Nurse / Patient Ratios

I’m currently receiving multiple ‘same question’ emails from nurses re my position on nurse / patient ratios, obviously part of a well-orchestrated campaign, not that I have anything against that, or nurses!

I note WA nurses are campaigning strongly for a 1:4 nurse to patient ratio, while not professing to be any sort of expert in hospital management, it is a relatively easy task to call up world wide research into nurse patient ratios, although a touch time consuming.

Several USA based  research papers demonstrate irrefutable statistical proof that hospitals with a nurse patient ration of 1:8 have five more deaths per 1,000 patients than hospitals with a 1:4 ratio.

However in some ways, there is no correct answer – some low risk hospitals  or wards, are perfectly safe and manageable on a 1:8  ratio, while ICU units may well require a ratio of 1:1 0r 1:2 and  palliative care units may work very well on a 1:6 0r 1:8 ratio.

Other factors include wards where post-operative patients regularly  arrive  throughout the day, different days may mean a heavy operation schedule requires a nurse patient ratio of 1:2, rather than a normal 1:4. Staggered shift starts are one method of dealing with this issue.

The WA Nurses Federation makes an interesting point in that nurse / patient ratios go out the window with patients stacked in corridors – I’ve experienced this as a patient and  witnessed it as a friend, I suspect corridor stacking is rife in Perth, through no fault of medical staff.

I realise, through financial mismanagement by the Liberal Party and an unwillingness by WA Liberals to take on the insanity of the GST carve up (which the Liberal Party was responsible for),  money is very tight and best practise simply may not be immediately possible. However my thoughts are that we should set immediate targets and long term (three year targets, as follows:

  1. All major hospitals and private hospitals to immediately (with a three month grace period – to locate staff) to introduce a 1:6 nurse patient ratio for wards other than ICU.
  2. All ICU wards to immediately introduce (with a three month grace period to locate staff) a 1:3 ratio
  3. All wards on busy post-op days to immediately introduce 1:3 ratios (a three month grace period to secure staff)
  4. All major hospitals, public and private, to introduce 1:4 standard nurse /patient ratios within three years.
  5. The absurdity of nurse (all medical staff), paying for parking at hospitals, must immediately cease. It is gouging people for whom public transport is of little value.

Greg Ross

Vote Greg Ross 1 for Midland

 

 

Who the Hell is Greg Ross and Why Midland?

 

Who the Hell is Greg Ross

[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/who-the-hell-is-greg-ross/thumbs/thumbs_greg-ann-april-shots-013.jpg]960Greg in business mode.
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/who-the-hell-is-greg-ross/thumbs/thumbs_l1020044-002.jpg]140My wife and me enjoying a long lunch
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/who-the-hell-is-greg-ross/thumbs/thumbs_fmgs-haul-road-156.jpg]110Out on the FMG Haul Road at Christmas Creek
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/who-the-hell-is-greg-ross/thumbs/thumbs_fbk-northern-wildflowers-tour-album-title-photo-framed_0.jpg]110Tour guide work with the fantastic Goldrush tours
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/who-the-hell-is-greg-ross/thumbs/thumbs_driving-a-coach-chassis-across-the-nullarbor.jpg]90Delivering a coach chassis across the Nullarbor
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/who-the-hell-is-greg-ross/thumbs/thumbs_img_20160507_102313.jpg]100Photography and motor sport
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/who-the-hell-is-greg-ross/thumbs/thumbs_1-signed-picture-mark-webber.jpg]50Mark Webber smokes up the Red Bull F1 machine
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/who-the-hell-is-greg-ross/thumbs/thumbs_jack-in-perth-003.jpg]50Sir Jack and the RX7 in Kings Park
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/who-the-hell-is-greg-ross/thumbs/thumbs_the-larrikin-feb-2013-010.jpg]50Every bloke has to have a toy!
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/who-the-hell-is-greg-ross/thumbs/thumbs_acting-oscar-001.jpg]70All the World's a Stage - Garrick Theatre Guildford
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[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/who-the-hell-is-greg-ross/thumbs/thumbs_political-campaign-pics-004.jpg]80Dunno who the bloke on the left is, but that's Greg Ross on the right.
[img src=http://www.gregross.com.au/wp-content/flagallery/who-the-hell-is-greg-ross/thumbs/thumbs_l1050041.jpg]90David Morrison, 2016 Australian of the Year.
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A dad of four and granddad of three, married to Ann (they’ve just celebrated their second wedding anniversary). After a long period in West Australian tourism as a tour guide driver (something he still loves), followed by many years in the corporate sales and marketing world, roles including marketing Barbagallo Group marketing manager, Dowerin Field Days CEO and marketing manager / joint acting CEO of Yirra Yaakin Theatre, Greg retired from the corporate world to follow his passions of writing, photography, acting and music (a freelance journalist for some 20 years and a past guest lecturer at WAAPA on Arts Marketing), working occasionally as a FIFO road train driver to keep the wolf from the door.

His personal and business experience has given him a unique outlook on life in Western Australia – he’s seen how it is on both sides of the fence – the corporate world and the blue collar battler territory. A passionate believer in the Aussie ethos of a fair go, he has become more and more concerned at the lack of support and respect for working people, pensioners, the long term injured, including police and service men and women, plus the horrendous constantly rising cost of living versus an ongoing steep decline in real wages.

A deep concern at the realities of major party politics, with a belief that more often than not, the party is more important than the voters, led to him standing as an Independent at the 2013 WA State election, for the electorate of Kalamunda. Greg had played a major role with the City Gatekeepers in the fight to try and stop the Elizabeth Quay vanity project and the insidious Development Assessment Panels (DAPs). The same dedicated group could also see the unrestrained spending of the Barnett Liberal government was dangerously speculative when balanced against the inevitability of an end to the mining boom, Greg and the others in the group tried to warn voters that the light at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming locomotive.

