Modest Expectations – Round & Round

There was much hype surrounding the 20th anniversary of the Sydney Olympic Games with the spruiking by the ABC of their biopic, Freeman. Given the cloying, hagiographic way many of these biopics are constructed around sporting celebrities, one might have anticipated a certain predictability with a treacly voiceover. Therefore, I planned to give it a miss.

However, the television was tuned to the ABC during the Sunday night meal and it was just left on. I started watching with the eye of the sceptic prepared to switch it off. I did not. It was a fine depiction of an extraordinary woman.

I must say that at a time where the world is devoid of genuine heroes and heroines (if that word is still allowed) Cathy Freeman stands out. Running 400 metres faster than anybody else in the world was the centrepiece, but in relation to the woman herself it is, in the end, incidental.

Yet without this extraordinary talent, she would have been yet another unrecognised good person, one of those who form the spine that anchors this country. She is Indigenous. It marks her out. She provides that sense of grace that was so well emphasised by the beautiful unnamed Bangarra dancer, and as with Cathy Freeman, grace is so natural – more than just a physical attribute.

This artistic portrayal, far from complicating the vision of Freeman winning and thus being a source of distraction, made me realise that this was more than just an expression of the filmmaker’s sensitivity, it demonstrated something rare in the Australian psyche – a genuine unsentimental view of what grace under pressure is all about.

Freeman engendered on that night a sense of optimism in a country which wallows in its veneration of failure – Burke and Wills, Gallipoli and Fromelles immediately springing to mind.

Now, two decades on, she has remained the same determined person dedicated to doing good without constantly reminding us of it – that was one message that I took from this biopic.

Thick as a Plantain

Queensland is a different world, to a point. When I was first exposed to the public service in Queensland, I was amazed to see and feel how centralised the system is. It so closely approximated attitudes in the Victorian public service, which I experienced when I had worked there, that I felt quite at home.

The authoritarian personality dominates the centralised mentality of Queensland public servants. It was almost to a level that paper clip distribution in a Camooweal government office depends on the signature of the Departmental head in Brisbane.

When the authoritarian personality is combined with a healthy dose of xenophobia and lack of intellectual integrity it perfectly describes Pauline Hansen. Yet such a perception of her underpins a preparedness of Queenslanders to elect her – time and again.

Her tearful retreat whenever she is under political fire relies on a cynical appeal to an undercurrent of paternalism. If she were a man, she could not hide behind a veil of crocodile tears. The extraordinary performance of the Queensland Premier last week accusing the Prime Minister of bullying when he was making a perfectly reasonable request shows that in Queensland the Hansen playbook is very adaptable – in this case by the Premier herself.

Then there is her chief health officer, Dr Jeanette Young who, according to the Premier, apparently is running the State – at least in health and in border exemption. She does not have any public health qualifications despite having been in the job for 15 years.

This is the same Jeanette Young who, during the swine flu scare of 2009, advocated for Queenslanders to stock up on food – in essence stirring up panic buying. Well, Queenslanders, there has been another outbreak of swine flu in China, which has been kept quiet. China has just banned pork imports from Germany because also has been the emergence of swine flu there.

Dr Young is unyielding – to a point.

The Premier and her minions may want to blame Peter Dutton for everything, and the Hanks imbroglio allows the State government to spread some of the topsoil, but Dutton cannot be blamed for allowing the polo-playing McLachlan with his flock from descending on Queensland (and a variety of other well-shod Victorians) to serve out their quarantine in the comfort of a resort. If the Premier is to be believed, this is the handiwork of Jeanette Young, who makes the decisions to allow special access. However, in so allowing it, this seems to contravene everything the resolute Jeanette Young says she stands for.

Yet Jeanette Young is not averse to the quavering voice when under media scrutiny. After all the health plausibility of many of her decisions is inversely related to the political expediency. At least with Daniel Andrews, he has now learned that public health considerations must have a scientific basis; and is following a course. He is in for the long term. Sounds familiar. Perhaps he has observed the Chinese devotion to the long term solution at close quarters.

Dr Young has recently acquired a deputy, Dr Sonya Bennett, who has worked in the Royal Australian Navy before joining the Queensland Department of Health to oversee public health three years ago. Given the propensity of professionals in the armed forces to collect post-graduate certificates and diplomas, Dr Bennett has acquired appropriate public health qualifications. She has the credibility of sitting on a government committee to oversee communicable diseases, and presumably is assisting in the flow of exemptions.

However, in the end Queensland with in all its authoritarian rigidity has to find a way out of its completely illogical stance of border closure that demands a rate of community transmission that is absurdly low before the drawbridge is lowered. In a population of 8.129 million, NSW is reporting around five cases a day – that’s 1 per 1,625,800. Maybe the election will do the trick – one way or the other, if Australia can wait that long.

But, Jeanette, batten down the hatches, swine flu may be coming again and Australia needs a unified strategy to deal with a new swine flu outbreak – apart from advocacy of panic buying. Time to start behaving like a country.

But, you know, it is Queensland and do they know how to bend a banana!

The little sparrow 

Having discussed Cathy Freeman, this vignette of another inspiring woman may help ease reaction to the writings immediately above. Sarah L. was a young English doctor when she met me in the corridor of the hospital. She looked so small; even childlike and yet when I met her at Doomadgee, I soon found out her resilience belied her appearance.

Doomadgee is mainly an Aboriginal settlement in the Queensland Gulf country and has had its moments with a police station under siege and Aboriginal riots. The problem with this settlement is that it is the meeting place of various mobs, and in such clusters, there are always underlying tensions, even when there is no violence between rival mobs.

When she greeted me, she apologised for saying she was a little tired. The previous evening, she had been called out to triage a serious vehicle roll-over, and given that nobody wears seat belts, there was a variety of serious injuries. She had to work out the priority in treatment and who needed to be evacuated to Mount Isa or to the coast. They had all survived.

She also wanted to set up an evidence-based treatment for scabies, which was endemic in the community. Scabies is caused by mites (Sarcoptes scabiei), which burrow into folds of skin, are found in children’s hair – and often, in the severest form, the scabies lesions are inter alia infected by streptococcus pyogenes. Scabies spread by contact and older people tend to be “super-spreaders”. There are a number of treatments that work, but they require compliance. She wanted to test ivermectin, which can be administered orally and used topically.

Scabies

Ivermectin’s parent drug was discovered in Japan in the 1970s and was first used in1981. It is the essential agent for two global disease elimination campaigns that will hopefully rid the world of both onchocerciasis and filariasis. These diseases affect the lives of many millions of poor and disadvantaged throughout the tropics. Ivermectin is also effective against mite (scabies) and lice (crabs or pubic lice) infestation. It has a very wide use against parasitic infestation, but for the use proposed by this young doctor there were still unknown elements.

The attack on scabies means ridding the home of the mites and, for instance, the habit of sleeping with dogs, which occurs in Aboriginal communities, can facilitate the spread. The young doctor, who had paediatric training, wanted to clear the children in the community of scabies.

I was impressed by her enthusiasm, and her approach reflected my ideal public health physician – able to have clinical expertise and yet wanting to set up a trial to see what would best suit her community.

This week, I tracked her down to see what happened. Yes, she successfully eradicated scabies, but that was so long ago.

She was pregnant at the time I met her in Doomadgee, and subsequently she had a second child. They all moved to the Coast. Her professional career was interrupted by a couple of major car accidents – one on Magnetic Island and one in Townsville – after she left Doomadgee. She took a long time to recover, and has been left with residual loss of vision in her left eye. She is now practising at Townsville Aboriginal Health Service.

To me, she was an exemplar of a doctor working in a remote community who was able to cope with emergencies but yet with the curiosity and determination of the public health physician. She epitomised the very best of medical practice, but her experience also demonstrated the lack of sustainability of a health system built on the individual worth without there being succession planning. That is a major problem that has bedevilled medical practice, particularly in rural and remote areas.

Before I made contact with her this week, while reflecting on Doomadgee, it reminded me of looking out of the train window and seeing two women tending a colourful beautiful garden alongside the train platform. Then the train moved on, and I did not have a return ticket.

However, on this occasion, I knew the name of the woman and when she rang me back, the voice was still so familiar. It was still the bright, breezy Sarah.

Letter from Victoria

I was talking to a friend of mine in Victoria. He is a consultant geriatrician, one of the best. He is also a member of a nursing home board.

In this State of unmitigated residential care disaster, in this nursing home there have been no cases of the coronavirus, in either residents or staff. He prefaces his comments by saying that luck is always a factor. Nevertheless, what they did from the outset was to ban visitors, allow only essential trades people into the facility and ensured that on arrival the staff had a temperature check and were quizzed on whether there was any sign of COVID-19 disease. Then, all staff appropriately attired themselves, and strict protocols were observed.

I asked how the residents coped with this degree of lock up – and he said they hated it, one saying she preferred to be dead rather than endure such conditions. So it is not just a case of expressions of pious statements about “loved ones” whenever a person in their nineties dies, but perhaps in the eyes of the departed, death was a joyous event. The problem is that it is one technology we have not mastered, that of polling the dead.

Apropos, I asked about Zoom and other means of distanced face-to-face communication. His view was that for the elderly it was no substitute for physical contact.

He made a further comment that it seems that in these institutionalised care environments, aerosol rather droplet spread is the major means of transmission. He cited a case where a particular residential facility was coronavirus free in the morning and by the evening two-thirds of the people were coronavirus positive.

After talking to him, I re-read the Newmarch Report, which shows that if you bring in a competent team that knows what it is doing then you get to the same situation that my friend describes. But it is far from a perfect situation.

I wonder whether the central agencies or the private operators have worked out how much it would cost to comply with the 20 recommendations of that Report.

The Commonwealth government, with an incompetent Minister, is still relying on the private sector, with its record of putting profit before care increasingly being shown to be scandalous. The fact that some Victorian aged care facilities delayed the release of dozens of deaths which were then added to the daily tallies has not been adequately explained, but hopefully the answer is not deceit .

My friend said that government-run and not-for-profit facilities were better in his view. Yet Newmarch is operated by Anglicare, an offshoot of the Anglican Church, and seems to have belied that generalisation as does the apparent gouging of the contaminated St Basil’s Home in Fawkner, a northern suburb of Melbourne, by the Greek Orthodox Diocese.

However, mimicking the home environment but being able to maintain infection control at a level where the coronavirus will be repelled at the door remains a challenge, organisationally and financially.

I know that if and when the time came for me to go into a nursing home, it will be a one-way street. Thus I want to go into a place where my family at least has the choice of visiting me. I do not want to go into an institution, which is kitted out as an intensive care unit, so that I become a delayed statistic dying in a labyrinth of tubes, with a card on my big toe labelled “a loved one”. “Loved One” is becoming the modern day substitute for the black rimmed Hallmark bereavement card.

Coronavirus is an accelerant, and if you are old and contract the Virus, but survive the buggery of being on a ventilator in an actual intensive care unit, you can then become a photo opportunity for the evening news, before dying unnoticed a few weeks later. Is that what I would want – is it anything anybody wants?

Federally-Operated Quarantine Facilities

The comment has been made to me that government building a series of quarantine facilities would very expensive. The problem is that there is no evidence of long term thinking beyond the immediate combat with the current coronavirus. We have the spectacle of the President of the United States denying climate change, a feeling echoed by members of the Australian Government. There is a suggestion that swine flu outbreaks are now reappearing in China and Germany complicating the world disease profile.

Coronavirus infections are out of control in many places throughout the world, where incidence and number of deaths are the indices to measure spread and severity. Yet, unexpressed is the level of morbidity, which at present can be classified at short to medium term. I have yet to see whether the impact of morbidity on the world economy and burden of disease has been assessed. Probably, it could be argued that we are only seeing six-month data.

Our ancestors recognised the need for quarantine facilities but often located them in harsh settings. However, being in a necessarily isolated environment need not be harsh.

It seems that both the Northern Territory and Kristina Keneally among an increasing number of others, myself included, are advocating for discrete quarantine facilities. However the Australian government, with its attachment to private enterprise, appears to prefer to maintain the fiction that hotel quarantine can work in the long term. Frankly as the economy improves and the hotels are required, planning for these facilities should occur now rather than in the usual ad hoc manner. More importantly, we need to get quarantine out of the major population centres, and we need to find an affordable quarantine solution if Australia is to re-enter the international community and not completely destroy tourism for the foreseeable future, particularly if a successful vaccine is not found in the next 12 months.

Howard Springs quarantine facility

In relation to a particular operational Northern Territory facility, the comment is that to get to it “…drive south-east from Darwin Airport for 30 minutes and you will arrive at an old mining camp – the Manigurr-ma Village for fly-in, fly-out natural gas workers. Until recently, this complex was abandoned. Today, it is perhaps the most popular travel destination for Melbourne escapees.”

In other words, facilities do already exist, and it seems a tolerable spot to spend 14 days, especially if the facility is airconditioned. In my last blog, I suggested the Northern Territory as the site for quarantine and singled out Katherine. Creating a so-called bubble around Katherine would allow the possibility of visits to Katherine Gorge, increasing the tolerance levels for incarceration. However, creativity is never a recognised expertise of public service.

Now the Northern Territory First Minister has been re-elected, he can act with more freedom, notwithstanding section 49 of the Northern Territory Self Government Act. This mirrors terms of Section 92 of the Constitution in protecting movement across border. As one constitutional expert has said: “It means the NT is in the same position as a state.” However, the Northern Territory exists under law enacted by the Australian parliament, and is not recognised in the Constitution as a State.

