australia Day, which in itself was an extraordinary turn-around since the last one,'' the document says.

"It also took the opportunity to inform him of the situation, and he undertook to look into the matter with relevant Ministers as a matter of urgency.''

In another sign of increased militancy under the Labor Government, the union is also demanding that its heavy machinery drivers be exempted from strict, on-the-job drug testing.

The question of wages is addressed under the heading``Enterprise Agreement''.

It advocates "common terms and conditions'' for all workers in key parts of the industry. The document, prepared in January, argues against a long negotiating period with individual employers.

Instead, it suggests using ``the terms and conditions in the offshore oil and gas industry Agreement as our log of claim''.

The document says: "This will greatly assist in proceeding much quicker to negotiations.

"Those conditions would also need to include an appropriate living away from home allowance (LAHA) that applies in remote and expensive living areas _ that is, north-west Australia.''

The effect of such a campaign would be to impose the boom wages and conditions in Western Australia to the rest of Australia, regardless of productivity.

On the question of what the document calls "scabs and parasites'' crewing non-union ships, the MUA says it has received co-operation from Mr Rudd and a range of senior ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Attorney-General Robert McClelland to access the personal securityinformation of such crews.

"The National Secretary has contacted the ACTU who are working the matter through with the Minister for Industrial Relations, Julia Gillard.

"The Union has also contacted the Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans, and the Minister for National Security, Bob McClelland, to complain and secure understanding on what visa arrangements have been made for the scabby crew and what MSIC (Maritime Security Identification Cards) backgrounding has been done on the parasites.

"There is no doubt there is strong support from the Rudd Government.''

Another sign the union is preparing to flex its muscle is its demand that workplace drug testing of heavy machinery drivers be severely watered down.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


$300m boost for nursing homes

Mark Metherell, smh

March 22, 2008

THE Rudd Government is experiencing its first brush with grey power.

On the heels of a Senate report appealing for an upgraded age pension, nursing homes are demanding more money after an official survey found 40 per cent were in the red.

Amid claims that some aged-care homes may be forced to close due to a lack of government funding, the Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot, has announced plans for 2500 new aged-care beds in areas where they are most needed.

The Government will deliver $300 million in interest-free loans for new beds in areas of high need, including areas on the NSW coast outside Sydney, Ms Elliot said.
Australia had one of the longest life expectancy rates and the Government was preparing for a near trebling of people over 65 in the next 40 years, she said.

The pressures from the ageing population hit home this week with the release of a Senate committee report, which found that despite a small rise in pensions in recent years, there were pockets of extreme need, particularly among single women.

The Senate community affairs committee appealed for the Government to act "urgently to address severe disadvantage" facing some elderly Australians.

As the Government prepares its first budget, leaders of the $7 billion-a-year aged care sector have launched a campaign following Labor's refusal to guarantee continue paying a 1.75 per cent loading on subsidies to nursing homes, a "temporary" measure introduced in 2004.

If the loading was allowed to lapse, "the nursing home sector in particular will go into meltdown", the chief executive of the Aged Care Association of Australia, Rod Young, said.

More than 40 per cent of aged care providers have reported a loss on their nursing home operations, according to a recent report by accountants retained by the Government to audit the financial reports of nursing homes.

Ms Elliot would not be drawn on whether she agreed with the report but pointed to a new funding arrangement, which began this week, which would pump up to $350 million a year more into aged care.

Friday, March 21, 2008


Red News Readers,

Contrast Labor's approach to the paternalism of the Howard Government

Jenny Haines

Rudd pledges to close the health and mortality gaps

Latest related coverage

Analysis: Saying sorry was hard. Now it gets even tougher

Stephanie Peatling and Mark Davis, smh

March 21, 2008

PROGRAMS to tackle smoking and to train more indigenous health workers are the first down payments on reaching the Federal Government's target of ending the health and life expectancy gaps between indigenous and non-indigenous people.

At the Close The Gap summit in Parliament House in Canberra yesterday, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, signed a statement of intent with health and indigenous groups, promising to bring equality to health standards by 2030.

Mr Rudd has pledged to end the 17-year life-expectancy gap within the next generation and halve the infant mortality gap within the decade.

The Olympians Cathy Freeman and Ian Thorpe attended the event. Freeman urged the Government to "stay focused" on its commitment.

Mr Rudd announced $14.5 million in funding to tackle the high rates of smoking in indigenous communities which contribute to chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Another $19 million was announced to encourage more indigenous people to become health workers.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Tom Calma, hailed the statement of intent as a "monumental development".

"Benchmarks and targets for achieving these fundamental human rights for indigenous Australians are not only possible, but are now firm commitments. Let us hope that an indigenous baby born in 2030 has the same life expectation, the same access to quality health services and the same life outcomes as non-indigenous Australians," Mr Calma said.

But the Opposition said the Government had breached its claimed bipartisan approach to indigenous issues by leaving it until the last minute to consult it about the pledge to close the gap.

The Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson, was invited to speak at yesterday's event, but Mr Rudd left the function as he started to speak.

A spokesman for Dr Nelson said that if the Opposition had been consulted it would have suggested the pledge to achieve health equity should have referred to the importance of addressing alcohol abuse, school attendance, policing, home ownership and employment outcomes.

"We want to see this initiative work yet some people would question whether this was truly reflecting the spirit of bipartisanship," the spokesman said.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


Red News Readers,

Beware health system staff!! If Ken Baxter says there are too many of anything, you can be sure there is another round of cuts coming!!

Jenny Haines

Boffins almost outnumber nurses

By Sue Dunlevy, Daily Telegraph

March 19, 2008 12:00am

THERE are almost as many boffins in offices as there are nurses in the NSW health system.
The report, which calls for the Federal Government to take over hospital funding, says there are 31,394 health administrative staff.

The latest Health Department annual report showed there were 38,101 nurses in our hospitals in June last year.

Author, a former director-general of the NSW premier's department Ken Baxter, said healthcare could be improved and bureaucracy streamlined if the Federal Government took over hospital funding, with each hospital having its own board and the chief executive publicly answerable when things go wrong.

Details of each hospital's waiting lists, infection rates, readmission rates and other performance statistics should all be public.

And his report said patients should be given a copy of the bill for their free public hospital treatment so they know how much it cost taxpayers - to encourage them to improve their lifestyles and prevent ill health.

The Federal Government is negotiating the next five-year hospital funding agreement with the states.

Mr Baxter, who helped negotiate several five-year state and federal hospital funding agreements, said they never worked because the Federal Government never imposed the penalties it sets under them.

States have not improved their record-keeping, as promised in the 2003 agreement, but have not lost any funding - as they should have.

It is still impossible to compare the performance of individual hospitals or even the competing state health systems.

He said the best way to get the states to improve hospital services was to freeze their funding and give them extra only if they went public with performance data.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has threatened to take control of public hospitals unless the states improve their performance.

He said between $150 and $200 million should be spent on setting up a proper data collection so it is possible to determine how well our health system performs.

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Air New Zealand a sweat shop says former minister

March 16, 2008, Sun Herald

A former New Zealand immigration minister has labelled the state airline a "flying sweat shop" for paying Chinese flight attendants little more than a quarter of their New Zealand colleagues' wages.

Tuariki John Delamere, now an immigration consultant, said today that Air New Zealand's attitude was "disgusting" in paying more than 30 Chinese workers less than their New Zealand counterparts, particularly as it was 76-per-cent owned by the government, Radio New Zealand reported.

Earlier, the New Zealand Herald reported that the Chinese-based flight attendants who worked on the airline's Auckland-Shanghai services were paid less than the minimum wage laid down in New Zealand law.

The paper quoted an Air New Zealand official as saying the Chinese workers were not employed directly by the airline but were seconded by a Chinese company, Fasco, which set their salaries based on market relativity in China.

The Herald said the Chinese received annual base pay of $NZ6,240 ($5,408) compared to $NZ24,000 ($20,800) paid to New Zealand attendants.

It said the Chinese received an additional daily allowance of $NZ55 ($47.70) for long-haul flights against $NZ170 ($147.35) for New Zealand staff.

The total calculated on a 40-hour week worked out at less than one-third of New Zealand's minimum hourly wage, the paper said.

It quoted a former Chinese attendant who has left the airline, Crystal Zeng, as saying, "I remember feeling the pain when I see the others being able to go out to party while we don't even have enough money for movies and McDonald's."


Stop using asbestos: minister

Jason Koutsoukis, Sun Herald

March 16, 2008

DEFENCE Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has ordered his department's top brass to stop using deadly asbestos parts and equipment.

A furious Mr Fitzgibbon blasted officials over their application for another three-year exemption from laws banning the use of products containing asbestos.

In 2004, the Defence Department was granted a one-off three-year extension to keep using asbestos components in brake pads, gaskets, seals, fire barriers, insulation and packaging.

Another exemption was sought last year.

Mr Fitzgibbon dressed down the services chiefs and told them to stop using the deadly products.

A senior Defence source said it was "understood that the Minister for Defence is very disappointed that Defence continues to seek exemptions to the use of asbestos parts".

"The Minister believes that Defence should be held to the same high standards as the private sector when it comes to asbestos, while obliviously ensuring that national security is not compromised," the source said.

It was understood the department would "look at all possibilities and alternatives to this matter".

Exposure to asbestos has over the past 80 years resulted in thousands of cases of asbestos-related disease among Defence staff, some fatal.

The executive director of the Asbestos Diseases Society of Victoria, Leigh Hubbard, said he was delighted that Mr Fitzgibbon was taking a tougher stand with Defence.

"While it is too late for the hundreds of victims of asbestos disease in Defence over the last 60 years, it should be happy news for current personnel and contractors," Mr Hubbard said.

"Until late last year, when unions and asbestos groups demanded some accountability, the exemption was a fait accompli with the Australian Safety and Compensation Council; the Government authority [was] about to give a blanket exemption.

"We wait with interest to see the results of the minister's pressure."

In 2001, the National Occupational Health and Safety Commission declared a prohibition on the workplace use of asbestos products. It came into effect in January 2004


An 'abhorrent' cover-up

By Clair Weaver, Sunday Telegraph

March 16, 2008 12:00am

NURSES repeatedly tried to raise the alarm about the "abhorrent" Butcher of Bega Graeme Reeves but were ignored, according to a whistleblower.

Worried staff at Pambula Hospital refused to work with the former gynaecologist and obstetrician, voiced concerns in a letter to management and sought advice from a nurses' organisation, it is claimed.

But management and doctors continued to employ Reeves during his "bitter and horrible'' tenure at the hospital, the source said.

The claims come after it emerged at least three babies have died under the care of the disgraced ex-doctor.

Iwona Taborek was reportedly awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation by the State Government after her twin babies died and she nearly bled to death during a delivery by Reeves in 1995.

Reeves, who is the subject of a police investigation following hundreds of complaints of genital mutilation and sexual abuse from former patients, allegedly left a needle inside a patient and was "verbally aggressive'' to the nurse who told him he had to inform the patient.

"I think it should be put on the record that nurses at Pambula Hospital were very concerned about Graham (sic) Reeves' treatment of his patients and staff during his whole tenure at the hospital,'' the source, who is believed to be a nurse, said in a letter sent to local media and Bega MP Andrew Constance.

"So much so, one of the theatre staff wrote to management, stating their concern.

"They refused to work in theatre with him due to his poor practice methods and treatment of patients and staff.

"It was hard to come to terms with the employment and support by management and doctors of such a surgeon, when he was so abhorrent to the rest of staff. This was a very bitter and horrible time at Pambula,'' the whistleblower concluded in the the letter.

Reeves allegedly refused to see a patient who was in severe pain and had falling oxygen levels two days after her operation, despite concerns from nursing staff.

Another doctor was called and the patient was sent to Canberra, where it emerged she was seriously ill with a nicked bowel, the whistleblower said.

A sister in charge consulted the nurses registration board or nurses union after Reeves allegedly left a needle inside a patient, according to the letter.

Bega MP Andrew Constance said some of Reeves' alleged victims were reluctant to call the dedicated counselling phone hotline, and would prefer face-to-face counselling.

"At least give us a counsellor to support the victims, that's what I am pushing for,'' he said.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Sekai Holland detained in Zimbabwe

14th March 2008 - MDC Pressroom

HARARE---SEKAI Holland, an MDC national executive member and aspiring Senator for Chizhanje constituency, was today detained without charge for two hours at Harare Central Police Station for what the police said was in connection with the aborted prayer meeting in Highfield on 11 March 2007.

Holland, who is in her late 60s, was savagely beaten up and hospitalized together with other political and civic leaders last year. She only came back to Zimbabwe last month from Australia where she was receiving treatment for a broken leg she sustained when the police pounced on President Morgan Tsvangirai and other civic and political leaders at Machipisa police station following a court sanctioned rally which the police violently crushed.

Holland would have been amputated if she had not sought specialist treatment.

On Wednesday, Holland made an emotional address at a public meeting to commemorate the state brutality of 11 March in which she narrated her horrific ordeal at the hands of the police.

Today, the police accused Holland of supplying them with the wrong address on 11 March 2007.

The police also asked her the whereabouts of Grace Kwinjeh, another MDC national executive member who was also brutally assaulted together with other party leaders last year. Kwinjeh is now in South Africa.

The police released Holland after harassing her for more than five hours.

The detention of Holland shows that once again, the police have become complicit with the regime in intimidating members of the MDC ahead of the watershed polls on 29 March 2008.

We hope that the observers to the watershed polls, who only came into the country last week with less than two weeks to go before the election, are seeing for themselves the true nature of this regime. Holland has not committed any crime and the latest move is meant to instil fear in the people.

The people of Zimbabwe will not be intimated. They want a new Zimbabwe and a new beginning.

The MDC represents the change we can trust.

MDC Information and Publicity Department

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

Friday, March 14, 2008


Get ready, shreddy, panic …

Chris Henning, smh

March 14, 2008


Scene: The office of Stratospheric Super Investment Corp, high in the Sydney CBD. Trev Adkins, a 50ish senior executive, is pulling documents from a filing cabinet and piling them on his desk. He looks pale green and terrified.Trev: (Opens another folder.) Oh Godohgodohgod. Another one gone bad. (Puts it on pile.)

(There is a knock at the door.)Trev: (Jumps and whimpers, terrified.) Who is it?

Breanna: (Trev's personal assistant, through door.) It's me, Mr Adkins. I've brought you a nice cup of tea. Can I open the door?

Trev: (Locks door, frantic with nervous energy.) No! It's alarmed. I'm alarmed too. I've got a gun and I'm prepared to use it.

Breanna: Hahaha. You are a funny one. There's a honey jumble too. I'll leave them on the photocopier and go back to my shredding.

Trev: How do I know you're not from ASIC?

Breanna: I really don't know what you mean, Mr Adkins.

Trev: (Opens door.) Oh, it is you, Breanna. Come in. No one saw you come here did they? Good. I have a very important question for you. (Pauses for effect.) When they ask me for my investment strategy, what am I going to say?

Breanna: (Looks closely.) Are you in trouble, Mr Adkins?

Trev: No. Yes. I really don't know what you mean. (Picks up another file, looks at it and gives a little whimper.) I deny that completely. And I resent the implication in your question.

Breanna: Well, that won't impress them. How much have you lost?

Trev: Nothing. Nothing at all. $250 million.

Breanna: Ri-i-ight. Did you steal it?

Trev: (Instantaneous anger.) How dare you? Of course not. I invested it. Short selling. Future future futures. That sort of stuff. (Suddenly pleading and tearful.) Oh look, Breanna. I have no idea what I do. People give me money and I tell them a lot of rubbish and put it in some fund or other and hope it makes money for them. That's the strategy.

Breanna: (Reassuring mumsy tone.) Don't fret, Mr Adkins. If you haven't actually stolen any, it'll be all right, I'm sure. I'll just shred all the records and we'll say the dog ate them.

Trev: Thank you, Breanna. You're a treasure. But hold on. I should really have a written strategy, shouldn't I? What if someone asks?

Breanna: I'll think about that. Meanwhile, have you done your footy tips?
(The same thought strikes both simultaneously. )

Trev: (Hands her his tips.) That's it! Quick - print them out on letterhead.

Breanna: No one will ever know the difference. Stratospheric Super is back in business.

Trev: I love capitalism. (Curtain.)

Thursday, March 13, 2008


NSW power privatisation: there’s something terribly wrong here

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Alex Mitchell writes in Crikey 13.3.08:

Like two turkeys going to a Thanksgiving dinner, NSW Premier Morris Iemma and Treasurer Michael Costa are pressing ahead with their plan to privatise the state’s power industry.

Cheering them on are Treasury secretary John Pierce, the big end of town which will make tens of millions of dollars in fees (whether the sell-off gets up or not), the upper echelons of the Liberal Party (but not the Nats) and the editorial writers of News Ltd and Fairfax.

When state parliament resumes next month, Iemma and Costa will attempt to ram through their enabling legislation so that it is all done and dusted before the NSW ALP conference at Sydney Town Hall on the weekend of 3-4 May.

Iemma is waving around the fatuous Unsworth report which contains the extraordinary claim that the sell-off conforms to ALP policy. This is being used to persuade gullible and spineless labor backbenchers – of which there is any number – that they can vote for the legislation and not face retribution from angry branch members and supporting trade unions.

In reality, Iemma and Costa are mounting a pre-emptive strike against the state conference, the party’s rank and file and party democracy. It has the makings of a showdown that could split the Labor Party in NSW.

In mounting bad news for Iemma and Costa, the state executive of the Finance Sector Union, the union representing the banking, insurance and financial houses, has now voted to oppose the sell-off plan.

The FSU’s decision carries considerable weight. It has the experience of the Greiner

Government’s privatisation of the State Bank and the GIO, and both were calamitous for workers’ jobs and consumers.

The State Bank was sold at a way too low price in the midst of an economic downturn while the GIO sale led to a massive rise in premiums and the company’s eventual absorption into Suncorp.
FSU secretary Geoff Derrick said the Labor Government was in danger of repeating the same mistakes, pointing to today’s uncertainties in world equity markets and the credit crisis.

One final thing, how much taxpayers’ money was spent on preparing the so-called Unsworth report on the sell-off?

It appears to have been little more than a device to green-light the sale and weave a formula to get around the constitutional processes of the NSW ALP.

What on earth were senior public servants such as Robyn Kruk, the director-general of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, and the NSW co-ordinator general David Richmond, doing on a committee which was involved in a hamfisted attempt to settle inner-party disputes in the ALP?

Surely there’s something terribly wrong here.


Horror stories of rogue doctor mount up

Natasha Wallace, Health Reporter, smh

March 13, 2008

THE room was heady with anger and devastation as about 60 people, many softly crying, gathered to consider lawsuits against the State Government over the so-called "Butcher of Bega" in potentially the largest medical negligence case against a doctor in NSW.

As news broke yesterday of the arrest of Jayant Patel, the scandal of Graeme Reeves revealed more victims from when he worked illegally as an obstetrician at two South Coast public hospitals in 2002 and 2003 after the health department failed to run background checks.

The State Government is facing a multimillion-dollar compensation payout, with Keddies

Lawyers investigating about 20 separate cases against Mr Reeves, who has been accused of sexual harassment, genital mutilation and botched procedures on hundreds of women.

Yesterday, lawyers interviewed several tearful women after a public forum at Bega RSL.

The Health Care Complaints Commission received 25 complaints about Mr Reeves between 1990 and 2007, including three patient deaths. He was banned from obstetrics in 1997 and ordered to seek psychiatric help, but was allowed to continue practising in other areas.

The Greater Southern Area Health Service employed him as an obstetrician and gynaecologist at Pambula and Bega district hospitals in April 2002.

One woman at the forum, who alleges he sexually assaulted her, told the Herald that she ran hysterical from his Pambula surgery in May 2002 with her one-year-old child after he yelled at her for screaming in pain while removing stitches from her abdomen. She ran into a GP clinic and was attended there immediately, she said.

The woman, who has been told by police not to identify herself, said she has had continuing problems since he performed an operation to remove cancerous cells from her cervix at Pambula Hospital.

"I'm still suffering now. When I get a pap test I still bleed and I can't have sex because I bleed … It has broken up my marriage," she said.

Another woman, Trisha Andrew, 33, said she was left "black and blue", in agony and bedridden for weeks after Mr Reeves performed keyhole surgery to remove ovarian cysts at Pambula Hospital in May 2003.

Mrs Andrew said she was furious the NSW Medical Board had warned the area health service in November 2002 that Mr Reeves was working illegally - six months before her operation. He was finally sacked in mid-2003 and deregistered in 2004.

Gail Small, 55, who alleged he failed to diagnose ovarian cancer resulting in her having an emergency hysterectomy, said local nurses said many women had the "Reeves trademark".
Lorraine Long, of the Medical Error Action Group, said she had received more than 1200 emails, 550 of which she had documented as complaints dating back to the 1980s when Mr Reeves worked at the Royal Hospital for Women. He also worked at the Hills Private, Sydney Adventist Hospital and Hornsby Hospital.