As history shows, Greg wasn’t elected and the Liberals won in a landslide, but as we all witnessed, the mining boom did burst and financially, WA slipped into inexcusable debt, with a situation where our population is now in decline, full time employment is being replaced by part time and casual work and the state has been brought to its knees financially.

Worse, while the Liberal and National parties complained bitterly to all and sundry that the GST carve-up was killing WA financially, there was an obvious reluctance to find a way to fix it. The major parties are run by Eastern States head offices and in the case of One Nation, policy is fiercely dictated by a Queensland head office. Not only that, current West Australian Federal parliamentarians seem singularly uninterested in the ludicrous GST situation.

Julie Matheson approached Greg to run as a candidate, her concerns for her beloved Western Australia matched Greg’s and, with his wife Ann’s permission, he accepted, specifically requesting that he be allowed to stand for the electorate of Midland.

Why Midland?

Greg loves trains and Midland has a marvellous historical railway history. In his days as the Barbagallo Group marketing manager, he staged the first event at the then dilapidated railway workshops. The MRA was just about to begin the redevelopment and CEO Kieran Kinsella was delighted with Greg’s ‘off the planet’ themed event. The event launched the new Audi A4 and featured a live steam train, vampires and even James Bond rescuing a fair maiden. Some time later Greg and Ann moved to live in Woodbridge, virtually next door to the Midland Railway Workshops

 

Audi A4 Launch Midland Railway Workshops

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Midland is a wonderful mix of people and cultures, from Noongar, through to Indian Ocean countries and Europe, with a rich cultural history and a natural geographical position as the gateway to the East or the City of Perth. Yet it’s been neglected in the past, as a councillor said the other week, “Midland is a place you pass through on the way to somewhere else.” However development is now happening, as the city spreads out across the coastal plain, however at what cost is the sixty four dollar question? The City of Swan has just voted to develop the town’s only oval, in spite of widespread public disagreement. There is also major disquiet at plans to destroy an old hotel for yet another service station, once again, the community is not being listened to and certainly the current Liberal government is not exactly renowned for its belief in community over development. What inevitably occurs when development accelerates, is ordinary people get pushed out, simply because rents and purchase prices rise as places become gentrified, single income people, those on a pension, or those without a job, will find themselves pushed further and further out of town. The soul of a place often disappears – Subiaco is a prime example of how to kill off both the spirit and the viability of a community. Greg feels he can help people keep the community going, while ensuring reasonable and much needed development continues.

Campaign Dream – Don’t Tell Me I’m Dreaming! Together we can make it happen!

Greg is passionate about pushing every agenda possible to fix the insanity of the GST system, he specifically wants to look after pensioners, unemployed people, Indigenous issues, long term injured workers, tourism and road safety and has a passion for the arts and education.

He feels voters are now understanding the benefits of committed, reflective and passionate small parties and that the old two or three major party system is broken and no longer serves either the State of Western Australia or the nation.

The Mythology of Drunken, Raging, Raping Muslim Men Running Rampant in Germany

As with most of us, I like to think the mainstream media outlets in western democratic societies are fundamentally reliable in terms of providing us with genuine proven news, along with unbiased reporting and expert analysis. Certainly the ultra conservative bias of the  Murdoch media empire is obvious to all, but that in itself is no real problem, the reader or viewer can easily judge where the fact ends and loathing begins. It’s become so obvious it’s now humorous.

Of course opinion is an end-product of detailed examination, consequently opinion pieces and Letters to the Editor provide for stimulating debate.

I’ve long been a writer of letter to newspaper editors and grateful that editorial staff often see fit to print my letters. As I live in Perth, naturally the staff at the West Australian newspaper are more often burdened with my thoughts on matters important to me, than Eastern states based media. I genuinely only write if I care / see a wrong that should be rectified, or indeed a right that should be praised.

As any inveterate letter writer knows, they’re not always published – another may write of the same topic more succinctly, or perhaps the editor feels there is little public interest in continuing a debate. However for the first time, I am feeling a little uneasy about a letter of mine not being published, in fact it’s three letters, on the same topic, over three years, all written in answer to the letters of others. Normally that still wouldn’t give me any cause for reflection, however the topic happens to be Muslim people and their behaviour.

This latest occasion centres around a letter published in the West Australian on Wednesday 15th February (this week). As you will read in the copy below, the writer  is overjoyed at finding some of the Muslim faith drink, personally I’m more concerned at Christian priests and ministers sexually abusing children, but it seems Muslims are the real danger to our society. But that’s not what prompted me to pen a reply to his letter.

IMG_20170219_112538

The writer goes on, as have others in the past couple of years, to warn that Muslim men are running rampant through Germany and Sweden, molesting women. I am married to a German and my wife and I spend at least two months in Germany and Europe every year, often longer. This so called fact, is an example of fake news, it is patently incorrect, worse, it is stirring up racial and religious intolerance on a falsehood. The letter I wrote to the West Australian in response (on the same day) is as follows:

While my observations concur with Charles Hunt’s statement re Muslims drinking alcohol as apparently negotiable (as indeed is the consumption of pork for many Jewish people these days), as a frequent traveller to Germany (married to a German), I take strong issue with Mr Hunt’s assertion that drunken Muslim men are running rampant through the streets molesting women. One is far more likely to see neo-Nazis actively pursuing hatred and vitriol in the streets. My experience of Muslim men in Germany, is they are unfailingly polite and courteous, almost always offering to help women and the elderly with suitcases and shopping etc at street crossings and railway stations.

