24/08/2007 - 19:32

Men of distinction in View from the Arch

24/08/2007 - 19:32

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The minute one walked in the joint, one could see that big spenders would populate Federal Parliament this week, as a budget surplus was unveiled and takeover plans were mooted for ports, housing and hospitals. Oh, and there were strippers.

Men of distinction in View from the Arch

The minute one walked in the joint, one could see that big spenders would populate Federal Parliament this week, as a budget surplus was unveiled and takeover plans were mooted for ports, housing and hospitals. Oh, and there were strippers.

Budget surplus

Treasurer Peter Costello unveiled a budget surplus of $17.3 billion, $3.7 billion over estimates at the time of the May budget, mainly from lower than expected spending and higher tax receipts.

He said the government intended to put a further $7 billion of the surplus in the Future Fund, which was set up to cover the government's unfunded public sector superannuation liabilities in 2020.

Mr Costello said combined with the proceeds from the second instalment of the sale of Telstra 3 in May 2008 the fund should reach its target of $140 billion.

"This scenario should allow the fund to meet its objectives without any additional government contributions provided all earnings are re-invested," he said.

The opposition has said if elected this year it would tap the fund for $2.7 billion to help pay for a nationwide broadband network.

The government will also place an additional $1 billion in its $5 billion Higher Education Endowment Fund.

The government also intends to start up a new Health and Medical Investment Fund to finance new capital medical facilities, such as surgical theatres and high technology medical equipment from July 2009, with an initial down payment of $2.5 billion.

"As the fund grows, and I hope it does over the years, this will enable Australia to get access to the kind of treatment which is only now being invented and built which will be an investment in tomorrow's health system for all Australians," the treasurer said.

Opposition Treasury Spokesman Wayne Swan has called for details of the plan, saying the Government was making things up as it went along.

"We want to see the details from this Government, because it's very important that we use this time of plenty to invest wisely for the future, to put downward pressure on inflation, and downward pressure on interest rates, and ensure that there's something left for our children and our grandchildren," he told the ABC.

"The last thing we want this Government to do is go on some pre-election spending spree."

In any case, argued Labor's finance spokesman, Lindsay Tanner, the money came from the resources boom, not financial management.

"It would not be prudent to assume this boom will last forever, so we should be planning now and investing wisely to secure future economic prosperity," Labor treasury spokesman Wayne Swan and finance spokesman Lindsay Tanner said in a joint statement.

Hospitals

Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd has his own plan for hospitals, announcing on Thursday that a Federal ALP government could take control of state hospitals as part of a $2 billion health system overhaul.

Mr Rudd said if Labor wins the election it will establish a National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission to do two things: invest in the health system ...

"And second, a commitment that a Rudd Labor government will seek to take financial control of Australia's 750 public hospitals if state and territory governments have failed to agree to a national health and hospital reform plan by mid-2009 to eliminate the duplication and overlap which currently plagues the system," Mr Rudd said.

Mr Rudd indicated that referenda would be held if a federal takeover of hospital funding became necessary.

"If by mid-2009 the commonwealth, the states and territories have not begun implementing a national health and hospitals reform plan, a proposition for the commonwealth to assume full funding responsibility will be developed and put to the Australian people," he said.

"Should the Australian people agree to a commonwealth takeover of hospital funding a model will be devised to ensure the future of state, private and community-managed hospitals.

"Under a commonwealth financing model, regional and local communities would directly participate in the management of public hospitals, but ultimate responsibility for the quality of patient care, funding responsibility would lie with Canberra."

Mr Rudd says his plan is better than the Prime Minister's recent announcement to take over the Mersey Hospital in Tasmania.

But Health Minister Tony Abbott said the plan had not been thought through, and it was better to trial the takeover of one hospital - such as the Government's push for Mersey Hospital in Tasmania, rather than doing everything at once.

The State Government didn't like the idea of Western Australian hospitals being run from Canberra much either, but this didn't keep Health Minister Jim McGinty from labelling the plan "a breath of fresh air."

"For years we have been asking the Federal Government to stop reducing its annual contributions to State health systems," Mr McGinty said.

"I have total confidence that we can work co-operatively with a Federal Government committed to health reform."

The Minister said he believed the threat of a referendum on the issue would be sufficient to ensure all States would embrace Mr Rudd's proposal.
State Opposition Leader Paul Omodei said State support for the scheme was evidence of the government's mismanagement of the sector, and that health management was a state issue.

Earlier in the week, Opposition health spokesman Kim Hames says the Government needed to provide incentives to attract nursing graduates to areas such as the mid-west, after Mr McGinty released figures showing the shires of Northampton, Mullewa and Three Springs were each short two nurses.

Dr Haneef's visa

One doctor the Federal Government is not trying to attract back to Australia is Dr Mohamed Haneef, the accused terrorism suspect who was back in the headlines (not that he left them) this week when Federal Court judge Justice Jeffrey Spender quashed Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews' decision to cancel the 27-year-old doctor's work visa on character grounds.

