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Category: Accountability

Anglo Democracies- What a Mess. We need a New Constitution

7 June 2024

If a mob stormed Parliament, overcoming the security system, causing great fear, killing one person and injuring others, we would regard that country with suspicion; South American tin pot democracy?  If a few of the rioters were charged, but the instigator was not charged 4 years later, we would regard that as a farce. If the instigator then got a fine for irregularity in the bookkeeping of his election funds 4 years later and got a fine that was a tiny fraction of his election budget, he might as well have had a parking ticket. If the instigator then with total impunity stood again for election we would say that the tin pot nature of a quasi-dictatorship was confirmed.  Yet this is exactly what has happened in the USA, where Trump will get a non-custodial sentence, i.e. a fine or some charitable work.  Photo-op in a soup kitchen perhaps?

The Republicans will win if Biden becomes unpopular because the economy turns down, or he supports Israel too much because of the power of the Jewish lobby, or if the scare campaign on his age is successful enough.  This is because there are only two options, Democrat and Republican.  The leaders in the Republican party do not want to criticise Trump because if he succeeds their fortunes will suffer and if he fails, they want to run in 4 years.  In a Big Party, it is all about climbing up their hierarchy- tough luck about the country’s welfare. Even Nikki Haley, who criticised Trump in a desperate effort in the Republican primaries has endorsed him. So we have a President who is too old and should step down standing against Trump who has a criminal record and for some reason cannot be brought to book within 4 years; his past failures, ignorance and appalling policies almost irrelevant in the scheme of things.

In Britain, with First-Past-the-Post voting, the electoral system is similarly distorted to favour only two parties and the inequities are such that you can almost draw a line across the country. Conservative Blue in the South, Labour Red in the North. Other parties and opinions are a dot here and there, they get far more votes than seats.  Post-Brexit the economy has tanked, which is what one might have expected since most their trade was with the EU.  The Conservatives will get a caning, putting in the lack- lustre Labour party, the only alternative, of course.

Back, in Australia, Labor is criticised for doing so little and being Liberal-lite.  They had agreed not to raise taxes and even to give tax cuts because Shorten had been defeated by scare tactics in 2019, so having no policies was a safer, small target option.  The Conservatives rule from beyond the grave.

The problem is that the people have handed the power to a two party system.  When Churchill wrote the post-WW2 German constitution he wrote it so that no party would ever get an absolute majority. There would have to be negotiation about forming government and about each piece of legislation; no ‘winner takes all’.  The Swiss constitution has 3 levels of government, all but 7 politicians are part-time and limited to 2 terms, with their jobs protected so that when they leave they go back to them full time. This means there are no party hierarchies to climb up and no jobs for the boys and girls at the end. Also there are quarterly referenda where if citizens get enough signatures they can overthrow even Federal government decisions.  This is what Australia did not copy when our constitution was written in 1900 (though it was considered). Our 1901 constitution was a heroic effort to stitch 6 squabbling colonies into a nation. It was not all wisdom for all time.

Anglo countries may have been early in creating democracy from autocratic kingdoms, but better things are now known and we need to move up and on.

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Science Starts to Respond to the Legal System

2 June 2024

Scientists and others, like doctors, who are of a scientific bent have for years despaired of the legal system whose practitioners seem to have little respect for knowledge other than their own and accept very poor scientific evidence.  Now the high-profile head of the Australian Academy of Science, Prof Anna-Maria Arabia, who gave evidence in the Folbigg case has hit back.  Kathleen Folbigg was accused of killing 3 of her children, but later scientific evidence showed that they had a genetic defect.  Prof Arabia is looking at the relationship between science and the law and wants to put a bit more discipline into the science-law relationship. All power to her arm!

‘It could be any of us’: Top scientists sound alarm over unreliable evidence

By Michael Bachelard, Nick McKenzie and Ruby Schwartz

Sydney Morning Herald   June 2, 2024 — 8.00pm

Australia’s peak science body has called the triple-murder conviction of Robert Farquharson for driving his sons into a dam in 2005 into question, saying it was partly based on unreliable scientific evidence and his case would be ripe for review if the nation had a mechanism to reconsider old convictions.

Farquharson is serving a 33-year prison sentence in the protection unit of Victoria’s Barwon Prison after being twice found guilty of murdering his three children by driving them into a dam on Father’s Day in 2005, and with an appeal court affirming his guilt. But a number of legal and scientific experts have questioned the evidence that convicted him.

Australian Academy of Science chief executive Anna-Maria Arabia said, speaking generally, that courts were susceptible to “junk science” being admitted and that cases such as Farquharson’s demonstrated the need for significant legal reforms to try to prevent the use of unreliable evidence.

“Every member of the public should be concerned about a justice system that is not adequately informed by science. Any one of us could be Robert Farquharson,” she told this masthead and 60 Minutes.

Arabia said cases such as Farquharson’s, and the recent release of Kathleen Folbigg, who spent 20 years in prison for murdering her three children and manslaughter of the fourth, showed that expert scientific witnesses should be independently selected based on their expertise, and that the evidence they give should be proved reliable before a jury could hear it.

She also called for a review mechanism that sits alongside the court system to look at possible miscarriages of justice.

“The system ought to be more robust than it is. And it can be. It can be reformed. It takes some political will; it takes some courage,” she said.

Arabia said she had serious concerns about a number of the “strands” of the scientific and circumstantial evidence used to convict Farquharson. Among her concerns were the quality of the medical and traffic reconstruction evidence that convinced two juries and an appeal court of his guilt.

Farquharson told police he coughed and passed out in the lead up to the crash – a condition called cough syncope – which meant he was unconscious when his car drove into the dam.

Lawyers for Farquharson have flagged a new appeal later this year, under a Victorian law introduced in 2019 that allows prisoners to present “fresh and compelling evidence” to the court where a conviction constitutes a substantial miscarriage of justice.

Farquharson’s lawyer, Luke McMahon, said this was a high legal bar which “places the onus back on the accused”, and was “not really an examination of how things unfolded”. Since the convicted person is often in prison, the appeal mechanism also often requires lawyers to work pro bono, or without pay, to take on cases.

Arabia said that “in the vast majority of cases, that is not enough” to address problematic cases.

The Academy of Science has called for a standing tribunal like those in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Norway, which employ dedicated staff to identify and investigate possible miscarriages of justice. Known as a Criminal Cases Review Commission in the UK and New Zealand, these bodies can examine cases where there are developments in scientific or other evidence, then refer them, with advice, back to the courts or the government.

Asked if the Farquharson case would be a lead candidate for such a tribunal, Arabia said the medical evidence of cough syncope “would be considered new evidence that should be assessed by something like a Criminal Cases Review Commission to see if it meets a threshold to reopen and re-examine this case.

“It should not be beyond the realm of possibilities to establish a criminal case review commission in Australia and to resource it adequately. After all, this enables the delivery of justice to the Australian people. It should be a bare minimum requirement as part of our justice system,” she said. “Australia really is an outlier in this area.”

Police involved in the Farquharson case declined interviews, but Assistant Commissioner Glenn Weir said in a statement that Victoria Police “stands behind the rigorous investigation which led to the 2010 conviction of Robert Farquharson”.

“We consider this matter finalised and will not be commenting further. In the event of any appeal by Farquharson, we will respond as required,” he said.

A recent book by Stephen Cordner, the head of international programs at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, and retired physician Kerry Breen, said the UK case review commission had referred 657 cases to the court of appeal over 22 years, with 441 convictions quashed.

Translated to Australia, that would mean eight or nine wrongful convictions a year, they wrote in their book, Wrongful Convictions in Australia.

In the United States, the Innocence Project had overturned more than 350 cases. False confessions, inaccurate eyewitness evidence, misleading forensic evidence, police misconduct and bad defence were key errors, they wrote.

Arabia has also called for changes to the treatment of expert evidence. Currently, people accepted as experts can give their opinions in court based on their knowledge, but they are selected by the parties – prosecution and defence – and are not always the most qualified people, Arabia said.

“How do we get the right experts before our judges and juries, selected for the right reasons, not … because they’re good presenters in court, but because they are the best possible expert who has the best available knowledge?” Arabia said.

The Academy of Science also wants a “reliability standard”, so that courts do not admit expert evidence unless it can be demonstrated that it is reliable.

In the absence of such a standard, Arabia said, “pseudoscience and junk science can be admitted into court, and juries and judges will consider that as part of their deliberations. I think most people would … be shocked by that.”

Arabia said accomplished scientific experts often did not want to give evidence in courts because “it is such a hyper-adversarial situation, and what ends up happening is that those experts are asked about matters that are well beyond their area of expertise.

“We have scientists who come to the Australian Academy of Science, having been expert witnesses in a case, thinking they’re doing the right thing, who have felt so cornered or manipulated in that process that they will never do it again,” she said.

“What a great loss for our justice system, that some of the most reliable and best minds in our country feel that that is a forum where they can’t present their best, their knowledge.”

Arabia said reform would require attorneys-general at the state and federal levels to “roll up their sleeves and commit to looking at improving the systems so that they can deliver justice for everyone equally”.

Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes declined requests for an interview on the academy’s proposals. In a statement, a departmental spokesperson said: “Victoria’s justice system has processes in place to ensure the quality and reliability of forensic evidence presented in court.”

The government was monitoring the effectiveness of these processes, the statement said, and was “reviewing any opportunities for improvement, including discussions with other states and jurisdictions”.

NSW Attorney-General Michael Daley’s spokesperson said there were “existing mechanisms in place” to allow the state’s courts to consider scientific evidence and also for “ad hoc inquiries into convictions, as occurred with the 2022 Folbigg Inquiry”. The state’s experts code of conduct said their “paramount duty is to assist the court impartially”.

Federal Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus declined to comment.

Arabia said courts were doing their best, but advances in science made it difficult to be across all the detail.

In the Farquharson case, Arabia said she was concerned by medical evidence about cough syncope which painted the condition as “extremely rare”, and the traffic reconstruction evidence, in which police experts said the car was subject to three conscious steering inputs by the driver, who therefore could not have been unconscious.

She said there were also questions about the memory evidence of two key witnesses. One, Dawn Waite, did not come forward until four years after Farquharson drove into the dam. Another witness, Greg King, told how his memory of a conversation incorporated more features over time of events that had subsequently occurred.

“We know scientifically that memory evidence is quite unreliable. And memory can be open to change based on external stimuli, things like media reporting, things like discussion, things like looking at photos, dreams,” Arabia said.

Victorian Criminal Bar Association vice chairman Jason Gullaci, SC, said most lawyers would welcome another layer of review from a criminal cases review commission.

“It’s an excellent idea. And I think it’s got real merit,” Gullaci said. “Where there are advances in science that then call into question previous expertise and opinions that were thought to be valid, but that if it has had a significant impact on a trial and conviction and is likely [to have] caused a miscarriage of justice, I think the criminal lawyers would want that rectified, whichever side of the fence they stand on.”

 

This article was at www.smh.com.au/national/victoria/it-could-be-any-of-us-top-scientists-sound-alarm-over-unreliable-evidence-20240528-p5jh7q.html

Watch the 60 Minutes special episode here. https://www.9now.com.au/60-minutes/season-2024/episode-18

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Religious Update:  2 items from Secular Australia

2 June 2024

Wording of the Census

A battle is brewing between Catholic Church leaders and secular groups over the religion question in the Australian census. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) is currently testing whether it would be better to ask “Does the person have a religion?” rather than “What is the person’s religion?”, after 9.8 million people (approximately 40% of responses) indicated in the 2021 count that they had no faith. The new question would have a mark box for both “No” and “Yes (specify religion)”. The bureau is also testing the use of a write-in box for respondents who wish to indicate more detail on their faith, rather than simply picking from a small list of common religions.

The Lord’s Prayer in Parliament House, Victoria

Liberal upper house member Evan Mulholland has placed a motion on the Notice Paper in support of faith leaders who wrote to all members of parliament earlier this month demanding that the parliament continue to observe prayers, including the Lord’s Prayer, at the opening of each sitting day.

It has been 1034 days since the state Labor government promised to replace prayers with something more reflective and appropriate for Victoria’s diverse community.

Victorian Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes has acknowledged the government’s “unmet commitment”.

The flurry of activity – the letter from faith leaders and motions on the Notice Paper – may be a sign that the government is ready to deal with the matter.

Earlier in the year, Mr Mulholland declared that the Liberal Party would “fiercely oppose” any attempt to remove prayer.

Census data show that Christianity has plummeted from 85 per cent of the Victorian population in the 1970s to 41 per cent in 2021. The percentage of people who identified as having no religion at the 2021 Census was 39 per cent.

https://secularism.au/

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EV Batteries are the Answer to Australia’s Electricity Storage Problem

23 May 2024

Everyday we hear about Australia’s energy problem.  The government wants to be re-elected because it gave the electricity companies $300 for each of us to offset our power bills.

Less than a fortnight ago, the Government announced a new gas strategy. Gas had to be a ‘transition fuel’ because we could not transition to renewables fast enough. Fracking with its associated damage to the rock strata, environment and greenhouse gas targets notwithstanding Last week the Liberals announced a nuclear future. This week Erarang coal fired power station closure has to be delayed. And, hey rooftop solar is too much in the day time, so owners will have to pay to have the power taken off their hands as grid prices go negative.

Meanwhile it costs $50,000 to buy an EV in Australia, despite the fact that China has an EV overproduction problem and BYD can produce a model called a Seagull for $US10,000 (about  $A15,000). An EV has a battery that stores about 50 kilowatt hours, whereas the average home battery is less than 10kWh.  The spot price of electricity varies and it would be easy to charge the EVs on solar in the daytime and use their batteries to power the houses in the evenings. Why does this not happen?  It does require standard plugs and meters that would allow electricity to move from the car to the grid.  Electricity already goes from the grid to the cars- it just has to be able to be reversed.

Why has this not happened?  The small number of electricity suppliers, who are arguably gaming the system by withholding supply at critical times to raise prices, do not want supply diversified. They are building solar as fast as they can and wanting to control the solar input. They even offer to put solar on your roof as long as they can control when it is used. If individual households could store solar in their EVs, and either use it or sell it into the grid at peak times, this would directly cut into their oligopoly profits.  Why does the government not have the courage to take them on?  Probably because solar owners and people who want to profit from the EV batteries in their cars have not made enough noise to make it a political issue.

So lets shout:

‘We want cheap EVs and we want to be able to use their batteries to store power for Australia, lessen greenhouse gases and make some money at the same tim.

When do we want it- NOW!’

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Building Regulator Toughens Up- Joke?

House collapses, the builder is charged with 9 offences and flees. When he turns up, is tried and convicted he is fined a total of $5,450. He calls it minor and continues working for a friend.  None of the convictions were for the collapse.

May 23 2024

A house collapses, the builder is charged with 9 offences and flees.  When he turns up, he is tried and convicted and fined a total of $5,450. He calls it minor and continues working for a friend. None of the convictions were for the house collapse.

Is this some sort of joke?  No.  It is another example of our legal system in action- in this case the ‘beefed up’ NSW Building Regulator. Building Minister Anoulack Chanthivong says the charges reflected the new powers of the Building Commission.

See SMH article below:

On the run for months, builder of collapsed home convicted of fraud

By Anthony Segaert and Olivia Ireland

May 23, 2024

The man whose company built a Condell Park home that collapsed in the dead of night last year has been found guilty of a string of fraud-related charges.

Thirty-five-year-old George Khouzame, director of Hemisphere Constructions, was on the run from authorities for nearly two months at the beginning of the year, before he handed himself in to NSW Police in March.

Khouzame, from South Hurstville, pleaded guilty to nine offences relating to using an unlicensed contractor and the fraudulent lodging of insurance applications on three different worksites, but Building Commission NSW and the state’s police failed to secure any prosecutions relating to the Condell Park home collapse.

When asked about the charges, Khouzame told the Herald that, after having his building licence cancelled shortly after the collapse, he had paid out “every single home owner” who had contracted him for work and his fraudulent insurance claims were “just negligence from my office”.

“It was a very, very, very, very low-end fraud. It was literally an honest mistake from my staff in the office,” he said of the nine convictions: three charges of publishing misleading material to obtain financial advantage, two charges of dishonestly obtaining financial advantage by deception, three charges of making false or misleading statements in an insurance application, and one charge of engaging an unlicensed contractor.

Investigation began before the collapse

Attention turned to Khouzame and his company on Good Friday last year, when a young family renting the home built less than 12 months earlier was woken at 4.30am by the sound of the ceiling collapsing.

Neighbours described hearing what sounded like an explosion as a portion of the house in Sydney’s south-west fell down, hitting several cars parked underneath. A previous tenant of the property said one room had earlier “completely flooded”.

But the collapse was less surprising to authorities, who had launched an urgent investigation into Hemisphere Constructions a month earlier. Only a day before, NSW Building Commissioner David Chandler had made an unannounced visit to a worksite in Concord operated by Hemisphere Constructions and found what he described as “pretty obvious” unsafe work practices.

“There is a strong correlation between unsafe worksites and the potential for serious defects to be incorporated in the project,” he told the ABC.

After cancelling Hemisphere’s building licence the following month, Fair Trading, the predecessor to Building Commission NSW, and investigators from Bankstown Police spent the year looking into the company. By January, they were ready to arrest Khouzame.

On visiting multiple homes connected to him, they encountered a problem: Khouzame was nowhere to be found.

After another month of searching, NSW Police obtained an arrest warrant and appealed to the public to find the wanted man.

“George Khouzame, aged 34, is wanted on an outstanding warrant in relation to fraud offences,” NSW Police posted on social media. “Anyone with information into his whereabouts is urged to not … approach him but to call triple zero (000) immediately.”

He handed himself in at Bankstown Police Station at 5.30am on March 6, and was arrested on the spot.

‘You should be saying thank you’

The builder in May pleaded guilty to the offences relating to his management of homes in Punchbowl, Macquarie Fields and Chester Hill.

At two of the three sites, Khouzame significantly understated how much his building projects were worth on insurance applications.

For a Macquarie Fields dual occupancy construction project worth $900,000, Khouzame was accused of writing in his Home Building Warranty Insurance that it was worth $520,000.

“Had the correct value of construction been stated on both insurance applications the value of the insurance premiums would have totalled $14,799.00 creating a deficit of $7517.94,” the facts tendered to the court read.

For a home renovation in Punchbowl, Khouzame listed the construction value to the insurance provider as $150,000 instead of $400,000.

He also pleaded guilty to engaging an unlicensed contractor to install windows and doors at a site he was renovating in Chester Hill.

Khouzame, who called the Herald on Wednesday from a private phone number after numerous attempts to contact him for comment, said the offences were “all they [the investigators] could come up with over a 10-year investigation and 350 homes”.

“The charges were dismissed in relation to the fraud and I pled guilty to only one charge for the home warranty application,” he said. “OK buddy?”

But after the Herald read out his nine offences, to which he pleaded guilty and was fined a total of $5450, Khouzame repeated his claim that it was “very minor fraud”.

“We failed, our staff failed, to update the home warranty to reflect the variations [in project costs] … It was just negligence from my office, and I did accept it, and I apologised.

“So we had existing 24 open projects when the house collapse happened and the licence was cancelled, and we paid out every single home owner and every single client.

“I didn’t run away from the problem. I approached the problem head on and I [had] done what I had to do to make sure that every client and every home owner has been supported by me personally.

“You should be saying, ‘Thank you, good work’.”

In its first six months, Building Commission NSW has cancelled, suspended or disqualified 136 construction licences.

“We’re starting to see the dividends of the expansion of powers the NSW government provided to the Building Commission,” Building Minister Anoulack Chanthivong said.

“It now has an expanded tool kit to improve build quality and weed out those who don’t play by the rules.

“Already this year, we’ve had a nearly 100 per cent increase in the number of building work rectification orders issued, helping to deliver compliant, safe and trustworthy homes.”

Chanthivong did not respond to questions about why charges had not been laid over the house collapse.

With his licence suspended, Khouzame is now working as a labourer for a friend’s food company.

 

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Cheaper EVs?

20 April 2024

Here is an article praising China’s Electric Vehicle industry and noting that Apple gave up trying to do EVs and China has successfully taken up the slack.

It also boasts that Chinese EV technology is excellent and that they have not lowered prices, and it warns that trade tariffs to stop Chinese exports will be counterproductive.

More conventional views are that China has a glut of EVs and a coming economic crisis due to their property bubble.

Australia has no tariffs on EVs and is currently paying too much for them.  Despite the tone of this article, China must want to dump EVs somewhere.

I am still not sure that EVs are good for the environment in that the carbon footprint from mining and processing their components is much greater than the simpler components of internal combustion engines, and the factories that manufacture them are mainly powered by coal-generated power.  It takes many km of petrol saved to overcome this initial deficit. Hopefully this situation will gradually improve in time, but in the shorter term, will Chinese EVs be cheaper here?

What does China’s electric vehicle rise mean for the global market?

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Labor’s Policy Drift

20 April 2024

Albanese won the Federal election 2 years ago, but he has been very disappointing.

Australia wanted real change after a decade of Liberals doing nothing except giving money to their mates, offending China and pursuing the dubious AUKUS strategy, (a $360 billion photo op for Scott Morrison).

Labor was very dejected after a bold policy platform from Bill Shorten fell to a characteristic Liberal scare campaign from Scott Morrison in the 2019 Federal election, so they pursued a ‘small target’ strategy (i.e. minimal policies) in the 2022 election.

But when they won the 2022 election, they have still been scared to do anything, behaving like Liberal-lite, as if they are still scared of any Liberal criticism.  It seems that they believe that negative political campaigning is so much more successful than actual policies that they are best served by giving the Liberal little to criticise, i.e doing very little. The Liberals are ruling from beyond the grave.

Labor did not undo the Liberal follies of the AUKUS pact, the kow-towing to the US with their bases here and silly behaviour in the South China sea. (How would the US feel if China took a few aircraft carriers for trips around the Caribbean just to emphasise freedom of navigation?) They even kept the Stage 3 tax cuts, which were a desperate Liberal measure; a future promise to win a present election. Labor promised no tax increases, so Medicare remains doomed, and the long-term privatisation contracts that the Liberal installed in Centrelink remain, with our welfare system behaving like a suspicious private insurer as jobs and job security become more tenuous.  They were petty with the Teals, taking their staff when they should have supported them both because they are more aligned to Labor in many policy areas, and because they are all from Liberal seats and it is in Labor’s interest that the Teals have them rather than the Liberals.

Now we have dubious rumblings about subsidies to Australian manufacturing with lots of patriotic tub-thumping.

My own view is that Albanese is quite safe in his job until at least after the 2025 election, but Labor may lose seats to Greens or independents if he does not do more of what is needed.

Dutton plays to his base while Albanese neglects his

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Gaza- Where Next?

10 April 2024

The world has watched in horror and amazement as Israel has systematically bombed Gaza.

Gaza was an open-air prison in the sense that its people could not move without permission, could not trade, except via Israel so had no industry and even their food supply was controlled.  This led to the rise of Hamas, which was seen as at least willing to stand up to Israel rather than being the patsies of the Palestinian Authority (more on that later).  Hamas was a result of the situation, not the cause.

 

As I  have posted before, Israel was making friends with most of the countries around it. Jordan was too weak to stand up to it, as was Egypt. Qatar and UAE were mainly interested in trade, and Saudi Arabia, despite being strongly Sunni Muslims were about to sign a treaty.  Netanyahu was captive of his religious Right and talking about a ‘Regional Solution’ for the Palestinians.  This was probably code for them ‘going elsewhere’.

 

The State of Israel was ‘declared’ by Ben Gurion in 1948. The slogan had been ‘a land without a people for a people without a land’.  Palestine had been a colonial state, part of the Ottoman Empire and then, after WW1, a British Protectorate and. But this did not mean that it did not have people occupying it.  The state of Israel set about populating it by putting ‘settlers’ on the West Bank. The myth was that this land was not owned, which was only legally correct because Israel did not recognise land title prior to the declaration of the State of Israel. So Palestinians did not ‘own’ the land that they had occupied for decades.  The ‘settlers’ were given land on the hilltops that the Palestinians were driven off, and the Israeli defence force guaranteed them support if the Palestinians, now defined as terrorists, attacked. A network of roads was built so that the army could come quickly to quell any Palestinian ‘aggression’.  Many of the settlers came from Eastern Europe and had been marginalised in their previous countries so defending their Jewish status and new homes was not a huge conceptual step.

 

This went on for years with unsuccessful negotiations for a ‘two state’ solution with Yasser Arafat. The Palestinians were portrayed as terrorists while Israel gradually made the two state solution impossible on the ground. The settlers were educated principally in Hebrew which reinforced their Jewishness, but also limited their information input and their options to go elsewhere.  There are now about 750,000 of them, so the West Bank is effectively ‘occupied’ and the settlers will not move any more than the Palestinians want to.

 

Israel also created Ramullah as the so-called capital of the supposedly-coming Palestinian state.  The international aid agencies moved there, naturally wanting good premises for their staff to live and work and the price of rents and real estate there meant that the Palestinians, on minimal income, had trouble living there. The Palestinian Authority, now actually having a place to rule, could approve land developments, a handy source of income and also of corruption. So the Palestinian Authority was no longer seen as the legitimate rulers, but as compromised by Israel, which is why Hamas won the Gaza elections.  Palestinians are generally not a particularly religious people.

 

The Palestinains are forced out of their accommodation in Jerusalem by the fact that increasingly Israelis use imported labour from Sri Lanka to do the menial jobs that the Palestinians used to do. So they had no work and could not pay the rents. If they left the house, under Israeli law an unoccupied house belongs to the State and can be gifted to a settler, so there has been a constant house by house clearing of Palestinians from Jerusalem, both the old walled (holy) city and the new part where traditionally Palestinians have lived on the East Side. So the Palesitinaisn were gradually getting to a situation where they had no land and no jobs. They were portrayed as terrorists and there was no negotiation towards any sort of lasting settlement.

 

Hamas probably launched the October 7 attack because if it did not do so, the Palestinian people had no future.

 

Israel, with Netanyahu having to stay in power at a personal level because of corruption charges and hostage to the religious Right first bombed the north of Gaza, and now, 35,000 or more deaths later, is intending to invade the last part where 1 million refugees have gathered.  It may be that the religious Right simply want all the Palestinians dead. In Biblical times whole cities were massacred,so it is hard to know their frame of reference.  It seems quite probable that the Israelis assumed that the border would be opened, the Palestinians would flee to a refugee area in the Sinai and they would never be allowed to return, creating a ‘refugee crisis’ which would be a UN rather than an Israeli problem. Israel would have solved its problem, and the precedent would let the West Bank Palestinains follow the Gazans. Unpopular in the short-term, but a ‘regional solution’.

 

The Israelis were keen to maximise harm to the Gazans, not allowing food trucks in, and the West talked about building ports to get food to Gazans rather than try to stop the Israeli blockade.  It is hard to believe that the food trucks that were negotiating directly with the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) were hit accidentally; rather it was part of the overall strategy to discourage the aid, stop the Gazans getting fed, worsen their plight and get them to go elsewhere.

 

The idea that hunting Hamas militants is a serious strategy must be dismissed as nonsense. This will not be won as a military campaign. The hate sown by this action will last for generations. But why should Israel be believed when it says that this is its strategy?  They took the West Bank by stealth as they claimed that they wanted to negotiate peace. It  was simply a lie. They have worked for 40 years to make a ‘two state solution’ impossible. Now, amazingly even the Australian government thinks this can be achieved.  There are $750,000 settlers making it impossible.  Jeff Halper, an American Jewish anthropologist who moved to Israel wrote an excellent book in 2010, ‘An Israeli in Palestine’ in which he advocated a ‘One State solution’ on the assumption that the apartheid situation that exists has to be undone as it was in South Africa. This looks a very dismal prospect now. When I visited in 2012 the average Israeli was in a state of denial about what was happening, regarding it as the army and the police’s job to keep the peace so that they could continue ‘normal life’.  It was strikingly similar to the situation when I had visited apartheid South Africa in 1985.  Now the Israeli population is very scared and arming themselves. It will end up like the US with a large number of gun-related deaths and the problems ongoing. In the end a society has to be built on consensus and a degree of trust between individuals and strangers.

 

So what of the Gaza war? I have drifted off topic.  The actual fighting has had very little attention. Do the Israelis merely bomb the city systematically and then walk in over the rubble with few casualties? Is Hamas actually fighting? There seems to be no attention to this in the mainstream press. And what of the Israelis?  A million people are demonstrating for a change of government, but it seems unclear what they want. Their hostages back?  A cease fire? A reasonable long term peace?  On what terms?

 

Netanyahu has said that a date is set to invade the rest of Gaza. Does this mean even more casualties than before to force the world to take the Gazans as there is nowhere else for them to go? It looks that way.

 

Even if the world stops supplying weapons, will the Israelis have enough stockpiled to complete the job?

 

And if the Israelis stop, either now or after even more carnage, how will Gaza be rebuilt or there be any sort of just solution for the Palestinians?

 

The world sees Israel as the last and most brutal of the colonial powers, simply taking a land and killing inhabitants who resist. The developed West with all its talk of international law is seen in the global South as hypocrites, unwilling even to condemn a more recent colonial aggressor.  It is hard not to see their point. Countries are judged by what their governments do, not by what their people may think. Australia’s late foray into arms manufacture with the Israeli partnership can be seen for the stupidity it was. We are all losers here. Recognition of a Palestinian state will at least elevate the status of any Palestinian  negotiators. It is too little too late, but what are the alternatives?

 

https://theconversation.com/penny-wong-floats-recognising-palestine-ahead-of-two-state-solution-to-help-path-to-peace-227456

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The Australia Card and Data

16 March 2024

The Australia Card debate, which was from 1985-7 was whether we should all carry a card that would link all the information about us.

I was in favour of it because my concerns at that time in occupational health and safety was as to whether exposure to various workplace chemicals had an adverse effect on health.

The best data came from Sweden, where people’s occupation was on a database and their mortalities could be compared. Nowhere else had comparable data.

It seemed to me that the data was going to be collected inevitably and we should have a debate then and there as to who would collect it and what could be done with it.

I was in the Australian Democrats, who were usually quite sensible and given to rational argument, but the view was that people would be safer if the data was not collected at all so they opposed the card and the naysayers won the day in the Party and the nation.

The Credit Reference Association was already collecting data about unpaid bills and there was a debate as to whether the subject of the data, (who was usually only alerted to its existence when they could not get a loan), could have access to their own record to respond with reasons for whatever was on it.

Naturally financial data was of use to the tax office and now buying habits, web-search histories and emails result in changes to the feed of ads on social media.

Now that financial data is collected, the discussion can move on to more socially helpful data.  Apparently Facebook can announce a flu epidemic earlier than the public register of viral tests or hospital admissions just from reading the frequency of the words ‘flu or sick’ on the posts.

In life I have progressed from dealing with acute diseases in heroic medicine and  intensive care settings to looking at how to do prevention. Prevention is always the poor cousin, because if you spend money on it is hard to show results in the short time frame that accountants and politicians want.

As I moved from medicine to social policy and tried to advocate for ‘preventive social policy’ the situation became even more difficult, despite the well known fact that increasingly social disadvantage gives rise to poorer health outcomes. This is acknowledged with lip service, but the late-stage capitalist growth in inequality powers on regardless.

In 2001 as a NSW MLC I initiated an inquiry into DoCS (Dept of Community Services), which was then called FACS (Family and Community Services), and is now called DCJ (Dept of Communities and Justice).  My inquiry showed that the Dept was dysfunctional, which we knew already, and the changes since have not helped much. Initially the problem was that they wanted to concentrate on the children most at risk, which meant still minimal supportive prevention for cases that were not at risk yet.  Then the Department became even more defensive and privatised cases, so the kids became a commodity with NGO and ‘for profit’ corporations getting packages to look after kids with problems and then giving them to carer families for about a third of the money that they were given.  ‘Management’, it seems, is a very expensive and lucrative business.

Obviously looking after kids whose parents are dysfunctional is a very difficult undertaking.  Does one take the child and give it a good foster care family?  What is a good foster care family? How much do you support dysfunctional parents?  Are the grandparents, who presumably brought up the dysfunctional parents a good bet? Who makes the decision and what appeal mechanisms are there?  Presumably all this is rendered ever more difficult by the fact that the gap between rich and poor is rising, there is no longer anywhere near enough public housing, and welfare payments are not really enough to live on.

It seems that the best way to see what policy works is to follow the kids in a lifetime study and see how they turn out. The criticism is that the OOHC (Out of Home Care) system has a hugely higher percentage of kids graduating to juvenile justice and then adult prisons.  But data is hard to get as the Department, despite its numerous renamings, will not release the information as it is politically embarrassing.  Naturally the privacy of the children is cited, but the data could easily be de-identified as much epidemiological data is.

We need to get data to make better decisions, ones based on facts as far as possible, with transparent assessment procedures with honest assessments of what is happening and a minimum of political or bureaucratic interference. With ‘issues management’ aka PR BS getting more sophisticated all the time, it will be an increasing struggle.  The Aust Bureau of Statistics, which tries to produce facts, but can only work with the data it is given and presumably cannot be political in trying to get better data, was significantly defunded by Tony Abbott as part of his war on facts. Meanwhile the private sector hoovers up personal data and a few diehards try to keep using cash.

Ross Gittins, the SMH Economic Editor who generally writes good commonsense in a digestible form and has recently been recognised for his good work, has penned the article below in today’s SMH.

Australia Card anyone?

 

How the digital world is getting better at measuring us up

Ross Gittins, Economics Editor

SMH March 15, 2024

These days we hear incessantly about “data”. The media is full of reports of new data about this or that, and there’s a new and growing occupation of data analysts and even data scientists. So, what is data, where does it come from, what are people doing with it, and why should I care?

Google “data” and you find it’s “facts and statistics collected together for reference or analysis”. The advent of computers has allowed businesses and governments to record, calculate, play with and store huge amounts of data.

Businesses have data about what goods and services they’re making, buying and selling, importing or exporting, and paying their workers, going back for 30 or 40 years.

Our banks have data about what we earn and what we spend it on, especially when we use a credit or debit card – or our phone – to pay for something.

Much of this data is required to be supplied to government agencies. If you ever go onto the Australia Taxation Office’s website to do your annual tax return, it will offer to “pre-fill” your return with stuff it already knows about your income from wages, bank interest and dividends.

Try it sometime. You’ll be amazed by how much the taxman knows and how accurate his data are.

Another dimension of the “information revolution” is how advances in international telecommunications – including via satellites – have allowed us to be in touch with people and institutions around the world in real-time via email and the web – news, entertainment, social media, whatever.

Last month, the Australian Statistician – aka the boss of the Australian Bureau of Statistics – Dr David Gruen, gave a speech outlining some of the ways these huge banks of “big data” about the economic activities of the nation’s businesses, workers, consumers and governments can be used to improve the way we measure the economy in all its aspects: employment, inflation, gross domestic product and the rest.

We’re getting more information and more accurate information, and we’re getting it much sooner than we used to. But we’re still in the early days of exploiting this opportunity to be better informed about what’s happening in the economy and to have better information to guide the government’s decisions about its policies to improve the economy’s performance.

Gruen starts by describing the Tax Office’s “single-touch” payroll system, software that automatically receives information about employees’ payments every time an employer runs its payroll program.

Not all employers have the software, but those who do account for more than 10 million of our 14 million employees.

Gruen says the arrival of the pandemic in early 2020 made access to this “rich vein of near real-time information” an urgent priority. The taxman pulled out the stops, and the stats bureau began receiving these data in early April 2020.

With a virus spreading through the land and governments ordering lockdowns and border closures, they couldn’t afford to wait a month or more to find out what was happening in the economy. Thus, the whole project of using big data to help measure the economy received an enormous kick along – here and in all the other rich economies.

So, in addition to the longstanding monthly sample survey of the labour force, we now have a new publication: Weekly Payroll Jobs and Wages Australia. These data allowed the “econocrats”—and the rest of us—to chart the dramatic collapse in jobs across the economy over the three weeks from mid-March 2020.

They show employment in the accommodation and food services industry falling by more than a quarter in just three weeks. Employment in the arts and recreation services industry fell by almost 20 per cent. By contrast, falls in utilities and education and training were minor.

The monthly labour force survey has a sample size of about 50,000 people, compared with the payroll program’s 10 million-plus people, meaning it provides information on far more dimensions of the workforce than the old way does.

So, the bureau’s access to payroll data taught it new ways of doing things. And the pandemic increased econocrats’ appetite for more info about the economy that was available in real-time.

With household consumption – consumer spending – accounting for about half of gross domestic product, improving the timeliness and detail of the data was a great idea.

So, in February 2022, the bureau released the first monthly household spending indicator using (note this) aggregated and de-identified data on credit and debit card transactions supplied by the major banks. This indicator provides two-thirds coverage of household consumption, compared with the less than one-third coverage provided by the usual survey of retail trade.

The bureau has also begun publishing a monthly consumer price index in addition to the usual quarterly index. This is possible because big data – in the form of data from scanners at checkout counters and data scraped from the websites of supermarket chains – is much cheaper to gather than the old way.

The bureau has also started integrating different but related sets of big data from several sources, so analysts can study the behaviour of individual consumers or businesses. It has developed two large integrated data assets.

The one for individuals links families and households with data sets on income and taxation, social support, education, health, migrants and disability.

The one for businesses links them with a host of surveys of aspects of business activity, income and taxation, overseas trade, intellectual property and insolvency.

The purpose is to allow analysts from government departments, universities or think tanks to shed light on policy problems from multiple dimensions.

For instance, one study showed that people over 65 who’d had their third COVID vaccination within the previous three months were 93 per cent less likely to die from the virus than an unvaccinated person. But that’s just the tiniest example of what we’ll be able to find out.

 

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AUKUS- time to make a RUcKUS

6 February 2024

The decision to buy Australia nuclear submarines was one of the worst military decisions ever taken in Australia, not to mention the opportunity cost of $360 billion in terms of the useful things it could do to improve Australian society.

Nick Deane of the Marrickville Peace Group punches well above his weight because of the dire state of peace activism in Australia. He writes excellent material in a very understudied area.

He makes the point that a few submarines cannot defend Australia if it were in danger of a serious attack. But of course that much money could buy a lot of other military material, so we are actually a lot weaker for having the subs.

The other reason given is ‘deterrence’. Presumably this relates to China, but given the huge arsenal the US already has, whether a few submarines are Australian-flagged or US-flagged will not change their thinking one iota.  China is a power that is going to rise whether we like it or not, their current economic problems notwithstanding. Anwar Ibrahim, the excellent Malaysian Prime Minister has pointed this out at the ASEAN meeting in Melbourne.

We are not going to stop China’s rise and we should try to get the US to accommodate this as they will not be able to stop it either. We should simply deal with China as a trading partner, not sell them our strategic assets and get a fair price for our wares.  Their interest in the Eurasian continental mass will be far greater than invading a farm and a quarry of far less economic significance.

My own view is that it quite dubious whether a nuclear submarine will be of any use in any case. The battleships that fought in WW1 were rendered totally obsolete by their vulnerability to seaplane attacks in WW2. Submarines can currently hide because changes in water temperature make them hard to detect.  Conventional submarines get found when they come up for air, but nuclear submarines can stay submerged for very long periods. But nuclear submarines produce a lot of hot water from their reactors, which they cannot turn off. If they stay in the same place quite a plume of hot water goes up from them.  It is hard to believe that satellites will not be able to notice this temperature difference.  The Russian Black Sea fleet is being sunk by numerous relatively cheap drones, and it is difficult to believe that a pattern of surface drones guided by a satellite would not be able to locate and then destroy a submarine twenty years hence.

The UK wants to sell us submarines and wants to lock us in on their side in a confrontation with China. But the  US has other objectives. Apart from selling us submarines at vast profit, we will have to have a base capable of supporting them. Then they will be able to use that base, presumably at minimal cost, so we are locked into having US nuclear warships in our ports at our cost and becoming targets for China in the confrontation.

The pro-nuclear lobby has also pointed out that Australia will also have to hugely expand our nuclear knowledge capability with at least another reactor larger than our modest one at Lucas Heights. We cannot just have submarines and not be able to operate and maintain them.

The defence procurement has been an a mess for years, one suspects because some of our strategic planners want us to ‘operate seamlessly’ with the US, which assumes that our military policy is in total lockstep with theirs, and other planners want an independent Australian capability, fearing the US under Trump  might go into isolationism as it did just before both world wars. What do you procure if you have not solved this internal wrangle?

So along comes Morrison whose popularity is sagging just before an election and makes a big decision that allows him to pretend he is a big statesman with a US President and a UK Prime Minister. Photo op a bargain at $360 billion!

Labor, ever-fearful of being criticised by the Liberals for being ‘weak on defence’ (or border security or tax cuts) has just gone along with this. And of course decades of dithering for the reasons above have meant that there is no properly thought out and costed alternative.

We need to recognise that the US will always act in its own interest as it did in delaying its entry to WW1 and WW2 and in selling arms now. We need our own defence policy and to recognise that the US may help us, but only if it has the resources available at the time and there are not other priorities. Once we have a defence policy, we can  fix the muddled thinking and get a defence procurement strategy.  But we will have to make enough noise to get rid of the AUKUS deal, which will tie up so much money that nothing else will get a look in.

Here is Nick Deane’s article from John Menadue’s Pearls and Irritations:

 

How did Australia get seduced by AUKUS?

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