Friday, December 14, 2012

Pickering on Gillard

Well-known cartoonist Larry Pickering gives Julia both barrels.  He is very critical of her alleged past involvement in union rorts

Let me explain something to you, Ms Gillard, and I know you will read this:

I have been studying politicians since before you were born. I knew great and poor Prime Ministers personally, from Menzies to Howard.

I knew their traits, their foibles, their strengths and hidden weaknesses.

But each nurtured a common, unbroken thread; they all honoured their high Office. Each was respected if not liked. Each was Australian and decent in essence.

You, Ms Gillard, are different. You will never legitimately stand beside those who have gone before you.

If you worked at my corner store, if you didn’t aspire to be something you’re so obviously not, I might quite like you.

I know you won’t believe this Ms Gillard, but I wanted nothing more than to be proud of Australia’s first woman Prime Minister. You have destroyed that.

You simply don’t get it, do you Ms Gillard? This is not about policy or Left or Right... it’s not about sexism, misogyny or any other vile adjective you use. It’s about YOU!

You are emboldened by the fake infatuation of the minority who need you. You are deaf to the majority who don’t want you.

When you were nine years old Ms Gillard we had another controversial Prime Minister called John Gorton.

I recall like yesterday, a Party room meeting on March 10, 1971. A motion of no confidence in Gorton's leadership was tied precariously at 33 all.

Realising his Party’s predicament he immediately gave his casting vote against himself, effectively removing himself from Office.

He realised the marginal satisfaction with his role as Prime Minister was potentially caustic and effectively handed the Prime Ministership to my good friend at the time, Bill McMahon.

He then voluntarily suffered the ignominy of accepting the position of Deputy PM to Bill.

That was the stuff of John Gorton. And that’s difference between a decent person and you, Ms Gillard. You would not have done that.

Don’t try to pretend you possess that high tier of honour. You simply don’t, I happen to know you don’t because your selfish ideological agenda are far more important to you than the station of Office.

Your barbs of misogyny completely miss me, Ms Gillard. I happen to love women and I always will.

You see Ms Gillard, it is not at all about gender nor any other of your nasty labels and no, I don’t give a damn if you are a crook.

But I do give a damn if you are a crook AND my Prime Minister.


New data on life expectancy worldwide

AUSTRALIANS are living longer but chronic diseases such as diabetes are taking a greater toll on our health, a global study shows.  The life expectancy for Australian men and women has improved over the past 20 years, the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study found.

Australians' life expectancy was now in the top five in the world, said Professor Alan Lopez, the head of the University of Queensland's School of Population Health, who co-authored the study.

The life expectancy of Australian men had improved by about six years to 79.2 since the last study in 1996, while women could be expected to live on average 83.8 years, up from 80 years two decades ago, he said.

Heart attacks and lung cancer were the biggest disease burdens in Australia and New Zealand, the research found.

However, Prof Lopez said the disease burden from tobacco products in Australia had lessened.  "Australia has been the global leader in reduction in mortality due to tobacco," he told AAP.  "There is still a significant burden in Australia related to tobacco causes but we've come back a long way."

However, he said there had been a dramatic rise in diabetes and related deaths.  Diabetes is now the 10th largest burden of disease, measured by years of life lost, in Australia and New Zealand, compared to 19th globally.

Both in Australia and worldwide, injuries - including suicide and self-harm - were still a major contributor to deaths.  "For some age groups in Australia we are seeing increases in mortality for suicide," Prof Lopez said.

But there had been dramatic declines in car accident deaths, which could be attributed to Australia's drink-driving legislation.

High blood pressure was the main risk factor for death and disability globally, with an estimated 9.4 million deaths in 2010 related to the condition.

Tobacco was the second biggest risk factor, responsible for 6.3 million deaths globally in 2010.

Meanwhile, child malnutrition has decreased, along with diseases caused by unsafe water and sanitation, indicating global health initiatives in these areas are making progress.

HIV and malaria-related deaths both increased between 1990 and 2010, despite efforts to tackle them.

Nearly two out of three deaths worldwide in 2010 were caused by non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, while heart attacks and stroke caused about one in four deaths.

