Doctor and activist


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Category: Accountability

US Election Commentary- Warning- long post, innovative stuff nearer the end 5/11/20

I shudder to comment on the US Elections- it is a crowded field- 15 professional commentators in today’s SMH alone, and that is without the electronic ones.

But I had a few thoughts, firstly about the US Voting system which is very flawed, then about the candidates, and finally about what might happen:

Biden looks likely to win and Trump is dangerously stoking tensions by calling into question the integrity of the whole US electoral system. The US electoral system is probably not corrupt in a limited meaning of the term. The mail ballots are sent in, and should be counted and not be fraudulent. The counting process is well supervised and credible.

But the whole system is hopelessly outmoded and non-democratic.  Here are a few issues:

The candidate who wins the popular votes does not necessarily win the Presidency because of the Electoral Colleges system. 

The Electoral College system gives two votes to every state, but it was set up when the US Constitution was written, so States with few people have far more votes College vote per citizen that populous States.  So Wisconsin has 1 Electoral College vote for every 195,000 voters whereas California has one electoral college  vote for every 670,000 voters, a ratio of nearly 3.5:1.  The small States are mostly Republican and in the centre of the country and there are more of them.

In most States, whoever wins the State gets all the Electoral College votes, so if a lot of  small states are won, this gives the Republicans a big advantage, which is why Bush Jnr and Trump won with a minority of the popular votes. If Trump wins this time, it will again be with a minority of popular votes. 

This problem is hard to fix as it is in the Constitution, and the small states, like Tasmania in Australia will resist this and there are about 30 Tasmanias in the USA.

Voter suppression is another art practised particularly in Republican states. This involves changing the rules so that certain groups are less likely to be able to vote.  If for example, people who have been in gaol are ruled ineligible to vote, it disadvantages black voters.  If the proof of address is needed, poorer people whose voter registration records are less up to date are more likely to be ruled ineligible. If there are few ballot boxes in certain areas and they are hard to get to, etc.  It is almost certain that the actions of Governor Bush in Florida, the Presidential candidate’s brother helped George W Bush by suppressing voters and gave him the Presidency over Al Gore.  You may recall that there was an appeal to the Supreme Court for a recount and this was denied, the Supreme Court members voting in the interest of the Party that appointed them. This is why Trump keeps talking about appealing to the Courts.

There is also ‘first past the post’ voting rather than preferential, which means that any third candidate merely takes votes from the candidate closest to him or her, and this may favour someone with less than a majority.

The gerrymander of the electoral boundaries is another problem in the US. The incumbents set boundaries that wander in strange shapes to take in pockets of voters and allow an incumbent to survive while the adjacent electorates have huge majorities for the other party, and if there was a fair redistribution the seats would all go the other way.

There is no Federal equivalent of the Australian Electoral Commission, which puts out a model for fair electoral boundaries and then hears representations of why they should be changed from this.  Rather, in the US there is a different electoral system in each state, because that was necessary to get the States to form the United States.  It was not that the founding fathers thought that this was the best system- it was simply the best that they could do under the circumstances.  So it will be very difficult to fix.

At a practical level, Trump seems willing to divide the country.  He would probably have won had there not been a COVID epidemic.  There were more jobs and the stockmarket was high. Generally if the economy is doing well, incumbents are re-elected other issues notwithstanding.  Trump was seen to have mismanaged the COVID epidemic, playing it down as tens of thousands died and millions were infected.  How anyone can still think it is a hoax is difficult to understand, (but this article is not about the media).  How much a President can actually do is other question.  Administration at a day to day level is by States, as we have found in Australia in the epidemic, they still have quite a lot of power.  It will be interesting to see how much Biden can do if he wins.  At least he is likely to recognise the seriousness, state it clearly and mobilise resources.

It seems as the votes are counted that Biden will win but partly due to some of the factors above by a lesser margin than was expected.  The longer the count goes on, the more Trump will stir trouble, and there may be riots as his supporters are strengthened in the idea that he was robbed.  It is significant that all the shops are boarded up in the most fashionable streets in Washington DC.  This is not some backwater- these streets are the equivalent of the most expensive areas in Sydney CBD.

The question will be asked, how could Trump do so well after such dishonesty and incompetence.  I will try to get in early on this.  Trump did some good in foreign policy. He probably stopped the US attacking Iran, and did not commit the US in Syria, which allowed Assad and the Russians to win, but it was hard to see a good outcome whatever happened and it may have been another US quagmire.  He has ‘stood up to China’ economically and militarily, made peace overtures to North Korea, persuaded some Arab states to recognise Israel, torn up the NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement0 with Canada and Mexico, and taken a far more nationalistic line on trade.  Whether all these are good remains to be seen, but they do constitute policy change that is broadly popular with his constituency.

In his style he has tweeted- a direct communication to the common person.  This is the antithesis of what was done before.  Hilary Clinton was seen as a child of the Establishment, the bankers who had been bailed out in the GFC when a lot of people lost their homes.  Presumably if they had been given the money they would have given it to the banks and they would have survived as well as the banks, but perhaps that was too administratively difficult.  Jobs have gone offshore because labour is cheaper there, which has hollowed out the middle class, particularly in the manufacturing sector.  Though this may have been forgotten by the media it is not forgotten by those affected, who do not trust the Establishment, which is partly why conspiracy theories and populism can flourish.

Just looking at the Campaign hoopla: Trump was exciting and optimistic, Biden looked the Conservative, unexciting with a negative message.  The Establishment had not fixed the problems before, now it was demanding its place at the head again to have another go.  Trump may have been talking fantasy, but it was hopeful fantasy, and reality does not look so bright. It is like a religious cult; if you assess it with your heart, it seems right, if you use your head it does not.  It is as if many people in Western society are choosing pleasant fantasy over unpleasant reality with Trump and Biden personifying the choice. 

I spoke to Joe Laurie of Consortium News during the week before the election.  He had an interesting story about Biden that is probably true.  No one thinks that Biden is a very good candidate. Most of us thought that he was past it, and I asked some weeks ago what the minimum criterion for a President was; to read an autocue?  It seems that the Democrat Establishment were not too impressed by Biden but there was a shortage of a credible moderate candidate.  They were scared of Bernie Sanders. He represented a major change. He admitted to wanting things that had been termed ‘socialist’ like universal health care, bigger taxes and more welfare.  Elisabeth Warren was the next most progressive.  There were a number of moderate candidates, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Lobucher, Tulsi Gabband, and the immensely wealthy Michael Bloomberg.  The Democrat Establishment let them have a run, but Sanders was beating them all.  So somewhat belatedly the Democrat Establishment tapped all the young moderates on the shoulder, told that that they could not win, and asked then to stand aside and let it be Biden v Sanders.  Elizabeth Warren was left there, as she was more likely to take votes from Sanders, and it made it look like a more open race.  The Democrat Establishment then supported Biden as much as possible, including doing some voter suppression in the Primaries in California in areas where Sanders was strong.  Sanders was robbed in 2016, and probably again.  So the Democrat Establishment, which represents much of the business world got an acceptable if not optimal candidate, Biden.

The people who had lost their jobs in the GFC and did not trust Hilary Clinton and were not much more impressed with Biden, who was after all, as much of a creature of the status quo as she was. So if you ignore COVID, and do not care much what else Trump has said, apart from noting that he has upset the Establishment, you get some idea of why his vote has held up so much better than was expected. 

The psephologists say that the polls are wrong, partly because of the complexity of the voting systems, but also because people do not admit that they are voting for Trump.  They tell the pollsters one thing, and vote another.  Perhaps political correctness influences their polling behaviour. 

But if Biden wins, what can he do?  He is very much part of the Establishment, who rejected Sanders’ solutions.  The world market takes jobs to where labour is cheapest, particular if it is well organised, like in China.  An unregulated market is like a Monopoly game. Those with more money set the prices and the rents, and those at the bottom compete with each other as price takers.  So money flows upward; the rich get richer, and the poorer people recognise this.  Governments have to act with wages that share the wealth, welfare that provide services and universal things like parks and roads, health and education.  If governments are not willing to do this, and the welfare is to the top end as it was in the GFC people do not trust the system.  Is Biden the man to fix this?  I doubt it.

Marx looked at history from an economic perspective and said that revolution would come in an advanced capitalist society basically because the wealth would increasingly be concentrated in fewer and fewer people.  He did not glorify revolution (as many have since), he merely said that it would become necessary because the rich would not give up their money without a fight.  The US rioters have been called opportunists and looters, but also the bogeyman of the socialist revolution has been discussed.  All this may seem premature or logistically impossible, but if the economic drivers remain in the same direction, it is certainly a matter of concern.  The Establishment must recognise that the economic system cannot remain as it is.  A Republican Senate with Biden as President does not bode well, particularly if Trump’s swansong is to focus many people’s frustration.

I attach Consortium News’ article on Voter Suppression

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Gladys Has to Go 15/10/20.

I feel somewhat sorry for Gladys Berejeklian.   She is an intelligent woman who was born in Sydney in an Armenian family and according to Wikipedia did not learn English until she was 5.  Raised in Australia and reasonably intelligent, she was not married by the age of 24, which is often expected in a traditional Armenian community.  So she would have had a lot of pressure to succeed in politics.  To do this she had to please the men with power in the Liberal Party and its donors.

She may have been honest, but as Shadow Transport Minister she initiated the light rail project and then was responsible for it and the underground freeway project.  The cost of the light rail project blew out and the tunnels have gone from $10 to $18 billion.  Sydney is the last city in the world to be building underground freeways, and the opportunity cost is that we will now not have a decent metro network but the Roads lobby was stronger than the Rail lobby, so this outcome can be understood in a compliant political context.  Gladys is hard-working and took advice during the bushfires and COVID19 crisis, but it seems she was vulnerable to Darryl Maguire, the undistinguished ex-member for Wagga Wagga who is now before ICAC.

If it is true that she told him not to tell her things that he was doing and she saw developers that the relevant Minister refused to see for him, she is in trouble.  It is also alleged that Maguire asked her as Treasurer to see people who wanted to build the Wagga Wagga by-pass, which the Roads Dept. thought was not a cost-effective option, and such was actually built.   Building roads favours the builders, but also changes the land value hugely, so some developers stand to make a fortune.  Maguire was in ICAC today and part of the hearing was in camera, so the situation is not yet clear. 

As a person interested in the appalling job that iCare has done, and aware of the venality of its management and the fact that it paid for two US political advisers in Treasurer Perottet’s office, I wondered why there was no suggestion that he should resign.  A letter in yesterday’s’ SMH suggested that perhaps with Gladys’ personal situation as it is she was in no position to challenge Perottet.  We might remember that an honest man, Premier Barry O’Farrell, resigned for not remembering that he had never received a bottle of wine from a dodgy developer and being goaded into saying so as an unequivocal statement.  Standards have gone down a long way since then.

