Doctor and activist

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Category: Travel Writings


22 June 2022
I am currently in Finland, holidaying after the EuPRA (European Peace Research Association)
Conference in Tampere.
I had hoped that there would be more insights on the Ukraine situation, but peace research has its
topics and budgets set years ahead, so Ukraine was barely mentioned and no new insights given.
Finland generally is very pro-Ukraine, with Ukrainian flags flying alongside Finnish ones at railway
stations and even Ukrainian flag stickers on traffic poles.
The conference was mainly about ‘positive peace’ which means trying to get harmonious social
policy, with papers on minority, immigrants and disadvantaged groups, rather than ‘negative peace’
which is taken to be the absence of war. So there was surprisingly little on politics or foreign policy.
The situation of the indigenous ‘Sami’ (formerly called Lapps) was also a big topic. Researchers claim
it is very hard ever to get funding for peace research, and it has to be framed as ‘conflict resolution’.
The conference had a distinctly feminist flavour both in attendance and in tone. It was very
competently organised, principally by Masters and PhD students from the Tampere Institute of
Peace Students. Despite their acronym, TIPSY, the students were very serious and organised.
Participants were shepherded around by Norse goddesses, who seemed charmingly unaware of
their aesthetic attributes.
Finland is an affluent, modern country of 5.5 million with an ambience very like Sweden. They have
the best education system in the world, and almost all speak excellent English. Signs used to be
written in Finnish, Swedish and Russian, but there is a trend towards Finnish and English, as all
Swedes speak English, and Russian is becoming less important to the Finnish economy. Finnish is
quite a distinct and unusual language, quite different from Swedish, which was used by the elite
when Sweden occupied Finland, and is widely spoken. Finland has high taxes, a good welfare system
and a very high standard of public facilities. Incomes seem high as prices are about 50% higher than
in Australia. Petrol is about $A3.75/litre. There is a Universal Basic Income and no visible poverty.
I had not known much about Finnish history, but it had been something of a rural backwater with a
very low agricultural population, principally populated from Sweden. It was under Sweden until the
Swedish-Russian war of 1721, when it came under Russia. The Swedes took it back in 1788, and
Russia took it back in 1809, but left it relatively autonomous. Finnish nationalism was relatively late
to develop, starting in the 1850s. A Scot, Finlayson, set up textile factories in Tampere in the 1850s,
based on the model of Manchester, England. Tampere became the industrial heart of Finland. Lenin
came to Finland and stayed for some time in Tampere as it had a high population of workers. He
promised to give the Finns autonomy if the revolution succeeded. He actually met Stalin in Tampere
so the Lenin Museum there claims that there was the birthplace of the Soviet Republic.
Stalin had his own methods of funding the revolution, which included robbing banks such as the
Helsinki branch of the Russian bank. Relations between the Russians and the semi-autonomous
Finns had generally been good, though the Tsar in his last days from 1899 tried a policy of
Russification, which was not popular.
Lenin had to flee Finland from the Tsarist police, but after the revolution succeeded in 1917 the
Finnish Senate declared independence. Lenin kept his promise and supported the new republic but

he hoped for world revolution, so sent help to the Reds in Finland who initiated a civil war in 1917.
The Reds were strong in the industrial cities such as Tampere. The White nationalists were more
middle class and rural. The war was short and brutal with victory to the new White republic but
many were killed and there were considerable recriminations. Russia at that time was fully occupied
with its own internal strife, but Finland respected their power, remained neutral and benefitted
from trade with Russia, as it increasingly industrialised.
In 1939, Hitler and Stalin signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Agreement, which pledged non-aggression
between Germany and Russia and gave the western half of Poland and Lithuania to Germany. The
eastern half of Poland and all the countries east of it were ‘given’ to Russia.
The Baltic States, Latvia and Estonia were in this agreement, and so was Finland. Safe from attack by
Russia, Hitler then started WW2 by attacking Poland, and the Russians moved to take their half (so
that Poland ceased to exist). The Baltic States quickly fell to Russia, but Finland resisted, successfully
at first, but the Russians overcame them and took some territory in an unfavourable settlement, but
left them some degree of independence. When Germany invaded Russia, they demanded passage
through Finland to attack Norway, and the Finns agreed, not having much option. The Finns then
supported the Germans to get some of their territory back from the Russians, so in the settlement
after the war in 1944, the Russians took even more territory from the Finns, including part of
Lappland in the north, so that Finland no longer reaches the Arctic Ocean and Russia meets Norway
above them.
After WW2 the Finns built a Nordic welfare state and developed their industries, Nokia being the
best known example. Farm forestry is still a major industry, particularly pine and silver birch. There
are almost no grazing animals. They concentrated on education and industrialisation and their
economy grew as fast as many of the Asian ones, but with higher wages. They took a very neutral
foreign policy stance not to offend Russia, but did join the Euro currency launch in 2002.
Geographically, Finland is quite a large country as it extends so far north. It has no mountains and
only low hills and a large number of lakes which tend to have their long axes to the south-west due
to fact that the country was covered by a huge sheet of ice in the Ice Age, which moved to the south
west. It is quite warm in summer (now) and the Finns go to their summer cottages on the lakes. In
winter it is very cold, so all the houses are triple glazed and well insulated. There are no solar panels
and they are trying to become carbon-dioxide neutral, telling you on the tickets how much carbon
dioxide is produced by your bus or train journey. 28% of the electricity used is of nuclear origin.
Travelling is reasonably easy, though the Finnish language is difficult but almost everyone speaks
reasonable English. Getting used to cars on the right side of the road is a bit of a challenge, and
walking on the footpaths also, and the latter is rendered more complicated by the fact that the
footpaths also have a section for bikes and electric scooters which takes half the footpath, but there
is no consistency on which half. Finns smoke more than Australians and seem to have a lot of junk
food restaurants, so I suspect that the prevalence of obesity will be rising, especially as electric
scooters now considerably outnumber bikes, and are available everywhere to be picked up and used
after buying a plan and putting in a code.
It is a question of getting used to things, but in the meantime I am enjoying the capital of Lappland,
Rovaniemi. It is not possible to see the Northern Lights as these are at the Winter solstice in

December- here at present the sun sets for about half an hour a day and it never gets dark. The 8am
temperature is 14 degrees. I have heard that it is cold in Australia.

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A Look at the NDIS (National Disability Insurance System)

14 April 2021

The whole model of the NDIS is wrong. It is all about turning care into a commodity for private profit. The con was that the people with disabilities would have ‘choice’ and could buy services from a range of providers, who would compete to give great service. But there are big structural faults.

Firstly, big corporations want big profits, so this creates an overhead so there is less money available.

Secondly, people are assessed by ‘experts’ so how much money you get based on a single interview. They are not people who actually do the job and could allocate compare the needs of different people in an area. The assessors are an overhead- another layer of managers.

Thirdly, once the money is allocated, those who have it will be encouraged to spend it whether they need it or not. And of course, this will favour those who present well (usually the middle class) and totally disfavour those who did not get a ‘package’.

Fourthly, the ‘market’ model does not work. Those who need the services do not necessarily know who can give them what they need. They are vulnerable to sales pitches from a limited number of providers and they may not even know about other options. In some geographical areas there may be only one provider, so there is no competition anyway; the provider can set the price and the profit.

Finally, the government can just lessen the amount of money and packages available.

When I was in a Parliamentary Committee looking at disability, the first thing we tried to find out what how many people were disabled. No one had wanted to keep records.  People who had tried to get services from a provider and been knocked back because there were no places assumed that there would be a list there and if a place came up they would be offered it. Wrong. Usually there was no list, and a new person got the place if they happened to know someone or turn up at the right time. But at a broader level, experts we asked about how much disability there was either told us how many people were on various schemes and tallied these up, or looked at AIHW (Aust. Institute of Health and Welfare) figures, which said what percentage of the population had a disability and multiplied this by the population. The second method gave figures that were about 10x the people on benefits. So it was very obvious that if there was a supposedly universally available system the cost was going to blow out enormously because of the unrecognised demand.

The solution in my view was to have a universal support system that was community-based, like a district nurse model, and then ask the people actually doing the job, who needed more, and who could be helped to get their own home help from a number of people who would be registered in classes of carers. The government would then buy services in response to the needs identified and quantified by those doing the job. The essence of this was the empowerment of those actually doing the job. NDIS actually does the opposite. It is about the government shovelling money to the private sector with some middle ranking experts supposedly swooping in and saying how much money is needed. If they were embedded in the service delivery framework, they would be discussing needs and relative needs with those actually delivering services.  

But modern management and politics assumes it knows best and those at the bottom need to be ‘managed’, i.e. told what to do. My experience is that people doing a job usually know more about it than anyone else and the intelligent use of their expertise is the most solid base for management. My experience is also that putting people in charge who are there for the money rather than the job are unlikely to do a better job than those who are more concerned with the job than the money.

I put this in a paper to Kevin Rudd’s’ 2020 Vision’ in 2000, but never even got an acknowledgement. The NDIS, like the Aged Care Act of John Howard seems to have used ‘choice’ as a Trojan Horse for a market model and privatisation.  We need to start again.  This is just a suggestion of a better model, but given the power of money in politics I am not hopeful of change.

A new article in The Saturday Paper 10/4/21 looking at the cost blowout and blaming those who need the services has a depressingly familiar ring.  The blowout was eminently predictable and cost control by victim-blaming at the bottom is more likely than looking for corporate rip-offs at the top.  This is what I see every day in Workers Compensation and CTP insurance.

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Myanmar’s Army is murdering its people.

4 April 2021

One of the impressions that I had visiting Myanmar was that the army was a society unto itself. It seemed to have no contact with and no respect for ordinary people, and they felt no warmth for it. It was like an occupying force. The artificial capital, Naypyidaw is 4 hours from the biggest city and former capital, Yangon and is in the mountains. It has had a fortune spent on it, presumably Chinese money, with 8 lane tree-lined streets with almost no cars or people and large multi-storied international hotels with almost no lights in the rooms at night, and almost no one at breakfast. The military junta seems totally divorced from the people, which is presumably how they could be surprised that they lost the elections so dramatically.But they will shoot the people to retain power and if people without guns are going to take over from a government with guns, it is going to be horrific. I am reminded of East Timor trying to get independence- was it 28% of the population killed?

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Albanian Life under the Communists- a story 23/9/18

I met a 54 year old Albanian man who was keen to tell me his story.  He is now a builder in England where he works with 3 of his brothers. He was born in a family of 11 boys and they lived with his uncle’s family, so there were 16 boys and no girls […]

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Reflections on Einstein.

9 September 2018 At a recent visit to Berne to look at Swiss democracy, I visited two Einstein museums.  I do not propose to give his biography, but merely to point out a couple of points that struck me as his life was proudly displayed.  He had been a pacifist all his life and in […]

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Political Change or Economic Change? Which comes first?

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

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Poland Revisited

17 July 2017 I have recently visited Poland and wanted to record some impression while they are fresh in my mind.  I had previously visited Poland in 1989, which was only a few months before the Berlin Wall came down with the collapse of the USSR under Gorbachev. This had immense implications for Poland, and […]

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