The study, published on Friday in the medical journal, The Lancet, updates the inaugural 1996 study.

Commissioned by the World Bank, the study informed global health policies and the second instalment is expected to have a similar impact.

SOURCE.  The academic journal article is here.  It is very complex and does involve a lot of best guesses. 

The male life expectancy is 79 for Australia and Japan,  77 for the UK and 76 for the USA.  Iceland was tops at 80, followed by Andorra, Switzerland and Sweden.  Andorra is a small tax haven where a lot of rich people go to retire.  The figures for the USA include blacks and Hispanics so are not very enlightening about non-Hispanic whites.  There may be a separate figure for that somewhere but I could not see it at a quick look.

Australia again seems to be the lucky country, with a climate to suit everybody (from tropical to sub-Arctic) and a life expectancy very close to the maximum.  New Zealanders will be burnt up by the fact that their life expectancy slightly lags Australia's.

Forget the doom: coral reefs found to be much more robust and resilient than alarmists claim

Hoagy is astounded.  Has his life's work of alarmism just fallen apart?

A WIDESPREAD belief that the world's coral reefs face a calamitous future due to climate change is proving less resilient than the natural wonders themselves.

Rising sea temperatures, storm damage and ocean acidification have grabbed the headlines as looming threats to reef survival.

But as each concern is more thoroughly investigated, scientists are finding nature better equipped to cope than they had imagined.

The latest research, published in Nature: Climate Change today, blows away the theory that reefs were doomed due to rising ocean acidification caused by the higher take-up of carbon dioxide in the seas.

Researchers have found a common coralline algae that grows at the leading edge of coral reefs is not nearly as susceptible to changing ph levels as coral because it contains high levels of dolomite.  In fact, the dolomite-laden algae has a rate of dissolution six to 10 times lower than coral's.

The good news is that dolomite-rich coralline algae is common in shallow coral reefs across the world.  "Our research suggests it is likely they will continue to provide protection for coral reef frameworks as carbon dioxide rises," the paper says.

Lead author Merinda Nash, a PhD candidate with the Australian research school of physics and engineering, says the phenomenon has been overlooked because research to date has been on coral, not coralline algae. "It is not very sexy so it has not got a lot of attention," she said.

"What the research demonstrates is there is a lot we have yet to understand about coral reefs."

This is a sentiment echoed by James Brown of the Kimberley Coral Research Station, who believes the hot water corals of the Kimberley coast hold a treasure trove of answers for marine biologists.

Mr Brown has questioned why the Kimberley coral reefs were thriving in water temperatures and at acidification levels well outside of the limits that conventional science said should be inhospitable for their survival.

"Measurements of dissolved carbon dioxide have shown levels of up to 50 parts per million compared with the average of 28 parts per million," Mr Brown said.  "This is the outer limit of what scientists had believed would be habitable for corals.  Water temperatures are also at the top end of what coral biologists say it is possible for corals to survive in.

"The more we find out about the Kimberley, the more it rewrites the book on coral biology."

Further counter-intuitive results on coral survival have come from an extended project on the Great Barrier Reef to measure the health of deep corals.

The Catlin Seaview Survey has found the damage to coral reefs is literally skin deep, with corals located in deeper water below even the worst impacted sites thriving and in pristine condition. The findings raise the possibility that damaged corals may have an increased opportunity for recovery by recruiting new corals both from adjoining reefs and those located immediately below.

The early findings from the survey have astounded the scientists involved, including Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a leading global figure in raising concerns about crown of thorns starfish, coral bleaching and ocean acidification.

"The survey has shown that deeper reefs may be protected to an extent from some of the perils of climate-driven events such as mass coral bleaching and storms," he said. "These deeper corals may be important refuges if we get big changes in the shallows."


How freedom from information works

Most Western governments have FOI laws but governments stiil release only what they want to release

IT WAS the fake ferry exercise that made my heart sink. The high-speed link from Port Melbourne to Frankston, the presenter explained, was an imaginary election promise to ease congestion on our roads and trains.

But there were problems with the fictional plan. There were serious risks to a heritage-listed pier. Probity issues. Likely cost blow-outs because of bad departmental advice.

