Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Disclaimer: The Parliamentary Library does not warrant or accept liability for the accuracy or usefulness of the transcripts.These are copied directly from the broadcaster's website.
RN World Today -

View in ParlViewView other Segments

Obama commits more ground forces to Afghanistan

Reporter: Tanya Nolan

ELEANOR HALL: And we go first to the United States and in his first major military decision, the US
President Barak Obama has ordered that 17,000 extra army and marine personnel be deployed to
Afghanistan.

It's part of a plan to send an additional 30,000 US troops in coming months.

But an Australian General who served in the region says even a boost of this size will not be
enough to win the war.

Retired Major General Jim Molan was responsible for the multinational force in Iraq in 2004 and he
says President Obama needs to urgently lobby NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) members to
commit more troops to Afghanistan if the war is to be won.

Tanya Nolan reports.

TANYA NOLAN: It may've been the new President's first big defence announcement since taking office,
but he left it to his Defence Secretary Robert Gates to explain how the immediate injection of
17,000 extra troops would make a difference to the war effort in Afghanistan.

ROBERT GATES: By being a permanent presence there, by being a long term presence rather than flying
out by helicopter for a day's operations or a couple of days operations and then flying back to
their base.

TANYA NOLAN: Mr Gates says the troops will help improve the security situation, something that's
deteriorating by the day according to the American think-tank the RAND Corporation.

In its latest assessment, the RAND Corporation says the current US strategy is failing Afghanistan
and urges a major rethink by all international forces.

Co-author Seth Jones says stability will only be restored if local tribal leaders are more involved
and corruption stamped out.

SETH JONES: There are a range of insurgent groups that have collaborated with criminal networks,
militia forces, government officials from Afghanistan, some of its neighbours, the tribes,
sub-tribes and clans, and that they've pushed into a range of areas of the country, so the
situation is quite serious.

TANYA NOLAN: Retired Major General Jim Molan says the Iraq experience shows that an immediate troop
surge can help improve security.

One of Australia's leading thinkers on Afghanistan defence strategy, Jim Molan served as the chief
of operations for the multinational force in Iraq between 2004 and 2005.

He says the experience in that country showed the troop injection only worked because it was
matched with an increase in local army and police numbers.

JIM MOLAN: Any number of troops, as long as they are effective, that is they're permitted to
conduct operations, and as long as they are cognisant of the latest techniques in counter
insurgency - and these American forces which are both marines and US army will be effective in both
those respects - yes they will. Any increase in troops will have some increase in local security as
long as they're effective troops.

TANYA NOLAN: But Jim Molan says even with an extra 30,000 US troops, it would only add up to half
the number he says would be needed to win the war in Afghanistan.

He says that figure would need to be 180,000 US and NATO troops in total, committed to the region
for five years or more.

He says the really hard work will be for President Obama to convince NATO leaders at a meeting in
Strasburg in April to increase their troop commitments.

That will include Australia.

Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon has repeatedly said that he would have to be convinced of a new
strategic plan, that there is any justification for Australia to commit more troops if other NATO
countries don't do the same and that the level of risk posed to Australian troops would have to be
acceptable.

Acting Defence Minister Warren Snowdon says Mr Fitzgibbon will be reiterating that view at a
meeting with his NATO counterparts in Poland today.

WARREN SNOWDON: Minister Fitzgibbon is at a NATO meeting in Poland as we speak, he will make
recommendations to the Government if we are to send additional numbers to Afghanistan, but I think
he's made the point previously that we're relying on our NATO partners to lift, to do a great deal
more than they're currently doing.

And that's our first priority.

TANYA NOLAN: Retired Major General Jim Molan agrees there should be a clear chance of winning the
war before Australia commits more troops.

JIM MOLAN: The way that we get a chance of winning is to have enough troops to establish security,
so that we can then go out and touch the hearts and minds of the people.

There are no guarantees in this game, but 1,100 troops in Uruzgan province - regardless of how
fantastic they are performing - they will continue to perform at a tremendous level until we lose
the war.

Because we're losing the war on the basis that we are not yet serious about it.

TANYA NOLAN: More troops in the short term may not lead to any immediate improvement in the lot of
Afghan civilians.

Another damning view on the plight of the Afghan people was revealed today in a United Nations
report showing that the number of civilian deaths is reaching record levels.

Its figures show more than 2,000 civilians were killed by Taliban and NATO forces last year; a big
jump on the numbers of deaths reported in the previous year.

ELEANOR HALL: Tanya Nolan reporting.

Obama signs stimulus Bill

Reporter: Michael Rowland

ELEANOR HALL: The US President Barack Obama also made one of his biggest domestic moves today,
signing into law the $1.2-trillion economic stimulus package.

But while that package is designed to save jobs, it hasn't stopped the US auto giant General Motors
from announcing that it will sack nearly 50,000 of its workers worldwide as it struggles to stay
afloat.

The company says it may also need close to $50-billion in government assistance to avoid
bankruptcy.

And there's equally bleak news from its competitor Chrysler.

As North America correspondent Michael Rowland reports.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: General Motors and Chrysler had until today to unveil the restructuring plans they
agreed to in return for receiving a US government bail-out late last year.

And both companies have revealed their financial position is much worse than initially thought.

