Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Antisemitic "independents"

Zoe Daniel, an ABC journalist running as an independent, signed an open letter accusing the Israeli government of unleashing “a brutal war against the besieged population of Gaza”.

The candidate for the Victorian seat of Goldstein has also told The Australian the issue of whether Israel is guilty of war crimes is a “complex matter of international law” best left for ­“experts to determine”.

Revelations about Ms Daniel’s stance on Israel come amid a focus on the policies of independents running in seats targeting government MPs while being funded by centralised climate groups.

The Australian reported on Tuesday that a key figure behind independent candidate Allegra Spender’s tilt in the Sydney seat of Wentworth supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and has criticised Australia’s “shocking support” of Israel.

Ms Daniel is running against incumbent Liberal MP Tim Wilson in the seat of Goldstein, which has a significant Jewish population of 6.8 per cent, according to census data. The letter she signed in 2021 called for media coverage of “Palestine” to improve by ­respecting the rights of journalists “to publicly and openly express personal solidarity with the Palestinian cause”.

It also accused Israel of running an “apartheid regime against Palestinians” and incorrectly claimed the democratic nation had been “deliberately targeting the media” by bombing the Al-Jawhara tower in Gaza.

The Israeli government said the terrorist group Hamas was ­operating military intelligence ­assets from the tower and warned journalists based in the building there would be an attack ahead of time to limit casualties.

Liberal MP for Wentworth Dave Sharma, who is facing a challenge by Ms Spender, said there was a pattern on Israel emerging among the independent teams. “This seeming pattern of anti-Israel views amongst the Climate 200 so-called independents is concerning and demands an ­explanation,” said Mr Sharma, who was formerly the Australian ambassador to Israel.

“Are such views a formal part of their policy platform?”

Ms Daniel said she firmly ­believed in the right of the Jewish people to have a safe and secure homeland in the State of Israel and did not agree with every ­aspect of the letter. “My signing of the letter was narrowly framed to express my profound and abiding concern for the safety and welfare of journalists, regardless of the conflict,” she said.

She said it would be insincere to remove her name from the letter and said it was better she understood the issue from the perspective of the Jewish community.

“Many Jewish Goldstein residents have expressed their dismay to me regarding the media’s ­emphasis on Israel, while it fails to take into account the complexity of the situation,” she said.

“As a community-backed representative, I deeply empathise with these concerns, especially as we witness a rise in anti-Semitism across the world.”

Asked if she thought Israel had committed war crimes, Ms Daniel told The Australian: “Complex matters of international law are for experts to determine.”

Ms Daniel was one of more than 50 ABC and SBS figures who signed the public letter, along with comedian Tom Ballard, Radio National journalist Max Chalmers and reporter Dylan Welsh.

The letter, dated May 2021, said the media should avoid treating Israelis – described as instigators – like Palestinians, who were “victims of a military occupation”.

Australian Israel Jewish ­Affairs Council executive director Colin Rubenstein said it was “hard to see how anyone who supports Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish state” could sign it.

“It completely misrepresents the cause of the May 2021 violence, blaming Israel when it was started by Hamas rocket barrages against Israeli civilians; it refers to Israel’s very founding as the Nakba – “catastrophe”; it echoes baseless and malicious accusations that Israel practises apartheid; and it basically urges that the media cover the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a one-sided and ­unbalanced way that gives priority to the Palestinian perspective,” he said.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-chief executive Alex Ryvchin said the letter was a “piece of propaganda that effectively sought to tie the hands of journalists and bully them into adopting the narrative that Israel embodies evil while the Palestinians are passive victims.”

“At a time when Hamas was terrorising the people of Israel, the letter subverted every notion of media integrity and independence by calling on journalists to become activists for a violent and unjust cause,” he said.

Mr Ryvchin said given Ms Daniel said she supported a two-state solution and did not agree with the demonisation of Israel, “she should therefore disassociate herself from the letter”.

Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Daniel Aghion said he was disappointed Ms Daniel signed the letter. “Her current stated views on Israel are more nuanced and consistent with bipartisan policy,” he said. “Having said that, we think that Ms Daniel can do better.”


Labor’s attack on building watchdog a red flag to voters

As the federal election looms, the policy differences between the Coalition and Labor are, by and large, wafer-thin. But there are some points of disagreement, particularly in relation to industrial relations.

Labor plans to abolish the Australian Building and Construction Commission, a body strongly disliked by the trade union movement. Labor is, in effect, on a promise to get rid of it as part of its partnership and funding arrangement with the unions. It is what the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union – or at least the construction division – expects and, at this stage, Labor plans to deliver its part of the deal if it wins government. But before discussing whether abolishing the ABCC would be good policy – it would not – it’s worth briefly discussing the history and the roles it plays.

The ABCC has been around in a number of guises for some time. It was first established in 2005 by the Howard Coalition government, only to be gutted by Labor in 2012 and renamed the Fair Work Building and Construction Commission. The ABCC was reborn in 2016 with slightly modified, but strong, powers compared with the original body. One point made by the trade unions, which strenuously object to the ABCC, is that it is inappropriate to single out construction workers for separate, additional regulation. After all, there is the Fair Work Act and it is only right and proper that all workers be treated equally.

The reality is that a disproportionate amount of industrial action and other industrial problems emanate from the construction industry and that separate regulation of this industry is actually common overseas. There are features of parts of the industry – think here large CBD and infrastructure projects – that are much more prone to “hold up” than other industries, leading to substantial cost blowouts and delays in project completion.

In other words, it is not just an industrial relations matter; it is also an issue of the performance of the economy. Let’s recall here that construction accounts for about 9 per cent of GDP and there are about 1.2 million workers in the industry. Delivering large projects at affordable prices and on time is an objective in itself but also underpins the broader productive capacity of the economy.

Mind you, the ill-considered announcements by governments (both federal and state) to throw even more billions of dollars at infrastructure projects over the past year or two, including using Covid as a rationale, have created problems of their own. Not only are there chronic shortages of workers with the required skills but there are also supply problems (and rising costs) of materials. Just witness the fiascos in Melbourne with the West Gate Tunnel and new Metro underground projects – both massively over budget and delayed.

The CFMEU would be in a much stronger position to make its case for the abolition of the ABCC were it not for the damaging and thuggish behaviour that continues to dog far too many building sites. When Federal Court judges continue to bemoan the persistence of unlawful behaviour and impose close to the highest fines possible, we know there are still major problems that need to be addressed.

Just this year, fines of 90 per cent of the maximum were imposed on the “rogue” (the judge’s adjective) construction union and 80 per cent on its Queensland leader for failing to provide 24 hours’ notice before officials entered a construction site.

In an earlier case involving the abuse of union officials’ rights of entry that led to the disruption of a concrete pour, the Federal Court judge imposed a $240,000 fine, describing the union officials as “arrogant and dismissive” of warnings they were acting unlawfully. One of the union officials was also fined $32,000, with the judge referring to his “deplorable personal history of offending”.

The reality is that any contractor or subcontractor in the large construction industry who refuses to play by the unions’ playbook – in relation to pattern enterprise agreements, the interpretation of work rules, right of entry arrangements and the like – can be targeted by the unions.

Were it not for the ABCC, with its powers of independent investigation and the right to subpoena witnesses, the behaviour of the unions would be virtually unfettered. This point has been made by the ABCC Commissioner: “The ABCC represents the last line of defence for contractors who are victims of deliberate and repeated incursions onto site.”

It’s hard to fathom how federal Labor parliamentarians can be so unconcerned about their pledge to abolish the ABCC. To be sure, destructive and unlawful behaviour continues to plague parts of the industry. But, at the very least, the ABCC can constrain both the worst of it and its extent. It’s just a pity CFMEU officials too often regard the ongoing stream of fines they face as simply the cost of doing business, and members seemingly raise no objections.

Let’s not forget the ABCC also undertakes the task of recovery for wage underpayment. When it comes to tracking down sham contracting – one of the beefs of the CFMEU – it is likely that its extent is not nearly as great as the union thinks.

The bottom line is this: it would be a highly retrograde step for the ABCC to be abolished simply because there is a deal between Labor and the CFMEU (and other unions). This is not how public policy should be formulated and the employer bodies are right to loudly raise their concerns. Whether the abolition of the ABCC can be made an election issue that resonates with voters is unclear, but it’s worth a shot.


Lockheed Martin, Raytheon to Help Australia Build Missiles to Counter China

Australia picked two U.S. defense manufacturers to help build guided weapons in the country and said it would accelerate the deployment of new long-range missiles, the latest moves by the U.S. ally to revamp its military to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the region.

Australia said Raytheon Technologies Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp. were selected to partner with a new government-backed enterprise to domestically build guided weapons for the military, which currently sources its missiles from the U.S. and other countries. Australia’s center-right government said last year that about $761 million would be invested in the effort to build guided missiles in Australia after the Covid-19 pandemic exposed weaknesses in global supply chains.

Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton said missiles made in Australia could be exported to the U.S., creating a new supply-chain option for the U.S. military. Australian officials didn’t specify when the country’s new missile-manufacturing enterprise will start production, and defense analysts said it isn’t yet clear if Australia will produce entire missiles or just certain components.

Australia also said it would spend about $2.6 billion to more quickly acquire new air-to-surface missiles for its air force, missiles for surface vessels in its navy, and sea mines to secure the country’s ports and maritime approaches. At least some of the missiles will be operational starting in 2024. Officials didn’t specify when the missiles were previously scheduled to be deployed but Mr. Dutton said the timeline is being sped up dramatically.

Mr. Dutton said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been a wake-up call to the world that threats could be on the horizon. He said China’s increased military presence in the disputed South China Sea is a worrying sign and that the new missiles will help Australia deter any act of aggression from China or other countries.

“There’s a potential of conflict within our region within just a couple of years, and we should be realistic about that threat,” Mr. Dutton said in a television interview Tuesday. “That’s why we’re bringing forward the acquisition of these missiles.”

Australia is overhauling its military to create a larger, more powerful force focused on the Indo-Pacific just as the U.S. seeks to build a network of alliances in the region that can serve as a counterweight to China. Australia is a key partner in those efforts and is a member of the Quad group of countries, which includes Australia, the U.S., India and Japan. Australia is also part of the new three-way AUKUS military alliance between Australia, the U.K. and the U.S.

Last month, Australia said it would increase the size of its standing military by 30% and build a new submarine base on its east coast that would be able to host visiting U.S. vessels. The base will also help Australia prepare for the arrival of new nuclear-powered submarines, which it will develop in the coming decades through the AUKUS alliance. Australia also recently said it would buy howitzers from South Korea and helicopters from the U.S.

Australia faces a worsening security situation in the region as relations with China deteriorate, and Australia military planners in recent years have dropped an assumption that they would have 10 years to prepare for a possible conflict. China was angered by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s call for an international investigation into the first Covid-19 outbreak in China and retaliated by placing tariffs or other restrictions on some Australian imports.

Australia said its new air-to-surface missiles—the U.S.-made Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile Extended Range—will enable its jet fighters to strike targets more than 550 miles away. Its new naval missiles, the Norwegian-designed Naval Strike Missile, will replace the aging Harpoon antiship missile and more than double the current maritime strike range of Australian frigates and destroyers, Australian officials said.

“It’s good that it’s coming sooner,” said Marcus Hellyer, a senior analyst at the government-backed Australian Strategic Policy Institute and a former senior public servant in Australia’s defense department. “Guided weapons are absolutely essential to success in contemporary warfare. You only have to look at Ukraine at the moment and see the rate at which guided weapons are being used there.”

Joining with U.S. defense companies to build missiles domestically in Australia makes sense because it improves Australia’s interoperability with American forces, said Sam Goldsmith, director of Red Team Research, a defense and national security research company in Australia. And any future adversary to the U.S. and Australia that wants to knock out missile production would also need to hit production lines in two countries instead of just one, he added.

“Interoperability is always a big concern,” he said.


Long Covid a serious problem

By the end of the year, modelling suggests tens of thousands of Australians will have experienced lingering symptoms of the virus.

Health economist Professor Martin Hensher warns that long COVID poses a serious public health threat and critical data is missing.

“At the moment we really have no idea of the extent of long COVID in Australia,” he said. “We are flying pretty blind.

Professor Hensher, who worked alongside a team modelling long COVID at Deakin University, estimates that at 12 weeks post infection, anywhere between 80,000 and 325,000 of the more than two million Australians infected during the first Omicron wave alone will have ongoing symptoms.

And, while a large proportion are predicted to recover within six months, thousands are expected to experience persistent symptoms.

He is part of a growing chorus of experts calling for the urgent rollout of a national survey to measure the scale of long COVID in Australia and a database to track symptoms.

In Australia, up to 30 per cent of seriously ill COVID-19 patients have reported at least one symptom persisting after six months. The most common symptom was shortness of breath, but others included fatigue, headaches and a loss of taste or smell.

Ms Costello, who was double vaccinated six months before contracting the virus, and before boosters were approved, is one of an estimated more than 90,000 Australians who have a smell or taste disorder after six months.

The figure in Australia is far below other parts of the world where Delta was the prevalent variant.

Studies have found up to 60 per cent of people who had Delta lost their sense of smell and/or taste, compared to one in five with Omicron, the most common variant in Australia. About two per cent of those people will have impaired senses long term.

People’s experiences range from complete or partial loss to distorted and imagined senses. Some people complain certain foods taste like garbage or rotting meat, while others can smell faeces or smoke when neither are nearby. Ms Costello often gets phantom garbage smells.

Exactly why this occurs is still unknown, but there is an emerging consensus, including by a team studying the phenomena at Harvard Medical School, that smell loss occurs when the coronavirus infects cells that support neurons in the nose.

To the frustration of sufferers, there is no easy cure for olfactory dysfunction.




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