16 June 2010

I don't think that they like him

A nice denunciation from the UK Guardian -
The UN's scientific and cultural organisation, Unesco, has put on hold the award of a prize for "improving the quality of human life" paid for and named after one of Africa's most authoritarian, brutal and corrupt rulers.

The prize, aimed at scientists, is funded with a $3m (£2m) donation by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea who is regarded as having made a major contribution to human misery as well as curtailing more than a few lives. It was to have been awarded later this month but has been suspended following an international outcry.

Obiang, 68, is known not only for having his predecessor executed and the arbitrary arrest and torture of political opponents but for plundering his country's oil wealth while many of its people live in poverty.
A Grauniad criticism of some of the Middle Eastern monsters would now be in order.

Fake MD

The ABC reports on another medical practitioner who wrote his own qualifications and has now been sentenced by the NT Supreme Court to 14 months in prison.

Singapore national Balaji Varatharaju, 29, was employed as a doctor at the Alice Springs Hospital for nine months. The news report indicates that 'medical staff became suspicious of his lack of clinical knowledge, leading to the discovery that he had forged his medical degree from Adelaide University. Varatharaju had been enrolled in the six year medical degree but was expelled for forging a senior lecturer's signature on a research paper and for attempting to change an E-grade into a B-grade.

Blokland J commented that Varatharaju, who also pleaded guilty to the aggravated assault of a patient during a medical procedure, had breached the trust of patients and the medical board with a deception that required "some significant confidence and audacity". "The breach of faith with the Alice Springs Hospital and the medical board are of a high order given the deplorable consequences that can flow from such deception."

Varatharaju's lawyer told the court that the bogus doctor's motivation was to help people, rather than money. Of course he is remorseful for his actions.

We might want to enhance our vetting of medical practitioners.

15 June 2010


A friend points to a BBC item on supposed plans in Andhra Pradesh to set up an outsourcing unit in a jail, with "200 educated convicts" handling "back office operations like data entry, and process and transmit information". Oh joy.

The proposed unit is described as a public-private partnership between the Andhra Pradesh department of jails and Radiant Info Systems.
The idea is to ensure a good future for the educated convicts after they come out of jail," CN Gopinath Reddy, director general of prisons in Andhra Pradesh, told the BBC.

"With their experience of working in the BPO [business process outsourcing] in jail, any company will absorb them in future." ...

The unit, which is expected to undertake back-office work for banks, will work round the clock with three shifts of 70 staff each.
The intention is that the work "will also be financially rewarding for the prisoners", and "benefit the inmates as well as help the IT company make some profits".

If the unit is successful the outsourcing could be extended to other jails in the state. Be afraid, be very afraid.

Missing passports

Australian passports are of interest as official mechanisms that facilitate travel and government assistance and serve as primary identity documents in public/private interactions within Australia for people who do not have a driver licence (eg in renting a video or meeting '100 Points' identity verification requirements in opening a bank account.

It is thus interesting to see a 25 page report [PDF] by the Commonwealth Ombudsman on the handling, or mishandling, of missing passports.

The Ombudsman indicates that -
More than a million passports are sent through the Australian post each year. Most commonly these are new passports issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and passports sent to and from diplomatic missions for visa purposes. Australia Post carries the majority of these passports.

The Postal Industry Ombudsman noted an increase in complaints about passports going missing in the post, from 1.2% of total complaints about Australia Post in 2007–08 to 2.2% in 2008–09. Although these complaints comprise only a small overall percentage of complaints to our office, we consider that the security and financial implications involved in the loss of a passport warrant treating this kind of complaint seriously.

The most frequent passport-related postal complaints brought to this office are first, that a passport has been lost, and second, that the amount of compensation offered by Australia Post for the loss of the passport is inadequate. In investigating Australia Post processes and practices relating to its handling of complaints about lost passports we considered: how Australia Post deals with complaints of this nature the postal services used by passport holders and the compensation arrangements available in case of loss.
The Ombudsman sought information from DFAT, as a bulk sender of passports and the agency responsible for issuing passports and dealing with reports of their loss. It goes on to report that -
As a result of our investigation, we have concluded that there are measures that both Australia Post and DFAT could put in place to capture better data about lost passports. This would enable more useful analysis of patterns of loss and expose possible systematic stealing of passports.

