Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Fat and happy Australians have long lives

The traditional Australian diet of meat pies, sausage rolls etc. could hardly be more "incorrect" but our life expectancy is high anyway. Time for a redefinition of "healthy" food?

THE number of people dying early because of chronic health problems is falling, boosting the life expectancy of Australians, a new government report has found.

The report, released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) today, has for the first time come up with 42 indicators linked to chronic illness.

It found the number of people aged under 75 dying from chronic illness - like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and mental illness - had dropped by almost 20 per cent in the decade-long study period ending in 2007.

This has contributed to gains in the life expectancy of Australians, with males born between 2006 and 2008 expected to live to 79.2 years - an increase of three-and-a-half years since about a decade earlier.

Females born between 2006 and 2008 would live for 83.7 years - an rise of 2.3 years since 10 years earlier, according to the report, entitled Key indicators of progress for chronic disease and associated determinants. [In Greece, home of the fabled "Mediterranean" diet, the life expectancy for males is 77.36 years and for females 82.65 --LOWER than Australia]

Chronic diseases are usually long-lasting, persistent and may be associated with disability, the AIHW says.

"The indicators were developed as a first step to consistent reporting, which will, over time, be able to provide information about progress with preventing and managing chronic disease in Australia," said Ilona Brockway of the AIHW's Population Health Unit.

Researchers reported a mixed bag of results when it came to risk factors associated with chronic disease, such as smoking, unhealthy diet and inactivity.

"On the positive side, daily smoking continues to decrease, with less than 18 per cent of Australian adults now smoking daily, compared with over 24 per cent in 1991," Mrs Brockway said.

"On the other hand, almost a quarter of Australian children are currently overweight or obese. "For adults, the figure is around 60 per cent, and the trend has been increasing. "Excess weight is associated with many chronic conditions, so the increase shown in these statistics is of concern."


Scientists put out call for (unearned) respect

Respect for the facts? No. Respect for them is the underlying agenda. Who do they think they are? Clergy? I would be happy if THEY would show respect: The respect that all scientists are supposed to show: Respect for the facts. I'll happily respect the science but Warmism is prophecy, not science

AUSTRALIA'S scientific community will launch a campaign tonight aimed at redressing what it says is the damage to science which is being caused by climate change denial.

At its annual gathering in Canberra today, the Federation of Australian Science and Technological Societies will tell politicians that the campaign being run against scientific evidence of man-made climate change "is undermining the national building work of all scientists".

Its own campaign, respect the science, will seek to broaden the understanding of how science works. "The valuable and credible work of all scientists is under attack as a result of a noisy misinformation campaign by climate denialists. It's in the nation's interests that our political leaders now lead the community forward on this critical issue," the federation's chief executive officer, Anna-Maria Arabia, said.


Huge bureaucratic process finally gives kids the right to work after school

EMPLOYERS have claimed victory in their long-running quest to inject more flexibility into the Gillard government's workplace laws after Fair Work Australia overturned contentious employment restrictions and ruled that students could be employed after school for as little as 90 minutes.

After a 16-month battle over an issue that business claimed was emblematic of the restrictive work practices promoted by Labor's Fair Work Act, the nation's workplace tribunal eased the three-hour minimum shift requirement imposed on students wanting to work in after-school retail jobs.

Business groups said the decision would give employers operating in the current tough retail environment more flexibility to hire young workers, while handing students increased employment opportunities and valuable work experience.

Unions warned that the decision would encourage employers to cut back the afternoon shifts of adult workers and replace them with "kids working for $7 an hour". ACTU secretary Jeff Lawrence said cutting the shifts of adult workers could "tip them over the edge".

After three rounds of arbitration, tribunal vice-president Graeme Watson yesterday granted an application to reduce the minimum engagement period for secondary school students working in the retail sector from three hours to 1 1/2 hours, subject to certain conditions.

The minimum shift restrictions came to attention in February last year after The Australian revealed that six youths had lost their after-school jobs at a Victorian hardware store because their new award stipulated they had to be employed for a minimum of three hours a day, compared with the previous state award that had a two-hour minimum.

Then prime minister Kevin Rudd at first promised to address the situation, but Labor subsequently expressed satisfaction with an initial FWA decision upholding the three-hour minimum.

As workplace relations minister, Julia Gillard consistently defended the previous minimum shift requirements, arguing that they were not unreasonable.

Charlie Duynhoven, who employed the six teenagers at the Terang and District Co-operative, 210km southwest of Melbourne, said the ruling was "great news". "Common sense has prevailed," he said. "It gives us a chance to employ these students again and train them up, to give them experience in customer service, in how to handle money and product knowledge. The students will be rapt to hear this."

Leticia Harrison, who, along with fellow sacked youth Matthew Spencer, campaigned for the shift requirements to be eased, said the decision was a "really good thing". She said she had fought for the changes so other people would get more opportunities to have after-school work.

Under the conditions set out in the tribunal's draft determination, the 90-minute engagement will apply only provided the employee is a full-time student; that the hours worked are between 3pm and 6.30pm on a school day; and the employee and their parent or guardian agrees on the shorter period. The shorter period is also allowed only if employment for a longer period is not possible because of the operational requirements of the employer or the unavailability of the student.

Gary Black, executive director of the National Retail Association, which brought the application, said the ruling was "a victory for flexibility and common sense in the workplace relations regime".

Peter Anderson, chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the decision would help retailers "struggling right now from a two-speed economy, subdued consumer spending and a restrictive regulatory environment".

"It's unfortunate such a sensible step took three rounds of national arbitration to achieve," he said. "That fact alone highlights restrictions imposed by Australia's workplace relations system, and award rules which are yet to become truly modern. Industrial tribunals must continue to actively review award conditions, many of which still reflect a time when the Australian economy was based around Monday to Friday, nine to five-style working arrangements. "That situation is a far cry from the current reality, with customer demands requiring a much more diverse and flexible array of business arrangements."

Mr Lawrence said unions were concerned the decision would encourage employers to replace adult workers "with kids working for $7 per hour". "Unions will work to ensure this decision does not impact on the jobs or incomes of adult workers in this industry," he said.

"These workers are already facing cost-of-living pressures and losing an hour or two off the end of their shifts could tip them over the edge. Unions are also concerned that this decision could mean children have to work for 90 minutes just to earn $11 - a wage that would barely cover the costs associated with getting to work. "In the end, market forces will probably mean that very few employers get away with offering short shifts."

A spokesman for Workplace Relations Minister Chris Evans said the ruling reflected "careful consideration by the independent umpire, taking into account the need to promote youth employment and social inclusion".

Opposition workplace relations spokesman Eric Abetz applauded the decision, but said it was "cold comfort for the hundreds of after-school student workers who have lost their jobs in the 12 months it's taken to address the situation".


Misguided legislation puts the big chill into freedom of speech in Australia

By James Allan, Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland

LAST night nearly 600 people in Melbourne paid to attend an evening in support of free speech. The audience and speakers were also there to support columnist Andrew Bolt who has been taken to court for an opinion he voiced in the Herald Sun. The legislation that allows that sort of speech-stifling action is terrible legislation in my view, and so I was happy to be one of five invited speakers.

The gist of my remarks were that the fight for free speech and the liberty to speak up on public issues - issues not excluding who we want to receive affirmative action or group rights-type benefits that attach only to a special few in society - is a fight that will never go away. As former US president Andrew Jackson put it, "eternal vigilance is the price of liberty".

And those who attended were not just supporting Bolt but freedom of speech and of liberty more generally. Because let me blunt. In my view this Racial Discrimination Act, the part amended by the Racial Vilification Act that gives us section 18C and in some circumstances makes hurting someone else's feelings, is awful.

Think about it. Someone's subjective sense of being offended or humiliated has been made determinative of whether an unlawful act has been committed, subject to a few exemptions in section 18D.

