Friday, January 29, 2010


War post mortem checking for blood on the hands of lawyers

January 29, 2010, Richard Ackland, SMH

Iraq backflip by top UK lawyer

The British government's former top lawyer gives evidence at an inquiry into the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Lawyers are incredibly keen on preening themselves about their ''independence''. Little crests with mottos abound: Without fear or favour; Servants of all, yet of none; All are equal under the law.

Frequently it helps if these little warrior calls are in Latin.

We shouldn't get too misty eyed. The Chilcot inquiry in London comes as a handy reminder, if we needed one, that beside all the nifty mission statements in which the law wraps itself, there's another overriding one: he who pays the piper plays the tune.

The Chilcot inquiry is examining Britain's involvement in the invasion of Iraq, the events that preceded the invasion and the conduct of the war.

What has been the subject of its most immediate concentration is the legal advice about the legality or illegality of the war.

This week has seen evidence from three key British lawyers. Lord Goldsmith, former Labour attorney-general, former president of the English and Welsh bar, former deputy High Court judge and previously known as Pete Goldsmith from Liverpool; Sir Michael Wood, the most senior lawyer in the Foreign Office at the time of the invasion; and Elizabeth Wilmshurst, deputy to Wood at the FO.

It has been nothing short of fascinating. All three at various points in the preparation for the war advised the Government that an invasion of Iraq without a specific UN Security Council resolution to that end would be unlawful.

The civil service lawyers could be ignored by the politicians, and they were. Goldsmith as attorney-general was a different kettle of fish. He was the Government's most senior and theoretically independent legal adviser. Wilmshurst was asked by Sir John Chilcot whether it made any difference that her views were rejected by the foreign secretary Jack Straw, himself a lawyer. ''He's not an international lawyer,'' she shot back.

Elizabeth Wilmshurst resigned from the Foreign Office because she believed that what the Government was embarking upon was utterly devoid of any legitimacy.

Lord Boyce, chief of the defence staff, asked for a clear ''unequivocal'' legal position about the war.

From telling Tony Blair two months before the invasion that its lawfulness was questionable, Goldsmith subsequently saw the light - this war would be legal. And he explained it all in one page.

He had the advantage of a trip to Washington where various of Bush's rogue lawyers got him in a headlock. He came back refreshed and with a new independent opinion. Straw and Blair's people were also applying the thumbscrews to the first law officer. Like a good barrister, Goldsmith had the law coming out of both sides of his mouth.

Why is this important at all? Most people in the pubs couldn't give a fig about it. The short answer is that the military made it clear that to go to war on the basis of equivocal advice was untenable. It needed ''certainty''. To that extent, as the London barrister Philippe Sands, QC, has written: ''The attorney-general had his finger on the trigger.''

Not an insignificant position to be in, considering the vast amount of national treasure to be lavished, the countless lives to be spent and the pending waste and destruction.

Importantly, it enabled prime minister John Howard to wave a bit of paper, Chamberlain-like, and say Australia's participation in the coalition of the willing was entirely ''valid''. He told Parliament on March 18, 2003: ''Our legal advice . . . is unequivocal . . . This legal advice is consistent with that provided to the British Government by its attorney-general.''

Howard claquers in the media were also beating out the message, ''This war is legal''.

Whereas the politicians in Britain were ignoring the critical advice of the civil service lawyers, in Australia the opinion of legal people in the relevant departments was being warmly embraced.

The key advice the Government relied on came from Bill Campbell, QC, first assistant secretary, office of international law in the Attorney-General's Department, and Chris Moraitis, senior legal adviser, Department of Foreign Affairs.

It was essentially predicated on the view that an earlier UN Security Council resolution dealing with Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 and a more recent resolution giving Saddam the nudge to comply with previous resolutions were the basis for legitimising the invasion.

At the time the opinion was torn apart by other authorities. The former solicitor-general, Gavan Griffith, said the advice was ''fanciful . . . an Alice in Wonderland inversion of meaning of plain words in the resolutions themselves. It is unsupportable. The authors are making it up.''

The vast preponderance of legal advice was clearly of the view that for war to be legitimised there had to be a specific and clear resolution of the Security Council. The US opposed going to an extra resolution. That was the end of it.

The law had to fit the exigencies and importantly the politicians had to find lawyers with suitable honorifics to sprinkle holy water on their position.

It has got to the point now where there are judicial rulings that the laws of war don't apply to war.

The president has to decide what is appropriately legal in these circumstances.

Likewise, as Jonathan Freedland said, writing in The Guardian: ''The war was legal - because Tony Blair said it was legal.''

One foot down the corridor of a dark place leads to other compromises: black hole prisons, illegal detention and ''trial'', plus liberal applications of torture - to mention a few.


A poor state of health: NSW hospitals the worst in the country


January 29, 2010

PUBLIC hospitals in NSW are the worst performing in the country when it comes to causing death and serious injuries to patients.

New Productivity Commission figures on ''sentinel events'' - severely harmful incidents that occur due to a failure of hospital systems - showed 59 cases in NSW, compared with 28 in Victoria, the next worst-performing state, and 147 nationwide.

Even accounting for NSW having the largest population and the largest number of hospital admissions, the figures still show the state performing worse than the rest of the country, with 40 per cent of sentinel events but only 30 per cent of public hospital admissions.

The figures, from 2007-08, represent a significant deterioration from a year earlier, when NSW was one of the best states, recording only 32 events.

A spokesman for the NSW Health Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, said the state's performance reflected the fact the state had better systems for collecting and reporting incident data than other parts of Australia.

"NSW takes patient safety seriously,'' the spokesman said, pointing to the Government's clinical excellence commission, which provides analysis of incident data twice a year.

The data showed 18 NSW procedures involving the wrong patient or body part (out of 29 nationally), 19 cases of medical instruments being left in patients after surgery (out of 37) and medication errors killing 17 patients (out of 29).

Sentinel events are independent of a patient's condition, meaning most are the result of hospital mishap. The Productivity Commission notes that while sentinel events occur relatively infrequently, they ''have the potential to seriously undermine public confidence in the healthcare system''.

All public hospitals are required to provide information on sentinel events, which include suicide of a patient, blood transfusions that involve blood group incompatibility, deaths in labour and newborns being presented to the wrong family.

