Thursday, December 03, 2009

New conservative alignment in Australian Federal politics

NATIONALS Senate leader Barnaby Joyce has agreed to serve on Tony Abbott's front bench as part of a new political partnership both hope will yield a 2010 election victory. Senator Joyce's agreement to join Mr Abbott's inner circle yesterday came in stark contrast to his previous refusal to serve Malcolm Turnbull so he would remain free to criticise Liberal Party policy.

It also came as Senator Joyce told The Australian he felt liberated by Mr Abbott's victory and his endorsement of the Nationals' long-argued rejection of Kevin Rudd's emissions trading scheme. "It's just a tax," Senator Joyce said. "We've been saying it for months and now everyone is saying it."

Senator Joyce has become a popular figure among conservatives since his election as a senator for Queensland in 2004, largely because of a straight style of speaking and his preparedness to put his loyalty to the Nationals ahead of the Coalition.

After becoming the party's Senate leader last year, he refused Mr Turnbull's offer of a frontbench position, rejecting the bonds of frontbencher solidarity and reserving his right to oppose the Liberals on issues of concern to rural and regional Australia. However, sources confirmed last night that Senator Joyce had agreed to take a shadow portfolio under Mr Abbott, convinced the new Liberal leader's conservative views would be unlikely to differ substantially from his own.

Earlier yesterday, in an interview in which he would not comment on his frontbench prospects, Senator Joyce invoked his experience as an accountant when explaining why Australia should not adopt an ETS or any other new tax. "I've seen the tears and the terror in people's eyes when they go broke when they are basically turfed out on their backsides because they've got the finances wrong," he said. "Countries should also not get the finances wrong."

Senator Joyce said the country had $115 billion in federal debt courtesy of Rudd government economic stimulus spending and was now about to face "the uncomfortable part of the paradigm" as the debts fell due. "It's not a great time to start rejigging the economy in such a fashion that you can't even service the debt," he said. "We are in a spot of bother. But we don't realise it yet because the demands of repaying the money have not become prevalent in the economy."

He said the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme was a tax on carbon and would destroy the coal industry, the biggest export in his home state. "What are you going to do when you decide that our major export is no longer our major export? What are you going to replace it with?" Senator Joyce said.

He also said Mr Turnbull's backing for Mr Rudd's CPRS had lulled the Prime Minister into the flawed view that most Australians had backed his climate change plans. If fact, rural and regional Australians hated the CPRS. Senator Joyce said Mr Abbott was popular in his community, particularly among men, who saw him as "fair dinkum" [genuine]"


Conservative leader's real trouble is with the sisterhood, not women in general

Apparently, Tony Abbott has woman trouble. Despite the fact he has three daughters, a wife, two sisters and a mother who adore him, the popular perception of the new Opposition Leader is that women can't stand his blokeish, confrontational style.

In just about every interview since he was elected to the Liberal leadership on Tuesday, he has been asked about his lack of appeal to the fairer sex. Kerry O'Brien on The 7.30 Report asked: "Coming back to that hardline image of yours, for a lot of women, you're not exactly a pin-up boy, are you, as a political leader?"

On A Current Affair, Tracy Grimshaw gave him a hard time about contraception, abortion and making divorce harder to get. The Business Spectator e-zine claimed: "Abbott's aggressive approach will do little to sway the female vote at the next election . . . a significant number of women only see an arrogant hardliner . . . it's not surprising that young women are loath to support him."

Women journalists across the country railed to each other that Abbott was "the devil". The female twitterverse was almost universally condemnatory. Former Cleo editor Mia Freedman's attitude was typical: "Oh, Tony Abbott also anti-IVF," she tweeted. "Seems like his Speedos are the least reprehensible of his crimes against women." The ex-Dolly editor Marina Go tweeted: "I would rather eat my first born than vote for Abbott . . . what concerns me most [is] his anti-free choice views . . . [Tweetfems are] outraged that a man with Abbott's beliefs could possibly head up a major political party in Australia in 2009."

Yet, as Abbott pointed out to Grimshaw, polls shows his women problem is a myth. "The last poll showed me somewhat more popular among women than men," he said. "People will make judgments based on what they see now, not some caricature they heard some years ago."

A Newspoll taken last week shows, while Abbott's overall popularity is low compared with Joe Hockey, there is no significant gender gap: Abbott had a 19 per cent following among women, and 18 per cent among men.

And when it came down to a choice between Abbott and his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull, whose appeal to women went unquestioned, guess who was the clear front runner, especially among young females? Abbott was more popular with women at 41 per cent, compared with Turnbull's 39 per cent. For women aged 18 to 34, Abbott picked up 43 per cent, compared with Turnbull's 35 per cent.

One female Coalition MP, an Abbott fan, said yesterday that support for him in the party room this week was "gender neutral". "Tony's the quintessential Australian bloke . . . but he's matured a lot. In the end people will judge Tony for his ideas as a conviction politician."

The fact is, Abbott's so-called woman trouble is with a particular subset of female - the aggressively secular, paleo-feminist, emasculating Australian broad, for whom unabashed red-blooded blokeishness is an affront of biblical proportions. They are unrepresentative of women, and disproportionately influential, because they either work in the media or politics or have high-profile, heavily networked careers, which mean they are quoted in the media, and their opinions sought after.

For them, abortion on demand, no matter what the circumstances, is a bedrock article of faith. This is the essence of their visceral, red-fanged rage against him. They hold firm to an outdated, 1970s view of feminism that requires unquestioning belief in abortion as a social good.

Abbott's pronouncements on abortion in the past have been considered, mild and unthreatening to the legal status of the procedure, but to paleo-feminists, the fact that he is a male practising Catholic who dares to express his private beliefs is secular apostasy punishable by social and political death. His actual words are unobjectionable. In his book Battlelines, he wrote he "never supported any move to recriminalise abortion, because that would have stigmatised millions of Australian women". "Every abortion is a tragedy and up to 100,000 abortions a year is this generation's legacy of unutterable shame," he said in 2006.

Two years earlier, he honestly grappled with a taboo subject that affects the Christian majority of Parliament, including the ostentatiously Anglican (formerly Catholic) Kevin Rudd, in a speech. "Even those who think that abortion is a woman's right should be troubled by the fact that 100,000 Australian women choose to destroy their unborn babies every year . . . I fear there is no satisfactory answer to this question . . . Governments can't legislate for virtue but shouldn't be indifferent to it either."

This led to protesters hurling themselves at him, wearing T-shirts with slogans such as "Get your rosaries off my ovaries". But he was echoing the feelings of many people, whose opinions have been suppressed as successfully as in any totalitarian state. Polls have found Australian support of abortion on demand vacillating between about 53 and 61 per cent for 20 years, according to the 2007 Australian Election Study by Australian National University and Deakin University researchers.

But drill down and attitudes are more nuanced. A 2006 poll commissioned by the Australian Federation of Right to Life Associations found, similarly, that 60 per cent of Australians support abortion on demand. But it found just 39 per cent support abortion for financial or social (non-medical) reasons; just 20 per cent agree with partial birth abortion; 54 per cent believe abortion involves the taking of a human life; and 57 per cent believe a 20-week-old foetus is a person with human rights.

And, reflecting the change Abbott introduced as health minister, to fund a pregnancy support national phone counselling service, 95 per cent of those polled agreed women should receive free independent counselling before abortion. The extremist viewpoint is not Abbott's but that of abortion fundamentalists posing as feminists who are his most strident critics.


Climate sceptics triumphant in Australian conservative politics

At the recent United Nations climate summit in New York, Barack Obama told his fellow leaders that "the threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent and it is growing". The Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, calls the threat "catastrophic", the French President, Nicolas Sarkozy, believes addressing it is "crucial for the future of mankind".

Just months ago Tony Abbott described the same threat as "absolute crap". Yesterday the new Liberal leader backpedalled just a little by saying his words were "hyberbole" for debate. "I think that climate change is real and I think that man does make a contribution," he said, before adding the great qualification of sceptics: "There is an argument first as to how great that contribution is, and second, over what should be done about it."

There is no argument that Abbott's leadership marks the triumphant return of the climate sceptics to the top of the federal Liberal Party. Just last month Abbott attacked as "climate change alarmists" those scientists who worked on the peak UN scientific advisory body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and who are warning about the threat from climate change.

Abbott described them on Four Corners as "the people who will tell you as if it's as obvious as night following day that we have a huge problem and that unless we dramatically change the way we live, life as we know it will be under massive threat. As I said, there's an evangelical fervour about those people which you don't normally associate with scientists".

As a member of Malcolm Turnbull's shadow cabinet Abbott cheerfully championed the work of the prominent Australian climate sceptic Professor Ian Plimer. "I think that in response to the IPCC alarmist - ah, in inverted commas - view, there've been quite a lot of other reputable scientific voices. Now not everyone agrees with Ian Plimer's position, but he is a highly credible scientist and he has written what seems like a very well-argued book refuting most of the claims of the climate catastrophists." His remarks were a direct challenge to Turnbull, who had warned that he could not lead a party that did not take climate change seriously.

A decade ago, the Liberal Party's climate sceptics, backed by some of the world's big minerals and energy companies, fought an epic battle inside the Howard government to stop Australia taking action on climate change, ratifying the Kyoto Protocol or passing an emissions trading scheme. With the substantial support from the then Western Mining boss, Hugh Morgan, and successive heads of Rio Tinto, the sceptics quashed Howard's first environment minister, Robert Hill, who had endorsed Kyoto.

The Kyoto fight was lost on World Environment Day 2002, when Howard backed the sceptics. By then, Hill had been replaced by David Kemp, a vocal sceptic of the science on climate change. Only when Howard was under huge electoral pressure before the 2007 election did he moderate his own sceptical views, appoint Turnbull as his environment minister and promise an emissions trading scheme.

Last week Turnbull, at the death knell of his short leadership of the Liberal Party, had no doubt the sceptics inside the party were again fighting to regain control. "The people that have sought to tear me down do not even believe in the policies we took to the last election," he said bluntly. "They basically believe or regard John Howard as being too green. They don't believe in climate change, they don't think we should take any action on climate change."


Woman sues over flesh-eating bug horror

Negligent government hospital

A QUEENSLAND woman has told of her long and arduous battle against a rare flesh-eating bug infection after it was allegedly misdiagnosed by hospital staff. With what began as a superficial graze, Tracey, who does not wish to use her last name, could have lost a leg, even her life, to the gruesome bug, The Courier-Mail reports.

The legacy of the episode is a rough, colourless patchwork spreading from her left foot to above the knee. Those extensive skin grafts followed 12 rapid-fire operations to "debride" or cut away ravaged soft tissue as the rare necrotising fasciitis bacteria advanced into and up her leg.

Targeted also by powerful antibiotics, the infection finally gave up at the back of Tracey's thigh. By then, surgeons had stripped her limb to virtually bone and muscle. "It looked like a chicken leg," she says.

Yet much of her suffering, Tracey is convinced, would have been averted but for an alleged string of systemic blunders at Gympie Hospital. The 46-year-old claims the "attention" she received included:

* Being sent home from the emergency department with headache tablets.

* Returning to the hospital and writhing in a casualty bay, her screams for help ignored by the staff on duty.

* Repeated instances of non or wrong diagnosis.

* Nurses regularly forgetting to re-connect her antibiotic drip.

* An ambulance transfer to Brisbane without her husband being informed.

"They were just so wrong in how they treated me," Tracey says. "I can't believe how bad the health system is in Queensland. It's disgusting."

Tracey is suing the State Government for medical negligence over what her lawyer, Olamide Kowalik, of Trilby Misso, describes as "a sequence of bungles (that) almost cost her life". The avalanche of toxins discharged by necrotising fasciitis not only destroys flesh but shuts down organs. Tracey's daughter Jayde, 23, says fob-offs and delays at Gympie Hospital took her mother to the brink of kidney and liver failure.

However, it was a nightmare out of nowhere, erupting early last year from a simple scratch near Tracey's ankle. "I was walking up my wooden stairs and fell against them," says Tracey of Amamoor-Dagun, in Gympie's Mary Valley region. "I had a normal graze that was really small. It bled but wasn't deep."

Two days later, on Friday, February 22, Tracey felt the first twinge. "I was limping, and I thought 'that was a bit strange', then went to bed," she recalls. "About one o'clock on Saturday morning, I was in severe pain. My husband, Gary, took me to hospital." Tracey says she was seen by a nurse and a doctor in emergency. "They gave me four (paracetamol-codeine) tablets and a script for anti-biotics and sent me home," she says.

"I spent most the of the day lying down. But the pain had got so bad, I remember just yelling at my husband to make it stop. My foot was swollen now, with a purple rash and a few blisters." Early Sunday, Tracey went back to the hospital where she was given a shot of morphine and a vague diagnosis of "infection". Eventually she was again directed to go home.

But on Monday morning, she staggered to her GP, who immediately arranged for Tracey's admission to hospital. "By this stage, Mum's leg literally looked gangrenous," Jayde says. Still, Tracey was forced to wait more than five hours in an emergency department cubicle for a bed to become available.

"They tried to get a drip in my hand seven times," Tracey says. "Nurses tried, doctors tried . . . in the end they got someone from pathology who just did it instantly."

The next day, recalls Jayde, her mother's leg had grotesquely transformed. "The entire calf muscle was one huge blister," she says. "Mum looked like absolute death but all the nurses kept saying to me was that they didn't know what it was. I thought they were going to have to chop her leg off because it just looked rotten."

Jayde says she pressed a doctor for a diagnosis. "But it wasn't necrotising fasciitis," she asserts.

Nurses from other sections of the hospital appeared at her mother's bedside. "Not to see how she was," Jayde says. "Like a sideshow at a circus, they said they had come to see the 'lady with the big blister'."

Tracey's terror, confusion and isolation converged with her overnight transfer to Royal Brisbane Hospital. She claims nobody from Gympie Hospital bothered to let her husband know she was leaving. Tracey says she can't speak highly enough of her swift diagnosis and treatment at Royal Brisbane. She spent three months there, and another three months learning to walk again in a state-run rehabilitative unit.

Necrotising fasciitis, left alone, kills seven out of 10 victims within days. As uncommon as it is, reported cases have increased around the world in the past five years. The bacteria may be carried unwittingly on a person and introduced to the body through an abrasion or cut.

Queensland Health would not comment on the case but Tracey says she has not had an apology and will not hear of excuses. "If they at Gympie Hospital didn't know what the hell it was, why didn't they contact someone who did?" she says. "If they'd got on to it sooner, my leg wouldn't have been this bad. "I get depressed. I get anxiety. Sometimes, I get the feeling that I just don't want to be here any more."


No comments: