Friday, August 29, 2008


Refugees face rent anguish

Paul Bibby, smh

August 29, 2008

UNSCRUPULOUS Sydney landlords are taking advantage of refugees with little or no experience of the city's tight rental market by getting them to sign exploitative rental contracts or evicting them in favour of richer tenants, community service workers say.

Some refugee families are ending up in refuges for the homeless.

Western Sydney migrant workers and tenancy advocates interviewed by the Herald said there was not enough affordable housing in the city's rental market for the 2500 refugee and humanitarian entrants - predominantly from the Middle East and Africa - who settle here each year.

They said the refugees - often placed in the market by Australia's privately run settlement services with little understanding of their rights and responsibilities - had become so desperate they were willing to pay almost anything.

Brij Datt, of the Campbelltown-Wollondilly tenant advocacy service, said the number of refugees and migrants accessing his service had increased by 30 per cent since 2005. Unreasonable rent increases were the most common complaint.

"Landlords are demanding one, two, sometimes even six months' rent, as bond, plus four weeks' rent in advance," Mr Datt said.

"Invariably when they leave they're not going to get their entire bond back and any little scratch mark or stain is picked up and they're just told, 'You did this, you pay for it'."

He said refugee families often arrived in rental accommodation to discover that they had not been cleaned after the previous tenant.

"They show up and the place is filthy but they're too afraid of reprisals to complain - in some cases with good reason."

In the Fairfield local government area, where 8106 refugees have settled between 2002 and 2007, the vacancy rate hovers between 1 per cent and 7 per cent.

"Low-income families reliant on Centrelink payments are provided with eviction notices because landlords want to reclaim properties … in order to raise rents which they think a Centrelink tenant will not be able to pay," the manager of the Fairfield Migrant Resource Centre, Ricci Bartels, wrote in a recent paper, Between A Brick And A Hard Place.

"Rentstart is only available every 12 months which leaves tenants who are evicted [unable to] get adequate, if any, assistance if they are forced to move within 12 months. Services … are faced with clients who present with high levels of anxiety, depression, homelessness and talking of suicide as their only solution."

In Blacktown, home to a number of African refugees, it is not uncommon for refugee families to spend extended periods in refuges for the homeless.

"After they exhaust all options, they get referred to Department of Housing emergency accommodation," the Blacktown Migrant Resource Centre settlement worker, Edward Massimino, said. "But even then there are long waiting lists - it's up to six months - and homeless shelters and crisis accommodation."

Others must squeeze into modest flats with their extended families.

Single mother Reta Dawood, her two children, her two sisters and her mother live together in a two-bedroom flat in Fairfield.

Her two sisters and mother have been unable to find anywhere to live since they arrived about six weeks ago.

The landlord has indicated he may put their flat on the market, leaving the family of Iraqi refugees facing eviction.

"I'm looking for somewhere for my sisters to live, but there is nothing there," Ms Dawood said.

Each fortnight she pays $460 of her $550 Centrelink benefit on rent, relying on the benefits her son receives as a TAFE student.

"Sometimes I'm just waiting for my benefit," she said. "All I can do is hope and pray."


Iemma flicks bypass switch to save sale

Nick Ralston, smh

August 29, 2008

MORRIS IEMMA has reinvented his power privatisation plan just enough to resurrect it, sidelining the Opposition - and Parliament - in the process.

It started out looking like a disastrous day for the Premier and the Treasurer, Michael Costa, yesterday.

But matters took a sharp U-turn just hours after the Coalition confirmed it would vote down the enabling legislation.

It cost an estimated $500,000 to recall Parliament to vote on the power proposal, but after less than an hour of discussion in the upper house, the debate was postponed - never to be resumed.

The Premier accused Opposition Leader Barry O'Farrell of killing the sell-off for five minutes of political gain.

But Mr Iemma and Mr Costa - the architect of the original $25 billion sale plan - were not prepared to accept defeat in their long-running power struggle.

Last September, Professor Anthony Owen recommended the NSW Government look at privatising the electricity industry in order to have the private sector build a new baseload generator.

The generator is needed by 2014, and the only other option was for the State Government to build it at a cost to taxpayers of about $15 billion.

Three months after Professor Owen's recommendation, Mr Iemma declared he would sell the three electricity retailers and lease out the power generators.

Battle lines were immediately drawn - within Labor, between Labor and the unions, and between the political parties.

The union movement was the first to take up the anti-privatisation fight, insisting it was a bad move for power workers and consumers.

Dissident Labor MPs joined in, claiming privatisation was at odds with the party's platform.

The battle reached fever pitch at Labor's state conference in May, when Mr Iemma was heckled by rank and file members during his address. Mr Costa was booed and jeered as he told the conference opposition to the sell-off within the party was "all about ego".

The position of the premier and treasurer was overwhelmingly rejected by ALP delegates when their proposal was defeated 702 votes to 107.

Were they humiliated? Perhaps. Deterred? Certainly not.

The next day, Mr Iemma said he would defy the party and proceed regardless.

So, it came as no surprise that when the privatisation plan was set for defeat in the upper house, Mr Iemma and Mr Costa found a way to effectively defy Parliament and proceed regardless.

A day after saying there was no "plan B", Mr Iemma put one to Cabinet, and then caucus.

His revised plan involved selling off the state's three electricity retailers - EnergyAustralia, Integral Energy and Country Energy.

It differed from the original proposal in that the power generators would remain completely under the state's control and, more importantly, it could be achieved without a vote in State Parliament, thus sidelining the Coalition.

