30 March 2009

Australia to become "bleeding edge" in employment services delivery?

In today's Australian Nicola Berkovic and Dennis Shanahan report that other voices, notably Tony Abbott, have weighed into the debate about the next round of Job Network tenders

The Coalition has urged the Rudd Government to consider suspending its $2 billion Job Network tender, warning that thousands of people would miss out on retraining and assistance in finding work as the dole queues lengthened.

Opposition community services spokesman Tony Abbott said many of the 600,000 clients of the Job Network would miss out on crucial services because of government bungling.

"A very large percentage of Job Network sites are going to be closing down in the next couple of months," he told the Ten Network.There will virtually be no Job Network services in these sites in the three months it takes to close the existing ones and the further six months to start up new sites."

In the past week, some of Australia's biggest and best-performing job agencies have been told they have lost their government business to provide employment services to the unemployed, as two new British providers enter the market.

Employment Minister Julia Gillard yesterday defended the Government's handling of the tender, saying it was being conducted at arm's length and that it would be improper for her to interfere.

"I'm not interfering with the tender round," she said."It's being done properly, at a distance from political figures like me."

On ABC RN Breakfast this morning Sally Sinclair, CEO of the peak industry body NESA , held her cards close to her chest as she was interviewed by Fran Kelly (can be heard here )

At one point Sinclair said the current system was"mired in red tape". Later she asserted that Australia was at the "leading edge" in the provision of employment services then, in an unfortunate choice of phrase given the likelihood of redundancies among workers in the industry, that it could be "the bleeding edge". Hmm.

Note:Ms Sinclair recently delivered a presentation at a conference in Vienna in which she spoke in favour of stronger business involvement in employment services: see here and here .

26 March 2009

Shambolic security

The Australian asks more questions about the deficiencies in airport security revealed by events at Sydney Airport:

Why were police notified of the deadly bikie brawl only after receiving a 000 call from a member of the public?

Given the density of closed-circuit television cameras scattered throughout the airport terminal - supposedly one of Australia's most secure - why did the first police officers arrive after the 15-minute brawl was over and most of the attackers had fled?

And, crucially, why were no police on hand at gate five to escort the bikies away as they arrived off a Melbourne flight? It's now known Qantas cabin crew had expressed concern about the potential for strife during the flight to Sydney.

Respected security analyst Alan Behm thinks he has some answers. There was a security failure on Sunday; a man was killed at the airport, he says. But deploying more police to the airport is simply a knee-jerk reaction to a more complex problem, Behm tells The Australian.

Airport security at Sydney and most other capital cities across Australia is geared to prevent an act of terrorism on board a plane, he says. It all depends where you want to put the focus of your security measures: on the air side of the passenger security screening barrier or the public concourse.

"I think the solution really is to maximise the protections you've already got with the (screening) barriers by having the police on the air side rather than the public side, if not apprehending, then intervening, before those thugs got on to the public concourse after getting off the plane," Behm says.

Security protocols for an aircraft captain to radio ahead and warn of an onboard incident exist, which raises concerns about why this was not put to good effect on Sunday.

"It's a question of whether the message was put into that system. Did the purser say to the aircraft captain, 'We have a potential issue here, could you warn security?' I suspect not," Behm says.

There are suggestions police should have apprehended the bikies in the passenger departure area, but this would have posed a serious danger to the public.

"Police can't just get their weapons out and start shooting. They can't go throwing tear gas and stuff around, and even if the police went up against 12 blokes wielding these big steel bars, there's every chance they would have got beaten s--less."

Behm and fellow terrorism expert Clive Williams, of Macquarie University, agree with Keelty that police response times, on being notified of the incident, were acceptable. But it is unrealistic to expect unarmed Qantas security staff to intervene in a bikie brawl, Williams says.

At least one Qantas security official did have the presence of mind to record the numberplates of taxis departing with fleeing gang members, he says.

"He did the right thing. The police arrived essentially after these people (bikies) had fled," Williams says.

"The problem with this bikie violence is that the kind of violence these police at the airport are trained for is terrorism related and not so much gang violence. Obviously there's going to be a need to look at bikie violence more generally, not only in an airport context but the kinds of activities they are engaging in nationally, where there are wars going on between their factions."