Gladys should go, so should Perottet, but sadly neither the NSW Liberals nor the Labor Party are replete with talent to replace them.

www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/glass-of-red-was-a-code-daryl-maguire-contradicts-of-former-minister-s-chief-of-staff-20201014-p5651q.html

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To Make google and Facebook pay, or not to make google and Facebook pay?

6 September 2020

Presumably the whole world is watching whether the Australian government can make google and Facebook pay to carry news items.

The reason is quite clear. They gain customers for being able to point them to the news sources, and then they get the advertising revenue from people on their platforms, while the people who collected the news make no money for having done so, and then lose the advertising that used to come to them when people bought their papers or watched their TV channels.

So initially I was quite in favour of the idea. Here were big foreign companies, structured to pay no tax, grabbing all the advertising and the media was dying because of the lack of advertising revenue.  Strangely the ABC was not going to get any revenue- it was only going to the commercial media.  I wondered if this was a good thing. Would google and Facebook favour the ABC as it was free, and direct people there rather than to commercial media.  But if they did, would this produce a reaction from Murdoch, and would then the government do something more to favour Murdoch and disadvantage the ABC- hey, they are already cutting the ABC budget ?at Murdoch’s request.

But I was thinking that the rise of fake news and conspiracy theories, which threaten any rational voting or policy development is largely due to the social media behemoths.  Everyone is equal in that they can post what they like, and things that are more interesting and clickable are more equal than facts. Added to this, in order to get people to stay there and click around, they are connected up with things and people that they like and who think like them.  So we are all reinforced.  We friend the people we like, and they friend us. And we get our facts from them, and they from us.  So if we do not really chase facts in this candy store of pleasant experiences, we can soon have our own bubble, with no need for facts.  Pontius Pilate has been much quoted for asking, ‘What is truth?’  He did not want to know what the truth was, and many who quote him are of the same mind.  Exact truth may not always be clear, but you can get closer to it if you try, and hopefully that is what science and good journalism tries to achieve.

So when I saw the Australian government leading the world in trying to get revenue for the commercial media, when they had not even been able to get workable legislation to get them to pay some tax, I wondered who is driving this.  The companies that have bought our privatised toll roads have the government collect their tolls, and fine people if they do not pay.  So I wondered is this just Murdoch getting the government to collect revenue for him?  Murdoch was very much in favour of the market as he gobbled up smaller media players. The Rudd and Gillard governments were ruthlessly attacked and ultimately destroyed by Murdoch, and it was always my opinion that this was because they would not change the media ownership laws to allow Murdoch to have nearly all of it- the need for balance and diversity being totally irrelevant and profits the only objective.  As soon as Tony Abbott was Prime Minister this law was changed in Murdoch’s favour. 

Now the market has changed.  New technology has taken the money from newspapers and free to air TV, which were funded from their advertising.  The model had worked reasonably well when I was young.  The Fairfax family were rich from the advertising, and let the journalists write what they liked, or so we believed.  With Packer, it was not quite so clear. The slogan was ‘Publish and be Damned’, but while that may have been true for more salacious material or less powerful targets, there was a suggestion that some areas were off limits, like tobacco when there was a lot of cigarette ads in the paper.  Later, as Murdoch became more powerful, stories seemed to be changed a lot to suit his interest.  When Indonesia had a very authoritarian government Murdoch’s coverage of it was very benign as he sought to get a satellite TV licence.  This has advanced further so that now there is more advertorial content.  Before local papers closed, people bought a quarter page ad and got to write the article on the rest of the page.  Ideal for restaurants and clubs, but independent journalism?  I think not, but it was/is the norm. 

Once, stories were written first, then headline writers wrote the headlines for them.  Now even senior writers are being asked to write a story to fit under a pre-written, catchy headline.  Hey, we have to get a click to get the ad revenue.  Senior writers have told me that the headline may be misleading and they have to slant their stories so it is not seen as absurd.  What effect is this having?  What about people who only read the headline?  It no longer has substance- it was just put there so that they would notice it.

The ABC has been much criticised by the commercial media, and Murdoch in particular because it just gets money to provide a news and cultural service.  It has a different funding model, and if the commercial media has no money, they want the ABC to have none either.

But it is time to look at the root cause. The model of funding media and journalism by advertising revenue is broken.  It was fraying before google and Facebook etc came, and it is very broken now.  Murdoch was quite happy to let the market sort it out, when he was winning and buying up his competition.  Now he is getting the government to get him money from his technological competitors.  And the Australian government, which seems more beholden to him than any other national governments is doing his bidding.

If google and Facebook decide to offer less news and change their algorithms to favour ‘free’ news sources, is this likely to affect the content of our searches?  And will there be even more fake news and conspiracy theories than now?  Quite possibly.

I have no particular brief to act for google and Facebook, and find their ads telling me that the end of the world is nigh almost laughable.  I think that they must pay tax, and this must be based on their revenue, and not on the profits that can be so easily fiddled with foreign loans and transfer payments etc.  But it seems that there are 3 related problems:

  1. The government has a problem- how to get tax from these behemoths.
  2. The public have a problem how to get unbiased honest news and science facts. 
  3. The commercial media have a problem how to pay their journalists when the revenue has gone to social media to whom trivia and produces just as much revenue as news.  

We need to discuss this carefully, so that facts and public interest win.

www.reuters.com/article/us-australia-media-regulator/australia-to-force-google-facebook-to-pay-domestic-media-to-use-content-idUSKBN222066

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Workers Compensation in NSW and Victoria- ‘Immoral and Unethical’ – 4 Corners Exposes It. 28/7/20

This is what I have been saying for years. If you think the banks are bad, you have not dealt with insurers. They will do anything rather than pay people’s legitimate medical and living expenses.

My poor patients literally starve. They change their addresses each visit as they couch-surf their friends. The foreign patients with no Medicare cannot even get GP treatment, and because they are often paid sub-award wages in cash cannot even prove their incomes. Most specialists simply will not operate for the Medicare rebate, and even if they will the waiting time is a year. I tell the patients where the soup kitchens are. They are in huge pain and the most I hear from governments are warnings that they have been on narcotics too long, as they wait for the surgery that the insurers have refused to pay for.

The patient Scott with his supportive wife, at the beginning of the 27/7/20 4 Corners tells the story of his shattered life, which is just like what my patients tell me.

The Victorian the Ombudsman, Deborah Glass did an investigation into WorkSafe Victoria, the callous government insurer there. She found appalling behaviour and says so very clearly.

In NSW it is the same- the appalling, hopeless iCare, who should be called ‘I Don ‘t Care’ put together a bunch of insurance executives who had no experience in working with people. They all got awarded huge salaries and set about having computer algorithms to replace claims clerks. So when a claim goes wrong (which takes a while to figure out as 3 week delays are pretty much the norm), you call and ask to speak to the case manager. You can’t. But if you persist eventually you find one, but he or she only got the claim yesterday. i.e. There had been no person managing it until you hassled like hell, and it is often refused anyway.

Meanwhile the patient had no treatment and the fat cats at the top had not noticed that their system had a few glitches. And most of the concern in both the management echelons and the media is about some financial deficit which, if we are to believe the totally out-of- touch iCare CEO, Ken Nagle, depends how you do the accounting.

No one seems to remember that this is just a health insurance scheme to help Workers’ Compensation and Motor Vehicle accident Victims. If Medicare worked it would be completely unnecessary, and it cannot even manage to function like a private health insurer. It assumes that all doctors are crooks who cannot be trusted to order just the tests and operations necessary- they all have to be evaluated and denied by insurers who get every dollar that they refuse to pay, and who seek out dodgy doctors to carry out ‘Independent Medical Examinations’ (IMEs) to deny normal treatments. If the IME doctors do not do what the insurers want they get no more work from them.

The directors and top executives of iCare should be sacked and the whole thing given to ICAC to examine. ICAC needs more resources also.

SIRA (State Insurance Regulatory Authority) has been more hopeless than ASIC and APRA were with the banks, and should be abolished also. This story came from a whistle-blower, not from SIRA, the responsible agency, though some of us have been trying to get SIRA to act for years.

SIRA became a bit more interested after the Hayne Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry reported in February 2019, presumably as they realised that if the Commission has been given enough time to look at insurance, they would have had their own hopeless regulatory efforts scrutinised. They had an internal investigation, the Dore Inquiry (no, you almost certainly have not heard of it), but it did actually find that iCare was behaving appallingly. The report release was delayed 5 months (July-December 2019) and released just before Christmas with iCare’s reaction, which was to admit that they had made ‘mistakes’ and that they accepted all the recommendations. Great PR! Released on a busy day to avoid scrutiny and if you as a journo were a tiny bit interested, there was no story because iCare accepted the changes suggested. The SIRA strategy worked- no scrutiny of either iCare or SIRA.

At last there is a 4 Corners on this! Watch it if you missed it!

Let us hope that when it goes to ICAC some major changes are achieved. It seems that 4 Corners is the only regulatory force in the country. I guess that is why the government wants to de-fund the ABC.

https://youtu.be/fxIvKogrE2Q

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Happenings in Turkey, no sillier than NSW mining policy 11/7/20

A friend has sent me this to illustrate how life is in Turkey these days under President Erdogan, who fancies himself the new Kemal Attaturk.  Ataturk however was the victorious general at Gallipoli and the founder of the modern Turkish state on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire after WW1.  He wanted a modern, democratic, secular state an instituted a new western-style alphabet. 

Erdogan has undermined democracy and concentrated power in his own hands.  He claims to be Muslim and been a very divisive figure, playing to the less educated eastern side of the country against the more educated secular western side.  He had fantasies of leading the Muslim world while building the country with borrowed money, principally in real estate investment.  The quality of these high-rise buildings in earthquake -prone Istanbul will no doubt be tested in time.  The economy is not doing well, particularly in the COVID19 crisis.  This little story about digging up a glacial lake is a micro illustration of his capricious rule, which has involved things like emptying the prisons and locking up journalists and academics who oppose him.

Such stupidity does not only occur in Turkey.  If it is foolish to undermine a little lake and dig a hole that cannot be filled underneath it, how much sillier is it to allow long wall mining under the catchment of a large, growing capital city that is prone to drought.  Cracks will go from the surface to the mine depth and then the water will run out to sea.  We should ask ourselves why we tolerate the NSW government, and Peabody, a US owned mine.

www.quora.com/What-happens-only-in-Turkey/answer/Simge-Topaloğlu?ch=1&share=02eab1a8&srid=zByA

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The Eden-Monaro By-Election of 4/7/20 was interesting for a number of reasons. 9/7/20

Amazingly there was a two-party-preferred swing to the Liberals of 0.37% and the margin was close, 50.48% Labor to 49.52% Liberal. Both the major party candidates were known to the electorate, Kristy McBain of Labor was a lawyer and Mayor of Bega Shire, and Dr Fiona Kotvojs, the Liberal was a science graduate and off-grid farmer who stood unsuccessfully at the 2019 Federal Election. Given that the electorate was very badly affected by the bushfires and Morrison was seemingly very callous and out of touch this is remarkable. It seems that he learned from the fact that he had ignored the fire warnings and took advice from the doctors early. This seems to have overshadowed his former errors. The overshadowing seems remarkable because some these people still do not have houses and the fire relief effort seems to have been mismanaged as well.

Labor’s primary vote was 35.9%, a fall of 3.27%. Former member, Labor’s Mike Kelly was popular and the fact that there are more parties in a by-election may have contributed to this fall, but the blandness of Labor and the lack of policies from Albanese must have contributed also.

The Liberals Primary vote was 38.35%, up 1.34%. In essence, Morrison has used the COVID19 crisis to turn Australia into a one party state. The government has formed a group with the Premiers, ostensibly to manage COVID19, but it also excludes everything else including Parliamentary scrutiny. Albo seems to recognise that criticism will not be welcomed in a time of crisis, so goes along into oblivion. This situation is working well for Morrison as, helped by the need to stimulate the economy, he gets access to the largest pork barrel in history. Given that he has proved a dab hand at pork barrelling with the Sports Rorts and Regional Development grants, this advantage is likely to give him the next election. Eden Monaro was just a bit close to and soon after the bushfires, but the fact that Eden Monaro was even considered possible to be the first government win of an opposition seat in a by-election for a century shows how the next Federal election is likely to go.

The minor party issues are also interesting. The Shooters got 5.36%. They were astute enough to change their name to Shooters Fishers and Farmers and this has paid dividends as they now have 2 lower house seats in NSW as well as one upper house one. Their 5.36% has them almost up to the Nationals at 6.4% which makes John Barilaro’s hope to win the seat looks almost silly. It must never be forgotten that the founder of the Shooters, John Tingle, took advantage of his friendship with Bob Carr, his position with sometimes balance of power in the upper house and concerns over guns to make a lasting deal that funds the gun lobby. Tingle persuaded Carr that only the Gun Clubs could keep track of individual gun owners, and made a deal that to hold a licence, gun owners had to shoot at a registered club at least once a year. The gun clubs can thus check them out, and hopefully report any crazies. In return for this the Gun Clubs get money to maintain the database of shooters. This of course can be used to organise shooters politically. Small political parties need quite a lot of money to keep track of members and keep them politically active. What an advantage the Shooters have! Now with the Fishers and Farmers in the name, the Nationals seem more of a tail on the neo-Liberal dog and a friend of miners and irrigators than workers for ordinary farmers. So the Shooter’s Fishers and Farmers are on the move. The Gun Control lobby needs to stay on its toes!

The Greens at 5.62% vote went down 3.16%, but the non-major vote tends to be divided up, so more independents and small parties in by-elections make it harder for the Greens. The Major party vote was 74.25, and the non-major vote 25.75. (My own hobby horse is that the major parties have a huge gerrymander as the preferential system means that together they get 75% of the vote, but almost all the seats).
The 3 Independents got 3.06% and the 5 tiddler parties 2.92% between them. The HEMP (Marijuana) Party 2.27%, Science 1.11% and the Lib Dems, Christians, and Australian Federation Party 0.69%, 0.65%, and 0.19%, all trying to keep their issues and upper house profiles alive. The Christians are sinking to an almost terminal level, but with the huge religious influence in the Liberal party they are hardly necessary.

So the key points were the strength of the Liberals based on COVID and their licence to pork-barrel, and the corresponding weakness of Labor- just enough to stop a challenge to Albo but with no chance at a Federal election if something does not change significantly. The weakness of the Nationals and the corresponding rise of the Shooters as the alternative is a bit of a worry, with the Greens and the others hard to assess.

https://tallyroom.aec.gov.au/HouseDivisionPage-25820-117.htm
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Vale Trevor Morling – the Passive Smoking Judgement of 1991, 10/6/20

Judge Trevor Morling has died at the age of 92.

He was the author of the famous ‘Morling Judgement’’’ which sent a shock around the world in 1991 as it stated that ‘passive smoking was potentially lethal’.

This has to be put in context if its significance is to be duly recognised.  The seminal article about smoking causing lung cancer had been written by Doll and Hill in the British Medical Journal in 1950, and many articles followed in the 1950s linking smoking to a great many diseases.

In 1961, the Royal College of physicians, concerned that the UK government had not done anything to curb smoking, commissioned their landmark report ‘Smoking and Health’ in 1962.  The US Surgeon-General did the same, resulting in a similar report in 1964.

The tobacco industry had to decide whether it would scale down its production, or tough it out and take the money.  It did secret research which confirmed that burning tobacco produced carcinogens and other harmful products which could not actually be removed.  There was a change of personnel and ethos.  Prior to 1950, tobacco was a legitimate product like anything else.  After the research was confirmed, the decision to keep selling and to deny the effects and hinder government action was the strategy that everyone working at the top of the tobacco industry had to accept.

Tobacco use was mainstream.  45% of all US adults smoked in 1954 (Statistica- Gallup) and consumption peaked in Australia in 1963.  People smoked everywhere. There were no smoke-free areas in bars, restaurants or anywhere else.  It was normal for house guests to light up and then ask ‘where is the ash tray?  The Tobacco industry was keen to maintain this situation and talked of the need for ‘courtesy and tolerance’ between smokers and non-smokers, which was code for ‘doing nothing political’.  Smokers all ‘chose to smoke’, which of course meant that they had voluntarily (and knowingly) assumed the risk and consequences of their behaviour.  The tobacco industry also gave money to political parties, just asking for a secret promise that there would be no legislation against them before the next election.  The medical industry were unaccustomed to this, and kept giving advice that was ignored, with a few significant voices such as Dr Nigel Gray of the Victorian Anti-Cancer Council and Dr Cotter Harvey of the Thoracic Society doing what advocacy they could. 

Non-Smokers Rights groups were the main driving force for change in the US in the 1960s and 1970s  arguing that people had a right not to breathe smoke.  The health charities, Cancer Councils, Heart Foundations were very keen to be non-political as their core business was raising research funds. Real activists soon discovered that their opponents were not the smokers, but the industry, who claimed that there was no proof that passive smoking was harmful, and that courtesy and consideration was all that was needed.  Their public stance was referred to as the ‘tightrope policy’.  They had to admit that many people believed that tobacco was harmful, as they had to contend that the smokers knew the risk that they were taking and hence could not sue them for deceiving them. But they also had to claim that they did not know that smoking was harmful, so that they were no liable for selling unsafe goods.  It was absurd, but it continued. 

The tobacco industry as well as being very politically active were the major advertiser, tobacco being second only to food.  This meant that the media were more reluctant to run stories that would affect their advertising revenue.  Outdoor advertising was also ubiquitous with over 50% of billboards being for tobacco, reminding people to smoke, and especially plastered all over convenience stores where cigarettes were sold.

In 1981 Prof Takeshi Hirayami published a seminal paper showing that non-smoking wives of smoking husbands got more cancer than wives of non-smokers (Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1981;282:183).  At last there was substantial medical evidence of the harm of passive smoking.

In Australia the medical groups had done quite good advocacy and in NSW a Transport Minister, Pat Hills, simply banned smoking on buses and trains in 1977, but pubs and clubs knew that smokers drank and gambled more than non-smokers, so they took the money from the tobacco industry and lobbied hard against smoke-free indoor air.  The restaurant industry followed them, somewhat lamely.

But a breakthrough came in 1979 when 3 activists, Bill Snow, Ric Bolzan and Geoff Coleman formed BUGA UP (Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions).  Coleman had studied political economy, and saw the issue as the tobacco industry killing people for money.  BUGA UP saw irresponsible and misleading advertising as the major vehicle for the promotion of products that had no intrinsic worth, tobacco being the leading example.  They wrote on billboards, changing the wordings in satiric and humorous ways, and signed their work, BUGA UP, which was an invitation for all to copy.  They also did street theatre, often concerned with disrupting tobacco promotion activities in supermarkets or malls.  This had an immense direct effect as the billboard posters were only being changed every 3 months and the leaflets and street theatre were amusing.  There was a lot of popular support as most people saw that smoking was harmful, and governments were too craven to act.  There was also a lot of publicity when Coleman and Neville Biffin were arrested in 1981 and charged with defacing a billboard.  They were convicted in 1982 and fined, but praised by the judge (Daily Telegraph 26/2/82) and given a light penalty, which sent a strong message.  It also sent a shot around the world by making all other tobacco activism seem moderate by comparison.  Australia’s activism was seen as more direct with a ‘Robin Hood’ flavour, but was also more conspicuous because it was against the ubiquitous tobacco billboards, and targeted the industry directly, rather than the more subtle and legalistic approach of the non-smokers’ right groups who had previously been the front line against the industry.  It might be noted that at the 5th World Conference on Smoking and Health  in 1983 there were no scheduled sessions on political action or advocacy, and the first meeting was convened by renowned Californian activist Prof Stan Glantz.  The presentation on BUGA UP had to be repeated as the room was not large enough for the people who had wanted to attend.  The medical system was becoming energised.

The tobacco industry was very demoralised by this.  They had set up a lobby group, pretentiously called the ‘Tobacco Institute.’  But this was re-energised by John Dollisson who was there from 1983-87. 

In 1983 the Western Australian lower house supported a private member’s bill by Dr Tom Dadour to ban tobacco sponsorship of sport, but an energetic campaign led by Dollisson and using sporting bodies who received money from tobacco, defeated this in the upper house (Musk, BMJ Vol 290 25/5/85). 

After his successful Industry fight against the WA Dadour bill, Dollisson’s feisty style set the tone for the tobacco struggles of the 1980s.  He was physically strong and in debate would cram a number of aggressive arguments into each sentence, such as,  ‘You are treating the smoking causes disease hypothesis as fact, then want to even say that passive smoking is harmful, and smoking is addictive and the advertising get the kids and then you want to tell people how to live their lives and trample on their rights and then you want the government to enforce a nanny state for you.’  (This is not a direct quote, but an example of how his speech was structured).  Assuming that he was interrupted at this point, as he would not stop if he were not, the tobacco control advocate would then be able to only answer one of the points already raised.  But Dollisson’s aggressive style eventually got him into trouble, with the Trade Practices Commission, prohibition of ‘misleading and deceptive conduct’ being used against one of his advocacy ads. Then the Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations bravely took him on.  The story is told by Stacey Carter (Tobacco Control- BMJ Issue 12 Suppl 3):

In July 1986 he [Dollisson as CEO of the Tobacco Institute (TIA)] placed an advertisement in the national press entitled “A message from those who do…to those who don’t”29 in which he claimed “there is little evidence and nothing which proves scientifically that cigarette smoke causes disease in non-smokers”.30 Early in 1987, Dollisson placed a “followup” ad for the TIA, as demanded by the Trade Practices Commission, which among other things stated that the TIA did not accept that their original advertisement was misleading.31 This action triggered a six year legal war between TIA and the Australian Federation of Consumer Organisations (AFCO), at substantial cost to the TIA.

On 7 February 1991 Justice Morling decided that the TIA “had engaged in conduct that was misleading or deceptive” and banned the TIA from speaking publicly on ETS.40,41 On appeal the injunction was lifted, but the court granted a declaration that the advertisement was misleading and deceptive contrary to the Act and the TIA were ordered to pay a large proportion of AFCO’s costs.

The ‘Morling Judgement’ as it was termed was the first time in the world that passive smoking had been held by a court to be harmful, and this rang around the world.

Dollisson left the Tobacco Institute and went to Philip Morris where he helped the campaign against the Victorian Government’s Tobacco Act of 1987, which raised the State tobacco tax and replaced tobacco sponsorship money as well as promoting health (which replaced tobacco advertising from the advertisers point of view) and also funded medical research.  The Victorian legislation, effectively paid off the tobacco industry’s bought acolytes, and the aggressive approach to advocacy by Dollisson in Australia was seen as backfiring. 

The decision also set the precedent for the test case Scholem v NSW Dept of Health, where a psychological counsellor successfully sued for workplace tobacco smoke exposure in May 1992.

Australia has been drifting in its tobacco control endeavours of late, but Trevor Morling will be remembered for his contribution, as well for the many other achievements cited below.

www.smh.com.au/national/chamberlain-royal-commission-judge-was-a-lawyer-s-lawyer-20201006-p562hk.html

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Domestic Violence Becomes a Workers Comp Issue 8/6/20

The NSW Supreme Court has held that the children of a worker killed at home by her mentally ill partner in a domestic violence incident can have compensation.

It is good that the issue of domestic violence gets publicity and that the children get compensation. But it raises the issue of whether employers are seriously able to assess the domestic situation of all employees and then whether they can ever hope to intervene in them.  Employers ran a long campaign not to have to pay for journey accidents, people injured on the way to work, on the basis that it was not a risk that they could control, yet which potentially might cause a big change in their insurance premiums and thus costs.  If we want our employers to be concentrating on making their businesses efficient and looking for hazards in the workplaces that they do control, it is slightly dubious public policy to have them sniffing around about employees’ home life.  This case is slightly unusual in that the employer was effectively a partnership bet ween the couple rather than having a distant employer, and the company had been deregistered which suggests some dysfunction  But the money accessed was Workers Compensation insurance and this will affect premiums and potentially other work situations.

It is true that a lot needs to be done about the discovery and action on domestic violence.  It is also true that mentally ill people need to live somewhere and that their carers are at risk.  Judges faced with people in dire need of help such as the children in this situation search for answers, and the Workers Compensation insurance scheme is a source of such funds. But the precedent set is not a good one.

The same principle applies when a baby gets into trouble at birth and has long-term adverse effects. If the obstetrician is found to have erred, there is a lot of money to give the unfortunate infant.  If he or she is not found to have erred, there is no money for the infant.  So now the premiums for obstetricians are very high and some retire in consequence.  4 Corners ran a show on this issue some time ago and it turned out that one doctor was responsible for about 60% of the problem births in Western Australia and had declined to speak to the show. Wow- go after him!  Who was he?  The Professor at the biggest teaching hospital of course.  Most of the difficult cases in the State were admitted under his name, and the staff of the hospital did their best with these cases. 

What is needed is a compensation system that is no fault.  Sometimes bad things happen.  Sometimes people make mistakes. Sometimes big mistakes have small consequences and sometimes little mistakes have big consequences.  With systems, it is not usually one person who makes a mistake, there are miscommunications, lack of clarity who was responsible, lack of availability of something or someone.  Accident causation theory is now an academic discipline, but the legal profession has not really caught up, let alone the political system.

A lot needs to be done about domestic violence, but I am not sure that making it a workers compensation issue will do anything more than push it into the public eye and help these children.  Employers and insurers will run a successful political campaign to change the law to exclude it.  I am not often on the side of Workers Compensation insurers, but a better solution has to be found.

www.smh.com.au/business/workplace/no-longer-a-private-matter-employer-held-responsible-for-family-violence-20200605-p54zy1.html

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The ‘Black Lives Matter’ Protest in Sydney 6/6/20

Prime Minister Scott Morrison was smugly distancing Australia from the riots in the USA over the George Floyd public murder, but voices were quick to point out that there had been 432 deaths in custody in Australia since 1991, despite Royal Commissions and their findings, which were not implemented.

