Monday, March 14, 2011

Too much censorship

By Terry Sweetman

Sometimes I wonder how our kids survived until preschool, let alone to the age when they can treat me with fond disdain. They lived with an unfenced swimming pools, were surrounded by toxic household chemicals and were pretty much encouraged to read whatever they liked. The only restrictions in their TV viewing were the clock and their mothers view that indoors was an unnatural place for children while the sun was still up.

Their survival owed more to the occasional rap across the knuckles than the sort of safety devices that make houses and pill bottles no-go zones for the ageing and arthritic. Why do so many people think that life comes with inbuilt guarantees and that everyone else should share their parental burdens? Just how far can we push the care factor? We must have just about reached the limit with the proposal to make parental locks mandatory on digital TVs and set-top boxes. Let the kids watch moronic and oxymoronic reality shows but cover their little ears when it comes to street talk.

Seriously, do I have a problem with parents controlling what their kids watch? Not at all; I think it is their right and their responsibility. However, a little part of me worries that mandatory censorship devices should be imposed by the out-of-control Australian Communications and Media Authority. It, you might recall, is the body that has drawn up a secretive black list of what you can’t see or read on the internet and is immune from objection or appeal.

When it comes to TV, parents might control the set-top box, but they won't control the classifications it recognises. That’s the job of the Classification Board, which is undergoing a review in the light of what the Goverment calls changes in technology, media convergence and the global availability of media content.

It seems a short step from classifications being a guide to being a censorship gate. And the authority has called for submissions from the public on whether there should be any exemptions to the child-lock plan.

We’re not debating whether there should be compulsory locks. We’re reversing the onus of responsibility and asking who and what should be exempt. The authority has spoken.

If parents want childlocks on their idiot boxes, they should be available to them and they should pay for them. Yet why should they be compulsory for the rest of us even if we don’t want them and don't use them? I already have to put up with a nuisance child lock on the washing machine, so what next? Mandatory kiddie blockers on my detergent cupboard?

TV locks are probably not a big deal in themselves. The problem is that they represent a mindset that it builds a false sense of security, the idea that you can turn your back thinking your kids can’t get into the cleaning cupboard or the adult time slots.

The problem with Nanny State is that too many parents want to hand over their kids to her. And they want to blame her for what happens when their backs are turned. Teenagers running amok? Give the cops more power to kick them in the bum. Out of control? Blame it on the schools and teachers. Scoring zero in exams? Get a doctor to diagnose an alphabetical condition and pill them to the eyeballs. Kids watching nudity and listening to four-letter words on TV? Get the govemment to help regulate their viewing.

Never mind parental guidance in developing critical viewing habits. Just push a button. I have to wonder whether TV child locks are a comfort or a cop-out.

The above article appeared in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 13 March

Another dangerous failure of government health insurance

$56 billion for an unwanted broadband network but no money for proper cancer screening?

Radiology laboratories are failing to identify cancer in patients because a 13-year freeze on Medicare rebates has reduced the role of specialists and left Australia with outdated equipment, radiologists claim.

The Gillard government is under pressure to spend $820 million raising Medicare rebates for radiology scans in the federal budget, with an Access Economics study showing the costs of providing a scan now exceed the Medicare rebate by an average of $53.

More than 20,000 patients have sent letters to Health Minister Nicola Roxon urging that rebates be increased as they struggle with average out-of-pocket expenses of $77 for X-rays, CT scans and MRIs.

Melbourne radiologist Alain Lavoipierre said financial restraints on radiology laboratories and their staff and equipment were now so severe that cancer diagnoses were being missed.

A kidney cancer patient referred to him had used a bulk-billing radiology clinic that three times failed to pick up his developing kidney cancer and the cancer eventually spread to his lymph nodes and chest. "For bulk-billing practices, the only way they can survive is to increase their throughput, do more to keep their heads above water, and the quality of the service is declining," he said.

Some radiology clinics no longer had radiologists at their satellite centres so they could not arrange further examinations immediately, he said.

The Australian Diagnostic Imaging Association said rebates for X-rays, CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging and PET scans had not increased since 1998.

The Medicare rebate for a lumbar spine X-ray was $69 in 1998 and $65 today; the rebate for a CT of the brain was $171 in 1998 and $165 now; the rebate for an MRI of the head was $424 in 1998 and $342 today.

Access Economics says the freeze on rebates will reduce patients' access to services as some radiology clinics, especially those in regional areas, are forced to close, and patients will pay increasingly higher gap fees.

It also warns that underfunding will affect the quality of care by forcing practices to economise "excessively on the input of professional radiologists" and abandon investment in new equipment.

Out-of-pocket expenses are hitting the sickest cancer patients because specialists are more likely to ask them to use higher-quality labs that do not bulk bill. Medicare rebates for radiology that is bulk-billed was last increased by 10 per cent in 2009.

Pressure over radiology comes as Ms Roxon has told drug companies no new medicines would be listed on the drug subsidy scheme unless offsetting savings could be found. Pathology companies expect a $600m hit to their budgets.

Meanwhile, the government must find hundreds of millions of dollars to fund a dental health program it promised the Greens.

Australian Medical Association chief Andrew Pesce has warned that the government's planned budget cuts to medicine, pathology and radiology will jeopardise the government's health reform plans.

"The government risks losing all health reform credibility if it pursues speculated budget savings while at the same time pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into unproven projects such as Medicare Locals and GP super-clinics," he said.


His Eminence comes out fighting

CARDINAL GEORGE PELL has rebuffed the head of the Bureau of Meteorology, who had said Australia's highest-ranking Catholic was "misled" in his views on global warming.

Dr Greg Ayers told a Senate estimates hearing last month that the Archbishop of Sydney's argument against human-induced climate change was based heavily on a book by Ian Plimer, Heaven and Earth - Global Warming: The Missing Science, which had been discredited by scientists.

"The contents of the book are simply not scientific. I am concerned that the cardinal has been misled [by its contents]," the director of the bureau said.

But Cardinal Pell told the Herald the statements by Dr Ayers, an atmospheric scientist, were themselves unscientific. "Ayers, when he spoke to the House, was obviously a hot-air specialist. I've rarely heard such an unscientific contribution."

The cleric, who has questioned global warming in his Sunday newspaper column, even likened himself to the federal government's climate adviser Ross Garnaut when he expressed disappointment last week that the public debate on climate change was often divorced from scientific quality, rigour and authority.

"I regret when a discussion of these things is not based on scientific fact," Cardinal Pell said. "I spend a lot of time studying this stuff."

But Professor Garnaut had also said he was more certain the mainstream science supporting global warming was sound, and there was no "genuine" scientific dissent.

Cardinal Pell argued against human-induced global warming in a written submission to the hearing, claiming increases in carbon dioxide tended to follow rises in temperature, not cause them. He also stated, based on Professor Plimer's book, that temperatures were higher in Roman times and the Middle Ages.

Dr Ayers, a former CSIRO marine and atmospheric research chief who holds a doctorate in physical chemistry from Monash University, told the hearing Professor Plimer's book had not been peer reviewed and many of his assertions were not supported by scientific evidence.

He also cited one example in the cardinal's submission that referred to nitrogen in a list of greenhouse gases.

"That is not a greenhouse gas; it is 78 per cent of the atmosphere. You cannot have people out there telling the public that nitrogen is a greenhouse gas because it is not," he told the hearing.

Cardinal Pell told the Herald statements by Dr Ayers to the hearing were "all abuse and waffle about poor old Plimer", before defending the geologist as a man who "deals in many, many facts". But he was prepared to meet leading climate scientists to discuss the issue, he said.

Dr Ayers told the hearing the cardinal "may well become an ambassador for the quality of climate change science if he is exposed to the quality of the science that is done" in Australia.

Cardinal Pell made his comments to the Herald after a public lecture by the Vatican's highest judicial officer, Cardinal Raymond Burke, entitled "The Fall of the Christian West" in Sydney on Friday night.

Cardinal Pell had earlier told the 200-strong crowd about the value of the "years of study and professional devotion" undertaken by Sir Thomas More, who was executed for treason in 1535. "There's no substitute for knowing what you're talking about," he said.


Illegal immigrants to Australia break out from detention

The wisdom of the former conservative government in locating detention facilities on a remote island is demonstrated

Two plane loads of police and security staff have flown to Christmas Island to counter two breakouts by more than 200 immigration detainees who smashed through security doors and fences.

More than 150 broke out of the immigration detention centre on Friday night and while many of them have returned to the centre another group of fewer than 100 also got out and many are still at large.

A spokesman for the Immigration Department yesterday said a chartered aircraft flew in more security staff from the department and Serco, the private company running the centre, on Saturday night.

A second aircraft was scheduled to leave Perth later yesterday with Australian Federal Police reinforcements. The spokesman said that in line with policy, the department did not disclose the numbers of personnel being deployed to Christmas Island.

The spokesman confirmed security doors and fences had been damaged but said it was "not major damage" and the centre was calm.

Jamal Daoud, a spokesman for the Social Justice Network, said that he had been told by people who had been contacted by detainees that the asylum seekers had "destroyed all inner doors with electrical locks" in parts of the centre on Friday night and then smashed fences to get out.

The aim of the escapees was to be photographed by residents in order to make Australians aware of the "tragic situation of refugees in detention centres".

Mr Daoud, citing an email he had received from a Darwin detainee who had heard from people inside the Christmas Island centre, said the refugees were taking the action because they had all lost hope of obtaining a protection visa as the number of asylum seekers was increasing and the immigration processing was very slow.

There are now 2562 people held in Christmas Island, which was originally designed to house 500.

The department's spokesman, Sandi Logan, said yesterday that the detainees should be aware that the protest action would not influence decision-making concerning their bids for refugee status.

The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, said the situation was "well in hand". The escapees had "nowhere to go other than to other parts of the island". "At all times they were watched by our staff up there and the AFP officers will obviously be working to get people back into the facility," Ms Gillard said.

The Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, said "this is the kind of thing that happens when you've got thousands of people in immigration detention and the only way to ensure that this … doesn't happen is to stop the boats".


Julia about to break another promise?

The Federal Government's $38 billion mining tax deal is being threatened by fears that the Greens will force a bigger haul from booming profits. Major miners are warning ministers that an increase in the tax will see the deal dumped

The Government is confident it can settle an agreement with the top earners in the coal, iron, oil and gas sectors which would bring in at least an extra $38 billion between 2012-13 and 2020-21.

Greens Leader Bob Brown has publicly said that his party wants a higher rate than the Government has negotiated. The original proposal from former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd would have raised $60 billion in the same period.

In late February Senator Brown said the Government had "backed off to the big three mining companies at the expense of the Australian taxpayer and householder and I don't accept that". However, Senator Brown also has said he would not scuttle an agreement and allow the Opposition to impose an even lower rate.

That is not comforting the miners who want assurances from the Government their deal will be honoured. They are worried by the increase in the influence of crossbench MPs and the Greens on the Government and Treasurer Wayne Swan. It is understood Mr Swan is now preparing for intricate negotiations after the release of exposure draft legislation.

The Greens will have the balance of power in the Senate when the mining profits tax legislation comes to a vote in the second half of the year.

The minerals money is vital for Government programs foreshadowed last Budget. An agreement with the mining industry would be a critical political achievement for Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Government sources said they believed the miners were aware that they could not refuse an extra tax slice of profits, given the huge returns on their investments lately.

The Fortescue Metals Group invested an extra US$8.4 billion in production, which elevated profits to US$314.1 billion in the six months to December, compared to US$43.2 billion for the same period the previous year.

The preliminary 2010 result for Xstrata pointed to an operating profit of $7.7 billion - a 75 per cent increase on the 2009 outcome.

Rio Tinto had underlying earnings of $14 billion in 2010 - 122 per cent better than for 2009.

In the oil and gas sector, Santos had 15 per cent profit jump to $500 million after tax for 2010 and Woodside's profit was $1.5 billion for 2010, a rise of 35 per cent.


No comments: