Doctor and activist

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Tag: Politics

Mental Health. Small wins, more needed.

20 October 2019 When I was in Parliament, 4 things happened in quite rapid succession.  I was part of an inquiry into prisons and a Dept of Corrections psychiatrist who attended court to question accused people told the committee that it was much easier to get into Prison than the mental health system and that […]

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A Law is Coming to Get Ready for Negative Interest Rates 2/8/19

Recession Alert!  A Law is Coming to Get Ready for Negative Interest Rates, but it being sold as just another move against the ‘black economy.  The bill is the ‘Currency (Restriction Use of Cash) Bill 2019’.

Cash is used in the black economy to avoid tax. But when the GST came in, the obvious time to restrict cash transactions, this was not done. Now it is coming in the above bill, banning cash transactions over $10,000 apart from a few exemptions which can be turned off by regulation, (i.e. without going back to Parliament). This bill was announced last Friday afternoon 26 July, and not picked up by the mainstream media.  The consultation period is very short- 26/7/19 to 12/8/19.

It begs the question; ‘Why restrictions on cash now?’

It seems that the answer is that when the economy will not grow, interest rates are lowered. They are at 1% now, so cannot go much lower till they get to zero. How do you stimulate the economy when the interest rates are zero?

One way is to tax people who are not using their money and give it to the banks, who presumably will give people money to take the stored cash and use it.

Some countries already have restrictions on cash. The 500 Euro note was withdrawn by the European Central Bank. France has banned transactions over 500 Euros, Italy 3000, Spain 2,500. Some long-term interest rates are already negative.

From the public’s point of view,  if you are going to lose money by putting it in the bank, it would be better to keep it in cash and put it under the mattress or in a home safe.  Even bullion has a storage cost.  How retirees will manage is hard to say.  They will be losing cash just by holding it and they simply have to spend their capital to survive. Naturally it means that all the cash in the world will be available to stimulate industry as the owners of cash will have immense financial pressure to put it into investments.

There is an IMF paper ‘‘Enabling Deep Negative (Interest) Rates to Fight Recession- A Guide’ IMF Working Paper April 2019 by Ruchir Agrawal and Miles Kimball’ which is a ‘how to’ guide for governments to use negative interest rates. At a political level the advantage pointed out is that people will blame the private banks rather than the government. The paper also suggests that a short sharp shock with ‘deeply negative’ rates might get a better response than a longer period of mildly negative rates. This gives an idea of the thinking- it is all about countering recessions. The IMF paper even canvasses the possibility of the abolition of paper money transactions!

The convenience of cards has been lessening cash use, but this new bill looks as though it is following the IMF guide and getting ready for the possibility of negative interest rates. It is not really about stopping the black economy.

The government put out a call for a discussion of this bill on the Treasury website last Friday afternoon, the crowded news day, presumably in the hope that it would not be noticed. They seem to have succeeded- There has been nothing in the mainstream media, apart from old articles referring to controlling the black economy. The Treasury seems to want people to believe that this is all part of counteracting the ‘black economy’ the email address for submissions is But it would seem that this is simply dishonest. The IMF is worried about a long-term global recession. Presumably our government is also, so they are getting their legislation in place on the IMF recipe. They just thought that you had better not know. It says a lot about how we are governed.

This information was given to me by a ‘freedom group’ called, ‘In the Interests of the People’. At paste ‘/watch?v=770M2s6ZD8Y’ to see the video. I do not want to be the vector for conspiracy theories, but the implications of this really need to be understood and discussed. It really is not just about stopping the black economy.

The Treasury website that gives the bill has no discussion- merely explanations of the Bill, and even this is quite incomplete as the Part 2 which has the penalties is missing.

The IMF paper that seems to be the origin of the bill is fairly dry reading also but is at:

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Lest We Remember

4 November 2018

My grandfather was wounded at Passchendaele.  My grandmother was the Army nurse who  looked after him in hospital.  He was one a five brothers all of whom went to the war. Three came back, one a respiratory invalid from chlorine gas.  He did not speak much about the war and rarely went to any of the commemorations.  He had a lot of medals in the drawer when he died.  I pressed him once on what it was like and he said cryptically, ‘You had to shoot them or they would shoot you’.  He did not elaborate.  Perhaps he knew that the stories about the glories were to hide the realities but he could not say so.

Much is written about what it was like in the trenches, but ‘All Quiet on the Western Front[1]’ documents it well, a German description, translated by an Australian.  He describes the misery in the trenches, killing a man with his bare hands and the mental stress that would never go.

The British were ill-led at Gallipoli, landing on the wrong beach.  The ANZACs managed to occupy a hill that they then were ordered off and never managed to take in the next 10 months.  They were ill-led in France, with an anti-Semitic prejudice and personal jealousies hindering the emergence of a more innovative Australian General, John Monash.  The Battle of Passchendaele was hurried up despite the fact that neither the men nor the tanks could move in the muddy conditions because Kitchener, the British general, was in danger of being sacked and needed a battle, at whatever cost, to retain his position.  Prime Minster Billy Hughes was happy for the Australian forces to be used as shock troops as it increased Australia’s prestige, ignoring the excessive casualty rate.

It was not the war to end all wars and as Germany’s industrialisation continued to increase their strength.  A dictator capitalized on the injustice of the peace to start again.

After the blitzkrieg of Poland, Britain declared war on Germany to start the Second World War and our Prime Minister Menzies announced that ‘as a result, Australia is also at war[2]’, following the Brits without question.  Our troops went over to North Africa and when the Japanese landed in Papua the few soldiers on the Kokoda Track with uniforms coloured for the desert fought with minimal resources as the American Commander, General Douglas Macarthur, who had moved from Melbourne to Brisbane to be closer to the action did not think them very important.

Vietnam  showed on our TV screens what war was really like and this was blamed for the loss, but no invader who has come and gone has ever won against the people who live there.  Lives were wasted; the lack of thanks and respect for the Vietnam veterans has caused immense suffering ever since.  ‘If any question why we died, tell them because our fathers lied’ written in WW1[3] was ever true.

The largest protest march since the Vietnam war with 74% of Australians opposing our entry into the Iraq war was not enough.  John Howard followed the US into the war anyway, then on to Afghanistan and the deaths and refugees in their millions continue to this day.  Post-traumatic stress is rife in the Australian army but hushed up.  Foolish wars with people dying for nothing.  John Cantwell, the Australian commander retired with post-traumatic stress and explained this in his moving book, ‘Exit Wounds’.

An ex-US Marine from Iraq lectures on how he tried to keep his men alive but could not get the armoured vehicles he needed to protect them from the roadside bombs.  He believed the US government did not actually care about the troops.  It was ever thus.

Last week I drove back from Western Sydney.  There was a big billboard recruiting for the Army and a much smaller one in the supermarket asking for donations for discharged veterans with post-traumatic stress.  There was a lot of excitement over the Invictus Games as maimed soldiers tried to overcome their injuries.  No one asked why they were injured and the Games were generously sponsored by the arms manufacturers who are on steroids of late as Trump demands countries spend 2% of their GDP on weapons to help the US balance of payments and Australia decides it will become an arms exporter, starting with a big order to our friends the Saudis who are famous for beheading journalists not to mention millions of Yemenis.

This week will have massive speeches and commemorations of our heroic soldiers.  The War Memorial will be upgraded to bigger than any cathedral as our new shrine, generously sponsored by the arms manufacturers again.  And the politicians will make fine speeches and improve their electoral prospects. 

It is the glorification of folly.

Lest We Remember.


Arthur Chesterfield-Evans is a medical doctor who started as a surgeon but saw that preventive health was more important and went into the anti-tobacco campaign, including time with the activist group, BUGA UP (Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions).  He spend some time  in NSW Parliament and was for time CEO of the Sydney Peace Foundation.


Lest We Remember traces the history of how Australia was drawn into wars by the British and the Americans, and looks at how poorly the strategies had been thought out and how poorly the troops themselves have been treated.  The hype and hoopla of the centenary of the end of the First World War will be used by the arms manufacturers and the politicians to cover the folly and indeed to perpetuate it.

[1] Remarque, Erich Maria, Translated by Wheen, Arthur Wesley 1928


[3] Kipling Rudyard, Epitaphs of War 1914-18.  He had encouraged his son to join up and his son was killed just after his 18th birthday.

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Swiss Democracy. 9/9/18

I visited Switzerland to see the Swiss Parliament and to try to get a feel for how their direct Democracy works. Their basic system is more like Australia’s than might be imagined.  They have two houses of Parliament. The lower one has members elected by a first post the post from individual electorates, and the […]

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Libs Energy Scheme October 2017 Analysis 21/10/17

The Liberal/National Energy Plan is simply a lifeline to non-renewable energy that will keep electricity prices high.
It is getting praise from the Guardian, perhaps because it is a policy at all, and from Bloomberg , presumably because it is a solution that empowers retailers and gives a financial solution to a technical problems that leaves lots of fat for the key players, lots of bills for the consumer and slowed progress on climate change.
Why Have Prices Been so High?
The existing dysfunctional system is responsible for the current high prices due principally to:
1. The regulator permitted agencies to ‘gold plate’ the network of poles and wires so that electricity could be transmitted anywhere on the national grid. They were able to borrow money and build, which is what engineers like to do. The most likely trend with renewables was towards having more ‘embedded generation’ where electricity came from more diversified and smaller sources with fewer large power plants. So resource allocation to the network effectively favoured big existing generators and gobbled up the resources that could have been used for smaller more flexible generation. It also raised prices.
2. A National Electricity Market was created where bids were put in to supply power to the grid at 5 minute intervals, the assumption being that a market would drive prices down. In fact, vertically integrated big companies gamed the system, withholding power so that the price went up at key periods. The system was made ‘fair’ for that every suppliers was paid the latest (highest) price, and suppliers who had put in low bids earlier were not disadvantaged! The public and businesses consuming the power were gouged.
What is the New Scheme?
The new scheme mandates that electricity comes from a variety of sources, ‘reliable’ fossil fuel power, and renewables, which are assumed to be unreliable. The mix of sources changes over time, hence there can be a move to renewables as they as defined as more ‘reliable’. The scheme was devised by the existing companies, particularly the thermal players, which is probably why it has so few critics. But it will lock in the cost and pricing structures which are the cause of the problem.
The problem is that the government has confused reliability and despatchability (?deliberately). Reliability is measure of whether a power source will be working over a specified time period. Despatchability is whether power can be put into the system. Coal fired power is reliable as ‘base load’ in that it can have a relatively constant output. But it is slow to vary that output, so it cannot despatch power quickly in response to a fall elsewhere, and as such is not ‘reliable’ when needed to despatch a greater quantity quickly. Coal is much more expensive than renewables and the plants have to be kept going at a minimum of about 35% capacity to be able to increase, which does not happen quickly anyway. Keeping the coal plants as a ‘system spinning reserve’ effectively puts a base price on energy of about $85 per MWh, i.e. the typical wholesale price of power from a thermal plant. This makes this plan a government mandated, long term price fixing agreement.
Characteristics of Renewables
Renewable energy power systems and hydro have different characteristics. Hydro is despatchable if you have sufficient water. Australia’s lack of water means that all of our large hydro stations do not operate continuously. They are mainly used to handle short and medium length load peaks as they can respond quickly to load changes. Naturally if the water is pumped up when there is spare power they act as batteries. Hence the interest in ‘Pumped Hydro’, which just needs 2 reservoirs, one higher than the other.
Wind and Photo-Voltaic (PV) systems are not fully despatchable as their output is dependent on wind strength and sunlight. They can respond quickly to load changes. With a grid and a lot of different sites wind can be reasonably reliable overall.
A solar thermal plant uses a heliostat field of several hundred hectares of reflectors to concentrate sunlight onto a boiler mounted in a tower to heat a transfer medium, typically sodium carbonate to about 400 deg.C. The molten salt is pumped into a storage tank and then pumped through a heat exchanger to generate steam which drives a steam turbine. One such plant is planned for the head of Spencers Gulf in SA. Here the energy is stored as heat and the molten salt can be drawn from the hot tank to generate steam on demand i.e. the plant’s capacity is despatchable.
The availability of renewables in Australia is much better than the Liberals would have us believe and the ability to forecast wind in the medium term is now very good. Hence their availability is quite high.
Relative Costs
In terms of the economics, a wind farm costs about M$2.00 per MW to install. A 1MW unit running at 40% capacity factor, which is less than most wind sites can achieve, will generate about 3,500MWh pa at $85 per MWh this will be $300,000. Assuming capital costs of approximately $85,000 with service and maintenance of $84,000 this leaves a surplus of $207,000- a very good financial result especially when you compare this to a thermal plant which will cost about M$30 per MW to build and take 10 years in the building compared to about 3 years for a wind farm.
So what is the politics of this plan?
Because the electricity price will be set by the needs of the old fossil fuel plants the coal owners happy will be happy. It will also keep the renewable generators happy as the high price will give them a massive profit margin. It will keep Labor happy, as they can make a magnanimous gesture of bipartisanship in the short term and when they come in there will be lots of renewables built to get the huge profit levels that have been there for the taking.
The people who will not be happy will be the industries that will go broke because unnecessarily high power prices made them uncompetitive, and the long-suffering domestic consumers.
The alternative, a national bold move to all renewable power has been suggested by the research group, Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE). They have pointed out that Australia has a huge natural advantage in renewable energy because of this abundance of both solar and wind, but as the whole world moves to solar, we can only get the advantage of cheap power and the experience and equipment to export if we move quickly and decisively, which is exactly what we are not doing and what this expensive plan actively retards.
Need for Action
It seems that just as the US cannot go forward because of its gun lobby, Australia is in the same position with its coal industry. We need to demand action now, before this plan is implemented.
The South Australian Blackout
As a post script it is worth looking at the cause of the South Australian blackout. SA was getting about 40% of its electricity from wind, which had been very reliable. It was supplemented by two cables from the East, one of which was down for maintenance. The other source was a French-owned gas plant, which had a ‘pay whether you use it or not contract’ for natural gas. One of the gas exporters from SA had independently sold more gas than they could produce and were in a situation that they needed gas. As the wind was so reliable, the gas plant not generating but was taking gas it could not use and losing money. The solution for the gas plant was to sell the gas to the distressed exporter. Thus when the wind blew too hard, the link to the East blew over at the time the gas plant has no gas and the wind turbines had shut down as the wind was too strong. This was an unfortunate set of coincidences, but hardly a reason to return to coal. But it has been used to talk up unreliability of renewables and get this plan up. Politics!

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Energy Plan- why it is bad, and why there is not much protest.

19 October 2017

No one quite understands the new energy policy, (National Energy Guarantee -NEG) which is why there is not much protest. But I suspect it is very silly. Here is why.

The National Electricity Market worked because suppliers put in bids for a price on 5min supplies. But big producers could withhold creating a shortage, then put in a late bid at a high price. That segment would then go out at that highest price with every supplier getting the higher price. Logically then,the cheaper producers simply made more money. I have heard that a wind turbine in a good location could be paid off in 18 months, and that the price will settle at about $87 a megawatt hr.

The new plan puts big stress on reliability, so the solar and wind people are disadvantaged, but can still make a lot of money. The coal technology is still not much use, as they cannot compete with renewables when the sun shines and the wind blows, and they cannot ramp up supply quickly. They are, as everyone keeps saying, better for base (=constant) load. Added to this they are obsolete as the pipes in the boilers get stress fractures after a certain time and maintenance becomes uneconomic.

Gas is good at turning on and off quickly, but as we know, gas contracts for export has left us short, so Malcolm will create some problems there.

So a system that has been rorted by a few inside players who get supernormal profits will be given a licence to continue. The price of electricity will not fall much, and the consumer will continue to be gouged, with vulnerable industries simply going broke to allow the energy players to get profits that they really should not have. But there is not much protest because either people do not understand what is happening, or they are beneficiaries of a little understood rort that will continue because they have cleverly used fear of blackouts to get a cushy system.

And I suspect Labor will support it, as it has support from the energy industry, and they can claim bipartisanship, and they have been too lazy to get a better plan.

See also the Post ‘A Response to the Libs’ Energy Plan 19/10/17′

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Political Change or Economic Change? Which comes first?

14 October 2017 There is an interesting book review in the SMH today entitled ‘Endgame for the Russian Revolution’ in the print version.  The book is ‘Gorbachev: His Life and Times’ by William Taubman.  It points out that Gorbachev was a hero in the West as the man who modernised the Soviet Union, but he […]

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Limits to the Market? A New Paradigm Needed!

15 May 2017

Since the last two world wars were over markets, it was assumed at the conference at Bretton Woods that if there were free markets everywhere there would be no wars and countries who did well would prosper. It worked.  Germany and Japan traded in markets that had been denied to them pre-war and ‘won the peace’. The dogma was that because there was efficiency in production we would all be better off as goods would be available all over the world quickly and cheaply. And, helped by the overwhelming dominance of Milton Friedman’s economic theories the market has spread into every aspect of life. The fact that when Friedman’s theories were actually implemented in South America that they failed miserably was merely a blip ignored. 

Now the market is assumed to be better than anything else as a way of allocating resources efficiently. It is better than government, better than planning, hey it is infallible, and probably inevitable as well!

Governments do not have to manage anything; they can sell it, even if they do not need the money. Inner city buses are the latest. 

If you read Chapter One of most economics books, it tells you about competition and how you cannot charge too much or a competitor will uncut you, so prices are kept down.

The rest of the economics book tells about monopolies or oligopolies, where there is poor competition and you can charge what you like, or there are high set up costs as barriers to competition, or regulatory hurdles, artificial training or registration requirements, geographical limitation, existing facilities, impractical duplication costs etc etc, which make monopoly or ‘supernormal’ profits a certainty.  Yet Governments plough on creating private monopolies and compliant political parties are rewarded by campaign funding to keep on winning elections.

What I am writing is not new or original and is known by anyone with even the most basic grasp of economic theory.  Do the politicians not read past Chapter One?  Do they never think that they are creating uncontrolled monopolies as they transfer assets from ownership by all the society to ownership by a moneyed elite?  Are they so ideologically committed to privatisation that they no longer think at all?  Do they not care, or will they do anything for their own short-term interest? It seems that the answer to all these questions is YES!

They have sold the airport, the sea port, the water supply (an endless subsidy to an unused desalination plant), the railways, the electricity, the road network and easements under it, the world standard database of land titles registration, the small councils power to control development, the list goes on and on.  The health system is being sold by stealth. Medicare is being starved to death, as private health insurance is just subsidised inefficiency, and NDIS disability services will go the same way, no government services, oligopolies for profit paid for by the ‘Medicare’ levy rise, which is not even committed to Medicare.  The education system no longer produces tradesmen to do the job and private education rip offs abound from dodgy day cares to non-Gonski funding to schools to post-TAFE colleges selling dubious certificates to phantom colleges ripping off visa-seeking migrant students.

The public service is being ‘hollowed out’. It no longer retains centres of expertise as it can always buy ‘consultants’ who carry briefcases and impressive CVs and have no interest except the public good.  It closes offices, hires short term workers, relies on PR driven websites and replaces people with knowledge by ‘Services NSW’ which has someone who might know which department might do what you might want.

Our existing political system seems unable to govern in our interest. The interest of the political parties no longer coincide with the public interest. Our governments’ decisions have been bought like everything else.  I do not think that money can be held at bay by electoral funding law reform. When we fought the tobacco industry, it sponsored sport and culture to get political allies. When that was banned, it sponsored ethnic groups, rescue boats and helicopters, any worthy cause that could lobby for it, and that was without gifts in kind, dodgy ‘foundations’ or other less visible influence-buying. 

The only answer that I can think of is Swiss-style democracy where major decisions are taken by referenda of the people, and Parliaments merely implement decisions that the people have made. Any other suggestions?

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The Power of Social Media- Articles 5/3/17

Social media is increasingly important as it replaces mainstream media and mixes personal interaction with news and information. It is dollar driven but also personal, so that we identify ourselves and our values. Those who communicate with us individually do so with personal or mutual interest, but those who do mass communication do so for financial or political interest. Since those at the big end who harvest the data are able to match the personal with the financial and political, it gives them immense power. At the little end getting someone to click on something can give you a lot of money that you would not have had, so a gimmick or a headline that makes people click on something is a trick to be striven for, without necessarily thinking through the consequences.

To illustrate this important thesis, I offer this article from The Saturday Paper, which is its later part suggests that fake news was merely headlines that would get clicks to make money and that Trump was used as he would make people click. The fact that this favoured his campaign was an incidental to the primary object of the fake news creators, who merely wanted the royalties from making people click. The idea that the tiny fractions of a cent per click on a website can create a President of the USA shows how far our decisions and lives are at the mercy of the short-term profit motive.

The power of collected data is that it allows the correlation of people interests, values and core values. Knowing what people believe, what is important to them and having access to them either through friends, honest communications or disguised communication gives the ability to change large sections of the populations values and actions, which gives a whole new meaning to the concept of ‘Manufacturing Consent’. This is very significant for the nature and use of power.
Marx said that power was control of the means of production. In nominal democracies power will become control of the means of information. This is frightening stuff. It was in the Guardian. Read on if you missed it.

Note also

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