Sunday, August 23, 2020

Wake up, Australia: where’s your scepticism?

Why do people place so much trust in governments? How much easier will it be for future governments to operate as benevolent, but authoritarian, regimes? And what if, through our submission, benevolence slides into something worse?

Eight months after the first recorded case of COVID-19 arrived in Australia, governments have grabbed hold of a plethora of draconian powers that few of us could have imagined, except in the plot of an old sci-fi movie or a history book about East Germany.

Understandably, facing the ­unknown, most of us accepted the first wave of restrictions. Cancelling inbound flights to prevent the virus arriving and spreading made eminent sense. Social distancing remains sensible. We accepted lockdowns, fenced-off beaches, and police patrolling parks and streets for miscreants.

But many restrictions that made sense many months ago no longer make sense. This week, school formals were cancelled in NSW. School sport has been neutered. And dancing at weddings remains verboten. But if polls are to be believed, Australians are on board with submitting to a growing list of government decrees.

Put another way, the healthy Aussie scepticism of authority has disappeared faster than a fart in a windstorm.

This week, drones were introduced in Victoria to make it easier for police to catch people venturing outside their homes for illegal reasons. Senior Constable Ruben Gilles told local news source The Port Phillip Leader: “It will be a brilliant tool for crowd control.” Yes, indeed. How much easier ­policing could be with some more Soviet-style techniques.

Premiers aren’t erring on the side of constitutional caution when it comes borders either. Witness the current arms race of border controls by South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and Queensland. Qantas’s Alan Joyce is right to be exasperated that there is no clear set of rules, based on sound health advice, to offer Australians and Australian businesses hope about the borders opening.

But why would Premiers take much notice of the Prime Minister berating them about state borders when the federal government continues to ban Australians from leaving the country without a special exemption, based on exceptional circumstances, signed off by some unaccountable bureaucrat in a back office. The border commissars gave Shane Warne permission to commentate on the cricket in London. But three out of four applications by other Australians have been rejected.

Again, most Australians seem just fine with these continuing incursions and double standards on lives and livelihoods, with no end game from state or federal governments. Voices of dissent are still few and far between.

Making Australians fearful has been critical in lulling us into quiet submission. And to maintain a sense of fear, goalposts have kept moving to the point where they are no longer visible. The Morrison government locked down the economy relying on modelling with a best-case scenario of 50,000 deaths. As of Friday, the number of deaths from COVID-19 stands at 459. Flattening the curve has been and gone. Hospital capacity has been built, ICU beds lie empty. And why would state and federal governments lay out an exit strategy to the continuing lockdown when most Australians seem content with disproportionate restrictions that continue to destroy lives and livelihoods?

Our unquestioning submission is causing other dire consequences. It is becoming clear that when we don’t expect accountability from government, none is forthcoming from politicians prone to blame-dodging.

This week, the NSW Premier apologised for the deadly con­sequences of the Ruby Princess ­fiasco: hundreds of passengers infected with COVID-19 were allowed to leave the ship on March 1, spreading the virus into the Australian community and causing at least 28 deaths. But no one, not Health Minister Brad Hazzard, nor a single health official, has been sacked or even disciplined, for deadly mistakes inquiry chief Bret Walker called “inexplicable” “unjustifiable” and “inexcusable”.

Sky News host Alan Jones says NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian offered up a pathetic “pigeon-livered” apology following the state government's handling of the Ruby Princess fiasco.
In Victoria, the Andrews government has been sitting on information about the source of second-wave community transmission — 99 per cent from two Melbourne hotels. The Andrews government has been caught out misleading the public about offers of ADF help too. Yet no one has stepped down, even stepped aside, for the single biggest policy failure in Australia, one that continues to kill people and cause untold damage to lives and livelihoods.

At the federal level, while the Prime Minister blames the Victorian government for the disaster in Victorian aged-care homes, it is clear that the Morrison government is responsible for catastrophic deaths of our most vulnerable citizens.

Deaths in March and April at Newmarch House and Dorothy Henderson Lodge in NSW should have been a wake-up call. But as Counsel Assisting the Royal Commission into Aged Care Peter Rozens QC said earlier this month, “neither the commonwealth Department of Health nor the aged-care regulator developed a COVID-19 plan specifically for the aged-care sector”.

The government’s failure was slammed the same day the Prime Minister accused Andrew Bolt of being “heartless” and “amoral” and offering up the elderly to this deadly disease. Is this what we should expect when raising questions about some of the nonsensical pandemic rules? Normally this kind of rubbish emanates from the waves of ABC radio.

There is, of course, a thick black line between scepticism that encourages a government to govern better during a health crisis, and wicked distrust that undermines safety and good government.

The latter will come to the fore now that the Morrison government has locked in a deal for the Aust­ralia-wide supply of the world’s first potential COVID-19 vaccine. The letter-of-intent signed with drug giant Astra­Zeneca means that every Australian will be offered the University of Oxford vaccine for free if and when it becomes available.

The prospect of a coronavirus vaccine has given new lease to anti-vaxxers who, this week, bombarded social media sites with ­irrational conspiracy theories. Their distrust of science, corporations and government is nothing short of deranged. A cab driver told me this week the pandemic is a conspiracy caused by 5G, and that Bill Gates secretly wants to implant us with a tracking device using a COVID-19 vaccine.

As someone on Facebook said of the optimism of COVID-19 conspiracy theorists, they obviously have never been project managers: getting even a dozen people to act in concert with no blabbing is impossible.

Alas, anti-vaxxers have always been with us. In December 2014, when parents could lodge “conscientious objections” against childhood vaccinations, more than 39,000 children aged under seven were not vaccinated. There was nothing conscientious about their objections: children, and the most vulnerable in our community, were threatened with entirely preventable diseases such as polio, diphtheria and whooping cough.

The Abbott government’s “no jab, no play” policy introduced in early 2015, making some family tax benefits, including childcare rebates, contingent on children being vaccinated, has boosted the number of vaccinated children. This week, the federal Department of Health said Australia was on track to meet the 95 per cent target needed for herd immunity, with more than 94.6 per cent coverage for one- and five-year-old children, and more than 91.6 per cent for two-year-old children.

Anti-vaxxers will remain lurking below the surface or hollering on social media like Pauline Hanson. While no serious person will sink to the dangerous and pathological distrust of governments by COVID-19 anti-vaxxers, there is such a thing as a healthy dose of scepticism. Refusing a “vaccine” plugged by Vladimir Putin, for example.

Getting the trust balance right is just as critical when Australian governments are exercising powers more at home in Putin’s Russia. Speaking of which, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said this week that it was unlikely that the virus would ever be completely eliminated. You don’t say.

That means a healthy level of scepticism of government is our best shot at guarding against ­future governments assuming draconian powers at gradually lower bars, and making even worse mistakes than those made over the past six months.


Ban on uranium mining in New South Wales is set to be lifted after 30 years in an effort to create new jobs - but environmentalists are furious

Uranium mining is set be allowed in New South Wales - creating a wave of new jobs - after the government struck a deal with One Nation to lift a ban on the industry.

A bill to be voted on in the upper house of parliament next week calls for the repeal of legislation banning nuclear facilities and uranium mining in the state.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Deputy Premier John Barilaro are understood to have thrown their support behind bill by directly working out a deal with One Nation.

The deal has left some Coalition members in the Liberals and many of Mr Barilaro's Nationals colleagues fuming.

In an effort to appease their party a deal had been struck which would allow uranium mining but keep the existing ban on nuclear facilities, according to 7 News.

Nuclear energy generation is currently banned by the federal government so this part of the deal would only signal intent not to push for any of the power plants. 

If the federal government were to lift the ban then the deal would also allow New South Wales to follow suit, according to The Daily Telegraph.

The ban on the industry has been in place since the late 1980s and would likely see significant backlash from nuclear energy opponents in repealed.

Australia has been estimated to hold 30 per cent of the world's uranium reserves - the largest of any single country.

As such, the industry could generate a significant amount of jobs and revenue for the state according to The Minerals Council of Australia chief executive, Tania Constable.

'Australia is endowed with the world's largest uranium resource but is only the third largest producer,' she said.

Ms Constable said if the bans are repealed, it would help strengthen Australia's position as a global uranium producer.

South Australia, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory are currently the only states and territories that allow the mining of uranium.

The arguments against mining of the radioactive metal include the environmental aspects, the dangers of nuclear power, and indigenous land issues.

The draft legislation has also attracted criticism form conservationists. The Australian Conservation Foundation has argued the country doesn't need to explore 'dangerous' nuclear options.

'The state ban on uranium mining has served NSW well and should remain,' Australian Capital Territory nuclear campaigner Dave Sweeney said in a statement. 'Uranium mining in New South Wales would risk the health of the environment and regional communities for scant promise of return.'

Cabinet will need to give their final approval of Ms Berejiklian's and Mr Barilaro's deal with One Nation on Monday.


Australian universities plead for fee rises to be scaled back and places increased

A group of Australian universities has called on the Morrison government to scale back the size of proposed fee increases while also warning that the number of student places needs to grow even faster than planned.

As the government considers the final shape of its higher education package, which it wants to legislate before the end of this year, the Innovative Research Universities (IRU) network is pushing for changes that would protect students and universities from dramatic changes in fees and funding.

IRU – which represents seven comprehensive universities including Western Sydney University, La Trobe University and Griffith University – argues in a submission that the government should “rework the student charges so that no unit is subject to a charge higher than the current highest rate”.

In order to ensure its proposal remained budget neutral, the IRU says the government could simultaneously “raise the lower rates proposed to offset this”.

The IRU is also seeking a second change to the package to ensure that universities do not receive less funding for each student on average than they currently do.