Concerns about security at Sydney airport are not new. In 2005 Allan Kessing, a former Customs airport security officer at Sydney airport, was convicted for leaking a highly damaging report about serious security breaches to this newspaper. The report dealt with a range of security concerns including the criminal records of baggage handlers, luggage theft and drug trafficking.

His actions spurred the Howard government to implement a far-reaching probe into airport security, the Wheeler report, which resulted in more rigorous security measures being implemented across the country.

But the bikie brawl has again raised concerns that more needs to be done.

AFP officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say one area requiring immediate attention is better agreement on airport policing functions involving the AFP and their NSW Police counterparts.

"State police don't want to listen to advice from the AFP; they want to run their own race," one AFP source tells The Australian.

While the AFP has prime responsibility for security at Sydney airport, that does not include the monitoring of the CCTV cameras, a state police role.

The issue of agreement on police roles is a problem, says former Sydney Airport Corporation chief executive Tony Stewart. The AFP believed its main role was counter-terrorism, while NSW Police focused on other areas of crime, he told ABC radio.

"The weak link is the demarcation between whether this was an anti-terrorism incident or a crime incident and somebody was probably looking at the rule book, saying it's the other guy's problem," he said.

In his first comments on the airport violence, Kevin Rudd yesterday pledged "zero tolerance" for bikie crime.

"This sort of behaviour by bikies and others engaged in organised criminal activity is unacceptable in Australia, absolutely unacceptable," the Prime Minister said soon after arriving in Washington, DC. State and commonwealth attorneys-general would discuss a co-ordinated response to the bikie menace at their next meeting, he promised.

Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus says the federal Government has ordered an investigation into the adequacy of the AFP's response on Sunday in addition to a national audit of police officers deployed at airports.

25 March 2009

"Probity and confidentality agreements" hide government approval of Brit carpetbaggers entering employment services industry

Local job agencies lose out as Brits court Canberra" is is a headline in today's Australian:

Several of the nation's best-performing job agencies are about to be stripped of their government contracts as two new British players enter the market.....Job Futures, a significant consortium with 100 sites nationwide, has been told by the Department of Employment & Workplace Relations that it has lost the tender for most of its Tasmanian and some Victorian operations...However, two British firms without any prior interest in Australia, A4e and Reed Employment, are being encouraged to enter the market.A4e and Reed , neither of which is linked to Therese Rein's British business, have been told they will be given business to enter the market.

Yesterday's Age was on the case earlier with a similar, though more accurate, headline: "Local job agencies jittery as Canberra looks to Britain"

The Salvation Army and other high-profile job agencies are preparing to shed jobs as the Federal Government looks to overseas firms to provide employment services.The Department of Employment, Education and Workplace Relations last week contacted several agencies to tell them they had become "preferred providers", with those existing providers not contacted now worried that their services have been rejected or significantly reduced.The Age believes from industry contacts that The Salvation Army Employment Plus, the largest Australian job provider, has yet to be contacted by the department and management has told some Victorian staff their jobs are likely to go. Management at the Salvation Army refused to comment yesterday, citing strict probity and confidentiality agreements signed with the department.


David Thompson, chief executive of Jobs Australia, said yesterday a number of small not-for-profit centres who had received strong performance ratings over the years are also in limbo and expect to cut staff.

Industry sources said yesterday highly rated agency Jobs Futures and Direct Recruitment, and another Victorian firm, Ostara, have not received notification. Nationally the NSW not-for-profit Wesley Uniting Employment, the South Australian firm Jobs Statewide and Western Australian indigenous employment specialist Bridging the Gap, also highly rated, are unsure of their future.


It is understood that two large British providers, A4e and Reed Employment, have been told they will be offered contracts and are in negotiations with the department.A spokeswoman for the Federal Minister for Employment Participation, Brendan O'Connor, said the minister could not comment because of probity and confidentiality agreements.This is the first time employment services have been fully tendered since 2002.

Since 2002 the not for profit employment services sector has been cut back by the Federal government's (actually governments') policy of competitive tendering. Neither The Age nor The Australian has pointed this out. perhaps they should listened to this week's ABC RN'sCounterpoint discussion about the diminishing role of the not for profit sector.

