Saturday, March 28, 2009


Four Tampa refugees let in after second journey

Jewel Topsfield, smh

March 28, 2009

FOUR asylum seekers who were rescued by the Tampa in 2001 but sent back to Afghanistan during one of the most controversial chapters in Australia's political history have been found to be genuine refugees.

One of the men, Asmatullah Mohammady, said he was so desperate to escape the Taliban he risked his life in a second boat journey with people smugglers, despite fearing he would again be rejected by Australia.

He said 11 other Tampa survivors - who had failed to win refugee status after months on Nauru - were killed by the Taliban when they returned to Afghanistan.

The assertions have prompted calls for an inquiry into the Howard government's so-called Pacific solution, introduced after the Tampa's arrival, under which asylum seekers intercepted before they reached Australia were processed on Nauru, or Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.

The immigration lawyer David Manne called for an inquiry into the harm caused by the Howard government's policy, which excluded asylum seekers who arrived illegally from access to Australian law, rights and protection. "People were placed under enormous pressure that amounted to constructive coercion to return to situations that were extremely unsafe," he said.

The four Afghans are the first asylum seekers on board the Tampa who were told by the previous government they were not owed protection. They were reassessed after a second attempt to reach Australia.

They were among 73 Middle Eastern boat people resettled in Australia this month.
Mr Mohammady, who was a member of a communist party, fled Afghanistan because he was threatened by the extremist Muslim mujahideen. In August 2001 he was caught in a political storm when the distressed wooden fishing vessel carrying 433 asylum seekers was rescued by the Tampa shortly before a federal election.

The Howard government refused the Norwegian ship permission to enter Australia.

Mr Mohammady said that after 17 months on Nauru he was sent back to Afghanistan with about $1000.

He worked as a builder for a foreign company in Lashkar Gah, in southern Afghanistan, but fled after two colleagues were killed by the Taliban for working for "foreign criminals".

"When I left Lashkar Gah, I heard from friends they had destroyed my home and I knew my life was in danger," he said.

He wanted to work as a builder and hoped his wife and six children could join him.


smh, 28.3.09

A SALE of public assets that may include privatising the state's ports and the electricity industry are on the agenda of a future Coalition government.

The Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, also confirmed he may outsource part of the Department of Community Services' work.

In an interview with the Herald to mark two years until the next election, Mr O'Farrell said he was open to privatisations to improve the state's financial standing provided they met "a public interest test".

A Coalition government would also look to move to a policy of devolution in both the education and health portfolios to give schools and hospitals more of a say in how the systems worked.
Mr O'Farrell has also taken the unusual step of saying that if elected he would hope to serve two terms then retire.

"I believe I'll be premier in two years' time, I believe I'll be leader in two years' time and I believe I'll be leader in six years' time," he said.

"I think it's going to take two terms to fix the state. I have no ambition beyond that. I suppose some might say hoping to win two elections is a mighty ambition. I'd like to see the job through … but I tell you what, after half a term in office, let alone a full term, people will notice the difference."

Coalition sources have said the ports sale was being pushed by the National Party Leader, Andrew Stoner, and could reap more than $1 billion.

Asked if he would consider selling the state's ports, Mr O'Farrell said: "We have a public interest test and we will do what we believe is in the public interest to deliver this state the services. We were out there arguing that Sydney Ferries should be contracted out, we strongly believe that … [the] pretence that government can do everything has failed.

"As long as we convince the public that what we're on about is in their interest and as long as we're up front with them in advance of the election, they will give us a go."

He said the theory an incoming government could have one set of policies before an election and a tougher and more unpopular set once it came into office would not work for the Coalition because it was likely it would face a hostile upper house.

"We need a big win to demonstrate we've got the mandate to make the changes and we need to enunciate those changes in advance if we're going to have any chance of implementing the reforms that are required."

Mr O'Farrell said non-government agencies should be allowed to do more of the work that is done now by the Department of Community Services. He said this had been recommended by Justice James Wood in his recent report on the community services sector.

"I've been out with Burnside Uniting Care; I've seen the great work that they do and I think that the non-government sector have a greater capacity to deal with individual cases with the sort of sensitivity and care that they [deserve]," Mr O'Farrell said.

Asked if he would press ahead with electricity privatisation, he said it would depend on the "shape of the emissions trading scheme" and the economic situation. "The Liberal-National

Parties don't have a problem with private sector involvement in energy or any other sector but … it has to be about ensuring that what's been delivered to the public is fair and reasonable and not a knockdown sale price."

He reaffirmed his commitment to to the dumped north-west and south-west rail link proposals and did not rule out public service job cuts to rein in recurrent spending, which would allow for more spending on infrastructure.

Asked how confident he was of winning the election on March 26, 2011, Mr O'Farrell said: "I'm as confident as someone who's been part of a party that's failed at four elections will ever allow themselves to be.

"[But] I believe that we'll be in office in two years' time."

Internal critics of the Opposition Leader say he is "cautious" and not a "reformer" but Mr O'Farrell said of those who give him such titles: "They're the people that said we couldn't fix our party. They're the people that said that O'Farrell wouldn't be standing two years on. I don't care what people say about me.

"All I know is I'm determined to fundamentally change the way in which NSW is governed."

He was not concerned about campaigns of industrial action should he be elected and press ahead with privatisations. "When we last got to office [in 1988], the Labor Council had a choice of either fighting it every inch of the way or getting on and doing the job for their workers.

"From memory there was a one-day stoppage … in transport, there was a day of action in relation to education and other than that [they] got on and respected the mandate."


The story of Shellharbour Hospital's Dr Simon Leslie is a microcosm of the malaise Peter Garling observed on a statewide tour of 61 public hospitals, writes Julie Robotham, smh.

ON APRIL 28, 2006, Shellharbour Hospital boss, Michael Brodnik, distributed an email. A decision had been made, he wrote, to set up a new unit within the emergency department.

"The unit will be … four beds, conceptually down the right hand wall of ED but using the concept of 'virtual beds'," he told colleagues. Patients who arrived at emergency and needed admission would be assigned a virtual bed if no official in-patient bed was available, remaining physically in emergency. Brodnik said he had no control over the change, reassuring staff: "It really is a paper exercise."

The rationale was to get patients off the emergency department's books within eight hours of arrival - a watershed imposed by government as a so-called "key performance indicator" or KPI, amid political pressure over backed-up hospitals and ambulances unable to offload patients.

At Shellharbour Hospital, an outpost serving the cookie-cutter sprawl that straggles down the coast from Wollongong, that target was hard to achieve, because some patients had to be transferred for diagnostic tests.

By May, Shellharbour was still processing emergency patients too slowly, and emails were flying.

The head of the hospital's emergency department, Dr Simon Leslie, sent a measured one to Sue Browbank, Brodnik's boss: "We are being asked to run our health service on the basis of the need to treat one statistic," he wrote. "Doctors have not been ignorant or uncaring of the need to manage our resources appropriately … but are driven firstly by patient care and community needs."

For a while, Leslie continued a vocal opposition to the imaginary beds. The directive to reclassify patients "according to any objective look at it was fraudulent", he told the Herald last week. "It required staff in my emergency department to write down records that were incorrect."

Later he tired of battling the fait accompli and settled back to running front-line health care in the hard-to-staff hospital.

That could have been the end of it, but then Peter Garling, SC, came to town. On April 14 last year, at one of the inquiry's 34 public hearings, "Dr Leslie told me the 'virtual ward' was a fiction to compensate for the fact that Shellharbour Hospital does not have a short stay unit," Garling recounted in his report. Leslie's evidence resulted - finally - in the ward's abrupt termination, though this, as he had previously observed to Browbank, was, "easy because it doesn't actually exist".

Three weeks later, Browbank informed Leslie of the appointment of a Southern Hospitals Network Director of Emergency Medicine - which, according to Garling's later deconstruction, "both technically and in reality … effected the abolition of Dr Leslie's position".

Leslie was ordered to stop calling himself director of the emergency department and told he could instead apply for a part-time position. "How is it possible," he asked a human resources manager, "to remove me from the role for which I have a contract and in which I have been acknowledged and satisfactorily functioning for over two years?"

The vaporisation of his job and claim it had never really existed were normal practice during "amalgamations and clinical reviews," the manager soothingly responded. "In many cases roles and responsibilities have changed, staff displaced and new position descriptions written."

Leslie's was a story Garling could not resist. A microcosm of the poisonous malaise he had observed on a statewide road-trip to 61 public hospitals, it comprised four elements the senior counsel had noticed repeatedly: a bottleneck between emergency and in-patient beds; inflexible performance criteria imposed from on high, then middle-management sleights-of-hand to meet those demands; and a yawning gulf of alienation between clinicians and administrators.

So when Leslie updated the inquiry on the personal fallout from his testimony, Garling in late September 2008 ordered five people as well as Leslie to four gruelling days of extra hearings, devoted to the doctor's treatment. They included Debora Picone - in 2006, chief executive of the South Eastern Sydney Illawarra Area Health Service, but elevated in 2007 to director general of NSW Health.

That won Leslie no respite. On the contrary, shortly after Garling's summonses landed on managers' desks, Leslie was cut out of meetings and told to hand back his pager and vacate his office - though ultimately he did not do so, successfully arguing both were essential to his work.

In her sworn evidence, Browbank acknowledged Leslie's job description was signed by a doctor expressly delegated to work out his role and title. Yet she maintained the position could not exist, because the doctor had no authority to create it.

Garling rejected the semantic contortion. Browbank's stance "flies in the face of the obvious facts revealed by the evidence and is wholly untenable," he concluded.

Because Leslie's treatment was "unreasonable, repeated, unwelcome, unsolicited, offensive, intimidating, humiliating and threatening," Garling wrote, "I find it amounted to bullying and harassment in accordance with NSW Health's own guidelines."

Leslie is an unlikely poster boy for victimhood. Affable and easygoing, it is hard to imagine him having the sleep disruptions and obsessive thoughts he says beset him at the time. He simply carried on going in to work. "At heart," said the 52-year-old, "I'm a doctor who likes to look after patients."

Doctors who like to look after patients are the backbone of the health system, but are massively disenfranchised.

Re-engaging them would be the most critical step in reforming NSW Health, Garling said, proposing a Clinical Innovation and Enhancement Agency - under which clinicians would determine protocols for patient care. As well, he proposes an independent Bureau of Health

Information to monitor hospital performance, freeing doctors like Leslie from political pressure to fudge the loathed KPIs.

The toughest challenge is how to make hospitals gentler. "The workplace culture in NSW public hospitals is characterised by lack of respect and trust, absence of empathy and compassion, inability to celebrate the success of others, failure to communicate, and a lack of collaboration," was Garling's damning verdict after his journey to the heart of the health system. Its anti-bullying policy had failed, dissent was quashed and persecution was rife.

Garling recommends making individual employees - all 118,000 of them - more directly responsible for their behaviour, reorienting the system away from blame towards constructive criticism and strengthening complaints procedures.

Last July, Leslie lodged a formal complaint about his treatment. Eight months later he has not been told how it will be resolved. Terry Clout, the area health service's chief executive, told the Herald he was seeking more information and would consider "any actions that may be required".

He declined to comment further, citing, "procedural fairness" in the "personnel matter".

Leslie said the delay was "a process to wear me down". He understands deliberations will not privilege Garling's account of events - despite the evidence the commissioner collected under unmatched statutory powers.

Perhaps that is unsurprising. Garling said Leslie's situation went unresolved because Shellharbour managers "did not demonstrate … the slightest knowledge of what constituted bullying and unacceptable behaviour".

When is a bed not a bed? Leslie has paid a price for trying to reconcile the internal logic of NSW Health's storytelling with empirical reality, and no one has ever apologised. He will now take his case to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission. If Leslie - with the inquiry's weight behind him - cannot bring NSW Health managers to account, possibly nobody can. "Mr Garling's put a fairly heavy burden on me," he said. "I feel an obligation not to let that go to waste."

Friday, March 27, 2009


First strike in privatisation battle

Brian Robins, smh

March 28, 2009 - 1:45PM

Workers at Vales Point power station near Newcastle have voted to go on strike until first shift on Saturday, to protest the State Government's plans to privatise the power industry.

A meeting of rank and file members was held just after midday, voting overwhelmingly to strike over the plans, which affect electricity retailers with output from the generators to also be sold off privately.

This is the first round of industrial action in the campaign to block the new privatisation plans of the Rees Government.

An earlier plan to sell of both electricity retailers and generators brought down former Premier Morris Iemma, who had backed those plans strongly, along with his Treasurer Michael Costa.

Iemma was replaced as Premier by Nathan Rees, who has introduced a more modest privatisation proposal. While selling the electricity utilities, the Government does not propose to sell the generators into private hands, just the `rights' attached to the output produced by the generators.

Today's mass meeting was addressed by State MP's John Kaye of the Greens and also Independent MP Greg Piper.

"This is the first shot in what will be a long campaign," Mr Kaye said.

A spokesman for Delta Electricity, which operates the Vales Point power station, said operational staff remain on site, and output from the power station will not be interrupted.


Red News Readers,

Power to the People? Bulldust!! This is about the Liberal Party giving their mates, the rich doctors more control of the health system, and business men and commercial traders some say in the running of the district hospital. But as the Opposition keeps saying - how does this proposal add one more bed to the system, or one more nurse? This is just window dressing, and does nothing to solve the real problems of the health system, some of which have been accurately identified and addressed by Garling.

The Government's proposal to extend the CIN nurse program in emergency departments will improve waiting times in EDs and expedite the passage of patients but the return to single gender wards will make admission from ED to ward bed more difficult. What is needed is more staffed beds, and both sides of politics in NSW and Federally need to understand that nothing will be solved in the NSW health system until more beds are re-opened.

Jenny Haines

Coalition's radical surgery on state health system

Alexandra Smith

March 27, 2009

THE Coalition says that if it won power in NSW it would replace area health services with smaller health districts in a radical restructure of the troubled health system.

In a policy announcement to be made today the Coalition will say it plans to axe the eight area health services and their 30 clusters and create about 20 districts that would answer to boards.

Hospital general managers would have more power to make decisions and would run their own budgets to ensure bills are paid on time. A senior doctor would be appointed as an executive clinical director in each district and an independent body would publish information such as budgets and rates of infection, broken down to individual hospital wards.

The Opposition spokeswoman on health, Jillian Skinner, said the policy was about "returning power to the people".

"We will break up Labor's huge, unpopular and inefficient area health services, removing an entire layer of bureaucracy and set up new smaller health districts. The area health services have failed. It's time to remove them and reorganise health management in NSW."

In a 1100-page report on the health system last year Peter Garling, QC, advised against abolishing area health services. However, the Opposition said that without significant structural change Mr Garling's other recommendations, such as giving hospital general managers more power to make decisions and run budgets, could not be implemented.

The Government will provide its full response to the Garling report, published in November, early next week.

Mrs Skinner said the health districts would be large enough to deliver a comprehensive range of health programs in hospitals and the community, but small enough to maintain links with local communities and clinicians.

No jobs would be lost in the restructure, she said, and it would be cost-neutral to implement..
Board members would not be political appointments but would be selected on merit following the placing of advertisements seeking people with medical expertise and financial and risk management skills.

"NSW has the most skilled medical workforce in Australia - they want to be involved in the management of our health system, and under our policy they will be," Mrs Skinner said.

"Developing clinical networks that link experts in a particular field will provide a stronger health system capable of the best quality care."

Mrs Skinner said she had asked several of the state's most senior doctors, including Brad Frankum, an associate professor of clinical education at the University of Western Sydney, and John Dwyer, the emeritus professor of medicine at the University of NSW, to review the policy.

Professor Dwyer said in his response that he supported the policy, particularly "restoring an appropriate degree of influence for clinicians, the champions of the public hospital system, in the running of their institutes".

He wrote: "Without addressing the problems you are tackling here, I fear we will see a major leakage of clinicians from our hospitals, making an already serious workforce shortage that much worse."

Friday, March 20, 2009


Working the system: rich getting richer

Jacob Saulwick, smh

March 20, 2009

IT WAS an Indian summer for the big end of town.

The denizens of the state's most elite postcodes - in Darling Point, Bellevue Hill and Mosman - enjoyed income rises of more than 20 per cent in 2006-07.

But the poorest postcodes - including Bogan Gate, west of Parkes - had relatively small increases or suffered declines in income.

The latest statistics released by the Tax Office offer an insight into the state of the country's finances just before the onslaught of the global financial crisis.

In NSW, the postcode covering Darling Point and Edgecliff had the highest mean taxable income at $194,000, followed by Bellevue Hill ($155,000), Mosman ($152,000) Dover Heights ($150,000) and Northbridge ($145,000).

The postcode covering Callaghan and Newcastle University had the lowest mean taxable income at $27,800. It was below postcodes covering Aberdeen ($30,400), Bogan Gate ($32,500) and Koraleigh ($32,600). Across the country, taxpayers declared $533.9 billion in income, up 10.5 per cent from the previous year. Some $380 billion of that was in salary and wages, which rose 8 per cent.

As they grew richer, it appears people also became better at working the system. The value of tax deductions rose by more than 26 per cent to $34.1 billion.

The largest tax deductions related to property. Landlords earned $21 billion in 2006-07 but declared a loss of $6.3 billion.

Tax breaks for property investment and the complexity of the system as a whole are being examined in a review of the tax system. The review will look at the sustainability of business taxes, where receipts have plunged since the crisis began.

Companies reported income of $2040 billion, more than 13 per cent higher than the previous year. Big companies with income of more than $250 million contributed more than 60 per cent of the tax take but represented only 0.1 per cent of the number of companies.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


NSW nurses to pick up legal tab

Alex Mitchell writes in Crikey 17.3.09:

The NSW Nurses Association is expected to be asked to pick up the tab for the failed defamation proceedings launched by the union's right-wing general secretary Brett Holmes against Andrew Fraser, MP for Coffs Harbour.

The libel action arose out of a letter Fraser sent to 629 constituents criticising the nurses' leader during the March 2007 state election.

In the NSW Supreme Court last June, Holmes won his action and was awarded $70,000 damages plus costs. But in the NSW Court of Appeal two weeks ago, Justices Murray Tobias, Ruth McColl and John Basten overturned the lower court's judgement, dismissed the proceedings, set aside the $70,000 damages and ordered Holmes to pay Fraser's costs.

With total costs for Holmes and Fraser amounting to almost $100,000, the long suffering union membership is wondering how and why it got into this legal debacle.

If the court action initiated by Holmes related to the Nurses' Association or to his role as the union's general secretary, then there would a clear obligation on the membership to pay up.

But the issue is somewhat blurred. In Fraser's letter he falsely accused Holmes of running a political campaign against the Howard Government's Work Choices legislation in order to position himself to take a federal seat on behalf of the Labor Party at the next federal election. Fraser's allegations were untrue and highly damaging, according to Holmes, and that is why he sued.