General Motors chief executive Rick Wagoner.

RICK WAGONER: In the 11 weeks since our initial plan was filed with Congress, the condition of the
US and global economies as well as the industries, auto industries, has significantly deteriorated.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: As a result Mr Wagoner says the company's been forced to take what he calls
aggressive action to cut costs.

Forty-seven thousand jobs worldwide are to go.

General Motors will also close five more of its US car plants.

It could also need up to $47-billion in government assistance.

That's more than double the amount it suggested just three months ago.

Rick Wagoner says the car maker has considering going into bankruptcy but fears this could scare
even more potential customers away.

RICK WAGONER: Based on our analysis we continued to believe that bankruptcy would be a highly risky
and very costly process, potentially very time consuming, that should only be undertaken as a last
resort.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: General Motors doesn't say what job cuts, if any, there'll be at its Australian
operations.

All it will say is that continued local production has become more challenging due to changes in
market preferences.

The company says financial assistance from the Rudd Government to help develop a new fuel efficient
vehicle will help Holden become a viable operation.

Mr Wagoner has welcomed the support the company has received from government's everywhere.

RICK WAGONER: The responsiveness and the professionalism of government officials that we've dealt
with around the world has been - including obviously here in the US, but I'm thinking also Canada,
Germany, has been, Australia - has been impressive.

And we are very appreciative of their openness.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: The financial outlook is not much better at GM's smaller competitor Chrysler.

Chief Executive Rob Nardelli.

ROBERT NARDELLI: We have continued to see an unprecedented decline in the automotive sector. The
lack of available credit effects consumers and our dealers, leading to reduced wholesale orders for
Chrysler.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Chrysler will cut its workforce by 3,000 as it moves to reduce fixed costs by more
than $1-billion.

It's also discontinuing three car models and will reduce annual production by 100,000 vehicles.

It's also asking for more government money: an additional $8-billion on top of the $6-billion it
received last month.

Rob Nardelli.

ROBERT NARDELLI: The focus of this company for the last two years and going forward is going to be
to right size for the market place and the realities of the economy and also the declining
availability of financial support to our consumers, our dealers and therefore impacting our
wholesale and manufacturing production.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: Both companies are confident car sales will eventually rebound as will their
profitability.

But Brian Johnson, an auto industry analyst with Barclay's capital says they could be waiting some
time.

BRIAN JOHNSON: In fact the world economy is deteriorating rather dramatically so a lot of the
additional cash burn is from the lack of profitability in Europe, South America and the far East.

MICHAEL ROWLAND: General Motors and Chrysler have until the end of next month to present their
final restructuring plans.

The Obama administration will then have to decide whether to provide more financial help or let one
or both car makers slip into bankruptcy.

In Washington this is Michael Rowland reporting for The World Today.

California deals with its own financial crisis

Reporter: Eleanor Hall

ELEANOR HALL: As we've been hearing, President Obama signed the massive US economic stimulus
package into law today.

But in the state of California, the Government is already undermining its effect by cutting state
jobs and spending.

California is the eighth largest economy in the world but it has been particularly hard hit by the
financial crisis.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger can't get his Budget passed and with the state about to run out of
money he is laying off tens of thousands of state workers.

Jean Ross is the executive director of the California Budget Project which analyses the
California's finances.

JEAN ROSS: We are facing a serious Budget deficit and also an immediate cash flow crunch and the
two are working together to both cause certain payments to be delayed, the Governor has also as
part of his, his part of efforts to bring the Budget into balance announced that he will be sending
lay-off notices to several tens of thousands of state workers.

The state has begun to furlough employees, initially two days a month, now that looks like that
will end up as being one day a month due to the conclusions of some labour negotiations.

So it will have a very significant impact on the state workforce.

ELEANOR HALL: And are these lay-offs and furloughs just temporary until the Budget is passed?

JEAN ROSS: That's still unclear, certainly the lay-offs, the furloughs appear to be part of the
Budget plan that would stretch through June of 2010, however our longer term forecast suggests that
California will be facing deficit several years farther into the future.

So it's unclear what steps will be taken in those additional years.

ELEANOR HALL: To what extent is this lack of access to money I guess, a result of the financial
crisis, and why can't California, the eighth biggest economy in the world, get access to money?

JEAN ROSS: Our broader Budget problems are really the result of the down turn in the global
economy, our immediate cash flow problems are in part the result of the financial meltdown
worldwide, and California typically borrows large sums of money, large sums of money are hard for
any borrower to come by these days.

And because our budget problems are so severe, we're not deemed to be particularly credit worthy in
financial market.

ELEANOR HALL: Well Standard & Poor's has just downgraded the states bond rating to the lowest in
the nation. Why is California so much worse off than other states?

JEAN ROSS: We have the most restrictive rules governing our budget process. We are also the biggest
state in the US and the most diverse state. And right now our budget problems are so large that I
think most experts, including our Governor who is known for his anti-tax stance, have come to
believe that the only way to bring the Budget into balance is both to cut spending and increase
taxes.

ELEANOR HALL: The President today signed the US stimulus package into law, by restricting pay to
government workers and so on, isn't the Californian Government going in the opposite direction?

