Doctor and activist


Notice: Undefined index: hide_archive_titles in /home/chesterf/public_html/wp-content/themes/modern-business/includes/theme-functions.php on line 233

Tag: Accountability

Irresponsible COVID Policies will Destroy the Federal and NSW Liberals

29 August 2021

Ok. I am making a prediction.  The totally irresponsible Liberal COVID policies will destroy both the Morrison government and the NSW Liberals.

Why?  The strategy of unlocking with only 70% of over 16 adults vaccinated is totally irresponsible.  It is true that less children will get a bad infection and die, but some will- perhaps 1 in 100,000.  But if a few million children go back to school, that is still a significant number.  The unvaccinated children will also get infected and go home to their families and infect them. Every parent who has had kids start at day-care knows how many more colds they got that year. 

As far as the adults are concerned, if there are still 30% of them unvaccinated, that is a huge number to make an epidemic.  The hospitals always manage with very slim margins of capacity.  How many beds are in corridors and how many trolleys in ED normally? Quite a few. Now they are stopping non-urgent surgery, but these cases are not trivial, and cancer patients may well die of their delays.

But they key point is that the hospital system will be overwhelmed by cases and that those cases  would not be necessary if the government held its nerve and  continued the lockdown until all those who wanted the vaccine had it- upwards of 95% perhaps.  If NSW is vaccinating a million people a week and has 8 million people needing 2 doses each, that is 16 weeks, less the fact that almost half the adult doses has been given.  12 weeks might be a realistic estimate, better if the vaccine can be hurried further.  As far as the children are concerned, I recall in the 1950s when polio vaccine came- we were simply lined up in the school corridor at lunch time and everyone was done.

The cost of vaccination compared to the cost of hospitalisations does not bear thinking about. It is also probably that the cost of the hospitalisations and time lost will exceed the cost of a decent home support system- but Morrison will not even consider this, still talking about tax cuts before the election, as the national debt balloons to record levels.  Do the rich really need this?

Morrison also wants to force states that have almost no COVID to open up. Qld and WA, having isolated themselves, controlled COVID and given themselves quite a remarkably normal quality of life do not want to be forced to open to NSW and Victoria, where COVID is frankly out of control.  Morrison needs Qld seats to get re-elected.  If he forces Qld to open and the pandemic spreads there as it will, his chances of re-election is nil.

Gladys Berejeklian is now talking about vaccinations, trying to distract attention from the number of cases and is systematically getting us used to the idea that since we now can never get to zero cases, we have to open up, and might as well do it now as later.  This is not true, if now we are not vaccinated, and later we will be.  She is blamed for the Delta virus escape as she did not mandate vaccination for limo drivers who ferried people from the airport to the quarantine hotels and then was slow to lock down Bondi when the infection escaped in June. So now to say it is all inevitable and unlock with what amounts to a very low vaccination rate is likely to lead to very big epidemic, the health system being overwhelmed, a lot of unnecessary deaths and yes, Gladys losing the election.

And Gladys does not like Morrison either, so she had better throw him under a bus before he does it to her.

Continue Reading

Afghanistan- a Callous debacle

26 August 2021

A brief history of Afghanistan. 

It was a monarchy where the British and Russians had striven for influence for centuries. 

The British had invaded in 1838 and installed King Shah Shujah, who was assassinated in 1842.

The second Anglo Afghan war was 1878-80 and gave Britain control of Afghan foreign affairs.

In 1919 Emir Amanullah Khan declared independence from British influence and tried to introduce social reforms, in particular education. He flees after civil unrest in 1926

King Muhammad Shar came to power in 1933 and tacitly supported the Germans in WW2 as the Afghans did not acknowledge the 1893 Durand Line, the British-initiated border between Afghanistan and Pakistan, and he wanted to unify the Pashtun nation, which straddled the border.  His government came under pressure from an increasingly educated younger population. He voluntarily created a Constitutional monarchy in 1964, but this did not lead to significant reform and his government lost prestige due to its mismanagement of a drought in 1969-72. There was a coup by another Royal, Prince Muhammad Daud in 1973. 

The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan led by British-Indian-educated Nur Muhammad Taraki staged a coup in April 1978 and formed a secular leftist reformist government.  It was relatively pro-Russia and anti-religious.  It was more brutal than had been anticipated, and had internal infighting and resistance from conservatives and Muslims.  Taraki unsuccessfully appealed to Russia for help.

The Cold War

It might be noted that US President and Russian Chief Secretary Leonid Brezhnev met in June 1979 to discuss SALT 2 (the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty). 

(I read somewhere near that time that Afghanistan was mentioned and Carter, being somewhat naïve, said words to the effect that Afghanistan was in the Russian sphere of influence.  Carter’s horrified minders corrected him after the meeting, but Brezhnev took this to mean that the US would not interfere if Russia took action there.  I have been unable to confirm this story despite several efforts since, which either means that I imagined it or that it has been expunged from any written history that is available online).

The US began to help the mujahedeen in July 1979 to overthrow the Taraki government.  Taraki was overthrown and murdered by his protégé, Hafizuzullah Amin in September 1979.  The Russians invaded in December 1979.   The Russians were in some economic trouble, and it has been said that their government wanted a military victory that would distract attention and shore up the state.

President Carter refused to sign the SALT11 treaty and boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. The US also increased training and weapons to the Mujahideen. President Zia-ul-Haq of Pakistan insisted that all this aid go through him and hugely favoured a more radical Islamist agenda, also getting aid from Saudi Arabia to set up large numbers of Islamic schools.  The Mujahideen guerrillas overthrew the Russians.  The USSR was falling apart when the Russians, now under Mikhail Gorbachev, departed in February 1989.

The Russian Legacy

The Najibullah government, installed by the Russians lasted until 1992, when here was a civil war with the Northern Alliance fighting the Mujadiheen, which was not a united force, but a number of warlords, each with their own territory.

The Taliban

Taliban means ‘student of Islam’.  The Taliban emerged in 1994 from the Pashtun nation who straddled the Afghan-Pakistan ‘border’, considerably helped by the money from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.  They were seen as less corrupt than the Mujahideen. 

In 1996 the Taliban got control of Kabul and controlled two thirds of the country. 

In 1998 the US launched air strikes to get the Taliban to hand over Osama Bin Laden.

In 2001 Ahmad Shah Masood, the leader of the Northern Alliance was assassinated.

9/11 Leads to the US Invasion

The US was shocked by the 9/11 (11th of September 2001) attack by Al-Qaeda on the Twin Towers in New York and invaded Afghaistan, ostensibly to get Osama Bin Laden. Some have said that the US hawks wanted to invade and 9/11 merely gave them the excuse.  They won militarily in 3 months, but were always an occupying force.

Interestingly in 2007 the UN stated that opium production reached record levels.

The Allied occupation was by many different national forces, and each country had different rules for the area it controlled.  It seems that some countries simply paid the Taliban not to make any trouble.  The Australians went in because the US did and cited our national interest.  The only way that this was our national interest was in pleasing the Americans.

Exit Wounds 2013

The book ‘Exit Wounds’ by John Cantwell, the Australian commander from both Iraq and Afghanistan was written in 2013. He had been on the short list to be the supreme head of the Australian Defence Force, but withdrew to treat the PTSD that he had hidden but had been suffering.  He stated that the war could never be won and it was his opinion that every Australian life lost there was wasted.  The pointlessness of the exercise was what caused his PTSD, and probably led to the feral actions of some of the forces, as is being uncovered. We might note that in a story on the ABC (26/8/21) a witness known as Captain Louise who was going to give evidence to the Brereton Inquiry into Australian War Crimes had her house bombed.  Her former husband is an SAS operator who told her of unauthorised killing and is under investigation after 4 Corners broadcast footage of him killing an unarmed Afghan in 2012 (Killing Field 16/3/20).  Clearly the hearts and minds of Afghans were not won. 

Corruption was rife in the Afghan government, and some of the 2009 UN election observers were killed in a bomb blast in their Kabul hotel. The UN could not insist on an independent investigation and the head of the UN team, who was not killed in the blast, was hurried out of the country. The re-elected government did the inquiry.  So much for democracy!

Australian Embassy Closed May 2021

The Australian Embassy was closed on 21 May 2021, 3 days before the last Australian troops left. Clearly our own intelligence was that things would not go well.  It made the investigations of war crimes more difficult and put the interpreters who had helped the Australian troops in much more danger.  An Australian digger who has tried to get his Afghan interpreter and his family since 2013 has been blocked and been unsuccessful, despite seeing Minister Dutton’s senior adviser 3 years ago.

Taliban Victory

The Taliban won a victory in a few weeks as government forces that we had been training simply declined to fight. Now there is a cordon around the airport and the Taliban are stopping people getting through to the Kabul airport, where the allies are trying to do an airlift of Afghan civilians.  The UN has been most desultory in not looking after locally recruited Afghan UN staff, who are at risk and do not even have foreign passports to allow them to leave.

The Europeans have asked the US to extend the deadline for evacuations, which is 31 August- 4 days away. The US has declined to extend the deadline.  Presumably this is because they are unable to even if they wanted to.  The Taliban surround the airport, and could easily shoot down any planes they chose or bombard the whole crowded area with huge loss of life.  American hubris would be very clearly shown.

The Debacle

It is a debacle- even when the Russians left the government that they established lasted a couple of years.  What is wrong with US intelligence- did they have no idea that the whole country would collapse?  It is hard to know why the Americans went into Afghanistan and why they stayed there.  One wonders if the arms industry is happy to have a war somewhere and really do not care very much how much damage it does or who wins.  One must ask what Australia is doing there and why we are so uncritical of the Americans.  Sadly, Australia does not have a Peace Movement worthy of the name and seem to follow the US blindly. But when the Australian military commander says we cannot win and we continue there for another 8 years, there is something absurd.

The fact that the Labor opposition said nothing is also a worry- does  our government work for us or the US?

The Fate of our Interpreters

Many people will be left behind outside the Taliban-controlled Kabul airport perimeter, or unable even to get near the city.  The Taliban have been searching them out and killing not only those who helped the foreigners, but also their families.  The idea that they have reformed seems very unlikely; the schools that taught them were radical Saudi Islam.  It is a horrible story that has not yet ended. 

www.smh.com.au/national/he-could-have-done-something-why-diggers-feel-let-down-by-scott-morrison-20210820-p58kks.html

Continue Reading

Giving out Jobs to Perpetuate the Status Quo

17 July 2021

The composition of the US High Court, especially on the issue of abortion has had more publicity in Australia than our own stacking of the judiciary and major government bodies.  Where are the records of all this? Has it just continued quietly under the radar with George Brandis and Christian Porter?

The Liberals have been masters of putting conservative people and ?mates in the judiciary and on bodies such as Clean Energy, which they did not manage to abolish. This will naturally make it very hard for the country to move on when they are voted out. The judiciary are appointed for life- about the only people in the country left in that position, and these major Government bodies have appointments with quite long tenure, so that change will be both hard and delayed.   Years ago these problems would have been in the hands of relatively unsackable career public servants. 

We presume that Matthias Cormann had a miraculous change toward clean energy once he got to the OECD and did not have to toe the Morrison government line.  But people who have spent their working life in an industry are unlikely to do the same.  Once again it is the Liberals standing in the way of progress for as long as they can.

Continue Reading

NSW Govt tries to Blame Limousine Driver for New Sydney COVID Outbreak

26 June 2021

The pathetic efforts of Gladys Berejeklian to blame the limousine driver for the latest COVID outbreak, which has now caused a city-wide lockdown and an increasing number of cases needs to be judged on its demerits.  Obviously there should have been regulations that anyone on the front line had to be vaccinated, and surely driving a limo from the airport to the quarantine hotel is ‘front line’. 

She said that she ‘could not control the subcontractor of the subcontractor.’  Actually, she could have. Now she has the regulation that she should have had months ago- front line staff have to be vaccinated.

Of course, the reason for the spread of the virus from the Melbourne quarantine hotels months ago was the fact that the support staff had many jobs, because they were not permanent and had shifts everywhere.  The same problem occurred with transmission in Victorian Nursing homes- casual shifts.  Now it is Sydney drivers. 

The farmers are moaning that they will not be able to pick the fruit without the visas for backpackers, foreign students and Pacific Islanders.  Skilled migrants?  I do not think so.  It is about sub award wages and poor conditions.  If Australia is a rich country we need also to remember our roots as the country of a ‘fair go’. If top wage are high by world standards, so they should be at the bottom. If wages were high enough Aussies would pick the fruit, and  cleaners and limousine drivers would have regular jobs and award wages.