Professor Rick Iedema, of the University of Technology, Sydney, said the sharp increase was likely to be a result of both more incidents and more rigorous reporting.

Professor Iedema said policy-makers were faced with a dilemma in confronting sentinel events, because efforts to push them towards zero would be costly and take funds from other health functions.

''We already know that health care is costing an absolute fortune,'' he said. ''If we are going to look at making that system totally fail-safe … we'd have to spend a prohibitive amount.''

While only figures from public hospitals were collated, he expected private hospitals to perform better because they took in patients for lower-risk procedures.

The Productivity Commission said the data was collected and released in an effort to reduce the risk of recurrence.

''The programs are not punitive, and are designed to facilitate self reporting of errors,'' it said.

Monday, January 25, 2010


Greater front-line roles on child welfare watch at school


January 25, 2010

TEACHERS, police and doctors will have more responsibility for child welfare decisions under changes to the state's child protection system that came into operation yesterday.

In preparation for the start of school on Thursday, most government school principals have been trained in new guidelines aimed at reducing calls to the overwhelmed Department of Community Services' Child Protection Helpline, which received 309,000 reports about suspected cases of child abuse or neglect last year.

Teachers and other professionals will have to decide whether or not a child is at risk of significant harm, and refer those they believe fall below the threshold to four new child wellbeing units in government departments rather than to DOCS case workers, who will concentrate on serious cases.

The Premier, Kristina Keneally, said the new system was about sharing responsibility for child safety and would provide better support for vulnerable families before they reached a crisis point.

''We want to prevent abuse and neglect,'' she said. ''Children's care is the responsibility of families, friends, neighbours, government - because it really does take a community to raise a child.''

The Minister for Community Services, Linda Burney, said more than 23,000 teachers, doctors, nurses, police and other mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse had attended information sessions about the new system, and training packages had been provided to more than 200,000 people who work with children.

She said an example of a child who was above the significant harm threshold, and should be referred to DOCS for immediate action, was one who came to school with bruises or other injuries and was fearful of returning home.

If a teacher noticed a child was consistently unwashed and had no warm clothes or lunch, the case should be referred to the wellbeing unit in the Department of Education and Training.

Its staff of 28 social workers would co-ordinate family assistance from a range of government agencies and non-government organisations.

The system's $750 million overhaul follows the recommendations of the Wood inquiry, which was sparked by the death of Dean Shillingsworth, whose body was put in a suitcase and dumped in a pond, and of a girl known as Ebony, who starved to death.

Ms Burney acknowledged the Government had failed children with some ''very, very real tragedies''.

Three other child wellbeing units have been established in NSW Health, NSW Police, and Human Services departments.

The acting NSW Police Commissioner, Dave Owens, said police made about 98,000 reports to DOCS last year. He expected about 60,000 would go to its new child wellbeing unit.

The director-general of Education and Training, Michael Coutts-Trotter, said teachers would discuss the system at a development day on Wednesday. ''The vast majority of principals have been trained or will be trained come Thursday.''

Teachers at non-government schools will still have to use the DOCS helpline.


Health spending to swamp budgets


January 25, 2010

KEVIN RUDD has warned that the states are being ''overwhelmed'' by rising health costs as he gears up for an election fight over an overhaul of hospital funding.

Citing figures from the coming third intergenerational report, the Prime Minister said yesterday health spending was set to swamp the public purse and he sought to pave the way for a battle with the states over control of funding.

He singled out NSW, where the Treasury estimates spending will more than double over 22 years to 55 per cent of the budget.

''Rapidly rising health costs create a real risk - absent [of] major policy change - state governments will be overwhelmed by their rising health spending obligations,'' he said in a speech in Sydney. ''Without reform, states' ability to provide the services they currently provide will be significantly strained. That is why 2010 must be and will be a year of major health reform.''

Mr Rudd is under pressure to fulfil his election pledge to seek a mandate for a federal takeover of hospital funding if states fail to meet healthcare benchmarks.

In July he put off his announcement for six months when an expert panel urged the Government not to rush into a takeover and recommended sweeping changes. The proposals, by the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, included a voucher system for patients to use private clinics. It suggested national access targets, under which patients would wait no more than two days to see a GP or three months for planned surgery.

The intergenerational report, expected to be released within weeks, says health spending will rise from 4 per cent of gross domestic product to 7.1 per cent by 2050, equivalent to $200 billion, or an increase from $2290 a person to $7210. Treasury modelling for the report found that by 2045 health spending would exceed the states' non-GST tax revenues - a result that Mr Rudd said would occur possibly earlier in some states. By 2050, health spending on those aged 65 plus is expected to rise seven-fold and spending on those aged 85 plus will increase by 12 times.

In NSW, health dominates the state's budget. In 2009-10, it was set to soak up $15.1 billion - more than double the $7 billion for transport - and has been growing faster than inflation.

In 2007, NSW health department spending increased 7 per cent but last year it grew more than twice as fast. In all, between 2005-06 and 2009-10, health expenditure has ballooned by more than $3 billion. If the present rate of growth continues, health will eat into all other portfolios.

Mr Rudd had promised to release his plans after consulting with the states and receiving the intergenerational report. He consulted them last month and the report will be released soon.

''We will put a proposal to the states and territories,'' Mr Rudd said last week. ''What we have said consistently is that if they accept that well and good. If they don't then we'd seek a mandate from the people in terms of the Commonwealth moving to take over the system.''

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, yesterday labelled Mr Rudd a ''fraud'' and challenged him to deliver on his election promise. ''Mr Rudd promised if there had not been any improvements in health he would move to a federal takeover,'' Mr Abbott said. ''Most people say that if anything, things have gotten worse … Mr Rudd is a fraud. He shouldn't make commitments he doesn't intend to keep.''

Mr Abbott, who as health minister signalled a federal takeover, has indicated he will push for a referendum on reform but would like to retain local boards to administer funding. ''We will announce a comprehensive policy in due course,'' he said.


'The drill slipped and my life changed completely'


January 25, 2010

HELEN KERNER trusted her "nice, clean-cut" neurosurgeon when he said he had performed the delicate spinal operation she required 1500 times before.

The 60-year-old was confused when she woke up incontinent, still in pain, with no feeling in her legs or pelvis, and upset when he tried to discharge her from hospital two days into recovery.