We have also concluded that Australia Post should redraft its terms and conditions and other information it makes available to the public about how to send passports through the post, and the compensation payable if a passport is lost. Updated versions could clarify the postal services available to customers and the protections for customers against the direct costs of loss of a passport.

Generally speaking, we do not consider it unreasonable for Australia Post to exclude payment of compensation for consequential loss (such as loss of income related to time off work) from its terms of service. Customers should be made aware of this, and should make passport and visa arrangements in ample time to deal with matters if a passport is lost. If that is not possible, customers should consider alternative arrangements that avoid the risk of loss in the course of carriage.

This report deals mostly with the inconvenience and damage encountered by members of the public when a passport is lost in the post. There are, of course, other considerations that make it important to minimise the risk of lost passports. Chief among these is the need to safeguard the integrity of the Australian passport system and reduce the risk for individuals that their personal information will be obtained by a third party. The danger of identity theft is a prominent concern within government. The recommendations in this report could go some way to reducing those and other risks.

14 June 2010


Paul Sheehan notes proceedings in the appeal against the decision by McLellan J in Trad v Harbour Radio Pty Ltd [2009] NSWSC 750, defamation action by colourful personality Keysar Trad.

Sheehan's opinion piece comments on Trad's "performance under oath" last Friday, reporting that
the counsel for the defence, Richard McHugh, SC, delivered this devastating portrayal of his credibility under oath: "[Trad] attempted to evade responsibility for his statements by claiming he was misquoted, by claiming he was taken out of context, by claiming he had changed his mind, or by claiming he did not even know what he had said or written at the instant he said or wrote it. He was entirely disbelieved.

"[His] evidence that he did not know who was the author of Mein Kampf - and his feigned attempts at a thought process to recollect the author's name - were a low point in this trial. The transcript in this case can supply only a colourless picture of the evidence at trial." ...

This appeal was an attempt, McHugh argued, to turn the case into one about "freedom of speech and freedom of religion, and that the appellant has been unfairly branded as a racist, homophobic, terrorist-supporting, woman-hating bigot when all he was doing was expressing views consistent with his Islamic faith and his role as a prominent Australian Lebanese community spokesman … The question here is whether the deliberate peddling of grossly sexist, homophobic, anti-Semitic filth is not dangerous and disgraceful and an incitement to violence and racist attitudes in Australia in 2010. The most extraordinary claim is that his extreme views are [a] 'Muslim view'. This ought not to be accepted."
The arguments by Clive Evatt on behalf of Trad and the decision on the latter's appeal are awaited with interest. The Gazette of Law & Journalism tartly reported on Friday's proceedings with the teaser that "Legal sophistry reaches new heights as plaintiff barrister Clive Evatt likens Sheik al-Hilali to John Milton ..."

Aviation crime

The Australian Minister for Home Affairs, Brendan O'Connor, has proposed tougher penalties for aviation-related crime such as bomb hoaxes, 'air rage' and endangering an aircraft in flight.

The proposed change would involve amendment of the Crimes (Aviation) Act 1991 (Cth), with the maximum penalty for hoax offences - a false threat to destroy, damage or endanger an aircraft or airport - increased from two years to 10 years imprisonment.

Under the proposal, maximum penalties for aviation-related crimes will be provided within four categories -
* 10 years jail for hoax offences such as calling an airline and saying a bomb is on a plane or threatening to bomb an airport (currently a two year maximum jail term)
* 14 years jail for offences against aircraft or aviation environments, such as damaging a runway or air traffic control facilities at a major airport (currently a maximum jail term of seven or ten years)
* 20 years jail for very serious offences that pose danger or cause harm to groups of people, such as assaulting a pilot or endangering an aircraft while in flight (currently a maximum jail term of seven, 14 or 15 years)
* offences such as hijacking or destroying an aircraft and being reckless as to causing death (life imprisonment).
Three new offences are proposed -
* Assault of an aircraft crew member - a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment
* Reckless endangerment of an aircraft, where danger of serious harm or death can be shown - a maximum penalty of 14 years
* Having dangerous goods onboard an aircraft, where there is a risk of serious harm or death - a maximum penalty of 14 years.