JEAN ROSS: Certainly the moves that are under consideration are not what you would want to do
during an economic downturn.

Certainly people are cutting back, both because the furloughs have already begun about 10 days ago
was the first day that state workers were told not to come into their offices. At lunch hour that
day certainly the restaurants and coffee shops near the state capital in the downtown area of
Sacramento were quite empty.

When you talk to state workers, they are cutting back; for many of them this will be a five to 10
per cent pay reduction, many people are already stretched to make ends meet, and so certainly they
are buying less, going out to eat less, and trimming back where they can.

We all have our fingers crossed that the new Federal measure will help get our economy moving
again, however I think it's not good news that the day the President signed that Bill into law the
stock market dropped by about four per cent.

ELEANOR HALL: Jean Ross, thanks very much for joining us.

JEAN ROSS: Thank you.

ELEANOR HALL: Jean Ross is the executive director of the California Budget Project.

Bad debts rise at Westpac

Reporter: Sue Lannin

ELEANOR HALL: Australia's biggest bank announced today that its bad debts jumped more than fivefold
in the first three months of this financial year.

Westpac says this was mainly due to some large corporate collapses, but its earnings fell by only
two per cent over the period, coming in at around $1.2-billion.

Finance reporter Sue Lannin has more.

SUE LANNIN: There's always close attention paid to the statements of Reserve Bank officials, and
this morning was no exception.

(Sound of applause)

MALCOLM EDEY: Thanks very much, I'm going to be talking this morning mostly about the global
economic outlook.

SUE LANNIN: Assistant Governor, Malcolm Edey told a packed business conference that 2009 was likely
to the weakest year for the global economy since the Second World War.

MALCOLM EDEY: The downturn in the G7 economies intensified in the December quarter, and at the same
time it spread to other parts of the world including Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

For the world economy as a whole, 2009 is shaping up as a very difficult year.

SUE LANNIN: Despite his concerns, Malcolm Edey had an upbeat message for Australia.

He says the fall in world economic growth in the December quarter, could be one-off because of a
dive in confidence and a drop in demands.

And he believes Australia remains resilient.

MALCOLM EDEY: There are reasons to expect that the Australian economy can continue to perform
better than its overseas counterparts in the difficult period that lies ahead.

Australia had more momentum than most comparable economies in the period leading into the crisis,
but an important difference is that the Australian financial system remains in much better shape
than its international counterparts.

As a result of that, we've been able to gain much more traction from cuts in official interest
rates.

SUE LANNIN: Across town, the Westpac chief executive Gail Kelly was outlining the state of her bank
and the economy in a trading update.

GAIL KELLY: Perhaps the one certainty for us is that 2009 will be a challenging year. Turning to
Westpac, against this background, we would describe our first quarter performance as robust.

SUE LANNIN: Despite the downturn, Westpac still made $1.2-billion in the last quarter of 2008.

Bad debts rose more than five times to more than $800-million, that's due to the collapse of
childcare provider ABC Learning, Allco Finance Group, and a $300-million loan to Babcock and Brown
International.

GAIL KELLY: Impairments are $800-million for the quarter, as against the $144-million in the prior
corresponding period. We're also seeing a broad based deterioration in our commercial portfolios in
line with the deteriorating economy, and as you may expect we're taking a prudent and realistic
approach to provisioning the portfolio.

Pleasingly, the Australian consumer portfolio remains solid.

SUE LANNIN: It's the same story at the other big banks; a big rise in bad debts as the economy
worsens.

Last week the Commonwealth Bank said it may need to cut dividend payouts to shareholders, but Gail
Kelly says no decision has been made yet at Westpac.

GAIL KELLY: As you know decisions around dividends are board decisions, and the board will next
address this topic at the time of the first half results, which is some time away.

A range of factors will be considered including shareholder perspectives. The board will also have
a consideration of just how deep and how long the current economic downturn will be and, of course,
the need to retain a strong capital position.

SUE LANNIN: She says its likely more fiscal stimulus plans are on the cards.

Turnover from retail sales rose an estimated 0.8 of one per cent in the December quarter, possibly
boosted by the Federal Government's first spending package.

ELEANOR HALL: Finance reporter, Sue Lannin.

Government official admits no housing plan for fire victims

Reporter: Alison Caldwell

ELEANOR HALL: A government official has admitted that the Victorian Government is yet to come up
with a solid plan to house the thousands of people who were made homeless by the firestorms which
hit the state 10 days ago.

Various levels of government are meeting and looking at the response to the Ash Wednesday fires and
Cyclone Larry, as they try to come up with a housing strategy.

And while they won't give any timeframe, authorities say they are now looking to establish
temporary villages in the towns worst affected by the fires.

Alison Caldwell has our report.

ALISON CALDWELL: The Red Cross believes 7,000 people have been displaced by the fires.

Many of them are living with relatives and friends, others live in caravans, while some are still
living in tents set up at the relief centres close to the areas worst affected by the fires in
Victoria.

In towns nearby, many families are sharing houses. In one case in Flowerdale, up to four families
are living in one house, preferring to stay close to the community.

The relief centre at Bunyip was closed last Saturday, while the centre at Yea has been downgraded
compared to the services offered there last week.

