Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Radioactive meltdown over CSG is a total beat-up

THE anti-coal seam gas lobby has jumped the shark with its phoney scare campaign against drilling in NSW and Queensland. While there are legitimate arguments about access to good farming land and discussions about artesian water to be had, the Lock the Gate Alliance and its media promoters at the ABC and in the Fairfax press are promoting utterly nonsensical claims to feed the inherent biases of their green-left anti-development followers.

Last Monday, in its rapidly shrinking editions, The Sydney Morning Herald warned that “radioactive material is being used at some coal seam gas drilling sites in NSW, raising concerns about potential health and environmental impacts”.

Here’s some news for The Herald’s small band of readers — radioactive material is also being used at most leading hospitals in Australia, and it’s being used in almost exactly the same manner for the same reasons that it’s being used by those hoping to unlock domestic reliable clean energy sources.

In hospitals, the isotopes (some produced at Lucas Heights — which the deep greens want to shut down, denying patients their lifesaving medications) are introduced into our bodies in therapies such as brachytherapy. The radioactive isotope is commonly contained in a liquid which patients drink, or in a pill which they swallow, and is used in the treatment of breast, prostate, cervical and skin cancers.

The caesium-137 (CS137) used by gas drillers is also about the size of a pill. Unlike the doses used in medicine it never comes into contact with any person. It is used for measuring rock and fluid densities in a gas deposit.

The isotope is sealed inside a container and never comes into contact with earth, gas or fracking fluid.

It is not used for drilling or for fracking, but for making scientific measurements in a situation where no other measuring device will do the job effectively.

Publicly available information, on the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency website, states the radioisotopes used in medicine (ingested therapies) are more dangerous than in densitometers.

Caesium 137 used in the treatment of tumours is up to 1500 times more intense than that used in well-logging (oil/gas). The CS137 used in brachytherapy emits energy in the range 3-12 curies. It is deemed category 2 — “very dangerous” — by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The CS137 used in well-logging is in the range 1-2 curies. It is deemed “dangerous” by the IAEA, which says exposure to this level of radiation is “extremely unlikely” to permanently injure or be life-threatening. There would be “little or no risk of immediate health risks for any person beyond a few metres”.

Why this would raise concern with anyone is a mystery but, hey, the SMH and ABC have a distinguished record of presenting humbug to prop up the prejudices of their inner urban audiences.

The SMH used all the scare tactics at its command to induce panic among the basket-weaving luvvies, noting that the CS137 is “produced in nuclear reactors, the material is potentially deadly and among the main radiation concerns at failed power stations at Chernobyl and Fukushima”.

Know what? The forecourt of the federal parliament building is radioactive. Lock the Gate Alliance protesters shouldn’t linger there too long or they may set their Geiger counters clicking.

For that matter, bananas are also radioactive.

Watch out for those spooky figures in pyjamas — and eating 20 million bananas would give you a fatal dose of radioactivity.

That’s as likely to occur as anyone being affected by the CS137 being used to measure liquid density in the Pilliga — but the SMH won’t tell you that because it would destroy its dishonest campaign.

The SMH scarily says CS137 is “used for drilling”, which implies a digging purpose. A more accurate description is that the enclosed isotope is used in tandem with a detection device — after the well has been drilled — as a tool for confirming underground rock and fluid densities.

This enclosed isotope and detection apparatus is called a densitometer.

And, as per usual, the SMH uses unsubstantiated claims by activists to support the thrust of its story.

“Environmental groups say the use of radioactive material is not disclosed in the CSG projects’ review of environmental factors ...” the Herald’s article says.

If the SMH had bothered checking properly, it would have found the inclusion of the CS137 at Appendix A of the REF.

An anti-gas campaigner is quoted saying the use of CS137 is “downplayed” (implying that it actually is mentioned) and that the inclusion of household ingredients is “played up”.

Hmmm, perhaps the reason CS137 is not “played up” is because it is NOT included in the fracking fluids, to which the household products reference is directed — and it is a fact that most of the chemicals used in fracking can be found in the average house — kitchen or laundry.

All of these chemicals are disclosed by the gas companies (including the CS137, although this has nothing to do with the fracking fluid, which the activists continually and inaccurately claim contains toxic chemicals).

The SMH reports Lock The Gate spokeswoman Vicki Perrin saying she is disturbed “there are exposure standards for workers but no exposure standards for the community”.

Of greater concern is the SMH’s embrace of her false claim as the regulations are explicitly drafted to protect the community and the environment, including the workers. So let’s review the facts that the SMH wilfully ignored in its report.

The use of the isotope is commonplace in many industries, including medicine.

Its use in gas drilling is approved under licence, including explicit handling regulations.

The encased isotopes so terrifyingly represented by the SMH pose no threat to people or environment.

Its use is disclosed in the environmental factors report approved by the government regulatory authorities and is publicised by the gas companies mentioned in the article.

It’s to be presumed that members of the SMH staff and Lock the Gate and other protest groups will henceforth refuse any treatment involving nuclear medicines.  It would be supreme hypocrisy not to.


Lewis report on ABC canvasses role for minister in directing how cuts be made

The federal government would gain new powers to set out what it expects from the ABC, raising fears of political interference in the national broadcaster, under a recommendation of the confidential Lewis review.  And some services now provided for free may attract a user charge as the government looks to rein in costs and clip the ABC's wings.

The Lewis review into the ABC and SBS has recommended the Minister for Communications issue each broadcaster with "a statement of the government's expectations" relating to "financial management and transparency".

A leaked copy, obtained by Fairfax Media, also reveals Peter Lewis identified a number of efficiency measures that have not been taken up by the ABC or SBS, which would be highly controversial with viewers and within the broadcast industry.

These include outsourcing most of the ABC's production, scrapping the retransmission of the ABC and the SBS on Foxtel's cable services (which could have implications for viewers with poor reception), scrapping digital radio and charging for the ABC's iView service.

The proposed "statement of the government's expectations" will fuel suspicions of potential political interference in editorial policy given the Coalition's well documented hostility to the broadcaster's approach.

In February this year, Prime Minister Tony Abbott used a radio interview in Sydney to complain, arguing "a lot of people feel at the moment that the ABC instinctively takes everyone's side but Australia's".

Greens senator Scott Ludlam said the suggestion "really crosses the line, especially with all the 'Team Australia' talk Mr Abbott has engaged in".

As the debate over the ABC's announced cuts continues to cause angst within the Coalition, notably for members from rural areas, Mr Turnbull is expected to release the Lewis report on Monday, when Senate committees hold more hearings.

In his speech announcing a cut of $207 million over four years from the ABC 10 days ago Mr Turnbull made an oblique reference to the controversial proposal. "An interesting insight from the efficiency study was that the ABC and SBS boards would benefit from a clearer understanding of the government's budget priorities and the outcomes that the government is seeking from its annual investment of taxpayers' money," he said

The proposal has been raised privately with the ABC board, which is understood to be strongly opposed to this level of intervention because it fears directions on where cuts should be made would amount to editorial intervention.

The Lewis report acknowledged that  "a ministerial statement of expectations would be controversial and could give rise to concerns that the government is intervening in the ABC and SBS for political reasons".

But the report went on to say that such a statement "would assist boards to clearly understand the efficiency and financial outcomes the government is seeking".
The minister already has power under the ABC and SBS Acts to bring policy considerations to the attention of the board. This has mainly been used in relation to industrial relations matters.

The Lewis recommendation appears to contemplate a mechanism where the minister can direct the national broadcaster on a more granular level, including where cuts should be made.

Senator Ludlam said he was mystified by the role of the Nationals in the ABC funding controversy because it was "always obvious" that regional services would be trimmed if cuts were made.

"That's why you have a national broadcaster, so not every decision is made on profit and loss critieria but on social needs also," he said.

Other highlights of the report are:

* A strong preference towards outsourcing programming production.  The reason why the ABC spends a much higher proportion of its budget on staff is that it makes a higher proportion of its programming in-house than the commercial networks. The Lewis report found that outsourcing production facilities would save $0.4 million a year and $90 million in capital costs (the cost of studios) but would cost $21.6 million.

* A recommendation that the ABC and SBS get out of digital radio and instead build up streaming on the internet and mobile. This would save $3.8 million a year for the ABC and $2.1 million for SBS, though it would cost $20 million to implement. The move would deeply upset the commercial radio industry, which has made big investments in digital radio and would require legislation.