But when Suresh Surendranath Nair confessed that his "drill slipped" during the procedure, severing several nerves in her spine, Ms Kerner said she felt sorry for the doctor, who was then 38.

"I felt like 'my goodness me, he must be feeling awful for what he's done'," Ms Kerner said. "But not now, not now, I'm pretty angry now."

The Health Care Complaints Commission is reportedly reviewing all surgery performed at Nepean Public Hospital under the direction of Dr Nair, 41, who faces drugs charges following the death in November of a 22-year-old student in his $1.7 million apartment.

Sydney West Area Health Service has admitted a breach of duty of care in Ms Kerner's case.

Another neurosurgeon described the procedure, performed in 2006, as a standard operation and said Dr Nair's mistake was ''usually so rare as to be virtually unheard of''.

The Malaysian-born, Australian-trained surgeon's registration had been suspended in 2004, after an appearance before the NSW Medical Board's Impaired Registrants Panel.

He was suspended again in 2008 and on November 26 last year, following his arrest.

Ms Kerner, a former relief manager at Anglicare second-hand shops, said she did not know Dr Nair had been suspended when she was referred to him in 2006. "I had very bad back pain, sciatic pain, and all the doctor had to do was remove a bone spur away from the nerve, just grind it away from the nerve," Ms Kerner said. "The drill slipped … and my life changed, completely changed.''

Sydney West Area Health Service would not comment.

Dr Nair's solicitor, Mitchell Cavanagh, said he was not aware of the case and had not yet been able to discuss it with his client.

Ms Kerner, formerly a keen dancer and gardener, now uses walking sticks because she cannot feel her left leg and her foot is deformed. She is bowel and bladder incontinent, has lost all sexual function and lives with constant, severe pain in her legs and feet, according to a statement of claim filed in the NSW Supreme Court.

"I'm very depressed. I wake up in the morning crying sometimes … I'm very embarrassed to go out because of things that happen,'' she said. "That's my life now. I don't have one."

Ms Kerner said she knew something was wrong as soon as she woke up. "I spoke to Dr Nair the next morning and he didn't tell me he slipped with the drill … He told me [he] stretched one of the nerves and it had to be repaired," she said.

"He said within three months it should heal itself and I believed him because he's my doctor."

Her confusion was compounded when Dr Nair tried to have her discharged from hospital two days after the procedure, before she had been seen by an continence adviser or physiotherapist.

It was not until Ms Kerner noticed the word "severed" written on her observation chart that she pressed for answers.

At a meeting Ms Kerner said she attended with her then partner, the hospital's nursing manager and a clinical liaison officer, Dr Nair confessed his mistake.

"I said, 'But you didn't tell me that before' and he said, 'Yes I did' … " she said.

At a second meeting attended, according to Ms Kerner, by her continence adviser and a friend, two hospital administrators told her she could sue for negligence.

Legal proceedings began in November 2008 and Sydney West Area Health Services wrote to Ms Kerner's solicitor on November 3 last year, admitting a breach of duty of care.

"As far as I'm concerned the hospital should have got rid of him at the start, in 2004," Ms Kerner said. "If he was gone I wouldn't be like this."

Dr Nair has been in police custody since January 9 after he breached his bail conditions, which prohibited him from hiring prostitutes or taking illicit drugs. He is due in court on March 1.

The State Coroner is also investigating the death of an escort, Victoria McIntyre, whose body was found in Dr Nair's apartment last February.

A NSW Supreme Court hearing in July will determine what compensation and damages NSW Health must pay Ms Kerner.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Red News Readers,

As published on the SMH Blog:

Thank heavens for David Marr. In a land where yobs yell racist slogans (particularly around Australia Day) without knowing why, David shines a light on the moral and ethical issues surrounding our intake of refugees and asylum seekers, and puts before our government and the people the truth about the pain caused by the hardness in many Australian hearts and minds. Those who would exclude refugees from their right to enter Australia because they did not stand in an impossible queue, should be challenged by David's account of what happened to the Irfani family under the regime administered by the Howard Government. If Australia really is the land of the fair go, we should all be clamouring for a fair go for the Irfanis and for all refugees and asylum seekers .

Jenny Haines | Newtown - January 23, 2010, 12:59PM

Indifferent land keeps desperate people waiting


January 23, 2010.

"No matter how much I shook her she did not wake up." Eight years ago this weekend Ali Reza Irfani returned to his room in the makeshift detention centre on Christmas Island to find his wife had slipped into a coma. Complaining about headaches for days, Fatima had been fed painkillers and given dark glasses. No one picked the problem: a blood vessel had ruptured in her brain and she was bleeding to death.

An air ambulance from Singapore flew the intubated patient to Perth, where she lived for another four days. "I was deeply grieving about my wife," Irfani writes with immense restraint. "We had left Afghanistan together and been in the camp on Christmas Island for 14 months. All my wife had known was suffering and hardship. She wanted a safe good life for herself and her children."

Days before Fatima's collapse, the Irfani family had agreed to return "voluntarily" to Afghanistan. A month after the doctors at the Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital turned off the machines and allowed her to die, the family was in the air: Ali Reza, his three little children - the oldest was seven - and a coffin.

Terrible stories from the refugee gulags of the Howard era are a dime a dozen. But the Irfani story continues to haunt the authorities. The family, surviving precariously in a refugee camp in Pakistan, wants to return to Australia. They haven't been refused but they haven't been accepted. The Minister for Immigration is mulling it over.

So much has changed. Were the Irfanis to arrive at Christmas Island today, they would almost certainly be settled swiftly and safely in Australia. Even as the politics of the boats once again turns rancid, Senator Chris Evans faces a question from the past that won't go away: what does Australia owe to asylum seekers mauled by the policies of Labor's predecessors?

A spokesman for Evans told the Herald last week: "The minister has asked the department to provide him with further information on the circumstances of Mrs Irfani's death and the family's repatriation." Here's a thumbnail sketch.

Ali Reza Irfani, a Shiite imam in a remote Hazara village, was twice abducted when the Taliban descended in 1999. "They beat me and said I was an atheist and should die." He was rescued but the following year a brother-in-law accused of speaking against the extremists disappeared and was never seen again. "We think Younas must have been killed."