The compromise, and the methods employed by the Premier, are likely to further agitate the Labor MPs he has already got offside over the sell-off.

It will also anger the already irate ALP state head office, which has previously attempted to unseat Mr Iemma as premier and replace him with the Emergency Services Minister, Nathan Rees.

Unions NSW secretary John Robertson, who has spearheaded the anti-privatisation campaign, said that if Mr Costa and Mr Iemma proceeded, they were "effectively signing their political death warrants".

But Mr O'Farrell is also likely to face some opposition from within his own ranks for his stance in the debate.

The business lobby warned Mr O'Farrell their relationship would be strained if he opposed privatisation, which is essentially Liberal philosophy.

Mr O'Farrell is also yet to put up any alternative to the Government's plans to secure NSW's electricity past 2014.

However, political strategist Bruce Hawker said Mr Iemma's "plan B" could provide both parties with "a way out with some credibility".

"I think the new plan has a lot of merit and it is probably what should have been adopted initially," he said in an interview.

He said the value of electricity assets were declining all the time.

"That is the flaw in the O'Farrell argument," Mr Hawker said.

Mr O'Farrell refused to support the sell-off, saying the Government would not get the "best possible price" for the assets because the timing was wrong.

But Mr Hawker said the new plan steered Mr Iemma away from the previous "complete collision with the unions".

It would also clear the way for Mr O'Farrell to offer his support "because it doesn't go to the heart of the case he was making about the value of the power stations".


Sept 2007 NSW Premier Morris Iemma says he will consider part privatisation of electricity sector to meet future power demands, following inquiry by Professor Anthony Owen.
Dec 2007 Labor Left faction opposes Owen proposals. Iemma says he plans to sell NSW electricity retailers and lease power stations for about $15 billion.

Jan 2008 NSW government forms committee, headed by former Labor premier Barry Unsworth, to establish whether sale conforms with Labor policy platform.
Mar 2008 Unsworth committee favours sale.
May 2008 State Labor conference votes 702 to 107 to oppose privatisation of stateowned electricity assets.
June 2008 Legislation to allow sale of electricity retailers and lease power generators introduced in parliament. Government delays privatisation bill to satisfy opposition demands after rebel ALP MPs refuse to vote for it.
Aug 21, 2008 NSW auditorgeneral finds "no major issue" with the plan.
Aug 22 Iemma says he will recall parliament a month early to debate the privatisation bill.
Aug 27 Costa denies reports he threatened Labor MPs' seat funding if they didn't support the power selloff but warns blocking the bill would impose massive financial burden on NSW.
Aug 28 Govt kills debate on legislation to avoid defeat in upper house after opposition says it will not vote in favour. Caucus considers compromise plan to sell electricity retailers and potential development sites for power generators, while retaining ownership of current generators.


Iemma is unethical: Labor backbencher

August 29, 2008 - 9:10AM, smh

NSW Premier Morris Iemma has been branded "unethical" by one of his own backbenchers, following his continued push to privatise parts of the state's electricity sector.

Paul Gibson, Labor's member for Blacktown and a long-term critic of the government's privatisation plans, on Friday said the premier was continuing to oppose the will of his party.

"What's happened, what the premier has done, is totally unethical and I would hope that the head office of the Labor Party has a strong look at it," Mr Gibson told ABC Radio early Friday.

"A line in the sand has to be drawn."

The Iemma government on Thursday withdrew enabling legislation which underpinned the plan to sell the state's electricity retailers, and offer long-term leases on generation assets, because it was set for defeat in the parliament's upper house.

Late on Thursday, Mr Iemma announced a new plan to push ahead with the sale of the retailers, while potential power station development sites would also be offered to the private sector.

This process can go ahead without the need for legislation.

The backup plan was discussed at a Labor caucus meeting late on Thursday, and Mr Gibson said it was not passed unanimously.

"I heard plan B when it was announced, and I was truly amazed by it," Mr Gibson said.

"To go against party policy in round one is bad enough, to go against party policy and platform in round two, as far as I'm concerned, is unforgivable.

"You've got a government in NSW that has got a fairly big majority - if the government can't get their bill through with their own numbers that tells you that maybe it's not the right thing to do."

Mr Iemma said the move to a backup privatisation plan was forced upon the government because its original package was not supported by the opposition.

The government does not have a majority in NSW's upper house, where it relies on the opposition and minor parties to scrutinise but not block its legislative agenda.

The premier also said the backup plan was canvassed as an option in an independent report into the privatisation.

"With the greatest respect to Mr Gibson, if he had taken the opportunity to read the Owen Report ... there are a whole range of options including the option of just doing retail and linking that to the sites where stations can be built," Mr Iemma also told ABC Radio Friday.

"Even (Opposition leader Barry) O'Farrell, in May last year, stood in the parliament ... and said this would be an option he would pursue."

Mr Iemma also said the opposition's refusal to back the privatisation showed Mr O'Farrell was not fit to be premier, as he had opted for "five minutes of fame" rather than the good of the state.

"The simple fact is NSW has a shortage of electricity in 2014 ... I was elected not to do popular things but to do the right thing by NSW," he also said.

© 2008 AAPBrought to you by


Red News Readers,

Mental health nursing is very demanding work and can drain a nurses' compassion but there is no doubt that this nurse went far too far in the way that she managed this patient's care. No doubt at some stage this matter will come before the Nurses and Midwives Board which is the profession's way of regulating the behaviour of members of the profession in relation to registered nurses and enrolled nurses. Employers and managers should remember that, that the nursing profession can and does regulate under the Nurses Act of 1991, but the NMB can't regulate those health care workers who are not required by the Nurses Act to be regulated.

Jenny Haines

Nurse condemned over suicide

Bellinda Kontominas,

August 29, 2008

THE first time Emily Chapman tried to end her life in Cumberland Hospital's psychiatric unit, she saved herself at the last minute by pressing the emergency button. But the response she received was far from compassionate.

A night nurse, Margot Gattenby, is alleged to have made her crawl back to her bed and accused her of being "an attention seeker".

The next time, Ms Chapman hanged herself. She didn't summon help.

Yesterday, delivering her findings into an inquest into Ms Chapman's death, the state coroner,

Mary Jerram, criticised the behaviour of Ms Gattenby towards Ms Chapman as "abhorrent", but stopped short of blaming her for the death.

Ms Chapman, 20, had made regular complaints to her parents and written diary entries about her fear of Ms Gattenby, one of the nurses who cared for her in an acute psychiatric ward at Cumberland Hospital.

She had told staff she was afraid of the fixtures in the bathroom, felt unsafe and had a desire to hang or strangle herself.

Her father, John Chapman, told Glebe Coroner's court his daughter had written a letter complaining about Ms Gattenby but had not sent it for fear of retribution. She wrote of being deliberately kept awake, of being denied her medication, and being told to "watch the television" when she was feeling anxious.

Ms Gattenby also allegedly told her she had "run out of compassion" for her, and that she was not really ill.

"All of these experiences have been traumatic and damaging above and beyond the illness that I'm already suffering," Ms Chapman wrote.

"I trust that you will take this matter seriously, address this inexcusable behaviour and attitude, and act to change the situation for the good of all the patients in the ward."

She complained that Ms Gattenby had verbally abused her on several occasions, including after the suicide attempt in December 2005 in which Ms Gattenby allegedly said the attempt was "attention seeking" and if she was serious she would not have pressed the emergency button. As a result of those alleged comments, Ms Chapman told another nurse that she would "never press that button again".

She did not raise the alarm the next time she attempted suicide and died the following day on February 15, 2006.

During the inquest, Ms Gattenby denied making any of the alleged comments or that she had made Ms Chapman crawl back to her bed following the first attempt on her life, or that she threw her onto her bed.

She also denied ever having had a conversation with her nursing unit manager in which she apologised for her behaviour.

Ms Jerram was yesterday scathing of Ms Gattenby's treatment of Ms Chapman.

"At the very least, her lack of compassion is abhorrent," she said. "At worst, her remarks and actions were ignorant, cruel and probably damaging.

"I query the training and supervision of nursing staff, which allows distressed psychiatric patients to be bullied or abused to such an extent."

However, Ms Jerram said she could not be satisfied that Ms Gattenby's behaviour caused or contributed to Ms Chapman's death.

Ms Jerram was "concerned" by some hospital practices, including the fact that the ward had locked bathrooms and showers which allowed hanging to occur.

She said nursing staff on duty on the evening Ms Chapman took her life were "insufficiently trained" and did not conduct CPR on her as they were "ignorant" of the most recent education on procedures for resuscitation.

But she noted emergency procedures had since been updated and understood by hospital staff.

Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling SANE Helpline 1800 18 7263; Lifeline 131 114; Salvo Crisis Line 9331 2000; beyondblue 1300 22 46 36.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Iemma losing power over electrical sale

By Simon Benson and Joe Hildebrand

August 28, 2008 12:00am

THE $10 billion sale of the NSW power industry will be scuttled today by Liberal leader Barry O'Farrell after a vote by the Liberal Party room to oppose privatisation.

The death of the sale plan could spell the end for Premier Morris Iemma, with MPs predicting his defeat could cost him the leadership.

The shadow cabinet will make its final decision at 8am today, when Opposition finance spokesman Mike Baird is expected to make a last presentation to his colleagues to change their minds.

With both the Nationals and Liberal MPs now jointly opposed to privatisation, the sale is doomed.

A Liberal Party spokesman said the majority view of the Coalition MPs was that the model presented by the Government "failed the public interest test".

"It was also agreed that Labor could not be trusted, it was not the right time and that there was uncertainty over an emissions trading scheme," the spokesman said.

The Liberals had planned to keep their position a secret but one of their MPs, Brad Hazzard, confirmed it to Labor backbencher Kerry Hickey when they bumped into each other in the men's bathroom.

The business community has warned the Liberal Party that it risked losing all credibility if it torpedoed the sale.

Despite four reports in 12 months, including a recent auditor-general's report giving the green light to the sale, the Liberal MPs unanimously voted on a strategy which appears to be based on trying to bring down Morris Iemma.

The Premier, now facing an uncertain future with his leadership, was expected to be put under increasing pressure.

Treasurer Michael Costa said last night legislation will be brought on in the Upper House today regardless.

"These are just excuses . . . the enabling legislation doesn't dictate time or structure. Their excuses just don't fly," he said.

"They are a direct contradiction of the Auditor-General's report."

An 11th hour meeting of Labor MPs pledging to block the sale in the Upper House was held last night at the Liquor Hospitality and Miscellaneous Workers Union headquarters near Sussex St.

The six left-wing MPs - Penny Sharpe, Lynda Voltz, Ian West, Helen Westwood, Mick Veitch and president Peter Primrose - have all signed an undertaking vowing to uphold ALP policy and vote against the Premier.


