Doctor and activist


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Tag: Accountability

Federal Auditor-General Defunded- Government cuts teeth of watchdog

20 February 2021

What else would a PR driven government do to lessen criticism of its rorts?

Here is an SMH article today by Katina Curtis entitled:

Cuts Mean Government Agencies will avoid scrutiny’.

The watchdog in charge of keeping the government accountable for its use of taxpayer money says his budget has fallen so much, some agencies might only face scrutiny once every 20 years and auditors are tolerating ‘‘uncomfortable’’ risks in financial statements.Auditor-General Grant Hehir says over the next four years he has to cut the number of performance audits his office does, which in the past year has uncovered the sports rorts scandal and the $30 million paid for the Leppington Triangle land valued within a year at just $3 million.The cut will reduce the number of audits by a quarter, from a historical average of 48 a year to 36, the lowest number this century, bar 2016 when the double dissolution of Parliament meant fewer sitting weeks to deliver his reports.‘‘In effect, I am unable to provide the Parliament to the same extent with the evidence it has used to hold executive government to account, thereby reducing accountability and transparency,’’ Mr Hehir yesterday told a parliamentary committee reviewing the Australian National Audit Office.Over the past two years, the performance audit section has lost 20 staff, equivalent to the capacity for eight audits. ANAO funding as a proportion of government spending is now half what it was 10 years ago.‘‘Should it be going up proportionately? I’m not arguing that, but I think it shouldn’t be going down,’’ Mr Hehir said.Since 2013, the Australian National Audit Office’s budget has been cut by nearly $6.3 million – or more than 22 per cent in real terms – although Mr Hehir told the committee ‘‘we probably wouldn’t use the word cut, it’s fallen’’.While the budget has shrunk, the number and complexity of financial statement audits the office must do has grown. Mr Hehir said the budget squeeze meant he’d had to increase the risk tolerance of these audits to a point where he was ‘‘uncomfortable’’.As well as a reduced number of audits, their scope will be narrower, and they will focus on higher-risk activities in large entities such as the Tax Office and the Defence Department.‘‘Many smaller agencies may not be audited for extended periods of time, potentially over 20 years,’’ Mr Hehir told the committee.

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Trump Acquitted. Significance?

14 February 2021

President Trump was not impeached because it needs a two thirds majority of US Senators and the Democrats and Republicans have 50 each, with the Vice President having a casting vote.  So 13 Republicans would have had to vote for the impeachment, and only 7 did so. 57 to 43 was not two-thirds.

 Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said that Trump could not be impeached as he was no longer President, but this was because the Senate delayed the debate while he was, so it looked like a convenient cop-out.  Whether it was ‘loyalty to the Republican party’ is a moot question. In practical terms, Trump has a lot of support at the grass roots of the Republican party, and if he directs his supporters to oppose a Senator’s pre-selection next time it will be likely to cost them their seat.  So they were willing to toe the line that the election was rigged, and now vote that Trump did not incite supporters to storm the Capitol. It is remarkable that they were in the Chamber when the Capital building was stormed, and the Senators were in physical danger, but now they decline to condemn Trump.

It is worth looking at the Republicans who did have the courage to cross the floor:

Mitt Romney of Utah was an Independent until 1993, and a Mormon.  He stood as the Republican Presidential Candidate against Barack Obama in 2012, and was elected to the Senate in 2019.  He is 73 now, but has probably a very strong base.

Bill Cassidy MD, aged 64 was a Democrat who changed to the Republicans in 2001.  He was the only Republican Senator who did not challenge the result of the 2020 Presidential election and was condemned by his Louisiana Republican party for this stance, even prior to his voting for Trump’s impeachment.  He was elected in 2020, so will face the voters again in 2024.

Susan Collins of Maine aged 68 was elected in 1996, and is the longest-serving Republican woman Senator, most recently re-elected in 2020.  She declined to support the bill to repeal Obama’s ‘Affordable Care Act’ and also declined to support the nomination of conservative judge Amy Barrett to the Supreme Court.

