Sunday, April 06, 2008

Greenie doctors preaching absurdities

Cold is a bigger threat to health than warmth. Have these crooks ever noticed that winter is the time for coughs, colds, flu etc.? Any increase in heat-related deaths would be more than matched by a reduction in cold-related deaths -- particularly among the elderly

Doctors have warned of disastrous health outcomes over the next 10 years, particularly among children and the elderly, unless greater action is taken on climate change. Improved strategies are required to reduce the impact of climate change on health, including a growing incidence heat-related illness and infectious diseases, a report by Doctors for Environment Australia says. The report, released on the eve of World Health Day and titled Climate Change Health Check 2020, was prepared for the Climate Institute and endorsed by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

Newcastle-based GP and co-author of the report Dr Graeme Horton said climate change presented a major challenge for the health system. "Climate change is already a reality in our waiting rooms and surgeries, and is set to be key challenge for our health system over the coming decade," Dr Horton said. "Clearly, climate change will place our health system under increasing stress, and as always the elderly, children and the vulnerable will be hardest hit." Dr Horton said the greatest impact would be felt in rural, regional, remote and indigenous communities.

Some of the impacts on health listed in the report include an increased incidence allergic disease, food poisoning and mosquito-transmitted diseases such as Dengue fever and Ross River virus. There would also likely be increased trauma from extreme weather events such as drought and natural disasters, as well as a large increase in demand for aid from neighbouring countries.

Dr Grant Blashki of the University if Melbourne's Department of General Practice said planning for climate change should be part of every future deliberation on the healthcare needs of the community. "Effective health strategies will require strong collaboration between government, health professionals and the community sector," Dr Blashki said. Future medical workforce planning would need to take account of climate change impacts in areas such as preparing for disasters and supporting communities hit by long-term drought, the doctor said.


'Bullying' high school stops fingerprinting kids

An Australian high school has stopped fingerprinting its children, on receiving a caning from the country’s press. Ku-ring-gai High, in Sydney’s prosperous North Shore, is accused of bullying its charges into scanning their fingerprints for an attendance monitoring system it is trialing.

Under New South Wales rules, parents must be told in advance if their children are to be fingerprinted. Also, schools must not ID children whose parents object by way of a letter of exemption. But Ku-ring-gai interpreted the rules liberally: one parent told The Australian that his daughter “could not leave an exam room until she provided her fingerprint". Another claimed her two children were “intimidated” into getting their fingerprints scanned despite presenting exemption letters.

Ku-ring-gai High may have breached procedural and privacy guidelines, education officials say. But the school could return to fingerprinting, when it gets its house in order, according to local news reports.


Real cost of tariffs aids case for cuts

New evidence that tariffs cost Australians $9.1 billion a year while providing a net benefit to industry of just $1.4 billion will provide a powerful boost to Treasury arguments to wind back protection. The future of tariffs is dividing the Government, with Industry Minister Kim Carr's push for continued support for manufacturers meeting resistance from Wayne Swan and Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner.

The Treasurer backs his department's view that tariffs impose a heavy cost on the economy. But Senator Carr believes tariff protection has an important continuing role, and has bypassed the Productivity Commission in setting up reviews for the motor vehicle and textile industries, as well as support for research and development.

The Productivity Commission's annual report on industry assistance, released yesterday, shows that although Australia's level of tariffs has fallen sharply, it still imposes a heavy burden on the economy. "Assistance to one industry comes at a cost to other industries and to Australians generally," the report says. It found that manufacturing receives about 95 per cent of tariff assistance, with motor vehicle manufacturers receiving $1.4 billion a year. But the commission said that tariffs on imported cars "restricted choice, inflated the price of cars for consumers and added to the costs of the many businesses that use motor vehicles as inputs".

Tariff assistance overall imposes a $7.7 billion annual cost on industries that have to buy goods at higher prices. This is overwhelmingly borne by the services sector, with the construction industry's costs $1.5 billion higher because of tariffs, while retail trade suffers increased costs of $700 million. Tariffs add 10 per cent to the cost of imported motor vehicles, while the rate on imported clothing is 17.5 per cent. Imported shoes, fabric and carpet all carry a 10 per cent tariff.