Poles apart on old versus new

Wendy Frew Urban Affairs Editor, smh

August 28, 2008

WHEN the State Government dedicated a small chunk of Sydney to Jack Mundey last year, it was considered a fitting tribute to the leader of the 1970s green bans, who saved so much of Sydney's historic areas from developers.

The man himself would have preferred the area be dubbed Green Ban Place "because it is symbolic of the wonderful period when the enlightened middle class joined with the working class to protect Sydney", he said yesterday.

But changes being made to Jack Mundey Place, one small block in the Rocks bordered by Argyle, George and Harrington streets, has raised the ire of some residents.

The Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, which controls The Rocks, is repaving the intersection, creating a "shared zone" for pedestrians and traffic, and replacing the discreet, faux art nouveau street lights with so-called smart poles that carry lights and banners.

A businessman, Julian Canny, said the new street lights were out of character with the heritage suburb. "I think it totally detracts from the idea of The Rocks and what it used to be like," he said. He added that allowing even some traffic through the intersection sabotaged the idea of creating a pedestrian space.

"It could be even more dangerous for pedestrians because they might think it is a traffic-free zone," he said.

A spokeswoman for the authority, Angela Fiumara, said Argyle Street was a very popular pedestrian area, particularly at night, and the multi-functional poles would improve lighting and ensure safety.

"They will also minimise energy consumption and improve ongoing maintenance," Ms Fiumara said, and could support road signs, precinct signs and CCTV cameras when necessary.

"The authority is installing 19 new street lights along Argyle Street, in association with the creation of Jack Mundey Place.

"The lights previously located along Argyle Street did not comply with current Australian lighting standards, were inefficient and were difficult to maintain due to the variety of fittings."

She said the authority would not be replacing the Victorian-style lighting poles along George Street.

Mr Mundey has not seen the changes to the street lighting but he had supported the traffic changes.

"Anything that limits traffic and encourages either public transport or pedestrians is a good thing," he said.


Liberals pull the plug on power privatisation

Alexandra Smith, Brian Robins and Andrew West

August 28, 2008

BARRY O'FARRELL will deliver a humiliating blow to Morris Iemma's leadership today when he blocks the Government's plans to privatise the state's electricity industry and forces the Premier to back down from the proposal.

Mr O'Farrell's decision will derail the Government's infrastructure spending plans and leave Mr Iemma's leadership in serious doubt.

But it will also leave Mr O'Farrell exposed to attack from the business community, which has been a strong supporter of the privatisation, and weaken the Liberal Party's ability to attract corporate donations.

It is understood Mr O'Farrell told his Liberal Party room yesterday that it was too early to support the plan because the Federal Government was yet to finalise the details of its emissions trading scheme at the end of this year.

Mr O'Farrell also told the MPs that he did not feel confident that Labor could be trusted to properly spend the proceeds of the sale.

It is believed Mr O'Farrell reiterated the Liberals' in-principle support for privatisation, but stressed that it was too early to endorse the timing and sale process proposed by the Government.

While it is understood Mr O'Farrell did not have unanimous support in his party room, the majority of his MPs supported his stance.

Earlier yesterday Mr Iemma said he would walk away from privatisation if the bill was defeated in the upper house today.

"There's no plan B," he said. "We'll have to deal with the consequences of this having been defeated and respond. It's not going to be a case that we're going to be deferring this and coming back."

Last night, the Treasurer, Michael Costa said he would introduce the bill to the upper house today despite the Opposition's position.

"The legislation will be introduced, as planned. These are just excuses," Mr Costa said.

"The enabling legislation does not dictate the timing or the structure of the proposals, and the decision runs counter to the recommendations of the Auditor-General, who they wanted to vet the process.

"The legislation will be introduced, and they will be required to vote on it."

The Auditor-General, Peter Achterstraat, said in his report last week that the lack of clarity on a carbon trading scheme would affect the price that NSW would get for the sale of its power assets.

The bill is certain to be defeated in the upper house. Last night six upper house Labor MPs - Peter Primrose, Helen Westwood, Lynda Voltz, Mick Veitch, Penny Sharpe and Ian West - released a statement confirming they would cross the floor. The four Greens and the Christian Democrat, Gordon Moyes, will also block the legislation.

Mr O'Farrell's decision will also save the Premier from an embarrassing defeat in the lower house, where 12 Labor MPs were prepared to vote against the bill.

The Nationals also voted yesterday to oppose the legislation, and, although the position still needs to be considered at a joint party room meeting and shadow cabinet this morning, it is unlikely that it will face resistance from Opposition MPs.

Mr O'Farrell had maintained he did not want to split the Coalition vote and, once his National Party colleagues had indicated their opposition to the bill, it was expected the Opposition Leader would defy the business community and stymie the Government.

Meanwhile, Mr Costa denied allegations that he threatened to withhold funds from the electorates of Labor MPs who planned to vote against the power bill. Yesterday Mr O'Farrell referred the comments, allegedly made at an ALP meeting earlier this year, to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

The Greens MP John Kaye told the Herald that when Parliament resumed today he would refer the Treasurer's behaviour to the Privileges and Ethics Committee of the upper house.

Mr Costa has denied having threatened his former cabinet colleague Kerry Hickey with the loss of funds for his Cessnock electorate if the Hunter MP voted against the power sale.

Mr Iemma defended Mr Costa yesterday but did not accuse Mr Hickey of lying. "At no stage did the Premier call Mr Hickey or anyone else a liar," his office said.

"It was alleged the Treasurer had made threats at a meeting six months ago. The Premier called the Treasurer, who vehemently denied the allegation."

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Construction watchdog row splits Labor

Phillip Coorey Chief Political Correspondent, smh

August 26, 2008

KEVIN RUDD and Julia Gillard are staring down a growing revolt by Labor backbenchers and the unions over demands the Government abolish immediately the construction industry watchdog, the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

The Prime Minister told caucus bluntly yesterday that his Government would abide by its election promise to retain the commission until January 2010 before replacing it with a new inspectorate still being developed.

"We will be adhering to all our election commitments, including the ABCC," he said.

In the first real sign of internal dissent for the Government, about 40 Labor MPs and Senators were expected at the National Press Club last night for a union organised event in which Constitutional lawyer George Williams and other experts spoke against the watchdog and its powers, which many feel are draconian.

Also yesterday about half a dozen MPs expressed concern in caucus about plans to deny welfare payments to parents whose kids miss school.

Discontent came mainly from the left. Apart from the perceived harshness of the welfare measure, some complained that they first heard about it in the media. This is despite it being in the budget and reported in the Herald two months ago.

The Victorian Senator Gavin Marshall has cross-factional support for a caucus motion he will present next week for debate on September 16. A draft of his motion called for the ABCC's powers to be at least curtailed until 2010 but colleagues were urging him yesterday to toughen it up and call for the commission's immediate abolition.

The commission was established by the Howard government to clean up rogue union behaviour on building sites.

It has extraordinary powers to police industrial laws. The Victorian Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union official Noel Washington currently faces a six-month jail term for refusing to answer questions from commission investigators.

A group of the nations largest unions launched a "rights on site" advertising campaign yesterday and at last night's gathering was also addressed by three other union officials who were "interrogated" by the ABCC under the threat of prison.

Ms Gillard, the Workplace Relations Minister, is under pressure from the union movement to fast-track the introduction of new industrial relations laws as well as abolishing the commission now, and not in 2010.

But she said yesterday there would be no change to the abolition date or, in the interim, the commission's powers.

"The date is quite clear in the [election] policy. The ABCC will continue to exist until the end of January 2010," she said.

"It would remain as it works now, its powers as they are now, until the end of January 2010."
Senior Labor strategists said the Government had no choice. As well as being accused of breaching an election promise, changing policy now would expose it to allegations of being captive to unions, the very allegations it faced before the election.

It would be disastrous for Labor in Western Australia, which will go to the polls on September 6.

A Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union official, Dave Noonan, said the unions would continue to fight because construction workers were being singled out for harsher treatment than the rest of the workforce.

"The Government knows that these are bad laws and there is no reason to keep bad laws in place for one minute longer than they need to be," he said.

He said Labor governments should not be captive to "wealthy property developers".


Red News Readers,

We get to know about these deaths because of the Root Cause Analysis system that was required of all hospitals after the Campbelltown Camden saga. In years gone past, these events would have happened and never seen the light of day. But these are reported incidents, so care has to exercised in interpreting whether there has been and increase or decrease in the number of fatal incidents in SWAHS.

Jenny Haines

Natasha Wallace Health Reporter, smh

August 26, 2008

DAMNING internal reports into 85 deaths at western Sydney hospitals over two years has revealed that at least 49 of the patients did not receive adequate care.

Poor standard of care was a "significant contribution" to the deaths of 14 patients last year and may have contributed to up to 25 deaths in 2006.

Most of the avoidable deaths were due to a delay in responding to a rapidly deteriorating patient.

Most of the 110 investigations into adverse outcomes of patients under the care of Sydney West Area Health Service occurred at Westmead Hospital. This was followed by suicides of mental health patients after they had left hospital, then investigations at Nepean and Blacktown hospitals.

The NSW Health reports were released after repeated requests under freedom of information laws by Channel Seven News.

The revelation comes as Commissioner Peter Garling, SC, investigates a series of systemic problems affecting public hospitals in NSW.

The Special Commission of Inquiry into Acute Care Services was so inundated with complaints from Westmead staff that it held an extra sitting day at the hospital.

Only 20 per cent of cases in both the 2006 and 2007 reports were not due to systemic or individual failures.

The 2007 report, completed in April this year, said a "major issue still relates to recognition of the deteriorating patient".

Despite the alarming figures, 40 per cent of recommendations arising from the 2007 report are yet to be implemented. Twenty per cent were implemented late.

Twenty-five per cent of the most serious cases - where the level of care was associated with death - had not had their recommendations implemented.

The two reports are titled Annual Review Of Root Cause Analysis 2006 and 2007. An investigation is conducted where there are concerns regarding the standard of care.

The 2007 report found that of the 37 non-suicide deaths investigated only 10 patients were treated adequately. For 14 patients, there was a "variation from expected standard of care which had significant contribution to death", the report said.

It said this category, "which contains potentially preventable deaths, is the greatest cause for concern and should be the highest priority in relation to ensuring recommendations are implemented".

There was also a variation from expected care for another 13 patients, "but with minimal impact on outcome," the report said.

In analysing last year's deaths, the report said three patients had been discharged from emergency with the wrong diagnosis, two had been treated or admitted for the wrong diagnosis, 12 had experienced a delayed response and two had experienced a "complication of medical management".