Lisa Murkowsi of Alaska aged 63 has been in the Senate since 1998, having followed her father into her seat but via a write-in vote, having been defeated in the pre-selection.  A survey showed her to be the second most liberal Republican Senator after Susan Collins.  She intends to run for a 4th term in 2022, but it has been tipped in Newsweek that Sarah Palin will stand against her in the next preselection.

Ben Sasse of Nebraska aged 48 has taken a strong stand against Trump and effectively bet his political career on what is currently not a popular stand in his State, though he paints himself as a strong conservative.

Richard Burr of North Carolina aged 65 surprised colleagues by voting against Trump. He was elected in 2005, but he had announced in 2016 that he would not seek a 4th term, so preselection is irrelevant for him.

Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania aged 59 was elected to the House of Representatives in 1998, then the Senate in 2011 and 2016, but has said that he would not stand again.

So it looks as if there are very few Senate Republicans who will put the national interest ahead of their own pre-selections and party loyalties. 

This is why we need the power returned to the people both in the USA and here. The interests of the political parties are not the same as the interests of the people.

https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/president-donald-trump-acquitted/story?id=75853994
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Governments are Simply Bought

3 February 2021

As we observe a seemingly endless litany of government decisions that are not just bad, but are totally against the public interest and wants, we might wonder why. Are politicians less principled than formerly?  Are they of lower calibre?  Is it just all about marketing?

Some long-term trends have to be looked at. At Bretton Woods in 1944 world leaders considered how to lessen the chance of future wars.  The two world war had been because emerging powers  needed markets that were closed to them. So ‘Free Trade’ was the cry that would allow the world to benefit from the free movement of goods from the places that produced them most efficiently to where they were wanted. Governments would not be able to get in the way. This trend has increased, helped by technologies in transport that have lowered freight costs.  Countries that have done well have risen, countries that cannot get a premium on their products have gone down.  But multinational companies have been able to evade taxes and develop oligopolies that allow super-normal prof its.  Multinational companies are now richer than many countries, so governments’ power has hugely lessened in relation to these companies.  So the companies often tell the governments what to do rather than vice-versa. Really good people used to go into government with a vision for their country’s future.  Now these people often go into business, raising the question whether our politicians are second tier.  Marketing is also much more sophisticated, and targeting is very important. Once it is recognised that what determines an election is a few percent in a few seats, the question is how to change those few minds.  So research and election donations become critical.    I have spoken to Ministers who seriously believe that they cannot oppose the industries that are the key players in their portfolio area. And if they believe that, that will certainly be the outcome.

Decisions like the inability of Australia to oppose the coal industry in the Climate ‘debate’, to avoid fracking when the gas industry sold gas on the assumption that it could frack for more, cal mining under dams, property development that sells iconic museums or demands higher dam walls are examples of governments doing what monied donors want.  But the pork-barrelling to ‘look after our own’ is a new low in political behaviour.  It has been coming for a while. 

When I was in Parliament I followed up the award of a contract for disability services in the Hunter region, which had not gone to the incumbents who had been considered to be doing quite a good job.  Investigations showed that there had been an exemplary selection process done in the public service, with the incumbent narrowly winning from another provider in the area, both with scores in the high nineties .  The contract went to another tenderer with a score in the 50s. Scrawled across the file was a minder’s note, ‘This one more innovative- support them’.  The Minister did. The minder went off to be CEO of the winning tenderer.  The unsuccessful tenderers withdrew in disgust.  Sadly, this did not come out for some time, so the successful tenderer was then established and the unsuccessful downsized so the decision could not be reversed.   Someone in the office was temporarily stood down.  It was an example of Ministers over-riding neutral selection processes, which is now so commonplace that Gladys Berejeklian assures us it is normal and the Federal government also acts as if this is so. Perhaps soon there will no public service process at all; why bother making potential trouble?

So with government believing that they cannot act against vested interests and also able to buy power with marketing money, it is hardly surprising that industries donate, especially when there is nothing stopping them.  Ministers who are not particularly clever, but have good party connections can also leave politics for lobbying positions in the industries that they formerly were responsible for, having contacts in both the government and the responsible Departments.

As the power and the image of politicians fall, so do party numbers allowing more branch-stacking and nepotism.  Some years ago, Christians, noting their numbers falling in the census made a huge effort to get into the political system to maintain their privileged tax deductible status and school system, so now they are represented in Cabinet way more than in society in general. So there is yet another strong lobby within the system- the religion industry.

These problems are part of long-term trends with technological and economic drivers.  My own view is history is driven by these forces more than by anything governments want to do.  Politicians now have a career structure where their interests are different from the public interest and this will never be reconciled.  So we need a new conceptual framework.  The power must be taken from the politicians and given back to the people.  The government of Switzerland acts similarly to ours except that there are more political parties sharing power, so there is never an absolute majority with governments able to do whatever they like.  More importantly, the people have plebiscites quarterly at Federal, Canton (State equivalent) and local levels.  If there is enough signatures, an issue is put to plebiscite and the result is binding on governments. Legislation can be overturned if the petitions get enough signatures within a statutory time.  So governments govern, but remain aware that they cannot do what they like.  Politicians are all part-time and keep their jobs, which are also their post-parliament continuing careers.  They are also limited to 2 terms, so that they do not have a political career structure that they can put ahead of the public interest.

It is time to change the constitution to lessen the power of the governments.  Restricting political donations should be tried, but I watched as people tried to stop the tobacco industry buying influence. When TV ads were banned, they had ‘sponsorships’ around the grounds and it took 26 years to get rid of these as sponsored sport sang for its supper. Ethnic clubs, Sports Foundations, Rescue boats, Charities, disabled groups; all manner of potential lobbyists were gifted and sang for their supper or donated in kind.  If someone has money and wants to help you, and you want to be helped there are a million ways to get around impediments. Those who think a donation limit will stop the problem are frankly naïve, though I am not saying it should not be done.  It establishes a principle at least, so that we can chase the avoidances.  But more substantial change is needed, a new constitution to lessen the power of Parliaments on the Swiss model.

www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/hidden-donations-highlight-grave-weakness-of-australian-democracy-20210131-p56y70.html

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COVID Problems Caused by Lack of Respect for Knowledge

7 February 2021

Prof Raina McIntyre argues that the COVID19 problems in the developed world, particularly the Anglo world are the result of an understanding of and a lack of respect for public health.  She charts this as within the medical profession, which has its own hierarchies, but also in the political arena.  The overwhelming influence of the corporate sector and the profit motive, and the managerial approach which assumes that if  you are not an expert, you can quickly find one, bone up and take over has been found sadly wanting.  For a manager or politician, selecting an expert is not as easy as it sounds as there are many people who want to tart up their CVs and market themselves with dubious claims to expertise.

This has resulted in a very suboptimal preparation for and response to the pandemic. The failure in the managerial decision-making process has been laid bare in the COVID situation, but this is not an isolated example.  The lack of respect for expertise, the replacement of knowledge with marketing spin, and public good with corporate profits will lead to more bad decisions, which often take a crisis to become evident.  It happened in the bushfires, and is happening with climate change. Examples in foreign policy, education, health and defence all come to mind.

Here is Raina’s paper about COVID19

https://iser.med.unsw.edu.au/blog/hijacking-public-health-and-price-paid-during-covid-19-pandemic

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Welfare Repayment for Some- Nick Scali Optional?

6 February 2021

We all saw the callous and incompetent saga of Robodebt, where the tax database and the welfare database were imperfectly matched, the welfare recipients were accused of understating their incomes and put in the unenviable position of having to prove that they system was wrong, as their support payments were cut to below survival level.

Now we see some companies who are doing very well getting Jobkeeper and being asked politely if they would mind paying it back.

Nick Scali, the furniture retailer has done very well out of the lockdown as people still at home and working, with forced saving on their out of home recreations have upgraded their furnishings.  His profit has risen 99% to $40 million, and the share price  from $3 to $10.51 in the last 12 months.  The dividends are up 60%.  Nick Scali as the major shareholder with 13% of the company will make $4.4 million personally.  The company has received $3.5 million in Jobkeeper payments, so Labor MP Andrew Leigh has asked that it be repaid.  Of course, Scali has done nothing illegal and has taken money that companies were entitled to.  But the Government which is so careful and niggardly when it comes to poorer people getting money is totally silent on this situation. They are very thorough when it comes to giving out Jobseeker or any type of pension, yet seem unable to restrict much more generous handouts to business, let alone having a mechanism to get it back.   The stockmarket profit reporting season is just starting so we are likely to see many more examples of this.

The only explanation I can find is ‘For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’ — in Matthew 25:29, Revised Standard Version.

www.smh.com.au/business/companies/nick-scali-s-profits-double-in-covid-boom-triggering-dividend-bonanza-20210204-p56zfl.html

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Are Google Algorithms Reinforcing Anti-Science positions? 3 Feb. 2021

As the anti-science movement seems to gain strength and undermines the campaign for COVID vaccination, there has been increased interest in the origin, strength and tactics of this.

It is blamed on the Russians, who presumably are trying to weaken and divide the West, and on civil libertarians, who want to politicise medical common sense.  But when it helped by people like Trump in the White House and Kelly in Australia the conspiracy theories are put into perspective, as the anti-science views are given legitimacy.

But in the fuss about Google withdrawing from Australia, or not covering Australian politics, I wondered what effect this might have and tried a different search engine, duckduckgo.  The difference is that google gives me a personalised feed, but duckduckgo gives everyone the same information for the same key words. 

Search engines at a basic level give a ‘top pops’ of popularity of a topic in that those with the greatest number of clicks go to the top.  This may be fine if you are looking for a movie review, but if you want older material it will be a long way down. Scientific articles are a lot further down than mainstream ones, and the algorithm is influenced by the viewer’s previous viewing habits.  If a person has viewed a lot of conspiracy articles, it is presumably then likely that these are more likely to come up again and reinforce the existing views of the viewer.    If the feed is continually biased to a point of view, the viewer is likely to come into contact with more of this view and people who share t, so that they are eventually in a bubble or subculture of people with this belief, and are unaware that their reality has been changed. 

As an example my son went to school with a boy in NZ whose father controlled feral pests for a living, which meant shooting rabbits, ferrets, deer, pigs, cats and possums which are predators on various farms in NZ.  He kept in touch with his friend and they played video games online.  But his friend went shooting quite a lot with his father, joined a gun club and started to receive the literature of this subculture.  His previously non-political, mainstream views are now hugely influenced by the American gun lobby and rabidly right wing.  This is quite unusual in rural NZ.  My son commented, ‘In the end, you think what you get in your feed’.

The algorithms exist to make you happy and to keep you clicking in order to get you to buy things.  But the result might be quite different- a creation of a bubble environment where everyone’s opinion tends to be magnified, sometimes going in a bad direction.

How this can be controlled is a question- if we all got the same feeds, would the sensible people make sensible articles come up first?  Presumably; if most people were well educated.  We had better go there also.  Which Big Brother will tell google how to do its algorithms?

(The longer version of this attached article is available via a link at its end).

https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/entry/peter-hotez-anti-science-movement-killing-hundreds-of-thousands_n_6014b39ac5b622df90f382ee?ri18n=true&fbclid=IwAR19_qqWuNe9t8ySSTdNU5OjL6jKkxPCT3cDbAP0EhAKXoXrLPod_xVfdKM

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TAFE Merger Fails to Save Money 14/1/21

A report by the NSW Auditor-General shows that NSW TAFE had failed in its social objectives and not made its cost saving from merging 10 institutions into one.
It is significant that these problems are always found by Auditors. One would think that monitoring of costs savings or not would be built into such a major change. Dream on!
The problem with mega-mergers is that it empowers people a long way away, who then make decisions without the facts from those on the ground, who have usually been sacked or depowered.
Speechwriter Martin McKenzie-Murray, writing in the SMH of 28/12/20 opined that the reason that speeches were so unmemorable now was that the content was more about short-term media grabs than any substantial vision, and that since political advisers have replaced public service mandarins as the main source of advice there has been a loss of the sense of past history and future vision. In short the lack of proper thinking is why the speeches are no good.
TAFE was conceived as help up; a technical education for those who could benefit from one, whatever their age, and where good tradespeople were valued and could teach their trade. Interference by those who merely see education as another commodity to compete in a market and who have no concept of equity, justice or a fair go as part of public policy have done immense harm to TAFE, not to mention the rest of the nation.
Policy should have continuity and decisions should be evidence-based. A public service that has expertise and long-term stability is the best guarantee of this, where those giving the advice do not have a financial or ideological commitment to a single option.
The article is important in that it emphasises that ideologues must justify their management pontifications and their failures must be held up to them.
www.smh.com.au/national/nsw/scathing-review-reveals-tafe-s-failure-to-meet-cost-savings-20201217-p56oex.html

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Dutch Cabinet Resigns over Welfare Debt Scandal. Australian Cabinet Does Not! 16/1/21

The entire Dutch Cabinet resigned over a scandal where welfare recipients were unjustly accused of welfare fraud.

At about the same time, the Australian Federal government had the Robodebt scandal where welfare recipients were assessed by a computer algorithm, accused of fraud and made to pay back monies that they should not have had to and could not afford. Money was deducted from their already inadequate welfare payments and quite a lot committed suicide. The Australian government ‘toughed it out’, i.e arrogantly refused to be held accountable. They settled a class action, which did not even cover what they had taken.

They have pork-barreled to win elections at both a State and Federal level, but have no intention of resigning.

The key lesson here is that there is no mechanism for dealing with the malfeasance of those in power. Trump may be impeached, but that would be an exceptional ‘one off’. In general there is no power that makes governments obey the laws the rest of us have to obey, or to follow the dictates of moral behaviour.


The only solution that I can see is to have the power returned to the people and the country run by regular referenda, once every 3 months at local, State and Federal level where anyone can put up a proposition and if it gets enough signatures it is balloted. If it wins, it becomes law. Federal government laws can be overturned and policies, such as not going into wars, are binding. This is the Swiss system, and their politician are part-time, only allowed two terms and their superannuation system is that their job has to remain open for them. This ensures that the politicians interests cannot differ from the people’s interests.

We have probably never had real power over politicians apart from the ballot box, and now they no longer resign, there is no sanction. They are not willing to take on the powerful, so we have 2 standards of justice, one for the rich and one for the poor. Things are worsening. Barry O’Farrell resigned as Premier of NSW because he forgot he had been given a bottle of wine. That simply does not happen now.

People are talking about changing the constitution for many reasons. It is 120 years old. It was not the absolute wisdom for all time; it was a minimalist document to get the 6 colonies to become States and form a nation under the Queen. We need to go boldly and get a new document. Incidentally the Swiss change their constitution also, just needing a bigger majority in the referendum.

It is about trusting the people, who in general are more principled than the politicians, and after all, have the right to decide.


www.smh.com.au/world/europe/the-buck-stops-here-dutch-pm-cabinet-resign-over-welfare-debt-scandal-20210116-p56ula.html

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The Evolution of Lying Proceeds Apace: New Daily 19/12/20.

When Trump was elected people asked me what he would be like. I said something like, ‘in any situation think what a dodgy real estate agent would do in that situation and you have my best prediction’.

Trump’s idea of truth was that it what is in your interest and what you can convince someone to believe. If you look at the real estate model of truth this is a ‘goer’. You convince someone that a property is worth a certain amount, even if its not. It the person believes you and pays the price, that becomes the value. and what you said becomes the truth.

Sadly, the paradigm does not work at all with science, and not even reliably in politics. But it takes some time for this to become evident, so the disinformation strategy still mostly works.

Morrrison invites journalists to a ‘briefing’ before he releases news. So if the coverage of the last issue was not to the government’s liking- no invitation this time. Journalists are in the unenviable position of getting a story and having to cover it s a certain way, or being scooped- the only one on the block without the story, bleating later. The technique is now called ‘media management’.

Here is Dennis Atkins with more on how it is done.

https://thenewdaily.com.au/news/politics/australian-politics/2020/12/19/scott-morrison-political-liars/

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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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