The best public health, clinical and emergency management processes went out the window last night in Melbourne when the premier and health minister made public announcements about changes to the state’s response long before the people actually dealing with the pandemic had worked out what changes had to be made and how. Even the communications people heard about it via members of the public. The poor sods taking calls from GPs and affected members of the public at a rate of over 1000 calls a day were told (by a manager who clearly had no public health or emergency management background) to stop giving out the advice and instructions from the last few weeks — but — no one knew what the new advice and procedures would be — to just take messages for the next hour or three. Meanwhile, the experts assembled scrambled to adjust years of public health planning to suit political mishaps. Ah, politics!

The irony … while the Commonwealth Attorney-General’s Department is settling into its schmicko 4.5 star energy efficiency rated building (affectionately known as the “Deathstar”), the lights are burning 24 hours a day in the completely empty old one just over the road. Perhaps K Rudd doesn’t get the concept of emissions trading … it doesn’t mean saving energy in one building just to waste it in another.

Has anyone else tried contacting the Tax Office for anything recently? I’m sitting here patiently waiting “as my call progresses in the queue.” I think it’s about an hour now. I’ve actually been trying to contact them since Friday, but gave up after waiting for about ten minutes, on each of about ten calls at various times in the day. Actually it depends on which numbers you press, sometimes if you’re privileged (perhaps it’s one in every ten victims), you get to leave your name and phone number, and they say they’ll get back to you.

Finally after a good hour someone did get back to me, and then spent the next ten minutes having me hunt all types of documents before they would talk to me. I’m actually trying to run a business, as well, and someone I needed to talk to walked in, so I asked them to hold while I talked to that person for no more than two minutes. When I got back, and sure enough the “customer service officer” had hung up.

It seems it’s OK for me to tie up my lines forever, but the “Customer Service Officer” time is so valuable they cannot hold the phone for two minutes while I try to do some business.

NSW Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell seems to be taking seriously the constant criticism that the Coalition is a policy-free zone. Next week a policy director, Mathew Crocker, joins his staff at Parliament House. Crocker is a long-standing Lib. He worked on former Liberal leader John Brogden’s staff five years ago and more recently worked alongside Brogden when he was CEO of the private health fund Manchester Unity. When the MU minnow was swallowed by HCF late last year in a shareholder-endorsed merger, Crocker found himself searching for a way back into politics. His job on O’Farrell’s staff has raised some eyebrows because it is reported that he is receiving the same salary he was paid at MU, namely $250,000-a-year.

The question being asked is this: how can the cash-strapped NSW division of the Liberal Party afford a salary of that magnitude? Crocker’s partner, Emily, formerly worked for Clubs NSW, the peak industry body representing more than 1,400 registered clubs across the State. His appointment is regarded as an excellent opportunity for the Coalition to forge even stronger ties with the clubs who have been dealt a bad deal by the Labor Government over the past decade and a half.

Although clubland has been a traditional hunting ground for ALP politicians — who use local clubs for fund-raisers and expect free meals whenever they show up with friends and staff — O’Farrell and his gaming and racing spokesman George Souris have been making alliances with the industry. Crocker’s arrival in O’Farrell’s office is certain to spook the Australian Hotels Association whose links with the government are so tight it has become a virtual ex officio member of the government. When Premier Bob Carr broke the club monopoly on poker machines and allowed more than 100,000 of them into pubs in 1997, he created hundreds of multi-millionaires among the State’s hoteliers.

The pubs responded by becoming among the biggest donors to the ALP’s war chest — outstripping the trade unions — at the 1999, 2003 and 2007 elections. With the NSW election less than two years away, lobbying by Clubs NSW and the AHA is set to become a whole lot more intense.

Former West Australian editor Paul Armstrong is now working for a PR company Read Corporate. His online profile makes interesting reading – is it possible he’s finding his track record more of a hindrance than a help?

Paul Armstrong [email protected]

Paul has been a journalist for more than 20 years, during which time he has held several senior positions both within Australia and overseas. These include the posts of Resources Editor and Business Editor at The West Australian. Paul has also worked as a senior business journalist at The Times of London and the London Evening Standard. In 2003 he was appointed Editor of The West Australian, a position he held for five years.”

My super fund just spammed me! With an “urgent” but “exclusive offer” for a “free” “solar PV system”. How can it be legal to use information collected for the purposes of administering super funds for marketing? Does Crikey know? I don’t know whether I should applaud them trying to cut administration fees by earning a bit on the side, or worried that a supposedly venerable and serious fund entrusted with my retirement money is willing to sell it members’ details for a quick buck. And just how “free” is the system, I notice the fine print says you must be eligible for the $8000 government rebate, and “Renewable Energy Credits must be assigned to NU Energy”. I rang them, and they said it wasn’t an advertisement, but an exclusive offer in keeping with their sustainability goals. One more spam like that I’m changing funds.