23 March 2009

More deficiencies in airport security exposed

Yesterday's attack at Sydney Airport has, apart from alarming many people , predictably produced a rapid response announcement of a review into procedures:

The NSW Police Gang Squad has been more than doubled and the Australian Federal Police have launched a review after a man was bludgeoned to death in front of horrified passengers in a gang attack at Sydney Airport yesterday.

Four men will face court this afternoon charged with affray after the 29-year-old western Sydney man was repeatedly pummelled in the head with a metal pole, used to keep passengers in line during check-in, at the domestic terminal.

Police say the brawl started when motorcycle gang members flew into Sydney from Melbourne and were met by members of a rival gang about 1:30pm yesterday.

Witnesses say security staff and police were slow to act as the brawl between at least 15 rival bikies spilled from the airport's secured section into the check-in area, where they bashed each other with poles in front of up to 50 witnesses.

The buckpassing has already begun:

Despite the attack generating headlines internationally, Sydney Airport Corporation, which owns and operates the airport, says the attack is nothing to do with them and has referred any questions to Qantas.

Qantas is offering counselling to staff who witnessed the attack but is otherwise happy with how its security staff dealt with the brawl.

Both organisations point to the Australian Federal Police as responsible for overall law enforcement.

Of the media comments I've read so far today's Crikey editorial (subscription required) has summed up one of the major issues forthrightly and succinctly:

If one thing is proven beyond doubt by the bikie brawl at Sydney airport it is that the gestures of the past decade toward airport security are nothing more than a highly expensive, inconvenient public relations posture.

17 March 2009

More controversy about euthanasia

The Weekend Australian ran a story by Julie Anne Davies variously headlined "Death drug delivered by mail" (print edition p1) / "Suicide drug of choice in mail" (online) .

Australians are illegally buying the euthanasia movement's lethal drug of choice on the internet from Mexico and receiving it by post without being detected by Customs authorities.

The person running the Mexican mail order business told The Weekend Australian he had successfully sent eight bottles of the barbiturate Nembutal to Australia in recent weeks.

The buyers had learnt about his service from euthanasia advocate Philip Nitschke's latest version of his banned book, The Peaceful Pill Handbook, published by Exit International.

Yesterday and today the Oz has printed several letters, which can be read here and here. All of them support a relaxation, if not radical overhaul , of the existing law and its enforcement.

Monday: one letter published

The increasing number of people who are prepared to defy and break Australia’s ridiculously unjust laws that try to stop Australians ending their lives when they justifiably want to is proof of that.

It is many years since either suicide or attempted suicide was a crime in Australia.

The number of Australians who queue for Philip Nitschke’s workshops, and his growing number of admirers, are additional proof that the laws are not working. They are bringing the law into disrepute.

Nitschke is to be congratulated for what he does. However, as your interviewees remind us: breaking a law, even a bad law, can have serious consequences. A recent tragic manifestation of this was the NSW criminal trial and conviction of Caren Jenning and Shirley Justins followed by Caren Jenning’s suicide.

The stories reported in the article duplicate the thoughts and contemplations of my wife and I about what might be our future. We are elderly and neither enjoys good health. It is a taboo subject, but we, too, have contemplated in some way or another the South American option or of flying to Switzerland

Kep Enderby
Balmain, NSW

Today (Tuesday) - 4 letters published. Extracts from two of them:

...Independent opinion polls consistently show that more than 80 per cent of Australians want law reform and most want doctors to assist them to die with dignity.

Illegal importation of Nembutal risks a maximum penalty of 25years’ imprisonment or a $550,000 fine.

Contrast that with Washington state in the US, whose citizens have the right to request a legal prescription from their doctor to end their suffering if they have a terminal illness.

Oregon introduced this option 10 years ago and took care to include many safeguards. Its Health Department reports annually on how the act is working.

It does work well and the 2008 report, like those before it, puts to rest the fear-mongering that suggests people will be bumped off against their will.

Indeed, the number of people with terminal illness asking for assistance in Oregon remains low and half of those who receive a prescription do not end up using it.

This suggests that having the means to control the timing of one’s death and the assurance that the end will be peaceful has great psychological benefits to people faced with death.

Palliative care provides relief and often death but physical and psychological distress in many terminal illnesses is not relieved by this care and the dying person usually has no say in its timing.