After 10 days living in a tent at the relief centre in Yea, Lynette Watson spent her first night
last night back in Flowerdale in a caravan donated by a member of the public.

She lost everything in the fires apart from her pets and she's angry at the treatment she's
received in recent days.

LYNETTE WATSON: We're treated like the worst case of charity rorters.

ALISON CALDWELL: Lynette Watson says once the media left Yea last Saturday, everything changed at
the relief centre. She claims former Flowerdale residents were treated like second class citizens.

She says she was accused of stealing clothes that were donated by the public.

Another woman was told off for drinking a beer one night last week while another's tent was
searched after it was claimed she had taken more than her share of donated clothes and shoes.

LYNETTE WATSON: I've been told by DHS (Department of Human Services) how I would not be here by the
end of this week, they don't care where I go, I am not to be here by the end of this week.

ALISON CALDWELL: The claims only add to the challenges already facing authorities who are trying to
find homes for people displaced by the fires.

The Department of Human Services is responsible for finding housing.

Director of Emergency Management Craig Lapsley says the Government can't provide a timeline for
people given that it doesn't yet have a plan to address the problem.

CRAIG LAPSLEY: One of the issues that's probably causing the frustration, we haven't been able to
formally communicate any of that without a plan. What is being communicated is that the current
emergency accommodation will be in place for the next short period of time.

That may be seven or 14 days, and then we'll be moving into some other options.

ALISON CALDWELL: Authorities are considering demountables and modular homes, as well as caravans
and cabins.

He says a briefing paper is being prepared for the Premier which will lay out the options for
temporary and more permanent housing.

CRAIG LAPSLEY: It is complex. We've got a list of offers from the community, and others that have
been sought to understand the availability of caravans, mobile housing, rental housing, property
that would be made available in the near future of the new building stocks that may be available.

And now we're trying to work through the issue of how do we keep communities connected to their
community.

So the issue we're working through now if how do we actually clear the sites, so what's the policy
decision and safety issues about clearing sites.

The second thing then is do we use open public space to build smaller villages, and what are the
issues about the next number of months in regards to weather conditions of that style of
accommodation for example.

And then how do we then translate those options into moving back onto their land.

So they're all a series of options, and that's where we've been working yesterday and today, and we
intend to have a brief to the Premier late today that can overview the issues, options, and the
best way forward.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Craig Lapsley from the Department of Human Services. Alison Caldwell with that
report.

Road block worker charged with arson

Reporter: Rachael Brown

ELEANOR HALL: As the death toll from the Victorian bushfires climbs to 200, another person has been
charged with arson.

Last night detectives in Wangaratta, in Victoria's north east, charged a road block worker with two
counts of lighting a fire.

In Melbourne, Rachael Brown reports.

RACHAEL BROWN: As fires continue to burn across Victoria, road block workers have been stationed at
critical highway points to stop people gaining access to unsafe areas.

However, early yesterday morning police allege one of these workers decided to see what would
happen if he threw his cigarette butts into long, dry grass.

A fire started; luckily CFA crews jumped on it early before it burnt more than a hectare.

Danny Malone from Taskforce Phoenix that's investigating the cause of Victoria's bushfires has been
alerted.

DANNY MALONE: The local detectives and regional response will do the initial investigation and then
brief my people.

RACHAEL BROWN: Police arrested the man last night, who cannot yet be named, and charged him with
two counts of arson.

It's believed he has denied any involvement in other fires that have started in the region.

Police say the fire was lit in a previously unburnt area, near Mudgegonga, where two people died at
the height of the fires.

The most recent fire-related death was last night, when a firefighter from the ACT was killed by a
falling tree near Marysville.

Danny Malone says Taskforce Phoenix is still hunting for the Marysville arsonist.

DANNY MALONE: The Churchill fire it's believed that was obviously deliberately lit, and we've
charged a person in regard to that. The Bolarra fires which were the week before, the 28th and 29th
of January, that is suspicious and we have ongoing investigations there.

And the Marysville-Narbathong fire, we're quite satisfied that the fire, seat of the fire was the
Murrindindi-Mill area, locals obviously know that and we are asking that if anybody that on
Saturday the 7th of February was in that area. If you haven't been contacted by police, to contact
us, please contact us.

RACHAEL BROWN: What types of details are you after? Could even small, seemingly insignificant
things be important to you?

DANNY MALONE: Yes, that's the issue here, we've got numerous numbers of people that we're camping
along the river there, and swimming in the area, obviously it was a very hot day and so forth. Plus
local traffic in that Murrindindi-Mill area.

RACHAEL BROWN: The arrest of the alleged Churchill arsonist, 39-year-old Brendan Sokaluk of
Churchill, has whipped up considerable hatred in local communities, and one would guess last
night's arrest could do the same.

Mr Malone is warning against vigilantism.

DANNY MALONE: The community's been under enough trauma; it doesn't need any of this vigilante talk
or revenge or anything else. Let the court system do its role, and alternatively it is important we
put the facts before the court and these people get a fair trial.

RACHAEL BROWN: Human rights lawyer and commentator Greg Barns says in the case of the current
alleged arsonists, the presumption of innocence has been shredded.

GREG BARNS: In fact some journalism has gone very close to inciting violence, but not just
journalism, sites like Facebook, which have allowed, effectively threats to kill to be made and
broadcast on that site, are also guilty of inciting violence.

