Saturday, September 24, 2011

Secret agenda: Behind closed doors

Source The Age

Melbourne City Council is making too many decisions without the glare of public scrutiny, according to a former lord mayor.

The agenda for next Tuesday's council meeting lists seven items for discussion as ''confidential'' with only one item disclosed to the public.

Former lord mayor Kevin Chamberlin said the council, in charge of an annual budget worth hundreds of millions of dollars, was operating too much in secrecy.

''When you look at a council meeting agenda you get the distinct impression the real business is done behind closed doors,'' Mr Chamberlin said.

The closed shop at Tuesday's council meeting comes after The Age reported in May the lord mayor was conducting ''councillor-only meetings'' that did not require minutes to be taken or councillors to declare a conflict of interest because no council staff were present.

Cr Carl Jetter, who said he represented business interests in the council, said it was a long-standing convention for the past three to four terms to have more internal discussions on operations.

''It's not for the public or ratepayers to know,'' Cr Jetter said.

But lord mayor Robert Doyle said the council was more transparent than State Parliament - despite debates in Parliament being open to the public.

''Tuesday's meeting agenda with so many confidential items is unusual,'' Cr Doyle said.

''All nine councillors, regardless of how long they have been a councillor, are free to bring up discussions to question the confidential nature of matters.''

City of Melbourne chief executive Dr Kathy Alexander said in a prepared statement: ''The City of Melbourne understands the importance of being open and transparent with its ratepayers, however there are some specific matters as outlined in the Local Government Act that cannot be discussed in open council.''

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Melbourne's Third Rate English Education Schools Under Review

The Federal Government has announced that it will be reviewing International Students visa requirements with the aim of treating all students seeking a University education in Australia equally. Under the proposed changes foreign university students will be all assessed as being level one risk factor. This is good move and one that should help bring stability and reassurance to the International Education sector

One issue that the government needs to clamp down on is the third rate "Hostel Educational schools" that proliferate the city. The facilities and quality of eduction at these institutions are of real concern and tarnish the reputation of our main educational sector.

In some cases over 200 students are crammed in space that was designed to accommodate no more then 50. Kitchen facilities are placed in a common room with computer terminals with the administration desk tucked in the corner.

On my recent visit to one such institute there was a noticeable lack of air-conditioning not to mention concerns in relation to fire and emergency exits.

One has to wonder what exactly is the City Council doing to monitor compliance with building occupation standards?

We do not allow cheap over crowded hostel accommodation, so why is it that we allow cheap and over crowded educational schools to exist.

Many students complain about the quality of the courses on offer.

The conditions at some of these schools is so appalling it is having an impact on the quality of education provided. No teacher worth their salt would teach under such conditions. There appears to be a noticeable absence of Union engagement in this sector.

These overcrowd, poorly facilitated, schools promote themselves as being low cost budget education, with fees ranging from $200 to $295 per week. Most of the students studying at these schools are not achieving there full potential.

These third rate schools are more about visas then education.

By comparison the schools that are attached to established tertiary educational institutes provide a better leaning environment and significantly better value for the student dollar.

RMIT and the Australian Catholic University and the Hawthorn institute being rated as the top three best buys in inner city education. Out side the city we have Deakin, Monash and Victoria University.

If the government is serious about developing a sustainable International education sector it has to regulate and address the issue of budget schools in terms of the facilies provided. Students should have the right to change providers if the school they have subscribed to does not meet their expectations. There is a need for a International Education Ombudsman and a central student information centre who can help students address and issues of complaints against providers.

Your comments and experiences on Melbourne ELICOS education sector are welcomed.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Beyond Review: Parliamentary Committee failed to subject the VEC to oversight by the Ombudsman

The Victorian Parliament Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee has published its report on the Review of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006.

In its report the Committee has made a number of recommendations in relation to the operation of the Human Rights charter. What was of considerable note was the Committee's failure to address issues of concern in relation to the Ombudsman's oversight

The Ombudsman plays a significant role in the oversight of government administration. the office of the Ombudsman is the appropriate body to oversee the administration of state authorities.

The Committee in its recommendations made two references to the Ombudsman

Recommendation 6

Complaints to the Ombudsman

If the Charter is retained, then SARC recommends that public authorities who are subject to the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction be encouraged to inform people who bring internal complaints that the Ombudsman may be able to investigate any unresolved complaints, including complaints concerning Charter rights.

Recommendation 33

Jurisdiction of the Ombudsman

If s. 13(1A) of the Ombudsman Act 1973 is retained, then SARC recommends that it be amended so as to specify the range of bodies that can be subject to an enquiry or investigation with respect to human rights.

The Committee also noted:

Complaints to the Ombudsman.

The Consultation Committee considered that the Ombudsman already had the power to handle human rights complaints, but recommended clarifying that it could consider Charter rights.

What the Committee failed to address was the provision of the Victorian Ombudsman Act that prevents the Ombudsman from reviewing the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC). s 13(3)(ca)

The Victorian Electoral Commission is not subjected to the Ombudsman Act, it is exempt, and as such the Ombudsman has no oversight over the VEC's administrative misuse and abuse. The only avenue of review is the Courts, VCAT and the Parliament itself.

