More obnoxious behaviour from the Queensland Health bureaucracy
Heartless Queensland Health bureaucrats demanded staff explain why they were not at work during Brisbane's devastating floods and to provide photos proving they were victims. While Premier Anna Bligh was calling on businesses to show compassion, Queensland Health was ordering staff to justify their absence.
The directive was the latest kick in the teeth for thousands of hard-working Queensland Health staff, many of whom were underpaid during the bungled pay system rollout last year.
Health Minister Paul Lucas yesterday said the memo was an insult, and the bureaucrat who issued it had been disciplined. "This is one of the most insensitive and stupid emails to be sent to staff that I have seen in my ministerial career," he said. "It is just so offensive to Queensland Health staff who go above and beyond the call."
The memo, sent on January 10, reminded workers to provide firm evidence - including photos - to substantiate "flood leave". "What attempts were made to use any other route to work, what attempts were made for the staff member to work at another Government location (as per the policy). "If a photo can be supplied this will help to simplify the approval process."
Thousands of Queensland Health employees could have been forced to submit paperwork for paid leave while they were trying to save themselves and their homes. The memo remained in place while residents were being warned to prepare for a flood "bigger than 1974" and while the community rallied to help victims.
On January 14, Premier Anna Bligh urged the community to work together and insurers to have a heart. "I'd call on all of our insurance companies to act with compassion in the face of this event," she said. "It is not in the interest of any of our community, including those companies, for us to stall and delay the recovery and a bit of flexibility and compassion would be a very useful contribution to this event by those companies."
When contacted by The Sunday Mail, Queensland Health's deputy director-general of human resource services, John Cairns, admitted the memo went too far. "The memo referred to was not appropriate, and was retracted by its author on direction of the acting DCEO earlier this week," he said. "Unfortunately, the memo had been sent despite being contrary to the position taken by the director-general and district management.
"QH would like to thank its hardworking staff - those who were personally directly affected by the flood, as well as those staff members who have gone above the call of duty serving Queenslanders in their time of greatest need."
While many employees were reluctant to speak out openly about their individual situations in fear of retribution, highly-placed sources said Queensland Health had set ridiculous standards for staff affected by the flood.
However, The Sunday Mail understands Queensland Health management has been disappointed by the attitude of some staff who were on holidays and had demanded their leave be credited because some other employees rostered on did not have to go to work.
NSW electorate to punish Labor party
An exclusive Galaxy poll for The Sunday Telegraph reveals that not only are voters fed up with NSW Labor, they are preparing to punish the party in devastating fashion on March 26.And if the Galaxy poll result is replicated on election day, Labor would lose 37 seats and be left with just 13 MPs in the 93-seat NSW parliament.
The poll - taken just two months out from election day - shows Labor's primary vote has plummeted to just 20 per cent, compared to 51 per cent for the Coalition.
Once preferences have been allocated, the two-party preferred breakdown has Labor on just 34 per cent and the Coalition on 66 per cent.
Although Kristina Keneally is viewed as considerably more "likeable" than Barry O'Farrell, voters overwhelmingly believe - by 54 per cent to 32 per cent - the Liberal leader will make a better premier than Ms Keneally. This is a complete reversal of the result a year ago.
Although 83 per cent of voters are demanding that Mr O'Farrell do more to explain his policies, it is a powerful endorsement of the Liberal leader. Mr O'Farrell is seen as more trustworthy and a stronger leader with a vision for NSW.
His satisfaction rating has improved markedly to 53 per cent - compared with 30 per cent for Ms Keneally, whose dissatisfaction rating now stands at 62 per cent. Short of a miracle for Labor on March 26, the 51-year-old Victorian-born former party official from Sydney's northern suburbs will become the first Liberal premier in 16 years, commanding a massive majority in parliament.
The result shows that the first 12 months of Ms Keneally's leadership have been personally devastating. Just after she was installed as leader, 53 per cent of voters were satisfied with Ms Keneally. That figure now stands at 30 per cent, and 62 per cent of voters are dissatisfied.
A refuge from NSW government schools getting ever more expensive
The state's richest schools are more out of reach than ever to ordinary families. In the 10 years since the Howard government introduced a funding system to make private schools more affordable, the most expensive schools' fees have risen by about 100 per cent - against inflation of 37 per cent.
At Trinity Grammar, a private school for boys in primary and high school, year 12 fees have increased from $10,020 in 2001 to $25,330 this year - a rise of 153 per cent.
Scots College, at Bellevue Hill, will charge as much as $28,296 for year 12 day students this year. Scots' headmaster Ian Lambert said this was all-inclusive, unlike schools that charged for additional expenses.
The Howard government made assurances that its socio-economic status funding model, introduced in 2001, would keep a lid on fee rises. The model aims to allocate funding to schools based on the socio-economic status of the families of their students. But it uses census data to measure the average wealth of families in the areas where they live.