The family decided to scatter. Some joined the millions of Hazaras in camps in Iran and Pakistan. An uncle arranged for Irfani, his young wife and three children to be smuggled to Australia, where they arrived on a small boat in October 2001 at the peak of the Tampa election campaign.

They waited and waited on Christmas Island. His wife was stressed. One daughter had a skin condition - cutaneous leishmaniasis - that remained undiagnosed for five months until the arrival of a pediatrician on the island. It would leave her face permanently scarred. His son had a mouth lesion. In March 2002 the whole family was flown to Perth for specialist treatment. They were back on the island in May.

At last Ali Reza Irfani had a chance to argue his case. The timing was appalling. Days after his interview with immigration officials the Australian Government declared the Taliban no longer posed a threat. Until this point nearly every Hazara to reach Australia by boat had been given refugee protection - and they would be again - but from May 2002 to December 2003 almost all Hazaras were rejected.

Irfani was given the bad news in August. The wait had been torture. His wife was being treated for high blood pressure. An appeal in December to another official of the department - in those days there was no independent review panel - proved fruitless. The Irfanis had no legal assistance whatsoever. "They said the Taliban was no longer in power in Afghanistan … they said the new government would protect me."

The family was now under intense pressure to accept the government's Reintegration Assistance Package: $2000 a head up to a maximum of $10,000 to return to Afghanistan. Two or three times a day, Irfani was being called in and told by senior immigration officials that resistance was futile. He had to accept or be sent home with empty hands.

Out on Nauru the same pressure was being applied to Afghans caught up in the Pacific solution. As it happens, nearly all the Hazaras who refused to sign would eventually be allowed to live in Australia. But in these 18 months about 420 of them would take the package. They returned to a most uncertain fate: some were killed, many disappeared and large numbers fled the country to camps in Pakistan and Iran.

The Irfanis could listen to the news from Afghanistan. "Clearly the situation was not getting better," Irfani told the ABC Four Corners reporter Debbie Whitmont through an interpreter. But they felt they had no choice. "We had to sign and we signed." Three nights later his wife woke saying, "I have severe pain in the left side of my head."

No inquest has been held into Fatima Irfani's death. The latest attempt was rejected by a Perth magistrate last month. An appeal against this decision will be heard by the West Australian Supreme Court in March. Irfani does not blame the nurses in the camp or the lone GP who examined his wife. He blames the island.

"Christmas Island is a very small island," he told Whitmont a few weeks later in that unscreened interview. "There is no specialist doctor who understands everything, and there is no medical equipment, either. They did not have a brain scanner there … if from the first day they took pictures from her brain, they would have found out, and they would have operated my wife, she would not have died."

Irfani was treated as a prisoner in Perth as he sat alone at her bedside, "a stranger having his wife dying in front of his face". Guards refused to allow him to ring people or to receive visitors. "I was very lonely. I was sitting there with her day and night." Once it was clear his wife was brain dead, the children were flown down to sit with their mother until the machines were turned off.

The journey home was grotesque. Deep snow closed Kabul airport. Waiting for a delayed flight in Dubai, Irfani saw his wife's coffin sitting in the sun on the tarmac. "He was completely beside himself," recalls Judith Quinlivan, one of his supporters on Christmas Island. She rang around the world late that night to have the problem fixed.

In Kabul Irfani discovered his wife's family had also left for Pakistan. "Nothing and no one has left for me here in Afghanistan," he told Whitmont. He turned for help to his escorts, the International Organisation for Migration. "I asked them to please arrange automobile for us from Kabul to Pakistan border. The IOM gave us a car and a van for the coffin, and from the border to Quetta we went by an ambulance and a car."

Those who know Irfani say he is an intelligent man of great dignity. He has remarried and has another young child. They live in a single room in a crowded house. His little knot of supporters in Western Australia continues to work for the family's return to Australia. Meanwhile, they are paying for the education of the children - tuition that will never, by law, lead to qualifications of any kind.

Quetta is no longer safe. When I was on Christmas Island last July, a common thread in the stories of Hazaras there was having fled violence in that city. And Australia was giving these boat people visas. About the time I was on the island, Irfani applied for Offshore Humanitarian Visas (Class XB) for his family. They are not taking a boat this time but joining the queue - of about 35,000 people who will apply for about 4500 places offered overseas this year.

"The question for us is how to respond to the current circumstances of these and other individuals returned under the previous government," Evans told the Labor MP Melissa Parke last month. But in a couple of pages of waffle the only hope the minister would offer the Irfanis was this cold Canberra formula: "All claims are considered on their individual merits."

Sunday, January 17, 2010


Share10 Global Auction of Public Assets

Friday 15 January 2010

by: Dexter Whitfield, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

A new study[1] exposes the impact of the emerging global infrastructure market and widening use of Public Private Partnerships, which is fueling a new era of public asset sales in the US and other countries.

Public infrastructure in the 21st century is confronted with new challenges: adapting to climate change and meeting the economic, energy, water, transportation and social infrastructure needs of megacities in Asia, megaregions in North America, European city regions and older industrial areas. Yet, Public Private Partnerships and the global infrastructure market, financed by investment funds and pension funds, are fueling a new era of public asset sales. The key findings of this first critical, global analysis of these developments are:

1. Public Private Partnerships are not an alternative to public investment, nor do they reduce public debt. Ultimately, PPP's are entirely financed by government and/or user charges, fares and tolls - private debt ratcheted up in PPP's is, in practice, public debt embodied in long-term contractual obligations which must be paid off through public sector revenue accounts. There is no quick fix or a cheap, low tax solution. Despite these structural flaws, PPP's continue to be embedded in the public sector.

2. Public Private Partnerships have similar structural flaws to the causes of the current global financial crisis. Public Private Partnerships are designed with special-purpose companies, off-balance-sheet accounting, limited accountability and transparency, securitization, outsourcing and offshoring, secondary market refinancing and shrouded in commercial confidentiality - precisely the policies and practices that led to the global crisis.

3. There is a new threat of privatization and asset monetization as governments and cities confront continuing needs with plummeting resources. Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and several states plan to sell off existing assets; Russia and Poland have recently announced privatization plans, whilst in Britain new PPP models are being developed.

4. A global infrastructure market has emerged, fueled by pension funds, mutual funds and insurance company investment, which account for 82 percent of global investment assets. However, new power brokers such as sovereign wealth funds and private equity funds are powerful investors in the global economy and have a key role in the acquisition of infrastructure assets.

5. Schools, hospitals, roads and prisons are being traded as commodities. Britain has the most developed PPP market that now has a secondary market in which share equity in PPP projects is bought and sold. Several hundred PPP projects, with a total value of £2.8 billion (about US $4.5 billion, have been sold to new investors in the last decade. Sixty-five PPP projects alone were sold at a profit of £257 million (about US $414 million). Several secondary market funds, established to own and operate PPP projects, have been sold to other companies. Some PPP projects are now operated from offshore tax havens.

6. There are many failed Public Private Partnerships and privatization projects. Globally, nearly 1,000 PPP projects, valued at over US $500 billion, have been terminated or radically reduced. This includes 58 water projects, many covering entire regions and countries. Many other projects never got off the drawing board, and were abandoned. The claim that infrastructure PPP's can be "pro-poor" by achieving significant political and economic change is unfounded.

7. Democracy and accountability are undermined. Most PPP projects have little democratic control or transparency. They are costly, of poor value and lack innovation. Risk transfer is exaggerated and based on the false pretext of non-reform of public sector contract management.

8. Value for money methods are contrived and flawed. The evaluation of PPP projects through Public Sector Comparator or value for money assessments is contrived and fundamentally flawed because of the narrow scope of the criteria and the failure to compare like with like.

9. PPP's and privatization frequently result in job losses, cuts in terms and conditions including pensions and more fragmented trade union organization.

10. Reform of the Public Private Partnerships model will achieve little. Powerful vested interests, including banks, construction companies, lawyers and consultants, will ensure any re-assessment will be focused on the minutiae of PPP finance and risk transfer. They have no intention of challenging the model, preferring to massage contractual matters to ensure that the flow of deals continues.

11. New public investment priorities are needed. Global Auction of Public Assets sets out new investment priorities for generating economic development and jobs, meeting infrastructure needs, responding to climate change and managing public debt and the fiscal crisis. It proposes radical changes in global financial markets, abandonment of PPP's, new controls on existing PPP's, new public sector contracts and public management reform. Proposals include a new comprehensive Infrastructure Investment Evaluation Framework and an Infrastructure Stress Test.

12. Stronger and broader alliances between civic, community and trade union organizations need to be built, with blueprints and alternative plans to detail infrastructure needs and strategic intervention in the planning and procurement process.

Public infrastructure supports economic development, increases productivity, generates employment, creates opportunities for production and supply chains in construction, manufacturing and services, and improves community well-being. It meets basic human needs - homes, water, energy, transport, hospitals, schools, sports and cultural facilities, communications networks, courts, prisons, civic and governmental buildings. The new study, "Global Auction of Public Assets," examines PPP programs in the UK, France, Ireland, Germany, the US, Canada, Russia, Australia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa.


[1] "Global Auction of Public Assets: Public Sector Alternatives to the Infrastructure Market and Public Private Partnerships" by Dexter Whitfield, published January 2010.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


Red News Readers,

It is a disturbing precedent indeed to have police called to visit a mother at home because her baby is overdue, particularly in a situation where the mother has expressed a preference for a home birth. Obstetricians have a duty of care, but that duty does not extend to overriding the mother’s autonomy, where there is no question of safety. If there was a question about safe delivery of the baby that is another matter, but from the facts presented, that does not appear to be the case. Why the police? I would have thought a visit from a community midwife or local GP more appropriate. Why did the police agree to be involved in such a civil matter?

Jenny Haines

Why did hospital send police to my door?

Kate Sikora Health Reporter From: The Daily Telegraph January 16, 2010 12:00AM

A HOSPITAL that wants a mother to have her baby induced sent police to her home after she failed to keep an appointment yesterday.

Rochelle Allan, who is reluctant to be induced even though her baby is 12 days overdue, was told by the hospital they intended to go ahead with the procedure when she came in.

But after speaking to her midwife following a visit to the hospital the day before, and being assured her baby was fine, she decided not to attend the hospital the next day.

Now Ms Allan is furious after the two police officers arrived on her doorstep after they were called by Bathurst Hospital.

Wanting a home birth, Ms Allan, 24, has been under the care of a private midwife and had been attending the hospital daily to monitor the baby's health.

"I couldn't believe it when I saw the police officers at my door," Ms Allan said.

"They told me they had been asked by the hospital to check on my welfare because I had not attended.

"The hospital knew I did not want to be induced and they gave me no medical reason why I should be."

Throughout her pregnancy, Ms Allan and her partner Daniel Jones have been regularly attending the hospital's antenatal clinic for mandatory tests and scans to monitor the baby's progress. A hospital spokeswoman confirmed police were sent to Ms Allan's house to conduct a "welfare check".

The spokeswoman said doctors were worried about the mother as she had previously complied with all appointments.

Ms Allan said that she had decided on having a home birth after a "horrific experience" at the same hospital two years ago when their son Bailey was born.

"I was induced and I spent 48 hours in labour," she said.

"I don't want to go through with that again."

Ms Allan is not against medical intervention and said she would not hesitate to deliver at the hospital if her baby's life was threatened.

"If they had told me that my baby was in danger then I would have the baby in hospital," she said.

"But they could give me no reason and all the tests show that there are no problems."

By late yesterday, Ms Allan had started labour at home and was in the care of her midwife.

The incident comes as the debate over the safety of homebirths continues, with the Federal Government under pressure to change the law to allow midwives insurance if they attend a homebirth.

Homebirths Australia secretary Justine Caines said the case demonstrated how women "are too often treated during pregnancy and birth very poorly".

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists president Dr Ted Weaver said women were usually induced 14 days after their due date.

"If the mum did not want to be induced after 14 days then you would conduct extra tests," he said.

"The reason people get worried about going overdue is because there's a slight chance that the baby could die suddenly in utero for no reason."

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Red News Readers,

As a nurse of over 30 years experience, I am ambivalent about the distribution across the State of this Observation Form. This Form no doubt allows inexperienced and unqualified nursing staff to perform observations, and to easily recognise when they should seek further advice. But there are already emergency call systems in place in hospitals and emergency departments, when a patient goes beyond certain parameters, and a literal interpretation of those parameters, and these Observation Charts can have doctors called out to already known situations, and nursing staff being abused by doctors for being ignorant. Knowledge, skill, judgement and care (the words of the Nurses Act of 1991) are required to interpret observations in the context of each patient. It is not just a mechanical matter of limits and parameters.