A director of Keddies, Scott Roulstone, said individual NSW Medical Board members could not be sued but the board could.

Mr Roulstone said the Government could also be sued for any failing by its authorities to warn hospitals about Mr Reeves or properly monitor him.

The president of the NSW Law Society, Hugh Macken, said: "It's potentially the most numerous number of actions arising out of allegations of negligence from a single doctor."


ALP councils reject sale, but the power is still with Costa

Andrew West,smh

March 13, 2008

IN THE surest sign yet that Morris Iemma's bid to sell the state's electricity industry will be rejected at the ALP's conference in May, only one of the party's electorate councils has supported the privatisation, and it is controlled by staff of a Government minister.

Of the 140 branches and electorate councils that have submitted resolutions on privatisation, only the Kiama state electorate council on the South Coast has endorsed it.

However, despite the overwhelming rank-and-file distaste for the privatisation, the Premier and the Treasurer, Michael Costa, have made it clear they will press ahead.

The Minister for Housing and Tourism, Matt Brown, who holds the seat of Kiama, has confirmed that two of his personal staff serve on the electorate council.

A confidential report obtained by the Herald of the ALP's finance and economic committee, which is compiling submissions from party branches before the conference, said the Kiama council was outnumbered by 139 party organisations demanding that power generators and retailers stay in public ownership. ALP branch leaders say overwhelming opposition to the sale among members signals that the Government's attempt to push privatisation through the conference is doomed.

Representatives of branches and electorate councils make up half the delegates at the state conference. The other delegates come from unions and the state and federal parliamentary Labor caucuses.

Key right-wing unions, such as the Electrical Trades Union and the United Services Union, along with left-wing unions, have pledged to use their conference delegates to vote down the privatisation proposal.

Robyn Fortescue, a vice-president of the ALP's Darlington branch and the organiser of a recent 300-strong protest meeting against privatisation, predicted the Premier and the Treasurer would be humiliated by the conference showdown.

"This will be very damaging to Iemma if he stays on this course," she told the Herald. "If they don't get the message from Labor Party members, who put them in their jobs in the first place, I don't know what will."

The Unions NSW assistant secretary, Matt Thistlethwaite, said the finance and economic committee report, reflecting hostile branch sentiment, had sealed the fate of the privatisation attempt.

"If both halves of the conference - unions and rank-and-filers - are against this, it's almost certain to go down in May," he said. "The Premier and Treasurer should just back off."

Last night Mr Iemma was standing firm against his own party.

His spokeswoman, Alison Hill, said: "The Premier remains committed to the Government's plan to secure NSW electricity supplies. To suggest only one party branch or SEC has voted in favour of the plan is just plain wrong.

"The Premier has attended a number of branch meetings, as have ministers and MPs, where party members support the plan." But she did not indicate how many branches and councils supported the plan.

A Kiama branch member, who asked not to be named, said only two of the five branches affiliated to the state electorate council had supported the privatisation proposal, but that Mr Brown's staffers "had rammed the motion through".

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Patel remanded in US

Shannon Molloy, smh

March 12, 2008 - 9:23AM

Latest related coverage:

Patel held in US

Surgeon Jayant Patel, linked the deaths of 17 patients at a Queensland hospital, has been remanded in custody after appearing in a US court.

Dr Patel, 57, was arrested by the FBI in Portland, Oregon, overnight.
Australian authorities are seeking his extradition to face 16 charges relating to his work at Bundaberg Base Hospital.

The charges include three counts of manslaughter, three counts of grievous bodily harm and two counts of negligent acts or omissions causing harm.

He appeared in a Portland court today before Judge Dennis J. Hubel, who remanded him in custody.

A 60-page statement from the prosecutor says the charges against Patel include three counts of manslaughter, three counts of grievous bodily harm, two counts of negligent acts or omissions causing harm, five counts of fraud, plus a further two counts of fraud valued at more than $US5000 ($5378) and one count of attempted fraud.

Each manslaughter count carries maximum penalty of life. The other charges carry jail terms ranging from 2½ to 14 years.

Judge Hubel detained Patel pending a bail hearing in Portland on Thursday and ordered him to face an extradition hearing on April 10.

Formers patients 'relieved'

Former patients of surgeon Jayant Patel said they were "relieved and elated" at news of his arrest in the US - but said they had no doubt their fight for justice was far from over.

For many former patients, his arrest would act as a form of "closure" after almost three years of heartache and wait, Bundaberg Hospital Patients Support Group co-convenor Beryl Crosby said.

Ms Crosby was told of Dr Patel's arrest about 3am and immediately phoned several patients, who were "delighted" by the news.

"This, for us, is the pivotal moment ... we've never given up the idea this would happen, it was just a matter of when," Ms Crosby said.

"A lot of patients are going to be happy with this - many will see it as justice.

"For others, they will want to see the process continue as it will."

Patients were "under no illusion" it could be years until the matter came to an end, she said.

"We've talked about this since the very beginning because I didn't want the patients to be under any illusion that an arrest would mean it's over.

"He has a right to justice and certain appeals he can go through and we know that it might take years ... we are prepared for that."

As well as assisting "hundreds and hundreds" of people over the years, Ms Crosby said her position with the support group allowed her to take an active stance on other health issues.

"As well as the patients, I've liaised with policy advisors, health officials, different people within Queensland police ... it's been constant and it still is.

"We've been involved in many changes to the health system - there's so much that has happened over the last few years besides the Patel issue."

Time has allowed many to heal and "come out the other end unscathed", she said.

This morning was just another step towards complete closure, she said.

"We have support group meetings now and there's no anger or bitterness.

"I think we've all come out the other end okay and there are a lot of patients who have managed to get their lives back together," Ms Crosby said. with Ian Munro and AAP


Mutilated women prepare class action

March 12, 2008 - 9:32AM

Source: ABC

Reports about Graeme Reeves have prompted many alleged victims to come forward, including 'Caroline', who addressed State Parliament last month.

A public meeting on the New South Wales far south coast is today expected to hear the extent of serious misconduct allegations levelled against former doctor Graeme Reeves.

The former obstetrician and gynaecologist is being investigated over claims of sexual assault and genital mutilation while practising in Sydney and at Bega and Pambula hospitals over a 14-year period.

Mr Reeves was banned from practising obstetrics in 1997 but continued to do so on the far south coast. He went before the Medical Board over the breaches and was deregistered in 2004.
Lorraine Long, from the victims' support group, says today's meeting at Bega has been called to give more women the opportunity to come forward and make preparations for a class action for compensation.

Ms Long says she has been astounded by the number of women coming forward.

"We've had about 1,200 emails and at the moment, we have documented about 550 complaints," she said.

"The majority of the people are from the Bega Valley [but] there are a lot from the northern Sydney suburbs where the doctor once practised, so a lot of those people have made contact as well."

Monday, March 10, 2008


At last, we take a stand against the dark side

Cynthia Banham, smh

March 10, 2008

There is a line in Alex Gibney's Oscar-winning documentary Taxi To The Dark Side, aired here by SBS, which stayed with me after I watched the film for the first time last week.

One of the young American soldiers prosecuted over the death in 2002 of the Afghan taxi driver, Dilawar, at Bagram Air Base, tells the camera: "Sometimes I feel that I should have gone with my own morality, more than what was common."

We now know the junior soldiers who abused Dilawar, and those who subsequently abused prisoners at Abu Ghraib, were not acting of their own accord, without direction from above.

It was the Bush Administration which after September 11, 2001, overrode morality, and made methods of torture "common".

It was the Bush Administration which - so as to give itself the "flexibility" to use methods previously defined as torture - covertly redefined torture as "extreme acts" which resulted in "death or organ failure".

Now, finally, after years of standing idly by, Australia is taking a stand.

Four years after the Howard government refused to ratify the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against Torture, the Rudd Government is moving to sign up Australia. It is also considering introducing legislation outlawing torture under the Commonwealth Criminal Code.

The Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, says he will soon talk to the states and territories about ratification. It is necessary to bring them into the process as, under the Optional Protocol, member nations must establish a system of international and national visits to places of detention - jails, immigration detention centres and psychiatric institutions - many of which are run by state and territory governments.

In March 2004, a joint parliamentary committee dominated by members of the former government declared there was "no immediate need" for Australia to ratify the protocol.

The argument made by proponents in favour of ratifying the protocol - that it would set an example on human rights to the region - was "not a compelling reason by itself" to sign.
Australia was "already regarded as a leader in human rights standards", the majority said. Some leader. As scandal after scandal broke in the US - the photographs of naked prisoners leashed like dogs at Abu Ghraib, the secret memorandums from the highest levels of the Bush Administration authorising interrogators to work outside the Geneva Conventions and use a raft of inhumane tactics against detainees - what did Australia do?

We had an attorney-general, Philip Ruddock, opine: "I don't regard sleep deprivation as torture." We had a prime minister, John Howard, agree with an interviewer in 2002 - five years before political pressure forced a backflip by his government - that it was "fair" that David Hicks be held "indefinitely without bail" at Guantanamo Bay. And we had a government defend again and again the farcical military commissions set up by the Bush Administration in Cuba, deliberately outside the purview of US domestic law, which allowed among other things evidence gained under torture to be used to convict detainees.

These are the same military commissions where the Pentagon has recently announced it is seeking the death penalty against six Guantanamo Bay detainees. Evidence against at least one of those prisoners, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, an alleged September 11 plotter, is said to have been procured using the notorious "waterboarding" technique perfected during the Spanish Inquisition. (Waterboarding is where detainees are made to believe they are drowning to get them to talk.)

Torture has been around a long time. It tends to resurface during times of renewed security threat. Think of the Algerian War in the 1950s and '60s, when the French army tortured opponents, or techniques used by the British against the IRA during the 1970s.

At times of crisis or fear, the unthinkable becomes possible. A constitutional expert, Professor George Williams, says as a result of policies pursued by the Bush Administration, "We're now in a position where the use of torture is more acceptable than it was before 9/11."

But torture doesn't work. According to professional interrogators, it is unnecessary, and produces false confessions. Look at the interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The New Yorker reports that he has claimed a role in more than 30 criminal plots. It is known much of this is questionable.

And torture creates more terrorists. The use of torture places our armed forces, whom the Geneva Conventions try to protect against mistreatment in the event they are ever captured, at risk.

It demeans all of us who purport to believe in democratic values based on human dignity and the sanctity of the individual. And it usurps the moral authority of the state which uses it.

There are indications that Australia is waking up to these truths. Mark Thomson, the secretary-general of the Association for the Prevention of Torture, based in Geneva, which has lobbied the Rudd Government to sign the Optional Protocol, told the Herald that all that human rights organisations have been struggling for over the past 50 years has been challenged by what has happened since September 11, 2001.

But on the positive side Thomson says it has been an "important wake-up call" for both the public and organisations like his to guard against complacency.

"Protecting human rights is a constant struggle."


White flight leaves system segregated by race

Latest related coverage:

Long ride across border to school
Principal takes the heat off a tiny school
The No. 1 priority being tackled from the top
Not so great a jump from dem ol' days

Your Say: Kids, schools and race

Anna Patty Education EditorMarch 10, 2008

WHITE students are fleeing public schools, leaving behind those of Aboriginal and Middle Eastern origin, a secret report by high school principals reveals.

The NSW Secondary Principals Council conducted a confidential survey which raises serious concerns about "white flight" undermining the public education system and threatening social cohesion. Some teachers and principals have described it as "de facto apartheid".

The findings are backed by research from the University of Western Sydney, which has identified evidence of racial conflict in schools in the wake of the Cronulla riots. It also suggests students of Anglo-European descent are avoiding some schools with students of mainly Asian background.

Not only have some public schools lost enrolments; they have become racially segregated. In pockets of rural and remote NSW, Aboriginal students fill public schools and white students attend Catholic and other private schools in the same town.

Around Sydney, the parents of some Anglo-European students are avoiding what they perceive as predominantly Lebanese, Muslim and Asian schools.

In New England, in towns such as Armidale, white middle-class students are flocking to Catholic and independent schools.

In their report, principals say this is so the students can "get away from their local school".

"This is almost certainly white flight from towns in which the public school's enrolment consists increasingly of indigenous students," the report says. "The pattern is repeated in the Sydney region. Based on comments from principals, this most likely consists of flight to avoid Islamic students and communities."

The report, its pages stamped confidential, was based on responses of 163 high school principals, representing a third of the Secondary Principals Council membership. It was presented to the NSW Government after it was completed in February 2006, but has not been released.
Principals in New England said 56 per cent of the Anglo-European students who had left their schools had gone to a nearby Catholic or independent school. In North Sydney, 35 per cent of students who had left the public system went to a nearby private school.

The report shows the percentage of Anglo-European students in public schools has decreased by a third in western NSW, by 42 per cent in North Sydney and 37 per cent in New England.

A University of Western Sydney academic, Carol Reid, has also found that one in four male students surveyed in Sydney's south and west had been involved in ethnic conflict.

She had received anecdotal reports from principals about white students avoiding what were regarded as Asian schools on the North Shore and some selective high schools that had high proportions of Asian students.

Dr Reid, who is the associate head of the school of education, surveyed 350 high school students aged between 14 and 17 in south-western Sydney, after the Cronulla riots of 2005.

"I've been involved in education for 30 years and I've never seen this polarisation around class, but also around ethnicity and race," she said.

"What I have discovered is principals are losing the last of their white kids to Catholic schools across the road. A principal in the Middle Eastern part of the city was saying that he had no white kids in his school.

"I'm concerned that social cohesion is going to be at risk through this. I see signs of that. You have a lot of segregation going on."

The survey of principals reports one saying: "The Asian students are scared off by Lebanese enrolment at our school following the Cronulla riots - we had 18 no-shows on day one in year 11, mostly Asian."