But here was the NSW Government trying to blame the limo driver for the outbreak.  But today’s Sun Herald has the Police Commissioner saying that the driver had committed no crime.   Neither has the NSW Government- they are just incompetent, but no one seems to blame them.

www.abc.net.au/news/2021-06-17/nsw-quarantine-worker-may-have-breached-health-order/100223120

Continue Reading

CTP Insurers Pay 6.3% of Premiums to Injured People. They keep the rest.

28 May 2021

This is a huge corporate scam. Why do people think that only little people are rip-off scammers? Also the idea that most people claims are ‘accepted’ is a nonsense. Insurers accept the claim, which means that they pay for a few GP visits and some physio. But they refuse to pay for scans that might find diagnoses. Then they refuse to pay for referrals to specialists who might need to operate. Then they refuse to pay for recommended operations. Then they use tame doctors (IMEs = Independent Medical Examiners) who either say that the condition does not need the treatment or that the problem was there before the accident so the insurer is not liable.

So the government introduced the PIC (Personal Injury Commission) to arbitrate all the claims that the insurers had refused. Now the waiting time for the PIC is over a year, which suits the insurers fine as the doctors and patients will use Medicare or private heath insurance to get the treatments and the insurers will either pay less or not have to pay at all.

If you thought the banks were bad, you have not dealt with insurers. NRMA refuses a considerably higher percentage of treatments than anyone else in my statistics, and SIRA declines to keep statistics on the ‘industry’ as a whole, and no insurer has ever been prosecuted for refusing a treatment.

This is why we need Medicare- a single, just, efficient, universal health insurance scheme.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sp8R856f7cM

Continue Reading

NSW Politics- the Upper Hunter Farce Continues.

27 May 2021

I was going to write about the farce of the Upper Hunter by-Election, as there was plenty to say about that, so I will start there, but now there is more!

The first thing to say is that the National Party vote fell 2.8% to 31%, which is less than a third of primary votes, yet they claimed a victory!  They claimed that this was because they supported coal mining, yet a lot of farmers and those no directly depended non coal though that this was a bad idea, and it is not clear that this overblown endorsement  of coal is justified.  Labor lost 7.5% to get 21.2% and are now tearing themselves apart- see below for more.  The Shooters lost 10.1%, but this may because One Nation entered the race and got 12.3%. Independents did quite well with a total of 16.8%, with Kirsty O’Connell who was anti-coal being endorsed by Malcolm Turnbull and getting 8.8%. These are all primary votes, because almost two thirds of voters did not give preferences, being encouraged to ‘Just Vote 1’ which means that effectively the Primary vote will determine the outcome, creating a massive advantage to the major parties, which translates into a NSW gerrymander where the Major parties get a much higher percentage of the seat than they got of the primary votes.  It makes a farce of democracy .

Labor should have benefited from the fact that the by-election was rendered necessary by the incumbent Michael Johnsen being accused of raping a sex worker in Parliament House and denying it but still resigning!   But Labor looked very weak because it sits on the fence with coal mining, wanting the current coal miners vote, but also pretending to be the party of progress against climate change.  Their sitting on the fence which was disastrous in Queensland in the last Federal election was disastrous again.  They should have had a plan to transition out of coal with environmental jobs plan, but they seem incapable of such a strategy.  Arguably the State was punished for the Federal deficiency, but NSW State Labor has plenty of incompetence of its own. 

Labor, having lost in a by-election where they are supposed to increase their vote seems keen to do a lot of blood-letting.  After the years of domination by Obeid and the Right and a history of corruption and nepotism there is a very shallow talent pool.  The colourless Jodi Mckay seems to have had no impact on Gladys Berejeklian, despite scandals about sex and asset misallocation, and personal deliberate ignorance.  McKay had apparently cobbled together the numbers to survive, and people moved against her.  The plausible Chris Minns looked likely to be standing up, but John Barilaro, himself no stranger to questionable land deals in Queanbeyan, released a ‘dirt file’ to stop Minns’ ascent.  The file was called ‘Why Chris Minns and Jamie Clements can never run the NSW Labor Party’.  Jamie Clements was accused of sexual assault by a former staffer, and of taking improper donations from a Chinese property developer, Mr Huang.  Presumably there was also something in the file of substance about Minns also, as he resigned from Shadow Cabinet.  It might be noted that he was Shadow Transport Minister yet has not had his voice heard despite the fact that the Liberal strategy of funding underground freeways and selling them as monopolies to the private sector seems to have come from the Los Angeles town planners of the 1960s who recommended getting rid of trams to have private cars as the main means of transport, with a dash of Thatcherite privatisation thrown in. 

Labor’s corruption scandals have sapped their talent and seemingly discouraged good people.  Carmel Tebbutt, John Watkins and Graham West were very good people who resigned before they might have been expected to. 

Continue Reading

Amateur Hour in Management and Politics.

16 April 2016

When friends discuss why the world of politics seems to be going downhill, they mention that there seems to be no respect for knowledge any more.  Because information is so available it is not valued.  But this is not the key.  The problem seems to stem from two sources;

Firstly the two wars last century were over markets and at Bretton Woods at the end of WW2 the key to preventing wars thought to be free markets, where there would be unrestricted trade and countries could rise on fall on their relative advantages, or harder work.  The second item was the notion of neo-liberalism where the duty of a company was to make as much money as possible, with other objectives being looked after by someone else.  But as free trade progressed like a monopoly game multinational companies became more powerful than governments, so there was no one to stop the accumulation of wealth and power.  Power and wealth became the important items.  If you had these, clearly you would know what to do.

A number of small stories often give insights into changing priorities.  When I was at school and aged about 11 another boy, Geoff, went on a trip to the USA, a rare thing to do at that time.  We eagerly asked him what it was like over there.  He said, ‘Money just stands up and talks over there.  If you have money and you say something everybody listens’.  What he meant was that it was not because the rich person actually knew anything.

When I worked at Sydney Water, there were 17,000 employees and there was had a program to separate storm water and sewage in the pipes in the old part of Sydney, where they had all been the same.  There were employment programs for the long-term unemployed, disabled people and even ex-prisoners.  There were quality control units and a well-respected apprentice training school with about 220 people that produced plumbers, electricians and carpenters. The staff worked their way up the hierarchy so everyone knew their job and the tasks that they were supervising.  In the early 1980s these was a major change.  Sydney Water was reclassified as a State owned enterprise. It was to be ‘right sized’ which was the euphemism for downsized to about 3,000 people.  All functions not immediately necessary were stopped.  No pipe replacement programs, fix them when they burst. No apprentice training. No quality control- (has to be out-sourced). No printing. No computerised land mapping program (a world first, given to the Land Titles Office and later privatised) and the government was entitled to a ‘dividend’ from the enterprise which was about a billion dollars a year from all the salaries saved and work not done.  There was a game of musical chairs which went on for about a decade with new management structures, each with fewer places in it, where people repeatedly applied for jobs that had slightly different titles but which amounted to what they had done before.  But more than this there was incredible nepotism and people who knew about money or were politically favoured replaced those who knew about pipes and water.  Deskilling was on a massive scale. Then there was a project to look at salary relativities, which seemed to come to the conclusion that the salary should relate to how many people you managed.  Professionals were hard to fit into this framework, so it was opined that they should get less, but in order to get them at all, there had to be some consideration of what they were paid outside the organisation.  As a professional I was also high enough up the hierarchy to get ‘management training’.  It seemed that the key objective was to create a new culture in the organisation, and the main element in this was the destruction of the old culture, which was naturally assumed to be inferior to the new vision of the new management.   Workshops were held to define our objectives and visions. The silly old guard had thought that it was to provide water and take away the pooh.

This seems to be what has happened throughout the entire public service.  Lifetime employment has gone, and the gradual salary increments that made public servants content to work for less because they had lifetime security of employment and respect for the niche knowledge that they had developed. 

Now the two overwhelming values are power and money. They are assumed to go together.  Money buys political power, and political power gives control of large amounts of money.  So part of this new values hierarchy is the assumption that other values are lesser.  Public interest knowledge as stored in the public service, the Australian Bureau of Statistics or the research community are run down as the new breed of consultants rise. The consultants are chosen by their masters for their political or economic orientation and have to come up with solutions that fit with the views of their masters lest they not get their next job.  It is an incestuous and nepotistic system where ideology and opinion have displaced long-term experience and expertise.

Some years ago, as a NSW Democrat MP, I went to a YADS (Young Australian Democrats) conference in Canberra. The YADs were enthusiastic young people interested in politics, and some of them were lucky enough to work in Parliamentary offices.  On the Saturday they hospitably asked me to come to a party that they were attending.  I felt a bit old for the group, but they insisted.  It turned out that the Party was at a Liberal staffer’s house.  No one took much notice of the old guy in the corner sipping his beer, so I observed a group of very privileged young people telling stories of their exploits in the corridors of power. The striking part of the stories was the extent to which they were merely playing a chess game.  They were the goodies, Labor were the baddies and the whole discussion was about winning. There was no policy content at all. The issue was whether we won or not.  John Howard was Prime Minister and I was left with the overwhelming feeling that power was in the hands of those who had neither knowledge nor respect for the responsibility that they were carrying.

So I was interested to read this article by Jack Waterford, which traces the replacement of the public service by political staffers, ambitious non-experts with a lot of ideological baggage and little time for long-term expertise. 

The replacement of respect for knowledge with respect only for power and money may be the reason for the decline in decision-making in our political and management systems, and may yet be the cause of the decline of Anglo civilisation.

Continue Reading

Our Military

April 15 2021

If you ask soldiers to do totally unreasonable things, you should probably expect totally unreasonable things.

The Australian Commander, John Cantwell was of the opinion that the Afghan war could not be won, and every Australian life lost in Afghanistan was totally wasted. He was on the short list to be the supreme head of the Australian armed forces but he took himself off the list and retired in 2011 with PTSD and wrote ‘Exit Wounds- One Australian’s War on Terror’ in 2012. It is inconceivable that he did not tell the Australian hierarchy that the war was unwinnable prior to his resignation in 2011, which is 10 years ago.

To ask for ethical behaviour from the troops, when there is none at the top of the nation is hypocrisy writ large.

Continue Reading

Myanmar, What is likely?

14 April 2021

The Myanmar Generals are shooting their population, who at present continue protesting.  As I have written before on my visit to Myanmar in 2017-8 my observation was that the population have no time for the military, who were hanging onto power and had kept Aung San Suu Kyi as a figurehead without power or real democracy.  The military were socially isolated, but in a highly privileged world of their own.

The government has a capital 4 hours from Yangon and totally isolated  from the reality of the rest of Myanmar.

If the people are willing to be shot as they protest, we might ask where this will go.  Gandhi used passive resistance against the British, where the people just kept coming as the police beat them with batons. The strategy was to look for a changed response from those doing the beating.  I am unsure whether this will work in Myanmar.  Perhaps the military will just keep shooting. 

But if there is a national strike and the economy falters, what then? Will the Chinese step in and help?  For how long? Myanmar also has immense internal problems with ethnic armies fighting the central government. These are quite well armed, but have been confined to their own provinces.  Will they link with the people against the common enemy, the military junta?  Will the world take action?  Probably not militarily against a well-supplied army fighting for their own country- this might actually allow the government to get legitimacy against the foreign threat, and no country is likely to want to be in the front line.  The UN is unlikely to be able to act anyway with Russian and Chinese  arms sales and UN vetoes.

I fear that there will be immense bloodshed.  The question is whether change can be achieved. There is little doubt that the people want it and have waited a long time, so will be willing to sacrifice a lot. 

Here is Peter Hartcher’s opinion from the SMH of 13/4/21

Trump’s example playing out in Asia, the world has to intervene

The generals of Myanmar decided to follow Donald Trump’s example. Like Trump, they declared a free and fair election to be a fraud. Like Trump, they made an unconstitutional grab for power.

But where Trump was frustrated in his attempted coup, the generals of Myanmar were successful. Or so it seemed. There was a moment of quiet shock on February 1, when the army cancelled parliament and locked up the elected leaders including Aung San Suu Kyi.

Senior General Min Aung Hlaing announced a one-year state of emergency and installed himself as ruler. But resistance has built every day since. At first, it was demonstrations by students and young people, then the whole society seemed to join in. Truck drivers stopped delivering goods arriving at the ports. Workers went on strike, forcing banks to close. Civil servants stayed home, cutting government services. Doctors marched against the junta. The army restricted internet access to try to stop protesters organising.

The Myanmar military controls a multibillion-dollar business empire that funnels profits from jade, rubies, banking, oil and gas, construction and mining into the army’s pockets. These independent profits allow it to operate outside the structures of the state and to act with impunity.