Kevin Rudd used meetings with European Union leaders in Brussels this week to argue for cuts to European and American subsidies and tariffs protecting their farmers as part of his push to revitalise the Doha round of World Trade Organisation talks.

The Productivity Commission report shows total assistance to industry, including tariffs and direct budget support, rose 9 per cent over the past five years of the Howard government, after allowing for inflation. Direct budget subsidies soared 15 per cent to reach $6.5 billion, the fastest growth in at least 20years. "At a time of budget constraints and skill shortages, we want to be sure that industry assistance has a strong rationale and is providing good payoffs to the community," Productivity Commission chairman Gary Banks told The Australian. "What stands out in these latest numbers is that financial support to industry and firms has gone up by 15 per cent in real terms over five years to June 2007. That is significant."

Direct industry assistance programs are likely to feel the sharp edge of the Government's razor gang. As the minister responsible for finance and deregulation, Mr Tanner is expected to argue against any increase in subsidies to industry or regulatory moves to assist them. It is not known what position Mr Swan took when inquiries into the motor vehicle and textile industries came before cabinet, but both were election promises, so would probably have been ticked off with little debate.

Expectations that these reviews will press for increased assistance were raised on Monday when the discussion paper released by the motor vehicle review, headed by former Victorian premier Steve Bracks, canvassed direct grants to motor vehicle manufacturers and continued tariff assistance. When it last reviewed the motor vehicle industry in 2002, the Productivity Commission found that tariffs added $2800 to the cost of each car sold.

The Productivity Commission said calls for industry assistance needed to be treated carefully. "In addition to its adverse effects on other industries, providing assistance can in itself entail substantial costs - including tax raising, administration and compliance costs." The Productivity Commission said that there were more than 100 separate industry support programs. They have become more important as tariff levels have been reduced. "There has also been considerable 'churn' in the delivery of assistance, particularly budgetary programs, with particular measures frequently being amended, extended or repackaged," the report said. Managing the handouts was also a costly exercise, with the delivery costs for a range of programs averaging 28 per cent of the aid provided, and topping 80 per cent in some cases.

The commission's report revived its earlier criticisms of programs such as the Howard government's Commercial Ready scheme, and cited audit office concerns over the transparency of the Automotive Competitiveness and Investment Scheme.


Time to Stop the Dreaming about Aborigines

By John Stone

I AM NEITHER an anthropologist nor a professional historian specialising in Aboriginal matters. Since however those two categories of people (with, as always, honourable exceptions) bear a heavy responsibility for the tragedy that has gradually unfolded in Australia over the past forty years or so, I wear those deficiencies as a badge of honour.

People have different views about demarcation dates, but in handling Aboriginal issues in Australia there is a clear "break" in policy attitudes in the mid-1960s. This culminated in the ever-since-vaunted 1967 referendum, in which 89.3 per cent of Australians voting (including, as we should, those who spoiled their ballot papers) voted in the affirmative. Although the referendum is usually described by lazy journalists as "giving Aboriginals the vote for the first time in Australia's history", or words to that effect, it did nothing of the kind.

What the referendum chiefly did was to amend s. 51(xxvi) of the Constitution (the "race power"). Originally, that section stated that: "The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to . (xxvi) the people of any race, other than the aboriginal race in any State, for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws." The referendum proposed the deletion of the words I have italicised, so that placitum (xxvi) now simply reads "the people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws". The Commonwealth Parliament is therefore now empowered to enact race-based laws for Aboriginal people (however defined) should it wish to do so. Previously, only the states held such powers. (I say "chiefly" because, in addition, the referendum proposed the repeal of the original s.127 of the Constitution-"Aborigines not to be counted in reckoning population"-which had read as follows: "127. In reckoning the numbers of people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.")