Justice Spender said the minister made a "jurisdictional error" in canceling Dr Haneef's visa.

But Justice Spender added the decision would have been valid had the minister applied a different legal test.

Mr Andrews cancelled Dr Haneef's visa on the grounds that the doctor had failed a "character test" provided under immigration laws, because he had an association with alleged criminals - namely his second cousins, UK terror suspects Kafeel and Sabeel Ahmed.

Justice Spender told the court the term "association" should not include mere social, family or professional relationships.

He said there needed to be an "alliance" between the visa holder and a person accused of criminal activity to justify a cancellation.

Justice Spender said Mr Andrews had justifiable reasons to cancel Dr Haneef's visa, but had failed to use them.

These reasons included the fact Dr Haneef was a person of interest to UK authorities investigating failed bomb plots and that he had been charged on July 14 with providing support to a terrorist organisation.

Mr Andrews may not be able to use those grounds to again cancel Dr Haneef's visa because the charge against him was dropped late last month.

But Mr Andrews has instructed the government solicitor to lodge an appeal, saying he had a greater level of suspicion about Dr Haneef now than when he made his original decision.

"Further information has been provided to me after I made the original decision and that further information actually highlighted my suspicion in relation to Dr Haneef.

"I've been provided with no information that actually lessens my suspicion."

Any return of the Indian-born doctor's visa will be delayed at least until next month, with Justice Spender allowing Mr Andrews 21 days to respond to his ruling.

Labor immigration spokesman Tony Burke has called for a judicial inquiry over the matter.

Refugee Intake

Earlier in the week, Mr Andrews announced a change to the Federal Government's refugee and humanitarian program, with intake from the African region to drop from 50 per cent of the total to 30 per cent, with more to be accepted from the Middle East and Asia.

The number of new arrivals will remain at 13,000.

Aspirational Nationalism

From those who aspire to be Australians, to those who aspire for more, Prime Minister John Howard unveiled plans for his fifth term in office, should he win it, with the new ethos of "aspirational nationalism".

In layman's terms, the strategy symbolises moves for more federal funding of local communities and volunteer groups, bypassing state governments.

The speech, the fourth in his "Australia Rising" series, was used to lay out five goals, focusing on the economy, security, climate change, commonwealth-state relations and childhood education, and the role this strategy would play in them

It was time for a fresh look at how the commonwealth could support social and community entrepreneurship at the local level, particularly volunteer groups, he said.

The plans would also entail the quarantining of future budget surpluses in a new fund to build infrastructure projects around the nation.

But Labor leader Kevin Rudd accused the prime minister of pre-election posturing and of copying opposition policy on an infrastructure fund.

Mr Rudd said if Mr Howard was concerned about lifting prosperity, he should not have introduced his Work Choices industrial relations changes.

Opposition finance spokesman Lindsay Tanner and shadow treasurer Wayne Swan said the idea was a direct copy of Labor policy.

No score at Scores

Earlier this week, Mr Rudd confirmed Herald Sun reports that he had visited Scores gentlemen's club in Manhattan in 2003 with fellow Labor MP Warren Snowdon and New York Post editor Col Allan during a taxpayer-funded trip when he was opposition foreign affairs spokesman.

Mr Rudd's visit to the gentlemen's club - from all accounts, a place where gentlemen are rarely present - certainly caught the nation by surprise this week.

While never a moraliser, Rudd's image has certainly been of Captain Clean, an active Christian with a formidable intellect and an equally over-achieving wife and family.

The shock wasn't helped by his frank admission that he had drunk too much to properly remember everything that happened.

Unsourced allegations flourished, including that he had been thrown out of the club for inappropriate behaviour.

Perhaps disappointingly, it turned out Rudd was guilty of nothing more than being a two-pot screamer.

The bar owner confirmed that Rudd, then Labor's foreign affairs spokesman, didn't even finish his beer before leaving.

For his part, the Prime Minister has told media that he has never been to a strip club.

Neither has New Zealand PM Helen Clark, who told reporters that she did not believe it was "appropriate entertainment."

For the record, while the government clawed back some ground in the Newspoll, released on Tuesday, a Morgan poll later in the week when voters had more time to digest the stripper story showed Labor's position had improved by one and a half per cent.

The Final Word

In a week where former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam told media that, as an ambassador to UNESCO he took then Labor Education Minister Susan Ryan to the Folies Bérgère in Paris , "where the exploitation of women is very tasteful", the final word goes to Foreign Minister Alexander Downer.

Mr Downer - after over 11 years as Foreign Affairs Minister - has accumulated 3.5 million Qantas frequent flyer points, enough for eight trips around the world

Mr Downer says the points can only be used for official government business, but that they were difficult to use because he often has to travel without much notice.

Joking with the lunching members of the American Chamber of Commerce on Friday, Mr Downer said he could fly from his Adelaide home to New York (via Sydney) for a play on Broadway then onto London for dinner followed by a spot of shopping in Singapore before arriving back at home for only 443,000 points.

For his part, Arch hopes the Minister does not anticipate an appointment to UNESCO in the near future.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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