The Ombudsman has jurisdiction over a range of government authorities including the Victoria Police and Local Government in respect to administrative issues, why not the VEC?

Complaints against the VEC go unaddressed, The Parliament is reluctant to consider in detail any complaints against the VEC for fear of being seen to be partisan in its deliberations. It is incapable of considering any complaints of an administrative matter let alone misuse and abuse under the Human Rights Charter or abuses under the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

The Victorian Parliament Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee failed to address this issue of concern and failed to recommend removing the VEC's exemption under the Victorian Ombudsman Act.

Whilst the Committee has recognised the role the Ombudsman plays in protection of Human Rights and government oversight it failed to address this essential issue of concern.

Last year a petition was tabled in the parliament calling for the Ombudsman act to be amended to resume the VEC exclusion from review by the Ombudsman.

Recommendation 6 and 33 of the Committee's report does not apply to the VEC as the Ombudsman cannot review any actions of the Victorian Electoral Commission.

The Victorian Electoral Commission remains unaccountable and beyond review.

City of Melbourne to fund Sustainability Junket

The City of Melbourne is to fork out over $360,000 to fly-in participants for a "sustainability conference" that many see as a environmental junket generating excessive carbon pollution to facilitate enviro-bureaucrats in the life style they have become accustomed to, with Ratepayers left to foot the bill.

Questions are being asked with today's Internet technology why the 3 day enviro-fest could not be held on line with less pollution and cost to Melbourne taxpayers.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Direct Election of Lord Mayor under review

MELBOURNE ratepayers would no longer be able to elect their lord mayor under a controversial proposal to return the power to elected city councillors.

Herald Sun

A motion will be brought before Melbourne City Council tonight on whether to ask the State Government to consider abolishing the direct election of the mayor and deputy.

Council sources say if the change were put to the State Government and enacted, it could weaken Lord Mayor Robert Doyle's chance at another term in office.

Critics of council's current voting system claim that candidates with a high public profile and financial support are more likely to win direct elections, and not necessarily the best candidate.

The direct election of the lord mayor by ratepayers has been in place since John So won office in 2001.

There has been no review of the system since then.

That legislation was requested by council.

The motion before the Future Melbourne committee, meeting tonight, calls for public consultation over whether people would be required to vote in person, bringing local government elections in line with state and federal practices.

A second motion also brought by Councillor Jacqui Watts calls for the State Government to consider matters including:

ABOLITION of the direct election of the lord mayor and/or deputy lord mayor.

INCREASING requirements of election funding and disclosure provisions.

ABOLITION of deeming provisions and amendment to the company nominee provisions.

Both motions will be voted on tonight.

Minister for Local Government Jeanette Powell said the electoral representation reviews gave the local community the chance to influence their council's electoral structure.

"Local government is the level of government closest to the people and this Bill increases the opportunity for the community to have more input," she said

UPDATE: The City Council has voted against the proposal to hold a public inquiry and review of the City of Melbourne's electoral system. Whislt The Lord Mayor wants to prevent the public from reviewing his position this should not prevent the State Government from proceeding and providing opportunity for public review.

Friday, September 02, 2011

SCAM WARNING: TecSavy Skype (03) 9016 4321

We recently purchased on line telephone number (03) 9016 4321 from SKYPE we thought it was a good number but it turned out to be a nightmare .

The number was previously registered with a group called TecSavy based in the USA (Although we have reason to believe it is in fact based in India or some other overseas country) They offer too good to refuse computer support services for a subscription of $100. If you subscribe they install software on your computer so their technicians can assist in any configuration issues. They also have your credit card number and other personal data that you provide when you subscribe.

TecSavy's US telephone number is +1.425.998.0460, When we called this number we received a recorded message by the US authorities warning subscribers not to provide any personal details or credit card information as the company my be associated with identity theft.

All emails sent to this company are also bounced.

We have reported this matter to the authorities and telecommunications provider.

If you are contacted by a company by this name or using (03) 9016 4321 as their Australian contact try and get hold of any contact information you can and report it to the police.

UPDATE: We did a DNS Internet provider search on TechSavy and the web of deceit became even clearer. They uses the services of a group called to mask the ownership of the web site. The addresses they used was listed as a Post Box in Queensland with a message that they do not receive any mail at that address (Why would you have a PO box and not receive any mail?) The telephone contact was in Denmark and the fax line in India. we called then Denmark number and we got a recorded message from a woman with an Indian Accent. It turns out that at every step there was false and misleading ICAN records. This is something that ICAN must look into as we soon discovered that is used by a hots of doggy web sites to mark the owner of the web. We suspect in fact that TecSavy and privacyprotect are one and the same company. They certainly use the same server.

Update 2: Mirosoft published warning to users of fake engineers scam

Microsoft is warning its customers of a new scam that employs "criminals posing as computer security engineers and calling people at home to tell them they are at risk of a computer security threat."

The tech giant said that victims of the scam lose on average $875 after "the scammers tell their victims they are providing free security checks and add authenticity by claiming to represent legitimate companies and using telephone directories to refer to their victims by name.

Funds are stolen by the scammers using "a range of deception techniques designed to steal money," Microsoft said in a statement detailing the scam.