Thursday, November 30, 2023

What's the latest on COVID antiviral drugs, and who is eligible in Australia?

Australia is experiencing a fresh wave of COVID, seeing increasing cases, more hospitalisations and a greater number of prescriptions for COVID antivirals dispensed over recent months.

In the early days of the pandemic, the only medicines available were those that treated the symptoms of the virus. These included steroids and analgesics such as paracetamol and ibuprofen to treat pain and fever.

We now have two drugs called Paxlovid and Lagevrio that treat the virus itself.

But are these drugs effective against current variants? And who is eligible to receive them? Here's what to know about COVID antivirals as we navigate this eighth COVID wave.

What antivirals are available?

Paxlovid is a combination of two different drug molecules, nirmatrelvir and ritonavir. The nirmatrelvir works by blocking an enzyme called a protease that the virus needs to replicate. The ritonavir is included in the medicine to protect the nirmatrelvir, stopping the body from breaking it down.

Molnupiravir, marketed as Lagevrio, works by forcing errors into the RNA of SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID) as it replicates. As these errors build up, the virus becomes less effective.

This year in Australia, the XBB COVID strains have dominated, and acquired a couple of key mutations. When COVID mutates into new variants, it doesn't affect the ability of either Paxlovid or Lagevrio to work because the parts of the virus that change from the mutations aren't those targeted by these two drugs.

This is different to the monoclonal antibody-based medicines that were developed against specific strains of the virus. These drugs are not thought to be effective for any variant of the virus from omicron XBB.1.5 onwards, which includes the current wave. This is because these drugs recognise certain proteins expressed on the surface of SARS-CoV-2, which have changed over time.

What does the evidence say?
As Lagevrio and Paxlovid are relatively new medicines, we're still learning how well they work and which patients should use them.

The latest evidence suggests Paxlovid decreases the risk of hospitalisation if taken early by those at highest risk of severe disease.

Results from a previous trial suggested Lagevrio might reduce COVID deaths. But a more recent, larger trial indicated Lagevrio doesn't significantly reduce hospitalisations or deaths from the virus.

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However, few people at highest risk from COVID were included in this trial. So it could offer some benefit for patients in this group.

In Australia, Lagevrio is not routinely recommended and Paxlovid is preferred. However, not all patients can take Paxlovid. For example, people with medical conditions such as severe kidney or liver impairment shouldn't take it because these issues can affect how well the body metabolises the medication, which increases the risk of side effects.

Paxlovid also can't be taken alongside some other medications such as those for certain heart conditions, mental health conditions and cancers. For high-risk patients in these cases, Lagevrio can be considered.

Some people who take COVID antivirals will experience side effects. Mostly these are not serious and will go away with time.

Both Paxlovid and Lagevrio can cause diarrhoea, nausea and dizziness. Paxlovid can also cause side effects including muscle aches and weakness, changes in taste, loss of appetite and abdominal pain. If you experience any of these, you should contact your doctor.

More serious side effects of both medicines are allergic reactions, such as shortness of breath, swelling of the face, lips or tongue and a severe rash, itching or hives. If you experience any of these, call 000 immediately or go straight to the nearest emergency department.

Be prepared

Most people will be able to manage COVID safely at home without needing antivirals. However, those at higher risk of severe COVID and therefore eligible for antivirals should seek them. This includes people aged 70 or older, people aged 50 or older or Aboriginal people aged 30 or older with one additional risk factor for severe illness, and people 18 or older who are immunocompromised.

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If you are in any of these groups, it's important you plan ahead. Speak to your health-care team now so you know what to do if you get COVID symptoms.

If needed, this will ensure you can start treatment as soon as possible. It's important antivirals are started within five days of symptom onset.

If you're a high-risk patient and you test positive, contact your doctor straight away. If you are eligible for antivirals, your doctor will organise a prescription (either an electronic or paper script).

These medicines are available under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and subsidised for people with a Medicare card. The cost for each course is the standard PBS co-payment amount: $30 for general patients and $7.30 for people with a concession card.

So you can rest and reduce the risk of spreading the virus to others, ask your pharmacy to deliver the medication to your home, or ask someone to collect it for you.


Former Labor cabinet minister lashes government over green litigant funding

Former Labor cabinet minister Joel Fitzgibbon has lashed the Albanese government over its decision to hand millions of dollars to help green litigants, accusing Labor of “financing job destroying legal challenges”.

In a speech to forestry industry leaders, the former Hunter MP said Labor had “handed taxpayers’ money to activists”.

The attacks come after Labor fulfilled its election promise to reverse funding cuts to the Environmental Defenders Office, providing $10m in funding to the community legal centre over the forward estimates.

The EDO is an legal organisation well known for its environmental advocacy, running high-profile cases against coal and gas developments.

Mr Fitzgibbon, the chair of the Australian Forest Products Association, said it made no sense for the government to fund activists to take legal action “against the very government that gave them the money”.

“Activists funded by rich donors - and indeed governments through the Environmental Defenders Office - are challenging value-creating projects in the law courts,” Mr Fitzgibbon said, in a speech delivered earlier this month that has been obtained by The Australian.

“In a wealthy, liberal democracy it makes sense to use taxpayers money to ensure all Australians have legal representation when they face a criminal conviction. But it makes no sense to hand taxpayers’ money to activists so they can take legal action against the very government that gave them the money.

“To challenge in the courts approvals processes the government rightly argues are as robust as any in the world.”

Labor pledged to reinstate funding for the EDO ahead of the last election in order to enable Australians to have access to the law.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek told The Australian Labor was “proud to be restoring funding to the Environmental Defenders Office, reversing cuts made by the Abbott government.”

“Every section of our community deserves legal advocacy. As does our previous environment. Unlike the Liberals and Nationals, we are not afraid of scrutiny and accountability,” Ms Plibersek said.

Government officials pointed out that the EDO was also funded under the Rudd and Gillard governments of which Mr Fitzgibbon was a Cabinet minister.

The Abbott government cut funding to the organisation following allegations of activist lawfare.

The EDO, first established in NSW in 1985, has used the courts to delay or squash major projects including the Adani coalmine in central Queensland, Santos’ Barossa gas proposad and forestry developments in Tasmania.

The body has received grants from groups including the Myer Foundation.

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Fitzgibbon also attacked “extreme environmental activists” who he said “would destroy our sovereign capability in this country and destroy the jobs of the people who provide it”.

“AFPA provides me with an opportunity to do another thing I did for many years in politics – to take on the extreme environmental activists who, given the chance, would destroy our sovereign capability in this country and destroy the jobs of the people who provide it,” he said.

The EDO was contacted for comment.


Mandate madness: What will it take to allow Victoria’s firefighters back to work?

The 2019-2020 Australian bushfire season was one of the worst in recorded history with fires burning across Australia for over six months. No state or territory was left unscathed with an estimated 24.3 million hectares burned, including 34 deaths, 3,000 buildings, and decimation of wildlife and habitat.

During such times we rely on our first responders to bravely step into the breech, and our firefighters are first to respond to the call. The courage of Australia’s firefighters is well-known and with the approaching fire season we once again turn to these everyday heroes knowing that for them, this personal risk is something they shoulder with pride.

It seems, therefore, unthinkable that almost 4 years since Covid arrived on our shores we would still have up to 50 Victorian firefighters sidelined by vaccine mandates.

Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV) has been the stalwart of mandates, continuing with these ridiculous measures – despite all other states and territories removing them – and no one seems to know why.

Some of this confusion is apparent as recently highlighted in state estimates when Victoria’s newly appointed Emergency Management Commissioner, Rick Nugent, confirmed the only vaccine mandate still in place is with Fire Rescue Victoria (FRV). When asked why these mandates were remaining, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Justice, Ryan Phillips answered, ‘That’s ultimately an operational matter for FRV… [and] something that organisation has decided.’ But when Bev McArthur MLC asked if the Department ultimately had responsibility for the organisation, she was told they were ‘not responsible for internal policies in relation to vaccines’.

This begs the question, who is responsible for the ongoing mandates at FRV?

The Victorian state government revoked the Pandemic Order on October 12, 2022. In June 2023, the former Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy admitted there was ‘little justification’ for ongoing mandates, and on October 20, 2023, Australia’s Chief Medical Officer announced the official end of the Covid emergency response, declaring Covid was no longer a Communicable Disease Incidence of National Significance.

With the pandemic officially over and mandates no longer ‘justified’ (if they ever were), what exactly is Fire Rescue Victoria holding out for?

This question is also being asked by The Australian Firefighters Alliance (AFA). Formed in 2021, under threat of the mandates, this organisation is committed to ‘protecting the freedoms and democratic rights of firefighters and workers throughout the nation’. They are staunchly pro-choice, not anti-vaccination. Co-founder, Josh Hawkes, has been relentless in seeking answers from FRV regarding their continued stance on preventing unvaccinated firefighters from returning to work. The situation has become incomprehensible as he and around 30 AFA colleagues – with an estimated further 20 outside of the organisation – are kept on the sidelines purely due to their vaccination status.

Hawkes contends the lawfulness of the continuing policy which seems to be continuing under a workplace policy. ‘Literally, at 5 pm on the day they rescinded the pandemic orders, Fire Rescue Victoria came up with an interim measure under the Commissioner’s directions,’ he tells me. ‘The union comes out immediately after and says there’s no lawfulness to this. It’s not pinned to anything. The commissioner doesn’t have the statutory authority to enforce it because it references all the pandemic orders. So essentially, they’re continuing a Minister or Chief Health Officer order under a workplace policy, but the Commissioner doesn’t have the power to do that and not neither does FRV.’

So, are the mandates continuing under a workplace policy? It would seem so. But wait, there’s more.

Hawkes and his colleagues are prevented from entering their workplace in a professional capacity however they could enter the same station and work as a volunteer. This seems completely illogical and somewhat hypocritical. As if the same workplace is only ‘safe’ for an unvaccinated firefighter if they are a volunteer.

But wait, there’s more.

FRV produced a Covid-19 Controls Risk Assessment. This document was obtained by Hawkes under freedom of information. The risk assessment identifies potential serious side effects from the jab including myocarditis, pericarditis, blood clots, and even death!

I ask, does Fire Rescue Commissioner Gavin Freeman know about this risk assessment? And if so, what is the justification for continuing to mandate an experimental jab, that doesn’t stop infection or transmission and has very real and significant risks of injury – no matter how rare? Just ask those vaccine-injured firefighters who are now unable to work and on Work Cover.

But wait, there’s more.

There are reports of serious shortages of firefighting crews on multiple occasions, involving multiple stations in Victoria. According to Hawkes, FRV may have instances that slip under minimum staffing numbers, citing emails that call for the ‘backfilling’ of shifts. ‘FRV are failing to fill the gaps while up to 50 firefighters remain sidelined,’ he tells me. ‘On Grand Final day this year, there were thirteen vehicles in the Metropolitan Fire Districts that were each running one firefighter down.’ That’s a tremendous shortage.

But wait, there is even more.

According to Hawkes, the last known mandated dose at FRV was in March 2022. They haven’t forced anyone in the workplace to have a jab – a second booster – since then. This would technically mean that all employees who had not received their second booster and beyond would officially be considered ‘not up to date’ according to official ATAGI guidelines. It appears, on paper, FRV are still mandating the jab and preventing those who are unvaccinated from returning to work, while not enforcing the policy in the workplace.

This mandate madness hasn’t gone unnoticed by elected members including federal MP Russell Broadbent. The long-standing member for Monash has held his seat continuously for almost 20 years, and recently lost pre-selection by the Liberal Party. Broadbent has been outspoken against mandates since 2021, at that time urging the government not to proceed and acknowledges his stance over the Covid years may have contributed to the lost pre-selection bid. Despite platform censorship and push-back, Broadbent has continued to advocate for those injured by the vaccine or continuing to be mandated, including Victoria’s firefighters. ‘The (FRV) risk assessment 100 per cent vindicates the firies still being threatened and punished for speaking out against the mandates,’ says Broadbent. ‘But it’s also a chilling admission for the colleagues who took the vaccine especially those who are now on WorkCover after suffering severe injuries following the jab. This is a blight on our nation. It’s unjust and an absolute disgrace.’

I couldn’t agree more.

As we head into another long hot summer, and the third Christmas for these sidelined firefighters, let’s hope and pray common sense prevails before it’s too late.


The Right wing of the Labor party came to the rescue on detaineee releases

Last week’s immigration omnishambles has panned out to be a masterclass in what not to do for the Albanese government – so much so that this time it was actually a good thing the PM was out of the country.

In fact, Albo’s absence turned out to be critical to the crisis being resolved, but we will come back to that intriguing little titbit later.

First let’s get to the heart of the issue. As we all know, 93 foreign detainees, including some with appalling criminal backgrounds, have been released from indefinite detention by the High Court.

That decision is the fault of the court, which is obliged to uphold the letter of the law — if not, as it would seem in this case, the spirit.

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil made this point in noting that the decision was unexpected and overturned 20 years of legal precedent. She was also correct in observing that the government is obliged to follow the law.

Fair enough.

But we are all obliged to follow the law. The difference between the government and the rest of us is that the government has the power to change the law.

Indeed, that is ultimately the government’s only purpose. If laws are never going to change, why have governments? If there is no need to produce new legislation, why have legislators? If the system simply exists in perpetuity, why have elections?

These fundamental questions seem to have eluded the otherwise intelligent O’Neil as she seemed to fight a scrappy defensive day-to-day war against the obvious.

As for Immigration Minister Andrew Giles, one has to wonder what the point of his role is at all if not to prevent outcomes such as this.

Thus the vibe of the government’s response to a clearly ballooning debacle was the standard kneejerk and utterly wrong response of the besieged – that it wasn’t so bad, that it wasn’t their fault, that there isn’t anything they can do and that everything will be OK.

The first two defences are a form of gaslighting – telling the electorate that their concerns are imaginary and thus by implication that they are foolish to have them.

The second two simply render the defendant impotent – like the sort of thing you’d say to the person sitting next to you as a plane went down.

Again, if there is nothing the government can do, then what is the point of it?

And indeed every time a government or organisation attempts this type of defence against an obvious problem, it always ends up in disaster. Think Qantas. Think Optus.

A week ago chief executive Kelly Bayer Rosmarin was untroubled enough by the Optus outage that she was doing a photoshoot – one of the few cameras she faced on the day.

Literally in the middle of writing this, I was interrupted by a news alert that she had resigned.

Instead, governments should heed the advice of the godfather of the Labor right Graham Richardson, who says that at the first sign of an error – at least the first public one – ministers should immediately own it, apologise for it and fix it.

Thus it was telling that after days of the government swinging in the breeze on this issue, it was Acting PM Richard Marles, the senior figure of the resurgent Victorian Right, who swept in and cleaned up the mess by hurriedly doing a deal with Peter Dutton and pushing through a raft of security measures.

Even more tellingly, he pointedly brushed aside all the tangled and tokenistic semantics and legalese that had crippled the response until that point and said that it was clear the government needed to address community concerns.

Well yes, quite. That is effectively the government’s entire job definition.

After the listing directionlessness of the Voice campaign and deer-in-headlights haplessness of the immigration fiasco, this was a sharp relief example of the Right of the Labor Party at its best.

Whereas the Left is typically obsessed by pet issues that transcend all rules and boundaries while being crippled by systemic inertia in all other areas, the Right, when it’s working as it should, lives in the real world, responds to mainstream concerns and has a default position of just getting things done.

Indeed, it was jarring to contrast the initial government response that there was nothing it could do but wait for the High Court reasons with the incandescent comments of Treasurer Jim Chalmers – another leading Right figure and prime ministerial heir apparent – published in the Good Weekend on Saturday: “Even if you are here for a relatively long time, you still don’t have any time to waste. I am petrified of that. I’m petrified of getting to the end of the day and not having made the most of it.”

Or indeed the bombshell report on the front page of the News Corp Sunday papers that Bill Shorten – once the king of the Right – was going to wholly overhaul the NDIS, one of the most vital and fraught reforms facing the country.

For all of these reasons, it was probably good for everyone that Albo was out of the country, including Albo himself.

To the nominally Left PM’s credit, he has already been acting in the tradition of Labor Right leaders before him. He has now received a masterclass in how to act like those alongside him.




Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Maryanne Demasi: Popular ABC TV science show presenter claims she was discredited and fired after pharmaceutical companies complained

She was absolutely right. There are big doubts about statins. See for instance below:

A former ABC presenter has slammed the national broadcaster and TV medic Dr Norman Swan after claiming she was axed, censored and silenced by her bosses.

Maryanne Demasi was one of the hosts of popular ABC prime time science program Catalyst when it was pulled off the air in 2016 after her reporting sparked a furious backlash.

Her two-part expose in 2013 on an alleged over-use of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs was a ratings success - but was later banned from ever being shown again.

It claimed some people were taking the heart medication without need, but the ABC's Dr Swan warned people risked a heart attack if they stopped taking their prescribed drugs.

Three years later, a further report on the alleged health risks of wifi and 5G sparked so much outrage the show was axed completely in its then-current format in 2016.

Now Dr Demasi has compared the furore over her stories with the mainstream backlash against anti-vaxxers during the Covid pandemic.

In a speech to an 'Australians for Science and Freedom' conference at Sydney's University of New South Wales earlier this month, she blasted her former TV bosses.

Dr Demasi said health industry critics had hit back after the statins show aired and said 'the ideas in the program were 'dangerous' [and] expressed by 'fringe experts'. '[They] assured the public that statin drugs were 'safe and effective'.'

'Do those phrases sound familiar?' she asked the conference audience. 'The phrases became a fixture of the pandemic.

'One commentator at the ABC went on national radio and claimed that people would die if they watched the program,' she told the audience.

'Australians will recognise this character - Dr Norman Swan. He rose to prominence during the pandemic.'

She said the outrage against that show had been led by the pharmaceutical industry.

'Within days, all three of the major statin manufacturers complained to the network,' she said.

'So did the Heart Foundation, which was criticised in the program for its outdated dietary advice on heart disease, and of course Medicines Australia, the body that represents the Australian pharmaceutical industry. '

She said the media had jumped on the bandwagon attacking her after Dr Swan spoke out against the show.

'His comments about my programs sparked a slew of national stories,' she said.

'[They] accused the programs of killing people, claiming that ABC had blood on its hands, and asking people to sue the ABC if they'd had a heart attack after stopping their statins because of the programs.

'To enforce the narrative, the School of Pharmacy at Sydney University came out with a study claiming that the programs would be responsible for up to 2900 deaths because around 60,000 people would quit taking statins.

'Basically, they were accusing us of mass murder.'

A six-month internal review found the show had been factually accurate but the second part of the report had slanted unfairly against the statins industry.

'I gave more weight to the view of experts (such as Harvard's Prof John Abramson and UCSF's Prof Rita Redberg), that statins were over-prescribed,' she said.

'Which was rather ludicrous since the point of the program was to highlight the problem that statins were over-prescribed.'

She claimed TV bosses told her they'd been ordered to make the problem go away and took the episodes offline, apologised and vowed never to air them again.

Dr Demasi claimed TV bosses were deliberately silencing her from defending herself in a bid to stem the controversy

'This gave the false impression that we were admitting the programs were misleading,' she said. 'Consequently, I was attacked in the media, I was characterised as 'pseudoscientific' and any attempt to defend me was censored. 'I became the target of an orchestrated campaign to discredit me.'

She said TV bosses were deliberately silencing her from defending herself in a bid to stem the controversy.

'I was unable to challenge the criticisms against me,' she said. 'I was effectively silenced by my network and they were cancelling film shoots.

'They'd send me emails saying that I was not allowed to comment publicly or privately about these issues, or else they would consider it a breach of my employment conditions.

'I was told to stop emailing my concerns because my emails could be FOI'd and become part of the public record, so if I had anything to say, I had to do it by phone or face-to-face.'

She said the pressure was huge and she regularly faced internal investigations into her work before it went to air.

'Often it would take longer to defend a program than it would to make it,' she revealed. 'Because we were on tight budgets, this was simply unsustainable.'

'And finally, I learnt that the ABC was willing to silence its own journalists in order to appease industry. This had a chilling effect on other mainstream journalists.

'The message was that it would be career suicide if you tried anything similar.

'And it seems to be a very effective strategy because I don't think I ever saw another story challenging statins in the Australian media again.'

She added: 'I think the standards at the ABC have continued to slip. 'It's a shame, because the ABC was once considered a great institution.'


Some better ways to net zero

Australia’s ALP/Green government and their media mates are using subsidies, taxes, and propaganda in a lemming-style attempt to move the whole country to 82 per cent ‘renewable’ energy by 2030 and ‘Net Zero Emissions by 2050’. Canny Aussies are buying diesel generators.

If they persist in their rush to Net Zero, we have a few ‘Net Zero’ suggestions for them.

‘Net Zero Immigration’

Every migrant adds to Australia’s emissions by consuming food, electricity, transport fuels, and housing. Thus, to reach Net Zero emissions, the rest of us must be rationed further to cope with these additional emitters.

‘Net Zero Tourists’

Every tourist adds to our emissions for transport, food, electricity, and accommodation. To achieve Net Zero emissions in the face of millions of immigrants, tourists, and foreign students will need slick carbon accounting, or penury for the rest of us. Victoria’s Dan Andrews was accidentally right for once – he cancelled the Commonwealth Games.

‘Net Zero growth of welfare and the bureaucracy’

Net Zero will not allow us to import hundreds of foreign workers for our mines, factories, and farms while we maintain battalions of bureaucrats shuffling files in air-conditioned ivory towers in the capital cities. Nor can we accept growing armies of able-bodied idlers sipping green smoothies at the beach.

We must get all healthy Aussies into real jobs.

‘Net Zero growth in locked-up land’

Wind and solar energy are sterilising huge and growing areas of land to produce their intermittent electricity. This greatly reduces the land available to grazing, forestry, fishing, exploration, and mining.

It’s time to call a halt.

There must be a net zero increase in land devoted to national parks, marine parks, world heritage playgrounds, locked-up Native Title area, or carbon credit and green energy wastelands.

‘Net Zero lies about electric vehicles’

They have a fanciful plan to replace our petrol and diesel cars, trucks, dozers, and tractors with fleets of yet-to-be-built battery or hydrogen powered vehicles. Where are the fast-refuelling stations for them all? And who has counted the extra emissions to mine and refine the metals for batteries, electric motors, turbines, and power lines? And where will we get the extra electricity for overnight re-charging of battery-powered vehicles as coal generators close, the sun sets, and the wind drops? (They have discovered the answer in ever-green California – electric powered trucks are being recharged with diesel generators.)

‘No Subsidies for Hydrogen’

In this unplanned rush to all-green energy some extol the coming of hydrogen powered vehicles. To produce green hydrogen requires large amounts of electricity plus nine tonnes of water for every tonne of hydrogen produced by electrolysis. Some even think that it makes sense to use large amounts of electricity to desalinate sea water to make green hydrogen. Such a process is not even ‘net zero’. It is hugely energy negative. Obviously the main goal is to harvest green subsidies or votes.

‘No Subsidies for ‘Pumped Hydro’

Greens think taxpayers should fund giant dams and turbines to generate electricity when green energy is on strike – at night, on cloudy days, and during wind droughts.

Does that mean that Greens believe we can steal water from every river system for green energy stabilisation while reducing the water stored for towns, farms, and orchards?

Let’s have the first dam on the Franklyn River in Tasmania (they want to be ‘the battery of the nation’).

‘Full Accounting of all Emissions’

Who is counting all the emissions being generated to manufacture, transport, and erect an ugly intrusive spider-web of roads and power lines to collect intermittent solar and wind energy from mountains, flats, seas, and roof-tops? Where is the carbon and dollar accounting for the metals, concrete, and hydrocarbon fuels that are needed?

We must also count the emissions to manufacture and erect all their planned green energy stabilisation schemes involving pumped hydro and giant batteries. All of this is a dash into the unknown without a coherent plan of how it will all work, or its full cost.

‘We need a Climate-Exit Referendum’

We are locked into never-ending climate conferences and all the costs and eco-babble generated by Paris Climate Agreement.

They want us locked into 15 minute cities with bicycles, walking shoes, oat-milk coffee, and fake meat burgers while they jet off to a new well-fed tourist destination every year. We have copped these annual climate-fests for 26 years now. The last one catered for about 40,000 delegates and hangers-on for 2 weeks of talk-fest that achieved nothing useful (as usual).

Let’s have a Clexit (Climate Exit) Referendum and abandon all liabilities under the Kyoto and Paris Climate Agreements.

‘The Net Zero Prize’

Our reward for reaching our 2030 Net Zero Emissions targets will be a precarious population with industry operating on the whims of the weather and an angry, urbanised, locked-down population faced with food, fuel, and electricity rationing.

There is no global warming crisis, but Blackouts Bowen (Australia’s Minister for Climate Panics and Zero Energy) is determined to create an electricity crisis. Power grid failure will be followed quickly by failure of food and water supplies to cities. Hopefully Canberra, (Australia’s Green Capital) will be the first to suffer.

The rest of Australia must vote no to this dangerous Net Zero delusion.


How Australia's world-first crackdown on smoking - introducing plain packets and hiking them beyond $50 - has backfired

As a libertarian, I could say "I told you so". Banning things is usually destructive

Australia's world-first crackdown on smoking has had a series of unintended consequences as illegal tobacco sales reach epidemic proportions and Chinese-made disposable vapes flood the market.

And the proliferation of illegal products easily available in suburban shops across the nation has seen a disastrous rise in teenage smoking and nicotine vaping not seen in other countries around the world.

When the laws were introduced in 2012 by the Labor government, they were hailed as a historic win against Big Tobacco.

The laws saw plain packaging introduced and huge increases in taxes that will see the average packet pass the $50 mark in 2026.

The measures were supposed to be a victory in health policy intended to stamp out nicotine addiction in future generations of Australian children.

The plain packaging now includes pictures of extreme disease caused by smoking, such as gangrenous toes and rotting gums.

The most disturbing pack features Bryan Curtis, a 34-year-old American who smoked two packets of Marlboro Reds a day for 20 years, close to death from lung cancer.

The federal government also removed any point-of-sale advertising and cigarettes must be hidden from view at all times.

But as the legal sale of tobacco has been squashed under draconian laws and taxation, the sale of illegal tobacco and vapes has flourished.

Smoking and nicotine-based vaping among 14-17 year olds in Australia has multiplied six-fold and 15-fold in the last five years.

And according to a leading academic and researcher in smoking cessation and tobacco harm reduction, it's due to the availability of black market nicotine products from suburban shops.

The rise in nicotine consumption among Australian teens has coincided with a fall in smoking in the 15-18 years age group in the US, the UK and New Zealand.

Dr Colin Mendelsohn, who founded the Australian Tobacco Harm Reduction Association, cited alarming data from the Roy Morgan Institute and the Cancer Council of Victoria.

The statistics say that in 2018 just 2.1 per cent of Australians aged 14-17 smoked, and 0.8 per cent used vapes - mostly nicotine vaping.

By 2022, 6.7 per cent in this age group were smoking and 11.8 per cent were vaping.

In the first quarter of 2023, the number of teenage smokers had risen to 12.8 per cent and vapers were at 14.5 per cent, which Dr Mendelsohn said included a significant number using high nicotine concentrated vapes.

He told Daily Mail Australia the rise was due to the proliferation of black market tobacco/nicotine products.

From the sweet smell of vapes outside offices, to empty packets of 'branded' illegal tobacco on the streets, the evidence of black market smoking is everywhere.

And despite Australia 'declaring war' on vapes and cigarettes with tougher smoking bans for pubs, clubs, more young people are lighting up.

The statistics show a staggering 30 per cent of Aussies between 14 and 30 have used a vape.

While there's no data on how many smokers are turning to illegal tobacco, the proof they are is everywhere: from the shops selling them to the people smoking them.

One Sydney smoker, Tom, regularly buys a packet of black-market cigarettes for $12 - or splashes out and pays $20 for an illegal packet of Marlboros.

He says they are sold in every suburb - and blames the federal government's policy for their rise.

'I know hardly anyone who buys legitimate cigarettes; and I don't blame the little stores from selling them.

'Go to any pub and have a look around at the cigarette packets on the table - few are the legal, plain-package variety.'

Tom said the illegal cigarettes tasted the same as the legal ones because 'they all come out of the same factory'.

'Marlboro are Marlboro, they are just packaged according to the rules of the country. A $1 a packet in Cambodia is the same as a $40 a packet in Australia.'

With rising living costs, the temptation to do so is increasingly mainstream.

Daily Mail Australia has obtained catalogues with price lists supplied to prospective suburban retailers of cigarettes sold with brand names such as Marlboro, Benson & Hedges, Winston and Camel.

A catalogue of cigarettes from a company in Shenzhen, China which manufactures counterfeit cigarettes in Cambodia, is offering the smokes for $260 a carton, or ten packets of 20 cigarettes.

The packaging, which carries the brand name and emblem, and doesn't have the health warnings Australian laws mandate, indicate the cigarettes are sold without excise and are part of a criminal enterprise.

The price compares with legitimate Marlboros being sold for between $339 and $446.50 for a carton of ten packets each of 20 Marlboro Gold cigarettes.

To put the prices into context, a pack-a-day smoker (20 pack) would currently spend $14,600 on cigarettes per year, compared with $9,490 for the Cambodian smokes.

The Australian Federal Police, the Australia Tax Office and Australian Border Force spend considerable resources to combat the brazen tactics of Australia's illicit tobacco racket.

The racket means billions of dollars of potential tobacco excise will never reach government coffers.

But as the price of food, electricity and fuel soar, the illegal tobacco industry will continue to make a mockery of government policy of plain packaging and steep tobacco excise.

The website states that 'The Australian Government taxes tobacco products to make them less affordable through excise on tobacco products' and cites its Illicit Tobacco Taskforce set up in 2018.

The ITTF says it does this 'by proactively targeting, disrupting and dismantling serious actors and organised crime syndicates that deal in illicit tobacco'.

But, meanwhile, the trade goes on.

Illegal operators in South Australia have been identified as particularly shameless marketers of illegal cigarettes and vapes.

The SA government went on an enforcement blitz on illegal vapes in June, announcing stringent new licence conditions over nicotine e-cigarettes.

These require retailers to show proof vaping products being sold are nicotine-free, and to provide information about their e-cigarette suppliers, importers or manufacturers.

Enforcement blitzes over the previous financial year resulted in the seizure of about 15,000 illegal nicotine vapes.

In September, the NSW government announced it would spend $6.8million in cracking down on illegal vapes.

From January 1 to June 30 this year, NSW Health seized 187,000 products, up from 61,000 in the same period in 2022.

The health body has also conducted more than 5,000 inspections and seized about 369,000 nicotine vapes and e-liquids with an estimated street value of more than $11.8million.

According to a tobacco industry source, illegal products now account for about 25 per cent of all tobacco consumed, and the percentage is rising.

Just days ago, a top health official blasted e-cigarette makers as 'vendors of death' as Victoria mulls over introducing a tobacco licensing scheme that could make buying the items a lot harder.

Tom said despite the will of the Federal Government to crack down on the illegal trade, he did not believe they had the resources.

An Australian Post Office contact told him that 'tonnes and tonnes' of illegal tobacco and cigarettes are mailed into the country each year, but that 'like illicit drugs' plenty of tobacco still 'made it through'.

Dr Mendelsohn criticised new legislation proposed by the Health Minister Mark Butler - to ban disposable single-use vapes, and make personal importation of vapes or e-liquids from overseas - as likely to drive up the black market.

'History has repeatedly demonstrated that blanket bans and punitive measures simply don’t work,' he said.

'Butler’s approach will only fuel the black market and drive it underground. The losers are adult smokers seeking safe and effective alternatives and young people who will continue to have access to illegal products.

'The winners are organised crime and Big Tobacco.'


Former Labor cabinet minister lashes government over green litigant funding

Former Labor cabinet minister Joel Fitzgibbon has lashed the Albanese government over its decision to hand millions of dollars to help green litigants, accusing Labor of “financing job destroying legal challenges”.

In a speech to forestry industry leaders, the former Hunter MP said Labor had “handed taxpayers’ money to activists”.

The attacks come after Labor fulfilled its election promise to reverse funding cuts to the Environmental Defenders Office, providing $10m in funding to the community legal centre over the forward estimates.

The EDO is an legal organisation well known for its environmental advocacy, running high-profile cases against coal and gas developments.

Mr Fitzgibbon, the chair of the Australian Forest Products Association, said it made no sense for the government to fund activists to take legal action “against the very government that gave them the money”.

“Activists funded by rich donors - and indeed governments through the Environmental Defenders Office - are challenging value-creating projects in the law courts,” Mr Fitzgibbon said, in a speech delivered earlier this month that has been obtained by The Australian.

“In a wealthy, liberal democracy it makes sense to use taxpayers money to ensure all Australians have legal representation when they face a criminal conviction. But it makes no sense to hand taxpayers’ money to activists so they can take legal action against the very government that gave them the money.

“To challenge in the courts approvals processes the government rightly argues are as robust as any in the world.”

Labor pledged to reinstate funding for the EDO ahead of the last election in order to enable Australians to have access to the law.

Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek told The Australian Labor was “proud to be restoring funding to the Environmental Defenders Office, reversing cuts made by the Abbott government.”

“Every section of our community deserves legal advocacy. As does our previous environment. Unlike the Liberals and Nationals, we are not afraid of scrutiny and accountability,” Ms Plibersek said.

Government officials pointed out that the EDO was also funded under the Rudd and Gillard governments of which Mr Fitzgibbon was a Cabinet minister.

The Abbott government cut funding to the organisation following allegations of activist lawfare.

The EDO, first established in NSW in 1985, has used the courts to delay or squash major projects including the Adani coalmine in central Queensland, Santos’ Barossa gas proposad and forestry developments in Tasmania.

The body has received grants from groups including the Myer Foundation.

In a wide-ranging speech, Mr Fitzgibbon also attacked “extreme environmental activists” who he said “would destroy our sovereign capability in this country and destroy the jobs of the people who provide it”.

“AFPA provides me with an opportunity to do another thing I did for many years in politics – to take on the extreme environmental activists who, given the chance, would destroy our sovereign capability in this country and destroy the jobs of the people who provide it,” he said.

The EDO was contacted for comment.




Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Can you be Muslim and vegan? What about Jewish or Christian?

From a Christian view point it is crystal clear that being vegetarian and non-vegetarian are both completely OK. The apostle Paul addressed the matter specifically in Romans 14:1-23

"Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things: another, who is weak, eateth herbs. Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth: for God hath received him"

Muslims respect the Bible so that ruling should be influential to them too

When Lujayn Hawari decided to become a vegan, she knew her parents would not take it well.

The 27-year-old Palestinian journalist grew up in Brisbane in a "moderately conservative Muslim household".

That meant praying five times a day, observing Islamic holidays and traditions, and eating what her mother cooked — including meat.

Lujayn's parents were initially very unhappy with her veganism, and saw it as an affront to their religion.(Supplied)
So when Lujayn made the decision to stop eating animal products in 2016, her parents were unimpressed.

"It was an argument [at] breakfast, lunch and dinner," she says.


Australian government throws more cash at renewables, but we foot the bill

The idea that Australia can become an energy superpower is impossible to square with taxpayers stumping up billions of dollars to subsidise renewable energy. If renewable energy is really so cheap – the cheapest form of generating electricity, according to embattled Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen – why would the operators need a guaranteed flow of funds from taxpayers? That’s not how markets work.

To be blunt, Australians have been sold a pup when it comes to the energy transition and the benefits that would flow from it. The notion it would be good for the economy, the climate and consumers is disingenuous – and that’s the best you can say. What has been obvious for some time but has dawned on Bowen only recently is that Labor’s grand plan to have 82 per cent of electricity generated by renewable sources by 2030 had become unachievable.

The commissioning of new large-scale renewable energy projects has slowed to a crawl and the rollout of the required new transmission lines is mired in local resistance, escalating costs and delay. The hope of the side – offshore wind turbines – also is looking forlorn.

Shadow Climate Change and Energy Minister Ted O’Brien has… clashed with Chris Bowen after the Labor MP refused to reveal the “true cost” of the expanded Capacity Investment Scheme. The Climate Change and Energy Minister announced the scheme last Thursday which will underwrite 32 gigawatts of new electricity, which More
The real tragedy of this story is the failure to appreciate the complicated features of the electricity grid and how government intervention generally worsens rather than improves outcomes.

In particular, the downside of large proportions of intermittent generation has been vastly underestimated. There is also a wilful ignorance of the vital role played by dispatchable 24/7 generation.

What has emerged is essentially two markets: a day market and a night market. During the day, it’s common for electricity prices to be negative, mainly as a result of the widespread and somewhat unexpected expansion of domestic rooftop solar panels. At night, prices are much higher and it’s when dispatchable power comes to the fore, particularly if the wind is not blowing.

Another important change has been to interest rates. When interest rates were extremely low, the cost of capital to investors was extremely low as well. Now that interest rates have returned to more normal levels, the cost of capital has increased markedly, particularly for renewable energy installations carrying a lot of debt. Add the escalation in the cost of hardware and the shortage of workers, and the result has been an uncongenial backdrop to large-scale renewable energy investment.

This combined with the fact several coal-fired stations are heading towards closure has led to a degree of panic by state energy ministers as well as Bowen. It is surely ironic that the Victorian Labor government, which frequently proclaims its green credentials, is financially supporting the continuation of two brown-coal-fired electricity plants at unknown expense to the taxpayer.

(Note here that coal-fired plants are not a good fit with intermittent energy as they work on the basis of constant spinning. The cost curves of these plants resemble a bath tub: they decline in their early years and rise sharply towards the end of their lives. For instance, it has been estimated that the annual maintenance bill for the Yallourn power station in Victoria is close to $200 million.)

The mistakes made in managing and attempting to transform the east coast grid are too many to list. Mainly driven by politics rather than engineering and economics, the result has been a fiasco.

Treasurer Jim Chalmers during the ASIC annual forum at the Sofitel in Melbourne. Aaron Francis / The Australian
Treasurer Jim Chalmers during the ASIC annual forum at the Sofitel in Melbourne. Aaron Francis / The Australian
One example is the planned Marinus Link connecting Tasmania and Victoria. Because of huge cost overruns, the link has been halved and won’t be completed until the next decade. The federal government has agreed to take on a larger share of the cost, relieving the Tasmania government from some of the burden.

We are told six wind farms in Tasmania won’t be viable with this smaller link. But here’s the thing: what made sense was for Tasmania to supply dispatchable power to Victoria to underwrite its renewable energy folly, not to incentivise more renewable energy on the Apple Isle. It’s just one example of woolly, flawed thinking.

So, having come to a clear fork in the road, Bowen has decided the government must direct even more money at renewable energy.

The capacity mechanism known as the Capacity Investment Scheme will be used to spur more investment in renewable energy.

It’s worth describing here what the normal role of capacity mechanisms is. They are used in several places overseas to provide dispatch­able power to grids when intermittent sources of power are unavailable. They are small relative to the size of the grid but involve gas and coal-fired plants being kept on standby.

The owners of these plants are paid to do so as well as for the power they generate if called on. There are several coal-fired plants in Britain, for instance, that are used in case of power shortages.

In what can be described only as an irrational decision, driven particularly by Victoria, our capacity mechanism includes only renewable energy and batteries, specifically barring coal and gas. It makes no sense at all and was driven entirely by ideology.

Bowen is proposing to lift the CIS from 6 gigawatts to 32GW using reverse auctions to underwrite the returns of renewable energy operators, with taxpayers picking up the tab. Where prices are below the strike price, operators will be compensated, but if the prices rise above that level, refunds are payable. The contracts may last for up to 15 years. It’s just another form of government subsidy following on from the Renewable Energy Target.

The key here is that Bowen wants taxpayers to bear the cost year in, year out – total dollar outlays unknown – of this intervention and thereby shield electricity consumers from even higher prices. It’s essentially smoke and mirrors because the costs still have to be borne one way or another. It’s astonishing that Jim Chalmers is going along with this proposal given the pressures the Treasurer faces to manage the budget better lest ongoing inflationary pressures persist.

There is a fair chance that Bowen’s plan B won’t work even though the higher subsidies should induce some additional renewable energy investment. The growing local resistance in the regions and the rapidly rising costs of renewable energy projects are counter forces. It’s why the minister has an equivocal position in respect of gas because open-cycle gas peaking plants are the obvious complement with renewable energy to firm the system.

It also opens the door to the Coalition to make the case for nuclear. It’s a centralised system that can use existing sites and transmission lines. It also provides prized 24/7 power. Other countries are accelerating their investments in nuclear power. We need to take note.


From the ski lodge to the sea: our kids will never be free

Kevin Donnelly

As to why so many students wagged school last week protesting about the supposed man-made climate catastrophe and why so many will protest this week against Israel’s right to defend itself against the evil and barbaric invasion by Hamas … there are numerous reasons.

In 2006, Al Gore’s misleading video (in that it contains known errors) An Inconvenient Truth became routine viewing in schools across Australia spreading climate alarmism. One of the three cross-curricula priorities in the national curriculum is sustainability, mandating a deep green environmental perspective on all subjects.

Based on a revisionist view of history involving feminist, Marxist, and post-colonial theories students are taught, Western Civilisation is guilty of imperialism and white supremacy and that there is nothing unique or worth defending about liberal democracies like Australia or Israel.

Israel is seen as an artificial state created by white imperialists that has no right to exist. Hamas terrorists, instead of being evil and inhumane, are lauded as freedom fighters dedicated to liberating Palestinians from years of subjugation.

Students chanting from ‘the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ have no idea of where the Jordan River is or appreciate the land of Israel is the ancestral home of the Jews. It’s no wonder they are so easily duped.

Schools have long since stopped teaching students to think rationally and logically. Clear thinking has been replaced by emotion and cant. Emotion is the deciding factor determining how young people respond to argument and debate about contemporary issues.

‘I think, therefore I am’ has been replaced by ‘I feel, therefore I am right’ and any who believe otherwise are condemned as politically incorrect and cancelled for committing thought crime. The prevalence of cognitive dissonance adds to the heady mix of irrationality and ignorance.

To be human is to search for meaning and a sense of belonging as well as a commitment to something that gives purpose and direction. While the search for wisdom and truth as well as religious belief once provided that need, we now live in a world where subjectivism, ennui, and uncertainty prevail.

For many students climate alarmism is a religious faith where Greta Thunberg is the messiah and whatever the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change dictates reads as holy script. That the world is about to end is taken as beyond doubt leading to young girls terrified they can never be mothers.

Students marching in solidarity with banners declaring ‘free Palestine’, ‘Israel is a terrorist state’, and ‘the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ find purpose and meaning that gives their vacuous lives direction.

As argued by GK Chesterton, ‘When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.’

It is also vital to realise climate change alarmism and antisemitism are just two examples highlighting how schools have been turned into re-education camps where students are indoctrinated with mind control and group think.

Kindergarten children are taught gender and sexuality are fluid and dynamic and not God-given and biologically determined. Boys are taught men are inherently violent and misogynist and the curriculum, instead of patriotism and nation-building, teaches guilt, and self-loathing.

Why this has happened is clear. Drawing on Antonio Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony, over the last 40 years the cultural-left has taken control of the school curriculum and infected vulnerable students with neo-Marxist critical theory and Woke ideology.

After the second world war, Marxist academics argued to win the West, the focus had to be on infiltrating and capturing capitalist society’s ideological state apparatus (ISA). As argued by Louis Althusser:

‘But now for what is essential. What distinguishes the ISAs from the (Repressive) State Apparatus is the following basic difference: the Repressive State Apparatus functions by violence, whereas the Ideological State Apparatuses function by ideology.’

Althusser argues cultural-Marxists must take control of key institutions, including family, church, political and trade union organisations, the media, schools and universities. Turbocharged by the late 1960s Cultural Revolution, the left’s long march has succeeded beyond expectations.

Given schools have become neo-Marxist-inspired indoctrination camps, it’s understandable why thousands of parents across Australia are either home-schooling their children or establishing their own community schools.

Such an education is often religious in character where students are taught to be culturally literate, intellectually robust and morally and spiritually grounded. Instead of vague and ephemeral values, schools are committed to teaching virtues including love, courage, moderation, wisdom, and justice.

Instead of promoting language control, group think and mob hysteria, such an education is also based on rationality, reason and common sense. Much-needed attributes in this time of intellectual dishonesty and conformity and where intolerance is re-badged as tolerance.


Moira Deeming’s fight to clear her name continues

The Victorian Liberals are unbelievably "wet"

Moira Deeming’s announcement that she intends to engage in legal action and lodge a defamation case against John Pesutto, Leader of the Victorian Liberal Party, is extremely disappointing. Not because of the road Ms Deeming has been forced to walk, but rather that the party leadership in Victoria cannot bring itself to apologise and retract the disgraceful comments made following the Let Women Speak rally.

Today we have politicians in state and federal Parliament – in the Upper and Lower Houses – brushing shoulders with terrorist sympathisers and crowds that routinely refer to themselves as ‘the New Nazis’. These are individuals who shout thinly-veiled threats of genocide against the Jewish people and the nation of Israel, and who hold signs that make the handful of cosplaying neo-Nazis at the women’s rally look like toddlers.

Let us not forget that those MPs standing with these pro-Palestinian protesters (who are undeniably also pro-Hamas – a globally designated Islamic terror group), are aware of what is being chanted in the streets of Australia, including ‘Gas the Jews!’ shouted on the steps of the Opera House for the whole world to hear.

Why do these MPs escape public shame? Why are they allowed to hide behind the meaningless banner of ‘it’s complicated’ while Ms Deeming remains unable to clear her name from a gate-crashing incident that had nothing to do with her, the Let Women Speak rally, or any of the women attending?

What happened to the left-wing mob that marched on the street in support of women in Canberra – why aren’t they marching for Ms Deeming?

Those left-wing feminists are too busy standing in solidarity with those whose heroes engaged in the mass rape, torture, and murder of Israeli women whose lives don’t count.

We expect the feminists and the left-wing mobs to lack moral integrity … but shame on the Victorian Liberals, and Mr Pesutto personally, for carrying on with this piece of political theatre against Ms Deeming.

This is a Liberal Party that desperately needs rescuing from its sopping wet LINO agenda that has left it as little more than Labor’s doormat where they clean their shoes on the way to the halls of power.

If Mr Pesutto was not unelectable before, he will now enter a new era of ridicule and infamy fighting for – what, exactly? What does the Liberal Party have to gain from this? Even if they were to win? A victory against Ms Deeming would be a victory for Labor. No conservative would vote for a party that strings up its conservative women for no reason at all.

It’s astonishing that such a tragic script could be taking place in the post-#MeToo world where Labor spent an entire election cycle arguing that the Liberals had a ‘women problem’. Mr Pesutto’s Victorian Liberals have a ‘women problem’. They also have a sanity problem.

Missing the point, Mr Pesutto said: ‘The issue has always been whether Ms Deeming called out or distanced herself from neo-Nazi protesters and references when asked to do so by senior Liberals. I will vigorously defend the Liberal Party and myself in any proceedings and will not be asking the party to cover any legal fees.’




Monday, November 27, 2023

Widespread costs of living shocks

I am one of the older generation who are not much affected by the crisis. We usually own our own homes so have no rent to pay and have built up savings through a lifetime of work.

But the reports below do bother me and I wonder what I could do to help. I already provide ultra-cheap rental accomodation to four people but I will have to think of doing more

Just about everywhere you look, there are worsening signs that Australia is no longer the lucky country – for just about all of us.

Just about everywhere you look, there are worsening signs that Australia is no longer the lucky country.

From record-high rents to skyrocketing mortgages, a cost-of-living crisis to the alarming emergence of a ‘working poor’ population, the country faces an unprecedented storm of factors putting pressure on millions of people.

And very few Aussies are immune.

“We’re seeing a new demographic of people turning to charities for support over the past 18 months,” a spokesperson for St Vincent de Paul Society in New South Wales said.

“It has been very concerning to see a growing number of people in employment and families on dual incomes reaching out in a time of desperation because of the cost of living.”

Whether paying a mortgage or renting, working for someone or running a business, earning a little or making a lot, this is a startling look at just how tough things are right now.

Skipping meals or not eating at all

An estimated 3.7 million households are battling serious levels of food insecurity, not-for-profit Food Bank revealed in its 2023 Hunger Report.

Food insecurity describes the need to make “unenviable choices about what and when they eat” such as skipping meals or going whole days without eating.

Foodbank’s research shows an extra 383,000 households are grappling with food insecurity than a year ago.

More than a third of the population – more than the total number of households in Melbourne and Sydney combine – are having to “compromise their meal choices”, the organisation said.

The proportion of Aussies who are experiencing “some level of distress in meeting the most basic needs” when it comes to putting food on the table is racing towards 50 per cent.

“Food insecurity is waking early and sending your child off to school with a rumbling tummy and empty lunch box because you’ve been forced into an impossible choice between paying the rent or buying food that week,” Foodbank chief executive Brianna Casey said.

“Food insecurity is living at home alone as a pensioner, convincing yourself that three meals a day is a luxury, and that two – or even one – will suffice.

“Food insecurity is rushing to the fruit platter at a working lunch in the office because fresh fruit and vegetables have become a treat, rather than a dietary staple.

“Food insecurity is now having a mortgage, a full-time job and a side hustle, yet food is a discretionary spend in the household budget.”

Cutting dangerous corners

As the country brazes for a particularly hot summer, the Australian Council of Social Services warns vulnerable households will go without cooling as a result of cost pressures.

An ACOSS survey released in October shows 74 per cent of people on income supports are slashing spending on cooling, while 62 per cent are cutting back on the use of lighting.

“As we head into a summer of extreme heat, the federal government needs to deliver a substantial package to urgently address energy affordability for people on low incomes,” ACOSS program director of climate and energy, Kellie Caught, said.

“Energy is an essential service, one which has serious implications for people’s health and wellbeing.”

Meanwhile, a recent Australian Bureau of Statistics data release shows seven per cent of people who needed to see a doctor in the 12 months to June delayed the visit or didn’t go at all because of cost-of-living pressures.

“This was double the number compared to 2021-22, when 3.5 per cent of people put off or did not see a GP when they needed because of the cost,” Robert Long, head of health statistics at the ABS, said.

One-in-five people delayed or avoided seeking mental health treatment because of the cost, while 10.5 per cent of patients needing to see a specialist didn’t due to price pressures.

“There was also an increase in people who delayed or didn’t get prescription medication when needed due to cost, from 5.6 per cent in 2021-22 to 7.6 per cent in 2022-23,” Mr Long said.

Crushed by mortgage repayments

Since the Reserve Bank began hiking interest rates back in May last year, the cost of meeting repayments on the average size mortgage has soared.

Those with a home loan balance of $590,000 – the national average – are forking out $1345 more per month, or an extra $16,140 per year.

“That’s a huge amount of extra money to be spending on your mortgage, especially when the cost of almost everything else is also going up,” Graham Cooke, head of consumer research at finance comparison website said.

Even if those huge increases were happening in isolation, rates of distress would be high, but with a cost-of-living crisis on top, countless Aussies are now up against the wall.

Martin North is the principal of economic research firm Digital Finance Analytics and tracks household cash flows, with data indicating more than half of mortgage holders are in cash-flow deficit each month.

That is, half of all mortgage households are now spending more than they earn every month.

“Looking in detail, we find that recent purchasers, especially young growing families, are most exposed,” Mr North said.

Many bought when mortgage rates were sitting around two per cent, and when then-RBA Governor Philip Lowe assured people the official cash rate would likely remain on hold until 2024.

It didn’t. Home loan rates are now sitting at about six per cent.


Aussie homeowners warned ‘perfect storm’ to hit as insurance is cut from budgets

This is a real problem. Recent natural disasters have cost insurace companies big so they have to allow for such big costs in the future. And increased premiums are the only way to do that. My home insurance has trebled in recent times. I can afford that but many can't. So they risk losing everything

Homeowners are crossing their fingers as the cost of living crisis has more Aussies cutting insurance from their budgets.

The increased frequency of extreme climate events, inflation, and Australians’ love for urbanisation in places most likely to be hit by weather have created a “perfect storm” in insurance markets.

Insurance Council of Australia chief Andrew Hall painted the grim picture during an address to the National Press Club on Thursday.

He said the “difficult choice” to forgo insurance or to be underinsured was creating a protection gap – the extent to which potential economic losses are not covered by private insurance.

“It’s the difference between what should or needs to be insured and what isn’t insured,” he said.

Many Australians have tried to maintain cover but Mr Hall said the risk was greatest in areas where “the threat of high natural peril risk is driving the biggest increases in premiums.”

“As the protection gap widens there will be serious implications. The first is the additional vulnerability that households and families, particularly middle and lower-income earners, will face if the worst happens.

“It means that when disasters and accidents occur, they disproportionately up-end the lives of people particularly in vulnerable lower socio-economic groups.”

As a result, he warned, taxpayers will be carrying more additional risk to clean up after a disaster and more pressure on the government’s coffers.

Banks will also be increasingly exposed.

A recent report by the Actuaries Institute suggested nearly one in eight Australian households is facing home insurance affordability stress.

Since the Black Summer bushfires in 2019, Australia has experienced 18, as Mr Hall described, “insurance catastrophes”.

“Last year alone, the insurance industry in Australia paid 302,000 disaster related claims, which caused more than $7.25bn in insured losses,” Mr Hall said.

The ICA boss said proper mitigation was key and pointed to an example of premiums dropping by on average 34 per cent in Roma, Queensland after the construction of a flood levee.

He also urged for a further strengthening of the National Construction Code to make homes more durable for the environment where they’re built.

Mr Hall welcomed the call from national cabinet to stop putting homes on flood plains.

“All too often, we have built our homes in places where we can touch and feel and absorb nature – in bushland, on river frontages, and backing on to beaches,” he said.

“But in so doing, we have put ourselves on flood plains, in fire-prone bushland, or coastal areas in direct paths of cyclones.

“We have ignored the red flags of nature.”

He also urged state governments to wipe the 10 per cent stamp duties on insurance customers.

“If insurance policies for houses or cars did not exist, or were priced out of reach, then the population would demand it of the government.

“For the sake of our future protection and productivity, Australian governments at the state and Federal level must have an eye on reform of insurance taxes.

“There is a clear opportunity here to think about how to incentivise states to lower their insurance taxes to ensure more people have the private cover that will protect.”


Stunning far-right victory as ‘smug elites’ crowed too soon
Holland’s hard-right new leader Geert Wilder’s victory has exposed an issue that Australia needs to learn from

Joe Hildebrand

The shock victory of Geert Wilders' far-right eurosceptic party in Dutch elections sent a political tremor through Brussels, seven months ahead of crucial EU elections.

It is an inherent characteristic of social and political elites that they treat populists with either fear or scorn: Scorn when they are considered unthreatening and fear when the threat inevitably becomes real.

But what is most remarkable about this cycle — indeed the very reason it is a cycle — is that our supposed intellectual betters keep making this same mistake over and over again.

They dismiss the fears of ordinary people as ignorant or prejudicial and then are stunned when those fears manifest in the form of Donald Trump or Boris Johnson, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro or Argentina’s Javier Milei, Italy’s Georgia Meloni or Holland’s Geert Wilders.

The list could go on forever.

While the cure-alls typically prescribed by such leaders are often simplistic and sometimes downright silly, the problems they highlight and the anxieties they tap into are both visceral and real.

Yet there is a lazy and self-defeating habit among the political establishment to think that once they have dispatched such leaders they have eliminated those problems and anxieties along with them.

Of course they haven’t and so of course such leaders rise again or a newcomer rides in on a similar wave of discontent.

No lesson could be starker than the resurgence of Donald Trump. Despite almost every single political and institutional force being applied against him — including a resounding election loss, complicity in an insurrection, the prospect of imprisonment and almost unanimous mainstream media opposition — Trump is currently probably odds-on to beat Biden even if he ends up beating him from a jail cell.

How is this possible? An obvious factor is Biden’s fumbling incoherence but the true genesis goes back to before Biden was even sworn in.

How many smug elites — political operatives, academic experts, media commentators and social media activists — shamelessly crowed after the 2020 election that Biden had won the highest ever Presidential vote in US history. The nightmare was over, they said.

Less mentioned was that the second highest ever Presidential vote in US history went to Donald J Trump — millions above his shock 2016 result.

And while all the anti-Trump votes were an unprecedented coalition that stretched uncomfortably from Romney Republicans to Sanders socialists, all the pro-Trump votes were just for him.

Anyone with half a brain or a grain of understanding would instantly realise the gravity of that political mass, the latent potential energy primed to be unleashed. Instead the champagne socialists were popping their corks, thinking the beast had been slain.

They could not have been more wrong. To paraphrase a prayer once recited about another messiah, Trump has died, Trump has risen, Trump will come again.

So what does this mean for Australia?

Aside from the likely uncertainty, possible carnage and definite entertainment that will result from Trump retaking control of our greatest ally there is a threat to our own internal stability.

Australians are at breaking point. We have absorbed a steady tsunami of rate rises over the past year or so but the latest Cup Day hike and the threat of more to come — after a pause in which we dared to hope the worst was over — is a significant blow to the nation’s psyche, let alone its hip pocket.

Citizens have thus far given goodwill to a genuine government in tough times but there is a palpable sense at servos and supermarkets that the mood has gone from stoic to stressed.

Charities like Foodbank, Salvos, Vinnies increasingly and repeatedly report mainstream middle-class families with one or even two full-time workers reaching out for the first time just to put food on the table.

Worse still, it is an invisible epidemic, cloaked by pride. The lawns might be immaculate but there is nothing in the fridge.

Faced with such crisis and anxiety people will turn anywhere and to anyone who offers them salvation, be it real or imagined.

This might be cutting fuel tax or cutting immigration, which the government has so far been reluctant to do for legitimate long-term reasons.

But long-term is a luxury that few Australians can now afford. Many are at a precipice and many more have the clifftop accelerating into sight.

The increasingly comical attempts to blame Peter Dutton for all the nation’s woes do nothing to alleviate this.

Instead the government needs to face the facts and fix them. And if it can’t fix them — as may be the cold hard economic reality — it needs to at least look like its fixing them in order to give punters some temporary respite and a much-needed dose of hope. Sometimes simple solutions are needed even when they don’t fully solve the problem.

To this end it is time for the government to cut the petrol tax. Howard did it, Morrison did it, Albanese can do it. It will not only provide some short term relief to battlers but also send a message that the Labor government listens to and cares about working Australians.

And in turbulent times that message is more important than ever.


The kids broken by lockdown: How Australia's gruelling stay-at-home orders during Covid have left an entire generation of schoolchildren 'too anxious' to go outside

The implications of Australia's harsh Covid lockdowns during the pandemic are now threatening 'end the lives' of students left too anxious and afraid to go to school.

Melbourne had the longest pandemic lockdowns in the world and the city has become the epicentre of a new condition known as 'school refusal'.

Year 10 student Sarah Turner, 16, is one of those deeply affected by the Covid lockdowns in Melbourne, missing 50 per cent of school in the past two years.

'It wasn't until the lockdowns where we were at home a lot that I started not wanting to go out and find, getting really anxious about going out,' she told 60 Minutes on Sunday.

Gabby, a 13-year-old boy who also lives in Melbourne, is another child affected by this and often he just can't face the idea of going to school.

Mental health social worker John Chellew's clinic treating children with a dread fear of going to school, and their families, has never been busier. 'I'm dealing with children who have pretty much shut down and gone on strike and who are locked in their bedrooms and there's massive conflict in the home,' he said.

The situation can sometimes lead to horrifying, desperate thoughts. 'Children have lost the will to live and are really threatening to end their lives,' Mr Chellew said.

It's not that the children have lost the desire to be educated, it's that the overwhelming anxiety they feel has led to them refusing to go to school.

Sarah used to love school. 'I was very outgoing and did a lot of things before the lockdowns,' she said. But things changed. 'It felt like it was kind of impossible to go to school. It wasn't like a choice kind of thing. It was like, I just felt like I physically couldn't go for this fear,' she said. 'I feel faint and sick and weak and I get heart racing and shaking and stuff like that.

'Some of my hardest days I'd just be having panic attacks all morning and I couldn't, like, move or I'd get, even if I'd get to school in the car, I couldn't get out or I'd get out and I just felt like frozen.'

There is no one type of child affected by the condition. 'It's an issue that affects kids aged five through to 17 school age from all walks of life and from neurodiverse and neurotypical backgrounds,' Mr Chellew said.

Gabby's parents, Christel and Gabor try to keep to their cool on days when he can't face school.

His dad explained what the worst scenario is for them. 'I'll drive him (to school) but he goes into like a really bad case of anxiety, I guess. 'He bangs his head against the seat and it's, yeah, it's not a good experience.'

Though Gabby tries his best to do his schoolwork from home, it has affected his grades.

Sarah understands what Gabby goes through - sometimes she just finds the idea of going to school unbearable. 'A lot of people just telling me to push through and just do it, or a lot of accusations that it's just because I don't wanna go,' she said.

'I would say that they don't know actually what it's like, and it's a lot more physical than you think. 'It's very isolating and it stops you from actually doing things you want and it's not like you don't want to do it.'

The number of students so ridden with anxiety they can't go to school has grown substantially in recent years.

By some estimates, one in three families with school aged children are affected by it.

Sarah's mum, Kirsty, is happy that school refusal is now being openly discussed and is no longer being treated as a made-up issue with straightforward treatment.

But it has changed the Turner family's life. 'It's been a full time job sort of over and above normal parenting,' she said.

'I haven't been able to go back to work. I was pretty much a 24/7 carer besides just being her normal mum and you know, became a bit of a mind coach for her as well at times.'

She said people who tell her to just drop Sarah at the school gate and drive away simply don't understand.

'I think we're talking about a whole generation of young people here that have fallen behind, and I think the impacts will stay with them unless we do something about this quickly,' she said.

Slowly, but surely, though, things are getting better for both Sarah and Gabby.

'I'm making a lot of progress,' Sarah said. She has been going to school more lately, which she said has made her 'very proud'.


Labor takes on Greens over gas with deal to add supply, lower price

Australians will be promised a boost to gas supply in a Labor move to ease pressure on energy prices, setting up a test for the Coalition and the Greens to back the federal changes or be blamed for deepening the nation’s cost-of-living crisis.

The federal government will reveal two energy deals to fix a looming gas shortage under an industry regime the Greens are seeking to block, raising the stakes in a Senate vote on Monday on the country’s reliance on fossil fuels.

In a spate of domestic policy moves, the government is also poised to announce a deal to increase environmental flows in the Murray-Darling river system, claim a $250 million consumer saving from its changes to medicine prescriptions and unveil draft law to reform the Reserve Bank.

Parliament meets on Monday for the final sitting fortnight of the year with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese seeking a focus on domestic policy after arguments with Opposition Leader Peter Dutton over China, the release of detainees from indefinite detention and the response to conflict in the Middle East.

With retail energy prices rising, the government has been under pressure to boost gas supplies using the code it introduced this year to fix prices at $12 per gigajoule and force producers to meet local demand, in tandem with separate restrictions on coal.

Energy Minister Chris Bowen has struck deals with gas exporters Senex and Australia Pacific LNG to divert 300 petajoules to the domestic market over the next six years, with both commitments starting this month.

The gas will be supplied under enforceable undertakings that exempt Senex and APLNG from the price cap but expose them to action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission if they do not meet their pledges.

With about 140 petajoules promised by the end of 2027 under the new deals, the outcome initially adds 35 petajoules to the domestic market on average every year. The ACCC estimates household, commercial and industrial demand adds up to 447 petajoules each year.

The Greens are seeking to halt the gas code by moving a motion in the Senate to disallow the regulations Bowen put in place in July, which will force Labor to rely on the Coalition to keep the code in place. The Coalition voted against the legislation to set up the regime last December, making the disallowance motion on the code another test of its stance.

Greens treasury spokesperson Nick McKim has welcomed measures to cut prices but accused the government of encouraging new gas fields to be developed under the code.


Make masculinity great again

By Australian libertarian Senator Ralph Babet

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Babet is of ultimately Indian heritage

Sunday was International Men’s Day but blink and you would have missed it. International Women’s Day (March 8) is always marked by widespread celebrations of female achievement. LGBTQ people get a whole month in June to promote Pride, as well as half of February and March which is given over to coverage of events related to Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Men, however, who are, after all, half the human race, get one day.

The International Men’s Day website says the day ‘celebrates worldwide the positive value men bring to the world, their families and communities’, highlights ‘positive role models’, and raises awareness of men’s well-being.

Sunday (November 19) was International Men’s Day but there was precious little positivity. In part, that was because the theme for 2023 was ‘Zero Male Suicide’. There is no doubt that male suicide is an extremely serious problem. Over three-quarters of all Australians who take their lives are male and while the female suicide rate decreased in 2022 by 2 per cent compared with 2021, for men it increased by 3 per cent. Unfortunately, the main media coverage was an interview on the ABC which which didn’t celebrate men’s achievements or the positive contribution they make to humanity. Rather, it put the ‘spotlight on the high rate of male suicide’.

The failure to celebrate male achievement is perhaps one reason why too many men feel down but it’s not the only problem. There is a relentless attack on so-called ‘toxic masculinity’. Yet here’s the thing. While there is no doubt some male behaviour is toxic, so too is some female behaviour, and, for that matter, some LGBTQ behaviour. No sex or gender has a monopoly on behaving badly but it is masculinity that is under constant attack.

Indeed, the Albanese federal Labor government recently announced $3.5 million in funding for what it calls the healthy masculinities project. The goal of the project is supposedly ‘to help combat harmful gender stereotypes perpetuated online’. A government media release claims that 25 per cent of teenage boys in Australia look up to social media stars who perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes and condone violence against women.

But you won’t find the government admitting that some cultures have more toxic masculinity than others. Labor, the Greens, and the left-leaning independents refused to have a Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse in Indigenous communities because they can’t bring themselves to face the reality that there is a higher rate of sexual abuse in Indigenous communities. So it’s not surprising that there was no mention in the media release on healthy masculinities that Indigenous communities suffer higher rates of sexual assault and domestic violence.

There’s another problem men face. When it comes to sexual allegations, the #MeToo movement has reversed the onus of proof. Men are assumed to be guilty until they prove themselves to be innocent. In the US, Brett Kavanaugh, who is now serving as a Justice of the Supreme Court, was dragged through the mud in the court of public opinion about uncorroborated, decades-old sexual allegations.

In reality, the government’s healthy masculinities program is unlikely to address real instances of toxic behaviour and instead, waste taxpayer money emasculating and gaslighting healthy young men and promoting the idea that you have to be a woke left soy boy and apologise if you happen to be white or straight.

Teenage boys should be mentored by their parents and the government should do everything they can to support the family including tax arrangements that permit income-splitting to allow mums to stay home when children are small and to work part-time as children grow up.

If Labor is serious about helping families it has to address the cost-of-living crisis that is putting far too many of them under financial stress. One way to do that is to abandon its crazy climate change policies that are pointlessly driving up the cost of energy and driving Australian jobs offshore to places like China that are building new coal-fired power plants every week.

If the Labor Party is genuinely worried about teenage boys following poor gender stereotypes online then it should seriously address the elephant in the room which is the number of teenage boys that grow up without a father in their home. There is a mountain of evidence showing that too many of these boys are more likely to commit crimes.

This is not so surprising. It’s only in recent times that we have been crazy enough to imagine that we can raise a fatherless generation and outsource parenting to the nanny state with teenage boys mentored by far-left activists.

There are no easy answers for single parents, just a role for extended families, and church and youth groups to provide healthy male role models and create opportunities for teenage boys to meet together for face-to-face sport and recreation rather than spending their lives glued to screens playing video games.

Unfortunately, Labor’s healthy masculinities project is unlikely to help. It is more likely to create gender confused, non-binary they/thems than happy, healthy, strong, confident young men.

It is undeniable that weak men create hard times and we are seeing this play out in Canberra as the Albanese government flounders its way through its first term. It is too weak to solve the cost-of-living crisis. It is too weak to address the crisis created by criminals gaming the refugee system. It is too weak to set a sensible immigration level that won’t put homeownership out of the reach of young Australians.

Perhaps that’s why Labor has funded a project that will make young men weak. Perhaps it wants men who won’t stand up for themselves when the state overreaches as it did during the pandemic, men who won’t fight for their rights and push back against authoritarianism, men who won’t defend their families, their faith, their culture, their nation.

We need boys to be proud of their masculinity just like we need Australians to be proud of their country. The good news is that while weak men like Scott Morrison and Anthony Albanese create hard times, it is just as true that hard times create strong men, and strong men create good times. That’s what we aim to do at the United Australia party. So, sound the starting gun because with your help at the next election, we’re going to make masculinity – and Australia – great again.