Jenny Haines

Beach jargon can be lifesaver in hospitals, too


January 14, 2010

Carmel Tebbutt at Liverpool Hospital with a patient, Enid Gillam, and her sister, Elaine Bovis. Photo: Nick Moir

IT IS a no-brainer, the Health Department concedes, but it took the unnecessary death of a teenager at Royal North Shore Hospital for it to develop a statewide system of monitoring vital signs to detect deteriorating patients.

The Health Minister, Carmel Tebbutt, launched a standardised observation chart with a colour-coded warning system yesterday; it will be implemented at all NSW hospitals this year.

Ms Tebbutt said it was a world-first system and would improve patient care and safety.

Dubbed ''Between the Flags'', the system dictates exactly what action staff must take when a person's vital signs put them into the ''yellow'' zone, which indicates early deterioration and the need for a clinical review, and the more critical ''red'' zone, which calls for a rapid response.

It comes 20 years after Liverpool Hospital pioneered the concept, which then spread to the US and Europe yet failed to be implemented by more than a handful of NSW hospitals, simply because of a lack of will.

The system is in response to a recommendation made after the 2008 Garling public hospitals inquiry found the deteriorating patient was a ''prevalent'' problem.

''Detection and management of deterioration in a patient's condition by hospital staff can be problematic, particularly where the problems occur overnight when patients are under the care of junior clinicians who may lack the experience to deal with the problem or are reluctant to wake a consultant,'' Peter Garling, SC, said.

The inquiry was called after what Deputy State Coroner Carl Milovanovich called the ''tragic and avoidable'' death of Vanessa Anderson, 16, at the Royal North Shore Hospital in November 2005, after she was hit in the head by a golf ball. He noted a litany of failures including that ''record taking, and clinical notes were either non-existent or deficient".

The Between the Flags system uses five key measurements - blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, breathing rate and drowsiness - to monitor patients. Ms Tebbutt said this would ensure any move out of the safe zones was quickly recognised and there was a rapid response.

''In a hospital setting, the frontline clinical staff are the lifeguards … They know when a patient is between the flags by observing vital signs and clinical condition,'' she said. ''It means patients will get even safer care.''

Professor Cliff Hughes, chief executive officer of the Clinical Excellence Commission, which developed the chart, said ''it is to make sure we reach patients before it's too late''.

The president of the NSW branch of the Australian Medical Association, Brian Morton, said it was a ''major advance in patient care'' and should be expanded nationally.

The Opposition health spokeswoman, Jillian Skinner, welcomed the chart but said staff shortages would undermine its success.


Red News Readers,

Pamela Curr makes some very valid points about ASIO assessments of refugees. How do we know that ASIO did not give these persons an adverse assessment because they were involved or organised the protest on the Oceanic Viking? I am very uneasy at ASIO being able to make these assessments with no accountability.

Jenny Haines

ASIO's assessments can destroy lives


January 12, 2010 Comments 39

Four asylum seekers from the Oceanic Viking face more uncertainty after an adverse assessment from ASIO, which cannot be examined. Photo: Yuli Seperi

The finding that four people from the Oceanic Viking have received an adverse security assessment from ASIO may gird the loins of the anti-asylum seeker sector in Australia. However, in the absence of ASIO providing reasons as to why they have made such assessments, it is worth looking at previous decisions in similar circumstances. The consequences of these decisions are so serious and so deleterious to the individuals involved that a clear-eyed review of the efficacy of past ASIO indictments is called for in the interests of justice.

ASIO and the Government have vigorously defended their right to secrecy in these matters through the courts. It is also worth noting that adverse ASIO assessments are rare occurrences. In 2007-2008 out of 89,290 assessments there were no adverse findings while in 2006-2007, there were seven adverse assessments including that of US activist Scott Parkin and a Guantanamo Bay filmmaker. We also note that ASIO got a clean bill of health for their activities during the Doctor Mohamed Haneef case.

In 2005 two Iraqi asylum seekers were granted refugee status after being interdicted and taken to Nauru in 2001. These two men then languished on Nauru until one man became suicidal. Such was the concern as to his condition that he was flown to Brisbane to a psychiatric hospital for treatment. I visited him in this no-security establishment where most patients were middle-class sufferers of depression and anorexia. Mohammad could easily have escaped if he wished or if he indeed was a "national security threat" as designated by ASIO. It was clear to even the most suspicious that he was no threat so quietly without reasons given, his adverse decision was lifted. He was granted a visa and now lives in Australia struggling with the effects of incarceration on Nauru and the treatment he received.

The second man, another Mohammad, held on to his sanity long enough that he remained on Nauru alone while the cards were shuffled to get rid of this embarrassment to our noble immigration and security forces. Eventually he was exported to Sweden where he too struggles with the remnants of a life all but destroyed by the brutal politics of a dark time in Australian history. Needless to say the proof is in the pudding here also in that this Mohammad, like his friend, has not caused a moment's concern to the security agencies of either Sweden or Australia.

So how does ASIO make these assessments? This is a no-go area clouded in secrecy but we do know that by their own admissions in more honest days they have corroborated with overseas agencies who have provided dubious information. In one instance a man spent two years locked up on evidence that had more to do with payback than justice.

I sat through an ASIO interview with a man released from Nauru after four years incarceration. This was his second interview and the reasons for it were never disclosed. He was summonsed to the Immigration Department in Melbourne as were many post Nauru Iraqis on a supposedly immigration matter. There we were shuffled off to a side room where he was asked all over again about the torture and imprisonment he had endured in Iraq before fleeing to Australia. What astonished me was that ASIO and Immigration knew as early as 2002 that this man had been comprehensively tortured by Saddam Hussein's men. They had corroborated evidence of the hanging upside down on huge fans for hours each day, of the hanging by arms turned backwards, which dislodges the shoulders causing exquisite pain. Yet they still held this man and many others on Nauru for years despite their own guidelines that tortured persons would not be detained longer than necessary.