Greg Ross

I am open to criticism that my reply may have been badly composed and there were a couple of spelling mistakes (the letter was composed on my phone), however it worries me that the West Australian seems content with printing letters from people making these assertions, (which in these uncertain times), many may choose to believe, yet they don’t appear to want a dissenting, experienced view aired. Given the orchestrated fear of Islam and Muslim people constantly created by fanatical, lunatic terrorists and governments such as the Abbott / Turnbull circus, or the increasingly bizarre President Trump,  I feel saddened that mainstream media appears to be allowing the festering flames of intolerance to go unchecked.

As Paul Simon wrote in that beautiful song … “Silence like a cancer grows.”

Greg Ross

 

Reality vs Political Promise in Western Australia

Pigs A Flying

Here in the West, the major parties and their respective leaders are promising to fix anything and everything that’s wrong with Western Australia and Pauline, the Liberal’s new best friend, is saying what  Liberals don’t want to be seen saying, spraying venom against anyone she doesn’t perceive as being “Astrayan”.  I’d like to raise both the tone of the debate and the plight of many people working in our state.

The cost of living has been spiralling out of control for several years, day to day costs are genuinely horrendous, most families could not get by without two incomes. Just the other day, would be replacement Premier, Liza Harvey, tweeted that the Liberals had kept the power going, neglecting to mention that under her party’s stewardship, the cost of power has become so expensive for families, power bills are now sent monthly with reminder messages to consumers that their bill is due in “three days” etc.

Meanwhile, real wages have been dropping dramatically over the last 18 months and available work is increasingly part time or casual. Many jobs are being converted to casual, as a method of circumventing holiday and sick pay requirements. Indeed, in reversal of past practice, casual rates are now often less than full time rates of pay – the carrot being, “If you work for us for a period of months, we might offer you full time employment at a higher rate of pay!”  If you look up from your screen, you may well see a sounder of swine flying by.

As I write this, at a mining camp in WA, I’m watching a group of workers, who’ve just been given the news, the sub-contractor company they work for, through no fault of that company, has lost the job to the main contractor. To add insult to injury, they are being asked to train their replacements, who are coming in to do the same job for almost exactly half the rate of pay – from $36.00 per hour down to $18.00ph. These guys, who were already working casually, albeit with continual work, will all be unemployed by the end of next week. The shareholders of the European based company will no doubt be ecstatic at this year’s AGM, with the cost reduction achieved.

All of these guys have kids, mortgages and bills to pay. At this stage, they don’t care about balancing budgets, burqas, Roe 8, Elizabeth Quay, or Metronet, they want a secure job, so they can pay their bills and look after their families, but nobody seems to care. And if anyone thinks this is an isolated incident, it has become the norm.

I’m going to say that I care, that’s why I’ve made the decision to stand for Midland – somebody has to fight for ordinary working people and their families.

Greg Ross

Candidate for Midland

Julie Matheson for Western Australia Party

 

Greg Ross – the Considered Alternative Safe Choice for Midland.

 

Fours years after campaigning very hard as an Independent for the Lower House seat of Kalamunda (see the story at this link: http://www.gregross.com.au/news-and-opinion/so-you-think-that-you-might-like-to-go-to-the-show-the-trials-of-a-first-time-battle-scarred-independent/ ), I unexpectedly found myself being asked by Julie Matheson if I would consider running as a candidate for her party – Julie Matheson for Western Australia Party.

It’s fair to say, I expressed an initial reluctance and declined the invitation to once again run for Kalamunda. What I had learnt during the 2013 campaign, was that the blue collar workers and ordinary people in the working class suburbs of the Kalamunda State electorate, such as Maddington, were very supportive, but the rusted on Liberal supporters of the more leafy sections of the electorate where not at all enthusiastic, burgeoning state debt and Liberal Party infighting were preferable to some roadtrain driver in a hi-vis shirt! I vowed to myself that if ever I was silly enough to put myself through the pain of a campaign again, it would be Midland – the long term Labor seat had almost gone to Liberal – Labor retained it by just 24 votes, such was the dissatisfaction of the electorate, yet I instinctively knew it had been a protest vote. I thought the sitting member would probably retire at the 2017 State election and Labor would offer a new face, but that hasn’t happened. Yes, a small redistribution has weighted the seat a little more in favour of Labor, but it’s only a small percentage, in reality Midland is now one of the most marginal seats in Australia, it’s on a knife edge politically. Yet, I am sure neither party is particularly interested in the voters and their day to day needs, other than as a means to gain power. Call me naïve, but I just don’t think it should be that way.

To add to the complexity, Pauline Hanson’s one Nation Party is now looming as the go-to party for a protest vote, but I wondered if voters would realise a vote for One Nation would always be a vote for the Liberal Party.

Having satisfied myself that Julie’s aims and aspirations were aligned with mine – I particularly liked the fact that she has a wonderful Aboriginal candidate for Fremantle, as well as people from all over the world (and Oz of course!) proudly displaying their Australian Citizenship certificates. I became even more interested when she told me that a friend, Russell Goodrick, was going to run for the East Metropolitan Upper House seat. I asked if I could offer myself as the Lower House candidate for Midland, and Julie readily agreed.