* Charging for iView. The report suggested this service should be "monetised" by charging after a short period of free access, particularly as its popularity meant the bandwitdth cost would increase rapidly.

* Ceasing retransmission of the ABC and SBS on Foxtel. This would save $6 million a year for the broadcasters, but the ABC is committed until 2017 and SBS warned termination might affect its income earning channel, World movies.


Muslim cleric becomes NSW police chaplain

Wait for the corruption

Thirty-four-year-old Sheikh Ahmed Abdo has become NSW’s first Muslim police chaplain since 2011, and is believed to be the only Muslim to hold the position currently in any state or territory of Australia.

He succeeds the late NSW police chaplain Sheikh Khalil Chami, who died in 2011.

At his swearing in ceremony in Fairfield on Thursday, he recalled how his experience of discrimination, growing up in southwest Sydney, shaped his views of the police force.

He said he was experienced racist abuse daily, and at one point even feared for his life, while being followed home by his tormenters.

"My home was about 10 minutes away. But that afternoon, it (felt like) the longest walk in my life. Following me were scores of young people. Unfortunately they had taken it upon themselves to ensure that I didn't arrive home safely."

He turned to police for help – filing a complaint at a local police station, and he was promised, police would do everything they could to ensure he was safe.

“And we go home that day, having been comforted by a lovely man, who took it from his own heart to ensure that this insignificant young boy goes home with a raised head."

He says his experience made him want to give back to the police who once helped him.

“I think police for many people are seen as a power and an authority. However, I’d like to see the police - and this is how I saw the police as a young boy - as a refuge. As a family you can go to and seek help from.”

NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said the police chaplain’s role was to “help the helpers”, providing comfort and spiritual guidance to officers to help them deal with traumatic events.

“He’s there to meet the spiritual needs of police officers, particularly our Muslim police officers, as and when they may need the comfort that comes from a chaplain. The work that they perform can’t be overstated.”

The Commissioner said it was hoped Abdo’s appointment would help to promote unity, at a time of increased tensions and misunderstanding between Muslims and the wider community.

“We are multicultural police force, and we have to be. The reality is that we live in a multicultural society, and so we are only going to be able to service that community if we have officers from those communities. And the chaplains need to be there to support and represent those officers who are from those communities.”

The ceremony was also attended by the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, and other senior police officers and community leaders.


The Medicare copayment is dead, so long live in health reform

This is the approach that advocates of health reform must adopt now that the Abbott government's co-payment initiative appears doomed to defeat.

This is why the CIS has developed a health reform 'Plan B' designed to eliminate the political obstacles that frustrated the government's modest health cost-sharing proposal.

Instead of trying to force everyone to pay something for GP and other medical services, we should flip this proposition. Instead, we should give people the option of taking control over their own health dollars and let them save and spend their own money on health care as they wish.

What is needed is a new vision for healthcare in Australia, one based on the low cost Singapore Health Saving Account (HSA) model, which delivers First World standards of care and health outcomes.

While Singapore devotes less than half the amount of GDP to health, and spends far less per person on health than Australia, the UK and New Zealand, life expectancy is superior to all three countries.

In Lessons from Singapore: Opt-Out Health Saving Accounts for Australia, David Gadiel and I argued that Australia could emulate the cost-effective Singapore model by allowing people to voluntarily trade their Medicare entitlements for an annual 'Health Voucher' worth average per person government spending on health - approximately $4,500 in 2012-13.

This voucher would be deposited in a HSA linked to a person's superannuation account, and HSA funds would be used to meet the cost of specified health expenses including GP services and health insurance premiums to cover the cost of chronic and catastrophic conditions.

In an ageing Australia, using the funds accumulated in HSAs - rather than taxes - to pay for health, would relieve future health cost pressures on government budgets.

Over a person's lifetime, the savings generated by more cost-conscious use of services and lower insurance premiums would accrue as higher superannuation balances and retirement incomes. The financial advantages would make HSAs an attractive option.

Adapting the HSA model within a framework of introducing greater choice into the health system is also politically feasible, since those who wished to remain with Medicare could do so.


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