Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Here Is Why Quality Journalism Is Still Worth It. This Makes It Clear Why The Assistant Health Minister Should Resign.

This article appeared last week.

Abbott and Nash: PM blinded by tribal loyalty

Peter Hartcher

Sydney Morning Herald political and international editor

The Abbott government gleefully lashed Labor after Craig Thomson was convicted of criminal fraud this week. But there is no sign it has learned lessons from that disgraceful episode.
There were two central problems with Labor's handling of Thomson. First, it was careless in allowing him into Parliament. Second, it tolerated him even after his misdeeds were laid bare.
The Sydney Morning Herald broke the story of Thomson's crimes in April, 2009. The reporter, Mark Davis, had copies of Thomson's credit card statements. Excerpts were published on the front page in support of the story.
All the details were there from the very start, documentary proof of Thomson's payments to brothels and $101,533 in cash withdrawals, $100 to $600 at a time. All courtesy of the members of the Health Services Union.
It was not until three years later that Julia Gillard asked Thomson to leave the Labor caucus. The presumption of innocence is a tenet of law, not a tenet of the law of politics.
In those three years the Labor government and Labor Party suffered serious damage to their credibility. The trade unions fell into disrepute. The government lost power. The new government has set up a royal commission into union corruption.
The Thomson case was not the chief reason for Labor's woes, of course, but an important one. And the reputation of politicians everywhere sank even deeper into the mire of public disgust.
The essence was that a political party tolerated the intolerable because of tribal loyalty. Precisely this syndrome is on display in the Abbott government.
The details are completely different, but the government's handling of Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash and her chief of staff reveal the same mindset.
Nash has not defrauded anyone of money. She is not accused of a crime. But consider this series of outrages exposed by Fairfax Media's Amy Corderoy in the past fortnight.
Nash is the minister responsible for food policy and alcohol policy in the federal government. She knowingly employed a former lobbyist for the food, beverages and alcohol industry as her chief of staff.
His name is Alastair Furnival.
He kept a half-interest in his lobbying firm while working for the minister. The other half was owned by his wife.
The firm's clients include the owner of the Cadbury and Kraft businesses. They also include the Australian Beverages Council, representing the $7 billion-a-year soft drink industry. And the firm has done work for the alcohol industry at least as recently as 2012.
The minister evidently gave Furnival power over policy decisions.
He made a series of decisions that favoured his firm's clients at the expense of public health interests.
He overrode Health Department objections and deleted a government website on a new rating system for healthy food on the day it went public. The ''health star rating'' system had been two years in the works, developed jointly with state governments.
The public servant who had objected was transferred six days later.
Furnival stripped the federal funding from a key public health advocacy group on drugs and alcohol, the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia.
The council has supported the idea of taxing alcohol by volume, and other policies opposed by the alcohol industry. Furnival told the group at a meeting in December that they were to be lose their funding.
Lots more here:
The clarity of this exposition of what the Minister has had happen on her watch is both clearly stated and frankly devastating. These actions are all so tainted with conflict with interest it is honestly quite alarming to even an old cynic like me.
To have the Senior Minister  (Mr Dutton) highlighting the risks of obesity and excess alcohol - as he did in a speech I linked to last week and have the Junior Minister working to undermine things is just an absurdity.
Here is the quote:
“One-third of Australia’s burden of disease is due to ‘lifestyle’ health risks such as poor diet, obesity, physical inactivity, smoking and alcohol misuse.”
The full speech is here:
The Junior Minister has no clue about health policy and really should just leave the Executive Government in my view. The Senate Estimates hearings which have just happened this morning will certainly have increased the pressure for some change. Will be interesting to see how it all plays out!
As reflected in the letter signed by 60 public health academics, there is a fair support for what was being done by the Department with the Web-site.
See here:
One really wonders what influence evidence might have on this Government and thus how evidence based the e-Health outcomes we finally see.
Labor was an evidence free zone on e-Health - one hopes the other side can do better - but sadly on what we have seen to date there has to be some doubt!


Bernard Robertson-Dunn said...

This article was in the weekend Guardian:
The NHS plan to share our medical data can save lives – but must be done right

I know that is not the same as the PCEHR, but many of the issues are exactly the same. Here's the opening para:

", the grand project to make the medical records of the UK population available for scientific and commercial use, is not inherently evil – far from it – but its execution has been badly bungled. Here's how the government can regain our trust"

and further down:

"Trust, of course, is key here, and that's currently in short supply. The NSA leaks showed us that governments were casually helping themselves to our private data. They also showed us that leaks are hard to control, because the National Security Agency of the wealthiest country in the world was unable to stop one young contractor stealing thousands of its most highly sensitive and embarrassing documents.

But there is a more specific reason why it is hard to give the team behind our blind faith: they have been caught red-handed giving false reassurance on the very real – albeit modest – privacy threats posed by the system."

Our public servants and political representatives would do well to read and digest this report when contemplating what to do next with the PCEHR. It's not a technical problem (although, they seem to have stuffed up even that), it's a matter of trust - a far more important issue. You can fix technology with money, you can't fix trust quite so easily.

Anonymous said...

I just heard about too.

Two good background articles about

The Official Care.Data Webpage:

The Downfall Parody:
(Recognize the age old villains? Besides Hitler that is. Its promotion via twitter by the Head of the NHS is causing a scandal in the English Papers.)

It might be worthy of an article posting in you blog David? I'd be interested in your views.