I rang my wife Ann (she’s overseas visiting her mum at the moment) and asked her what she thought. Her initial reaction was to have me certified for Graylands, but on her third glass of champagne, she became enthusiastic. I then emailed my employer (I’m a FIFO worker), he was marvellous and readily agreed to give me time off, even telling me I’ d be an excellent MP for the people. I’m still going to work some of the time, but hopefully I’ll have enough time to reach out to Midland people. We don’t have the enormous advertising budgets of the major parties and from past experience, most of the main stream media will no doubt treat us as no-hope losers who have no right offering ourselves for election, interesting, when you look back on how many journos fawned over Troy Buswell and Dean Nalder etc. I must add that in the last State election, apart from the marvellous, utterly ethical Post Newspapers under Bret Christian, I found 882 6PR Talkback Radio to be the fairest in terms of giving all candidates and parties an opportunity, no quarter was given, hard, but fair, exactly as it should be. It’s almost as if one needs permission from elite journalists to run as a candidate, but hey, that’s the game, roll with it. And so to the hard slog:

A vote for One Nation is a vote for the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party nationally is actively working against pensioners and people who through no fault of their own need welfare support, while here in WA, the Liberal / National Party coalition has proven to be financially disastrous – now they want to sell Western Power to try and claw money back, power prices will skyrocket even more. The Liberal Party is the party of big business – there’s nothing wrong with big successful business, however the ordinary worker is of no interest.

Labor will probably get in, but will unions allow the concerns and wishes of ordinary working people to take precedence over union demands and excesses? Labor has a number of candidates who’ve been in parliament for a long time and are desperate to get back into power and become Ministers once again. There’s nothing inherently wrong with ambition, however Ministers are very busy people, that’s why you usually don’t see them in their electorate until the next election. Sure, they might really like their electorate, but they don’t have time to service the people properly.

We’re all seeing the headlines with the same old promises being trotted out, only to be broken the morning after the election. We all know the money is not there to pay for the promises. If the Liberal Party gets back in, they’ll sell Western Power, then tell us things have got tighter and they can’t do the things they’ve promised – well, history tells us Barnett will continue on with a vanity project or two.

If Labor gets in, within a week, they’re going to tell us they’ve gone through the books and the situation is far worse than they were led to believe, consequently they’ll have to drop their promises. Yes, they’ll probably be telling the truth, but the reality is the promises will not eventuate.

Now I can’t make them keep their promises, as I believe we are too far in debt – we are already borrowing to pay the fortnightly public service wages bill, but I can go in to fight for you against utility price rises, aggressive public service and utility actions and Development Assessment Panels and councils selling off public land to developers and so on, as a voice not beholden to big business, unions, or a party run by the eastern states, with zero interest in Western Australia, other than as a piggy bank to be raided as necessary.

I know a lot of people wish to make a protest vote – we’ve seen how effective protest votes can be – look at Nick Xenophon in South Australia – he has no affiliation with Labor, Liberal, the Greens, or One Nation, his SOLE concerns are South Australia and the people who voted him in, I admire what he does, as a person of principle and my aim would be to look after the people of Midland and the good of WA, in the same way he does. Take a look at the candidates the Julie Matheson for Western Australia Party offers – people from all walks of life and many nationalities, we are a genuine Western Australian party, inclusive and determined to see small business boom, jobs created and reward for hard work, while at the same time looking after those who need a helping hand. I believe I am the safe, considered Lower House choice for Midland voters, whether disaffected, Labor or Liberal.

Kind regards

Greg

Greg Ross

Mob: 0418 953 275

E: gregory.w.ross@gmail.com

 

A Super Moon, down by the Swan Riverside.

Super Moon Monday 14th November 2016

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We (Ann and I) know there’ll be lots of superb photos taken  of the Super Moon with Perth City in the foreground and great shots taken in the country, so we thought we’d take a couple of photos in our local area. First we stood on the pedestrian bridge at Success Hill, then we wandered down to the shore of the Swan River beside the Guildford Bridge, just to see what we could get. As the Moon rose, as expected, it became too bright to properly photograph (without tripods and time!), but we were happy with what we managed to get over about an hour.

As I write this post (10.20pm), the Super Moon is, we are told, at it’s fullest and brightest, we can see it overhead from our north facing balconey, however clouds have formed and that big old sivler Moon, just peaks out now and then, although there is a silver glow seemingly across the sky. Nature is so beautiful.

Cheers

Hardy Hits the Big 70!

 

Hardy's 70th

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Great mate, fellow Kiwi Aucklander, Chris Hardy hit the big 70 this week, kicking off celebrations with a Boys Own lunch at Royal Perth Yacht Club, followed by a smokey night at Devlin’s Cigar Bar in Subiaco.

Hardy, now enjoying glorious retirement, is of course one of Perth’s best-known Bon Vivants, in days past, an architect of renown, past Commodore of Royal Perth Yacht Club – he can be seen in the wonderful Australia 11 video clip with Bob Hawke in that jacket. He also spent penance – sorry – time, as a Perth City Councillor in the days of the Nattrass reign, indeed the venerable Peter may be seen in some pictures

I didn’t manage to get a good shot of Tim (Chris’s son) – apologies, but later at Devlins, when his daughter Caroline turned up with the new bub, I got a couple of reasonable pics of granddad, Caroline and bub.

And yes, the ladies turned up in force at Devlins, demanding to know why lunch was a Boys Own affair – easy ladies, so we could all look at the gorgeous French universities sailing team!

And more apologies for the lack of pics of the ladies, but I had to leave and head home to my wife Ann, who’d flown in from Germany early in the afternoon – I’d pushed my luck as far as I dared!

 

Airbnb … A Bit to Air

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None of us can be in any doubt the internet has changed our world forever, the ability for anyone with access to the internet to instantly communicate has both despotic and democratic governments floundering as they struggle for ways to limit the flow of information, or, as demonstrated by the Australian census fiasco, even gather information. Suddenly everyone has a voice. Where once Joe Public could only be heard through a letter to the editor, or talk-back radio, these days if you’ve got something to say, you can put it out to the world on platforms such as Facebook, or Twitter, or indeed a Blog such as this and these mediums can be very powerful tools. If anyone despairs of actually talking to a company representative about an issue or complaint, don’t bother using their website complaint forms, try Tweeting your complaint, you’ll hear from a company representative within minutes as they genuinely attempt to resolve the issue – read shut you down!, or alternatively, ‘Like’ the company Facebook page, then post your (legitimate!) complaint, you’ll be astounded at the speed and reaction. There’s a social downside, where a newspaper editor or radio producer can edit, cut off or ignore the virulent, the vicious, or the insane, there’s seemingly no way to prevent these same trolls, under the protective cover of anonymity, from freely lashing out at anyone anytime. However perhaps the biggest effect of the internet, has been on sales methodology – whether you’re flogging vacuum cleaners, cars, houses, or jobs, the world wide web has the reach traditional forms of media, such as newspapers, can only dream of, as they watch their advertising income dwindle to death.  You can research and find the car, the house, the holiday, the airline you want, anything, without leaving your chair at home.

Need a cab? Tap your Uber app on your mobile computer (phone) and you can even see where available cars are, along with the driver’s name, phone number and car registration. It’s so convenient, such a brilliant concept, that it’s changed the taxi industry forever, perhaps decimated would be a better choice of word. Although Uber is a Dutch company, for whatever reasons, the concept was developed by a couple of Americans and they’ve built the world’s biggest taxi company without owning a single vehicle, or even having financial responsibility for those vehicles, hell they’ve even appropriated the word Uber from their next door neighbours!

Around the same time, (2008 / 2009), another couple of Americans who couldn’t afford overnight accommodation, came up with the Airbnb concept and the parallels with Uber are astounding – Airbnb is becoming the accommodation solution of choice for travellers around the world, yet Airbnb own no accommodation and have no financial risk in terms of bricks and mortar, they have a website where private home or apartment owners can list their property for rent, whether it’s an overnight stay or longer. And just like Uber, they’ve been operating on the fringes of legality, driving governments to distraction.

As any traveller will tell you, accommodation cost is the biggest killer of any holiday, or trip, far outweighing the cost of flights – if you live in Australia, you fly return to Europe for $1,600.00, which roughly equates to about four night’s accommodation in a reasonable hotel. Most of us have stayed with relatives of friends when travelling and house swapping has long been an option for some people, not to mention the time-honoured old hippy method of collapsing on somebody’s couch – these days appropriately named Couch Surfing and of course, all organised on the web. So an idea to let people advertise their house or apartment for short term lease and make some extra cash (once again the Uber parallel) was at once both brilliant and a no-brainer.

We started using Airbnb four or five years ago, in Australia, New Zealand and Europe, with great success, even making friends with some owners. All homes have quirks or faults, or maybe a cat that needs feeding and owners would leave a written list of where the cat food was, or how to run the hi fi, what public transport there was, where local shopping centres were and great places to visit etc. It was fun, a lot cheaper than hotels and in way, you felt like a local. We reached a point where we couldn’t imagine returning to using hotels. But sadly, things have changed.

Airbnb appears to have no control systems in place to establish the veracity of what is being offered, sure they offer a genuine resolution system, but, if you’ve arrived in a strange city and found yourself at a place that’s not as advertised, or is not in a suitable condition to use, the reality is you’re in trouble. At least with a hotel, you can hot foot it straight down to reception and get the matter sorted very quickly, with Airbnb, resolution at best will mean getting your money back, at some point! Meanwhile, you either put up with what you find, or pay out more money to stay at a hotel. Our recent experiences indicate some blatant fraudulent advertising and an increasing number of places needing urgent maintenance. Airbnb does not appear to be imposing standards or conducting inspections of advertised properties. I’ve reached the conclusion the travelling consumer is of no importance to Airbnb, other than a source of income.

I am going to write about three recent experiences to illustrate the current risk of renting through Airbnb.

Sydney  (Australia) Feb 2015:  We rented a Barangaroo apartment for two days, it looked fabulous on the website, but when we got there, although the apartment was relatively new, we found the bed was a mattress on the floor and there were no tables or chairs, just a sofa and from memory, the TV didn’t work. We contacted the owner, she apologised, giving some excuse re running out of time etc, telling us she’d like us to stay and if we would, she’d refund some money as an act of good faith. We agreed – it was too hard to move and she said she’d drop the money off. Of course, she never did and never answered any more phone calls.

Weimar (Germany) Dec 2015: This was a real eye opener, although the apartment was close to the old town square as promised, it was unfit for habitation, the second bedroom was actually the lounge, the fridge didn’t work, there were bare electrical wires hanging down in every room and the plug socket in the bathroom actually came out of the wall, exposing bare wires when  you inserted a hair dryer or shaver. Worse was to come, the double bed collapsed during the night. When we removed the mattress, we found broken plastic slats had been broken previously and just inserted back in as best they would fit. We contacted the owner who told us a new fridge was on the way, she’d organised for the electrical work and, expressing surprise at the bed condition, she agreed to have it looked at. As with the Sydney owner, during our four day stay, we neither saw nor heard from her again. A few months later, my wife noticed on the Airbnb site that other people were complaining about the broken bed and the other issues. The lying bitch had no intention of fixing anything and Airbnb were obviously quite happy to let the situation continue.

Amsterdam (Netherlands) Aug 2016: The apartment was advertised as two bedrooms, with a courtyard and ample storage for clothes etc. We were a touch concerned, as in the two days before we were due to arrive, my wife had tried several times to get instructions for key handover etc, but the only responses she got, were strangely generic – “Hi, hope you’ll have a great time, Sam.” When we arrived at the pre-appointed time, it was pouring with rain and there was nobody to greet us. After about five minutes an apartment owner from the same block took pity on us and let us into the foyer, though by now we were soaking wet, however she was concerned about the cat – apparently it had gone missing after the previous people had stayed at the apartment we were renting. Then 15 minutes later, a nice young guy turned up with the keys. Apparently he wasn’t Sam and he had no idea where the apartment was in the complex, I had to tell him! He let us in, apologising for his lack of knowledge, explaining that his job was to deliver keys, which puzzled us. Anyhow, off he scooted.

Then we discovered that although it was a two bedroom apartment, the second bedroom was locked and the door handle had been removed! The backdoor to the courtyard was locked with no key to be found and the one available wardrobe was full of clothes. We rang ‘Sam.’ He at first said it was raining so we wouldn’t need the courtyard!  He did however give the impression of being shocked re the second bedroom told us to wait and he’d come round as soon as possible. By now we’d wasted an hour and a half. Half an hour later, another nice young bloke turned up, his name wasn’t Sam either. We showed him the Airbnb website pics and description of the place and the locked second bedroom door etc. He’d never seen the apartment either and no idea what to do. By now, I had become very angry, we explained to him that my wife’s mother was travelling with us, she was a smoker, which is why we’d specifically taken an apartment with a courtyard. He admitted there was nothing he could do about the second bedroom and we all searched for a backdoor key. I eventually tried a key that was in the main bedroom window lock and it worked. I told him it wasn’t satisfactory, however my mother in law was willing to sleep in the couch in the lounge, but we’d want the fee reduced by 100 euros to match the going price of one bedroom apartments. He said he’d have to ring his boss. It turned out he worked for what was basically a real estate company looking after Airbnb rentals, he had no idea who owned the apartment or where to even contact them. The company agreed to the discount and by now, some three hours lost and still wet, we resignedly agreed to stay. Off went whatever his name was, apologising profusely. Then we discovered the bare wires for the dining room table lights and later that the plugs for both the spa bath and the washbasin were broken.

I Tweeted my displeasure to Airbnb and they came back almost instantly asking for the  booking number etc. I told them that although it was false advertising, fraudulent really, we’d decided it was just too hard to find another place at that point in time and that the agents had agreed to a refund, so we’d accept the situation. As I write this, some five days later, there is no sign of the refund and some other poor sucker has posted a complaint on Airbnb about the fraudulent two bedroom claim. However the description of the place has been changed from two bedrooms to one.

Sadly Airbnb has changed from what was a great concept, to a “Come in suckers!” rip off of genuine travellers. Our experience is they are letting owners get away with shoddy, badly maintained apartments and let’s be brutally honest, fraudulent advertising. There are obviously no checks and balances, worse, real estate agents have got involved, as they can see a quick buck and real estate agents have never had any interest in tenants or renters. When you combine those factors with fraudulent, lying owners, purposely letting out substandard dwellings to make a quick buck, suddenly hotels look very attractive.

Cheap Flix … Bus

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I was for many years, a coach driver and tour guide based in Western Australia, including periods as a Greyhound and Bus Australia express coach driver, and I still do the occasional coach tour as a driver / guide, so when the opportunity came up to make a quick return trip to Bremen (from Bielefeld in Germany), I was very interested to see what the Flixbus operation was like.

Flixbus commenced operations in 2013 as a low cost intercity and country (it operates in 16 countries across Europe) express coach service. Offering a considerably cheaper fare structure than rail, or air, it has to be considered an outstanding success, having reached the point where it is taking over competitors.

The passenger mix would appear to be the classic backpackers from all over the world and Eastern European migrant peoples. The fare for the 185km one way trip was just E9.00 compared to E39 for the train, so it’s easy to see why people on low incomes or travel budgets are attracted to the service.

Booking online proved similar to booking a train or plane, print out your own ticket, or save it on your phone and they do send you update phone messages if there is some sort of delay, which segues into our first complaint. They sent a confirming message stating due to roadworks the departure time was slightly delayed and the departure time was now 7.05am (a Sunday morning). Fine. But, when we got to the terminal – well – street side, opposite the station, there was no bus. With no customer service representative in sight, my wife did her best to try and reach somebody, eventually getting a message to say the departure time was +60 minutes of the printed departure time and that information was printed on the ticket. We looked and sure enough it was, in small orange print. But why a day later, send a confirming text message stating the departure time was now 7.05am when it was actually 8.05am? To be fair, when I Tweeted my annoyance, whoever was watching Twitter from Flixbus, did after, three Tweets, see the point.

The bus arrived. Now top marks to Flixbus for their coaches, most of the fleet appears to be Setras (part of the Daimler Benz Group), Australians would remember Deluxe Coachlines used to run Kässbohrer Setras across Australia, apparently Setra dropped their founder’s name (Kässbohrer), as English speaking people found it too hard to pronounce. As drivers, we had great respect for them in Australia. The coach was obviously very new, clean, stylish and comfortable, with double USB charger connections for phones and laptops in one of each of the double seat configuration. There is supposed to be free Wi-Fi, but we couldn’t hook into to it on either journey. The seats have small picnic tables and there is a downstairs toilet, although the configuration of the above passenger seat and the small size of the toilet compartment means it’s a ludicrous size, also all the signs are in German, if you don’t read German, it could be very difficult to work out what button does what. Setra needs to look at the toilet compartment design. They run automatic gearboxes, presumably ZFs, they appeared to be an eight speed box (I stand to be corrected) with very smooth up and down shifts.

As we waited to board, it became obvious Flixbus was running as a budget coach line, the driver had to do everything and whether it was just the two drivers we had on our return trip I don’t know, however neither driver spoke English, which had the potential to make things difficult, especially as it seems coaches always run late. I would have thought English as a second language would have been a pre-requisite on an intercontinental express coach, given the pax mix. The drivers take very little interest in where passengers sit and so on a near full coach, there’s the inevitable situation of somebody and it’s usually always a girl, (nothing’s changed!), taking up two seats with her luggage and not wanting to move, Guys will always move, but women? No. As in trains and planes, you need to be aware that Muslim women will not want a male sitting next to them, so they and their families will move Heaven, Earth and Allah presumably, to ensure you aren’t anywhere near them. Without driver control, you may find you have to be blunt to find a seat.  We were down the back of the coach for the first trip, so I had no idea of the driver’s behaviour other than to say the trip was very smooth and comfortable.

As with a budget airline, once your journey is completed, you are on your own, the driver only has time for inspecting new passengers tickets, queries about bins and luggage are met with exasperated stares, shouting and pointing to a relevant bin and the driver doesn’t load or unload the bags, so there is utterly no control over the movement of your bag. At Osnabrück, the driver had to ask on the PA system, who owned the large blue suitcase on the footpath, it seemed somebody else had put the suitcase there in order to retrieve their own bag and just left it there! Luckily someone spotted it. So beware, you could easily lose your luggage and nobody would ever find it, there just isn’t any control.

Our return trip the next day commenced the same way as the previous trip – a text message telling us the coach was 40 minutes late. At the Bremen street pickup, again there were no staff on hand and some people had been waiting almost two hours for their coach. The problem is you can’t leave as you have no idea when the coach will eventually turn up and believe me, an express coach already running late, will not muck around, it will be a lightning fast stop, to try and make up time.

The first Flixbus to arrive should, in terms of timing, have been ours, however the sign on the window was for Hamburg, ours would read Munich, so we ignored it, but it was fascinating to observe the driver. He stayed talking on his mobile phone the entire time the coach was stopped, passenger queries were met with nods or head shaking, or pointing and shrugs. Interestingly, where the driver the day before had a hand-held machine to scan passenger tickets, this driver just looked at the tickets, then pointed at the door he wanted the passenger to enter through.

Ann (my German wife) was becoming worried, as by this time one Hamburg coach had already left and the one we were watching was getting ready to depart, she decided to ask the driver if he had any idea when the Munich coach would arrive. It’s a good job she did, he’d been so preoccupied on the phone and dealing with passengers, he’d forgotten to change the signs, the Hamburg bus was the Munich bus, but you needed to ask the driver to find out!  If like us and some other people, you relied on the bus signs, you’d still be there on the street.

He pointed us towards the middle door and we entered the coach, but finding seats was a real problem, once again single women were taking up double seats with no intention of moving, one even lied her box off saying the seat was taken, her friend was in the toilet. I’d had enough and strode up the aisle telling the driver, “There are no fucking seats mate!” Although he also spoke no English, he understood that! And moved his gear off the double seat at the front right. I knew that trick. All good, though he wasn’t happy.

Within a couple of minutes of getting out of the main CBD area, he began plugging his phone in and sorting out his earphones, all while negotiating busy city streets. Full marks for dexterity, but safety obviously didn’t factor in any way. He then continued to hold several phone calls over the next hour or so, often at 100km/h in pouring rain on the motorway. It seemed he was annoyed at the hours he was working – he’d been delayed the previous evening by a couple of hours had had to start early this day and then had to replace a windscreen wiper. I recognised all the hallmarks of a stressed, tired, overworked driver, just perfect for an express coach full of passengers on a busy motorway.

Now the guy, in his mid thirties, could drive, he knew where to place the coach on narrow streets and lanes, but then again, an automatic Setra with every modern feature, including an early warning ‘Too close’ buzzer, is not exactly difficult to pilot – I could have jumped into the driver’s seat in a second without ever having driven that model before and had no trouble, the GPS appeared to be preloaded with each stage of the journey. He had excellent control in pulling into and out of the heavy vehicle lane to let fast cars through.

As a professional driver, I just wasn’t comfortable with a tired, stressed, annoyed driver, constantly on the mobile phone. When we arrived at Bielefeld, as we got off, I was very relieved to see another driver take over.

In conclusion, I can see the game plan, Flixbus are pushing prices down so low, they are crippling any competition, a great business plan if you have deep enough pockets and they seem to have the cash to play the game, besides the customer is always price-conscious. However I am certain this is at the expense of driver conditions and any form of control and order mechanisms for passengers and luggage. It’s another of those ‘everything is done on the internet’ modern companies, where actual people contact doesn’t factor. Given the price difference between rail, or air, there is more than sufficient room to raise the prices a little and provide decent driver conditions, have a representative on site to organise luggage and passenger queries and ensure safety is the priority. I am amazed that European, German especially, laws are so lax in terms of safety and driver conditions, there appears to be no official safety or quality control mechanisms / legislation in place. I think the lack of driver uniforms indicates the lack of interest, you can shout all you like that a no uniforms policy represents fun and relaxation, what it actually says is cost cutting. Flixbus is primarily a line haul transport company carrying an inconvenient freight – people. As good as the Setra coaches are, I wouldn’t risk travelling with Flixbus again.

Greg Ross

An Aussie Eagle Flies over Deutschland

Detmold Raptor Sanctuary

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If you’re a nature lover and happen to be in northern Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia way, then you could do a lot worse than head to the beautiful medieval town of Detmold and Alderwarte Berlebeck the Raptor sanctuary in the suburban foothills. I’ve seen bird sanctuaries all over the world, but this has to be the best, even just for the surrounding picture-post card scenery in the valley below.

The sanctuary rescues injured raptors with the intention of releasing them back into the wild when they have recovered and they also breed up the birds. They have some local government funding, but rely on entry fees and donations to keep going, you can also sponsor a bird if you wish.

To drive to the sanctuary, input Hangstein Street Detmold to your GPS, the route takes you  past the magnificent Detmold University of Music and into some of the most beautiful German houses in the hills, it’s worth it for the drive alone (about ten minutes out of the city centre). The ample parking area comes up on a sweeping corner to your left, half way up a hill and you walk across the road to the sanctuary entry. There were suburban buses passing all the time, so no doubt it’s possible to catch a bus from the city centre, I don’t know if there are tour buses visiting the sanctuary, I didn’t see any. Beware, there is a substantial 250 metre steep uphill climb of wide concrete stairs to reach the sanctuary! There is an access road, so you can drop people off, then drive back down to the parking area, also if you have a disabled person with you, you can park up the top as well. I would suggest that if you have an elderly person who is not a fit walker, then perhaps drop them at the top.

The entry fees are very reasonable – E6.50 adults and E3.50 for kids (5 – 14), there are also group concessions available. It’s open from 9.30am to 5.30pm and there are bird flying demonstrations at 11.00am and 3.00pm from March through to November, plus an extra show at 4.30pm during Summer. For other months and more details, refer to their website www.adlerwarte-berlebeck.de  and yes, it’s in German but has an easy ‘click to translate to English’ button.

Entry is through lovely old style wrought iron gates, past a typical old German house, beautifully renovated, the lady at the entry kiosk spoke English and they also have an A4 sheet translated into English, explaining the birds on display and flying, however during  the actual shows, the handlers speak in German, but hey, it’s the birds that are the show.

When you’re through the gate, there is a long single story building on your right, walking past that, you get to the kiosk, selling all the usual café food, souvenirs and beer etc. On past the kiosk, you walk down a short flight of steps to the beginning of the pathway leading through the bird display area (the toilets are to your immediate right as you come off the steps.

The display is really well laid out, however you will find all the signs on the cages etc, are in German, but if you’ve got the English sheet with you, it’s all easy, besides, you’ll know what a lot of the birds are and there are world maps showing where each bird comes from. There are displays of baby birds and a lot of the bigger birds of prey are on leather leads on a grassed area to your left. It’s all very easy to photograph and for little kids to see, everyone is well catered for. The cages are in superb condition, I don’t know how often they are cleaned, but they were spotless.

There are two flying shows, the first sees everyone seated around a platform jutting out over the valley far below, the handler sends the birds flying out over the valley, where they soar majestically. In case you’re wondering, the birds are fitted with GPS so they can be located if they decide to go exploring! It really is amazing to see these magnificent creatures return of their own accord and interact with the crowd. Remembering the commentary is in German, what you need to know, is to stay seated, or the birds will land on your head (the tallest object around!) and if they do, don’t panic, stay calm – I watched it happen several times, to little kids as well as adults, with no issues. Also put all food away, or the birds will take it straight off you!  Don’t be tempted to stand to take a photo – ditto they’ll land on you! And really you don’t need to stand to take decent pics or video.

It was fascinating to watch some of the younger birds, still unsure of themselves in terms of flying, like little kids, they’re straight back to mum (the trainer) rather than soar off into the wild blue yonder, the trainer is literally calming them down, teaching them how to fly and glide. There is a real reluctance on the part of young birds to leave the nest, they expect the food to be brought to them, the trainers do exactly as the parents do, gradually put the food further and further away in order to make the young chic leave the perceived safety of the nest. It was a fabulous demonstration, with an amazing display of speed from Falcons capable of reaching 240km/h+ for short bursts! Most of these raptors can spot a mouse a couple of kilometres away. Oh and somebody asked why the different species of birds don’t fly together during the show, the handler gently reminded everyone that there is a pecking order, the bigger birds would immediately kill and eat the small birds of prey, a reminder that nature is always both beautiful and dangerous at the same time. He also told us the birds that can fly, all go flying during the day, as they get depressed if they can’t and of course wet weather stops them flying. We were there after several days of rain and consequently the birds were very happy at being able to play.

After a 45 minute break – try the chips and mayonnaise for a snack – the next demonstration is on the pretty lawn oval with a pond and waterfall. The effect of this show, is to bring the birds very close to everyone as they fly, often barely a metre of the ground. It was instructive to watch a young eagle being taught how to catch food on the wing – essential for his / her eventual survival in the wild, the trainer explained there were foxes waiting at the bottom of the valley, they knew when the birds were being trained and would eat anything the birds dropped.  I was particularly astounded when they brought out an owl, I had no idea owls could be trained in the same way as an eagle, or a falcon, or even that some owls flew during the day, as such the owl was a real highlight for me. Old Hooty was followed by a family act of three Falcons, they were a lot of fun and very chatty, finally the biggest daddy of them all came in, the Australian Eagle and you realised smaller birds and animals would have zero chance of survival. It also has to be said, the trust these animals displayed to their handlers was amazing, as each bird finished its training and exercise, one of the handlers would be standing by the doorway of the long building and the birds would all fly straight to them, sitting on leather protected arms to be walked through the door into the building.

I’d allow three hours at the sanctuary, it is that interesting and don’t forget the camera – or phone, truly an awe-inspiring display of the beauty and power of nature, as well as the obvious dedication and love of these birds by their handlers. I can’t recommend Adlerwarte Berlebeck enough.