Be that as it may, the referendum's real significance lay in its symbolism. Australians had become increasingly conscious that all was not well with their fellow Australians of Aboriginal descent. They then focused on "real" Aborigines, as distinct from what I might call the pseudo-Aborigines, often claiming Aboriginality for essentially pecuniary purposes, who nowadays have become so prominent in the Aboriginal industry. The referendum, introduced by the Holt government but with Labor's support, gave Australians the opportunity to feel good about themselves. Having luxuriated in the moral vanity of the moment, they then forgot about the issue and, as Mr Rudd now says, "moved on".

Indeed, the more one thinks about the Prime Minister's recent apology, the more it resembles that 1967 event. Both were marked by an upwelling of emotion, a storm of generally uninformed media chatter, an event reverberating for a few weeks, and subsequent failure both then and (I predict) now to address the real problem.

Of course, analogies are treacherous things, and along with these worrying parallels there are also differences between the events of 1967 and last February. The key point, however, is that forty years after that earlier symbolic event, the state of Aboriginal Australia may now in some important respects be even worse.

That judgment may come as a surprise to some. After all, during those forty years untold billions of dollars have been spent, by both Commonwealth and state governments, in seeking to address the real problems of Aboriginal communities, to say nothing of the lesser (but still substantial) sums frittered away on successive symbolic gestures. Moreover, although the results have been, to use a kindly word, disappointing, there has been some improvement in some areas. In a speech in late 2005 the Chairman of the inter-governmental Steering Committee for the Review of Government Services, Gary Banks (who is also Chairman of the Productivity Commission) noted that over the period 1994-2002 the Aboriginal population had shown:

* "a rise in labour force participation . and a decline in unemployment . Moreover, the proportionate improvement [for Aborigines] appears to have exceeded that for the economy as a whole".

* "some improvement in educational engagement at senior secondary and post-school levels . there was a doubling in the proportion of Indigenous people over 15 years in post-secondary education ."

* "a rise in apparent retention rates for Indigenous students in each post-compulsory year of school".

* "a rise in home ownership".

Banks did add that "other headline areas that are central to the wellbeing of Indigenous people . appear to have deteriorated", including increases in reported violence, child protection notifications ("a proxy indicator of child abuse and neglect") and imprisonment rates (especially for women). Given, however, his mildly encouraging (on balance) appraisal, why should I say that the state of Aboriginal Australia today may in some important respects be even worse than it was forty years ago? CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING three points:

Averages: Anyone with any mathematical understanding knows that, while averages are useful, they can also be misleading. For example, when Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein published their monumental study The Bell Curve in 1994, propounding the view that intelligence levels differ among ethnic groups, they were violently attacked as "racists" for suggesting that, inter alia, Afro-Americans are less intelligent than Americans of Jewish descent. They certainly were saying that-among many other things-on average (that is, the bell curve of intelligence quotient distribution for the former group was centred somewhat to the left of its counterpart for the latter group). However, this was fully consistent with the fact that many Afro-Americans (on the right-hand side of their bell curve) are in fact more intelligent than many Jewish Americans (on the left-hand side of their bell curve).

Because averages-such as those suggesting that many aspects of Aboriginal Australia have shown improvement-can be misleading, we should enquire whether they may conceal real problems even as they reveal real progress.

"Aboriginality": One reason for that possibility lies in the definition of the statistical "population" being examined. In Australia today we badly need a publicly acceptable definition of "Aboriginality"-that is, a definition of who can legitimately claim to be Aboriginal-which allows us to focus on the real problem areas. The truth is-although the political-correctness thought police will vigorously pursue anyone who states it-that a high proportion of those self-identifying today as "Aboriginal" is of widely mixed genetic origin, has little (or in many cases no) connection with its distant Aboriginal forebears, and so on. Even the Native Title Act 1993, which deals with a form of property right and would therefore, one might expect, define precisely those persons eligible to claim such rights, ducks the issue-saying merely that "Aboriginal peoples means peoples of the Aboriginal race of Australia". Even this non-definition is buried away in Division 4 of Part 15 of the Act under "Sundry definitions". (The definition of "Torres Strait Islander" is equally unhelpful: "Torres Strait Islander means a descendant of an indigenous inhabitant of the Torres Strait Islands").