Some members of the association believe that Holmes was acting to defend his personal reputation and that the legal stoush was all about his membership of the Labor Party and not his role as the union's general secretary. The issue is further complicated because the association is not affiliated to the NSW Labor Party and maintains an apolitical stance.

They argue that the cost of this hugely expensive legal exercise -- the initial trial plus the appeal -- should, at the very least, be shared between Holmes and the union's membership.

Last year, Crikey revealed that the NSW Nurses' Association had donated $5000 in sponsorship to the Hills District Women's Football Club. The star striker in one of the club's teams was Holmes' daughter.

The money was donated from the union's Nurse Power Fund comprising contributions from the association's 51,000 members.

He dismissed calls for his resignation saying he had been upfront with the union executive about the conflict of interest, he had left the meeting when the donation was being discussed and he abstained from the vote.


How the government profited from detainees' misery

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre Campaign coordinator Pamela Curr writes 18.3.09:

A respected Aboriginal elder who died in the back of a non-airconditioned prison van while being transported across the West Australian outback in the middle of summer arrived at hospital drenched in sweat, unconscious and with third-degree burns on his stomach, an inquest has heard. -- The Australian

To understand how it might be that an Aboriginal man could slowly die in the back of a van driven by GSL guards in 2008, one has only to read this report of another GSL transfer in 2004.

Five detainees were placed in an overheated van by force at Maribyrnong Detention Centre and then driven for seven hours to Mildura and then, after an hour break, driven to Baxter detention Centre in Port Augusta.

A HREOC report details the horrific conditions and the fact that guards just kept driving despite witnessing the dehydration and distress of their passengers:

MR HAMBURGER: We have got that evidence of people attempting banging and calling out, wanting to stop for a toilet break and get fluids, urinating on the floor where they have to actually sit and we have got two people in the front of the cabin ignoring all of this, seemingly, just driving.

GSL OFFICER: We were not told to do anything else, we were just told to drive. The order said drive, there was no pit stops as such, we were just told to drive.

MR HAMBURGER: Did it cross your mind or did you and (the co-driver) have a discussion about "gee, this must be pretty tough on the fellas in the back, do you think we should ask the team leader whether we should stop"?

GSL OFFICER: I can't recall whether the discussion came up at all.

MR HAMBURGER: Thinking back you can't, just thinking of yourself, did you think this is a bit tough on these people?

GSL OFFICER: I was told to do a job and I did it and that is what I did, I was told to drive from here to Mildura.

The Commonwealth Government was ordered to pay compensation of $15,000 per person plus two extra payments of $10,000. In all a gross amount of $85,000.

They did not pay at least two people and probably more because "they do not know their whereabouts".

However yesterday we learnt through the Coronial Inquiry that GSL paid the Government $500,000 compensation for failing to honour their contract obligations (reported on Lateline).

If they paid three people their compensation, this still leaves a profit of $455,000. Not bad money to make on the backs of people's suffering. It seems that there is money to be made in contracting out!

Even more chilling is the fact that the abuse which GSL got away with in 2004 and 2005, they continued to practise in 2008 when a man died in the back of a van, a slow painful and horrific death while the guards kept driving -- just doing their job!

If there is compensation to be paid, how much will the government profit this time, on the back of yet another Aboriginal death in custody?


Babcock & Brown political donations will be missed

Alex Mitchell writes in Crikey 18.3.09 :

When the helium-driven investment bank Babcock & Brown collapsed into the arms of the administrator last Friday, the major political parties lowered their flags to half mast.

All of them have been greased with B&B donations over the years, but none more than the Australian Labor Party.

Phil Green and the boys made sure that they stayed on the friendliest terms with the ALP, with a lion’s share of their donations going to the NSW Branch. The Greens' democracy4sale website shows the NSW machine received more moolah than the Federal ALP head office in Canberra.

According to its own declaration to the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) in financial year 2007-8, the counting house made donations totalling $223,100 to political parties.

Of this, $72,500 went to the federal Liberal party, $25,000 to the federal ALP, but easily the biggest of the state party recipients was the NSW Labor Party with donations amounting to $44,900.

AEC figures for the financial years 2003-8 confirm the company’s preference for donating to NSW Labor. In that period $281,200 went to the NSW state branch, $79,000 to the NSW Liberals, $94,500 to the federal Liberal Party and just $36,500 to federal Labor.

This covered the period when the Sussex Street general secretary was Mark Arbib, now a senator, and the coffers were brimming with campaign dollars from developers, publicans, the gaming, liquor and betting industries. All donors with strong emotional links to “working families”.

After 2005, when the Howard government changed the law, only donations over $10,000 were reportable. But state records from the NSW Election Funding Authority (EFA) show more detail.

Most of the B&B money donated to the state ALP went directly to the NSW branch, but it did include small donations of $500 or less to the constituency parties of three MPs:

Former Wollongong mayor and now Transport Minister David Campbell (Keira);

Former deputy premier and Transport Minister John Watkins (Ryde), now out of politics;

Former Strathfield Mayor and now Fair Trading Minister Virginia Judge (Strathfield).

The finance bank also spent $5,000 at an ALP fund-raising dinner in July 2006 and $15,000 at a Morris Iemma re-election dinner in March 2007, on the eve of the last NSW election.

Regrettably, that money is now down the drain -- like the billions of dollars lost during the bank’s debt-loaded deal-making frenzy.

At future dinners, guests will be spared the obscene parade of Labor ministers pushing and shoving to find a seat at a table next to one of the money bags from B&B.


Inquest told prison van airconditioning not checked

ABC - March 17, 2009, 8:04 pm

An inquest into the death in custody of an Aboriginal elder has heard the officers who drove him from Laverton to Kalgoorlie did not check whether the air conditioning in the prison van was faulty.

46-year old Warburton elder Mr Ward suffered fatal heatstroke on the four hour journey in January last year.

Today the inquest heard from one of the officers from the company which handles prisoner transport in Western Australia .

Nina Mary Stokoe told the court she knew the airconditioning in the van had been playing up but it was not company policy to check it.

She testified she always assumed the air conditioning was working unless prisoners banged on the walls and that Mr Ward gave no indication there was a problem.

Ms Stokoe broke down as she told the court she and her colleague rushed Mr Ward to Kalgoorlie hospital after the prisoner collapsed and stopped breathing.

Mr Ward died in hospital.

The inquest continues.

Aboriginal elder slumped like 'rag doll' in prison van

ABC - March 17, 2009, 2:22 pm

A woman has told a coronial inquest how she went into shock when a man she was transferring from one goldfields town to another was found slumped like a rag doll in the back of a prison van.
Warburton elder Mr Ward, 46, died of heat stroke in January last year after travelling in a prison van from Laverton to Kalgoorlie.

The inquest heard last week that the van's airconditioning was not working.

Today, Nina Mary Stokoe, from the transport and logistics company GSL, testified she knew the air conditioning had been "playing up" but it was not company policy to check it.

Ms Stokoe told the coroner Mr Ward did not show any signs of discomfort.

She testified Mr Ward was like a rag doll when pulled from the back of the van at the Kalgoorlie hospital and he was not breathing.

Efforts to revive Mr Ward were unsuccessful.

The inquest continues.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


GEO joins NSW privatised jail race

Alex Mitchell writes in Crikey 12.3.09:

One of the overseas firms which has joined the race to privately managed two jails in NSW, Parklea and Cessnock, is the Florida based GEO Group.

GEO Group Australia manages correctional facilities at Fulham in Victoria, Junee in NSW and Wacol in Queensland. The company also manages a custody centre in Melbourne and is the primary healthcare provider to nine public prisons in Victoria through Pacific Shores Healthcare.

GEO describes itself as being "at the forefront of private sector correctional management through the provision of modern, well-equipped facilities that feature leading-edge correctional technology and programs."

The company has a chequered history which may interest the new champion of privatisation John Robertson, former secretary of Unions NSW. "Robbo" replaced Michael Costa as Unions NSW boss and then succeeded him in the NSW Legislative Council. Now he is following in the former Treasurer's footsteps by implementing the private management of jails in flagrant opposition to NSW Labor Party policy.

In 2007 The Dallas Morning News in Texas conducted a riveting investigation of the GEO Group after one of the operator's juvenile prisons was closed because of "fetid conditions and alleged mismanagement".

After the Texas Youth Commission shut the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center, removed the inmates and canceled an $8 million annual contract with GEO, reporter Holly Becka found a cavalcade of misadventures in the company's chequered history, including:

An Idaho inmate at the Dickens County prison in northwest Texas slashed his throat after being held for three months in a cold, moldy solitary cell with bloodstained bedding, according to court records.

GEO settled a wrongful death case brought by the family of a female inmate at the Val Verde County facility. Plaintiffs alleged the inmate committed suicide after being raped and denied psychiatric care, according to court records.

A jury ruled that Wackenhut Corrections Corp., which became GEO, had destroyed evidence of an inmate being beating death at a Willacy County facility and returned a $47.5 million verdict against the company.

GEO's bid to snare more contracts is being opposed in State Parliament by Greens upper house MP Sylvia Hale, the former book publisher. "Handing over those being punished by the state to the private sector is a dereliction of duty for those the state has deemed to be punished," she said.

Given the NSW Labor Government's long-standing hardline against crime, and its refusal to accept an Opposition call for an end to the law and order auction at election time, GEO might just be the partner it needs to bring discipline to the NSW penal system which began its glorious history in 1788 on the shores of Sydney Cove.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


This revolting trade in human lives is an incentive to lock people up The inmate population has soared since Britain started running prisons for profit. Little wonder lobbyists want Titan jails

George Monbiot Tuesday March 3 2009 The Guardian

It's a staggering case; more staggering still that it has scarcely been mentioned on this side of the ocean. Last week two judges in Pennsylvania were convicted of jailing some 2,000 children in exchange for bribes from private prison companies.

Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan sent children to jail for offences so trivial that some of them weren't even crimes. A 15-year-old called Hillary Transue got three months for creating a spoof web page ridiculing her school's assistant principal. Ciavarella sent Shane Bly, then 13, to boot camp for trespassing in a vacant building. He gave a 14-year-old, Jamie Quinn, 11 months in prison for slapping a friend during an argument, after the friend slapped her. The judges were paid $2.6m by companies belonging to the Mid-Atlantic Youth Services Corp for helping to fill its jails. This is what happens when public services are run for profit.

It's an extreme example, but it hints at the wider consequences of the trade in human lives created by private prisons. In the US and the UK they have a powerful incentive to ensure that the number of prisoners keeps rising.

The US is more corrupt than the UK, but it is also more transparent.

There the lobbyists demanding and receiving changes to judicial policy might be exposed, and corrupt officials identified and prosecuted. The UK, with a strong tradition of official secrecy and a weak tradition of scrutiny and investigative journalism, has no such safeguards.

The corrupt judges were paid by the private prisons not only to increase the number of child convicts but also to shut down a competing prison run by the public sector. Taking bribes to bang up kids might be novel; shutting public facilities to help private companies happens - on both sides of the water - all the time.

The Wall Street Journal has shown how, as a result of lobbying by the operators, private jails in Mississippi and California are being paid for non- existent prisoners. The prison corporations have been guaranteed a certain number of inmates. If the courts fail to produce enough convicts, they get their money anyway. This outrages taxpayers in both states, which have cut essential public services to raise these funds. But there is a simple means of resolving this problem: you replace ghost inmates with real ones. As the Journal, seldom associated with raging anti-capitalism, observes: "Prison expansion [has] spawned a new set of vested interests with stakes in keeping prisons full and in building more ... The result has been a financial and political bazaar, with convicts in stripes as the prize."

Even as crime declines, lawmakers are pressed by their sponsors to increase the rate of imprisonment. The US has, by a very long way, the world's highest proportion of people behind bars: 756 prisoners per 100,000 people, just over 1% of the adult population. Similarly wealthy countries have around one-tenth of this rate of imprisonment.

Like most of its really bad ideas, the last Conservative government imported private jails from the US. As Stephen Nathan, author of a forthcoming book about prison privatisation in the UK, has shown, the notion was promoted by the home affairs select committee, which in 1986 visited prisons run by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).

When the corporation told them that private provision in the US improved prison standards and delivered good value for money, the committee members failed to check its claims. They recommended that the government should put the construction and management of prisons out to tender "as an experiment".

Encouraged by the committee's report, the CCA set up a consortium in Britain with two Conservative party donors, Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd and John Mowlem & Co, to promote privately financed prisons over here.

The first privately run prison in the UK, Wolds, was opened by the Danish security company Group 4 in 1992. In 1993, before it had had a chance to evaluate this experiment, the government announced that all new prisons would be built and run by private companies.

The Labour party, then in opposition, was outraged. John Prescott promised that "Labour will take back private prisons into public ownership - it is the only safe way forward." Jack Straw stated that "it is not appropriate for people to profit out of incarceration. This is surely one area where a free market certainly does not exist." He too promised to "bring these prisons into proper public control and run them directly as public services".

But during his first seven weeks in office, Straw renewed one private prison contract and launched two new ones. A year later he announced that all new prisons in England and Wales would be built and run by private companies, under the private finance initiative (PFI). Today the UK has a higher proportion of prisoners in private institutions than the US. This is the only country in Europe whose jails are run on this model.

So has prison privatisation here influenced judicial policy? As we discovered during the recent lobbying scandal in the House of Lords, there's no way of knowing. Unlike civilised nations, the UK has no register of lobbyists; we are not even entitled to know which lobbyists ministers have met. But there are some clues.

The former home secretary, John Reid, previously in charge of prison provision, has become a consultant to the private prison operator G4S.

The government is intending to commission a series of massive Titan jails under PFI. Most experts on prisons expect them to be disastrous, taking inmates further away from their families (which reduces the chances of rehabilitation) and creating vast warrens in which all the social diseases of imprisonment will fester. Only two groups want them built: ministers and the prison companies - they offer excellent opportunities to rack up profits. And the very nature of PFI, which commits the government to paying for services for 25 or 30 years - whether or not they are still required - creates a major incentive to ensure that prison numbers don't fall. The beast must be fed.

And there's another line of possible evidence. In the two countries whose economies most resemble the UK's - Germany and France - the prison population has risen quite slowly. France has 96 inmates per 100,000 people, an increase of 14% since 1992. Germany has 89 prisoners per 100,000 - 25% more than in 1992 but 9% less than in 2001. But the UK now locks up 151 out of every 100,000 inhabitants: 73% more than in 1992 and 20% more than in 2001. Yes, our politicians have barely come down from the trees, yes we are still governed out of the offices of the Daily Mail, but it would be foolish to dismiss the likely influence of the private prison industry.

This revolting trade in human lives creates a permanent incentive to lock people up: not because prison works, not because it makes us safer, but because it makes money. Privatisation appears to have locked this country into mass imprisonment.


Castro clears out Fidel's cabinet

Article from: Agence France-Presse

From correspondents in Havana

March 03, 2009 09:55am, Daily Telegraph

CUBAN President Raul Castro today replaced several members of his cabinet, putting his own stamp on government in Havana one year after assuming power from his older brother Fidel.

In a sign that he is emerging from the shadow of former president and revolutionary icon,
Castro, 77, fired foreign minister Felipe Perez Roque and cabinet chief Carlos Lage, two long-time lieutenants under the elder Castro.

In making his first major cabinet shuffle since assuming power one year ago, the Cuban leader cited the need for greater efficiency and a consolidation of the country's unwieldy democracy, saying that the shakeup would lead to "a more compact and functional structure".

The move most notably replaces Perez Roque, Havana's chief diplomat since May 1999 with a by a vice minister, Bruno Rodriguez.

Mr Lage, meanwhile, retains his post as one of Cuba's vice presidents of the Council of State, but has been replaced by General Jose Amado Ricardo Guerra as cabinet chief.

The shuffle affects about 10 cabinet positions, including Cuba's commerce, farming, fishing and interior ministries, among other positions.

The shakeup allows Raul Castro to put his own imprint on a government that still bears the hallmarks of the decades-long Fidel Castro regime, even though the former Cuban leader, 82, has remained out of the public eye since undergoing surgery three years ago.

Still, Fidel Castro's presence remains strongly felt throughout Cuba. He remains the titular head of the Cuban Communist Party, and his rambling written commentaries have been a regular feature of the Cuban press since he left power.

Raul Castro has trod gingerly while trying to fill his brother's outsized shoes during his first year in office, instituting reforms at the margins of Cuba's institutional communism.

He has been much more dynamic in the area of foreign relations, meeting during his first year in office up to a dozen leaders from around the world, including from an increasingly left-leaning Latin America.

He has strengthened relations and trade ties not only with Argentina, Chile, Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador, but Cuba's communist allies China and Russia.

Another area that remains little changed is the domain of human rights, observers said.

A report last week by the US State Department found in fact that respect for human rights and basic freedoms deteriorated in during the year that Raul Castro was formally elected the new leader of the communist-run island.

Although the report found that Cuba's 11.2 million inhabitants were more likely to suffer rights abuses under Raul, he has instituted several cautious economic reforms, including provisions allowing private contractors back into Cuba's transport sector.

Raul Castro also has allowed Cubans to buy computers, own mobile telephones, rent cars and spend nights in hotels previously only accessible to foreigners - if they can afford such luxuries at the average monthly salary equivalent of about $US17 ($27).

The communist island marked the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution on January 1.

Sunday, March 01, 2009


Push boat people back: Malaysia

February 28, 2009 , smh

CHA-AM, Thailand: The Malaysian Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, has called for Burma's Muslim boat people to be pushed back if they attempt to land on any South-East Asian shores in search of asylum.

Mr Abdullah also criticised Burma and Thailand on the issue of the Rohingya asylum seekers, which has escalated into a problem for the region and sparked international concern. Thousands of the stateless Rohingya have fled Burma as well as refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Their plight was highlighted recently when hundreds were believed to have drowned after being pushed out to sea by the Thai military.

"If we cannot be firm we cannot deal with this problem. We have to be firm at all borders. We have to turn them back," Mr Abdullah said in an interview with the Bangkok Post. Mr Abdullah was due to arrive at the beachside resort of Cha-am yesterday for the annual summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations.

Thailand wants a regional conference on the Rohingya, who often try to land in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. "We feel that they are being pushed onto us instead of Thailand accommodating them somehow," Mr Abdullah said. "Of course, we know they come from Myanmar [Burma]. When we ask Myanmar, they ask: 'Are you sure they are our people? What evidence have you got?' "

The Rohingyas, an ethnic minority not recognised by Burma's military government, number about 800,000 in that country. Hundreds of thousands have fled to Bangladesh, Malaysia and the Middle East.

"From Thailand they come to us, from us they go to Indonesia. We don't want to be unkind. But the problem has been about people who come to us without permits," Mr Abdullah said.

Human rights groups have criticised Thailand for allegedly abusing Rohingya boat people by towing them out to sea without adequate provisions or fuel. Thailand denies the allegations.

Associated Press