Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Centre-Leftism has an honourable pedigree in Australia

I was recently asked to wax prophetic about Australia's new government for a new British site called International Relations. Below is my stab at it. I am sure that many of my fellow Australian conservatives will accuse me of being a Pollyanna but time will tell

The new Rudd government in Australia is not a new phenomenon. I don't think it is any secret that Tony Blair learnt much of his centre-Leftism from Australian centre-Leftists like Bob Hawke. Like Blair, Hawke made rather a mess of his country in some ways but the overall outcome was positive -- particularly in the area of much-needed market-based economic reforms. Hawke was to a degree Australia's Margaret Thatcher. And in foreign policy Hawke was sound too: Pro-US and pro-Israel.

If there were any doubt that Rudd will be walking in Hawke's footsteps, perhaps what he campaigned on to get himself elected will be instructive: To almost all the policies of the long-lived conservative administration of John Howard, Rudd simply said: "Me too" ("I also"?).

It is true that Rudd has a committment to remove Australian combat trops from Iraq but who does that remind you of? It reminds me of a man whose surname would be pronounced in his native Scotland as "Broon". And the Americans are also now of course on the brink of phasing down in Iraq.

And the Australian withdrawal will certainly be less precipitate than the British one. Discussions between Rudd and the U.S. administration have apparently been cordial and there is little doubt that the actual withdrawal date will depend on the circumstances on the ground in Iraq. Rudd has expressed some concern for the welfare of the Iraqi people after the Western withdrawal and it would appear that such a concern will have more weight with him than it apparently did with the British.

I think that the major realistic concern that Australian conservatives should have about Rudd is which way he will go with judicial appointments. Australia's High Court has been notably more conservative than the U.S. Supreme Court. Labor Party State governments have appointed some remarkably incompetent women to judicial office in the name of affirmative action (I beg forgiveness for being too cautious to name names) so it remains to be seen whether or not Rudd too will go down that path with the High Court.

But in foreign policy there is no doubt that there will be only micro-changes in direction. Rudd has emphasized that he wants to be more than a one-term Prime Minisiter and to achieve that he has to respect the strong conservative tendencies of the Australian electorate. He will be mindful that he got elected by adopting the conservative policies of John Howard.

And it was his policies that were the foundation of Howard's long stay in office. No one would accuse John Howard of having any charisma so there can be nothing else that got him elected several times. Rudd's only advantage is that he does have some charisma. But charisma gets you only so far and the hard-working bureaucrat that is Kevin Rudd will not be relying on it at all.

Patients regret apnoea surgery

ALMOST two-thirds of people who undergo surgery for sleep apnoea suffer persistent side-effects and almost a quarter regret their decision to go under the knife. The findings were made by researchers at the University of Adelaide, whose study, published in this week's edition of the British Medical Journal, recommends surgery for obstructive sleep apnoea be performed only after a case review by an ethics committee.

Between 2 and 4 per cent of Australians have sleep apnoea, with middle-aged, overweight men the main sufferers, about 24 per cent of them experiencing the condition, which collapses the upper airways during sleep, sometimes stopping breathing. Treatment usually begins with weight and alcohol management and use of breathing apparatus applying continuous pressure while sleeping before surgery is considered.

Adam Elshaug, a lecturer at the University of Adelaide, reviewed reports from around the world, including his own audit of 94 patients in Adelaide. He found that up to 62per cent of 21,346 patients who had surgery reported persistent side-effects such as a dry throat, difficulty in swallowing, voice changes and disturbances of smell and taste. Up to 22 per cent regretted having surgery. "The success rates were relatively low, ranging from 13 per cent for certain procedures, up to 47 per cent for the more advanced procedures," Dr Elshaug said.

The number of patients undergoing surgery for obstructive sleep apnoea is growing, with 3585 private patients recorded nationally in 2005, up from 3242 in 2004. Sleep specialists and surgeons agree surgery should not be the first port of call for apnoea sufferers, but say it is a viable option for patients who do not benefit from other treatments.

Sam Robinson, an ear, nose and throat surgeon who works with the Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health, said it was "nonsense" to restrict surgery to clinical trials overseen by an ethics committee. "Modern reconstructive surgery will give a satisfactory response in 70 to 80per cent of patients, maybe up to 90per cent," Dr Robinson said.


Leftist Victorian government tries to ban bicycles!

Not very "Green"

Rail staff are refusing to force commuters to get their bikes off peak hour trains as the State Government's ban descends into a farce. Industry sources yesterday said that the ban was unpopular and unworkable. The Herald Sun last month revealed the Government would ban bikes on peak-hour Connex and V/Line trains from January 1. The decision was hidden in a government document and published on the Metlink website.

A government spokesman said commuters would not be fined but urged rail staff to take a common-sense approach and advise passengers of the rule. However sources said it was impossible to enforce the ban without official warnings or fines. "Authorised officers, station staff, conductors -- none have the power to enforce it, so they're just not doing it," a source said.

Acting Premier Rob Hulls said: "There's been no decision made about rescinding (the ban). The fact is passengers on trains want to be able to travel in comfort." However Public Transport Users Association president Daniel Bowen said: "Given no fine has been specified and because of the way it applies to peak services, the ban is almost unenforceable. "V/Line's definition of peak hour includes all trains into Melbourne before 9am. "So . . . even people boarding a train leaving Geelong at 5am and arriving in Melbourne around 6am can't take their bicycle."

V/Line's Daniel Moloney said its ban operated since January 1. Mr Moloney also said V/Line had no plans to ask the Government to reverse the decision. Connex spokeswoman Kate De Clercq said staff had been told to advise passengers of the law.


Bonegilla Migrant Centre part of history

This is where hapless European refugees after WWII were fed British-style food -- which many saw as a continuation of their persecution

Block 19 at the Bonegilla Migrant Centre near Wodonga has been placed on the National Heritage list as the centre celebrates its 60th anniversary. Bonegilla, on the Murray River, was open between 1947 and 1971, with more than 300,000 people passing through its doors. It was the longest-operating migrant centre in Australia.

Bonegilla joined the MCG, the Sydney Opera House and the Great Barrier Reef, among others, on the list last month. Henk Bierman, vice-chairman of the Bonegilla Steering Committee, said people involved with the centre had tried to have it listed for years. He said it had a great place in history because it touched the lives of so many people. "Basically, there are a million and a half Australians walking around who went through the centre or are a descendant of someone who did. That's pretty amazing," Mr Bierman said.

Between 1947 and 1957, the migrant centre processed more than half of the 170,000 mainly displaced persons who came to Australia from war-torn Europe after World War II in what was one of the biggest post-war refugee efforts. They arrived from all parts of Europe -- including Holland, Greece, Poland, Yugoslavia, Germany, Russia and Czechoslovakia -- in an effort organised by the International Refugee Organisation and the Federal Government. The centre played a pivotal role for migrants beginning a new life, by helping them integrate to their new country.

Built in 1941 as an army camp, only Block 19 remains of the 24 blocks erected. It comprises a visitors centre and hosts exhibitions and tours. The heritage list includes places and buildings that are considered to have provided natural or cultural significance. It is decided by experts from the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. Bonegilla is the 75th addition to the list.


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