Thursday, July 21, 2011

The disgraceful TGA under scrutiny at last

There seems to be nothing like a health bureaucracy for arrogance. The attack on Pan Pharmaceuticals by the TGA was a monstrosity of arrogance which cost the taxpayer around $120 million all-up eventually and also lost Australia a significant export industry. And the feminazis at the heart of the TGA action -- Fiona Cumming and Rita Maclachlan -- still seem to be in their jobs! More background here

AUSTRALIA'S medicines watchdog is set for a shake-up after an inquiry criticised its secrecy and inefficiency. An eight-month investigation into the Health Department's Therapeutic Goods Administration has called on the industry-funded regulator to publish the results of all its safety investigations, and improve the way it gathers and reports the side-effects of medicines and vaccines.

The inquiry's report, released yesterday, says the TGA should investigate putting a new "black triangle" logo on the packets of all new medicines, to warn the public that the safety of newly approved drugs has yet to be proven in the marketplace. It concludes that Australians know more about US regulator the Food and Drugs Administration than their own TGA.

"It's a worry," said the head of the inquiry, former commonwealth ombudsman Dennis Pearce. "Even among health industry people, they seemed to find it easier to get information from the FDA website than to find out things that are happening with the TGA. "The TGA should be listening to what people want and meeting their requests but there has been a tendency to not pay as much heed to the needs of consumers for some time now."

Professor Pearce called for some taxpayer funding of the TGA, the world's only industry regulator entirely funded through levies on the pharmaceutical sector. The TGA was funded by taxpayers until 1998, when the Howard government switched to full cost recovery.

He said the TGA should publish the agendas and minutes of its advisory committees, subject to commercial confidentiality restrictions. "They do practise a fairly strict conflict of interest process (but) we have suggested that conflicts of interest (among TGA advisers) be made clearer and be announced," he said.

The report concludes that "the expectations of the public are not being met".

"The TGA should adopt a proactive stance to the many issues relating to therapeutic goods that are of concern to the public it serves," it says. "It should move away from the conservative approach that has characterised its actions in the past."

The report says the TGA has an ongoing responsibility to monitor the safety of products after it approves their use, and let the public know about any new information that "changes the risk-benefit ratio".

"It is also essential that the TGA's independence from sponsors and fairness in decision-making be reinforced by openness in its dealings," it says.

The report says the TGA should let the public search its database of "adverse events" to drugs and vaccines. It says the public does not understand that the TGA does not individually assess "low-risk" medical products, but relies on information from the manufacturers. Complementary medicines, such as vitamins and other alternative health products, are not evaluated by the TGA at all.

Consumer Health Forum chief executive Carol Bennett -- a member of the inquiry, which included representatives of the Australian Medical Association, the pharmaceutical industry and consumer groups -- yesterday called on the government to make the changes recommended. "There's been too much secrecy about what the TGA does," she said. "It is time they had some transparency and accountability."

A spokesman for Parliamentary Secretary for Health Catherine King said the government was still considering the findings.


No hospital bed in Sydney for pregnant mother

And moving the woman 3 hours by road when she was in premature labor is unbelievable. No helicopter or aerial ambulance?

A WOMAN in premature labour with twins was forced to spend three hours being transported to another city by ambulance because there were no beds in Sydney hospitals for her and her babies.

Sheryl Kahi, 20, travelled more than 200km from Cambelltown to Newcastle's John Hunter Hospital yesterday after she went into labour at just 26 week's gestation.

Despite the critical condition of her twins - about to be born 14 weeks early - Ms Kahi was told there were no vacant neonatal intensive care beds anywhere in Sydney.

Paramedics were then faced with the possibility she would give birth without adequate equipment to care for such gravely ill babies.

This is the second time in as many months a pregnant woman has been forced to travel hundreds of kilometres from Sydney because of bed shortages.

Health Minister Jillian Skinner last night said she understood patients' concerns but there were more than enough beds to cater for the state. "Having these cots, with their accompanying highly trained clinicians sitting idle, is expensive so it is smarter and more cost-effective to quickly and safely move patients to an available cot anywhere in the state," Ms Skinner said.

There are 130 neonatal intensive care cots and 400 special care cots in NSW.

In May, a woman pregnant with triplets had to be flown interstate to give birth because one of Sydney's largest maternity units did not have enough specialist neonatal cots to care for her babies.

Bronwyn Burns said she was told she could have her babies at the Royal Women's Hospital in Randwick but that after the triplets arrived one would have to go to Nepean Hospital while another would be flown to Melbourne because there were not enough cots.

The 33-year-old woman was instead flown to Canberra Hospital, which had three neonatal cots available.

In 2005, a woman from Quakers Hill in Sydney's west arrived at Windsor Hospital only to be taken to Canberra to deliver her premature baby.

The NSW Ambulance Service confirmed yesterday it had transported Ms Kahi to Newcastle by road but said the decision to move her was made by NSW Health.

Sources said that, despite the grave fears for Ms Kahi's health and that of her premature babies, medical staff at Campbelltown insisted she be moved to Newcastle.

At one stage during the trip Ms Kahi's health deteriorated so badly the ambulance was forced to switch on its siren and call a code one emergency.

NSW Health late yesterday said Ms Kahi was in a stable condition: "We always try to keep expectant mothers as close to home as possible. However, during times of peak demand mothers with high-risk births occasionally need to be transferred to other hospitals for specialised care."


Fewer students to win skilled migrant visas to Australia

FAR fewer overseas students will be able to parlay Australian qualifications into skilled migrant visas under tough new rules, Monash University researcher Bob Birrell says.

They may account for just 4000 visas a year, compared with 19,352 visas for this group in 2006-07 and 17,552 in 2007-08, boom times for the business model in which education was sold as a pathway to migration.

Dr Birrell said the unpublished Department of Immigration and Citizenship estimate of 4000 was "an unmistakable signal that the industry needs to set its marketing around selling an education that is valuable back in the country of origin".

A series of reforms, including a new skilled migration points test from July 1, have weakened the policy link between education and migration.

Announcing changes last year, then immigration minister Chris Evans famously said under the old rules cooks and hairdressers would qualify but not a Harvard environmental scientist.

The new regime favours offshore rather than onshore applications and advanced rather than basic skills. The benefit of having a relative in Australia has all but gone. "The changes will favour overseas applicants from English-speaking countries who can meet the much tougher English language requirements of the new points test," Dr Birrell and colleagues say in a report from the Monash Centre for Population and Urban Research.

The report gives new insight into the "stockpiling" of thousands of overseas students by DIAC. These include many students with cookery and hairdressing qualifications who would win visas under the old rules but whose cases have been put off and who are now on bridging visas.

In December last year, there were 29,211 former vocational education students on bridging visas, as well as another 26,309 former higher education students. About 16,000 of these former students had applied for skilled migration visas. In 2009-10, there were 28,126 applications for the graduate skilled bridging visa that is held by many former overseas students caught mid-stream by policy reforms.

The Birrell report predicts some of Mr Bowen's hypothetical Harvard scientists will have to wait as his department works through this backlog of students with lower skill levels. "Unpublished statistics show tens of thousands of former overseas students will benefit from the transitional arrangements in place," the report says. "Applications for permanent residence from these students will crowd out better qualified applicants for several years."

But a DIAC spokesman said applicants "who demonstrate the skills most needed by the Australian economy" always would be processed first.


Leftist bigotry: Why bless burkas and ban bogans?

Brendan O'Neill

IS it racist and irrational to criticise aspects of Islam? Judging from the vituperative war of words launched against a group of people who took part in a "ban the burka" protest this week, it seems it is.

Earlier this month, three men in Geelong, Victoria, set up a Facebook page called "Ban the Burqa". They invited people to protest against the burka by wearing balaclavas or motorcycle helmets to work on July 18, to show how ridiculous it was to allow "face covering" in everyday life.