Surely having the means to end one’s life before suffering becomes intolerable is a fundamental right that ought to be available to all Australians rather than tough penalties.

Law reform is inevitable—let’s get on with it.

Lyn Allison
President, Dying With Dignity Victoria
North Melbourne, Vic

....I am an 83-year-old World War II veteran and it would give me great peace of mind if I could get medical assistance to die in a dignified manner if I should lose quality of life.

It is my firm opinion that enforced prolonged life when quality of life is lost is a fate worse than death.

I fear degeneration far more than I fear death.

It is inhumane to leave those who have lost quality of life, whether it be a terminal illness or deterioration, to an extent that they are left confined to a nursing home suffering from dementia, incontinence and/or Alzheimer’s.

I would strongly recommend that everyone prepare an advance directive and appoint an enduring guardian, so that he/she has the authority to liaise with the doctor in the preparation of a health care management plan when quality of life is lost.

The health care management plan should provide that you not be subjected to any medical intervention or treatment aimed at prolonging life, and that any distressing symptoms (including any caused by lack of food or fluid) are controlled by appropriate analgesic or other treatment, even though this may shorten life.

For those wishing to avoid prolonged confinement in a nursing home and distress to loved ones, I would strongly recommend that they take this action while they are still of sound mind...

Bill Alcock
Port Macquarie, NSW

Last night ABC TV's Australian Story also dealt with the topic. For the next few days it can be viewed online and the transcript is here Worth a look (and the second part screens next week).

My view generally concurs with the passages quoted above. I'm confident that change will occur: the major unknown is when.

Update 18 March

Today's Australian publishes two letters replying to those of the last two days, all of which supported euthanasia. One is from Philip Nitschke, this (and the first to support an anti-euthanasia position) is the other :

Just when I was about to enjoy St Patrick’s Day, the bleak outlook of people wishing to take their own lives or have others do it for them (Letters 17/3) cast a real cloud, making me wonder just where this country is heading.

How about some hope, people.

John Kelly
Tranmere SA

16 March 2009

On (or off) your bike

Two variations on a cycling theme

#1 Bike parking provision

The photo on the left shows a cycle stand in Rundle St East. A very worthy idea, but why is it necessary to take up a car parking space when the pavements are wide enough to permit bike stands to be placed parallel to the kerb, as they are on the other side of the street?

Unfortunately this situation has been replicated at several other places in the CBD.

I'm a keen cyclist and was happy with the amount of cycle parking space available in the city before this latest surge. After all if you can't find an officially designated place to park your bike
there are always street signs or railings nearby as backups.

I think that the benefits of cycling are self-evident. Unfortunately many car drivers and people who live in the hills don't agree and, especially the former, often express their disdain for cyclists in the media. Some of the most prominent cycling advocates, eg the bike shop proprietor who repaired my bike and who thought that a day promoting cycling and walking should be held on a working day rather than a weekend, veer towards crackpottery and reinforce negative perceptions instead of engaging in dialogue

#2 Bikes, bureaucrats and Belair trains

I took the photo on the right on the 1255 Adelaide- Belair train on Sunday after it stopped at Mitcham and took on a significant number (at least 12 I estimate though I didn't count them) of mostly young mountain bikers. They normally travel to a station in the hills and ride (possibly illegally) down the steep slopes to Mitcham.

The train was, as the photo shows, not well patronised, yet the TransAdelaide attendant on board and a "security contractor" on the platform prevented at least three young cyclists from boarding, leaving them to wait an hour for the next service. When I spoke to the attendant he said that safety "laws" laid down a maximum number of bikes on each train. No doubt it was more than his job was worth to vary the application of these laws (though before we arrived at Mitcham he did advise me to move my bike - the blue one in the foreground of the photo- to make one more space for the newcomers).

TransAdelaide does make some effort to cater for cyclists using the Belair line but the goodwill it generates is diminished by the rigid application of policies and procedures (to call them "laws" is disingenuous claptrap). As signs at stations say, once people step on to a platform they are demonstrating an intent to travel, so why can't TA do more to accommodate intending passengers with bikes?

Perhaps parents and guardians whose cycling children use trains should know that on the TransAdelaide network inflexibility overrides commonsense. Will it take a serious incident to bring about change?

10 March 2009

Victorians lose $2.6bn on poker machines

Interesting piece by Stephen Mayne in Crikey about gambling in Victoria. He links to stories in The Age ( "Victorians lose $2.6 bn on poker machines") and The Herald Sun ("Victoria's most popular suburbs for poker machines"). The latter has a link to a table of Victorian gaming expenditure data for 2005-06, 2006-07 and 2007-08 .

Mayne pays special attention to the Woolworths involvement in the gambling industry ("extreme capitalism" is his term):

We know that Woolworths is the 22nd biggest retailer in the world and has mastered the art of cornering key segments of the Australian market, whether it be groceries, grog, petrol, fresh fruit, tobacco or pokies.

But who would ever have thought it would be so efficient at exploiting Victorian pokies addicts in working class suburbs? The figures revealed the 20 most lucrative Victorian pokies venues ripped $926 million out of pokies players in the three years to 30 June, 2008, and Woolworths snaffled a staggering $736 million or 79.5%.

He also criticises The Age and The Herald Sun, both of whom derive much advertising revenue from Woolworths, for their reluctance to mention the company (the former's story doesn't name it, the latter's does so but once).

Mayne doesn't mention the ABC, which has no advertising revenue to lose: it seems not to have reported the story, though the ABC News gambling tag links to several other stories from Victoria and elsewhere. I've done a quick
Google search and can't find any other media reports, which reflects how newsworthy those who shape our media, and perhaps their readers and viewers, see it.

That said, it would be good to see comparative statistics from other states and territories.

09 March 2009

Opposition leader crosses line?

"PM's cheap money shot" Malcolm Turnbull's article in The Weekend Australian has attracted a lot of comment criticism, especially for its references to Therese Rein, the PM's wife: .

In 1998, the Howard government closed the Commonwealth Employment Service and outsourced its functions to the private sector, and one of the private firms that benefited conspicuously from this deregulation was the Rudd family business.

I congratulate the Rudds, especially Therese Rein, on their success. Their business grew into a very substantial one in Australia and as other countries followed the Australian approach, grew there as well exporting the expertise developed by them when they seized the opportunity created by Howard's decision in 1998.

But what are we to think of the wealthiest Prime Minister Australia has ever had, a man greatly enriched by the privatisation and outsourcing of government services, standing up again and again to denounce the very policies from which he and his family have profited so extensively.

Other politicians eg Foreign Minister Smith on yesterday's ABC TV Insiders have condemned Turnbull for attacking the PM's wife

You know, you can have a go at me, you can have a go at the Prime Minister, we can have a go at Mr Turnbull. That's regarded as fair play, however inelegant from time to time the Australian public might think that is.

But you cross the line when you bring in spouses. And I think some of the wiser, older heads in the Liberal Party, Mr Howard, Mr Costello, Senator Minchin, they might just want to have a quiet word to Mr Turnbull and tell him he has crossed a line here and he might actually want to retract it and get back to having a conversation about policy rather than attacking people's wives.

And many others, eg letter writers to The Australian have had their say.

Some extracts:

  • Turnbull is quite wrong is to cast Rudd, indeed the ALP, as socialist. It is safe to say that there are no socialists in the ALP.
  • Mr Turnbull made his money off the backs of employees in the financial sector while Ms Rein made her money getting workers back into jobs via her workplace rehabilitation and participation programs. I know which one I think is worthy of having made a considerable income and contribution to Australians.
  • Kevin Rudd and Therese Rein are multi-millionaires, thanks to the eleven years of the Howard government.You can’t separate Ms Rein’s financial business successes from Mr Rudd, because he has always been a beneficiary. And good luck to them. But for Mr Rudd to now blame the “neo-liberal’ system for this crisis, spinning off further blame upon George W. Bush, Tony Blair, Howard, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, is hypocritical.

Ms Rein has done nothing illegal, and has obviously worked hard to take advantage of the changing employment services environment which the previous federal government set up in the face of what I, as someone with some knowledge of the industry, thought at the time was toothless Labor opposition.

I don't begrudge her and the PM the wealth they've earned but do think, as Mr Turnbull might have put it without overstating his case, that Mr Rudd's attempts to distance his and the ALP's positions from responsibility for the Global Financial Crisis rest on shaky logical ground.


08 March 2009

Upsize, downsize

Adelaide Now/ Sunday Mail has a story about Cathy Jayne Pearce, a former property developer who has fallen from the high ground she and her high profile husband once occupied.

As she has fallen so it appears that her weight has risen, as a
photo gallery on the Adelaide Now website cruelly reveals. Compare #1 to #14.

07 March 2009

Single rooms too expensive for aged care

Adele Horin writes in today's Age:

An aged-care survey by accountancy firm Grant Thornton showed modern high-care facilities with single bedrooms reported the worst financial results in 2008, with a return on investment of about 1 per cent. The operating profit on a bed in single-room facilities was about half that of older facilities with shared rooms.

A report by accountancy firm Stewart Brown showed more depressing results, with average operating losses of $10 a bed in single-room facilities, double that of shared-room facilities. Stewart Brown also reported that 70 per cent of high-care facilities in the non-profit sector were operating at a loss.


The aged-care industry is stepping up its lobbying of the Federal Government to review the funding of nursing homes, known as high-care facilities. The Government will not allow operators to charge bonds for high-care facilities to avoid residents having to sell the family home. But nursing homes are allowed to charge a maximum, daily accommodation fee of $26.88 to help fund new buildings and refurbish old ones.

A group of church-based operators is expected to soon release a report that shows the charge needs to be increased to at least $40 a day.

The chief executive of Japara, a big private operator, Andrew Sudholz, recently told a Senate inquiry new high-care facilities were not being built because the cost "far exceeds the end value" under funding policies.

Operators said they had survived by building low-care facilities — or hostels — for which they are allowed to charge a bond.

06 March 2009

Sky seeks piece of pie

From today's Australian

Tensions have ignited between the ABC and Sky News, with ABC managing director Mark Scott suggesting pay-TV's push to operate Australia's international television network could harm diplomatic relations.

Mr Scott's comments follow remarks by Sky News chief executive Angelos Frangopoulos at a broadcasting conference yesterday, when he said Sky would re-tender to provide the Australia Network TV service next year when the current contract with the ABC expires.

Sky News, which is part owned by News Corp, provides a good if Sydney and Canberra-centric news service on a shoestring (its coverage of last year's WA state election was run out of Sydney). The ABC, which is funded by taxpayers, has a more substantial news gathering and reporting infrastructure which draws upon other sources without being dependent on them as Sky's budget obliges it to be.

IMO it would be foolhardy to hand over responsibility for a TV service which, as the Oz article concedes, is designed to supplement outr diplomatic efforts, to an organisation whose roots reach well beyond our borders. In this instance what's good for Mr Murdoch is clearly not good for Australia.

05 March 2009

Death with dignity

The ABC has recently broadcast a couple of interesting programs about dying with dignity.

Last week's Counterpoint on RN featured a discussion about the Oregon Death with Dignity Act, which permits physicians to write a prescription for qualified terminally ill patients.

The transcript, which IMO is worth reading, is available here .

Tonight I watched (for the first time) ABC2's repeat of its Fora (listed as "Flora" at p31 of today's Australian TV guide) IQ2 debate about euthanasia. Alas no transcript is available though the program website gives you an idea of the range of opinion as well as listing other times in the coming weeks when it will be shown again.

I was on the side of the pro-euthanasia supporters: Bob Brown, Phillip Nitschke (difficult to recognise in a suit) and Professor Peter Baume. Their adversaries were Dr Mara Cigolini (a palliative care medicine specialist), Tony Abbott and Father Frank Brennan SJ.

04 March 2009

Sport now war with shooting

The attack by as yet unapprehended assailants on the Test match officials and the Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore is a tragedy for all those killed or injured. It also reiterates the problems facing Pakistan, international cricket and international sport.

Years ago George Orwell wrote

Serious sport has nothing to do with fair play. It is bound up with hatred, jealousy, boastfulness, disregard of all rules and sadistic pleasure in witnessing violence: in other words it is war minus the shooting.

The Lahore attack has shown that the last few words are no longer true.

My condolences to the family and friends of all those bereaved, especially those who gave their lives to protect those of the Sri Lankan team and the foreign officials