Another said: "I'm seen as a Muslim school, so I don't attract very many non-Muslims, whether Anglo or not. I've worked hard to raise the school profile and gradually increase enrolments, but the Muslim label appears to alienate other groups."

Noel Beddoe, a former principal in Narrandera for 20 years who is involved in Aboriginal education, said a "de facto apartheid" had developed in some towns in the west and north of NSW, including Mungindi, near Moree, where Aboriginal students attend the public school and whites attend the Catholic school.

Busloads of white students from towns including Boggabilla cross the Queensland border every day to attend a Catholic and public school in Goondiwindi. The same is happening in southern NSW, where students are bypassing Balranald Central School and crossing the border to go to schools in Victoria.

Up to 15 years ago, Boggabilla Central School, near the Queensland border, had a relatively even mix of white and Aboriginal students. The proportion of white students has dropped from around 40 per cent in the early 1990s to 10 to 20 per cent today.

Owen Hasler, the NSW Teachers Federation organiser for the New England region, said: "There has been a significant movement of white Anglo students away from quite a few of the schools in the New England and Western region. It is clearly evidenced by the numbers and proportion of Aboriginal students in those schools."

He said around 8 per cent of the 1100 students at Gunnedah High School during the 1970s were Aboriginal. That proportion had grown to about 25 per cent of the 600 students now enrolled.

"Public schools are becoming de facto Aboriginal schools," Mr Hasler said. "It appears to be a result of the last 10 to 15 years of funding. We can understand people making the choice to send their kids away to other schools when there is a financial incentive to do so. But is that fair to the kids who want to stay in their own local community?"

Dr Reid said policies of the Howard government and the Liberal state government that had strongly supported parental choice in schooling, including de-zoning, had contributed to "white flight".

Parents were no longer restricted to schools close to home and could use generous government subsidies for transport. Boarding school allowances of up to $6396 per child were also available, making it easier for some families to avoid their local school.

The Isolated Parents Association is lobbying to have the $54 million federal government boarding assistance scheme extended to more families in rural and remote areas. It is means-tested and restricted to children of families who live more than 56 kilometres from the nearest government school, or more than 4.5 kilometres from the nearest transport to school.

The association's national president, Roxanne Morrissey, said families who lived near a public school should be supported in their choice of another school that offered a wider curriculum choice.

The NSW Greens MP John Kaye said the State Government spent $443 million a year on a transport scheme that "encourages travel past local public schools to private schools in other suburbs".

"It's a recipe for educational segregation," he said.

Rick Johnston, director of Catholic schools in the Armidale diocese, said enrolments of Aboriginal students were increasing. In 1985 there were 6557 students in Catholic schools in the Armidale region and of these, 196 were Aboriginal. Last year there were 465 indigenous students out of 5892 students.

"I am committed to improving education outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students," he said. "I believe that education is the most important key to breaking the cycle of disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people."

Sharon Cooke, who is employed by the Catholic schools office in Armidale as an Aboriginal education consultant, said there were 25 schools within the diocese that employed 20 Aboriginal education assistants and two Aboriginal language teachers.

"We are committed to increasing the number of teachers within our schools who are of Aboriginal heritage," she said.


Unions press for more paid leave to breastfeed

Kate Benson Medical Reporter, smh

March 10, 2008

PAID maternity leave should be increased to six months to allow women to breastfeed their babies in line with World Health Organisation recommendations, says the state's peak union body.

Unions NSW is making a submission to the Federal Government's productivity commission inquiry to demand changes to maternity leave entitlements. It will hold a conference on the topic for about 300 workplace leaders in Sydney today.

The deputy assistant secretary of Unions NSW, Amanda Tattersall, said yesterday she had heard many "horror stories where women have been forced to express milk in the toilets at work".

"Putting maternity leave on the table for discussion is a great first step by the Rudd Government, but the debate has been modest so far and has focused on an entitlement of 14 weeks, but we don't think that is enough.

"The WHO recommends that children should be breastfed for at least the first six months but the reality is that too few women can afford to take time off work without pay. "

Ms Tattersall said Australia was one of only two Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries which did not offer universal paid maternity leave and it was "time we caught up".

"Six months universal maternity leave is the next great threshold for Australian working women. How much employers, government and employees should contribute to such a system is matter for debate but what is important is that we take decisive steps now."

A spokeswoman for the Australian Breastfeeding Association, Katrina Dorrough, said statistics showed that in 2006 181,000 women had been forced to return to work before their babies were six months old.

"They either have to … wean, which compromises the health of the baby, or they find themselves breastfeeding in the back seat of a car or taxi when their carer brings the baby in."

Saturday, March 08, 2008


Iemma faces ALP power war

By Joe Hildebrand, Daily Telegraph

March 08, 2008 12:00am

A LAST-ditch bid by Premier Morris Iemma to head off an ALP war over power privatisation has collapsed, with unions rejecting a compromise deal the Government had hoped would avert a showdown.

Still reeling from the Wollongong sex-for-development scandal, Mr Iemma now faces a new assault from his own party over the $25 billion sell-off.

The report of the so-called "consultative reference committee" was intended to lock Labor support for the electricity sale but rebel committee members have struck back with a dissenting report canning the committee's findings.

At the same time, the Premier's camp believe they have a weapon allowing them to steamroll through with the sale no matter what the party resolves.

The two forces are now on an unavoidable collision course set to come to a head at the ALP state conference in May.

The committee, led by former premier Barrie Unsworth, supported the plan to sell the Government's electricity retailers and operation of its generators.

It is understood the finding was only reached after concessions were made to environmental representative Jeff Angel.

The committee also proposed offering share packages to workers as an added sweetener.

However the three union representatives on the committee will issue a dissenting report condemning the proposal and Labor sources have told The Daily Telegraph they will still fight it on the conference floor.

"The people of NSW are understandably concerned by the Government's announcement and so is the union movement," the report concludes.

"There is an undercurrent of public opposition to privatisation of public assets for one simple reason - they do not generally deliver better outcomes for Australians."

However Mr Iemma plans to defy any move to block the sale by using a clause in the ALP constitution that prevents conference - the party's supreme policy-making body - from overturning a Government decision.

The Premier claims the Government has already made a decision to proceed with the privatisation and therefore conference cannot overrule it.

The report was handed to Mr Iemma yesterday.


Red News Readers,

Some very enjoyable Alan Ramsey!

Jenny Haines

Alan Ramsey, smh

March 8, 2008

Another jolly week in national political life. Kevin Rudd in Port Moresby, John Howard in Washington, Mark Vaile in the Middle East, Peter Costello in solitary, Alexander Downer in denial, Malcolm Turnbull in pursuit, Brendan Nelson in Chatswood at the Red Cross blood bank.

Take Rudd out of the mix and what are you left with? As miserable a bunch of thumb-sucking sooks, layabouts, boneheads and delusional revisionists as ever you could find. Hopeless.

Nobody more pathetic than the Toad.

The smartest thing our ex-prime minister did after losing the lot on November 24 was to go home and keep his mouth shut. Howard said his say on election night and that was that. While his former colleagues queued to blame him for everything, Howard stayed silent. He got on with the business of fitting back into real life, however he sees what that might be after 32 years in public life and almost 12 years of unfettered political power.