The demonstration was planned as everyone here knows the COVID19 lockdown is gradually being eased as there are now few community-acquired cases in Australia.

But the Police applied to the Supreme Court and got them to declare the rally and march illegal under the COVID19 restrictions.  I had been going to miss the march on health grounds, but the Police rather than the public health authorities wanting it declared illegal made me want to attend.

As I have written before, Police intolerance of any sort of dissent was clearly brought home to me when I wore a sign that said, ‘Respect the Dead by working for Peace’  at the ANZAC service in Hyde Park in 2019, where the police sergeant said that he would arrest me if I did not move 50 metres away. 

John Howard initiated the needless Australian invasion of the Middle East against the wishes of 74% of the population who marched in 2004.  The creation of a terror threat due to that folly, the handling of that threat by increasing surveillance, decreasing civil liberties and increasing Police power without supervision is a trend of our time.  The other trend, the increase in social inequality has put pressure on Police, as the enforcers of the norms of a social system that excludes an increasing percentage of the population.

But the Police inability to handle mental illness or drunkenness and conflict has not been sufficient. There are too many deaths in custody, which principally affect Aboriginal people and too many Police shootings, which principally affect the mentally ill.

So I was not willing to sit at home because the Police did not want a demonstration that asked that they be called to account and change their ways.

Interestingly some of my son’s friends who are overseas students did not dare to go lest their visas be cancelled. 

The Supreme Court’s ban on the rally and march was overturned on appeal in the morning, but my opinion was that most people going to the 3pm event were unaware of this and, like myself had decided to go anyway. 

The city had prepared for the event by stopping the trams from Circular Quay, (could they have run from Central to Randwick?), and by the trains not stopping at Town Hall.  So we walked from Circular Quay and the demonstration went back almost the full length of the Queen Victoria building in George St.  It later went back further than this.  Protesters were socially distancing and about two thirds were wearing masks.  People were walking among the protesters issuing masks and hand sanitiser, and soon more than 90% were wearing masks.  There was a wide spread of ages and racial origins.

The protest speakers were on the Town Hall steps, but could not be heard at all for a fair percentage of the crowd as the PA system which is on the traffic lights was not in use by the speakers.   After about half an hour, at about 3.30pm the speeches stopped, and everyone assumed that the March would start. It did not.  It was not clear what was happening, whether the rally was allowed and the march not.  There was quite a lot of chanting of ‘Black Lives Matter’ and also activist shouting, ‘Too Many Coppers’ with the reply ‘Not enough Justice’.

There were Police amongst the protesters.  They did not look comfortable, and I noted Glock pistols in their holsters.  Glock pistols have no safety catches, so the only thing stopping them or someone else grabbing them was the flap and press stud on the top of the holsters. 

We kept thinking that we were about to march, as we went forward in little bursts. But looking a long way ahead we could see that the placards were not moving.  All that was happening was that the social distancing was being taken up. This and the chanting would have increased the infection danger somewhat, so one could only wonder at the reason for the delay.  The rally and march had been scheduled from 3pm to 5pm with a break at 4.32pm when we were all to kneel for 1 minute to remember the 432 people who had died. 

The March started a bit before 4pm and wound to Belmore Park near Central station with the stop and kneeling at 4.32pm an impressive moment.   Belmore Park was totally packed, with social distancing quite undermined, so we took a photo and left.  Apparently there were some minor scuffles between Police and people who stayed after 5pm.

It was interesting that the public, who have been very compliant and responsible throughout the COVID19 epidemic, were willing to defy the Supreme Court ban on the rally and march.  The large Police presence suggested that they were willing to suppress the event, but there were a very large number of protesters, 17,000 seems a reasonable estimate.  I do not think that the crowd would have tolerated not having the rally and not marching, so it might have escalated with lines of Police, riot shields, water cannon and tear gas.  Fortunately sense prevailed. 

It was a victory for the people in the sense that they stated in large numbers their attitude to Black Deaths in custody, and the limits to which they are willing to tolerate the Police, the government and the Supreme Court telling them what they may and may not do.  The relatively poor uptake of the COVID19 tracking app is a similar indicator of the trust of government. No, we do not want COVID19, but we do not trust the government either.

As I get older, I trust people more and government and institutions less, and work for the power to go to those who legitimately own it, the people.  This was a good day.  Hopefully no COVID19 cases will result.

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Electric Vehicles: How helpful are they for Climate Change? 5/6/20

There are claims and counter claims for how much electric vehicles (EVs) improve the greenhouse gas situation. The production of batteries is quite energy-intensive, so a large battery car takes about twice as much energy to produce as a normal Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) car.

The ‘payback’ time for that extra energy is about 2 years based on the number of km an average (UK) driver does per year.

But the key variable is how the electricity is generated, both in making the battery and in running the car. If it is made in Asia with coal fired electricity to manufacture the car and then charged with coal powered electricity, there is very little benefit. If the battery is produced by renewable electricity and the car charged with renewable electricity, the savings are more than two thirds by 150,000km.

If you keep your old ICE car for 4 years, it will have produced about the same amount of greenhouse gas as it takes to produce a new electric car. Looked at it the other way, it takes 4 years for a new electric car to pay for itself from an emissions point of view as against paying just for the petrol of an existing ICE car.

www.carbonbrief.org/factcheck-how-electric-vehicles-help-to-tackle-climate-change

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