Friday, January 22, 2010

Call for action

The Greens have indicated that they may do a deal with the Labor Party on the Emissions Trading Scheme. If they vote with the Government in the Senate, Labor needs another two votes to pass the legislation.

There is a rumour about that Senator Boyce (Liberal QLD) intends to support the Rudd Government's ETS legislation when it is re-submitted to the Senate. If you are a Queenslander (or even if you're not?), you may consider contacting the Senator to express your opinion.

Keep the pressure up .... politicians only respond when they think the may lose a few votes. Boyce's email address:

There is a Victorian Senator, Judith Troeth, who is also wavering ... her email address:

Green rise in power, fuel costs

VICTORIANS could face higher electricity and petrol prices from July 1 if the Rudd Government adopts a carbon tax proposal by the Greens to break the climate change policy deadlock. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said he would examine the idea and was open to discussions with all parties.

The Greens called for a $23-a-tonne carbon tax to be introduced for two years. The temporary tax would raise $10 billion a year, of which $5 billion would be paid as compensation to low and middle-income households to shelter them from higher electricity and energy prices.

Industry and small business would get about $2 billion in assistance with $1.2 billion given to help poor countries deal with climate change.

Unlike the Government's plan, petrol would be hit by the tax and it could add about 5c a litre at the pump. Electricity generators would also miss out on compensation, but farming will be excluded.

The plan aims to put the Greens back into the national debate about climate change, after they were effectively sidelined by the Rudd Government last year as it sought to strike a deal with the Coalition's former leader Malcolm Turnbull.

Greens leader Bob Brown said it was urgent and essential that a deal be struck in the short term, to begin the quest to reduce climate change, while a proper plan was worked out for the longer term. "Our job is to help get the climate change bus going again," Senator Brown said.

Mr Rudd's carbon pollution reduction scheme was blocked by the Senate last year. It faces defeat again when Parliament resumes.


Australian health bureaucrats think they know better than the doctors

EXCESSIVELY strict interpretation of rules governing the prescription of human growth hormone is compromising the care of children with medical conditions that make them abnormally short, specialists say.

The doctors say officials are rejecting legitimate applications to put children on the program, and restricting others to doses too low to be effective, after changes at the Department of Health and Ageing that have made new staff reluctant to continue a tradition of informal agreement over who should qualify and instead insist on the letter of the rules.

They want the department to update its regulations based on new research showing larger doses should be given early in a child's treatment for maximum effectiveness, and to consider research suggesting it is useful in a wider range of disorders.

But the department has made a submission to the independent Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, which sets rules for subsidised treatment, arguing for more tightly defined eligibility and dosage criteria.

The Australian Paediatric Endocrine Group had made a submission arguing for more liberal prescribing, its president, Andrew Cotterill, said.

Dr Cotterill said he understood the department's dilemma, but he wanted "to work … to develop a process that is gentler around the hard edges". The prescribing system had previously worked as a "gentlemen's agreement" in which public servants usually accepted specialists' advice that patients needed the drug if they fell marginally outside the criteria. But the approach had toughened and more applications were being rejected. "The current medical literature is pointing towards the first year of treatment [offering] the best chance of a response," Dr Cotterill said, meaning children should be moved quickly towards the maximum dose if they did not respond to lower doses. But the rules say the dose should be increased slowly.

Growth hormone is prescribed to about 1500 children a year, costing typically $5000 to $10,000 a patient. More than half goes to those whose failure to grow has no known cause - but only if they are in the lowest 1 per cent of the expected height range based on their parents' statures. Other reasons include the genetic Turner syndrome, which affects only girls, cancer radiotherapy to the head, and kidney failure, along with hormone deficiency resulting from biochemical imbalance.

A Sydney endocrinologist, Maria Craig, said officials were "reading the guidelines very literally and overriding clinical experience … So much has to be taken in the context of a child's age, ethnic background, bone age, and [stage of puberty]. To have guidelines that are overly prescriptive just doesn't make sense." Dr Craig said the official dosing regime when a child started on the hormone was already conservative, offering "one of the lowest doses by global standards".

The chairman of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee, Lloyd Sansom, said a special meeting in December had discussed how the hormone might be used to treat chromosomal abnormalities and other disorders and "certain issues about dose escalation". He said the process was intended to set general terms for public subsidy and recommendations had been sent to the federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon. A separate committee of specialised doctors could advise government on individual cases, but it was the Health Department's prerogative to make the final funding decision. "There is a limited health dollar, and decisions have to be made that can sometimes seem draconian," Professor Sansom said.


Leftist feels uncomfortable with Australian patriotism

He is quite horrified that we celebrate our national day (Jan 26th) with some enthusiasm. See below. He wants us to make the day "silly". The old leftist propaganda about internationalism and multiculturalism is beginning to wear off. Australia has got a lot to celebrate but a miserable Leftist sees only faults. How odd that the whine appears on the site of Australia's "national" broadcaster

Long before it came to symbolise some sort of football, meat pies, kangaroos and Sam Kekovich view of aggressively asserted Australianism, January 26 traditionally marked nothing more than the sunny end of the silly season: that moment when working Australia shook the sand out of its togs and dragged its bronzed and rested form back to work. After Australia Day, the Year Proper could begin.

That was a concept of the national day we could all agree with, a simple, innocuous, seasonal marker. It would be impossible this time next week, for example, for the Victorian premier to announce that he has just appointed a Minister for The Respect Agenda. If he does it this week we know he's just being silly. If he did it next week we'd seriously have to fear for his sanity. But between silly seasons, some time back, something happened to Australia Day.

It was at about the same time that inane and tuneless chants of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie" began to ring beerily from the sporting terraces; about the same time that the Australian flag began to take on a subtly shifting significance beyond a merely formal drape of bright bunting. About the same time that Anzac Day, once a quietly reverential and nostalgic gathering of old soldiers, was appropriated to the greater cause of Nation Building and Aussie Pride. About the time people started tattooing the Southern Cross on their shoulder blades, chests and ankles.

Every year of late we've had a similar discussion round Australia Day, wondering whether it was an occasion that was truly inclusive. It is, obviously, a particularly sensitive spot on the calendar for indigenous Australians. It marks -- and I offer this information for the young people reading who have been betrayed by an education system that long ago consigned even the rudiments of history to, ah, history - Australia Day marks the moment the first governor of NSW pulled up in a jolly boat somewhere near the end of the third runway at Sydney airport, raised a flag and began the random discharge of firearms. Sheep, binge drinking and urban sprawl would follow.

Black Australians trace a certain amount of dispossession and misery to this moment, and that is where the "is this a day for all Australians?" conversation has traditionally settled. That point still holds, of course, Australia Day for Aboriginal Australians is a day of invasion, the beginning of a slow, cruel conquest.

These days though, Australia Day is leaving a lot of the rest of us, black white and brindle, behind as well. For most of my life expressions of national pride were seen as gauche and unfortunate embarrassments. We used to look at the rampant flag waving of Americans and raise a sardonic eyebrow. We'd happily admit to our Australianism but in a quietly understated way.

That's no longer the fashion for many in our community, no longer the fashion in particular among that vocal, demanding common denominator who seem to be the trend setting cohort in our culture, the populist mass whose fickle political preferences and aggressive self assertion make them the target market in much of the national discussion.

It has to be said that they are leaving a lot of us cold, and behind. The politicians pander, through self interest, to the flag wavers and star tattooers leaving a big chunk of the rest of us to wonder what happened to this place that it is suddenly so sure of itself, suddenly so chest thrusting, flag draped and proud.

For a lot of Australians the country's meek sense of quiet confidence has long been its greatest charm. For a lot of us national pride is the most empty sort of boast. A lot of us resent the subtle pressure to join the collective heave of Aussie, Aussie, Aussie. A lot of us would like to see Australia Day slip back into something quieter and gently daggy. Stop taking it seriously. Make it silly again.


Heeding the political lessons of Glaciergate

Governments must constantly question the science, says the editorial below from "The Australian". Pleasing to welcome the editors of Australia's national daily to the ranks of the climate skeptics

THE UN's admissions on Glaciergate are welcome, but the international body has sustained damage from its sloppiness in reporting climate change data. Its claim to speak as the authority on climate science is reduced now that its Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been forced to back down over a claim that some Himalayan glaciers would probably disappear by 2035.

The IPCC's statement yesterday that the "clear and well-established standards of evidence" had not been properly applied to the claim, is an attempt to put the best possible spin on a blunder that has reverberated around the world since it was revealed last weekend. In fact Glaciergate, in large part, is about an extraordinary reliance on a third-hand source - a news story published in New Scientist almost a decade before it was included in the IPCC's fourth assessment report of 2007.

It doesn't get much more humiliating than that for a body that has positioned itself as the global scientific authority on climate change.

Until now, that authority has been acknowledged, with the 2007 report accepted as the underlying framework for discussions at the recent Copenhagen summit. While the limits of the report and the IPCC's processes have been noted, developing and developed countries alike recognise the need for some sort of consensus document if there are to be any workable solutions negotiated at a global level.

That willingness to accept the IPCC's data on climate change - albeit with reservations at times - will be tested now that its reporting methods have been revealed. This is not good news for the planet, given the need for reliable and credible assessments of scientific data on global warming. Also unhelpful is the defensive stance adopted by the IPCC when it argues that the error does not undermine the report's claims of major glacier loss in the Himalayas.

Chairman Rajendra Pachauri would have us believe this is a case of "slipping up on one number", thus ignoring what the error reveals about the culture of the IPCC, a culture that allowed it to rely on a statement from a WWF environmental campaigning document, which in turn relied on the New Scientist interview with a single scientist. The problem was apparently compounded by the inversion of a date in an earlier paper.

Part of the problem is the IPCC's diffuse and complex system of working groups and review processes. While this may be the only practical way of synthesising thousands of research findings from around the globe into an accessible document for world leaders, the modus operandi builds in significant room for error.

As we have noted before, that is fair enough so long as the shortcomings are recognised by policy-makers. But politicians prefer certainties - not caveats - when they make the case for action on climate change to voters.

The real lesson is that our political leaders must continue to question, probe and analyse the evidence before committing to policies with profound consequences. This is not about letting the IPCC off the hook. Nor is is about denying the science. It is about applying a healthy degree of scepticism to scientific claims that drive policy.


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