Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Sydney Black Lives Matter protest organiser detained, protesters ordered to move on

A Black Lives Matter rally in Sydney's CBD was shut down before it even started, with police arresting and fining several protesters, including one of the organisers.

While the protest was scheduled to start at midday in The Domain, by noon protesters had left the area after being encouraged to disperse and issued with move-on orders.

Almost 1500 people had indicated on Facebook they would attend the rally, but only about 40 turned up.

Six were arrested, five of whom were issued with a $1000 penalty infringement notice for breaching public health orders.

One of those was co-organiser Paddy Gibson who was removed by police before midday after speaking to an officer. The officer had been telling protesters on a megaphone they were breaching the public health orders.

Protesters chanted, "Let him go, let him go," as Mr Gibson was being led away. He urged the crowd to disperse and not to come to his aid.

A woman, 25, was also arrested and issued a criminal infringement notice for offensive language.

The protest was organised by the family of David Dungay jnr, a Dunghutti man who died in custody in 2015 after he was held down by Corrective Services officers while gasping "I can't breathe".

Mr Dungay's nephew Paul Silva said he wanted to see the officers involved in his uncle's death stood down and the matter reinvestigated by Safework NSW.

He said police had shut down a table where protesters were handing out masks and hand sanitiser.  Mr Silva was issued with a move-on order and, as he was leaving the area, said: "NSW Police have told us we will be arrested."

Mr Gibson was released from police custody and issued a $1000 fine.

As he was leaving, Mr Gibson said he was "all right". "We tried to be as safe as we could today," he said. “We’ll continue our fight for justice. I don’t regret it at all."

Another man, who was also issued a $1000 fine, tore it up and said he would take the matter to court.

Several hundred police officers were at the rally, including the riot, dog and mounted police squads.

NSW Police Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing said while the force appreciated people's right to protest, it was not appropriate to do it in the midst of a pandemic.

"We understand that the issues in question here are significant and are sensitive to a lot of people. However, we must do what we can to ensure that the public in general are safe at this time," he said.

"We are not anti-protest, just don't do it in the middle of a pandemic. "Find another way to express your views, find another way to have your voice," he said.

Last week, police took court action seeking a prohibition order for the rally, which was granted on Sunday.

The prohibition order did not ban the rally, but left participants exposed to potential criminal sanction including for breaching public health orders.

While an appeal was lodged, it was later dismissed by the NSW Court of Appeal. Despite the outcome, protesters vowed the rally would go ahead.

Mr Dungay’s mother Leetona appeared at State Parliament with supporters just before 3pm to present a petition calling for the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions to consider laying criminal charges against the prison guards who restrained her son.

Almost 100,000 people have signed the petition. "It was a bit scary,” she said of the rally. "But we succeeded in showing them we aren't going to give up."


Why the Black Lives Matter protest is dangerous

By immunologist John Dwyer

The vast majority of people infected with COVID-19 met the virus while in close physical proximity to an infectious individual for an extended period of time. Prolonged exposure not only results in a much greater chance of being infected; it makes it likely one will be infected by a lot of virus – "high viral load" – which will be a major factor in determining the clinical consequences.

This reality is not being given sufficient emphasis in our mitigation strategies.

As we attempt to tame this epidemic it is crucial that we not only practise social distancing but also focus on minimising occasions when we are close to fellow citizens for a prolonged period of time, a strategy we might call "social brevity".

Remember our local experience of one infected individual attending a wedding reception with 35 others, all of whom went home infected.

No matter how laudable the cause of yesterday’s planned Black Lives Matter protest in Sydney, it was ridiculous to even contemplate having a gathering which 1500 people had indicated on Facebook they would attend – even if wearing masks – to give voice (and potentially virus) to their shared concerns for a prolonged period.

While the organisers had pledged to divide into legal groups of no more than 20, how feasible might that have been? As it turned out, only 40 turned out for the rally, which was abandoned when its leader and others were arrested. But it shouldn't have come to that.

What irony that a protest about the need to save lives could be responsible for the loss of lives. It’s disturbing that after all these months of struggle to contain COVID infections, the organisers were defying a court order not to proceed.

As we have seen in Melbourne, a single carrier can set off a tidal wave of infections. Prolonged exposure to COVID carriers results in clusters of infection as we have seen in meat-packing plants, nursing homes, cramped housing estates and, increasingly notable, hospital settings.

More than 700 Australian health professionals caring for COVID patients have been infected. In the Italian crisis more than 100 previously healthy and often young doctors died as they were constantly exposed to huge numbers of infected individuals over many weeks.

Now, you might get infected making you way around a crowed supermarket. You might pick up COVID from a solid surface or meet it in air exhaled by a fellow shopper, but the risk is low. To avoid the greater risks, we have to extend our thinking to social brevity.

Religious services, choirs, funerals, parties, hotels where drinking while standing in groups is allowed, public transport and the normal daily routines in nursing homes all create dangerous opportunities for infection.

The data also highlight how important are opportunities to work at home. We need to pay special attention to the working conditions associated with "essential services". We have had clusters of infection on construction sites and in factories. Industry experts should be working with government health authorities to devise the best possible protective gear and arrangements for workers in such industries.

The recent outbreak of infections in Victoria clearly illustrates how quickly we can see a reassuringly low rate of new infections explode to produce so many new infections that our best efforts at contact tracing are unable to arrest the exponential increase in cases.

In NSW we are understandably nervous that our currently manageable numbers of new infections could suddenly accelerate.

While vaccine news features much optimism, the data is very preliminary and we are learning from numerous studies that natural infection may not be associated with any long-term immunity.

Too often we hear that COVID infections are only a problem for "oldies". Yet globally they are causing more and more serious clinical consequences for young people (very noticeable in Victoria at the moment), often resulting in chronic illness.

It was of some comfort that the Black Lives Matter protesters had pledged to wear masks, but that would have given them no guarantee. Numerous studies have been performed trying to quantify the value of mask wearing by the general population as a strategy for defeating COVID; the results are mixed. The controversies are well presented on the NSW Department of Health’s COVID website.

The wearing of masks by all citizens, as is currently required of Victorians, needs to be put into an evidence-based perspective. There is no doubt about the effectiveness of masks in reducing the likelihood that an infected individual will infect another.

Of course, individuals with respiratory symptoms should wear a mask as they seek testing and then self-isolate until the results are in. No-one with symptoms should be at large in the community and thinking that a mask will guarantee they are harmless.

The World Health Organisation and America’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention recommend the importance of mask wearing by all in situations such as Victoria’s. Certainly the same is true for the likes of Florida and Texas where 25 per cent of those tested are infected, but mask wearing will not provide the panacea that will terminate the COVID epidemic.

Stay-at-home orders will slow the infection rate but our need to "live" with this virus and restore our economy requires us to adapt our normal social interaction to the long-term epidemiological reality we face. That adaptation must address the need for "social brevity" for the foreseeable future.


Irrigators warn Berejiklian that her minister is picking the environment over farmers

Irrigators have taken a complaint against NSW Environment and Energy Minister Matt Kean to the Premier, claiming the minister appears to be choosing environmental concerns over the interests of farmers and agriculture.

In a stunning broadside against the minister in a letter sent to Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Friday, NSW Irrigators' Council interim chief executive Claire Miller suggested the water and agriculture sectors were being treated as "part of the problem" by some wings of the government.

The letter comes after a tense meeting with irrigators on July 1, in which Mr Kean apparently stated he had been appointed by the Premier to represent his energy and environment stakeholders, and left early.

"We quickly got the impression Minister Kean was not much interested in engaging with us," Ms Miller wrote to the Premier.

"It was troubling to realise Minister Kean does not consider farmers to be among his stakeholders. This narrow view is divisive and perpetuates the false binary that pits environmental interests against farming, as if the two are mutually exclusive."

In a strong warning to the Premier, Ms Miller said the agriculture sector regarded itself as a critical player in the state’s COVID-19 economic recovery program.

"We see ourselves as part of the solution and trust we [will] not be treated as part of the problem in some quarters of government."

Ms Berejiklian declined to comment on Monday, and did not respond to a question on a claim made by irrigators that Mr Kean said she had instructed him to deal only with energy and environment sector stakeholders.

Mr Kean declined to comment on the tone of the meeting, but was forthright in what he said during the session: he wanted to see more done to look after the environment.

"In my view, farmers and industry have an important role to play in caring for our natural environment, including our rivers and waterways," he said. "But I also think that more needs to be done. That is what I communicated to the [Irrigators’ Council]."

In response to other questions regarding the objective of the meeting, he said: "I want to see a sustainable agriculture industry thriving in NSW and an environment that is in a better state than the way we inherited it."

The tension between the minister and the state’s farmers and irrigators comes at a delicate time for the Premier, who is increasingly having to mediate between MPs pushing for more ambitious environmental action while regional communities continue to reel from drought and bushfires.

Within his own portfolio, Mr Kean is pushing the accelerator on his own steep environmental ambitions — including a plan to double the koala population by 2050, announced on Sunday, and a commitment to renewable energy.

Meanwhile, regional MPs argue the government hasn't done enough to help rebuild regional and agricultural communities still suffering hardships from a nightmare summer.

"Hopefully he can remember that he's the minister for the whole of NSW and if he busts this relationship with farmers he'll be essentially hurting the environment," one unnamed backbencher said. "And I very much doubt he's been given the Premier's instruction to disregard farmers."

Another was more blunt, saying, "Kean has shown a complete disregard for the people putting food on our tables in a time of crisis."


Modern Monetary Theory: ABC might like the idea, but it’s just printing money

For a man who had just announced the biggest deficit in the commonwealth Treasury’s history, Josh Frydenberg appeared to be getting off lightly.

Four minutes of ABC interview under his belt and just one interruption from Leigh Sales. It was hardly a light saute, let alone a grilling. At the mention of tax cuts, however, Sales cranked up the heat.

“But, Treasurer, on that point, sorry to cut you off there …”

“You’re not really sorry,” sighed Frydenberg. “But that’s okay.”

If the ABC were a local shire council, Sales would have been obliged to leave the room at that point, so great is her conflict of interest. So too would have the camera operator, and the bloke with the clipboard and the makeup woman, since all of them draw their wages from the public purse.

An $87bn deficit is not everything they would wish for, but at least it’s a start. A government focused on spending rather than saving might leave the ABC’s budget intact.

Sales, of course, is not foolish enough to frame her fiscal narrative like that. Her complaint about tax cuts is that they favour the wealthy. Instead, she told the Treasurer, he should target “the most disadvantaged”. “You’re forgoing income to the government at a time when you need to spend more,” she said.

If a family on the median income in a rented house in Rockdale is rich, then Sales may be right. Under the changes promised for 2022, workers earning between $43 and $57 an hour will be removed from the top tax bracket.

If targeted assistance is the way to go, our imagined middle-income family in Rockdale, a tree-starved suburb unfashionably close to Sydney Airport, would be a good place to start.

Not even the most brilliant government is able to spend with the precision of a household on a tight budget.

In the course of a grouchy interview with the Prime Minister the previous evening, Sales nominated sectors where government spending might be directed. The universities, perhaps, or the arts, where JobKeeper, JobSeeker, a special injection of $250m plus $400m in assistance for the film industry clearly wasn’t enough.

Did the Prime Minister accept that the government spending would have to remain high for some time? Did he accept that there is no urgency to pay down debt? Would the government’s spending commitments remain high and would he rule out slashing government spending in the short to medium term?

Crisis or no crisis, the conviction that governments spend more wisely than the citizens they serve is superglued to the consciousness of the utopian left. Margaret Thatcher’s projection that socialism would be exhausted when it ran out of other people’s money proved to be a fallacy.

Once its citizens’ pockets had been emptied, governments started borrowing on their behalf expecting them to pay the interest.

The left’s new fiscal fancy takes this one step further. Modern Monetary Theory postulates that governments don’t even have to borrow the money they spend. They just have to print it.

MMT began on the fringes of Australian universities as a critique of Peter Costello’s effort to pay down public debt. It found new life with the arrival of quantitative easing in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Now the principles of MMT have been embraced at the ABC as the start of a new dawn.

“We may be on the cusp of a revolution,” wrote business reporter Gareth Hutchens earlier this month.

“What if everything we thought we knew about public finance over the past 40 years has been wrong?”

Australia’s political elite could afford to spend far more on public health and education, social housing, scientific research and green energy schemes, while eliminating unemployment, the credulous Hutchens continued.

“And yet they’re not — either from a misunderstanding of government finances or because they don’t want to.”

MMT holds that any nation with a sovereign currency and a floating exchange rate, like Australia, can print all the money the government needs to spend. The ready supply of currency will keep interest rates low.

Inflation would be kept in check by raising taxes, rather than increasing the cost of borrowing.

Coupled to MMT is a Job Guarantee program underwritten by the federal government. Community improvement schemes and other worthy public objects would act as a buffer against unemployment.

The reinterpretation of permanent public debt as a sign of good government is troubling. A Job Guarantee scheme, however well intentioned, would quickly drain the nation of its enterprising spirit and its people of ambition. It would lead us towards the dystopia described by Robert Menzies in 1942: “ … an all-powerful state on whose benevolence we shall live, spineless and effortless … where we shall all have our dividend without subscribing our capital.”

As Henry Ergas explained eloquently on these pages last Friday, the Menzies decision to harness personal ambition as the motive-power of progress, rather than state spending, was the key to Australia’s post-war achievements.

The inevitable consequence of MMT would be the expansion of the public sector at the expense of the productive private sector. Conventional economics suggests that controlling inflation by raising taxes and funding make-work schemes would put the brakes on business investment, reduce workforce participation, undermine productivity and send jobs offshore, hardly the recipe for success in a post-COVID-19 world.

Yet conventional economics, or “the neoliberal orthodoxy” as the ABC calls it, has become old hat. The tried and tested macro-economic theory that turned the fortunes of almost every industrial nation in the final decades of the 20th century is just another stone monument awaiting the sledgehammer.

The truly eye-watering thing right now is not the projection for debt or deficit, the likely need to extend emergency assistance or the Victorian government’s incompetence.

It is the break in the political consensus on fiscal policy that threatens to make our current level of government spending the new normal, even in the good times.

Public debt is heading from the billions to the trillions. But what the heck? Let’s chuck another boondoggle on the barbie.

“Gov debt is manageable & affordable,” tweeted Emma Alberici last week. “Maybe time for high speed rail?”


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

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