Nineteen of the investigations in 2006 and 2007 related to procedures on the wrong patient or the wrong part of the patient. These related mainly to imaging procedures. Three last year related to surgical material or instruments being left in patients.

The top three causes of adverse outcomes from 2004 to 2007 were communication, "knowledge, skills and competence" and procedures.

Key issues identified in the 2007 report included insufficient scheduling for workloads, policies being ignored, delays in relaying important clinical information, multiple teams not communicating effectively and missing or inadequate documents.

The 2006 report into 48 cases (43 deaths), said that 31 were not related tomental health.

Of the 31 cases (three of which did not relate to deaths), for 25 patients "it was determined that aspects of the provision of health care may possibly have contributed to, or exacerbated the patient's outcome."

"Communication; delays in sharing clinical information and documentation were the most common causal factors," the 2006 report said.

Common themes included the management of acutely deteriorating patients, including assessment and access to more senior staff and assessment in emergency wards.

Careless killers

* 49 western Sydney patients who died were not properly cared for.
* Poor care was a significant factor in 14 deaths.
* Poor care may have contributed to the deaths of up to 25 others.
* In the remaining cases, poor care had little effect on the deaths.
* Poor communication and slow responses to rapidly deteriorating patients were common.

Friday, August 22, 2008


NSW hard left drops Macca for President Primrose

Friday, 15 August 2008

Alex Mitchell writes:

Related Articles

Iemma's dilemma: privatise or count the Costa
Iemma to face ritual slaughter over NSW power privatisation
Iemma and his party remain on collision course
Caucus torn, conference resolute, Iemma, er, powerless

The leadership of the "hard left" in the NSW Parliamentary Party has shifted from Primary Industries, Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Ian Macdonald to Peter Primrose, president of the NSW Legislative Council.

Since the mid-1990s, Macdonald has been the undisputed spokesman, convenor and organiser of the “hard left”, a group of about a dozen MPs. Their helmsman in federal parliament is Anthony Albanese, the Transport and Infrastructure Minister.

But now the NSW "hard left" caucus has dumped Macdonald because of his vehement support for the privatisation of the state’s power industry which is being undertaken in flagrant opposition to the decision of the NSW ALP conference in May.

Ironically, Macdonald led the anti-privatisation campaign at the 1997 state conference which resulted in the abject humiliation of premier Bob Carr and treasurer Michael Egan.

But once in the Cabinet and in the soft bosom of the right-wing faction known as “The Terrigals”, “Macca” underwent a dramatic conversion and is now the Iemma government’s chief standard bearer for the sell-off.

This coincides with his recent friendship with a mystery Chinese entrepreneur, Mr Alan Fang, CEO and managing director of the Tianda Group and Tianda Resources.

During his 11-day trip to China, Hong Kong and Korea in May, Macdonald met up with Mr Fang and he accompanied the minister to meetings with leading Communist Party and state corporation officials. Macdonald’s trip cost taxpayers $27,449.83 which included $15,917.26 on business class air fares and $11,532.57 on accommodation.

The return air trip by Macdonald’s party to Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu province, did not fall on the public purse. Mr Fang generously paid for a private charter flight. The Premier’s Department appears to have accepted this unusual travel arrangement and it now forms part of acceptable protocol for the Iemma Cabinet.

Macdonald today announced that China's biggest coal miner, state-owned Shehua Group Corp, had successfully bid $600 million for exploration rights in the coal-rich Gunnedah basin in north-west NSW. The agreement, predicted in Crikey last week, will delight Mr Fang who has been busily promoting Chinese involvement in the Australian coal industry.

Macdonald’s demise in the "hard left" wasn’t reached by a formal vote by MPs. It was a fait accompli. He called three meetings in his ministerial office to discuss the power privatisation project and no one bothered to show up.

"He has been berating members of the left telling them to support the Iemma-Costa plan," one left MP told Crikey.

"We got sick of it. Peter Primrose is the only person who can now speak on behalf of the hard left and he is our principal negotiator.

"As far as we are concerned, Macdonald has identified himself politically with Eddie Obeid and The Terrigals and we hope he’ll join up with them."

The ousting of Macdonald now puts pressure on the so-called “soft left” to deal with their recalcitrant leader, Transport Minister John Watkins, who is another apologist for the deeply unpopular power sell-off.

The "soft left" comprises 10 MPs with at least three who intend voting against the privatisation plan when it reaches the floor of parliament late next month.

Monday, August 11, 2008


A nurse's perspective: Scrap the wasteful NT intervention

Chris Wilson, a remote area nurse, writes in Crikey 11.8.08:

I have just completed a six-week stint working as a sexual health specialist in remote Central Australian Aboriginal communities, during which time I revisited many places where I had previously worked and lived as a remote area nurse over a 10-year period. During my latest stint, I was not with the NT Intervention but part of the annual Tri-State screening for STIs (sexually transmitted infections) in Central Australia.

While I saw some positive effects of the intervention, I have also been horrified by the many negatives.

I am particularly concerned by the huge waste of resources with the child health checks program. What was the point of spending so much money effort describing problems that were already well described? Children in remote communities are the most examined in Australia. The intervention has not turned up anything that was not already known -it is the follow up treatments that need to be concentrated on.

The intervention teams were not necessarily well equipped to deal with the demands upon them. I heard from one nurse about a specialist medical oncologist who referred 7 children from one community for cardiac echocardiograms in Alice Springs after he thought he heard heart murmurs. This resulted in one positive finding.

The point is that an incredibly expensive intervention had really achieved very little. It had overlooked the very basic fact that remote area medicine and health practice is a sophisticated specialty.

At least the oncologist was at least aware of the terribly high incidence of rheumatic heart disease and was prepared to reduce the margin for error but any remote area nurse or Aboriginal Health Worker would have probably achieved at least the same result for far less cost.
Sending out teams of a medical specialist (not a paediatrician), two or three nurses, two soldiers (all being paid very generously, expensive four wheel drive or air transport, building exclusive accommodation and a wired off compound) was extravagant and excessive, to say the least.

Once again, most of this money benefits those who least need it, those comfortable and already employed professionals. The intervention would have done far more good if it had invested in the established health services, as well as in measures to reduce poverty, developed in consultation with the communities themselves.

In all my years as a remote area nurse, I can say with authority that child abuse was not a day-to-day feature of my work. Rather, I have been consistently struck by the nurturing of children. I remember many years ago being considerably impressed by the incredible caring for a newborn baby who never was allowed to touch the ground and was always carried and cuddled by literally dozens of family members.

While this child grew rapidly, at six weeks it had pus streaming from both ears and was suffering from acute otitis media. This paradoxical and confusing pairing of opposites I found was to become a feature of Aboriginal health. On the one hand, a child was unbelievably nurtured but was at the same time effectively inoculated with a toxic brew of virulent organisms from all those who cuddled and kissed her.

Although some would label such an outcome as neglect, I have come to realise over the years, this, as with so many other problems in Aboriginal lives, is a feature of poverty rather than culture or race. The neglect that I saw was born out poverty with all that flows from it -ignorance, cultural and social dislocation, overcrowding, lack of access to services, substance abuse, etc -rather than a deliberate maltreatment of children. This pattern associated with poverty is transcultural, the same issues can be found anywhere there is poverty
The Council of Remote Area Nurses of Australia, together with many other remote and rural health organisations, has been calling for decades for more funding to address the health issues in remote Australia. Spending has not been where it could be most effective - in the community addressing housing, maintenance, more health practitioners on the ground, and more education programs.

I am shocked by what we found during the recent sexual health screen. After 10 years or more of this annual screen, things are no better and in some age groups, STI incidence is still 30 - 50%. We still do not understand the basis of this epidemic and are certainly no closer to containing it.

The basis of the problem is that Aboriginal people are minimally involved on a policy level. The risk of HIV entering these communities with all that would entail is as great as ever. Few of the annual screen’s resources are spent on education or dialogue with communities in order to find effective solutions. I hear from people on the ground that the quarantining of money under the intervention has helped -that money is not being spent on grog, ganja, cars and gambling to the same extent it was.

The communities I visited are certainly calmer than when I was there last, but that is largely due to the fact that petrol sniffing has nearly been abolished. A gain not due to the intervention, but the introduction of Opal fuel.

I am saddened that the intervention has wasted so many resources, given so little support or recognition to the workers on the ground, paid so little attention to years of reports and above all involved absolutely no consultation with anyone, especially community members. The insidious effect of highlighting child abuse over all the other known problems in Aboriginal health is destructive to male health, mental health and community health, is unfounded in fact and is based in the inherent ignorance of this racist approach.

The intervention was a racist election gambit that fortunately backfired. I am concerned that the Rudd Government has not acted more forcefully. Howard and Brough claimed the moral high ground, so that anyone arguing against it would be labeled a supporter of child abuse.

The Rudd Government must repeal the intervention, its racist legislation, involve indigenous people in identifying problems and adequately resource the long-term plan that will flow from that consultation.

Sunday, August 03, 2008


Eamonn Duff, smh

August 3, 2008

NURSES have demanded their union chief resign after the union sponsored his daughter's soccer team with funds from their membership fees.

The NSW Nurses' Association donated $5000 to the Hills District Women's Football Club, which has the Beaumont Hills Lady Hawks in its ranks. One of the team's star strikers is the daughter of Brett Holmes, the association's general secretary.

The sponsorship deal was funded from the Nurse Power Fund - a financial reserve raised through member contributions.

As the news swept through nurses' branches across NSW last week, Mr Holmes was asked to explain why members had not been formally notified of the sponsorship, which was signed off in November last year.

The scandal has erupted on the eve of next weekend's NSW Nurses' Association Annual Conference, in which Mr Holmes was set to come under heavy fire, with the union accused of bargaining away a series of long-standing staff entitlements during recent pay negotiations.

Yesterday, nurses at Sydney's Royal Prince Alfred Hospital vowed to spearhead "a mass membership withdrawal" among the union's 51,000 members if Mr Holmes didn't resign before the conference.

RPA emergency nurse Cate Cunningham said nurses felt "disillusionment and disgust".

"When we heard at Thursday's branch meeting our fighting fund money was being used to sponsor a women's football team we were speechless. Then on Friday, news filtered through that it was Brett Holmes's daughter's team," she said. "I can't tell you how angry and upset we all are. This has never been reported to members."

Mrs Cunningham said the branch meeting had been held to address the union's willingness to fritter away valuable workplace entitlements in exchange for a "pissant pay increase" of 7.8 per cent over two years.

"We were all sitting there, wondering how on earth our union could have left us in such a mess … then it was casually mentioned a women's football team had been kitted out with cash deducted from our own wages," she said.

The sponsorship was approved at the association's council meeting on November 29. The successful motion read: "The NSWNA contributes $5000 in sponsorship to the Hills District (Female) Football Club for the 2008 year from the Nurse Power Fund."

In exchange, the nurses' association logo and motto "It's worth joining for" appears on 60 pairs of club shorts and on shirts of the under-19s team, for which Mr Holmes's 15-year-old daughter, Corinne, has played for the past two seasons.

Yesterday Mr Holmes told The Sun-Herald he would vigorously defend the deal at the annual conference. He argued that, with more than 70 players at the club and five other teams in the competition, approximately 300 "potential nurses" were exposed to the message every month.

"I declared [to council], right upfront, my own conflict of interest. I suggested to the council it's not often we get the chance to put a political statement on a sports shirt. If anything I've used my own connections to spread our message," he said. "I left the room when the decision-making process started. I abstained from voting.

"The council and the association makes countless financial decisions over the course of the year.

"We have a turnover of $24 million. We can't go to our members about every dollar spent."

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Friday, August 01, 2008


Red News Readers,

It is hardly credible that no one is responsible for the appointment of Dr Reeves to positions that he should not have been appointed to and that he was allowed for so long to get away with sub standard practice. It will be interesting indeed to see if these Greater Southern Area bureaucrats are reprimanded. Perhaps NSW Health could consider its role in allowing medical specialist services to rural areas to decline so badly that an Area Health Service had to rely on someone like Dr Reeves.

Dr Reeves may have apologised to his patients no doubt in the vain hope that he is mitigating the amount of damages he may have to pay in the future. He may also consider apologising to the nursing and midwifery staff who worked with him who suffered badly from his poor practice and his arrogant behaviour. He may also consider apologising to the medical profession for dragging its reputation through the mud!! But I doubt if such apologies are going to cut much ice in the criminal courts.

Jenny Haines

I'm sorry: Butcher of Bega

Natasha Wallace Health Reporter, smh

August 1, 2008

THE so-called Butcher of Bega has expressed "sincere regret for his actions" after a report recommended he be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions for possible criminal charges after lying his way into a job as an obstetrician at two South Coast hospitals.

The Health Minister, Reba Meagher, and the Health Department chief, Debora Picone, are yet to hold anyone responsible for the debacle in which Graeme Reeves was employed as an obstetrician despite being banned from the practice.

Reeves is being investigated by police over allegations of botched operations, genital mutilation and sexual assault upon hundreds of women at Bega and Pambula hospitals after he was employed by the Greater Southern Area Health Service in April 2002.

He was banned from practising obstetrics in 1997 after a string of serious complaints including two patient deaths.

A report released yesterday by Commissioner Peter Garling, SC, found significant systemic failures in the hiring of Reeves - health executives failed to conduct adequate background checks or even check his registration status. But while the future of two health department executives is under scrutiny, Mr Garling said "Reeves's dishonesty was the key reason he was recruited".

Ms Meagher said the report was referred to the DPP, Nicholas Cowdery, QC, yesterday.

"I would hope that the victims would feel encouraged to know that there has been a lot of work done in strengthening the recruitment procedures so this can't happen again," she said.

She said she supported all of Mr Garling's 10 recommendations aimed at tightening recruitment procedures.

It was revealed yesterday that Reeves gave evidence in private to the inquiry in May.

The inquiry detailed a litany of incompetence and mistreatment of patients, which Reeves agreed had occurred. He was asked, for example: "Your inaction in her case was a gross example of neglect of care of a patient who may have died as a result of your 'inexplicable denial and refusal of appropriate help offered by another doctor and experienced nurses'; you accepted the validity of that finding [by the NSW Medical Board], did you not?"

"Yes," he said.

Mr Garling said in his report that Reeves, through his solicitor, "indicated that he had reflected upon his conduct following his appearance before the Special Commission and conveyed his sincere regret for his actions".

Three Greater Southern Area Health Service executives instrumental in hiring Reeves - Jon Mortimer, Robert Arthurson and Denise Robinson - were named but Mr Garling said they were not ultimately to blame as the findings were made with the benefit of hindsight.

"I find that Dr Reeves's intentional and calculated dishonesty was the main reason he was recruited to a position that he was legally unable to fill," Mr Garling said.

"I, specifically, do not find that the conduct of these individuals was unreasonable or inappropriate," he said.

He recommended that the conduct of "Reeves in seeking and obtaining an appointment as a visiting specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist" be referred to Mr Cowdery.

The Opposition health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, said Ms Meagher had failed to hold anyone accountable: "I feel for the victims of Dr Graeme Reeves that they have no answer as to who was to blame for employing him."'

The report said both Dr Robinson, who was chief executive of the area health service at the time, and Dr Arthurson, then director of medical services, "failed to take sufficient steps" to stop Reeves from practising obstetrics when they made the discovery in November 2002 that he was banned. Reeves treated five more obstetric patients up until January 2003.

Yesterday, Professor Picone said she would meet with Dr Arthurson and Dr Mortimer "as soon as possible". She confirmed the public would know within weeks whether they would be reprimanded.

Dr Robinson resigned in May as chief health officer of NSW Health. Dr Mortimer, criticised in the report for only contacting one referee, was suspended on full pay in May.

The report was the first from Mr Garling's Special Commission of Inquiry into Acute Care Services in NSW Public Hospitals held earlier this year.

Reeves told the inquiry that he made it clear to Dr Arthurson and Dr Mortimer that he only wanted to practise gynaecology and he was not applying to work as an obstetrician, although he admitted not telling them that he was in fact banned.