Doctor and activist


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Category: Privatisation

Aged Care Reform Now

20 March 2021

Aged Care Reform Now is the name of a group that is working to try to get the Aged Care Royal Commission conclusions implemented. Like many inquiry reports, implementation is by no means certain.

John Howard’s Aged Care Act of 1997 allowed the sector to be ‘for profit’, and a poor system was made worse. At a webinar that I attended geriatrician, Joseph Ibrahim was of the opinion that when the dust settled, the government would do what the big for-profit companies wanted as they had a direct line to the government, and there was no serious organised advocacy as there had been for the gay lobby in the AIDs crisis or for disability. (The write up of that seminar is on this website- search Ibrahim).

Here is group trying to do advocacy. They will need all the help that they can get!

https://agedcarereformnow.com.au/

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Murray-Darling Farce- Another Summit.

19 March 2021

One of the more absurd ideas of neo-liberalism was to privatise ownership of all the water in the Murray-Darling and then rely on ‘the Market’ to allocate the water optimally. All that happened was that water was another commodity to be traded with its price more related to its possible future price than any physical or environmental constraint.

I learned a bit about this many years ago from my grandparents. One of my grandfathers was a retired metallurgist who would tell me about world trends in metal demands and buy shares accordingly. His wife, my grandmother, knew nothing about this but would buy shares based on what the market was doing and tell me separately about how she despaired of my grandfather’s share investments. After a few years, she was much richer than he from a much lower base. The moral was that the share price had little to do with reality.

Why anyone would think that turning water into a speculative commodity would optimise its use is beyond understanding. But that was what happened. Joh Bjelke-Peterson built Cubby dam on the Queensland border and used the water to irrigate cotton, so NSW was behind the 8 ball from the start. NSW cotton farmers used surface water and took water from aquifers with no supervision of their meters. Brokers with mobile phones bought and sold water entitlements, and famously recently a Singapore-based company sold a lot of water rights to a Canadian superannuation fund, who felt that growing almonds (which are heavy water users) would be a good thing to do. (SMH 3/12/19) Hey, the price of almonds is good at present and you cannot smell rotting fish from Canada.

The idea that if you fix the money, everything else will come right seems to permeate every aspect of our neo-liberal, managerial society. I think of it as a religion, that ‘the market knows best and will allocate optimally with the unseen hand’. It also seems that religious folk are more prone to believe this, happier to believe that an unseen force can magically fix things and that it morally worthy to suffer now for some future redemption.

But in politics, we do not even have to debate these things; there is another option, ‘kick the can down the road’. Having the CSIRO produce a report in 2008, ‘Water Availability in the Murray Darling Basin’, led to an inappropriate Murray-Darling Basin Authority report in 2009. The CSIRO’s scientific response in 2011 was ignored. There was a Royal Commission inquiry by Bret Walker which found that the Authority has shown ‘gross negligence’. So they had another ‘Summit’, just last month.

All this is not to mention that Angus Taylor spent $80 million in taxpayer money to buy back water rights from a company called Eastern Australian Agriculture registered in the Cayman Islands and run by an ex-rowing mate, with the deal signed off by Barnaby Joyce. (The Guardian 19/5/19)


It is a worry, when the senior counsel assisting Walker inquiry writes a book called ‘Dead in the Water’ and still comes back with an opinion piece like this.

www.smh.com.au/national/murray-darling-basin-summit-a-laughable-response-to-finding-of-gross-negligence-20210318-p57brq.html

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Mutual Obligation and ‘Noblesse Oblige’

18 March 2021

‘Mutual Obligation’ is the new buzz word for unemployed people.  If they are to get ‘welfare’ they have to be trying to get a job.   An index of this is to make a lot of job applications, that surely must be the bane of every employer in the land, with an obligation of job seekers to apply for 20 jobs a month and about 8 job seekers for every vacancy.

‘Noblesse Oblige’  is a French term dating from when English royalty spoke French after the Norman conquest (of 1066)  and refers to the benevolent, honourable behaviour considered to be the responsibility of persons of high birth or rank.  The term is so quaint and medieval that is often used ironically. But these days with the growing gap between rich and poor, and the lack of sanction on poor behaviour by the empowered class, it may be that old fashioned ethics is all that remains to help poorer people. And they are in short supply.

If there were mutual obligation, a government would be obliged to give its citizens a decent life.  In the 1950 and 1960s it was considered a government responsibility to get everyone a job and governments fell if the unemployment rate was over 1%.  In the 1980s when I worked at Sydney Water, it ran employment programmes for ex-prisoners, people who had been unemployed for more than 3 months, and people with disability.  The employment was for a 6 month term, and my job was to check that applicants were physically able to do the job.  There was a programme to separate sewage and rainwater in inner city areas and a pipe replacement programme.  Both of these programmes were simply canned.  The Apprentice School, which had about 180 apprentices including plumbers, electricians and carpenters was closed.   Sydney Water’s staff went from 17,000 to less than 3,000, and all the wages saved were simply turned into ‘dividends’ from the State Owned Enterprise’.  A tax in short.  Contractors were used, and mains repaired when they burst.  The government had out-sourced the work and outsourced the responsibility for employment.  The latter was less obvious. 

The Global market place that was created in 1944 to lessen the chance of wars allowed countries that produced things cheaper due to cheaper labour costs to prosper, and multinational corporations moved their factories.  The Americans call it ‘off-shoring’.  But our governments have acted as if none of this exists. An abstract entity, ‘The Economy’ is now responsible for job creation and unemployed people are responsible for getting them.  The government has outsourced job seeking to private corporations, and as we know, their duty is to make as much money for their shareholders as possible.  So if it is better to churn many people through short-term jobs to get a commission every time someone starts, hey that is the way to go.  So it is about how the rules are written.  If the old CES (Commonwealth Employment Service) clerks could find someone a job they did.  No one complained that they did not try to place people, and there was no incentive for them to do anything other than to try to place people in the best way possible.

I work with the Workers Compensation insurer, iCare, whose remit seems to be to minimise the cost of claims by saving on both claims managers and payments to injured people, and they are still paid a bonus if the ‘customer’ (i.e. patient) gets back to work, so there is pressure to force them back.  The CTP insurers are always in a total conflict of interest position. They get the premiums and every dollar they avoid paying out goes to their bottom lines.  The idea that a private market will fix things is complete nonsense.

Now we have revelations of gaming the system in the privatised job placement agencies.  The whole dismantling of the public system relies on the assumption that people will not work without incentive payments and private is always better than public.  I was in the public sector for many years as a salaried doctor and then in Sydney Water.  My experience was that the public sector did its job quite well and thought about better ways to act, undistracted by incentive schemes that would distort resource and time allocation.  The Dept. of Public Works built most of this state; Sydney Water built Warragamba Dam.

Privatised rorting is now a major industry draining resources from CTP insurance, Aged Care, the NDIS and now job search. This is not to mention over-priced private monopolies in toll roads, transport, land titles office or oligopolies gaming electricity supplies.

Will there ever be a government that rebuilds the public sector to put an end to this?  Will Labor just roll over as Liberal Lite as they did to get an extra $3.50 on ‘JobSeeker’?

But the key issue is that everyone has the right to decent life, and if the government cannot provide jobs, it should provide income support.  Noblesse Oblige.  As one of my more insightful friends said, ‘There is no shortage of work. Everyone I know can think of things that need doing. It is not a shortage of work, it is an unwillingness to pay’.

Watch this video re the privatised employment agencies.

https://nsfuw.com/?secure_token=8fb90d8862532ccff17c55370720566372b28b851af78200f9c4a13b9171c28e&t=GZ1ZJT09R&utm_campaign=Expose_predatory_job_agencies&utm_content=30518&utm_medium=email&utm_source=blast
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Subsidies for Inequality

5 March 2021

As a child our family moved to Port Kembla, and we lived on Hill 60, just above the rocks where a lot of people have drowned recently.

I went to Port Kembla Infant’s School, which was overcrowded but interesting.  Half the kids there came from the migrant hostel in the old WW2 army camp where ‘displaced Persons’ (as WW2 refugee families were called) lived.  These kids arrived in kindergarten without a word of English. This was taken as normal by the teachers, who just plugged on. The kids from the hostel were called ‘Hostels’, but it was a descriptor rather than a pejorative.  By the time we got to 2nd class in our 4th year (Kindergarten, Transition, 1st Class, 2nd Class) there was no difference between Aussie borns and Hostels.  There were 46 in my 2nd class and girls filled the top 6 places.  There was minimal racism in kids leaving this school.   

There was no anti-discrimination legislation or bureaucracy in the 1950s but all the parents had jobs in the steelworks or associated industries and the Housing Commission was building suburbs full of affordable housing as fast as it could.  If you had a go, you got a go. The ABC Radio had an awkward segment before the news called ‘Learn English with us’ where some somewhat stilted practical speech exercises lasted about 2 minutes.  I used to wonder how the new migrants all tuned in for this little segment if they could not understand the rest.  But the intention was there.

In 1966 there was a movement demanding ‘State Aid for Church Schools’ on the basis that they had paid their tax, and now they had left the state system they were paying twice.  The government wanted to win the election, and this was seen as critical for the Catholic vote. The Democratic Labor Party, which had split from the ALP were the champions of this and still represented a significant threat to the ALP as they preferenced the Libs.  State Aid came in.

Some time later there was a lot of emphasis on ESL (English as a Second Language) classes at TAFE, which were held during school hours.  Their target was migrant women and their objective was to encourage English speaking to allow the women both to meet each other and to participate in society more easily.  John Howard defunded the programme; ‘user pays’ was the new paradigm.

I now live in Sydney in a relatively central affluent suburb. Each morning 8 private school buses start near my door ferrying students to 8 private schools.  No public transport needed- the school takes care of it all.  Others students in private school uniforms catch subsidised public transport to the schools of their parents’ choice.  But the cost of ‘choice’ is ‘residualisation’.  Schools where there are a lot of ethnic students suffer from ‘white flight’, and so have concentrated social disadvantage and a lack of native role models. One school I visited in Western Sydney had had a stabbing in the playground about 25 years ago.  The school photos in the foyer had no white face for the last 20 years. That was as far back as the photos went.

When we wonder if the Cabinet have any idea how the poorer folk live, my opinion is that they do not.  These social dynamics have now been going for long enough that it is possible to be old enough to be in Cabinet and have no idea how the other half live.  Some think that people without jobs have ‘wasted their opportunities’ or have alcohol or gambling problems.  Add a little self-ri ghteous religion, ‘the poor are always with us’, a touch of arrogance and a peer group that thinks the same, and you have policies that are increasingly dismantling the fair go and equity that should be at the heart of our culture.  It may be that you cannot make all people equal, but you can give all children equality of opportunity, and all adults enough to live on. We have to change direction and do just that.

Here, at the risk of being repetitive, is an article on Christian Porter.

www.themandarin.com.au/150633-christian-porter-the-unshakeable-belief-of-a-white-man-born-to-rule/?fbclid=IwAR2PbktE5jzTIgIjcL4orzdW1TO8ax03VpOBCFDTzDbRUepQnigaB1WG24Q

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Privatisation of Quarantine = Government Collecting Money for Corporations- Permanently??

21 February 2021

There are two quarantine stories extant, one short-term, one long-term:

The Sun Herald front page story is ‘State Debt Collectors eye hotel millions’.  It is about how 5264 invoices covering 7214 travellers who stayed at quarantine hotels have not paid and thus have to be chased for the money.  The fact that they had to stay at these very expensive hotels for 2 weeks to be allowed to come home seems irrelevant. The fact that they may have had to stay in hotels for 9 months overseas in lockdown situations, had to come home  on very expensive flights  and may have no money and no job is also not mentioned.  What might have been thought of as repatriating citizens caught in a situation that was not of their making is now a routine debt like a speeding fine, to be chased by the NSW government’s privately contracted debt collectors.

Meanwhile down in Victoria in today’s Age there is talk of building a quarantine hotel at Avalon Airport.  Avalon airport was ex-RAAF and is about 3 hours from Melbourne (as I discovered to my cost when taking a Jetstar fight to Melbourne without looking where it landed). It is now owned by Linfox Transport group, and the Wagner Corporation of Townsville was keen to build the quarantine facility.  When asked by an interviewer what accommodation would cost, Mr Wagner replied that this was ‘commercial in confidence’.  There was none of this nonsense about giving arriving travellers a ‘fair go’; presumably such assurances are not necessary to get the contracts these days.

The colonial-era Manly Quarantine Station, which was saved from developers some years ago and remains in the dangerous situation of being  a historic site in NSW used to have 3 levels of accommodation, for the rich, middle class and poor. At least the financial reality was recognised then.

Presumably backpackers who needed to come home would be happy to stay in backpacker accommodation, whereas some business folk really cannot manage less than the Ritz.  But the government ought to make provision for Australians who want to come home and returning travellers needing to be quarantined should have the right to return without having to pay whatever a privatised accommodation facility chooses to charge them, without the government’s contribution being to unleash the debt collectors.

www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/it-s-not-optional-debt-collectors-sent-in-for-overdue-quarantine-hotel-bills-20210219-p5747y.html

www.theage.com.au/business/companies/bold-brash-and-benevolent-wagners-wheels-turn-to-quarantine-facility-20210219-p5744b.html

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Privatisation of Research will Kill Millions due to Vaccine Non-Availability 30/12/20

The COVID vaccines were an international race.   Many countries and companies competed.  The Uni of Queensland one fell over because it made the AIDS test a false positive.  There are now 5 principal ones in the media; Pfizer from Germany, Astra-Zeneca/Oxford from the UK, Moderna from the USA, Sputnik 5 from Russia, and Sinovac from China.  Over here we ignore the two from Russia and China, for some reason.  Do we not trust them, are we just racist, or do we want to support Big Pharma in ‘The West’?

I recently met with some medical sceptics, who said that there is no public proof that the vaccine works, i.e. published papers.  I said that it was in the media that there had been a 43,000 person trial with not very many side effects. They conceded that this was correct, but pointed out that you could inject water  into 43,000 people with few side effects, and that it was a question of how many of the 43,000 had been exposed to the virus, compared to a group of 43,000 in the same environment who had not been vaccinated.  And you could not ask a volunteer who had just had the vaccine to cuddle up to a COVID case- that would be foolhardy.  Their key point was that all the data was still in the drug companies’ hands and not publicly available.  Presumably the regulatory authorities have it, and hopefully they are still being rigorous under the pressure.  We have to assume the vaccines work as we need to open up the world economy.

Our government promised a fortune to these companies before they even had a product to sell, and all the bluster about having an equal world in terms of vaccine access does not seem to have dollars attached.   At present there is not enough vaccine to go around, but it still matters where you start.  Logically, vaccinating Australians where there is very little infection would likely save fewer lives than vaccinating people where the virus is rampant.

I have told the story before about Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine with public funds and did not patent it so that the maximum amount of vaccine could be distributed to rid the world of polio.  This was in sharp contrast to Glaxo, the drug company, which found that an old unpatented drug worked against AIDS, patented it and then insisted that the price of it be at least $US2 a day, although an Indian company said that they could produce it for 7 cents.  The result was several million extra AIDS cases in Africa.

Sadly the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine, Gardasil was a similar story.  HPV was found to be the cause of cervical cancer.  The vaccine was developed at Uni of Queensland by Prof Ian Frazer, and then marketed by CSL and Merck.  Its roll out was considerably delayed by its cost, despite the fact that the Uni of Qld declined to insist on royalties from sales in developing countries.  It is still $73 a shot in Australia (2 needed, 3 recommended), though our government makes it free to Australian schoolchildren.

This article says that the Coronavirus vaccines will worsen inequalities.  This is true, because not only will poorer countries not be able to afford the vaccine, they will also have more people die and have higher health costs as they will have to treat the cases. It will also have a bigger impact on their economies.  The fine rhetoric about sharing world knowledge will certainly be tested.  It might be noted that the Chinese released the draft genome of the Coronavirus to the world in January 2020 (Sciencemag.org) in the interest of stopping the outbreak, which was a credit to China and gives credence to their vaccine.  On the other hand, I seem to recall that Pfizer declined to be involved in information sharing, but have been unable to find the reference for this.

Pfizer did not get public funding but their development partner, BioNTech, did.   The question is how much profit will there be in all this, and how much will the price stop poorer countries getting the vaccine.

The fact that governments no longer fund the research directly and go into ‘private-public partnerships’ gives rise to the feeling that governments put in the funds but the private partners both determine the priorities in research with a bias towards research that can make a profit and then make that profit.  The governments then either largely fund the profit, or leave their populations unable to benefit from the research that they as taxpayers funded.

I have two relevant articles on this, one below, and one coming shortly.

www.internationalhealthpolicies.org/featured-article/why-does-pfizer-deny-the-public-investment-in-its-covid-19-vaccine/

https://amp.theage.com.au/business/the-economy/a-pitiful-response-global-economic-inequality-a-side-effect-of-vaccines-development-20201226-p56q99.html

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Centrelink- an Encounter 9/6/16

Sometimes we have little experiences that are wake up calls.  We need to note them, and act on them. I have little to do with Centrelink.  Like most North Shore doctors I assume it does its job, and also tacitly assume it has nothing to do with me.  It wrote to me about 6 months […]

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Drug Research Crisis

3 October 2019 Governments say that they want to fund research, but think that they are very clever if they can do it ‘in cooperation with the private sector’.  They think that they will save money and get some inside running to a share of profits.  Mostly they are played for mugs.  The private sector […]

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NDIS- National Disability Insurance System.

1 July 2017 I have grave fears for this system. I am unsure even of the goodwill of some of its advocates. I was on the Social Issues Committee of the NSW Parliament and we looked at Disability services and the way that these were delivered. Basically if you ask how big the disability problem […]

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