Nearly 20,000 people signed up to the Facebook page and pledged to take part in the burka-baiting activities. As soon as they got a whiff of the planned protest, commentators were consumed by fury. We shouldn't ban the burka, we should ban the "racist bogans" who protested against it, spat Susie O'Brien of Melbourne's the Herald Sun. She said the protest posed a more serious threat to society than burkas did, accusing the allegedly bird-brained organisers of "fuelling race divisions" and "inciting confrontation".

A Herald Sun reporter said there were fears the protest could "provoke hysteria". Others said it might "provoke riots". Helen Szoke of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission said it would "stoke fear". Without a smidgen of irony, she demanded that "as a diverse and tolerant society, [we should] identify racist beliefs and behaviours and declare them intolerable". So a tolerant society must refuse to tolerate opposition to the burka. Who's bird-brained?

So what happened in Geelong on Monday, the day of protest? Was there a riot, anti-Muslim lynchings? Nope. Nothing much happened at all. As the Herald Sun was forced to admit, the protest was a fizzer. A handful of people seemed to take part, but it was hard to tell, since some of them might have been wearing motorcycle helmets because they actually rode motorcycles.

You couldn't have asked for a better snapshot of the chasm that separates the cultural elite from ordinary people. On one side a group of everyday folk concerned about certain bits of Islam decided to hold a protest, and on the other side, in the rarefied environs of newspaper offices and equality commissions, the great and the good went mad, wildly predicting riots and bloodshed.

The great irony is that respectable commentators' depiction of the protesters as racist bogans was far more crude and caricatured than anything the protesters themselves said about Muslims. If a gang of Geelong men had called for the banning of a Muslim parade on the basis that it might provoke hysteria among the strange brown hordes, there would be outrage, rightly. But apparently it's OK to heap hatred on "bogans", on those insufficiently educated inhabitants of backward white Australia, whose political views are apparently illegitimate and not worth listening to.

This is PC bigotry. Indeed, much concern about bigotry against Muslims, where the cultural elite warns about the dangers of rampant Islamophobia, is a cover for expressing bigotry against the Oz masses.

Fretting about Islamophobia has become a coded way of fretting about the unpredictable little people with their weird views and their propensity to "revile difference", as a writer for The Sydney Morning Herald put it. Where bigotry against Muslims is condemned as intolerable, bigotry against the masses can be indulged at leisure, without one having to worry about being condemned or censured by language-policing equality commissions. After all, they partake in such bigotry, too.

The way in which campaigning against Islamophobia has become a PC way of raising concerns about the dumb masses can also be glimpsed in the discussion about sharia law. The revelation that some Muslim communities are practising a shadow legal system of sharia has understandably made many Australians, who believe in the application of universal law, uncomfortable.

Yet some commentators are warning of a potential backlash against Muslims if this story is reported in an irresponsible fashion. It may contribute to Islamophobia, they claim.

That word itself -- Islamophobia -- is intended to delegitimise political criticisms of aspects of Islam. By presenting these criticisms as the product of an irrational fear, as a phobia, the cultural elite is consigning certain views on Islam to the Dustbin of Nonsense. Like coulrophobia, ordinary people's thoughts on Islam are simply irrational, hysterical, not worth engaging with. They should see a shrink rather than organise a protest.

It's hard being a snob these days. It is no longer acceptable to use phrases such as "the great unwashed" or "savages" to express your disdain for the drongos who make up mass society. Instead you have to couch your class hatred in more acceptable terms. And the great thing about the ideology of Islamophobia is it allows you to express your intolerance of the vast majority of the population under the guise of promoting tolerance for put-upon minorities.

As it happens, I am opposed to banning the burka. I think it would be a grave assault on freedom of religion. But I am also against the censorship or unhinged demonisation of those who, quite legitimately, hold the opposite view.



Iemma predicts carbon calamity

FORMER NSW premier Morris Iemma has become the most senior Labor figure to oppose Julia Gillard's carbon tax. Mr Iemma says the carbon tax that forms federal Labor's platform for re-election in 2013 is environmentally marginal, economically costly and likely to lead Labor to a historic electoral train wreck. "One thing is sure -- it won't change the world, but it could change the government," Mr Iemma told The Australian.

Mr Iemma accused the Gillard government of betraying the Hawke-Keating legacy of economic reform, instead embracing the environmental policies of the Greens' agenda. "We embraced economic growth, and the benefits of economic growth, in the Hawke-Keating era, but we're fighting this battle on the Greens' turf, not our turf. Bob Brown wants to replace the Labor Party as a major party."

Mr Iemma accepted the science of climate change. "Yes, we should take action, but we should not get so far out in front that we injure ourselves," he said. He rejected the government's view that Australia's carbon tax was similar in scope to actions being taken by other countries. "Every day there are reports of growth and development in China, its growth in emissions will far outstrip our total emissions," Mr Iemma said. "The carbon tax at best reduces the rate of increase of emissions slightly."

Mr Iemma said the Greens had wielded excessive influence on the government's policies, pointing to the $10 billion Clean Energy Fund, which excludes carbon capture and storage. "We ought to be fighting the Greens on the Left with Labor environmental policies and Labor economic policies, not on the Greens' terms. We've adopted a policy which is part of the Greens' agenda. "And the Greens' agenda is anti-growth and anti-investment. Lower growth and lower investment lead to lower incomes and fewer jobs."

Mr Iemma said the sidelining of federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson was "quite disgraceful". "We should always be standing shoulder to shoulder with steelworkers and miners and factory workers before we stand shoulder to shoulder with the likes of Bob Brown and Christine Milne," he added. "One of the reasons previously rusted-on Labor voters are parking themselves somewhere else is that we've confused our identity."

Mr Iemma said that NSW would be particularly hurt by the carbon tax in smelting, steelworks and manufacturing in western Sydney. "Voter reaction ranges from unease and uncertainty to outright hostility. I went down a coalmine myself recently and all the guys I spoke to were uncertain of their futures."

Mr Iemma said the NSW Greenhouse Gas Reduction Scheme, instituted by his predecessor Bob Carr and extended while Mr Iemma was premier, offered federal Labor a far more effective, practical and reasonable template than the carbon tax.

The scheme has resulted in 80 million tonnes of carbon abatement at relatively little cost and without substantial economic dislocation. "The NSW government started with a policy to constrain emissions, not an ideological position to constrain growth."

Mr Iemma's comments reflect the growing dismay of many Labor politicians in private. It also demonstrates a particular bitterness in NSW that Ms Gillard's February announcement of a carbon tax -- breaking an election promise -- made NSW Labor's March election defeat much heavier than it would have been.

He is the most senior Labor figure to come out publicly against the carbon tax and his comments represent a devastating setback for the government.


Carbon price battle is lost, say experts

Political experts believe the battle to sell the carbon tax to the Australian public has been lost and the Prime Minister can do nothing to change voters' minds on the issue.

A poll by ReachTel has shown a week of public campaigning on the climate change reform by Julia Gillard has failed to sway voter opinion on the tax in the past seven days.

Despite the issue dominating the news cycle for the past week, support for the carbon tax (32.4 per cent) remained 28.6 points behind support against the reform (61 per cent) over the past seven days.

Reader in politics at the University of Queensland Ian Ward said the public had made their minds up on the issue and any effort to sell the tax was "a lost cause".

"This is an issue that voters have made their minds up on and even if a significant chunk of the electorate moved in favour there is still going to be substantial antagonism and opposition to the government and its policy," he said.

"So a government advertising campaign and some explanation in the media, it's really not likely to fundamentally change the government's position in the polls."

Dr Ward said the tax was being used as a fulcrum for wider resentment and anger towards the Labor government over failures to manage past problems such as the asylum seeker issue.

"It's not as if the carbon tax issue has damaged the government, the government was damaged when it took up this issue," he said. "This is an issue on which opinion is entrenched, it's an issue which is a touchstone for much wider resentment of the Labor government. "Some advertising about the carbon tax, some explanation that it is not as threatening as its opponents have made it out to be is not going to placate more than a small percentage of the electorate."

Political communication lecturer at the Queensland University of Technology Wayne Murphy said the prime minister had been most effective selling the tax in the past week by providing everyday examples of the tax's effect for audience members on Q&A.

He said if the government could put up another politician, such as former ACTU secretary Greg Combet, to simplify the issue for the public, they may be able to make inroads.

"Generally people don't want to think too much about complex issues, they'd rather try and boil things down into simple terms which is what Tony Abbott has been able to do with his 'great big new tax' line," he said. "This is an issue where if you do want to understand it, you do need to understand the sorts of detail that people just don't want to know."

The poll also revealed 58.3 per cent of people said they were less likely to vote for the government on the basis on the carbon tax announcement.

Mr Murphy said the government would likely be relying on the opposition to make costly mistakes in the lead-up to the next election to make up ground on the Coalition. "The best luck the ALP could have is Tony Abbott reverts back to his old form and implode at some stage by making a big gaffe or really contradicting himself," he said.

Dr Ward said the government's only option was to 'tough out' the opposition to the tax. "When it is passed as an issue I think some of the steam will come out of it and the government will move on to other things," he said.


Respect the science and don't call CO2 a pollutant

By Ziggy Switkowski (Ziggy Switkowski is chancellor of RMIT University)

WHY do we allow our political leaders and the commentariat to refer to carbon dioxide as a pollutant instead of a greenhouse gas? Some time ago, politicians or their advisers decided a clever way to frame the climate change debate was to label carbon dioxide as a pollutant: hence the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

Of course, in 2015 our government proposes to move to an emissions trading scheme, which has a better resonance than a pollution trading scheme, were they to be consistent. I believe in the science of climate change and the role of greenhouse gas emissions, particularly CO2, from household and industrial use of fossil fuels. But I am offended by the manipulation of the argument by deliberately coding CO2 as a pollutant, which it is not, and implying some environmental agenda where there is none.

When fossil fuels such as coal, gas and petrol are burned, there are a number of by-products.

Particulate matter that is not filtered from exhausts and escapes from smokestacks is polluting and contributes to smog and serious respiratory and other community health problems, such as widely experienced in China with its many coal-fired power stations and old technology. Paradoxically, particle emissions contribute to global cooling but are definitely pollution.

Gases such as nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide arising from the combustion of coal can cause acid rain; they also are pollution.

Water vapour, as seen billowing from the hyperboloid cooling towers much favoured by photo editors, is not pollution unless we include clouds and rain in that definition, which few do.

Carbon dioxide, which is produced in great quantities also, but is colourless and normally benign, is not a pollutant. It is a greenhouse gas which, as its concentration increases in the atmosphere, contributes to the warming of the planet. It is a greenhouse gas, not a pollutant, in the context of climate change.

CO2 is necessary to plant life and in regulating our temperature and climate. The level of CO2 prior to the industrial revolution in the 1700s was about 280 parts per million in the atmosphere and no one believes that level was excessive. Today that level is about 390ppm and CO2 has become a pollutant. At what level did this change of status occur and in which decade or generation?

Many cold regions in the northern hemisphere welcome global warming. Think of Scotland, parts of Scandinavia, Russia, Canada. To them, increasing CO2 is not a problem. Is it possible for CO2 to be a pollutant in the southern hemisphere but beneficial in large parts of the north? What previously unknown principle of chemistry is at work here, which changes the character of a molecule depending on location?

Here is another matter that unsettles me. Why are smelters where aluminium is refined labelled as dirty polluters? One doesn't see chimneys or stacks at a smelter. Few emissions arise from the industrial site and no atmospheric pollution.

The answer appears to be that smelting is a very high user of electricity: at present about 11 per cent of national electricity consumption. Aluminium is known as congealed electricity.

There is an argument that energy intensive industries helped supercharge our economy and standard of living through the decades. But they are now unfashionable because of the pollution label, and because of a political ideology that affordable energy will not be the basis of our modern economy. But is it right, fair or sensible that input electricity is demonised with the pollution brand?

Do we label pharmaceutical companies as drug dealers because some of their pain killers are made from heroin, a nasty product if abused?

Is my granddaughter an environmental vandal because she "contaminates" eight nappies a day destined for landfill. Who dares call babies polluters?

If your energy hungry plasma television is bigger than mine, are you a polluter?

Finally, our 2050 greenhouse gas reduction target smoothly and uncritically has shifted from -60 per cent to -80 per cent. I guess one fanciful goal is as good as another. But now we have the Greens talking about -100 per cent, that is, taking all carbon out of our system. With goodwill, I assume this is hypothetical, a conversation starter perhaps?

So why stop there? Let's aim for -150 per cent by 2050. That means taking out more greenhouse gas than we produce, perhaps remedying generations of excessive emissions by our reckless ancestors and righting a historic wrong. The techniques to do this are being developed. Early on we can dedicate more acreage to planting more trees and so on, perhaps reclaiming land from people and putting pressure on us to reduce our habitat and population. Eventually, technology will arrive to remove greenhouse gas from the atmosphere and oceans and, as a (temporarily) rich country we've the means to fund such efforts and do even more than our fair share.

Of course, if half of our planned greenhouse gas reduction arises from purchasing carbon credits offshore, then it's just a question of money. Why stop at half?

Here's my simple summary of our present energy strategy: no coal, no gas, no nuclear -- no clue.


Alarmism a danger to democracy: Vaclav Klaus

FALLS in European carbon emissions can be attributed to an economic slowdown rather than the EU's emissions trading scheme, Czech President Vaclav Klaus says.

Mr Klaus arrives in Australia today to talk on climate change in Perth, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in a tour organised by the Institute of Public Affairs.

"The relationship between economic activity and carbon emissions is very strong and very stable," the former economist told The Australian.

Mr Klaus believes some slowing down of carbon emissions trends in Europe was more influenced by the global financial crisis than the European ETS.

The President applies economic reasoning to put climate change in perspective. "Any rational economist must always stress the standard cost-benefit analysis instead of precautionary principle used by global warming alarmists. The costs of fighting the climate will be much higher than the costs of potential global warming -- if there will be any -- in the foreseeable future."

Mr Klaus, who entered public life in 1989 when he and colleagues volunteered their services to the leaders of Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution against the communist regime imposed in the aftermath of World War II, warns that climate change is being used as a political weapon by the Left. "I do not believe in the innocence of global warming alarmists," he said. "They do not care about the environment, they just misuse it in their crusade, which aims at limiting our freedom and prosperity.

"I don't want to make cheap comparisons of their ideology with communism, but I do see many similarities . . . It is a new variant for the activist political Left, and I spent all my life fighting such a political thinking because I lived in such a political system."

Mr Klaus fears the climate change debate is leading to the politicisation of science.

And he is amazed at the comment by activist Clive Hamilton that climate change may demand "the suspension of democratic processes". "We have heard many times in the past, especially in the tragic moments of the 20th century, words like 'suspension of democratic processes' in the name of 'higher values, goals, ideas'." Communism was a typical example, he said. "We have to insist there is no trade-off between democracy and concrete goals."


1 comment:

Paul said...

Being saying for some time that the carbon-tax agenda is being driven by forces outside our Government, and arguably outside our country. Gillard's dogged stupidity more then confirms my opinion. None of it makes any sense UNLESS she is acting on instructions.