ASIO have been complicit in the Australian Government's asylum seeker deterrence policy in the past so why would they not continue this co-operation when the Sri Lankan embassy has been so shrill in its claims that all Tamils coming to Australia are either Tamil Tiger terrorists or potential terrorists. Where, if not from the Sri Lankan embassy, are ASIO getting their information?

Australia has funded the security cameras in Colombo airport to detect any potential Tamil asylum seekers from leaving while simultaneously funding the Sri Lankan Navy to prevent people escaping by boat. Indeed in December the Sri Lankan Navy took their responsibility to deter so seriously that they shot two asylum seekers, killing one as he struggled into a fishing boat.

That ASIO has produced adverse security assessments against three men, one woman and her two children is not to be unexpected. Whether these assessments are valid or accurate is unlikely to be tested.

Pamela Curr is campaign co-ordinator at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.

Thursday, January 07, 2010


Red News Readers,

What were the ANF and NSWNA thinking? Thank heavens for Fair Work!

Jenny Haines

Fair Work rejects attempt to remove overtime pay


January 8, 2010

FAIR WORK AUSTRALIA has rejected a pay deal for nurses at one of the nation's biggest aged-care operators, which sought to remove overtime payments if staff had volunteered to work the extra hours.

Commissioner Greg Smith said the deal would undermine the 38-hour week and new National Employment Standards, and had ''far-reaching implications for the operation of the safety net of wages and conditions''.

In the first Fair Work decision of 2010, the deal was rejected as failing the ''no disadvantage'' test, despite being supported by two unions.

Paul Gilbert, the acting secretary of the Victorian branch of the Australian Nurses Federation, welcomed the decision. ''It is a good sign we have an independent review of these things again. We haven't had one for a long time,'' he said.

Under the clause put by Bupa Care to 1600 nurses in Victoria, if staff requested to work additional hours or at particular times, because of personal or financial circumstances, overtime payments would not be applicable.

However, Commissioner Smith noted the workforce was mostly female and part-time, and said if a nurse preferred night shift because of family responsibilities, she or he should not lose penalty rates. ''FWA is being asked to accept that a person believes they are better off because they get work at a rate below the safety net. The same could be said of a person who would offer work at an amount below the minimum wage thereby giving themselves a cost and competitive edge … The concept could apply to public holidays,'' Commissioner Smith said in the judgment.

Bupa was seeking to cut costs, not benefit its staff. ''It would be difficult to suggest that an employee would see the benefit in being paid less than that which would ordinarily apply.''

The ruling is likely to stop the clause being put to nurses at 22 aged-care homes in NSW, where an agreement is still being negotiated. Bupa had proposed the overtime clause, based on previous agreements, to allow staff working two jobs through an agency at different aged care homes to be employed directly by Bupa. The Victorian union initially opposed it.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010


Red News Readers,

Australia needs to be careful what we wish for. In our apparent desperation to keep refugee and asylum seekers away from our shores to please the narrow minded in domestic politics, we are helping to create a human rights monster throughout South East Asia.

And just a reminder to K Rudd and his Ministry - ALP policy as decided by successive national conference permits mandatory detention, but only in limited circumstances.

It is generally agreed that processing should take no longer than 90 days. So what is the hold up - are the Canberra bureaucrats on holidays.
Jenny Haines

Refugee deals start Asia 'virus'


January 7, 2010

AUSTRALIA'S deals to deter asylum seekers have triggered an Asia-wide virus of ''xenophobia and amnesia'' over refugee rights, a human rights group says.

The refugee policy director at Human Rights Watch, Bill Frelick, has criticised recent moves across Asia to prevent the resettlement of refugees, which he says began with the agreement in October between the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to prevent a boatload of Sri Lankan asylum seekers from entering Australian waters.

''The willingness to flout international refugee law and to ignore the entreaties of refugees not to be sent back to their home countries has become the mark of chummy bilateral relations between Asian states,'' Mr Frelick writes in the International Herald Tribune.

''A virus is sweeping Asia. The symptoms are heightened xenophobia and amnesia about fundamental refugee rights. Australia and Indonesia succumbed first, in October, when they stopped boats carrying Sri Lankans … Granting asylum is a humanitarian act that should be entirely divorced from political relations between states.''

More than 200 ethnic Tamils remain on a wooden boat in the Indonesian port of Merak after their vessel was intercepted by the Indonesian Navy on its way to Australia, following a request by phone from Mr Rudd to Dr Yudhoyono.

Another group of Tamils in an Australian detention centre on Christmas Island will today meet immigration officials after a three-day boycott of facilities.

Mr Frelick said the Merak deal was followed by violent and illegal forced repatriations by Cambodia of 20 Chinese Uighurs, who were deported two weeks ago and have not been heard from since, and then by Thailand, which last week deported 4000 Hmong asylum seekers to Laos.

The lack of a regional deal on refugees - which Australia is seeking to rectify - had led to a particularly flagrant approach to refugees in Asia, he said.

The Rudd Government ended the Howard government's policy of transferring asylum seekers to Pacific states but has continued to detain would-be migrants offshore, at Christmas Island.

The Tamils on Christmas Island say they are facing excessive waiting times to be processed, with 78 being held for more than six months. They have also expressed frustration that members of the Hazara ethnic minority from Afghanistan, who arrived after some Tamils, have already had their claims assessed.

Since Sunday more than 400 Tamils have boycotted the library, internet and gym facilities at the centre and yesterday refused to use the canteen.

''There is no good reason that it is taking so long for Tamil asylum applications to be processed,'' said a spokesman for the Refugee Action Coalition, Ian Rintoul.

Despite criticism of Australia's efforts to prevent the arrival of Sri Lankans, Mr Frelick notes that Australia was one of several countries to offer asylum to some of the Hmong, who had been recognised by the United Nations as refugees. Thailand persisted with the deportation, prompting international condemnation.


Red News Readers,

What is disturbing about the Graeme Reeves case is that there were doctors and nurses who tried to raise the alarm about him, but they were bullied into silence by managers who either did not care or did not want to know. How many more Graeme Reeves's are out there? What is being done about them?

Jenny Haines

Bega doctor faces more sex assault charges


January 6, 2010 - 11:17AM

The trial of former Bega doctor Graeme Reeves onmore than 100 sexual assault and fraud charges has been put off because of new charges laid last month.

During a brief appearance at Sydney's Downing Centre District Local Court this morning, prosecutor Monica Knowles said the Director of Public Prosecutions was reviewing a further 24 new complaints, which could bring the total of new charges to more than 70.

Reeves, 59, is accused of assaulting and mutilating female patients between 1989 and 2004.

Ms Knowles did not say how many women the 24 new complaints related to.

In December police laid 52 new charges.

Mr Reeves was due to face trial on more than 100 charges in March, but the trial date has been vacated this morning.

No new date has yet been set, but the matter will be back in court on March 5.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


Red News Readers,

Having nursed patients and families through this process it is hard to explain to the public how intense the process can be and the emotional exhaustion felt by all, the family and the staff when it is over. I wish Aimee well. The next months and years are going to be hard for her. Everyone has to find their own way through it.

Jenny Haines

Policeman's widow tells of painful decision


January 5, 2010

DARWIN: The wife of a former NSW police officer, Brett Meredith, who died after being bashed on New Year's Eve in a Northern Territory nightclub, has spoken of her struggle with the decision to turn off his life support.

Amee Meredith said that when doctors told her Brett had a 1 per cent chance of survival and the best scenario for him was that he would not be aware of his surroundings, "I knew Brett would hate that; hate for the kids to see that."

"We had discussed at times, when watching movies, as you do, that we would not want to live like that if we had the choice," Mrs Meredith said in a statement released by NT police.

She said her husband's family were with him when the life support was switched off at Royal Darwin Hospital on Saturday, including their three children Samuel, 5, Jordy, 4, and Abbey, 2.

"My head was on his chest when they switched it off," she said.

Later she went to sleep near him. "It was the first time that I had slept and it was a really beautiful moment."

Brett suffered a fractured skull and other injuries in a nightclub in Katherine, 250 kilometres south of Darwin, when he intervened to stop a fight.

He joined the NT police in 2008 after 18 years in the NSW police. "Brett fell in love with the place," she said.

Mrs Meredith said the support her family had received over the past few days had been overwhelming.

Brett was also father to Brad, 9, and Lily, 7, from a previous marriage.

NT police yesterday charged a 38 year-old man with murder. He was remanded in custody.

The NT Police Association has opened a trust fund to support Brett's family.

Sunday, January 03, 2010


Red News Readers,

Jenny Haines of Newtown Posted at 10:40 AM January 03, 2010, published Daily Telegraph:

No, No, and No, they do not deserve these bonuses. If you accept the government and bureaucracy's argument that these managers have done such a poor job of managing electricity services that they have to be privatised, why are they getting these bonuses? Seems a bit contradictory to me? What I suspect is happening is that there is a lot of price manipulation going on in preparation for the privatisation of electricity services and the poor bunny in all of these corporate manoeuvures is the consumer. An adequate supply of electricity at affordable prices is the right of evey citizen, just as we have the right to affordable health care. Previous generations knew that this could only be done by regulated supply, not by the corporate sector who have no sense of social responsibility.

Jenny Haines

Power cuts as bosses get bonuses

• By political writer LINDA SILMALIS

• From: The Sunday Telegraph

• January 03, 2010 12:00AM

Largest salary ... EnergyAustralia's George Maltabarow. Pic: Angelo Soulas Source: The Daily Telegraph

THOUSANDS of struggling families are being disconnected from power at the same time as the State's energy bosses pocket thousands of dollars in performance bonuses.

A damning report by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) shows more than 18,000 residents had their power cut off for non-payment of bills.

One in seven of the disconnections was of a pensioner. The State's pricing watchdog has warned disconnecting rates could rise as a new pricing regime comes into effect in July.At the same time as families struggle to pay the bills, new annual report figures show the salaries of the State's nine energy provider bosses to be increasing.

Of the three State Government-owned energy corporations, EnergyAustralia boss George Maltabarow took home the largest salary.

Mr Maltabarow was handed a $135,450 performance bonus on top of his $602,000 salary.

Start of sidebar. Skip to end of sidebar.

Related Coverage

• Price hike : Family power bills up $400

• Time to find an extra $300 for your bills Daily Telegraph, 15 Dec 2009

• 'Shocking' power bill rises proposed The Australian, 15 Dec 2009

• NSW power bills to rise up to 62% Daily Telegraph, 15 Dec 2009

• Residents burned by higher electricity Daily Telegraph, 30 Nov 2009

• Family power bills up $400 Daily Telegraph, 29 Nov 2009

End of sidebar. Return to start of sidebar.

The bonus was part of $643,592 handed out to the company's eight senior executives who each pocketed between $50,000 and $80,000 on top of their regular salaries.

Do they deserve a bonus? Tell us below.

The total salary bill for EnergyAustralia's chief executive officers was $2.6

EnergyAustralia will charge customers up to $100 more per year for electricity next year.

IPART recommended the increase to allow for the repair of the State's neglected networks and to cover the proposed Emissions Trading Scheme.

Integral Energy boss Vince Graham also received a performance bonus of $19,460 to top up his $558,600 salary.

Country Energy boss Craig Murray picked up a $30,975 pay rise to boost his $650,475 salary.

Of the private-sector energy providers who are licensed by the State Government to sell electricity in NSW, Origin Energy boss Grant King took home a $4.7 million salary package, which included almost $700,000 worth of bonuses.

The generous financial rewards came as the State's pricing watchdog published a critical report into the performance of the energy providers in meeting customer needs.

The report found complaints about billing have almost doubled in five years, from 3334 to 6296.

The figures could be higher with some companies under-reporting complaint numbers, it said.

Almost one in 10 households had more than one disconnecting per year for not paying bills.

IPART warned the disconnecting rate was at risk of increasing with new higher prices being adopted in July.

It called on the energy retailers to ensure more families would not be disadvantaged.

"We consider that greater focus will be required by electricity retailers to ensure appropriate assistance is provided to customers facing financial difficulties during times of significant electricity price increases in NSW," the report said.

Call-centre performance also dropped, with customers abandoning calls before being answered.

EnergyAustralia topped the list of drop-out rates with 7.7 per cent of customers hanging up before speaking to a human operator, compared with 2.9 per cent last year.

However, the company claimed this was because customers were happy with the recorded information they had received on the phone.

A spokeswoman for EnergyAustralia said: "EnergyAustralia successfully competes against some of the country's largest private-sector companies whose CEOs earned almost 10 times more," she said.