Of course, it couldn't last.

The silence, I mean. Three months turned out to be Howard's limit.

Invite him back to America, give him and Janette first-class return tickets, put him in a room at a "gala dinner" with another milling flock of exs, used-to-bes and also-rans, this time in Washington, let him speak for an eye-glazing hour, give him a crystal bauble in "honour" of an obscure corporate extremist of the American right almost none of us have ever heard of, and John Winston was returned to his delusional best.

There he was spruiking away on the other side of the world, utterly repudiated in his own country, only the second Australian prime minister in more than a century of nationhood to lose his own seat at the same time he lost government, and yet you'd have thought from what he was saying that he'd walked away of his own accord, loved by his people, a true prophet in his time, a man who'd done so much and would continue to do so much more.

Consider this bit of his speech: "From our election in 1996 we pursued reform and further modernisation of our economy. On the social front we emphasised our nation's traditional values, sought to resurrect greater pride in her history, and became assertive about the intrinsic worth of our national identity. In the process we ended the seemingly endless seminar about that identity which had been in progress for some years.

"When we left office in November last year, Australia was a stronger, prouder and more prosperous nation than it had been 12 years earlier. Of particular note economically were our economic reforms to the taxation system, the complete elimination of net federal government debt, and changes to our labour market laws which produced a freer and less union-dominated system …"

And this extract: "As the most powerful force for good in the world community, the United States remains the ultimate guarantor of the way of life most of us in the West wish to continue to enjoy. Those who hold to conservative values continue to face a major ideological battle. The left-liberal grip on educational institutions and large sections of the media remains intense.

Global warming has become a new battleground. The same intellectual bullying and moralising, used in other debates, now dominates what passes for serious dialogue on this issue.

"That having been said, the past 25 years have seen striking conservative gains. It was Ronald Reagan's strength and determination, nourished by his positive and optimistic view of freedom and American life, that brought down the evil empire. Margaret Thatcher's transformation of Britain was, ironically, to be vindicated by Tony Blair's embrace of her changes to Britain's labour laws … On a smaller scale, in my own country, a number of the more conservative social policies of my government have been endorsed by the new Australian Government. The sincerity of its conversion with will be tested by the experience of office …"

Howard never "left" office, nor did his government.

They were thrown out because we were sick of the buggers.

We might have been "stronger", we were definitely greedier, but we certainly weren't "prouder". And 10 increases in housing mortgage rates in five years, plus two bequeathed to the Rudd Government's first three months in office, only emphasise how profligate was Howard's government in its desperation to retain power and how wilful, in those last half-dozen years, was its management of the economy.

So, too, Howard's flippancy about global warming, his deification of the brutal Reagan and Thatcher years, and the calculated ignorance of his audience as to how fatal his government's "changes to labour market laws" ultimately had proved at the ballot box, despite the many millions of public money he'd spent trying to sell them to save himself.

By any measure a toad for all seasons.

And what has he left behind?

Well, apart from disconnected political layabouts such as Costello and Downer, out hunting for some corporate patron or other to take them off the public tit, we've got the likes of the shameless Vaile, the Nationals' former tractor salesman from Taree who became deputy prime minister, God forbid, in his last years in government, taking "personal leave" so he can duck off to the Middle East to give a spot of advice to the corporate patron who's in the process of working out a permanent consultancy arrangement, even while Vaile is still taking the taxpayers' shilling.

We know this because the company involved issued a press release saying so. And Vaile does all this, without a word to Nelson, his new Coalition leader, and when he gets sprung on the front page by The Daily Telegraph's Steve Lewis, Vaile issued his own wheedling statement, through his office, seeking to explain himself. It said, in part: "During my personal leave, I have been away from my constituents for a total period of four working days visiting the Middle East, looking at one of Australia's rapidly growing company's [sic] there, ServCorp, and advising them with regard to the future growth of their business. My air fares and accommodation were not paid by the Australian taxpayer. Consulting work is nothing new among those who serve in Parliament. I recall many Labor, Liberal and Nationals MPs over many decades undertaking very similar advisory roles both during and after their parliamentary service. Tony Burke might even wish to look back at the register of members' interests to reflect on the hypocritical nature of his [radio] interview this morning …

"When the Coalition lost government last year, I stepped down from the leadership … to shoulder some of the blame for the defeat, to allow me to spend more time with my family, and to ease the burden on on my health after a serious bout of cancer which continues to be monitored …"

What a grub. Vaile gets caught fair and square bludging on taxpayers while he does a spot of "advising" overseas for his intended next employer, without telling his Coalition leader, and seeks to hide behind his family, his health and the behaviour of other MPs to excuse himself.

The sooner Vaile resigns the better.

Which leaves Brendan the Brief to think upon the words of Malcolm the Money after Turnbull was twice asked about Nelson's leadership on Thursday.

First there was this exchange on the Seven Network's Sunrise program after Turnbull had been spinning his take on the latest interest rate increase:

Q: "All right, last one before I let you go this morning. Brendan Nelson's approval is now 7 per cent. How low will it go? And yes or no, will you challenge?"

Turnbull: "Well, Mel, I never comment about the leadership. But I'd just say, just so to be clear, I mean, Brendan's approval rating is higher than that. The 7 per cent is preferred prime minister, when he's being compared to Kevin Rudd [at 73 per cent]. Now look, that's not a good number. He doesn't like that. He's said he's locked in [the] underdog status. I know Brendan will work very hard to get out of that underdog position and, you know, become more competitive."

Q: "So are you ruling out a challenge?"

Turnbull: "The only thing I'm ruling out is ever making a comment about the leadership. There is nothing I can say that would be helpful or constructive."

Later Turnbull told Sky television: "Brendan Nelson has my complete support, as he has the support of the party room. He must be given a fair crack of the whip, a fair go."

Well, not really. Nelson will get only what he deserves, which in the end, whenever that is, will be the boot.

Ask John Howard.

It was Andrew Peacock 24 years ago who dubbed Howard, his deputy at the time, "the Rodent", because he felt Howard was always gnawing away at his leadership. That was in the early 1980s. Howard in those years constantly refused to give pestering reporters a categorical "no" that he wouldn't challenge Peacock, who would resign the leadership in 1985 only after his colleagues wouldn't back him to replace Howard as deputy with John Moore, a Peacock ally.

Ironically, after Peacock regained the leadership in 1989 by ousting Howard, with Moore's help, before losing the 1990 election, Moore would eventually become defence minister in a Howard government in 1998. Such is politics.

Turnbull now adopts the Howard gambit. He refuses, sensibly, to be pinned, yes or no. He'll wait until the leadership falls to him by right, as inevitably it must. Brendan the Brief is way out of his depth.

Friday, March 07, 2008


Howard ignored his own polls

Mark Davis, Political Correspondent, smh

March 7, 2008

Latest related coverage:
Howard slams workplace U-turn
Run-around shows why FoI a failure

Comment: A case of political pride coming before a fall
PDF: Read the secret research

SECRET research handed to the Howard government showed its $46 million taxpayer-funded advertising campaign to promote Work Choices failed dismally.