So the resistance aims to shut down the economy as a way of curbing the army. It is starting to work. Myanmar’s economy thrived during its decade of democratic rule, growing at 6 per cent every year and doubling in size.

Now the World Bank expects it will shrink by 10 per cent this year. The financial information company Fitch Solutions says that “all areas of GDP by expenditure are set to collapse”, that a 20 per cent economic contraction this financial year is “conservative”.

And a second front against the army soon opened. The ethnic armies that once warred against the state had become largely inactive, but in the last few weeks the Karen and Kachin and the Shan and the Rakhine militias have joined forces with the civilian opposition. The ethnic armies are demanding that the military, known as the Tatmadaw, restore civilian government. And they are moving to take up arms.

“If the Kachin, Karen, Shan and maybe Rakhine insurgents were to engage in widespread military operations, however loosely co-ordinated, and at the same time there is an increase in violence in the heartlands, the Tatmadaw would face a huge problem,” according to Anthony Davis, a security analyst with Jane’s intelligence. He estimates the total strength of the ethnic armies at around 75,000 fighters.

Two fronts – the civilian opposition on one side and the ethnic armies on the other – is too many for the regime. Fearing exactly this, the Tatmadaw asked for negotiations with the ethnic armies. That was rejected. So the air force has started bombing them instead.

At the same time, the military has grown increasingly violent with the civilian protesters too. The army’s latest escalation came on Friday. It was bad enough that troops had been firing into crowds of peaceful protesters for weeks, worse that they’d started to order snipers to shoot unarmed civilians in the head.

But on Friday the army launched a dawn raid on a protest camp in the ancient capital of Bago, firing rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns at unarmed demonstrators. They killed at least 80 that morning, the biggest massacre in any one place since they launched their coup. The Tatmadaw has killed more than 600 civilians in total, according to a monitoring group.

The two resistance movements are in the process of formalising their alliance: “We are waiting on a daily basis for the announcement that a national unity government has been formed,” says Chris Sidoti, Australia’s former human rights commissioner and one of the three members of an international expert group calling itself the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar.

The “unity government” would include Aung San Suu Kyi’s National Democracy League and its elected members of parliament as well as civil society leaders and the ethnic armies.

“The military lacks legitimacy and it seems to be losing control,” observes the Australian federal Liberal MP and former diplomat Dave Sharma, who is convening a parliamentary sub-committee on foreign affairs and aid to discuss the crisis on Tuesday.

The UN’s special envoy to Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, predicts a “bloodbath” unless there is some sort of intervention. The UN Security Council, however, is paralysed – vetoes by China and Russia prevent it from even condemning the coup, much less taking any action.

Sharma worries about a worst-case scenario: “If you have a protracted civil conflict it inevitably pulls in outside actors and you can have a situation where Myanmar becomes Syria in Asia,” as neighbouring countries take sides to protect their own interests. A failed state in the heart of Asia, in other words.

The conflict could spill across borders, driving big flows of refugees, as Sharma points out. “I think this problem is only going to get larger for Australia and the region. We will need to examine policy settings and co-ordinate with regional countries.”

There’s no evidence of any activity by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Marise Payne – which is probably why it falls to Sharma, a mere backbencher, to try to stimulate debate, though he’s too polite to say so.

Sidoti has a list of policy ideas for Australia. One is to join the US and Britain in imposing sanctions on the Tatmadaw’s commercial empire. Another is to join the two-year-old genocide prosecution of the Tatmadaw in the International Court of Justice.

A third is to work with Thailand to make sure humanitarian help flows into Myanmar. Fourth is to work with ASEAN, which is having trouble bringing coordinated pressure to bear on the Tatmadaw, partly because ASEAN can only act with the agreement of all 10 of its members and Myanmar is one of them.

Who would represent the country at an ASEAN meeting? Australia could help break the impasse by convening a larger initiative to mediate with the regime, including some key ASEAN members plus the US, China, India, Timor-Leste and Japan, suggests Sidoti.

Finally, Canberra should stand ready to recognise a united national front as Myanmar’s legitimate government the moment it is announced. The coup attempt didn’t work for Trump, gratefully. The world has an opportunity to make sure it doesn’t work for Myanmar’s military either.

Continue Reading

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.

www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2021/04/13/exclusive-documents-leaked-secretive-ndis-taskforce/161829180011445#mtr

Continue Reading