This has drawn criticism of the funding for schools such as Kings, which draws some of its students from wealthy farming families, even if they live in relatively poor areas.
Under its "no losers" policy, the Howard government refused to cut funding to schools, even if they were entitled to less under the new funding arrangement. This has meant that more than half the schools funded under the system have received more than their strict entitlement.
The Rudd and Gillard governments have maintained the $27 billion four-year funding arrangement, despite a federal Department of Education review finding it delivered $2.7 billion in overpayments. The inflated payments will grow to at least $3 billion by the end of 2016 if the current system continues.
The Gillard government has commissioned a panel of eminent Australians, headed by Sydney businessman David Gonski, to review schools funding. Mr Gonski told a recent meeting of the Australian Education Union that the charge for his panel was to address disadvantage. He said a direct measure of parents' income or occupation might be a more effective measure for funding needs than census data.
"The panel believes that the focus on equity should be ensuring that differences in educational outcomes are not the result of differences in wealth, income, power or possession," he said. The funding system should be "transparent, fair, equitable and financially sustainable".
Of NSW's 20 most expensive schools, the 17 that provided full details lifted fees by an average of 102 per cent between 2001 and 2011. Cranbrook, at Bellevue Hill, managed a surplus $8.4 million while receiving a Commonwealth subsidy of $3.5 million. Malek Fahd Islamic school, at Greenacre, got one of the biggest subsidies - $15.46 million.
The Sydney Anglican Schools Corporation, which oversees 16 schools including Roseville College, received $88 million in government revenue in 2009, when it also posted a $20.7 million surplus. In 2004 the corporation received $45.4 million and posted a $13.95 million surplus. Laurie Scandrett, chief executive of the corporation, said enrolments had increased by 28 per cent between 2004 to 2009.
Funding for independent schools is tied to the average recurrent cost of funding government secondary schools, which rose by 24 per cent between 2004 and 2009. "Multiply these together and that will explain the increase in the government revenue," Dr Scandrett said.
In 2009, he said, parents had paid $85 million in addition to the $88 million in government subsidies.
Some of the "accounting surplus" included capital grants, such as those awarded under the Building the Education Revolution. Of the $20.7 million surplus, $12 million was used to pay loans on school land and buildings; the rest went to capital works. "Any surplus earnings, after day-to-day operating expenses are deducted, are retained for SASC's self-preservation, expansion and future plans," he said.
The chief executive of the Association of Independent Schools NSW, Geoff Newcombe, said education costs had increased by about 8 per cent last year and on average about 6 per cent a year since 2001.
"Independent school fees have to take into account both recurrent and capital costs, so it is not surprising that fees have had to increase at or above these average figures over the years," Dr Newcombe said.
Trevor Cobold, from Save Our Schools, a public school advocacy group, said the wealthiest schools had become more exclusive. "The fee increase is more than double the cost increases in private schools. The wage price index for private education and training increased by only 44 per cent between 2001 and 2010 …
The school funding review has to put a stop to this appalling waste of taxpayer funds."
A Greens NSW MP John Kaye said: "There are grave concerns that Julia Gillard's schools funding review panel will not understand the frustration felt by public sector teachers and parents after 11 years of watching ever greater amounts of government money flooding into wealthy private schools."
Fad food policy 'will hurt beef industry'
Coles has defended its "no added hormones" beef campaign, which critics say could damage Australia's $7.6 billion beef industry and add to the environmental damage caused by meat production.
Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), which represents 47,000 cattle, sheep and goat producers, accused Coles of shocking consumers into thinking beef from cattle raised on growth-promoting hormones was unsafe, despite years of scientific testing showing the meat posed no risk to humans.
The group said it was too early to tell if the Coles policy, introduced on January 1, had convinced shoppers to abandon other retailers. "It is crucial that consumers maintain their trust in the product - that the safety of Australian beef is not brought into doubt unnecessarily," MLA said.
Human growth promotants are used widely in beef production but were banned in Europe in 1988 over concerns about links to diseases including cancer. The World Health Organisation and the federal Department of Health, however, found no scientific evidence to support the ban.
Woolworths said the Coles campaign, which features celebrity chef Curtis Stone, was a "gimmick that will be bad for the environment and bad for Australian farmers". Woolworths stocks hormone-free meat in its organic range but has no plans to extend the policy.
"Removing technology means you need more cattle, eating more food, on more land, producing more methane over more time to produce the same beef," spokesman Simon Berger said. "Someone will pay for that - either farmers or customers, as well as the environment."
Coles spokesman Jim Cooper said that Coles was not saying beef raised with hormones was unsafe, but that hormone-free beef was of a higher quality. The initiative would cost the company millions because Coles would have to pay its suppliers more to farm a greater number of animals to produce the same amount of meat.
MLA said increasing the cattle herd would raise water and feed costs, placing greater strain on farmers.