The research - based on polls of hundreds of people every fortnight from August 2005 to February 2006 - showed that weeks of TV advertising only served to entrench apprehension about Work Choices - which John Howard is still defending while on the lecture circuit in Washington.

Despite the evidence, the government pressed on with another $20 million in Work Choices publicity over the next 18 months.

Mr Howard told an audience at a Washington conservative think tank on Wednesday that it was a mistake for Labor to reverse the workplace changes.

"It would be the first time in 25 years that a major economic reform in my country has been reversed," he said. "In particular, bringing back the old unfair dismissal laws will stifle employment and growth in small business."

His first major speech since the election, in which he aggressively defended his legacy, came as the Herald obtained market research tracking surveys on the Work Choices advertising campaign.

They were obtained after an 18-month tussle with the Department of Workplace Relations, which put off releasing them under freedom of information laws until after the election.

As part of its original TV, radio and newspaper ads on Work Choices, the government spent $1.8 million engaging Colmar Brunton Social Research to track how the public was responding to the sales effort. Colmar Brunton began its surveys in early August on attitudes to the existing industrial relations system and the planned changes.

It polled samples of 500 people, comprising 400 employees and 100 non-employees, every fortnight until February 2006. By the end it had polled 6253 people.

Reports on the tracking research were handed to the government each fortnight.

They showed that at the start of the exercise, in early August 2005, sizeable majorities had positive attitudes towards the existing system and negative attitudes about planned changes. By the end, after the TV campaign had dominated the airwaves for weeks, opinion remained solidly against Work Choices.

The Colmar Brunton reports show that by February 2006 only 15 per cent of all those polled were satisfied with the government's planned changes, unchanged from the level of satisfaction before the ad campaign began.

By contrast, 65 per cent of employees were satisfied with the old system, most saying it was fair, protected employees, and allowed flexible working arrangements.

The surveys found that by the end of the ad campaign only 13 per cent of employees agreed that Work Choices would be fairer, and just 11 per cent agreed that it would protect employees.
Sixty-eight per cent agreed with the statement that Work Choices would benefit employers.

Less than one in four thought Work Choices would be good for the economy, while 37 per cent said it would take the needs of small business into account.

Thursday, March 06, 2008


Chavez threatened with international court for funding rebels

March 6, 2008, smh

Latest related coverage:
Tensions escalate over Colombian raid
Colombia says documents tie FARC to Ecuador
South American troops on alert
Chavez sends tanks to Colombia border
Chavez accused of giving FARC rebels $300m

CARACAS: Colombia says it will file charges against Venezuela's President, Hugo Chavez, with the International Criminal Court, accusing him of providing assistance to Colombia's largest rebel group as tension in the Andes intensified over Colombia's foray into Ecuador to kill a senior guerilla commander.

And Ecuador's President, Rafael Correa, said on Tuesday that it would defend itself if Colombia did not apologise for the attack on rebels in its territory and if the world did not condemn it.

"The aggressor has to apologise and the international community condemn him," Mr Correa told journalists in Brazil. "If not we will have to defend ourselves with our own means.

"If this act goes unpunished, the whole region will be in danger, because the next victim could be Peru, it could be Brazil, it could be Venezuela, Bolivia or any of our countries." At an emergency meeting in Washington, Ecuador asked the Organisation of American States, a pan-regional body, to condemn Colombia.

Venezuelan and Ecuadorean troops deployed on Colombia's frontier on Tuesday while Venezuela started shutting crossing points on the 2200-kilometre border to try to economically isolate its neighbour.

Tensions escalated when Colombia's President, Alvaro Uribe, said that he would file a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing Mr Chavez of funding the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. Colombian officials contend computer documents recovered in Saturday's raid revealed Mr Chavez had given more than $US300 million ($322 million) to the FARC.
Bogota also said the computers revealed the guerillas were negotiating to obtain material to make a dirty bomb.

"Colombia proposes to denounce Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, in the international criminal court for sponsoring and financing genocide," Mr Uribe said.

On Saturday Colombia bombed a rebel camp 1.5 kilometres inside Ecuador, killing at least 21 guerillas, including a senior commander, Raul Reyes, who FARC says died on a mission to arrange the release of the ailing Franco-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt through Mr Chavez and the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy.

The New York Times, Guardian News & Media, Reuters


Public float to clinch power sale

Robert Wainwright and Andrew West, smh

March 6, 2008

Latest related coverage
Power stations want permits to pollute

A TWIN public float of state-owned electricity assets and a sweetener of up to $10,000 worth of shares for some employees are being promoted to break the deadlock over privatisation that has paralysed the Government.

But the proposal from the former Labor premier Barrie Unsworth, chairman of a special committee on privatisation, is set to inflame unions and community groups because it exceeds the Government's original plan to lease out power stations.

The Herald understands that at last night's meeting of the committee Mr Unsworth presented a proposal that would consolidate three publicly owned power stations into two companies and link them with power retailers. The two new companies would go on the market in an initial public offering.

A source told the Herald that Mr Unsworth would recommend floating two separate companies because of consumer concerns about the dominance of a single supplier on the market. "I imagine that Victoria, for example, would have concerns about a single, monster company on its doorstep," the source said.

To sweeten the deal for unions representing 14,000 power workers, staff would also receive up to $10,000 worth of shares as an incentive payment, depending on their length of service.

But far from being an ice-breaker, any proposal that involves selling power stations as well as power retailers is likely to be rejected by unions. Even the Treasurer, Michael Costa, the strongest proponent of privatisation, has only pushed for leases of between 55 years and 99 years on the power stations.

According to sources close to the committee, the Government would merge the assets of three public corporations - Delta Electricity, Macquarie Generation and Eraring Energy - into two companies, roughly equal in size.

The Herald understands that one of the options if for Eraring to be carved up and its assets merged into the other two.

The new companies would also incorporate the rich assets of the three publicly owned retailers - Energy Australia, Integral Energy and Country Energy - and then be released onto the market in a Telstra-style float directed at small investors.

The Iemma Government has already tried to convince unions to support a public float. But at a meeting last month, union leaders rejected it as a potential disaster worse than the Cross City Tunnel debacle.

The 11-member committee, comprising representatives of the Government, community and environment groups, and unions, was locked in discussions for more than three hours last night, trying to complete its recommendations, which it will hand to the Premier, Morris Iemma, tomorrow.

The Government has ensured that the five union and community representatives - four of whom are likely to oppose privatisation - are outnumbered by supporters, including two Labor backbenchers, three public servants and Mr Unsworth.

Union leaders were refusing to comment publicly on the plan last night, but one of the state's most senior officials has warned Mr Iemma and his cabinet to "get into the brace position" because of an inevitable crash landing on privatisation.

He said the proposal was designed to appear "democratic", by aiming the sale at individual rather than institutional investors, but remained a privatisation of a public asset.

"We haven't seen the proposal in its entirety, but our stance is unchanged," he said. "It would need to be a lot more than an IPO [initial public offering] to win support."