The proportion of "pseudo-Aborigines", within the total "Aboriginal" population as enumerated, has for some time now been rising. The Commonwealth Statistician, in his census documents and related publications (in particular, The Health and Welfare of Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples) makes persistent reference to this point-saying, for example, that "estimating the size and composition of the Indigenous population is difficult for a range of reasons". Chief among those estimation difficulties is the increasing tendency for Australians having some degree of Aboriginal ancestry to identify themselves as "Aboriginal". As the Statistician notes, today the working definition states that "an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which he lives". However, "the definitions used in statistical collections generally focus on descent and/or self-identification".

Prior to 1967, identification as "Aboriginal" for census purposes was restricted to people of more than 50 per cent Aboriginal descent. Even those with one full-blood Aboriginal parent were therefore not regarded as Aboriginal unless the other parent also possessed some degree of Aboriginal ancestry. (This meant that they were counted in the census rather than excluded.) While that was clearly a highly restrictive definition, the pendulum has now swung to the opposite extreme. As a result, "there have often been substantial intercensal changes in the counts of Indigenous people which cannot be fully explained by natural increase". Between the 1991 and 1996 censuses "the number of people counted as Indigenous . increased by 33 per cent", only 53 per cent of which increase could be explained by known causes such as natural increase. Thus, what the Statistician terms "the extraordinary increase in the number of Indigenous people over the last two censuses" (1996 and 2001) appears mainly "to stem from changes in personal attitudes to Indigenous self-identification in some people of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander descent".

These developments go to the heart of my claim above that the averages we are looking at may be misleading, and perhaps seriously so. The Johnny-come-lately additions to "Aboriginality" are, without much doubt, coming from higher socio-economic strata than those previously so classified. In most cases (though not all) they have better educational qualifications, live in better housing, possess more trade skills, and enjoy, on average, better health (including better access to medical and hospital facilities that, for example, result in lower infant mortality). The more such people add themselves, for whatever reason, to "Aboriginal" ranks, the more those ranks' average standards in education, housing, skills, infant mortality and so on will, mathematically speaking, improve. Yet this can all be happening at a time when few or none of those indicators may have been improving among people more genuinely describable as Aboriginals.

I predict, incidentally, that this particular phenomenon will now increase further. Since the Rudd government took what was widely described as "the first step", the compensation crowd has begun swarming out of the bunkers within which, pending delivery of that apology, it had been lying doggo. The greater the incentives to become "Aboriginal", the more "Aborigines" we shall have. Already there are press reports of lawyers in Perth preparing "to launch a 1000-strong claim in the Western Australian and Northern Territory Supreme Courts".

A related pointer to the state of the real Aboriginal Australia is derived from looking at the geographic location of our "Aboriginal" population. Over the years, more and more of those enumerated are to be found living either in our major cities (31 per cent at the time of the 2006 census), inner regional areas (22 per cent) or outer regional areas (23 per cent). These people, particularly those living in our major cities or inner regional areas, have much better access to jobs and to services of all kinds (schools, technical training colleges, universities, doctors, hospitals, charitable services). The others (24 per cent in 2006), who live in either "remote" (8 per cent) or "very remote" (16 per cent) communities, lack not only job opportunities but also comparable access to services. In these groups, I suggest, the situation today is no better, and may be even worse, than it was forty years ago.

"Aboriginal" Distribution: In the mid-1960s, Paul Hasluck ceased to be Minister for the Interior, and governmental policies towards Aborigines increasingly began to fall into the hands of the academic Left-including, most notoriously, the anthropologists, but also such notables as the late H.C. ("Nugget") Coombs. The Aboriginal population, as enumerated in the 1966 census, was a mere 102,000. (Note however that the census count of the Aboriginal population in 1966 was seriously deficient; the Statistician has subsequently estimated a minimum figure for 1966 of 132,219-that is, almost 30 per cent greater).

Since, as noted earlier, to be counted then as Aboriginal required you had to be of more than half Aboriginal ancestry, it is a fair bet that most of these people lived in remote (including very remote) areas of Australia. There were then very few handouts to be had from governments by identifying oneself as "Aboriginal", so the later wave of free-loaders had not yet begun to build.

At the 2006 census, in contrast, there were 1187 discrete Aboriginal "communities" with a total population of 92,960 (about 18 per cent of Australia's then more widely defined "Aboriginal" population). Of these, 865 communities contained fewer than fifty persons. Of the other 322, 215 contained fewer than 200 persons. Of the smaller communities, the great majority constituted the so-called "outstations" or "homelands", most of them in the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia.

The Howard government's dramatic intervention in handling Northern Territory Aboriginal issues last year, at the initiative of the then Minister for Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Mal Brough, was facilitated by its constitutional powers over the Territory. It was of course sparked by the damning report into the prevalence of child sexual abuse in the Territory, Little Children are Sacred, and the lack of any effective response from the Northern Territory government. I suggest that it is no accident that the outrages in question were being perpetrated so widely in a region where the "outstation" and "homelands" communities are so comparatively prevalent, and where even the government settlements are rife with the inter-tribal animosities that characterise the real Aboriginal Australia.

WHEREAS FROM THE OUTSET of his prime ministership John Howard insisted on the need to focus on practical issues rather than the distorted symbolism of the past, his successor has begun by focusing on the latter. However, his extraordinary "Apology" behind him, what can we now expect from him and his government? To answer that question we might first turn back to that "Apology". Without going into detail, consider the following few aspects.

The statement fully accepts, without question, the tissue of lies, half-truths and evasions that constituted the Bringing Them Home report. Yet in the only serious case arising from that document to have come before the courts, the carefully selected plaintiffs were found not only to have no case, but also-not to put too fine a point on it-not to be witnesses of truth.

The statement also parades, as fact, one untruth after another. For example, "between 1910 and 1970, between 10 and 30 per cent of Indigenous children were forcibly taken from their mothers and fathers". In fact, while some children were "forcibly taken" by welfare officers-almost always to protect them from the likely dreadful consequences if they were not-a great many were voluntarily handed over by their mothers (or sometimes, as in Lowitja O'Donohue's case, their fathers). This was in order that they might have a better chance of staying alive, receiving an education and enjoying a better future (as in her case). This massive lie, now publicly sponsored by no less than our Prime Minister, will now be recycled over and over again with the stamp of his authority upon it. And there are numerous other equally reprehensible examples.

Even more important, however, is Mr Rudd's statement that, "Symbolism is important, but unless the great symbolism of reconciliation is accompanied by an even greater substance, it is little more than a clanging gong" (emphasis added). Just so; and as they listened to these words, the compensation crowd must have been hugging themselves.

Mr Rudd, no doubt, will say that his words referred not to "compensation", but to his later promises to "close the gap" between Aboriginal Australia and the rest of us in such areas as life expectancy, educational attainments and so on. But these objectives, however desirable they may be, are in themselves no argument against the claims for compensation. To state the matter squarely, if Aboriginal children, however defined, were in fact treated as Mr Rudd now believes (or says he believes) they were, then clearly they, and to a lesser extent their children, do have a just claim against the governments responsible. You can't have it both ways. If you accept a lying report, fabricated from start to finish, as a document of truth, then you must accept the consequences. Those consequences will be both legal ones, on which the compensation industry will now be founded, and the historical one, on which, from the mouth of its own prime minister, Australia now stands shamed before the world.

So in short, we can now expect two things: a ramping-up of the compensation industry, and a flurry of activity directed towards "closing the gap".

More here

1 comment:

Anonymousterry said...

Excellent Post! Isn't it amazing how so called modern, well educated politicians and others become enamoured of the 'snake oil salesman'. Terry