Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Politics in sport is destructive

Once upon a time, sport was an international language. A child kicking a soccer ball in Argentina could communicate in the same terms as an Italian or Swedish junior – even one from Japan.

The language is one of sport: the love of the game. The universal code. The language applies to all religions, all people, all sports.

The language speaks of the challenge. The goal. The team unity. The individual strength. The soaring heights of victory. The lows of defeat. The hope. The possibilities. The dreams. The fans.

It is the international language where no words are needed to understand everything.

Sport raises us up.

But introduce politics, and the splendour fades. How have we allowed it to happen? Why have we allowed it?

Partisan politics and sport do not mix. Ideological politics and sport divide. Politics is the antithesis to sport.

The easiest example of that came to us with the Essendon Football Club saga. It appointed a CEO one day, and by the next, he was driven to resign. Andrew Thorburn’s Christianity was too much for the politically ‘correct’, the social elites who get to decide who and what is good.

It is a simple formula: someone is good if they agree with the virtue signallers and their beliefs – someone is bad if they disagree.

The tribe has spoken at Essendon. The Premier, Daniel Andrews, was part of that tribe, continuing his talent to represent some, but not all. When it comes to believers, Daniel Andrews is a religion of his own.

But the Essendon matter is wholly unsurprising: we had it coming. Supported by Woke boardrooms, the AFL has become both Creator and Guardian Angel of political intrusion and interference in sport.

Netball Australia and Cricket Australia have caught the bug. Their elite athletes cough and splutter with business-class hypocrisy.

In Netball Australia’s case, Gina Rinehart had every right to call an end to her $15 million gift. There are others who will respect her company’s brand, its bankrolling of the nation, job creation, and its extraordinary effort to fund the global dreams of our nation’s best young athletes including Olympic swimmers and rowers.

Tennis champion and Greatest Of All Time, Margaret Court, understands the dangers of expressing private thoughts publicly, thoughts deemed politically incorrect.

Who needs to watch a thrilling game of tennis when we now clap and revere according to how they vote in a referendum? Perhaps a quiet note to the marketing department: tickets might be harder to sell.

Diversity officers abound. Politically correct deeds flourish.

For the AFL, there was once a time when people simply went to watch the sport: a magnificent game with plenty enough happening not to require political sideshows or overtones.

But these days, there seems barely a round that isn’t dedicated to an approved cause.

There is nothing wrong with either the Pride or Indigenous rounds for example, but why pull them out of the hat that’s deep with a thousand good causes? Where is the round for CFA volunteers? Or the round for those who couldn’t attend funerals during lockdown? Or a weekend dedicated to maths and science teachers? Or for people with awful kitchens? For freedom of speech?

There are rounds dedicated to promoting health awareness – the most prominent being Motor Neurone Disease and Breast Cancer. Great causes each and deserving of attention and support.

These are the good things sport enables: the sentiments that unite and do not divide. Non-political.

But add politics, and all of a sudden, it’s not so much fun anymore.

The average Australian can sniff hypocrisy before they see it. They smelled it over Essendon’s Thorburn meltdown, the man who, as NAB Group Chief Executive Officer, introduced the Pride Round to the AFL in March 2015 to celebrate ‘…diversity and the LGBTQ+ community’.

No one has riled about that, or the NAB’s support of Climate Change legislation or sustainability awareness. It is only Thorburn’s religious associations that were trapped in the social jury’s snare.

But where were Premier Andrews’ words – his holier-than-thou indignation – for AFLW player and Muslim, Haneen Zreika, over her withdrawal from the round eight Pride match for religious reasons, and not for the first time? Crickets. Or as Richard Flanagan might put it, the sound of one hand clapping.

The Pride Round is political. The Australians I know don’t particularly care what someone’s sexuality is. They care that the person is happy and healthy. But by singling out the rainbow warriors, they are signalling a demarcation. Creating categories, division.

Similarly, why single out the Indigenous Round, when players on the field come from many corners and cultures of the world? Are the Italian or Irish players less suitable to celebrate? Every player has a history, a place, a culture. Celebrate them all by not singling one out. That’s real unity. That’s sport.

Sport is losing its ability to speak all languages.

I yearn for the days where we just cheer on outstanding athletes without wondering what they think in private.

Sport is great enough on its own. It doesn’t need politics.

But maybe politics needs sport. ?


Unreasonable war on anti-vaxxers

For the past two and a half years, Jack the Insider (Peter Hoysted), through his columns in the Australian, has waged a war on ‘anti-vaxxers’. Of course, he conveniently lumps into that category anyone who dared to point out the fact that the Covid vaccines, far from being the panacea he believes them to be, actually do very little, even when it comes to personal protection.

On October 27, he wrote a piece which so stood out for its lack of rigour that it has to be called out.

He started off with this statement:

When Covid-19 vaccines first became available in the summer of 2021, I argued that this was the end game for anti-vaxxers. The science and the data that followed would be irrefutable. I was right about the data. But I was wrong to think this shameless movement would put its cue in the rack.

Let’s leave aside the emotion about this ‘shameless movement’, who he says ‘are joined by a larger group of disaffected people who don’t read enough and listen too often’. Jack the Insider is the one who is not right about the data because he doesn’t read enough or listen properly.

He cites in his piece a string of US government data that supports the lie that Covid became ‘a pandemic of the unvaccinated’. Jack is a stickler. He even cites a study of prisoners (people who, unlike the vast majority of us, are confined and cannot move out and about in society as they please) to demonstrate ‘what we have now overwhelmingly shows that unvaccinated individuals are more infectious and for longer’.

Unlike Jack, let’s be honest and do the job properly.

If Jack wanted to do his job properly, he could have done far worse than read regular contributor to these pages and The Australian, Ramesh Thakur’s column in the latter on August 20 this year, and he would realise to his argument there is a very strong counter-argument, published by none other than NSW Health:

The Covid report from NSW Health for the week of July 10-16 says: “The minority of the overall population who have not been vaccinated are significantly over-represented among patients in hospitals and ICUs with Covid-19.” Just two pages later the same report gives the number of unvaccinated people admitted to hospital and intensive care units as zero. The sentence is repeated verbatim in the latest weekly report for July 31-August 6, with the number of unvaccinated people admitted to hospital at zero and to ICU just one.

Even by the standards of public health authorities across the world gaslighting the people to nudge them into docile – and often performative – compliance with official edicts, this level of internal contradiction of narrative with data is breathtaking.

Not a single Covid death under 40 was reported in the week to August 6. The total number of boosted people who died with Covid was 71.3 per cent of the 1,281 Covid deaths whose vaccination status was known, slightly above the “more than 68 per cent” of eligible people who have been boosted.

Thus the effectiveness of boosters in preventing death lasts only a short time.

People who have received two to four doses made up over 95 per cent of the over-16s and 98.1, 95.8, and 82.6 per cent of Covid hospital admissions, ICU admissions and deaths, respectively.

In the 11 weeks from May 22 to August 6, the unvaccinated comprised 0.2, 1.8 and 13.1 per cent of all NSW Covid-related hospital admissions, ICU admissions and deaths, respectively.

The double vaccinated and boosted made up 98.1, 95.4 and 85 per cent of the same respective totals. Just the boosted added up to 73.3, 73.4 and 69.9 per cent.

We are no longer in the realm of a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

Despite major protective benefits, Covid vaccines are undeniably leaky. Their real-world effectiveness lasts a disappointingly short time.

Strike one.

Then our Jack goes on a tirade against Rob Roos, whitewashing the anger over Pfizer executive Janine Small’s admission that there was never any testing done to demonstrate that the jab prevented transmission because ‘we had to move at the speed of science’. Jack dismisses the outrage at this as ‘shrieking’, and refers to, among other things, ‘peer-reviewed modelling’ (which he doesn’t reference) that suggested we couldn’t wait the usual five to ten years to produce a safe vaccine because ‘we would have to wear 14 million excess deaths a year if we waited’.

As we knew reasonably early in the piece, the modelling could never be trusted. Here are the undisputed facts about Covid from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare from November 2021, published in these pages. The average lifespan of an Australian is 82.6 years. The average age of Covid fatalities in Australia is 85. Since the pandemic began, the Covid fatality rate for Australians under 50 is four in 12,000. Sixty-six per cent of Covid deaths have been in nursing homes. Seventy-three per cent of Covid deaths involved pre-existing chronic health conditions and a higher number involved non-chronic but somewhat serious health complications. It would be difficult, therefore, to justify discrimination on the basis of vaccine status, especially if one has no pre-existing conditions, or is not in a vulnerable category.

Strike two.

Mr Hoysted, continuing his crusade against the ‘shrieking’ states that we always knew the vaccines would never prevent transmission – noting an FDA study – and that this was taken over by ‘political hyperbole’ about ‘protecting grandma’. He even cites an Israeli peer-reviewed study which showed ‘the ability of the vaccine to prevent transmission waned with time and with the advent of the Delta variant’. Well, I, among many other in this publication and elsewhere, were saying that as far back as April 2021. To then, as our Jack does, gloss over the way politicians and health bureaucrats promised to make lives miserable for people on the basis that they saw no point in getting a jab because not only did it not prevent transmission, but that, based on their own age and health circumstances, they believed it wasn’t necessary, is, in the view of this correspondent, inexcusable.

However, our Jack doesn’t give up. He uses the same study to insist that those who were unvaccinated for Covid would be more infectious and infectious for longer. As we know, that has been shown to be wrong. Remember when two doses were enough, then three, now four? Maybe that is why Denmark halted its Covid vaccine program back in April. Even before then, Lancet published this article noting the futility of vaccine mandates in the face of transmissibility (I’ll refer to it again below).

But our Jack still insists that he is right and has ‘indisputable evidence’ to prove it. He writes:

In the Oxford Academic Open Forum on Infectious Diseases, three infectious diseases doctors, two from the US and one from Scotland, examined three randomised trials and found that “receipt of the vaccine was associated with a 70 per cent reduction in all SARS-CoV-2 infections 21 days after the first dose and 85 per cent reduction seven days after the second dose. A similar cohort study of 3,975 health care workers, first responders, and other frontline workers in the United States who were tested weekly found a 91 per cend reduction in infection risk after full vaccination by an mRNA vaccine and an 81 per cent reduction after partial vaccination.”

Jack goes on:

While vaccine mandates may have been excessively applied across a range of industries (I never quite understood why they were imposed on footballers or construction workers), that analysis provides hard evidence as to why vaccine mandates continue to be necessary for frontline health workers, emergency response workers and even more obviously, for those working in aged care.

Well, that Lancet study I cited above directly contradicts this assertion, when it found that triple vaccinated Israeli doctors and nurses were getting Covid and passing it on to their patients: ‘[T]he demonstration of Covid-19 breakthrough infections among fully vaccinated health-care workers (HCW) in Israel, who in turn may transmit this infection to their patients, requires a reassessment of compulsory vaccination policies leading to the job dismissal of unvaccinated HCW in the USA,’ it argued.

So much for ‘hard evidence’. Strike three.

A suggestion for our Jack. Since he has all the ‘hard evidence’ that the Covid vaccine is safe and effective, he might want to ask his ALP friends in the federal government why it is that the Budget, handed down last week, is warning that Covid vaccine injury payouts could reach $77 million. He might want to investigate why the CDC, which he places so much faith in, fought tooth and nail to prevent this data from being released.

Maybe then our Jack might put his cue in the rack.


Engineering disaster: Remaking the power grid to fail

Europe may be in the midst of a power crisis and memories of the chaos on the Australian grid in June still fresh, but that has not stopped billionaire activist Mike Cannon-Brookes and the state governments of Queensland and Victoria sowing the seeds of a major power disaster.

These players are engineering the closure of the bulk of the reliable coal-fired power supply of the eastern half of the continent within 13 years with nothing but intermittent renewable energy projects, most of which have yet to be built, to replace them.

To add to the air of fantasy which now pervades any decision involving energy in Australia, the Queensland and Victorian governments acknowledged that there has to be some means of storing energy for the changes to work, but then made proposals that were either completely inadequate (Queensland) or contained no details (Victoria).

To make matters worse the entire effort, including the many billions to be spent trying to replace coal power plants with wind and solar generators will have no benefit for Australia. As is widely known (except by Australian activists) few countries are paying much attention to their obligations under the Paris Agreement. Even those countries that have proved willing to undertake the major pain required to make real cuts in emissions (the UK and Germany) have backtracked in the past few months, thanks to the power crisis.

That means the sole result of all the money and effort spent on decarbonising the grid will be to make it more erratic and unreliable, and push power prices through the roof.

As was known before the announcements in September and October AGL’s 1.8-gigawatt Liddell power station in NSW will close in 2023, and its 2.6-gigawatt Bayswater plant will cease operations between 2030 and 2033. In addition, Origin Energy will shut the 2.8-gigawatt Eraring coal-fired power station in 2025, and Victoria’s Yallourn power station (1.48 GW, brown coal) is scheduled to close in 2028.

After a sustained campaign by Cannon-Brookes, who became AGL’s largest shareholder with the express purpose of getting the energy giant to accelerate closure of its coal plants, AGL has also announced they will shut the shut the 2.2-gigawatt Loy Yang A power station in Victoria’s La Trobe Valley in 2035, a decade earlier than planned.

At about the same time as the AGL announcement, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk declared that her government would end the use of coal power in the state by 2035. There are eight coal-fired plants in the state, the newest of which is the 30-year-old 1.4-gigawatt Tarong station, which will now close more than a decade ahead of schedule.

Then in October, Victorian Premier Dan Andrews declared that if he is re-elected in the looming state election he will introduce tough new emission targets that are likely to end coal-powered electricity generation in the state by 2035.

To replace this gaping hole in generating capacity, the Palaszczuk government has announced that it will develop a $62 billion renewable energy ‘super grid’ which includes a new transmission line and two new pumped-hydro projects. About half of that investment is expected to be public money, including $9 billion from the state government and (hopefully) the rest from the federal government.

The plan commits to two new pumped-hydro power stations. The Borumba project, near Gympie, in south-east Queensland and the Pioneer-Burdekin project near Mackay. Borumba is expected to store the equivalent of 48 GWh but the only figure available for the Pioneer-Burdekin is the output figure of 7 GW (a facility which generates 7 GW for seven hours produces 49 GWh – commentators, activists and even government press releases routinely confuse GW and GWh).

Assuming the combined total storage will add up to 100 GWh, however, it is still equivalent to perhaps ten hours worth of operation by the coal plants the Palaszczuk government wants to close down. The Snowy Hydro 2.0 project, which is proving a ridiculously expensive white elephant, may add another 300 GWh, but these are all still inadequate amounts especially given the growing evidence of a weather phenomenon known as a wind drought.

As previously noted in this publication (‘Transition loses traction’, 9 July, 2022) there is evidence that wind can die across the whole of the National Energy Market (the east coast grid) for up to 33 hours – as far as anyone knows – meaning that it will require at least twice the amount of storage now either being built or in proposal documents to get through a wind drought period, and ideally several times that. Proper grid planning should also take into account major wind droughts occurring during periods of cloudy days and during rain droughts where there will not be much fresh water to fill the pumped-storage facilities.

In October, the Victorian government announced that it would revive the old State Electricity Commission but this time as a renewable energy agency with $1 billion to develop 4.5 GW worth of renewable energy projects. In late September the Victorian government had also announced that it would increase its renewable energy storage capacity target ‘to 6.3GW by 2035’, although it’s not clear from the announcement or any of the breathless media stories generated by it just how this target will be achieved, or even what it means. Does the Victorian government mean gigawatts or gigawatt hours? If it means gigawatt hours, it does not help very much. Three battery projects in various stages of development amounting to about one GWh are mentioned, and the state government is tipping in $167 million of taxpayer money, although it is not clear what the money is to be spent on. Otherwise, the announcement seems to be a statement of intentions.

While governments make muddled announcements about what they may be going to do, the power grid with its collection of aging fossil-fuel plants continues to stagger along somehow, and probably will until the Liddell plant ceases operation in 2023.

However, the June crisis in the power grid was in part due to the simultaneous failure of major coal-fired units. As the coal power stations are aging it is not surprising that they are off the grid, for one reason or another, more often. The forced closures will make such crises more likely and more frequent.

Instead of acknowledging this point, commentators descend into fantasy about how more renewables and extensive use of hydrogen will fix the problem. It seems that consumers must wait until they are left in the dark in freezing homes for extended periods until policy makers finally concede that renewables might not be the answer to everything.


Victoria’s infrastructure con job

I like to think I’m pretty good at spotting a con, but not always. Just days before the Federal election Labor’s Shadow Minister for Infrastructure, Catherine King, made what the media called a ‘$4 billion power play’.

She announced that an elected Albanese government would keep the $4 billion the Liberals had set aside for the East West Link. Very reasonably, she said that money would be used towards projects backed by the state government of the day – Labor or Liberal.

This is wonderful, I thought. I wrote to Minister King on her very first day in the job, thanking her for her bipartisanship and seeking an opportunity to meet, so we could work together.

Turns out it was a con. On just her second day as Minister, King ripped away that $4 billion in infrastructure funding from Victoria. Perhaps naively, I didn’t see it coming. I also didn’t see the $900 million of other Victorian road and rail cuts by the new federal government.

Instead, through the budget Labor is committing $2.2 billion towards the Andrews government’s pet project: the Suburban Rail Loop (SRL) – a massive rail tunnel through Melbourne’s middle suburbs. Stripped of the obvious political overlay (helping your Labor mates down here in Victoria) this was an odd decision.

Mr Albanese did some good things when he was Kevin Rudd’s Infrastructure Minister. One of the best was setting up Infrastructure Australia (IA). The idea was to take the politics out of infrastructure spending by appointing an independent, expert group to scrutinise proposals and their business cases.

Sounds good. So, what does IA have to say about the business case for the SRL? In short, nothing. That’s because even though the project was announced on Daniel Andrews’ Facebook page – naturally – four years ago, his government has never asked IA to carry out an assessment of the business case.

Curious. Well, not really. Other experts bodies have scrutinised the SRL and what they’ve found isn’t pretty.

Firstly, the independent, apolitical Parliamentary Budget Office popped the bonnet. It found that the loop – well, just the first two thirds actually – will cost $125 billion to construct, a lazy $75 billion more than Andrews said the whole loop would cost. Whoops.

At a time when Victoria has more debt that New South Wales, Queensland, and Tasmania combined, and with interest rates rising further still, such reckless spending would be mad as a bag of bees.

Then Victoria’s Auditor General had a look as well. He found that the project will be staggeringly expensive and that, as a result, its Benefit-Cost Ratio is 51. That means the Victorian taxpayers’ return on investment will be 50 cents in the dollar – a catastrophic rate.

Given it is crystal clear the SRL doesn’t stack up, it’s odd that the federal government wants to sink over $2 billion into it – to say the least, all the while cutting $1 billion from other Victorian infrastructure projects.

But, for the SRL, that’s where the money will stop. Andrews and co. want a further $10 billion from the Feds. Yet Minister King – quite sensibly this time – has said she’ll only cough up more if Infrastructure Australia gives its seal of approval. Unless Albanese stacks out the board of IA (always a possibility, I suppose) this is never going to happen.

As a result, Victoria’s budget has a new $10 billion black hole. We’ve become rather desensitised to waste here in Victoria. The Andrews Labor government has already wasted over $30 billion of taxpayers’ money on blowouts on major projects.

That’s over $20,000 for every Victoria family; more when you factor in the, rapidly rising, interest bill. That will look like small beer if Andrews wins next month’s election and starts constructing the SRL.

It’s interesting – over the last decade or so we’ve all started to care much less about debt and budget deficits. The recession of the 1990s and double-digit interest rates are a distant memory. Australia sailed through the Global Financial Crisis in much better shape than comparable countries, and many economists confidently predicted that the good times would just roll on.

But things have changed. Interest rates are rising and Victoria’s debt is so big, so unsustainable, that many people are rightly starting to worry. In my role as Shadow Minister for Youth I speak with groups of young people all the time.

I often hear about the need to address climate change and deliver better mental health support. But more than anything I hear about the state of the economy, the budget, and what this means for their futures.

They haven’t been conned. And nor should we be.




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