RACHAEL BROWN: During the bushfires we have seen the best of the human spirit, communities pulling
together, you would argue that we're also seeing the worst of the human spirit?

GREG BARNS: We are seeing the worst of the human spirit, and it hasn't been helped by people like
the Prime Minister last week saying that whoever did this is guilty of mass murder.

It hasn't been helped by comparisons of the bushfires to Hiroshima and to the Holocaust, they bear
no relation to those, and they bear no relation to mass murder.

And so we've seen this ramping up of rhetoric by our political leaders, and by some of the media,
and this has now meant that any person who gets charged in relation to these fires I think is going
to find it very difficult get fair trial.

It's as though the person who's been arrested in this particular case has been hung, drawn and
quartered. You know, I've been surprised that we haven't seen our political leaders who last week
we're interested in ramping up the rhetoric on these fires, we haven't seen them this week urging a
presumption of innocence.

RACHAEL BROWN: Do you think this mood of vigilantism takes away from the big pat on the backs that
communities have been giving to one another at this time?

GREG BARNS: Yes it does, and I think what it shows is in Australia we have a real illness here, and
that illness is that we are just prepared to trash fundamental rights when it suits us.

And I think this has just been a most appalling exercise by Australia and it doesn't show Australia
well in international light.

ELEANOR HALL: That's human rights lawyer Greg Barns, ending that report by Rachael Brown.

Parts of Australia set to bloom, while others wither

Reporter: David Mark

ELEANOR HALL: As torrential rain continues to fall across parts of Australia, the rivers, lakes and
estuaries from the far north to the back of Bourke are about to spring to life.

Some of the rain that's caused floods in parts of New South Wales will flow out to sea.

But the water that has inundated Queensland will slowly make its way south to the normally dry salt
plain of Lake Eyre.

The parched Murray-Darling Basin, though, is unlikely to benefit at all.

As David Mark reports.

DAVID MARK: The rain that has been pounding northern Australia over the past month and the east
coast of New South Wales this week tells a story of this country's very particular topography.

Richard Kingsford, is a professor of environmental science at the University of New South Wales.

RICHARD KINGSFORD: Well if we look at north Queensland to begin with, basically there are those
rivers that run north into the Gulf of Carpentaria and that's where we've got a lot of flooding
around Karumba and Normanton.

And if then you move south into the catchment where the rivers basically run inland, the rivers of
the Georgina Diamantina and then Coopers Creek, all of those rivers eventually will make it into
Lake Eyre if there's a really big flood.

DAVID MARK: Professor Kingsford says the flooding of the delta system in the Gulf of Carpentaria is
a mixed blessing.

RICHARD KINGSFORD: Obviously these floods can cause incredible damage in terms of stock losses and
so on, which is what we're seeing up there, but you do also rejuvenate some of these river systems.

So we'd expect a flush of productivity in terms of the vegetation and that will help with fish and
water birds and all of those things that are part and parcel of the cycle of river systems.

DAVID MARK: Further west, the bone dry salt plain of Lake Eyre is set to bloom.

RICHARD KINGSFORD: Yes it's one of those really exciting questions about how big a flood will it be
in Lake Eyre. The maxim out there is that every flood is different because it depends on what's
happened previously, how dry some of these wetland areas are, and how much rain has actually fallen
and flowing down these systems.

But over the next few months, particularly through the tourism season, which is obviously the
winter, it'll be a tremendous part of the world, and you know, these systems just thrive on floods,
and when they come you get this tremendous reaction from the environment in terms of the plants and
the flowers come out, but also the biodiversity just, is almost an exponential increase.

Not just in about the ones that are dependent on water like the frogs, and the water birds, and the
fish, and so on, but also you get a lot of honey eaters coming in because it's so productive, you
get birds of prey like wedge tailed eagles and whistling kites, and even some of the small mammals
absolutely capitalise on these boom periods.

DAVID MARK: It's a different story on the coast.

The 400 millimetres that has fallen on the north coast of New South Wales this week will run out to
sea.

And while there have been some falls inland, it won't be enough to lift dam levels of the
Murray-Darling Basin.

RICHARD KINGSFORD: Unfortunately we're not seeing some of these major depressions go where we
really do need the water, which is inland and particularly in south eastern Australia, in the lower
Darling, and the rivers that feed into the Darling, and obviously the Murrumbidgee and the Murray
and the Lachlan where they're very drought prone.

And so really all we've seen is this very concentrated rainfall event around Bourke, which didn't
really do very much to the river, it didn't even send it up to a minor flood level.

DAVID MARK: It's a mixed story for the irrigators that rely on the water from the Murray-Darling
system.

Andrew Gregson is the CEO of the New South Wales Irrigators Council.

ANDREW GREGSON: Inflows in the southern part of the basin, that's water that falls in the catchment
areas around the Snowy Mountains, remains at record lows, and storages remain at record lows.

So the majority of the water that would flow through the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers and
eventually across the border into South Australia, remains at critical lows.

DAVID MARK: And it's not only the irrigators who are suffering.

The Murray-Darling system is now so devastated that communities in South Australia's briny lower
lakes now have to get their drinking water piped from much further upstream.

The first of the pipelines was opened today.

ELEANOR HALL: David Mark reporting.

Surgeon says he questioned Patel's performance

Reporter: Annie Guest

ELEANOR HALL: A highly trained surgeon has told a Brisbane court he confronted Jayant Patel about
his competence to perform some operations in the corridors of the Bundaberg Base Hospital.

Patel is now facing a committal hearing on 14 charges including manslaughter.

The court also heard how an angry Patel threatened doctors with his resignation when they tried to
transfer one of his patients to Brisbane.

Annie Guest is at the Magistrates Court in Brisbane and she joins us there now.

Annie, tell us about the evidence from this surgeon?

ANNIE GUEST: Eleanor, Dr Brian Thiele is a retired vascular surgeon from Bundaberg Base Hospital,
he had earlier worked for 18 years in the United States, as a professor and chief vascular surgeon
at Penn State University Hospital.

He'd also been the co-director of a 24 bed intensive care unit there.

He told the court that during Patel's time at Bundaberg between 2003 and 2005, he sometimes saw him
in the corridors. He said that on one occasion Patel told him he was going to perform a certain
vascular operation.

Now Dr Thiele said he became concerned and he asked Patel about his training in the US. He told the
court that he didn't believe doctors trained at their Rochester facility where Patel trained, had
the capability to perform such operations.

ELEANOR HALL: And who, sorry go on Annie.

ANNIE GUEST: Dr Thiele also shed light on the resources of the Bundaberg Hospital to handle major
operations, now Patel's facing 14 charges, including manslaughter and part of the prosecution's
case is that he shouldn't have performed some big operations there.

Dr Thiele told the court that Patel performed a major operation, an oesophagectomy, on a patient
who was at significant risk of complications, that patient James Phillips died two days later.

And he also told the court that the hospital once had the capability to do some major surgery
because it had good quality resident doctors training to be surgeons, and he said that it lost that
standard when it lost accreditation to train surgeons in the early 2000s because it had lost
several senior surgeons.

ELEANOR HALL: And we're there any other witnesses at the committal hearing today?

ANNIE GUEST: Yes, a doctor who had been a resident in the intensive care unit at the hospital, Dr
Carl Kennedy appeared, sorry gave evidence by telephone, and he said how there was a stoush between
doctors in intensive care, because they, several doctors wanted Patel's patient, who they
considered seriously unwell, transferred to Brisbane and Patel became angry and uncooperative and
threatened to resign if the patient left.

ELEANOR HALL: And have we heard at all from Patel's former patients?

ANNIE GUEST: Not yet Eleanor, but later today we're expecting to hear from Ian Vowles. Patel's
charged with grievous bodily harm in relation to Ian Vowles over an operation he performed on his
bowel.

ELEANOR HALL: Annie Guest at the Brisbane Magistrates Court, thank you.

Visionary project in Pakistan to see more funds

Reporter: Sally Sara

ELEANOR HALL: The Federal Government has announced more than $5-million in extra funding for an
Australian led program in Pakistan that's restoring the sight of thousands of people in remote
areas.

The Fred Hollows Foundation project has halved the rate of blindness in the country.

Dr Rubina Gillani is one of the eye specialists travelling to some of the most dangerous parts of
Pakistan and she spoke to the ABC's South Asia correspondent Sally Sara.

RUBINA GILLANI: In the very literal sense, I think women in the remote areas, the actual women of
Pakistan, when they come out, they have only their eyes out, the whole of their body is covered in
a Burka, and close those eyes, and you just take them away from the world.

So for a woman, it is multiple impact. I think you take away their eyes and you take away their
life.

SALLY SARA: What happens to those women often within the family?

RUBINA GILLANI: Well, if they're lucky they've got a caring family, they'll find a way to treat
her, but in most cases maybe they're loved, but people can't afford to look after their eyes or to
do what is required, and that would mean a life of darkness ever after, and you would be knowing
that a blind people's life expectancy is much, much lower than a person who can see well.

So a shorter life, but a miserable life.

SALLY SARA: How isolated have some of the people been that have been suffering from blindness, not
only by their location, but within their family, they're often pushed aside?

RUBINA GILLANI: They almost are a psychiatric patients because they are sitting alone, they either
have to rely on a grandchild or some other member of the family to sit down with a blind person.

So it's a life of isolation, and a life of deprivation. I think it's unimaginable how life would
be.

SALLY SARA: How difficult is it to reach some of these people in the remote mountain areas of
Pakistan?

RUBINA GILLANI: Well, we have been now working since 1998, and our first project was to go to the
remote districts. While I travelled for 10 hours, for 12 hours, I realised what it would be for a
blind person to come out of that place and reach a doctor.

It's impossible.

SALLY SARA: How much of a difference does it make to someone's life when you fix a very easy to fix
problem in a developed country, but something that can destroy someone's life here?

RUBINA GILLANI: We have been following some of our patients after their treatment and going on how
they live, and when you go back and you remember that this man was sitting idle, or has been
brought in by someone, and now he's sitting and having an honourable life, living with dignity.

I think that is a huge, huge difference to any human being.

SALLY SARA: Is it difficult to get people to trust the services in some of the outlying areas to
come to you?

RUBINA GILLANI: Surprisingly no, whenever we have gone to the remote areas and whenever we fix up
an eye unit, and we are thronged by people. We had one in Sindh, and there were three boys, three
young brothers, 18, maybe 20, 25, all blind, with congenital cataract, and they had never ever seen
a doctor.

SALLY SARA: What happened with those brothers?

RUBINA GILLANI: We treated them, the older you grow the worse it goes, but if you treat the child
while he's young, it's a treatable condition.

SALLY SARA: How determined are you to keep tackling the problem of blindness here in Pakistan.

RUBINA GILLANI: Unlike many things which are going wrong in Pakistan, blindness prevention program
is just going right.

It is a war that we are winning, and we are very happy and proud to do that work.

If you all again, team up and we pledge that by 2020 we have rid the country of blindness. I think
we would achieve that purpose of our life.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Dr Rubina Gillani, country director of the Fred Hollows Foundation in
Pakistan. She was speaking to the ABC's South Asia correspondent Sally Sara.

States urged to crack down on bikies

Reporter: Michael Edwards

ELEANOR HALL: Back home now and South Australia's Premier Mike Rann is urging other states to
follow his lead and crack down on bikie gangs.

The New South Wales Government says it is considering new laws to deal with an outbreak of
bikie-related violence in its state.

One of the changes it is considering is to restrict bikies from associating with other members of
their clubs.

Michael Edwards reports.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: The South Australian Premier Mike Rann makes no secret of why he thinks bikie
gangs exist.

MIKE RANN: This is really organised crime built around a drug manufacturing, distribution, but also
you know both stolen motorbikes and the works.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: And after a range of bikie-related crimes in South Australia, Premier Rann got
tough, enacting a series of laws strengthening police powers to deal with outlaw motorcycle gangs.

MIKE RANN: For instance giving the Police Commissioner power under certain circumstances to get
court orders to remove fortifications from bikie gang headquarters and then more recently, very
controversial legislation which essentially treats outlaw bikie gangs involved in serious crime,
that we can prescribe them in much the same way as we can under Australia's anti-terrorist
legislation.

Because what these people are basically are terrorist within.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: Mike Rann says it's this aspect of the South Australian laws which set them apart
from the rest of the country.

MIKE RANN: To give you an example, that if someone who's an active gang member, or holds office in
that gang, goes to, is convicted and goes to jail, when they come out of jail they can't rejoin
without basically going back to jail again.

So there's a range of provisions, but it's really about disrupting their membership base and making
it illegal to be part of that gang or to associate with each other.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: In New South Wales recently there's been a series of bikie-related acts of
violence.

Earlier this month, a Hells Angels clubhouse was blown up.

Now, the New South Wales Government is also considering toughening anti-bikie laws. Mike Rann says
his government's changes have made life tough for bikie gangs in his state.

MIKE RANN: Bikie gang leaders from South Australia are moving to New South Wales and other states,
because we're making it more difficult for them in our state.

And we don't apologise, these people are pond scum involved in trying to sell drugs to our kids and
using violence and extortion to do so.

MICHAEL EDWARDS: But civil libertarians warn against such laws, saying they can erode personal
rights.

Pauline Wright is from the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties.

PAULINE WRIGHT: You've got to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

That is the baby that's a free status of it, and we as innocent people can continue to meet with
whomever we wish.

With the bathwater which is obviously criminal activity, so you've got to be very careful to get
that balance right so that you don't prevent innocent activity by ordinary people and ruin what we
love as a democratic nation.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Pauline Wright from the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties speaking
to Michael Edwards.

Airlines fight to keep loyal flyers

Reporter: Simon Santow

ELEANOR HALL: It's not hard to see the effects of the global recession on the airline industry.

Planes are flying with more empty seats than usual and the airlines are waging a fierce battle to
hold on to their customers.

Routes and schedules are being cut back and fares are beginning to be discounted.

Now Qantas has begun an expensive and aggressive campaign to try to stop its frequent flyer
programme from being raided by its competitors.

As Simon Santow reports.

SIMON SANTOW: Gone are the days when frequent flyer programmes were all about getting points for
flying on a particular airline or partner carrier.

Credit card providers changed that notion when they developed schemes which rewarded customers for
simply spending dollars, but in the process gave customers the choice on which programme the points
could be directed towards.

That brought new meaning to the concept of loyalty, and it's prompted Qantas to launch an
aggressive campaign to lock up its frequent flyers.

SIMON HICKEY: Well what we need to do, is we need to make sure people are informed that these
changes are coming, and that you know, that they make an informed decision about what they want to
do.

Our marketing message is to make sure people are informed that the changes are coming and not to be
caught out.

SIMON SANTOW: Simon Hickey is in charge of one of Qantas's few remaining profitable enterprises.

If it's such a good program, then why not just leave it up to your customers to decide whether they
transfer points to Qantas or whether they choose to spend it on a balloon flight, or a Virgin Blue
flight for that matter?

SIMON HICKEY: What I'm trying to do is to ensure that our card products are as competitive as they
can be to get the best value going forward for our members. They get the most number of points
they're possibly going to do, get, with Qantas frequent flyer, by being up front and by letting
people know where they stand in terms of the value they're getting.

SIMON SANTOW: Has Qantas been hurt at all by Virgin Blue's development of its Velocity program?

SIMON HICKEY: No, no we haven't seen any detriment to the Qantas frequent flyer program.

SIMON SANTOW: At the end of next month, Qantas frequent flyers will be restricted in earning points
on their credit cards.

Those points will have to come from a specially selected credit card and not one where up until now
they've been able to choose what to do with the points.

SIMON HICKEY: We really want to ensure that our members get the best value that they possibly can.

We want to be able to create a competitive market place in Qantas frequent flyer points, through
credit card program products, and for our members to be able to make informed choices about what
they get, and know exactly where they stand.

How does that gel though when currently many of your members have a choice how they spend their
points from their credit cards? They can divert them to Qantas, or they can choose one of your
competitors, or they can choose to buy a voucher at a department store?

SIMON HICKEY: What we've found over time is that many of our card partners have you know, changed
the transfer rate and so what we're trying to do is ensure that our members know exactly where they
stand, that those points go directly into their Qantas frequent flyer account so that they can use
them.

SIMON SANTOW: Some analysts see Qantas as moving to protect a rare profitable part of its business.

BRENT MITCHELL: There is pressure on load factors, there are pressure on yields, and that pressure
extended to a major movement from business and other customers from high yield premium fares to
economy fares.

Qantas has handled that by starting to transfer a lot of services from Qantas to Jetstar brands in
a number of routes, and we see that trend continuing.

SIMON SANTOW: Brent Mitchell is a research analyst at Shaw Stockbroking.

BRENT MITCHELL: With more control over what happens at the point, they are able to attract other
retailers and groups into the frequent flyer and that will ultimately result in higher profits for
the frequent flyers programs.

ELEANOR HALL: Aviation analyst Brent Mitchell with Simon Santow.

Economic crisis gives nutritionists food for thought

Reporter: Oscar McLaren

ELEANOR HALL: Public health analysts are warning that the economic downturn could worsen
Australia's obesity and diabetes problems.

The global financial uncertainty is certainly changing the spending habits of consumers, but while
many people are simply buying less expensive versions of essential products, others are making far
less healthy choices.

Nutritionists say they are particularly concerned about the recent growth in sales at fast food
outlets.

Oscar McLaren reports.

OSCAR MCLAREN: Throughout the world people are watching their spending, and many industries are
going into hibernation.

Not so the fast food industry. Many chains have been reporting an increase in sales, and the giant
of the sector, McDonalds, is expecting to open 39 new stores this year.

This morning, a Sydney McDonald's outlet was doing a brisk trade, but not everyone was thinking of
the economy.

VOX POP: I've got a hangover so I've just gone to McDonalds. It's got nothing to do with really any
economic thing.

VOX POP 2: Ah no, we've just eaten somewhere else so, I couldn't help myself, just having an extra
snack (laughs).

OSCAR MCLAREN: But others did see fast food consumption as a product of financial uncertainty.

VOX POP 3: Probably, yeah, because it's a little bit cheaper, yeah.

VOX POP 4: We used to do fancy dinners every Friday, night, and we probably wouldn't go to the same
restaurants as we used to.

OSCAR MCLAREN: Do you think you'd end up at McDonald's for a fancy dinner?

VOX POP 4: Probably not for a fancy meal, but maybe for lunch more often than we would.

OSCAR MCLAREN: It's a familiar pattern to Tim Gill from the University of Sydney's Institute of
Obesity, Nutrition and Exercise.

TIM GILL: I think that there's a misconception that - in times of economic hardship - that people
will be forced to return to basic foodstuffs and as a result, like during the war times, that their
health will actually improve. But analysis of previous economic downturns has shown that what
happens is that there's a contraction of spending on food and a substitution of less healthy foods
for healthier more basic food stuffs, and as a result health actually decreases rather than
improves.

OSCAR MCLAREN: Earlier this decade, McDonald's was shrinking fast, closing hundreds of stores
around the world and withdrawing from some countries altogether.

Today in Australia it's a different story; the company is planning to open as many as 79 stores
over the next two years.

It's announced that it's taking advantage of a stagnating real estate market to expand its reach,
and it'll also be boosting its advertising budget.

Domino's Pizza has announced a 2.8 per cent jump in profit; it too is planning to open four new
stores in Australia as part of a global expansion.

Tim Gill from Sydney University worries that the current combination of drought, rising transport
costs, and some agricultural produce being used for fuel, could give an edge to fast food outlets.

TIM GILL: They also rely more on cheaper components such as cheaper fats and sugars to produce
their foods, are actually able to produce food at a much cheaper rate than we can at home.

OSCAR MCLAREN: And he worries that small gains made over recent years in reducing the fat, salt and
sugar content of some fast food, may be lost.

TIM GILL: The fast food industry itself is going to me more reluctant to be innovative, and produce
healthier fast food products, so they're going to revert back to their old favourites which they
know will sell, which they know appeal to people, where there's no risk for them.

OSCAR MCLAREN: The World Today contacted a number of fast food outlets, including McDonald's,
Hungry Jacks, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut and Dominoes Pizza for comment on this story. They
all declined to be interviewed.

ELEANOR HALL: Oscar McLaren.