That's a terrible statutory provision. It ought to be repealed. Now. Yes, a judge may, perhaps, find the exemptions apply. Yes, there is some wiggle room. But even forcing someone to have to litigate constitutes a massive chilling effect on free speech. Let's face it. Not everyone has Bolt's cojones (and I know that may not have been the most felicitous way of putting the point). And not everyone has the resources of a big employer to back this sort of egregious litigation. These provisions create a sort of half-baked right not to be offended, a big mistake in my view.

So the fault lies with the legislature for passing these statutory provisions, not with the judges who have to interpret them. This is politically correct, pandering, group rights-inspired legislation.

The only sort of free speech that matters is the sort that offends some people somewhere. In a situation where all is agreement and harmony and people sitting in circles, holding hands, and singing Kumbaya, the concept of liberty and free speech does nothing. You will never have to fight for it meaning a freedom only to act or speak within the bounds of agreed opinion, good taste and proper decorum just isn't valuable. It doesn't carry with it any obvious good consequences.

The threat to our freedom of speech in the West today does not come from some Soviet-style secret police. No, it comes from turf-protecting bureaucrats who find themselves all of a sudden in the human rights game; it comes from people who want to create a right not to be offended.

Or at least not to be offended about the things that matter to them, because almost all the sorts of people who like the legislation being deployed against Bolt would be horrified to think that those in the US who are offended by the burning of the American flag ought to be able to prosecute the burners for their offended sensibilities. So what they really want is a right not to be offended, as long as it's the sort of things a good chardonnay-sipping member of the progressive elite ought to be offended about, nothing else.

But plain and simple that's a mistake. The only kind of free speech worth anything is the kind that leads to speech that offends people. And I say that knowing full well that none of us can be absolutists and there will always have to be some limits on speech, against counselling murder, say, or detailing how to make biological weapons.

But we ought to want as much scope as possible for people in a democracy to speak their minds. And precluding people from having and expressing an opinion on the problems with self-identifying as an indigenous person, or on who ought to be able to benefit from positive discrimination laws, well that's ridiculously inhibiting of free speech in my view.

I think that in any well-functioning democracy it is incumbent on all citizens to grow a thick skin. If you're offended, tell us why the speaker is wrong. Tell us why he or she is misguided or has defective moral antennae. Don't go to court and seek a court-ordered apology, or orders prohibiting publication of views you find offensive, or some two-bit judicial declaration.

And as a legislator under no circumstances pass statutes that allow for the creation of this mutant, half-baked right not to be offended. The very fact that people can be dragged through the courts - whatever the ultimate outcome - has a massive chilling effect on free speech. I know it. You know it. And our legislators ought to know it too, and do something about repealing this terrible piece of legislation.

At the end of the day those of us who want a considerable amount of scope for people to speak their minds are the optimists. We're the ones who are in the tradition of John Stuart Mill.

Recall the main ground that Mill gave for preferring very few limits indeed on what people can say. It was a consequentialist ground or justification. Leave people almost always free to speak as they like and in the ensuing battle of ideas truth will out, or in less hopeful terms, it is more likely to emerge than if people are silenced and issues are resolved by self-styled human rights experts or government appointees.

So for the benefit of getting at truth and true assertions we override hurt feelings, we ignore offended sensibilities, we discount the possibility of outright lies being spread, and we choose not to have our legislation accord with the world view of grievance industry mongers. Short of obvious, concrete, unavoidable harm to others, we let speech alone.

And underlying that rationale for lots of scope to speak our minds is a clear optimism about truth emerging in the tussle of ideas and ultimately an optimism about the views of the ordinary voter in a democracy.

In my opinion too many of the people who push these speech-limiting laws have simply lost faith in the views and beliefs of their fellow citizens. They have even lost a bit of faith in democracy itself.

Theirs is not the optimistic position. Ours is. We are the citizens of one of the world's oldest and greatest democracies; we are not a collection of victims too offended to muster up the resources to reply on our own behalf when we disagree with others.

It is a badge of honour to live in a society that protects differences of opinion, including ones with which we vehemently disagree. Which was why I was so delighted to have been asked to speak last night in Melbourne.


No comments: