Wednesday, June 08, 2022

The sentimental narrative of Aboriginality

Usually far divorced from reality

In last Saturday’s Weekend Australian, Professor Peter Sutton, an internationally recognised anthropologist and linguist, wrote ‘Indigenous identity has become such an attractive option that false claims to it now abound’. If you are not familiar with the considerable body of his work, look him up and then ask yourself why Bruce Pascoe needs no introduction while you weren’t aware of the achievements of Peter Sutton.

Also in the Australian that weekend was an article by Jacinta Price in which she claimed, ‘…the genuine voices of indigenous suffering are being drowned out by the virtue-signalling calls for a “voice” and “recognition”’. What characterises the comments of both Sutton and Price is the impeccable credentials they bring to a debate which is going to dominate the political arena for the life of the new parliament.

Unfortunately their arguments are probably going to be lost in the torrent of comments from the wokerati and their fellow travellers which are going to inundate us in the months ahead. Take this bit of grovelling Greenspeak which is from the Greens’ policy statement which says we must ‘recognise,learn from and seek consent for first nations peoples spiritual, cultural and physical relationship …environment, and their rights and obligations’. I suppose it means something to the Greens.

On a more practical level is Andrew Forrest’s Minderoo Foundation, the aim of which is to establish ‘parity with and for Indigenous Australians within one generation’. Given that the considerable efforts from both the private and public sectors over the past half-century have not had much success, we wish the Minderoo project well. The CEO of the team charged with achieving this goal is Ms Shelley Cable, a young woman who describes herself as ‘a Wilman-Nyoongar woman from Perth’ and therein lies a problem. The numerous photographs of Ms Cable on the Minderoo Foundation website show her to be a well-groomed, attractive person, of what appears to be Caucasian heritage.

I do not, for one moment, wish to imply that Ms Cable does not have a strong connection to ‘Wilman-Noongar’ culture. Nor do I wish to argue that her belief in that connection is not genuine. What I find troublesome is the fact that she is content to describe herself in a way which, to someone who knows nothing about her, would seem to ignore a major part of her genetic inheritance. She is of course not alone in making such a claim. The vast majority of the people of indigenous background who rise to positions of prominence, and are of mixed race descent, never acknowledge the complexity of their ethnic origins. The females, in particular, are always ‘proud Yolngu’ or ‘proud Wiradjuri’ women when clearly, a substantial part of their ancestry must have been the terrible racist white people who stole the land and then went on to steal the children.

It is worth considering why so many ‘indigenous’ public figures choose to avoid an honest discussion of their genetic heritage. In this they stand in contrast to politicians who are keen to spruik the complexities of their heritage. Your average pollie will be proud to emphasise that he or she has a multicultural background but will always identify as an Australian first and foremost. The indigenous community leaders and especially those who frequent the corridors of self-delusion in the ABC Ultimo Centre, almost never identify as Australian. Instead they identify as part of the oppressed minority who are the descendants of people who suffered dispossession and two centuries of discrimination.

The problem with this approach is that it ignores the complexity of the history black white relations in this country. Of course over the past two centuries there was considerable cruelty and injustice. But there were also examples of genuine attempts to work together to develop outback Australia and there were and are hundreds of thousands of children being born from interracial relationships.

Yes, we must recognise that not all the relationships were based on equality of the partners and, in the past, white men frequently used their economic power to obtain sexual favours from Aboriginal women. But the days when, as Stanner so bluntly put it, ‘any woman could be bought for a fingernail of (tobacco) or a spoonful of (tea)’ are long gone. Also gone is the shame of being the product of such relationships. But every day we see intelligent articulate mixed race women appearing on television telling us how proud they are of their indigenous heritage while glossing over the unmistakeable fact that a substantial part of their genetic and cultural heritage is European.

The current emphasis on a ‘truth telling’ emerged from the ‘statement from the heart’ produced five years ago to provide “a Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution providing a practical path forward to…address the issues that governments alone have been unable to solve”. An essential component of this will be “a truth telling about our history” but many of the Yorta Yorta, Djabwurrung, Gunnai Gunditjamara et al., women are simply not telling the truth about their own ancestors. The much-vaunted ‘truth telling’ focuses on a selective view of the past. It isn’t so concerned with truth telling about the present or about the vast discrepancy between the lives of the ABC/Canberra ‘first nations’ mob and the people they claim to represent who live in remote outback settlements. Furthermore, with the full backing of the Labor Party, our new Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Linda Burney, will ensure that, very shortly, we shall be inundated with the sort of feel good statements designed to bring forward a referendum on constitutional amendment. There is going to be a torrent of ‘truth telling’ from privileged middle-class indigenous women who will tell us all about the hardships they faced at school and how difficult it was to get access to free university education.

My own guess is that the majority of Australians have little sympathy with the ideas contained in the Voice Treaty Truth rhetoric. Warren Mundine has said ‘The Uluru Statement made two proposals. One is a “top-down” lawyers’ approach that will certainly fail. The other is a grass roots proposal with overwhelming indigenous support that could be implemented without the need for any referendum. I’m calling time on ten years of discussion on constitutional recognition. We don’t need it’. Unfortunately Mr Mundine’s position of honest pragmatism is probably going to be crushed by the woke steamroller.


False promises of cost-of-living relief from renewable energy

How’s your first polar blast of winter going? So much for global warming. It’s enough to freeze the testicles off a brass monkey.

Even in Queensland, where winter is usually like a Pommy summer, the heaters and air conditioners are in overdrive as people seek refuge inside from the icy weather. And to make matters worse, we’re in the grip of a massive surge in power and gas prices. Some businesses have seen their gas costs quadruple in the past few months.

Experts blame the big rises on a global shortage of coal and gas. The Australian Energy Market Operator says wholesale prices are up 141 per cent in the past 12 months.

So much for promises of cost-of-living relief by our political leaders.

The fact is – when it comes to renewable energy driving down the cost of electricity – we’re being sold a pup.

For 15 years, we’ve heard mostly Labor and Greens MPs talking up the transition to renewables and how it will drive down power prices. I call bulldust. Power prices have escalated while we’re chasing renewable pipedreams.

Any politician who bobs up with an argument that our transition to net zero by 2050 will reduce electricity prices is talking rubbish.

Remember Prime Minister Anthony Albanese talking about helping with cost-of-living pressures during the election campaign? The politicians, frankly, are full of excrement on cost-of-living relief. There’s more chance of me playing five-eighth for the Blues on Wednesday than pollies driving down cost-of-living pressures.

The Milky Bar Kid, former PM Kevin Rudd, is the zero renewables muppet-in-chief.

When his predecessor, Liberal PM John Howard, brought in a renewable energy target in 2001, it was set at a tokenistic 2 per cent. When Rudd took office in December 2007, things changed.

By 2010, the Labor-Green Alliance had enshrined a 45,000GWh renewable target set for 2020 – 41,000 of which sat under the Large-Scale RET, and the balance under the Small-Scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES). Had the 41,000 GWh LRET remained in place, it would have amounted to around 30 per cent of Australia’s electricity market in 2020.

“The message for coal, long-term globally, is down and out,” Rudd told Sky News in 2017. We need “a heavy mix of renewables”, which was why he was proud the government had introduced the renewable energy target.

Rudd upped the target by more than 450 per cent in an uncosted promise before the 2007 election. It was crazy, as the Productivity Commission politely tried to tell him in a 2008 submission. The target would not increase abatement but would impose extra costs and lead to higher prices.

It would favour wind and solar while holding back new ideas. Rudd, of course, knew better. Not for the last time, he ignored the Productivity Commission and pushed ahead with his renewable target of 45,000GWh by 2020, of which 41,000GWh would come from wind and solar.

If the policy was designed to punish Australian consumers, it was a roaring success. Household electricity bills increased by 92 per cent under the Rudd-Gillard governments, six times the level of inflation. Rudd went further, and further. He is close to Albanese.

The winter chills around power prices have only just begun.


Corrupt Victoria hurting the innocent

Where I live, in Kooyong, many voters have sent a message that they care deeply about issues of integrity. Rightly or wrongly, this was perceived to be a weak point for the Morrison government.

With upcoming state elections, we’ll soon be able to test if the Teals were genuine in their concerns, or whether they were simply a plausible excuse to give high-profile Liberal men a metaphorical kicking.

The Teals did particularly well in Victoria, knocking off both the Treasurer in Kooyong and Tim Wilson in Goldstein. Good luck to them. I, for one, hope integrity features just as strongly at the Victorian state election this November as it did at the federal election.

When the Victorian state Liberals were last in power, we established the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission, which has done outstanding work ever since.

It has shone a light on the appalling behaviour that has clearly become normalised within the Victorian branch of the Labor Party. The Premier himself has been hauled before IBAC at least twice.

In all, six Labor Cabinet Ministers have lost their jobs in this term of Parliament alone, most notably, Adem Somyurek. Somyurek says Labor ‘stole’ the 2014 election after misappropriating public funds through the Red Shirts scheme.

Sometimes, issues of corruption generate significant interest inside the beltway, yet fail to cut through with voters. But Victorian Labor’s malfeasance, unlike that of the Federal Coalition, is so bad that it might make it into the election discussion.

We should all care that our leaders act with integrity because when they don’t, fundamental services suffer; people suffer.

Let’s take child protection. I need to admit that when it comes to child protection I’m deeply biased. You see, I was born into the care of the State in Victoria.

After some months in foster care as a baby, I was put into a permanent placement with a wonderful family. After the mandated period (then 12 months) this generous family adopted me.

This isn’t a sob story or a hard luck story. I’m incredibly lucky to have been born in Victoria at a time when the child protection system functioned really well under an outstanding Minister – Labor’s Pauline Toner – our state’s first female cabinet Minister.

Back then, being born into the care of the state could act as a springboard to a life of real opportunity. Not any more.

Last week at the Victorian Parliament’s Public Accounts and Estimates Committee, we learned that over 2,500 young people with confirmed cases of abuse or neglect have not even been provided with a case worker. That’s over 16 per cent of all kids in the system.

We are also aware that, in this term of government, a record number of Victorian children known to child protection have died. More than half had not been allocated a worker. So, it matters.

The Child Protection Minister, Anthony Carbines, took to ABC radio to play down the significance of this metric. Nothing to see here…

His spin didn’t wash.

Carbines’ bizarre, train-wreck interview precipitated a huge response from listeners, all with their own stories of the failures of child protection under Labor. The ABC’s Virginia Trioli has now described the interview as ‘notorious’.

It was particularly odd for Carbines to assert that a huge number of unallocated cases is not a problem as the previous Minister – Luke Donnellan – had bragged about reducing the unallocated rate to 4 per cent just a year earlier.

I’m not a great fan of Luke. He resigned after coming to the notice of IBAC and admitted to breaking Labor Party rules. But to his credit, he worked to drive down the number of unallocated child protection cases. Then had had to quit. The vital Child Protection portfolio was shifted on a temporary basis to Richard Wynne, the Minister for Planning. Go figure. Finally, it was given to Anthony Carbines, who – in a long Parliamentary career – had never previously held a front bench position.

Carbines has also been implicated in the corruption probes that are dogging the government. Last December it was reported that he ‘gave a taxpayer-funded job to one of sacked powerbroker Adem Sumyurek’s chief branch stackers’.

In the midst of all this, the Andrews Labor government dropped the ball, and vulnerable children are suffering as a result.

Being born into the system, I know far better than most that the Child Protection portfolio matters. That’s why it deserves a senior Minister who is committed for the long term; like Labor’s Pauline Toner in the 80s or the Liberal’s Mary Wooldridge from 2010-14.

State Labor’s corruption scandals have robbed us of that. So, for the sake of our most vulnerable kids, let’s hope integrity matters just as much to Victorian voters in November as it did in May.



Is safety the best course of action? Our grandparents were willing to sacrifice their lives to preserve freedom for future generations. Our generation is sacrificing children’s futures to protect our lives… There is something terribly wrong in this equation and to me, it feels cowardly.

Our societies appear to be labouring under the belief that safety is the most important value to possess.

In public spaces, there are imprecations that ‘your safety is our top priority’ and entrances to all buildings are besmirched with myriad posters with details about viruses and hand hygiene. Who actually reads these is anyone’s guess, but there they remain a symbol of public health and government outreach. Indeed, one of the more common greetings we encounter is ‘stay safe’.

I don’t want to stay safe – I want an appropriately risky day for the activities I have chosen to undertake. Although I admit, that sounds less pithy.

Ultimately, Safetyism is an example of what Thomas Sowell might call ‘stage-one thinking’. Namely, a theoretical solution to a theoretical problem is implemented without anticipating the consequences.

Sadly, so-called ‘stage-one thinking’ appeals to politicians as the messaging is simple. ‘Risk is bad’ and our party’s intervention will reduce this risk. Invariably we do not know if 1) said intervention does reduce said risk 2) there are adverse effects of said intervention or if 3) the costs outweigh the benefit.

I submit that having safety as the priority is a poor mantra.

On one level, there will always be a trade-off between safety and convenience, thus in most domains we accept a certain level of danger to have convenience in our lives. Though none of us want to disregard safety as a principle, for many of us it is the danger of certain activities which makes them fun and exciting.

The element of individual assessment is key to this. Imprecations of safety for someone in their eighties are going to be very different to a healthy eighteen-year-old. The priorities and the risks will be very different. By having a blanket policy of safety for all of society we do not admit this difference and we risk harming our young and healthy people through Safetyism.

It is especially relevant as, over the last decades, we have seen the results caused by over-protecting children from risk as they develop.

In order to grow as humans on a social, psychological, and immune-physiological level, we need to expose ourselves to reasonable risk. The consequence of this has been a generation of young adults who are ill-equipped to defend themselves by means other than censorship (see Jonathan Haidt).

It is damaging on so many levels to protect someone who does not need protecting. The same principle allows us to improve at our jobs; especially in medicine, it is only by being out of our comfort zone that we learn new skills and improve as clinicians.

Benjamin Franklin said, ‘Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.’

We each have our own takes on this, but there is something cowardly in society about having too much of a focus on safety. Without saying we should court danger, to live life in perpetual fear of an existential threat is no way to live.

It is ignoble and dehumanising to have safety as the pure priority, for safety is not what gives life meaning. It is interactions with fellow humans, sports, activities, social groups and religions, jobs, and voluntary exchange which gives our lives meaning, and these involve risk. Safety is incidental and can either facilitate or curtail these activities. To have such a disproportionate focus on safety is to sacrifice our humanity and the meaning in our lives for an indefinite end.

Increasingly, in medicine we have been shifting towards a holistic model of care, where we are not just asking how to most extend a life or cure a disease, but rather, how can we provide an individual’s life with the most meaning. It asks how we can care for a patient by considering their concerns and wishes.

We accept some people for joint replacements despite the risk of surgery because the improvement in quality of life for them may outweigh any risk of surgery. We also do not always treat illnesses towards the end of life because the treatment will cause more suffering than the disease running its course. Indeed, a lot of the time we chose not to investigate low-risk conditions is because the investigations themselves may cause harm and are unlikely to show anything.

With every decision there is always risk, what matters is if this is justifiable.

Why the emphasis now? Perhaps the exigencies of a pandemic warrant this. Perhaps the damage to healthy populations by safety measures is justified by the benefit to at-risk populations. On the other hand, perhaps Safetyism is the easiest way for a government to avoid addressing complex and difficult questions – the easiest way to appear proactive whilst avoiding the issue. At what expense does this come?

Just as an individual needs risk exposure to develop themselves, our societies do as well. We can purchase temporary safety from disease, from industrial accidents, from corruption by a burden of regulations and rules. This comes at the expense of our future; as our society starts to stultify, we stop taking risks, we stop investing, and we stop providing for the future. Instead, we develop a high time preference, thinking of the present and thinking of ourselves.

Our ancestors sacrificed themselves to protect future liberty; we are sacrificing liberty to protect ourselves, perhaps we are cowards after all.


The full costs of the pandemic response are yet to come

There is a cost of lockdown crisis coming. It will be economic and political. Take the latter first. This political lockdown crisis, in my view, will really only hit right-of-centre parties. Left-wing parties (I’m about to generalise) tend to be peopled by voters who trust big government and for whom equality concerns easily trump freedom concerns. On the left, to continue to generalise you understand, are the parties of the public servants, the human rights barrister caste, the well-off, the university, public broadcaster and corporate HR classes, the virtue-signallers (but I repeat myself) and those on welfare.

Almost none of those groups did badly out of the pandemic and the brutal, despotic, heavy-handed governmental responses we saw pretty much everywhere outside of Sweden, Florida, South Dakota, a few other US States, and a few islands like Iceland and Taiwan. In fact, most did very well. The super-rich did super well. To be blunt, these castes had no skin in the game when it came to the costs of these liberty and small-business-crushing ‘non-pharmaceutical interventions’. (And my Lord I hate these Orwellian acronyms.)

On the other hand, all right-of-centre parties have a segment of their voting base that really cares about freedom-related issues. Now certainly the big tent, broad coalition that makes up right-of-centre parties includes your low-tax types, some of whom aren’t too fussed either way once you leave the economic sphere. And there are social conservatives, some (not all, but some) of whom aren’t overly concerned about freedom issues at all.

But there is no denying that a noticeable chunk of all right-leaning political parties is comprised of voters who care deeply about freedom issues, a fair chunk of whom did very badly indeed out of the pandemic. And let me be clear, I mean they did badly due to governments opting half-heartedly to emulate the ‘let’s copy China and weld them into their homes’ strategy. You know. There we are in November 2019 with a World Health Organisation pandemic plan that is based on a century of data and that says ‘never lockdown, never shut schools, give people the information’. Yet other than in Sweden really (whose wonderful chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said ‘I just copied the existing British and WHO plans’ which the data now shows was the correct approach) this gets tossed out the window after China welds a few cities’ people in their homes and journalists go down the fear-porn route in reporting from Italy.

Well, as I said the costs have overwhelmingly hit a segment of the political base of right-of-centre parties. Many a person’s life has been unalterably ruined. And many are not in the forgive-and-forget mode, however much these same right-leaning parties now do not want to talk about their despotic pandemic approaches. At this point I usually get all sorts of unsolicited (and not infrequently hostile) emails telling me how wonderfully Australia did in its pandemic response. Heck, half the Sky After Dark hosts and three-quarters of the op-ed writers in the Australian continue to say this. In my view, it’s palpably untrue.

UNSW academic Gigi Foster has spent the last year getting the data together and she says it is nothing like 40,000 lives that the Morrison government’s ‘let’s not say a bad word about any despotic lockdown anywhere in the country’ approach saved. At most it was not even 10,000. In quality-adjusted life-years it was a far less impressive figure again. But that’s just one item in the cost-benefit ledger, deaths ‘with and because of’ Covid.

On the other side there are going to be all sorts of deaths because of lockdowns themselves. This data is starting to pour in. In the US more people died of alcoholism than Covid in 2021. Wonder why? There are missed health checks. Two years of schooling that poor kids will never make up, never, and that will have big health effects. And get this. A huge pandemic literature review and meta-analysis out of Johns Hopkins by Professors Hanke et al. now calculates the ‘how many Covid deaths did lockdowns save compared to Sweden pre vaccines’ at barely over two per cent…. [so] ‘had little to no effect on Covid mortality rates’.

Remember, that’s the sum total of the benefits side of the ledger. Meanwhile the costs will be, heck are, immense. And these authors have a small section that is relevant to Australia. When you look at island countries – Australia, NZ, Iceland, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan – there is almost no statistical difference in Covid deaths per million despite some countries (think Oz, think NZ) being despotic and others (think Iceland, think Taiwan) being much, much closer to the Swedish approach. All island nations did extremely well. I wonder what the lockdownistas have to say about that? Well, nothing of course.

But here’s the thing. Some of us on the right of the political spectrum are not going to forget what our side of politics did to us. It’s one of the reasons the Morrison government lost I think (and why I’m glad it lost). It is why in the province of Alberta the conservative premier was a fortnight ago removed by his side of politics; he had caved in too much to the despots. It’s why Boris is in big trouble in Britain and people are obsessing over a few 30-minute parties – because if you are going to impose insanely irrational rules on all and sundry and make the police enforce them then if you’re caught cheating it’s not going to help you to plead ‘we need a bit of perspective here’.

And let’s be clear that Boris showed infinitely more resolve in standing up to the fearmongers than ScoMo ever did – just remember the 1,200 supposed UK public health experts who wrote the open letter in mid-2021 saying the sky would fall if Boris opened up. Boris did anyway and it didn’t. But we on the right are still angry and want ‘politicians on our side’ to be taught a big lesson.

Compare that to Governor Ron DeSantis in Florida who locked down for not much more than a fortnight and then realised this was wrong and moved straight over to the Swedish approach. He was literally called a ‘granny killer’ by the media. Last election DeSantis barely pipped the Democrat; today he is over ten points ahead – the rewards of political bravery!

So that’s the political side. The economics is easy. All but the uber-Keynesian economists believe that inflation is everywhere and always a monetary phenomenon. Print money like a Zimbabwean and borrow and spend like a drunken sailor and (Modern Monetary Theory notwithstanding) there will come a day of reckoning. It may well bring stagflation and worse in its wake. In part this will be another effect of the pandemic response, though actually it was happening before Covid.

This time, though, the politics will hit both sides because the left-leaning parties are in even more thrall to uber-Keynesianism than the right (and Treasury and the Reserve Bank). And the Left barracked even more for this big spending, big Keynesianism.

Want to know what it’s going to be like for indebted governments and house-owners when interest rates rocket up? Just wait and see.




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