“As we explore the detail and universities model the period to 2024, there is less and less comfort that the funds saved are all being returned in other ways,” the submission states.

“Revenue for STEM and agriculture ought not to reduce if more graduates with these skills are required.”

In a third major change, the IRU calls on the federal government to support faster growth in the number of university places.

“Additional growth places are needed since the number planned will only just cover the population growth in the younger age groups in the short term and will fall well short towards the end of the decade,” it states.

The education minister, Dan Tehan, unveiled the “job-ready graduates” package in June, proposing to reduce the overall government contribution to degrees from 58% to 52% on average and increase fees for some courses to help pay for 39,000 extra university places by 2023 and almost 100,000 extra places by 2030.

But the package has attracted controversy over some heavy increases in student fees – for example 113% for the humanities – and because the government has no modelling about whether the changes will incentivise students to study science instead of humanities, the rationale provided by Tehan.

The Nationals have also expressed fears that the inclusion of social work, behavioural science and mental health in that highest paying cluster will hurt regional areas, which have already suffered from a lack of access to mental health support.

The regional education minister, Andrew Gee, who is from the Nationals, issued a statement under his ministerial banner last week describing this aspect as “a glaring and potentially detrimental design flaw” that could harm women, mature students and regional Australia more generally.

Tehan responded to that broadside by saying he would listen to all feedback as part of the consultation process. Monday was the deadline for submissions on the draft bill, which was released six days earlier.

The IRU submission says it supports the need for the package overall, noting it “seeks to reverse the steady decline in the value of university funding through effective indexation and provide a mechanism for growth in the future that will meet likely demand”.

But it is pushing for several changes, including removing many elements of the “student protection” schedule of the bill. This is the portion that includes cutting off commonwealth support for students who fail more than half of eight units in their first year of study.

IRU says the government “should leave universities to administer their policies and continue with performance measures that include the successful passing of units as one marker”.

It argues those elements are part of “a major extension of regulation over universities, with a limited evidence base for the need”.

“It is an extension of micro regulation to universities contrary to the government’s commitment to reduce red tape and inefficient barriers to effective practice,” the submission states.

Universities Australia, an umbrella body, has also raised concern about the issue of student success and commonwealth support.

The chief executive, Catriona Jackson, said universities already had “a range of measures in place to ensure satisfactory academic progress within their chosen course”.

“As we understand it the new legislation means students must pass more than half of the units in a course to retain commonwealth support, but that students can change direction, or have special circumstances recognised and retain support,” she said.

“We continue to discuss the detail with the government, with fairness the primary consideration.”


Two women who flew to Perth from Adelaide without an exemption before sneaking out of hotel quarantine to party with a rapper have vowed to return to the city 'by force' after they were sent home in disgrace

Law-breaking by blacks is very common.  It is a pity that we have to import such behaviour

Isata Jalloh, 19, and Banchi Techana, 22, narrowly avoided jail time after flying into Western Australia on Monday and fleeing the Novotel Hotel to 'hang out with friends' and make the most of their 'vacation'.

The pair left the Murray St hotel via an emergency stairwell at about 1.30am on Tuesday but were caught by police at a unit in Coolbellup, in the south of Perth.

Jalloh and Techana were escorted back to hotel quarantine before making obscene gestures as they were placed on a taxpayer-funded return flight to South Australia on Friday.

Once on the ground in Adelaide, the duo refused to apologise for their selfish behaviour.

'Sorry for what? Did we commit a crime? Did we kill anyone?' Jalloh told Nine News before claiming they had 'no idea' there were travel restrictions in place.

The pair said they also planned to return to Western Australia in two months time, 'once coronavirus is over'. 'We will enter by force,' Jalloh added.

During their trip, the women were told they would need to quarantine before returning to Adelaide after flying into Perth without permission.

The pair instead left quarantine a few hours later and caught a taxi to the party.

Police called Jalloh's mobile phone to ask where the women were but she laughed and hung up on the officer.

The mobile phone signal was then used to track both women to the flat.

The women were arrested at about 8.30am and were taken into custody for two days. 

They appeared in Perth Magistrates Court on Thursday and pleaded guilty to the breach.

Jalloh was handed a $5,000 fine and Techana, who also admitted to obstructing an officer while in custody, was given an eight-month sentence, suspended for 12 months.

WA Police said the women arrived in Perth intending to holiday and visit family but were directed to quarantine until return flights could be arranged.

The court heard Techana, a dancer, had moved to Perth for a 'fresh start' and planned to bring over her one-year-old daughter.

Jalloh's lawyer also argued the 19-year-old had travelled from Queensland to South Australia without self-isolating and did not understand WA's coronavirus measures.

Magistrate Ben White said he believed the women were aware of the border restrictions.

'It's difficult to think anyone in the current climate could be in the dark about those sorts of things,' he said. 'There's risks to health, there's risks of this sort of behaviour resulting in further lockdowns.'

 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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