And all of it had been documented: a brief to the Transport Minister, a summary of the tender responses and an external consultant's report.

Our task, Victorian Government Solicitor's Office senior manager Joanne Kummrow outlined, was to find exemptions the department could claim to keep these "documents" from a journalist fishing around using Freedom of Information laws.

While the documents were fictitious, the response from the 40 or so people in the room - many of them FOI officers or legal advisers for councils or state government agencies - was all too real.

They took to the task of suppressing the information with alarming zeal.

I had spent the day alongside them learning about recent changes to Victoria's FOI regime at a Leo Cussen Centre For Law conference on November 30 - the eve of the amendments taking effect.

Feeling a little like a poacher-turned-gamekeeper, I'd handed over $520 and signed up under my real name. A tag revealed who I was and where I worked, but no one seemed to be bothered about curtailing their comments.

The lectures were helpful, but the real value of the day was the insight into the minds of the people who handle the dozens of applications for public information that Victorians file every day to government, councils and agencies.

Some presenters were at pains to reinforce that the FOI Act gives members of the Victorian public rights of access to official documents and to remind those in the room that the public deserved timely, consistent and complete responses to their FOI requests.

I cheered inwardly as one officer urged others to be open, active, helpful, efficient, collaborative and to think in the public interest.

But comments and questions from some other presenters and attendees left me agog. One, for example, bluntly admitted a tendency existed in some agencies to deliver "quick and dirty decisions", which could be "tidied up" if the applicant sought an internal reviews.

The depth of resistance to scrutiny emerged when the room split into four groups for a workshop to assess documents relating to the fake, failed ferry.

Mick Batskos, who runs a company called FOI Solutions and is regarded by many government departments and agencies as "a guru", volunteered as leader in my group.

When members showed signs of potentially agreeing to the release of information, he flexed his encyclopaedic knowledge of the exemptions, coaching on how to interpret the Act more broadly.

He explained, for example, that papers didn't actually have to go before the Cabinet to attract the powerful - and almost impossible to challenge - Cabinet Documents exemptions.

To their credit, some attendees dared ask if it might actually be in the public interest to release some of the information. They were quickly met with an array of excuses from others about why it was harmful or confusing for the public to know of the controversy surrounding the ferry debacle.

IT took only 20 minutes for the collective to apply a grab-bag of exemptions and arrive at what seemed to me a pretty warped version of "public interest".

One group sounded particularly pleased to report back that they'd found several "blanket ones we could go for" to stop the release of any information.

Wrapping up the exercise, Ms Kummrow noted - to much laughter - that it sounded like the pretend journalist wasn't going to get a lot of information.

(The chuckles quietened when fellow Victorian Government Solicitor's Office colleague Elsie Loh piped up to point out that just because an exemption exists doesn't mean you have to apply it.)

My fears that many in the room have a "restraint of information" mindset weren't helped by the day's final session, a mock VCAT hearing, with real counsel arguing a pretend FOI appeal before a real tribunal member.

Among the first things the barrister representing the agency asked for was a suppression on media coverage. Thankfully, it was rejected.

The mock hearing and the sham ferry exercise left me wondering about the all-too-real job ahead for Ted Baillieu's long-promised FOI commissioner, the key plank of his promise that accountability and transparency would be the principles that underpinned his Government.

Watchdog Lynne Bertolini finally started this month, with powers to conduct reviews and investigate complaints from the public.

She comes to office promising to educate FOI gatekeepers about their responsibilities and to ensure they have a clear understanding of the Act and the objectives of the legislation. Based on what I glimpsed, she'll have her work cut out.

Under new amendments, agencies must assist the commissioner when she's reviewing a case or assessing a complaint.

There was a telling query from the audience once that was explained: "What if an agency doesn't assist? What disciplinary powers does she have?"

While Ms Bertolini has been described as somewhat toothless, the agencies at the conference did seem to fear some of her powers - especially her ability to collect and publish the names of FOI officers who decline requests.

Unlike the fake ferry that sank without trace, let's hope this election promise succeeds and the commissioner can turn the tide on the flow of information.


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