The experience with the repatriation of Australians from Wuhan should have given the few long term planners in government a clue of how to handle quarantine. The Northern Territory is an ideal place. Over time, flight schedules can accommodate the need for incoming quarantine.

The other destination for the Wuhan evacuees, Christmas Island, is to Australia what French Guiana is to France – a place to send people to be forgotten at a great cost, but inconvenient for large scale quarantine.

Kristina Keneally took a direct stance recently when she suggested that the Federal government could provide a set of quarantine resources if they are establish any form of international tourism. Repatriating the clamouring Australians provides a pool of people to test how best to allow people coming from COVID-19 endemic areas to return – or come to Australia.

The model exists in the successful evacuation from Wuhan.

Build or adapt facilities in Northern Australia to enable people to be quarantined for 14 days.

Gradually close down hotel quarantine, as international restrictions are eased but, in the light of the Government’s announcement this week that incoming passenger numbers will be increased, those states and territories that have taken a back seat in hosting quarantine can take some of the load – the ACT is a case in point, with its newly-constructed international airport; there are suitable sites in the ACT – much land around the Fairbairn RAAF base.

However, long term it is undesirable to use hotel facilities, which are not dedicated health facilities, for such a purpose. Thus there is a reason to establish a health-tourism forum so that people in each sector are brought together to develop a common language.

As with any facility designed to attract tourists to this country, each person presenting at a border should have the equivalent of the yellow card – when we needed to show evidence of smallpox vaccination, inoculation against typhoid, cholera – and still yellow fever.

Remember that yellow, even in this world of digital communication, remains the colour of the letter Q – hence quarantine. Data should provide evidence of the time of testing, a temperature check at departure and arrival and a checklist of symptomatology. As a parenthetic comment, the ability to test olfaction may become an important additional marker.

The longer there are no organised quarantine facilities the more policy will be at the mercy of ad hoc arrangements. Quarantine facilities that are recognised and organised with appropriate staff will provide a Security Blanket for the politicians, who are increasingly terrified of opening their borders – and in general Australia.

When we wanted to deal with those poor benighted asylum seekers, we were not at a loss for ingenious methods of inflicting as much misery on them without descending into actual torture. Also, can anybody realise how much hilarity and champagne cork popping there was in the Cambodian government when we wanted to “rehome” some of these asylum seekers.

However, the asylum seekers were at the end of a line of misery, and despite the compassionate cohort of advocates their plight means little to the vast majority of Australians.

By contrast, quarantine, well organised with a border force replete with replacement masks of compassion and a health work force working in conjunction with the tourist industry in all its manifestations would seem to be a simple concept to put an end to the ad hoc actions and the unmitigated xenophobia that some of our governments have developed.

Well, let’s see!

O Panda Alaranjado

I don’t see how we get through to the January 20, 2021 inauguration day without bloodshed.  Ever since James Adams succeeded George Washington in 1797, there has been a peaceful transition of power in this country from one president to the next. I fear that after 223 years we are about to tarnish that record.

So has been written to me by an American lawmaker.

Everybody has been setting out a scenario that this increasingly unhinged person with his band of acolytes could inflict on the USA if he loses.

The following is one is taken from the playbook of the Bavarian house painter, he could contrive to see the White House burnt down, and then invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807. “In all cases of insurrection, or obstruction to the laws, either of the United States, or of any individual state or territory, where it is lawful for the President of the United States to call forth the militia for the purpose of suppressing such insurrection, or of causing the laws to be duly executed, it shall be lawful for him to employ, for the same purposes, such part of the land or naval force of the United States, as shall be judged necessary, having first observed all the pre-requisites of the law in all respect.”

Burning the White House, 1814

Not that it was an insurrection but British troops did burn down the White House in 1814. So there is a precedent, if not a president.

Mouse whisper

One Australian politician who answers to Julian the Lesser has made a statement that more Australian have seen Berlin than Bundaberg. Bundaberg has 93,000 people.

Is Julian the Lesser suggesting that:

  • people who live in Bundaberg are blind
  • there are more people than that to take our breath away.

All in all, a rum statement.

Out of breath

 

Modest Expectations – Vince Gair

What I wrote about Biden in May holds in my view, but but for one thing…

The most disturbing vision of Biden is his rear view – essentially that of an old doddering man. Then turn him around and there is that ever-engaging smile – as if he has a giant axon inside his skull that is connected to all the facial muscles, which make him smile on cue when somebody rings the metaphorical bell. 

Biden is a plagiarist, discovery of which aborted his 1988 Presidential campaign. Plagiarism is a mixture of deceit and intellectual laziness – or underlying dumbness. This flaw resurfaced in certain dealings last year.

… Nevertheless, one positive sign that he is a good man is how he has handled grief and he has much to grieve about in his life.

America is in a mess; no matter when the change is made there is a White House reduced to the political nursery of the Baby Trump, and there will need to be someone very focused to clear out the rattles, the dolls, the bucket and spade, and other geegaws fondled and thrown around in the past four years.

I fear Biden just doesn’t have the ability – no fire, only embers. My earlier comments about him have not changed, and my support for Bloomberg would still hold had it not been for this entry of Obama into the frame.

Kamala Harris

He is still a fake, but fortunately Kamala Harris is authentic. I had not been paying enough attention to this very smart lawyer from California because I thought Biden would choose from the talented pool of Democratic women from the Midwestern States, even given that he was colour conscious. The residual influence of the Clintons would have been tested; the accident-prone Susan Rice in the forefront of Hilary’s list.

However, the Obama imago prevailed.

Biden is not adventurous and at 78 he has the habits of a lifetime printed in his electrical circuits. Prejudices such as showed in relation to Anita Hill bubble below the surface, despite all the meae culpae he has given. I never trust a plagiarist – it shows a level  of dishonesty, subterranean it may be.

However, that pales before Trump, a person whose inability to tell the truth is well documented.

When Trump immediately attacked Kamala Harris and called her “nasty” (how pathetic can you be), he starts on the eligibility nonsense that he tried to perpetuate with Barack Obama. He is now repeating the same with Kamala Harris. In so doing, he emphasises the essential similarity between the two. One is the son of a Kenyan and white American union; the other the daughter of a Jamaican and Indian union. Coincidentally both unions broke up soon after the children were born and both had an absent father.

Trump would have preferred the traditional Tobacco Road Afro-American upon which it is easier to spew racial division and hatred.

He has a pathological antipathy to Barack. He cannot stand being mocked, his inferior intellect put to the test, his demonstrable cowardice – all in all, a vicious, corrupt guttersnipe. To put it in simple terms, he cannot bully either Harris or Obama – unlike Biden whom he has shown that he can.

There are two reasons that could be conjectured as to why Biden delayed his choice. One is that he is a natural ditherer (not a good sign in a President with so much to rectify) and the second is that he simply did not want Ms Harris. One may suspect that she is the Obama surrogate. That is not to denigrate her, but it will not be too much trouble for her to “clean up” Pence – and then unleashed she will so clearly become the President-in-waiting.

Two Vice-Presidential reactions when the President became “infirm” are relevant contrasts.

Eisenhower was 67 when he had a stroke in 1957; Woodrow Wilson was 63 when he too had a stroke in 1919. Eisenhower had nearly three years to go; Wilson the best part of two years. Richard Nixon, whom Eisenhower had foisted on him and whom really did not like much, became more prominent directly in policy decisions after 1957.

Trump is 74 and has been rushed to Walter Reed Hospital at least once; Biden is 78. Both probably are testimony to the availability of health care now in modern America, for the affluent at least, particularly in the treatment of cardiac disease and high blood pressure.

Thomas Marshall, Wilson’s Vice-President and who somewhat eerily had been the 27th Governor of Indiana (the current Vice-President Pence was the 50th), followed a different path. Again, although as with Nixon he served two terms, Marshall was disliked by Wilson and particularly by Wilson’s wife so that he was blocked from much of the day-to-day management. However, Marshall was very much his own man with seemingly a misplaced sense of noblesse oblige in refusing to take over as acting President because he feared the precedent that this action would have created.

In other words, even at an age when infirmity can strike suddenly, Biden can be tolerated because (a) Trump is so bad, probably more senile and (b) Biden has a strong deputy. However even the sight of the indecisive Biden face to face with Trump still fills me with trepidation, whereas Harris I suspect could eat Trump for breakfast and still ask for more waffles.

Is Australia prepared for the next Pandemic?

The above is the title of a paper published in April 2017 that had, as one of its authors, Brendan Murphy, whose address was given as Office of Health Protection, Australian Department of Health, Canberra.

It was published in the MJA under Perspectives and begins with the statement “infectious diseases continue to threaten global health security, despite decades of advances in hygiene, vaccination and antimicrobial therapies”. How very true!

It was a paper, which has a table of four Committees with very long names, and because they are labelled current NHMRC Centres of Excellence the assumption is that they are just that. The problem is that much of health research is encased in the gossamer of self-congratulation.

Angels dancing on a pinhead?

Much of medical research is somewhat like exquisite Chinese ceramics in the seventeenth century, refining the tools of the past to render more and complicated dexterity, but not advancing the human condition – defining how many angels you can fit on a pinhead – wonderful feats but of what utilitarian value?

The Murphy paper does not explicitly mention three people who have provided Australia with a buffer in the battle against infectious diseases.

The first was the emphasis by Michael Wooldridge, when he was Minister of Health, on raising the vaccination rates of Australia in the face of criminal behaviour by the anti-vaxxer brigade. Wooldridge had a strong base being close to Prime Minister Howard and being a member of the Expenditure Review Committee. Wooldridge retired and since then Federal Ministers for Health excluding Hunt have been an indifferent bunch in relation to their influence and interest (although at times Abbott showed he was across the portfolio).

The second was Dr Brian McNamee who, on assuming the role of CEO of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories (CSL) in 1990, turned it from being a “basket case” into a world leader in the development of vaccines and blood product. As a bonus CSL is now very profitable. In so doing, McNamee cultivated Australia’s research capacity. He had a keen eye for the very best.

The third is Lindsay Grayson, whose crusade for people to wash their hands has provided a springboard for the community campaign to wash their hands. Men in particular are grubs and Grayson, first in hospitals then elsewhere, demonstrated how important hand washing is in minimising cross infection. His work has resulted in modification of health professional contact with patients.

On the flip side, governments had believed infectious disease hospitals were a thing of the past, and while HIV inpatients gave some of them a prolonged life, these hospitals dedicated to what was believed to be a relic of a past age were progressively closed down.

Fairfield Hospital

As I have written elsewhere I remember in the 1950s being admitted to Fairfield Hospital in Melbourne for a week for an unspecified infection, and as was the wont of the senior doctor at the time I was prescribed chloramphenicol, which was shown to have disastrous side effects. I was in isolation – quarantined – in a dedicated infectious diseases hospital, and did not escape being dosed with chloramphenicol. Nevertheless, I was well treated by a trained staff and still alive.

The New Zealand Chief Medical Officer has used the word “bespoke” in relation to quarantine facilities, especially tailored for the individual circumstance. Fairfield Hospital was just that, until it was closed by the then Premier Kennett in 1996 as a cost cutting measure, a familiar tune when it comes to public health expenditure.

The dilemma for Government now – as part of the grand exit strategy – is whether to invest in the construction of quarantine facilities. Those opposed, generally identified as central agencies, may argue there are quarantine facilities available, which were convenient when the early evacuations from China were occurring, but Christmas Island and Darwin are not the most convenient. Far more troubling for these bureaucrats is the prospect of a vaccine at a time when there is substantial hype about its prospect of success.

There are two points to keep in mind: the vaccine is far from a done deal, and there are plenty of other viruses at a time when the Climate is changing and when technology has conditioned the mood of the population to care only about Self, surrounded by Instagram or Facebook or Twitter or Tik Tok or Facetime or IsolationXbox.

However, investment in facilities now may be the price that needs to be paid to reassure Australians that our status of being a country with a low COVID-19 infection rate is preserved. It may be that the price to be paid from coming from a place of high infectivity to Australia means automatic isolation.

The paper by Murphy and his co-authors sets outs a number of Committees. Despite all the apparent impressive panoply of intellectual input set out in the paper, Australia was woefully underprepared when the Virus struck and was fortunate that our distance from the source of the original infection provided a buffer. Perhaps in hindsight, what was done there is the template for quarantine facilities to be established.

For Murphy the pamphlet of 2017 becomes the reality of 2020.

Australia just cannot be placed in permanent lockdown on the whim of some set of politicians. There is a need for a finer sieve than group punishment. If there is a lesson from this Victorian debacle it is that nobody should be allowed to visit a nursing home (or a prison) for 40 days or least a significant period after returning from abroad and not developing signs of infectious disease, then so be it. That is an obvious restriction to be put on the table, but there will be others.

The development of quarantine facilities to house the infected or those potentially infected should be near airports, and the further the airport is away from a high concentration of the people the better. There are those who wish for a vaccine, but given that viruses are coming in waves – and until this Virus struck, Australia has dodged the metaphorical bullet.

To get this whole response right is not just a case of consulting laboratory scientists whose ruminations have been effectively ignored by the community until the Virus struck. I have always taken issue with the Fabian approach of pamphleteering for change. As has been clearly demonstrated by Murphy et al in their paper, until the pandemic struck, there was no impact of these matters on the politicians. Now of course the airwaves are full of these same scientists unleashed, some able to communicate well, others not. They remain background noise while those in charge of containing the pandemic continue to work on in a social Darwinian bubble shedding the useless people whilst retaining the useful.

Wartime does not have the luxury of maintaining the idiots, just because they look good in suits. In other words, even though the cacophony of those who love show-boating remains, it is refreshing to see the “survivors”, who an observer thought from the start were competent and see some that you thought were initially incompetent improving. Hence Australia is still one of the best places to live in this Time of the Virus, even with the mistakes.

The danger is that some of the Premiers who have closed borders are caught in a competition to see who can close the longest. Closing borders becomes a mindless and sadly cruel obsession.

Now setting up, in the words of the New Zealander, a bespoke set of quarantine facilities may require less money being tossed to the other politicians-needs-a-legacy projects. I am sure the War Memorial renovations could be put on hold; and the sports stadia.

An evening looking down from the loggia

Just imagine in the Second World War John Curtin advocating for Parliament House to be transformed into the Palace of Versailles. To suggest that is so ridiculous, but Australia is in a similar crisis. The above point is to make everybody think of what is more important than the long-term health of the country – a football stadium for the inheritors of Versailles looking down from their exclusive loggia quaffing champagne and eating truffled lobster – or quarantine facilities where all the components of public health and infectious disease can be concentrated. I say again, this Virus will not be the last the infectious assault. 

The solution I propose is unashamedly simple in conception but difficult in the details of implementation. I know that; unlike the following, which is barely intelligible but it is not the only vapid advice which has been published: And we might do well to remember that the wisest and most effective course of action will more often be forged in the contest of ideas than distilled from unilateral decisions untested by scrutiny and tempered by no real debate.

However, one must not get angry, rather listen to that wise local florist who noted: “when my ability to smell the rose and the eucalypt return, so will I then contemplate the frivolous.” 

Once upon a time in Lithuania

In an earlier blog, I have written in some detail about our visit to the Baltic countries. However, a few comments may be relevant now that the hidden country of Belarus has emerged from behind its curtain. What is surprising is that when we drove from Estonia to Latvia and then to Lithuania we noted that there were no mountain ranges or marshes between the three countries – just nondescript borders. Yet, there are three distinct cultures, three distinct countries. All have struggled to maintain their independence, but with the breakdown of the old Soviet Union they all achieved their independence.

In 1989, to celebrate the independence from Russia on the 50th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the people of those three countries formed a human chain stretching across all three countries from the Tikk Herman, a mediaeval Estonian fort in Tallinn, to the square in front of the Lithuanian cathedral in Vilnius.

In Vilnius, we were told that we would no longer need a visa to go to Belarus. Vilnius is close to the border and it was only a couple of hours drive to Minsk if it were not for the stringent border controls, which reflected that Belarus had never moved from its Soviet past. That was correct, we did not need a visa, but only if you flew into Minsk. It did not apply to land borders.

Belarus was once a client state of the Soviet Union and a founder member in 1945 of the United Nations as Byelorussia. Nobody talked about it and because it was translated as “White Russia” it was confused with the white Russians of the 1917 Revolution – those who opposed the Communist red Russians. So anybody who encountered the name shrugged their shoulders, “too complicated; little relevance” and turned to other matters. For Australia, there were very few migrants from there fleeing Soviet domination, unlike the Baltic Countries.

Protests in Belorussia

To most people Belarus (once Byelorussia) has meant nothing – a small landlocked nation of peat and farmlands, iron works and overflow Soviet manufacturing. To those who knew little, it was just a part of the Soviet Union, carved off, given a name, just to be another convenient rubber stamp, to provide another vote in the UN – to jump when the Soviets said so.

The Republic was not retained when the Soviet split up, and it was given its independence. However for Belarus, unlike their neighbours, this did not bring democracy.

So there was little surprise when a burly young former collective farm manager named Alexander Lukashenko seized power in 1994 and then, over time, consolidated his power over the population of nine million. While Yeltsin was there and in the early years of Putin, Lukashenko wanted to have his country re-absorbed into the new Russia, with himself as the Vice-President; that dream faded as Putin consolidated his personal power.

However, Byelorussia has its own language and while most people speak Russian, the country has certain differences. It is Slavic, but it has more than a pinch of Balt. It was an area, once Lithuanian as part of its empire with fortified towns. The Swedish army has tramped across it, as had the Poles. The people suffered greatly under the Soviet Union and in an article in the February 2000 Harper’s Magazine the author, who had decided to visit the Kurapaty Forest just North of Minsk, said:

“Shadows throughout the grove resolve themselves into crosses; the farther in you look the more crosses you see. Here lie the bodies of tens of thousands of Belarusians (estimates run from 30,000 to 900,000) who were executed by the Soviet authorities.” In the psyche of the Belarus people, this Soviet brutality has not been forgotten.

In 2000 Lukashenko, who had some pretensions to being an ice hockey player, was only 35 and had the support of the elderly and rural communities. His approach to government was well-defined as during that year (2000) four opposition leaders had simply disappeared.

But now in 2020 the population seems to have had enough. There is always a tipping point and Putin, if he invades, would be well aware of the cost of not only fighting but also garrisoning a hostile country, especially one where the President-in-exile is lodged in Lithuania. Furthermore, much of the countryside in the South and East has been contaminated by the Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident. Radioactive caesium is lodged in the soil.

Then there is the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast for Putin to think long and hard about if he moves on Belarus.

Kaliningrad

Kaliningrad, named after one of Stalin’s cronies, was formerly Konigsberg, the capital of Prussia. The oblast, the size of Northern Ireland, was annexed in the aftermath of World War II as a base at Baltiysk for the Russian navy, being its only ice-free port. The area is also essential for Russia’s ability to intercept and interfere with Allied communication networks – Russia’s spoiler.

Putin could move fast and send troops in to rescue Lukashenko, reckoning that his influence over Trump would stymie any Allied response involving Kaliningrad Oblast which, despite being heavily fortified, could be a risky proposition.

Currently Russia is separated from its exclave by both Belarus and Lithuania. An invasion of Belarus, unimpeded by Trump, could tempt Putin to demand a corridor across Lithuania in much the same way that Hitler demanded a corridor across Poland to the then Baltic free-port of Danzig, one of the precipitants for World War II in 1939. Lithuania is a member of the EU, and yet…there is this Manchurian candidate factor redux.

Fanciful? Better to call it out?

However, drawing breath and not wanting to wander into a nightmare more fitting of a video game, in which I am no expert; equally I am no expert in how to destroy the world to save a despot or two.

Mouse Whisper

Geraldine Ferraro was Walter Mondale’s Vice-Presidential choice in 1984. At the time, there were many ugly rumours about the Democratic New York congresswoman relating to unpaid taxes and family links to organised crime. After all, she was of Italian extraction and from Queens at a time when the Godfather series had stereotyped Italian America – guilt by association is a favourite ploy of the media.

She decided to confront the media and answer each and every question for as long as it took – by 80 minutes she had exhausted the media and when she had finished, according to a report in the Washington Post, many of the cameramen filming applauded her.

As the Washington Post recalled this week:

There was just one critic left to deal with — the conservative columnist George Will. He had sent her roses as a sort of apology, writing in a card that, “Has anyone told you that you are cute when you’re mad?”

Ferraro called Will to thank him for the roses… But there was something she needed to say. 

“Vice-Presidents aren’t cute,” Ferraro told him. And then she hung up.

Modest Expectations – Natasha Nuora

Given what has been happening this week and I have been on the road in areas suggested as potential hotspots, I am starting this week’s blog with a few jottings. The radio has been the constant companion and television ever present in motel rooms, wherever you stop to socially distance.

I jotted down “self important politicians pontificating about how bad everything is – all on fat salaries and perks”.

I have never been a great fan of Tony Abbott, but when he was engaged as a firefighter or as surf lifesaver, he may have attracted some media attention, but unless it was all spin he continues to provide a real tangible service to the community.

So what of the current batch of politicians? What are they doing? Now in the time of the Virus where are all these well paid politicians and their side kicks – on the ground helping out rather than buried in spin – helping out with food deliveries – helping their constituents get through the crisis and not inflaming it.

For instance, those people in the high rise have two local parliamentary members – one Federal; one State. Both are Green.

Their names are Adam Bandt and Ellen Sandell. The photo-op outside the high rise apartments – of course. What else, running around picking up scraps of paper at the foot of the apartment blocks setting down the grievances of the locked down residents – and there is more – they are complaining to the government or in the political terms “ making representations”.

Now given that they represent comparatively small geographical areas, I would expect that these two would know what resources can be rapidly mobilised and instead of uselessly fluttering around be working to assure the “care element” for the tower residents.

Now if I were the local parliamentary member, given so many people have isolated in a series of high rise building, I would be seeking answers to questions of resident safety in the case of fire. Simple questions as to assure the smoke alarms in each of the flat are in working orders and nothing is blocking the emergency exits.

As I jot, in this fast moving scenario, comprehensive testing has  concentrated the Virus  in one of the towers. The Government has seemingly restored some order here.

I sympathise with Premier Andrews. He has the cattle he has been left with – often elected through branch stacking and factional deals. Obviously, a few able colleagues will have escaped the net of incompetence. One of these is Richard Wynne, who is the Housing Minister and the State member for Richmond who is very much acquainted with public high rise towers and what’s more effective.

The Victoria Opposition? I’m sorry I suffer from coulrophobia, which makes me having difficulty commenting further.

However, there is one person who overcomes my coulrophobia, and that is Premier Gladys. Obviously the spectre of the Ruby and Newmarch keeps her awake at night.

As soon as the pandemic flared up, she was into border lockdown without any contingency plans. Then a COVID-19 positive teenager turns up in Merimbula -after all, if the spread is going to happen, school holidays is a perfect time as Victorians flee winter.

However, had she anticipated border lockdown and was there a contingency plan? Well, apparently no. However, next day, she is encouraging NSW border townspeople not to travel and may have to lock down that area.

I bet there is no contingency plan in place to withdraw her troops in the face of the advancing Virus to the Murrumbidgee River, and yet she stigmatises her NSW border constituents and reinforces what has been said for years – that the NSW border should be reset at the Murrumbidgee River, so little the NSW government is concerned about its Riverina population welfare.

Day 1 of border closure – 6.00am – 4 degrees C

Data, Gladys, data – 10 cases across Albury-Wodonga and not one for 92 days until a couple of Melburnians were caught escaping Melbourne. The Victorians have locked down metropolitan Melbourne – that should be sufficient in any case.

It also raises the question of why isn’t the Government coming down hard on the appalling behaviour in Sydney, where social distancing appears to be reduced to about 30 cms if you’re one of the massive pack of people lining up to enter a hotel in Double Bay. Callers to ABC’s breakfast program discussed strategies for avoiding unwanted hugs – there seems to be a pandemic of short memories about how to avoid catching COVID-19 if that discussion is anything to go by.

Then Gladys’ nightmare continued, JetStar slipped a plane through the NSW cordon, emphasising the inherent fragility of policy being as strong as the weakest link.

Now two of the 48 passengers refused to be COVID-19 tested. If that one percentage of “refuseniks” is considered representative of those who are probably the same cohort as the anti-vaxxers, then there is a need for quarantine space not being a plush hotel to accommodate them.

No doubt, NSW has done an excellent job in relation to hotel quarantine, but that does not diminished the argument for designated quarantine facilities. The new and immediate challenge is a government intent on providing a refuge for an unspecified number of Hong Kongers at the same time as the States are showing hotel fatigue by pleading for fewer overseas flights.

Then, there must be a plan to cater for expanding travel given that for a long period into the future, the world will have reverted to the nineteenth century quarantine situation given the differential effect of the Virus on nations – and not wanting to completely stifle international travel yet not wanting travellers to be isolated for quaranta giorni, the basis for the word “Quarantine”.

The Greater Green Triangle

I have spent a lot of time in the Greater Green Triangle over the years. From the time I was responsible for some community health projects in Western Victoria and more recently when I was Director of Medical Services at Edenhope Hospital for a couple of years. If you asked 100 people in Victoria or in South Australia (outside the GGT) where is Edenhope, I would guess the number who knew where it was in each State would run into single digit figures.

However, Edenhope exemplifies a border town and the interdependence of border settlements with one another. Their ability to accommodate to different governments with different legislation is one of the qualities that I love about such towns. I have worked in many.

The problem is that being at the extremes of the State, unless in Queensland where the border is close to the capital, the border residents tend to be forgotten. And this is so, even in Queensland! At the Post Office Hotel in Camooweal on the Queensland-Northern Territory border, you can get the best steak sandwich in Australia – but who would know.

However, let’s return to the Greater Green Triangle. The Victorian-South Australian border was set in 1836 to run along the 141st meridian. Although there is some discrepancy between the then and now measurement, what distinguishes the area east and west of the line is the limestone South Australian coast and hinterland; and this is reflected in the buildings. Mount Gambier stone is a distinctive limestone. One of the ways community in rural Australia has traditionally defined itself is through its football leagues. In this area traditionally there has been a strong Australian Rules tradition; all the border leagues are organised around perceived communities, and these do not seem to recognise borders as a barrier.

The Greater Green Triangle has its base along the coast from Apollo Bay in Victoria to Kingston in South Australia, and as it goes north, where the major population centres are Horsham and Keith, before it runs against the Mallee, an area that also crosses the border.

The point is, as I found out when I assisted in the establishment of the cross-border Greater Green Triangle University Department of Rural Health, that it proved a viable size to deliver an area where medical students could gain enough clinical experience. It showed that the region had both the intellectual capital to provide tertiary education for the population locally and also a population to support clinical training. Both Flinders and Deakin University have had a significant investment in this putative region.

Working at Edenhope demonstrated how clearly important Naracoorte (known locally as Nazza) was to those living on the other side of the South Australian border. This was emphasised by the 2011 floods, which closed the road between Edenhope and Horsham. This meant that services in South Australia were crucial.

Look at the data. Regional Victoria has been virtually free of the Virus for a long time. Therefore, the case is clear for a more sensible approach to border closure in the south-west of Victoria and the south-east of South Australia.

The recent cross-border exemption of 50 kilometres recognises the importance of Mount Gambier and Naracoorte to Western Victoria. However, it dose not recognise the importance of Portland, Hamilton, Warrnambool and even Horsham to South Australians living along the border. As I write this, there is apparently a substantial backlog of people seeking to gain the requisite permits to cross the border

Recognition of the Greater Green Triangle – a long-established and recognised area by three governments – is now being undermined under the current COVID-19 restrictions. The tri-governmental decision to close the Victorian border with NSW fails to recognise that this economic, educational, health and community zone should not be undermined during the COVID-19 pandemic.

East of Eden

The Victorian border south of Eden suddenly looms as a small notice and a bigger notice further on announces the East Gippsland Shire. There is one mobile neon sign saying that those from some undefined hotspots are not allowed into NSW. The cars that whiz past, including several towing caravans – all with Victorian number plates. There is no sign of any active policing of the border.

However, that was before the NSW decision to close the border from Tuesday midnight.

There is no doubt that this border crossing will present a logistics problem. It is going to be interesting to see how the NSW police will arrange their supervision of the Princes Highway border for an extended period, given that it very sparsely populated in an area of bush regeneration, with lots of tracks and not much population until Eden 50 kilometres up the Highway. The ADF may be very useful here. Presumably for completeness, the NSW water police or the Navy will be patrolling the 31 nautical miles between Mallacoota and Eden.

This past weekend we decamped to Merimbula. We were curious to see how the devastated region, after the ghastly summer bushfires, was regenerating. We had watched, as did so much of Australia, with horror and helplessness the destruction being wrought. We contributed to the bushfire relief, but it seemed a pittance. We were then ashamed at the politicians’ response, many of who were overseas, even though there was forewarning of the disaster afoot, much in the same way this border closure has been handled. Many warning signs; then the white stick panic.

Our visit coincided with the weekend of the Eden-Monaro by-election, and although some equated the electorate with the bushfire, the actual area of the electorate burnt was comparatively small and unpopulated. However, that statement is little comfort to hamlets like Cobargo or Mogo where the devastation was numbing. In Australia loss of property is like losing your mind – your memory.

Yet in Merimbula there are few signs of the bushfire. The trees grow tall in the gullies and onto the rises of this hilly settlement with its glorious views of the water stretching out into the Pacific Ocean. Here is a world of the best rock oysters and great fish cuisine. And that emblem of middle class – the golf course – that has been unaffected. The trees are majestic and the fairways green.

Here is the remnant temperate rain forest, which stretches out onto the slopes of the Great Dividing Range. Yet here is an electorate, where a climate denier whose only bush fire policy seems to be fuel reduction, nearly got elected. I would like to see how she would go about man-contrived bush fuel reduction on Brown Mountain. Fortunately, she received a huge thumping by the Merimbula voters.

South of Eden where the devastation was so pronounced there is a very small population – tiny settlements such Kiah are littered with the graveyards of houses, although the local store stoutly displays a “bottle shop” sign.

 

Princes Highway, south of Eden

I remember the reports from Eden, which saw people congregating at the wharf. The flames across Twofold Bay must have been a terrifying sight.

The sturdiness of the bush has been shown by the way the new green leafy growth has been shinnying up the black trunks – to announce its new arrival. However, death is beige, trees whose beige foliage hangs forlornly. The trademark colour of emerging wattle is noticeably absent. Yet there are banksia and grevillea in flower – small numbers but as with the grass, and the ferns and wildflowers, exhibiting regeneration. Nature does not wait for government assistance. Will the thousands of eucalypts across NSW and Victoria that now have epicormic growth gradually recover? Time will tell, but the intensity of the fires was such that we are unlikely to see recovery any time soon, if ever.

There are areas of clear felling and trees scorched beyond immediate redemption. There are no sounds – no bird sounds, no evidence of wildlife, no animals skittled on the roadway. It is not yet Spring but this is a silent world, apart from diminishing noise of the highway.

Yet the two government bush fire inquiries are meandering down bureaucratic gravel roads. The NSW Inquiry finished its community consultation in May, and the Federal Inquiry is due to finish on August 31. When will there be recommendations; when will there be action?

The governmental inertia is appalling and, as has been shown by the Berejiklian approach to government, it gives no idea of whether she knows what she’s doing – apart from kicking the can down the highway and trying to find it in a white stick panic. The NSW bushfire report is due “before the next fire season” (policy by length of the string principle) and presented to her (policy by ceremonial burial)

However, get ready for her response in 2021 when the remaining South Coast bush may have been subject to fuel reduction, but not in the way she meant – only it was not her fault. Nature had just misinterpreted her message.

Stabilising our “Arc of Instability”

Neil Baird – Guest blogger

Celebrated American travel writer Paul Theroux describes his impressions of our neighbouring Pacific islands in “The Happy Isles of Oceania”. It is an ironic title for a book that others have described as “The Arc of Instability” – the chain of islands extending from the Cook Islands in the east to Indonesia in the west.

Cook Islands

While the latter epithet was originally applied to geological instability, it now much more accurately applies to geopolitical instability. The Chinese “dragon” has awakened and is blowing its hot, corrosive and corrupting breath in the direction of our archipelagic neighbours.

That makes it high time that Australia and New Zealand wake up to the threat that accompanies China’s interest. We should be doing much more to counter that threat while we still can. Instead of our benign neglect of the region during the past 75 years Australia and New Zealand need to become very proactive and pragmatic. It is far too late for idealism – the light on the hill burns low. 

Anyone sceptical of the danger that the Xi Jinping-led China presents to Australia should be reminded that his approach shares the hallmarks of a number of pre-World War 2 dictators.

Inter alia, Winston Churchill’s “The Gathering Storm” and Willard Price’s “Japan’s Islands of Mystery” and “Japan Rides the Tiger” very perceptively and accurately predicted the likely outcomes arising from the behaviour of such “Imperialist” dictators.

Willard Price’s books are most relevant to Australia’s current situation with respect to our neighbouring archipelagic nations. His description of the Japanese strategy and actions in regard its League of Nations Mandate of the Micronesian territories north of the Equator are particularly apposite in our current situation. President Xi’s China is closely following General Tojo’s playbook, albeit a little less brutally; so far.

Xi Jinping has demonstrated his imperialist credentials in the South China Sea. They have since spread rapidly with his “Belt and Road Initiative” which, as well as many Pacific and Indian Ocean states, now even encompasses the satirically characterised “Democratic Socialist Republic of Victoria”.

A serious and rapidly worsening problem in Australia’s immediate neighbourhood has emerged. While many of our neighbouring nations have been described as “failed states”, it is probably more accurate to class them as “unviable states”. In hindsight, it would have been better if they had formed a federation giving them some critical mass when they gained independence from their former colonisers.

They are, apart from Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, mostly too small, in terms of land area and population, let alone resources, to be economically viable individual nations. All are, to be bluntly honest, seriously deficient administratively. That makes them unusually mendicant and, therefore, vulnerable to external influences.

This reality must be allowed for in any approaches Australia makes to our neighbouring nations in an effort to counter the influence of the Chinese government. These countries need help and, to preserve its own future, Australia needs to help them.

However, to effectively help protect our neighbours from Chinese hegemony, Australia must be much more realistic and practical in its approach than has been the in the past. The paternalistic, diffident approach of Australia has created a vacuum that China is rapidly filling.

Australia must help protect these “Pacific paradises” from the detrimental effects of Chinese “colonisation”. This will require a very different diplomatic approach that to challenge the capabilities of both Australian and New Zealand bureaucrats – be they diplomats, trade representatives or “aid” consultants. They will need to be very incorrect politically.

That will require a much more culturally sensitive and realistic approach than has ever been demonstrated by current employees of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and flies in the face of their education and departmental acculturation.

The simple fact is, as any senior island nation bureaucrat will privately confirm, their biggest problem is “political interference”. Read “corruption” from elected representatives from ministers downwards. The Chinese government panders to this. Australia does not. This policy puts us at a great disadvantage. Australia must learn to work around and overcome that distasteful reality.

With that reality firmly in mind, Australia needs to much better plan its approach to those tiny nation states. We have to accept that they are not really “democracies” in the way that most Australians and New Zealanders understand that word.

Apart from brown paper bags of cash, diplomacy has a long tradition of purchasing influence. Scholarships, similar to those offered by the successful Australian Indigenous Education Foundation, provided to the bright – they’re always bright – children of politicians would be a start.

So would appropriate venture capital funding for business start-ups. “Educational” tours for politicians are always popular. There are numerous examples of what could be done in that line without having to go so far as the old German trick of “limitless” credit cards.

Australia could do much more in the areas of health, education, transport, agricultural, forestry and fisheries development, disaster relief and even defence. Australia could provide these island nations with safe, efficient and comfortable Australian designed and built ferries for inter-island transport. Importantly, Australia should train them to operate and maintain those ferries safely.

In contrast Australia should not be:

(a) building “Taj Mahal” financially unviable convention centres, or

(b) providing fleets of fancy cars to transport the delegates to non-existent conferences.

Above all, unlike our Chinese rivals, Australia should not be pushing debt onto the islanders, which only serves to reinforce their mendicant status.

The aid provided should be practical, sensible, conspicuous and culturally sensitive. There is no point in providing aid in any circumstances where someone else gets the credit for our generosity. Importantly, rather than handing over cash that inevitably would be spent on Toyotas, Yamahas, Hyundais or Maseratis, Australia should promote purchase of Australian goods or services.

We have plenty of desirable home grown goodies to offer,” as one reliable source said to me.

Not To Know What Happened Before One Was Born Is Always To Be A Child

I once had dinner with the essayist, author and sometime editor of Harper’s, Lewis Lapham, in New York. It was very cordial, entertaining dinner. I was trying to entice him to Australia to give a talk, but somewhere, sometime he slipped out of the net and did not come.

Later he did come to Australia and Bob Carr hosted him. The meeting of those minds is not surprising because although Lapham was a gifted essayist with a very astute mind, he could not resist writing such words: “I first met him at a New York dinner party in 1962, among the company then traveling in the entourage of President John Kennedy, and over the next half century I ran across him at least once or twice a year – in a Broadway theater, on a lawn an Newport, Rhode Island, in the Century Club dining room, on the stage of an university auditorium.” However, he carried his self-importance more easily than Carr, probably because he was a true intellectual.

In any case he was talking about Arthur Schlesinger. Schlesinger was a historian, a very good historian, who saw the world in which he lived, as Lapham recalls, as a place “to construe history as a means rather than the end, the constant making and remaking of the past intended to revise the present to better imagine the future.”

Schlesinger, although he died in 2007 at the age of 89, had witnessed the growth of the information revolution, without watching it explode. He noted that it was associated with “an attitude of mind which accommodated the floating world of the timeless fantasy, impatient and easily bored, less at ease with a stable storyline than with the flow of brand names images in which nothing necessarily follows from anything else”.

The problem with eloquence is that those mentioned above are listening to a different beat and hence the comment is lost in that floating world. Further, eloquence may mask thoughts that may be too personal, too generalised or just too loquacious.

“The problem is if the population do not recognise that history captures the past then the populace may be presented with solutions where there is no link between cause and effect. To be told what is right without any evidence, without the benefit of history is to caught up in the whirlwind of fake news, fascist politics and quack religions.”

Schlesinger was talking about Bush The Younger’s legacy in dumbing down American educational standards. Such a statement retains its relevance 13 years later, when the barbarian is no longer at the gate – he is within the gate. Now educational standards are reduced to slogans and chants of invective repeated.

Lapham compares Schlesinger’s analysis of history with that of a man who “forged the strength of Roman history into a weapon”. According to Lapham, both this man and Schlesinger recognised history was not a nursery rhyme. The name of the Roman was Cicero.

Marcus Tullius Cicero

Cicero paid a mortal price for his defence of the integrity of the republic against vanities of would be Emperors; and by the way, the quote at the head of this article was written by Cicero; how prescient a description of the current American President.

Mouse Whisper Primo

Overheard in the executive office of an unnamed casino: “Of course we have bought a vat of sanitiser – how else are going to launder all the money we are getting?

Mouse Whisper Secondo

Premier Gladys, my whisper from the floor, may I give you a tip about salt and pepper shakers – use them first, then hand sanitise. Then everybody can share or else wipe the shakers down before you use them.

Modest Expectations – Maria A Nona

Just a brief acknowledgement of Prof Brendan Murphy becoming the first medically qualified head of the Commonwealth Health department since Gwynn Howells was Director-General from 1973 to 1982. Murphy has a certain quality, which can survive the neo-liberal/ Canberra mandarin doubt. You know, doctors should stick to their knitting – and not mix it with the “big boys”.

I must say I have been always sceptical of that mantra which inter alia the late John Paterson promoted – namely you could be content free and run a Health department with minimal knowledge of the portfolio. To Paterson, health was only an unadorned matter of cost accounting. 

Another view of the Endurance

There is one piece of COVID-19 information about the South American situation that does not get much coverage. The rate of infection in Uruguay is very low, currently being less than 1,000 infected, with 27 deaths.

Now Uruguay has only 3.5 million people and while the death rate on a population basis is higher than ours, the number of cases is very respectable given that it has borders with Brazil and Argentina.

In an earlier blog I have written of my experiences about Uruguay last year. It has the characteristic of a Spanish-speaking culture but one I found, as an Australian, a very comfortable one. Maybe it was because we had two fantastic guides with an appreciation of Australians.

If we look at attenuated tourist bubbles of countries that have suppressed the virus, Uruguay should not be left off the list.

Montevideo

Two matters stand out. The first is that a third of the population lives in high-rise condominia along the Montevideo waterfront. In some parts Uruguay may be sparsely settled, but it has one substantial city, Montevideo, with a crowded population that seems to have avoided the CoVid-19 occurrence of other cities with substantial high-rise populations.

The second relates to the MV Greg Mortimer, with a substantial number of Australians on board. There could have been a complete disaster without the intervention of the Uruguayan Health authorities.

The World Health Organisation had declared COVID-19 a pandemic three days before the brand new, luxury MV Greg Mortimer (which despite its illustrious name is registered in the Bahamas), with a crew of 85 and 132 passengers, set sail from Ushuaia on March 15 on a 21-day cruise following a similar route to that of the Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton.

During the next 13 days the virus struck, although everybody tested negative for the virus before they boarded. Progressively more and more tested positive until 81 of the crew and passengers had contracted COVID-19.

Both Argentina and the Falkland Islands would have nothing to do with them, even though the passengers had embarked in Argentina at Ushuaia. The Uruguay government allowed the ship to anchor 16 kms off shore and then sent in a medical team to assess the COVID-19 status of those on the ship

Uruguayan physicians who boarded the MS Greg Mortimer to assess the passengers and crew

This story has been told recently by a respiratory physician, who was on the ship. He highlighted how careful and ordered the Uruguayan authorities were in handling the situation. They provided a “sanitary corridor” which allowed for repatriation, where those who were sick, including one of the ship’s doctors, were taken from the ship. Eight were hospitalised and one person unfortunately died.

As described in a recent issue of the Macquarie University journal, the way the matter was handled was in stark contrast to the Ruby Princess fiasco.

To his credit our Prime Minister was very generous in thanking Uruguay, a fact that should not be forgotten in the Year of the Virus.

The Presidential position had just changed back to the Conservative coalition, with Lacalle Pau, the surf-loving scion of an old Uruguayan family winning the runoff from his Socialist rival by only 30,000 votes. The maturity of this change in government reflects well on the state of democracy in Uruguay and on the successful approach of containing the virus even with a change of government.

Remember also Uruguay has a 1,000 kms border with Brazil and while there are nine border crossings, in one instance between two of the border towns, it is virtually just a line on the ground, little if any spread of the virus has occurred across the Brazilian border.

Yet according to The Guardian, Uruguay is fourth in the world for success against the Virus with New Zealand first and Australia second.

The discipline shown in handling the Greg Mortimer is an exemplar, and explains the current success. While it is not stated when you are moving people from an unsafe environment to a sanctuary, nobody wants to be last off, and yet the Uruguayans were able to maintain the discipline and co-operation for 19 days before the last person was evacuated from the MV Greg Mortimer.

In Uruguay, the current Minister of Public Health is Dr Daniel Salinas, a medical graduate but it seems that five years is a long time as Health Minister. He has only been in the position since March this year.

Talk about a baptism of fire and he has already been “outed” for going where he should not have gone during the lock-down. The words were harsh, but for now he has kept his job. 

In the Year of the Virus

In the Year of the Virus, what is written at the beginning of the week may be superseded at the weekend by the way the virus is driving the government agenda, both the economy and social intercourse. How something so small can change the way we go about our life tests our ability to maintain order and not succumb to the chaos of the individual ignorance – whether wilful or not.

Chaos is epitomised by the image of the two old guys in a street in one of the infested suburbs culturally kissing one another on the cheeks and then when they knew they were being photographed grinned like idiots into the camera. As I pointed out last week, the active elderly are potentially great Virus spreaders, especially as the niceties of the reasons for testing seem beyond them.

Premier Andrews is very adroit in being prepared to call out the Aspen skiers as “persons of interest” who brought the Virus into Australia. “Bad people”. However, his adroitness is in not blaming but at the same time blaming his Labor-voting constituency.

Andrews recognises it is pointless to call out the peasant mentality that the Florentine Leon Alberti identified 500 years ago as “amoral familism” – an inability to think beyond the extended family. Panic buying is one symptom, and disregard of any appeal to community values is another. Hence the Andrews adroitness is the gentle appeal to particular community leaders in public; and then giving them a stronger message in private.

The message has changed abruptly about those in quarantine who refuse to be tested. It turns out that the resistance has occurred among children – or rather their parents for testing their offspring.

For adults, there is no excuse; the sanction should be unyielding. The other means are either the addition of another ten days to the quarantine period, or else use the new saliva test for children. The reasons for these changes rest with the experts’ assurance that the extra ten days are sufficient and that the saliva test has a comparable degree of sensitivity and specificity to those of the current procedures.

However, it does not change the need to have designated quarantine facilities near all the international airports. One of the successes occurred early with the efficient evacuation of people from Wuhan to Christmas Island and the Darwin Howard Springs facility.

That is one good reason to have permanent quarantine facilities, if for no other reason than to streamline the process of quarantining returning citizens and permanent residents to Australia and to provide space so people are not cooped up in hotels with untrained supervision, as instanced in this case. The short-term objective of improving the bottom-line of the hotels should give way to planning for a long term recognition that inevitably we will have another raft of diseases without vaccines, and thus need designated, properly designed facilities.

Whereas a ship used to raise the yellow flag to denote Infection, so must a community flag be raised to indicate a suppression of pandemics, for which the only defence is suppression through isolation. What does Australia want – worrying about cultural sensitivity and spurious privacy issues or protection against the disruption caused by a pandemic?

Andrews invoked Bentham’s utilitarianism in his media conference last Sunday; his government must work for the greatest good for the greatest number. Here he is so right, but the refusal of a substantial number of people to be tested will challenge how consistent his resolve is, or whether he considers them as “conscientious objectors”.

Governments have a number of precedents for such a group, but he seems to believe that locking down certain suburbs until the end of July may suffice. It is a difficult policy to police.

On the other hand, the vested interests remain. There is a serious one that will lurk well beyond the end of July.

Quoting from the Sunday Age, “questions have been raised this week over when health authorities contacted Cedar Meats about the positive cases and over the government’s decision not to initially name the abattoir, whose owner was a long-time member of the Labor Party.”  

Meat processing facilities – in my language, abattoirs – because of the working environment are perfect areas for the virus to re-gather its strength. This Cedar Meats facility owned by the Kairouz family has previously been subject to questions about its occupational health and safety, and now by definition it is a “hot spot” until proved otherwise.

However, rather than pursuing the Lebanese connection, would it not be better to set up a preventative strategy in regard to all the meat processing facilities throughout Australia? Maybe that is in process, and as a casual observer, all I can say is that it is an obvious matter to consider, given it is an international problem even threatening to compromise the food supply chain. Therefore, who is working on the uniformity of rules here that recognise the seriousness of the situation?

Quarantine facilities are not holiday camps. They are facilities to isolate for a period for the few whose freedoms are temporarily sacrificed for the greater good. The government has become expert in building such facilities for asylum seekers. Maybe with the media spotlight on them and staffed by trained health professionals rather than guards of dubious experience, there will be more humanity in the construction of quarantine facilities. The Olympic village model springs to mind, with all subject to social distancing and hand washing “between events”.

The promise of a COVID-19 vaccine

The history of vaccines, and especially one against a coronavirus would suggest that it is nonsense to expect a solution in the near future – if ever. There may never be a vaccine and therefore the world must work around suppression of the Virus.

It is somewhat like 1938 and Neville Chamberlain waving a piece of paper and talking about “peace in our time” – it could easily be any of our current political leaders substituting “vaccine” for “peace”. The world has found out that it cannot eliminate war – it devises mechanisms to try and suppress it – not very successfully as there are hot spots breaking out everywhere as countries lose respect for borders read “social distancing”; for “hand washing and sanitisers” read “defence”.

The corpus of research scientists has the same quota of flimflam chancers as the rest of the population. Labelling someone a “research scientist” is not equivalent to beatification. As a somewhat mediocre medical researcher I was fortunate to work among some brilliant medical scientists. I sympathise with Brendan Murphy and his obvious unsuitability for research. Mine was a forgiving research environment, but then I never wore a tie in the laboratory.

I learnt the hard way, but because I was in a laboratory where the technical standards were high to complement some of the best scientific thinkers of my generation I was very privileged. I learnt enough to achieve two doctorates in a time when one could do that without being consigned to the debtors’ prison for unpaid HECS fees.

However, I learnt one lesson from two distinguished scientists, Ian Clunies Ross and Frank Fenner. When the myxomatosis virus was developed to infect and kill rabbits, both these men were the first to have themselves injected with the virus to show that the virus did not harm humans.

I remember one of my experiments demanded taking arterial blood. First person for this study to have that procedure done on himself was me. As the responsible researcher, if I expected others to take part, then I should be the first volunteer. Arterial puncture is no big deal now, but it was different 50+ years ago.

These days the whole process has been made more complicated as the ethicists have moved in. These days Clunies Ross and Fenner probably would be surrounded by reams and reams of paper seeking justification for their research.

However, the principle remains the same.

As one psychologist has expressed it: “The golden rule – do unto others as you would have them do unto you, is about as basic as morality gets. It’s the bridge between empathy and sympathy, between putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and making some accommodation to them as a result.”

That simple statement does not need a synod of ethicists to ratify. After all the 1978 Belmont Report said much the same in a great many more words. Among the reasons for this Report were revelations in regard to the Tuskegee experiments. The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the African American Male was a clinical study conducted between 1932 and 1972 by the United States Public Health Service. The purpose of this study was to observe the natural history of untreated syphilis; the African-American men in the study were only told they were receiving free health care from the Federal government of the United States.

Dr Cutler referred to below was complicit in a substantial way.

Naturally there are now researchers tripping over themselves in the search for a vaccine for COVID-19 as if this whole research exercise is less about research and more of a gold rush. The issue of how to fast track this process has inevitably lead to the question of challenge trials.

Descendents of the victims of the Tuskagee experiment

The nature of a challenge trial involves giving healthy subjects a prospective vaccine and, in this case, then infecting them with a coronavirus. As the Tuskagee and Guatemala experiences show, it can be totally unethical, and while these quoted may be extremes, there are many shades of grey.

An article in a recent issue of the New York Review of Books commented on a new book on Adverse Events: Race Inequality and the Testing of New Pharmaceuticals by Jill Fisher, a social scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill.  The reviewer, Carl Elliot, a Professor at the University of Minnesota, notes 38 members of the US House of Representatives have called for COVID-19 challenge studies to be put in place. Perfect – they can be among the first cohort to be challenged with the Virus but protected by The Vaccine.

Carl Elliot is concentrating his literary endeavours on whistle blowing and unethical research. He makes the point that in these often dangerous challenges, the “volunteers” come from the bottom of society: the poorest, the most easily exploitable, prisoners, people in impoverished countries like Guatemala or Alabama.

A challenge study on Guatemala poor in 1946-48 mimicked those carried out by the Nazis. These US researchers:

  • intentionally infected victims with syphilis and gonococcus without informed consent
  • failed to provide victims with treatment or compensation
  • covered up and did not publish or disclose the experiments, including the intentional infections and failure to provide treatment.

It was not until after his death that the person who led the study, John Cutler, a public health luminary, was revealed as the monster he was – but there were accomplices. After all, for every Dr Jekyll there potentially lurks a Mr Hyde.

Challenge studies may be integral to testing of particular research protocols, but the researchers should be prepared to be the first to be challenged. The organisation 1DaySooner promotes challenge trials and allows individuals to volunteer, or to be advocates for such trials. The website notes there are currently (as at 2 July 2020) 30,108 volunteers “interested in being exposed to the coronavirus to speed up vaccine development”. Volunteers implies they will not be paid or expect to be paid.

Still, if I were the lead researcher I would expect to be the first one infected. How many of the myriad researchers will volunteer to be the first one tested with their own challenge protocol if and when it gets to that point?

Let Him Sleep

In a question on notice on 28 October 1982 from Barry Jones, the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Tony Street responded with the following. In so doing, between the two, they encapsulated much of the story of Raoul Wallenberg:

(1)       Is he (Street) able to say whether Raoul Wallenberg was First Secretary of the Swedish Embassy in Budapest from July 1944 to approximately February 1945 and was he described as the ‘hero of the holocaust’ for his work in saving Hungarian Jews during the Nazi occupation?

(2)       Is it a fact that he was last seen in Hungary in or about February 1945 when he set off for an appointment with officers of the Red Army?

(3)       Is it a fact that reports have been received in Sweden that he was being held in a Soviet prison since that time, that he was last sighted in the late 1970s and that, at the age of 70 years, he may still be alive and that he has been seen in Soviet prisons?

To which Minister Street replied in part:

… the Government is aware of reports that Mr Wallenberg is alive and that he has been seen in Soviet prisons. Sweden continues to pursue the Wallenberg case with the Soviet authorities, who so far have done no more than repeat their claim that Mr Wallenberg died in prison in 1947.

The Australian Government fully supports the efforts of Sweden to have the case re-examined by the Soviet authorities. Because the Australian Government has no direct standing in the matter, however, there has been little opportunity for us to make an effective intervention. The matter is basically the concern of the Swedish and Soviet Governments and for the time being it is felt that Sweden is best placed to press for a more satisfactory response from the Soviet authorities…

There is no doubt that Wallenberg was a very brave man. What he did for Hungarian Jews in trying to save as many as possible from the gas chambers was extraordinary. One of his strongest promoters in the Australian community is Dr Frank Vajda. Wallenberg saved him, at the age of nine, together with his mother, from the firing squad – a direct intervention. Everybody interprets miracles differently, and there is no wonder that Vajda, who later became a noted Melbourne neurologist, views Wallenberg as his personal saviour.

Kew

Wallenberg was made Australia’s first and only honorary citizen in 2013. An exhibition honoring him was shown around Australia between 2015 and 2019. In his brief time in Hungary, he saved many Jews. Some, as with Professor Vajda, came to Australia. There are around Australia many Wallenberg monuments. In Melbourne, I have always acknowledged the bust of him when driving past, if it was safe to do so, since the bust is perched near a busy intersection in Kew.

It is inconceivable that the Russians would not have known that the Wallenberg family not only enabled German industrialists to hide their assets but also ironically helped the Nazis, though their bank, to dispose of Dutch Jewish assets. The Russians tend not to differentiate; once a Wallenberg, always a target.

Whenever or whatever the Russians did to Raoul Wallenberg just highlights the corkscrew of the Russian mentality. In 1982 the possibility, however tenuous, existed that he was still alive. Now 108 years after his birth, non acceptance of his death makes his memory a pointless hagiographic conceit.

On 26 October 2016 the Swedish tax authorities (responsible for death certificates) finally pronounced Wallenberg dead and to be considered having died 31 July 1952. “Han ska anses ha dött den 31 juli 1952”, skriver Skatteverket i sitt beslut.”

Given those words, it is surprising the Swedish embassy allowed the question mark over his death to remain on the information sheet advertising the Wallenberg exhibition last year in NSW. The Swedish Government has done so. When Tony Street replied to Barry Jones’ question nearly 40 years ago, and there may have been a reason not to bring closure.

The Swedish Government has now recognised one of its national heroes has died. He should no longer exist in some limbo. To dismiss the recognition as a Swedish administrative mechanism is to not accord Wallenberg the recognition that he died in Russian custody.

Also, I know that some people who were directly saved by his intervention believe he should be revered as a giant of the spirit, but he was made our only honorary citizen of Australia in 2013. Why? He did not have the chance to accept; did the proposer, having refused to assign a date of death, seek to ask his advice on the matter?

I wonder whether being made an honorary citizen of another country would have been significant to him and whether he himself, having been described as being a diffident person, would have accepted? One of the problems is that people who often indulge themselves in the pursuit of vestments and honours just assume that the object of their esteem would agree.

There is a touch of arrogance in making such assumptions, particularly in the case of affording people nationality. And if you think about it, why “honorary”? Either you are a citizen or you are not.

Then Prime Minister Julia Gillard, in her eulogy when Wallenberg was awarded his honorary title, said: “Some of the individuals whose lives he redeemed became part of our first great transforming wave of post-war immigration; among the first to pledge themselves to their new home after Australian nationality was formalised in 1949.

Surely that was testament enough to his ongoing legacy – those who were spared and then were able to make such contributions as Frank Vajda. What does Honorary citizenship add and in 120 years of Australian Federation, why one?

I think Wallenberg was one of the greatest men of the twentieth century, even though he had such a short life. After all, he was the same age as Jesus when he disappeared.

Jesus left a spectacular legacy, one that has been transformative for our country as with others. Do we then make Christ an honorary citizen of the country? And of course we do not have a death certificate for Him either. But does anybody believe that Wallenberg rose from the dead? Allow him closure.

Mouse Whisper

Ever thought why it is mice but not hice? Well it is all because in the Saxon language hus was a neuter noun whereas mus was feminine. So in the plural it is still hus but for mus, which becomes mys to the plural (as was lus).

But it is more probable that in the future there will be “three blind mouses” before it becomes “as safe as hice”. After all, those little gadgets that are pushed around computers are mouses not mice. It just illustrates there is a tendency in all language usage towards homogeneity and simplicity.

So as my Aussie quoll friend would say, it’ll be grouse, mate – and grouse is grouse never grouses nor grice.

Or because we mouse love devouring literature, will it become a case of “eatymology”?

Modest expectations – Route Marcus John

I was born on the west coast of Ireland many year ago & up to now I thought I had a hard life as a young boy picking potatoes for farmers, plucking turkeys for meat exporters, caddying for rich golfers wishing for a bag of clubs on each shoulder. But after seeing (how the Blasket people lived) I now I know I lived the life of a prince. The Blasket people were made of granite. I now live the life of a softie in England compared to what they endured …

Blasket Island

This stray Twitter comment from some guy who had watched a video on the Blasket islands off the coast of Kerry typifies many of us with West coast Irish heritage. There is something about really returning to one’s Celtic roots if you travel to one of the islands.

The Blasket islands have not been inhabited since 1953 when the then Taioseach Eamon De Valera moved the last 22 inhabitants off the island and onto the mainland. Nevertheless, this group of islands has much Gaelic literature written about them.

Sometimes, especially as you grow older, you like to relax in your heritage. Mine is partially rooted in Co Clare and off the coast are the Aran Islands; an intrinsic part of the Gaeltacht.

I remember the day I went to Inishmore, the largest of the three islands. I took the ferry from Doolin. The ferry was delayed until the tide came in, and if you get impatient, remember the Irish nostrum: “A watched kettle never boils”. So we all waited and waited. However, the day was one of those days when you thought you were going to a Greek Island rather than to an island in the Atlantic Ocean.

Rowing your curragh

The 1934 documentary called Man of Aran that I watched recently, made and remade the point that the seas around the island were very rough and perilous, and not a good place to be out rowing your curragh. It is a dark film.

The island seems to be enveloped in gloom – dragging the curragh from the surf, gathering seaweed to provide nutrition for the soil, breaking stones to uncover that precious soil in which to plant potatoes, cliff fishing – a hazardous exercise of throwing a long line down the cliff wall into the sea. Conversing in Gaelic – hard to hear with words drifting the waves and wind.

Overall, men, woman, boy – these are the toilers of the seas, to borrow from Victor Hugo. Light is provided when the figures are set against the backdrop of grey skies hacking at rocks or looking out to sea. Or else light is the white spume of the dark tempestuous sea crashing against the rocks and cliff face.

The film uses black and white imagery, which has been so over-used, to define an Ireland deprived of its emerald hue – sunless and poor.

Contrast it against the unexpected experience of being on the Aran Islands when the sun shone and you could be in the Mediterranean. Here was an optimistic panorama and not a cloud in the sky; the ocean a millpond. An island where you could take off your heavy fisherman’s jacket and sweater and go bare-sleeved.

I trekked across the limestone and grass and over stone walls to the ancient Neolithic fort which sits on the edge of cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It has the appearance of half being there, and the other half having broken away and fallen in the water. The Legend of Atlantis often gets a run when you see the ruin, especially from above. But it is an illusion; it was just built that way, as if to defy the elements.

In the progress of the trudge across the island, I was sunburnt – for God’s sake in Ireland. Twice that has happened. And that was before I could blame it on climate change.

The Man of Aran, however authentic it may have been when it was a pathfinding documentary of a vanishing Ireland, now can be portrayed as a caricature of an impoverished land.

But that day on the island aroused in the emotion of an ancestral intrusion. The landscape is a limestone continuation of the Burren, an extraordinary pavement that appears to have the hand of my ancestors in its creation. Yet it is where Nature has brought together Arctic and Mediterranean flora in the nooks and crannies of this pavement. It is a place where I have had the sensation, walking across it, of having been there before – was that chance or was it predetermined that I had placed feet on where one of my ancestors had trodden.

I have always been fascinated by the concept of the Celtic twilight.

Therefore, one of the privileges of an Irish heritage is that it has provided me with a sense of that past, which has shaped who I am – both my insignificance and my significance. That day on Inishmore I was tempted to buy a stone cottage and live surrounded by dry stonewalls and green fields. The life of an ascetic lingered for a moment.

That urge passed because in the end you are one person no matter where your heritage may lie, and I am Australian not Irish, not someone who repeatedly says that my mob have been here for 40,000 years but nevertheless proud of my mob who have been in Australia for 170 years.

I hope I have added value to the nation of many nations brought together under the Southern Cross even as the twilight gathers. In the end, it is what you do with the privilege of being here, be it one year or 40,000.

I disagree with the Twitter who escaped from the West Coast to become a softie in England.   Migration does mean being, as he terms, “a softie”. It was not a soft option for my ancestors to leave, after all it is a long way from Tipperary, let alone County Clare.

The Cylcon

I first saw them in a roadhouse at Little Topar, lying alongside the emu eggs in a dusty display case. I asked whether I could buy one of them. The guy behind the counter said no. He was only minding them for the owner. Same reply each time, I asked. The owner was elusive. Stone walls are stone walling and I did not stop at Little Topar often enough to nag.

So there it rested, until I saw one advertised on e-Bay. I am not one of those people who regularly trawls e-Bay, but I was attracted to a couple of Aboriginal artefacts, which looked ridiculously cheap. However, they became part of a bidding war – and I have never bought anything at auction. In any case, I am a tyro when bidding against skilled operators, who have so much better timing of their bids (to say nothing of the automated bidding programs).

Anyway, once on the e-Bay site, I had a further look for anything else that that might be interesting. Then there it was – one of those items that had been displayed at the Little Topar roadhouse.

It was a cylcon and it was for sale.

To put Little Topar into context, it is a roadhouse about 100 kilometres from Broken Hill. Nothing else. Cylcons, as the name implies, are conicocylindrical stones. They are said to be found across Australia, but were often picked up by those working on properties in Western NSW and South-West Queensland. Markings are not uniform and it is said that the local Aboriginal Barkinji knew nothing of them.

However, then you read elsewhere about a mob around Lake Eyre who were still using stones that resemble cylcons at least 50 years ago.

Tchuringas are often mentioned alongside cylcons as having magical powers. I know what authentic tchuringas look like as I was shown several when I was travelling around the Kimberley in the late 1970s. An elder of the local mob, who thought I was important enough to unwrap this valuable legacy showed them to me as we sat alone. As I worked out later, this was one of the most sacred possessions. That’s all I will say recognising that anything I could say about it would be strictly men’s business and remains so.

So now I have a hard sandstone cylcon. I can talk about it, still not knowing what its significance is – it remains unfinished business.

The messages are getting mixed again

A couple of recalcitrant families have tested positive for the Virus in Victoria and the postal address of these families suggests they are not “white anglo-saxon protestants”. Anyway there is no mention of heritage, and there was only passing reference to the fact that last month it was Cedar Meat abattoir at Brooklyn in one of the targeted local government areas (LGA), which was associated with an outbreak resulting in 111 workers testing positive. Do we really want to punish the whole of Victoria because of one group? Let us not be coy about where the problem lies.

The fact is Victoria has used the first lockdown in March to refine contact tracing to a very comprehensive level. However, there is need to develop a strategy to selectively isolate those groups who persist in flouting the rules, without disrupting everybody’s lives.

An Essendon football player has tested positive for COVID-19 virus. He has been found guilty of flouting the very tough guidelines, which have tried to isolate these gladiators in some sort of safe house environment. Then they show the image of this player on the field with his teammates. First, he spits on the ground and then he blows his nose so the droplets spray everywhere.

So the AFL says that they take every precaution to ensure that the behaviour of players is hygienic; so is this player as pictured the only one spitting and blowing his nose without a tissue? No evidence of hand sanitiser here. No evidence that he was disciplined for those disgusting pieces of behaviour. The game must go on, the tills must keep jingling – metaphorically.

There is confusion about whether he has tested positively or not; and anyway Essendon say he only had contact with a marginal player who would not have been selected.

That seems to be the first mixed message; just like the scurry before the Grand Prix in March. Essendon player contact vs a large Keilor Downs family contact – different approach?

Then there is the matter of quarantine facilities.

One topic that has not received much attention is the need for permanent quarantine facilities.

Sydney quarantine station

Australia has been quick to lock up asylum seekers. They are clearly different from those who flout – accidently or intentionally – the rules laid down in one major respect, the latter group vote. The way the Biloela Four have been treated is nothing short of disgraceful.

This situation is more than regrettable if an ignorant populist tries to bend public health discipline for short-term electoral gain. One of the problems with the Victorian outbreak is that it is within Labour-voting electorates. However, the Premier seems imperturbable.

That is no reason for the current Government adopting a different reaction to one where the outbreak is in Liberal- voting electorates

In the past, where there was a need to quarantine people, quarantine facilities were located close to the shipping. However, while cruise ships have been shown to be a very real source of infection, it is air travel where the major problem of ongoing infection will arise. Therefore, as quarantine is now becoming an ongoing issue, it is now important to rapidly develop facilities close to airports, where those to be quarantined can go.

Using hotels in the centre of the city with obviously unskilled staff is not an ideal long-term solution. Hotels are not constructed to quarantine people – quarantine facilities must be secure.

As has been shown in Sweden, believing people will take seriously a foe that they cannot see, hear or touch has not worked. This Virus may show its presence through smell and debatably taste, but they are not the primary senses to stimulate a “viral defence policy”.

The second mixed message is thus that politicians think quarantining the asylum seekers is OK; but not those fleeing the Virus.

The Prime Minister is keen to have a building /renovation program. Constructing appropriate quarantine facilities would be an important way to consolidate in more ways than one on the governments’ achievements; rather than fritter the sense of unity away on acrimony over the borders or fritter away money on some renovation scheme accessible to a few well-heeled homeowners. Some would say a return to the primitivism of politics rather than a rational way of devising a sustainable quarantine program.

In doing so, the government must realise that this situation is not a three month wonder since it seems that some countries, notably the USA have given up, irrespective of what they say, and just wish for a vaccine or that the Virus will go away.

Therefore, such construction recognises that this situation is not going away any time soon. One of the dozens of facilities currently seeking a vaccine might be lucky, but inescapably the most recent vaccines for HPV and chicken pox took 15 and 20 years respectively to develop.

When government wants to, it can use its own land to construct anything.

Those that are sick go to hospital. There used to be infectious disease hospitals – the last one being Fairfield Hospital in Melbourne, which was closed in 1996. I once had a week in Fairfield as a teenager when I had a severe respiratory infection for which there was no obvious reason. In another time, I could have been the first in a line of pandemic victims with an unusual set of symptoms.

COVID-19 has shown that it is preferable to have the capacity to treat an infectious disease for which there is no cure and but importantly to have the skills to treat patients without the disease being let loose in the general hospital environment.   After all, warnings of recent epidemics have been largely ignored; but now the pandemic has come upon a World which has been shown as hopelessly unprepared.

The third mixed message follows on and involves border closures. With the Victorian outbreak, the hysteria is rising again. “Victoria is the Lazaret State”. Australia has suppressed the Virus to such an extent that it can be isolated to specific areas. So you can lock down particular areas; not the whole State. You prohibit movement outside that area until the virus is suppressed; those who don’t obey go to the quarantine facilities and join the overseas arrivals.

The bluntness of this message may act as a deterrent. We have not worried about the niceties of language for the asylum seekers; so why not those that flout the COVID-19 regulations. No exceptions, not even for the rich and infamous. However, there must be designated quarantine facilities that are run as such. Once you have defined quarantine facilities and the staff requirements you bring certainty into the process.

My son came back from the United States in early March and was case 13 in Victoria. It was uncertain times as knowledge of the behaviour of the Virus was not as well known as it is now. His spread was contained. That meant inter alia that the whole family stayed at home without any direct contact with anybody until all were virus-negative. However he and his wife have defined antibody titres, as presumably have all those who have recovered in Australia.

Before we have more mixed messages – of having some recognition of their status, what does it mean? Can such people travel freely around the country or internationally? Around the world there are a growing number of such people. Do they get the equivalent of a diplomatic passport to travel? What is the ideal threshold titre for immunity required? And the questions mount up because there is still so much unknown. To avoid a fourth mixed message, does Australia just subscribe to the WHO conservative dictum on this subject – especially the immunity passport as suggested by Chilean sources have superficial appeal to some?

George V Salle à Manger

After all, there will be a graduated requirement for return to travel. Some places will be safer than others. This one area where a fifth mixed message is liable to arise as the “politician itch” to go overseas becomes unbearable. This pandemic has questioned the need to have all the junket paraphernalia – sister-cities, inter-parliamentary delegations, most conferences and even business travel – let alone ministers and their staff spending vast sums of money for nothing much more than say, having lobster bisque at the George V in Paris.

Been there; done that. Time to suppress the virus of Self Indulgence, which also selectively affects tastebuds. However, for others it has been a fascination – the overseas all-expenses paid junket. What is the government’s advice in relation to this? What twisting and turning will Australia see to make sure the lobster bisque does not go to waste?

And of course there is the sixth mixed message to end all mixed messages, Ann Sherry. She has, as recently as February this year, been applauded for all the good works she did for the Carnival organisation. She has now bobbed up co-chairing some Australia-New Zealand outfit to promote, among other things, tourism. Given her propensity to flog ships can we expect Carnival, her old ahoy, to be plying between their ships between Australia and New Zealand?

I understand there is no foundation to the rumour that Carnival is renaming its ships: the Rabies Princess, the Diarrhoea Princess, the Plague Princess and the Leprosy Princess. 

Five Characters in Search of a Disease

We were having lunch in the neighbourhood restaurant that serves freshly shucked rock oysters mostly from the south Coast.

Nearby, in retrospect far too close to us, a table was set for five.

They straggled in and sat down at the table with their bottles of wine. They were five men, well into their sixties and beyond, and typical of men when they gather together, loud talking, joking, passing the booze – as they have probably done whenever they’ve gathered.

The problem is that these are not normal times. Were they social distancing themselves? Well, no. Their bodies were touching. Was there any evidence of hand sanitiser? Well, no

In fact in retrospect, given that the courtyard was virtually empty, they could have located there.

However, suddenly one of them sneezed and coughed extravagantly. No tissue – he at least belatedly put his hand in front of his mouth. I told him off – told him to cough into his sleeve. I said a few more words. The table shut up for a short time.

Who was this other old codger telling off one of their number? They were stunned, as though being pulled up for a transgression outside the confessional box was itself a venal sin. Then they said no more and went back to their crowded space – except nobody coughed.

It emphasises how tenuous this whole community regulation as been on any long-term change of behaviour, even attitudes. Here was a group of men in the target age for serious trouble if they were unfortunate enough to catch the Virus.

However that is not the imagery that is projected on the screens; rather it is of old people being the victims. In some cases this is true, but there is a problem. It is being able to tell old people what to do – especially when they are not culturally attuned to change, except by extreme coercion.

In this case, I remember these guys as young men – not this particular quintet. They nevertheless represent that chap who limped into the surgery 50 years before with a severely infected leg following a seemingly minor injury a week before. If they have come earlier they would not have had such drastic treatment. Now these men have aged but their attitudes have not changed. In their minds they are disease-proof – that is until the Virus comes calling. They are the most vulnerable age group.

When we left, one of them muttered something that was obviously in the same literate genius sense of “What are ya?”, given the others guffawed. Sometimes the larrikin in the Australian persona is seductive; at other times, not so much.

My dining companion who is a well-known public health physician said to me afterwards that we should have told the proprietor to ask them to comply. We did not. That is our fault. It poses the dilemma of calling people out, especially the elderly who always know best (you know the guy who smokes heavily and boasts that he has never had a day off work in is life), when you only have the authority of your voice to make them comply.

Premier, you who presided over a government that gave us the Ruby Princess, should recognise that the situation occurring in Melbourne is only a cigarette paper thin barrier away from occurring in Sydney suburbs in NSW that have similar ethnic demographics where large family gatherings are the regular occurrences – let alone among the men who lunched next to us last Friday.

So may I respectfully suggest that you get your competent Health people to look at the potentially vulnerable local government areas and the level of compliance within each with the COVID-19 guidelines?

Mouse Whisper

Sometimes I come out of my mousehole, and there is this sleek lizard skink sunning himself in the morning rays. He cavorts around my mausmeister’s kitchen, and has done so for a long time.

My mausmeister decided then that he would call my industrious friend Dyson, because of his ability to vacuum – clean the floor of pesky insects.

However with the revelations in this week’s papers, it asked me why would any self-respecting lizard (and it emphasised the self-respecting) call himself Dyson?

He is petitioning to change his name to Hoover.

Dyson

Modest Expectations – A Girl called Sue

Scotty the marketer cannot help himself. Trump had to find somebody to blame on one particular day – the WHO was a convenient target. As with so many organisations of that ilk, they are inefficient but located in a nice part of the world as multiple senior Australian bureaucrats such as Jane Halton have demonstrated by visiting repeatedly at government expense. In other words whatever the WHO is Australia has been complicit in how the organisation is managed. Presumably senior bureaucrats like Jane Halton, now a member of the Power brigade, could have given an insight into the WHO and her role in recommending efficiencies, given how frequently she visited Geneva.

Prime Minister Morrison, as distinct from his instinctual marketing Scotty persona, is inexperienced in the world and, being surrounded by his clapperati, he has decided to play the international role, flush from our apparent success in containing the virus.

Evidently he has been contacting a number of seasoned political leaders, still up to their necks in death and destruction, to enlist them to his cause. Now, if there was one thing I found out when I was reforming an international organisation it was the negative reaction of the Europeans in senior positions to an Australian running the show; and the more you demonstrate your QED, the more quickly you can alienate the European audience. However, once committed Prime Minister, you must know precisely what you want to do in reforming the organisation – and then make sure you let somebody else share the credit. Hopefully you have a clear idea for a course of action and it was not just an instinctive Scotty-from-marketing bubble.

Trump does matter in the short term because if you become one of the emissaries, then you are also in his line of sight. After all, there are a great many tweets to go before November; many and much to blame.

I am sure that you are not going to crow, but remember the Chinese are fuming. Marise Payne is shrewd; but please put Dutton back in the shed. One fact is that like the poor, the Chinese will always be with you, whereas Trump is an old man with deteriorating faculties.

Reform of the WHO may yield to tactical Australian influence, especially with people like Kelly and Coatsworth as an impressive vanguard for this to be achieved; but political bluster won’t cut it.

However, because this is an era of instant gratification the clamour to return to the ancien regime grows louder in Australia. Neoliberalism – how has that benefitted the ordinary Australian?

Before this cohort upsets the careful public health response, please look at the recent Singapore experience, and do not accept at face value the Taiwan experience. It knows how to regulate information as well as the Mainland – just better attuned to occidental sensitivities.

I was once an aperitif

Years ago I was in a Carlton restaurant to hear Peter Sarstedt. I enjoyed his droll songs, and there was one song speculating about the career of a lady. The voice has remained in the brain, getting louder and louder with a slight change in the wording:

So look into our face Ann-sherry

Remember just who you are

Then go and forget Ruby forever

‘Cause I know you still bear the scar, deep inside,

Yes, you do…

When prologue and epilogue collide

The researchers enrolled two groups of COVID-19 patients in a public hospital in (the Brazilian city of) Manaus; the high-dose group was assigned a total dose of 12 grams of chloroquine over 10 days, while the low-dose group took a total dose of 2.7 grams over 5 days. All participants also received the antibiotics ceftriaxone and azithromycin.

After 11 patients died across both dosage groups, the team halted the high-dose arm of the trial on day six, citing more heart rhythm problems in the high-dose group, and “a trend toward higher lethality”.

“Preliminary findings suggest that the higher chloroquine dosage (10-day regimen) should not be recommended for COVID-19 treatment because of its potential safety hazards. Such results forced us to prematurely halt patient recruitment to this arm,” as reported by the “researchers”.

In a later update, the “researchers” noted that they experienced even more deaths in the high-dose group than were documented on day six. And it doesn’t mean the low-dose group is safe, either.

“The major difference between the high-dose and the low-dose group occurred during the first three days and the actual toxicity – two patients in the high-dose chloroquine arm developed ventricular tachycardia before death…”

This is the price the world will pay for having to deal with Trump’s thought dysfunction. Chloroquine and its less toxic analogue, hydrochloroquine have been spruiked by Donald the Quack. So what is the Doherty Institute doing wasting money on experimenting with this drug? Because a couple of Trump friends are providing funding?

After all, the drugs had been tried in the MERS outbreak and found not to work. A trial in France was also aborted because of the fact that it killed the patients. The Manaus experiment has elements of Dr Mengele – but then he did die in Brazil.

As a portent of the future, if you go up the Amazon from Manaus, there a number of abandoned luxury resorts on along the River – a Trumpian portent?

Manaus Opera House

Yet Manaus does retain a beautiful opera house, where listening to its orchestra from high in the “gods” in this ornate house, itself the legacy of the rubber barons, was a sublime experience.

A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

While I agree that there are many law enforcement officers who could be considered good there are an awful lot of them who abuse their authority. I live in a particularly red area of Michigan and since our sheriffs are elected, here they landed to what is clearly the base. Laws up here are selectively enforced on a routine basis as it is, and since the stay at home order has been in effect it seems worse. I agree we need them, but we also need them to not take the law into their own hands.  

This was a post among the twitterati which, unlike so much of the bird song that emanates from cyberspace, was sensible and caught my eye.

This tweet was prompted by an onlooker. To her, a Michigander, members of the Trumpian “lumpenproletariat” egged on by his inflammatory tweets were threatening the Michigan governor, Gretchen Witmer. What this response alleged was that Trumpian supporters were being elected as law enforcement officials at the local level. The tweet cited a number of places in Michigan where this has occurred. It is unsurprising given the attention paid by Trump in subverting the whole legal process, as typified by his approach to judicial appointment at all levels.

Trump mischievously sends these tweets invoking the Second Amendment and then, like all instinctive cowards, backtracks and obfuscates. The Trump strategy is to be consistently inconsistent; but it becomes easier and easier to work through. I presume the Democrats have now got someone studying the Trump persona as honed through “The Apprentice”.

Like all grifters, the fact that he does not want his taxation returns released suggests he is treading water; that he is in fact broke, with the Presidency providing his négligée. His strategy depends on a booming economy where, under cover, he could pillage sufficient sustenance from the American people by the end of his second four-year term to maintain the fiction of business success.

However, this virus has been somewhat inconvenient, and it will be interesting to see what next bit of quackery Trump invokes to keep the public interested; if not the public interest. After all, the virus spread across the United States has disobeyed Trump at every turn. How dare it disobey the President. Build the Virus Wall, he screams.

I wrote about a month ago:

Social media has been a godsend to Trump, enabling him to perfect the tactics he employed in “The Apprentice”. It is a medium that is understood and accessible to his constituency.

However, Trump is an old man, and his dissolute lifestyle has challenged the resilience of his gene pool. While he has hinted at a dynastic succession, this is one of the few themes that he seems to have dropped. Yet if he is elected he would be 78 at the end of a second term. The question is, can The Planet afford it, whether he is elected or especially if the electoral college does not return him? One scenario has the Old Man brandishing the Second Amendment calling up a militia drawn from his alienated constituency energised by ethnocentric hatred.

Nevertheless, Trump wants to use the tweet-executive order combo to keep the attention on him. He knows that legality and enforceability does not matter in his new order, because legal processes move so slowly and ergo he tries to do what he likes; and if the media do not cower then he brings out his lumpenproletariat. If one reads the Federalist Papers, I do not believe the Founding Fathers envisaged such a lumpenproletariat as a “well regulated militia”.

Globally we live in very dangerous times, especially as the pervasive senses of immediate solution, entitlement and me-tooism echo around the community.

The main point of anything Trump does now “to make America great” in his own image is to outlast the virus or create the illusion that the virus “has left the house” leaving him triumphant, having saved the world from a “Chinese” virus.

Where did you come from, smallpox?

I have been reading a monograph about an alleged occurrence of a smallpox pandemic among Aboriginal people. The author was South Australian doctor and anthropologist, Ted Stirling, and it was published in1911. Interpolated in his discourse was an account of her land by a Narranyeri woman (Köntinyeri), born before “whitefella” invasion.

Stirling’s review of smallpox in Australia must be cast against Jenner’s vaccine against smallpox being available from 1798. So this vaccine, or at least its variolation predecessor was known to the first white settlers. In his review the author goes to great length to indicate that none of the First Fleet or the French ships under La Perouse, which turned up five days later, had any smallpox sufferers on any of the ships.

However, according to Stirling, over a year later four Aboriginal people turned up in the Port Jackson settlement with smallpox. The two adults recovered; the two children died. Stirling then mentions the NSW epidemic among Aboriginal people occurred in the central west in the 1830s and continued spreading to Victoria up to 1845.

Stirling came upon the Narrinyeri woman called Köntinyeri, who had been born about 1830, but remembered stories of the great wind that had come and which had then been followed by the outbreak of this disease which killed many and left those who recovered severely pockmarked. This epidemic’s start is disputed. To Köntinyeri the disease appeared around the time of her birth, but there was the suggestion that the epidemic began as far back to 1814. Whatever the actual date, there had been so many deaths that the traditional burial procedures were modified – they normally would put the body on a platform until all the soft tissue was gone and then bury the bones.

Köntinyeri believed that epidemic advanced from the East down the Murray River almost depopulating the banks of the river for 1,000 miles. The Narrinyeri nation inhabit the lower reaches of the Murray River and along the Coorong, but there was a neighbouring tribe very adept in the use of the mungo, the bark canoe. So the virus would have moved swiftly along the river.

Trepangs

Yet Stirling, in tracing this smallpox epidemic, suggests that it had originated in Malay Koepangs who first visited northern Australia to harvest sea cucumbers (trepangs) – an Asian culinary delicacy. They had visited annually for the harvest since 1783. The Malays were certainly the source of an epidemic of smallpox among aboriginal people in the north-west between 1860-1870. Your acceptance of the wider implication of these Malay “trepangers” being the source of other epidemics depends on whether you believe the evidence of the First Fleet and the French squadron being free of the virus.

Much of the controversy of “when and why” has gone, not just because there was a pre-existing vaccine that has proved remarkably effective, given that smallpox has been eradicated from the planet.

The Koepang “trepangers” serve as a reminder that an infected Indonesia is an ongoing challenge to border security. Over the past few years publicity given to people smugglers means that the Timor Sea remains a tenuous barrier, especially given that Australians are wedded to Indonesian travel, especially Bali. In other words there is a two-way flow both by sea and air which inevitably will present Australia with a problem. Indonesia will not like to be stigmatised and a great many Australians will not like having to abandon Bali as a holiday destination.

In this regard, it would help if Australia’s border security restructured to have less emphasis on the direct police role. The police are there in this context to enforce the quarantine power. The whole Department needs an injection of health expertise into its future role. Ted Stirling may have drawn too long a bow in relation to solely attributing the genesis of smallpox among Aboriginal people to the Malays. However, who knows how far the Malays ventured.

Nevertheless it is a lesson in what can happen, even considering that in the NSW colony vaccination must have been available by 1830 – for whitefellas. Variola material, derived from smallpox scrapings, was brought on the First Fleet, but there is no record of its use in “variolation”.

Overall the challenge to Australia now, without allowing Indonesians to unnecessarily lose face, is assuring what is potentially an ugly and untidy viral situation in Indonesia does not spill over into Australia. Therefore, important to get the narrative right now.

Nico Louw

Now there is a name to contemplate

Lion of the Northern Cape

Senior adviser to the Prime Minister

Of a country under threat from COVID-19

Kids in queues lining the streets

Unemployment rising

Louw, close to the beating heart of Authority

A Hillsong chorister

Response to crisis?

Distributing pirated copies of Turnbull’s memoir

You’re kidding

No for real!

So what does this joker get?

Nearly 200 grand plus expenses

Now I know you’re joking

No mate, that’s what you get for distributing pirated copies.

His expenses? Barely enough for the odd bottle of single malt while with furrowed brouw Master Nico constructs yet another “gotcha”.

Which got me thinking. Most people around Australia are doing it tough, but what about the politicians and their flunkeys like Louw? Why haven’t they taken a cut in their entitlements, given that the feather-bedding they get in the way of contributions to their superannuation and then their ability, after they have left Parliament, to rort the system as “consultants” may be construed as a sense of entitlement rather than enlightenment.

The national cabinet, this ad hoc response to the virus, is confronted by a number of serious questions but there is one matter that seems to have slipped its notice. This is the question of their income; yet it does not seem to rate a mention in the talks. While the unemployment queue grows and the masses of people on struggle street grow, the New Zealand Prime Minister Ardern has taken the lead by reducing her annual salary from NZ$470,000 to NZ$376,000. This 20 per cent salary cut extends to Opposition leader Simon Bridges, Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, all 25 cabinet ministers and 34 key public service chief executives, including the Director-General of Health.

We know that Prime Minister Morrison has dismissed the idea of a pay cut for government ministers in Australia. In a radio interview, “We’ve already said there won’t be any pay rises right across the public service and this is not something that’s currently before us … it’s not something that’s being considered.”

Well, Prime Minister, that constituency you ostensibly run is locked down and struggling to pay its way; kids with poor prospects may beg to differ when they see what your senior adviser, Mr Louw gets for being un furbo. Do these qualities fostered in the bosom of the politician’s office deserve him being paid such a salary, which inevitably cascades upward to yours?

What is the value in a politician?

Let’s test that question with the electorate. At the next election let it consider voting for a Haircut Party devoted to recommending a 50 per cent cut in all politicians’ salaries and a serious pair of shears to pare back all the entitlements, including those of staffers. Instead there would be the abolition of the remuneration tribunals and linking of all future increases in politicians’ salaries to the unemployment benefit.

The policy is a bit rough about the edges – but this is not just a one-trick pony Party. The savings achieved by the Haircut would be put towards paying for a National social housing policy.

Morrison, mate, in the interim there is one aphorism for you to consider “Austerity begins in your parliamentary office.”

Maybe these officers in their sancta of the various parliament basilicae should wonder whether they should continue to stoop so Louw.

Join the Haircut party – look out for our barber poles!

In the prosperous time, the outrageously bloated political staffers can go unnoticed, but not now. Roy Masters, with whom I vie in the longevity stakes, made a serious comment about the bloat in the NRL administration, with some mediocre pie-eater, now terminated, getting over a million dollars as salary. Sport like politics has this similar sense of insensitive greed.

In some ways, the description of the Mafia condottieri as 95 per cent hanging out and 5 per cent ultimate brutality has relevance. Members of the Bloat can fill in their particular 5 per cent like distributing pirated copies of other person’s property any which way.

La cucaracha; la cucaracha

One the challenges I have enjoyed is turning on the light and being confronted on the floor by a cockroach – you know one of those robust cockroaches. It stands still, and then the battle begins. I am indebted to a study undertaken in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for the information.

I advance to squash it. The cockroach can generate a speed of a metre per second, or 3.6 kilometres an hour. Seeing it scurrying away from my vengeful shoe, it seems faster than that. However it has the ability to turn and twist at 25 times a second, which improves its chances of evasion. It does this because of its antennae, which are very sensitive to changes in the environment. Cockroaches are guided by a superb nervous system of giant neurons, ready and prepared for leg muscle action with an equally efficient sensory system. As has been said, cockroaches have had several million years in which to hone their reflexes. Makes it very much more satisfying when you win the battle and the cockroach lies squashed. Adieu, mon cafard. Arrivederci il scarofaggio.

Mouse whisper

I love the aptly named Queensland Minister Dick who has labelled Queenslanders the Bazookas and the New South Welsh the Pea Shooters in the wake of the wrestle over Virgin. Better than Cane Toads and Cockroaches? But given that I live in Mousehole NSW, I do love the Italian word for cockroach – Scarafaggio. It has a certain swaggering mouseketeer ring about it.

I believe my mice relatives over the border resent being mocked as cane toads at the best of times. A mouse has a certain dignity, and Rospi di Canna? Really, I ask you.

However, I know that among them there is quite a dispute about being relabelled Dick bazookas. However the squeakeratti are still debating Bazooke with or without the Dick.

Watch this tap.

Signor Scarafaggio

Modest Expectations – Melbourne

There is no doubt about NSW; by far and away, the most cases of coronavirus in Australia are there. Granted that it is the biggest state, but the cavalier way that public servants and at least one of the politicians have behaved has exacerbated the problem.

Gladys Berejiklian has one very great ability and that is to talk without saying “um” or “ah” without taking a breath.

It makes it is very difficult to interrupt her, and when anybody succeeds in breaking into the flow, her mouth becomes a tiny moue and her dark eyes those of the avenging disapproval. Such a countenance belies the actual situation that she is a weak leader. And now six months to sort out the Ruby Princess fiasco. Really?

Wait a minute, the Premier has adopted the Chant approach of “zig-zag”. She has asked Brett Walker SC to have a look at it as well – a “special commission of inquiry” in the same litany as “loved ones”.

What next – The Premier’s astrologer?

One despairs of any justice in NSW. This confusion gives a number of people time to muddy the waters, and already Ms Sherry seems to have slid away. Predictable! And the same cruise ships with different titles with all their verminous cabins will be back next year scratching the same political backs and contributing nothing to our economy except grief.

Premier, you are always using the words “Loved Ones”. Tell me how many of those with the sobriquet of your favourite words have died because of the Ruby Princess fiasco. No urgency to know, Premier, no need to know. Six months will do. Hiding behind a special commission? No, I am sure you are not, as you already have a good idea of what has flowed between Carnival representatives in Sydney and your Government.

Can somebody get Ms Sherry to front an interview with her sommelier boss? After all, she has a wonderful residence in Annandale as a backdrop.

The Ruby Princess fiasco testifies to a Premier who not only tried to deflect the behaviour of her Health Department but also failed to sack those responsible for its behaviour. After all, the fiasco has led to how many deaths? Instead the Premier has filibustered. Asked specifically whether she would apologise to those whose COVID-19 is due to the Ruby Princess, or to the families of those who have died, the Premier – in time-honoured fashion – just answered a different question. However, at least the media are finally onto it – they took their time.

Now the barbarians are at it again. They are those whose natural constituency is in the dystopian world of Trump. The irrepressible Chant is at it again inadvertently aiding the dystopians, as she advocates a “zig-zag” approach. Are you seriously advocating going off on a tangent and then backtracking, and then going off on another tangent and the backtracking to a different position? Zig-zagging, as I interpret it, is all about confusing everybody. Really, Dr Chant, do you really mean that?

However, the person to watch now is Mr Barilaro – you know, the man who wanted to close the ABC, the bushfire station so important for distributing information in his electorate – and then was overseas initially when the bushfires were ravaging his electorate. You remember the man?

In the background he is a cheerleader for re-opening the Rugby League, presumably because of its precarious financial position which, like the berthing of the Ruby Princess, the financial situation of a badly run organisation being more important than the health of the Australian population.

Perhaps it is a prelude to Barilaro bobbing up on another front. As he said in his maiden speech to the NSW Parliament:

The New South Wales ski fields have been forced by successive governments to compete with one hand tied behind their back. My vision is to make the New South Wales ski fields number one again, by removing barriers, aligning government policy and industry opportunity, creating a level playing field and engaging all stakeholders to develop a strategic plan to deliver a world-class alpine experience to rival the best ski resorts in the world. 

In our last blog but one it was pointed out that ski fields are a potent source of community spread of the virus.

As Mr Barilaro said in this same maiden speech, quoting Jack Lang:

Always back the horse called self-interest, it is the one that is trying.

You highlighted this quote, Mr Barilaro. It must have made an impression. 

Primrose Pell

From the 13th century onward, it’s easy to see how secretly gay men found in the church, and the church alone, a source of status and power. Marginalised outside, within they could become advisers to monarchs, forgive others’ sins, earn a stable living, enjoy huge privileges, and be treated instantly with respect. Everything was suppressed, no questions were asked in seminaries, and psychological counseling was absent (and even now is rare). Scarred, scared men became priests, and certain distinct patterns emerged.

This quote was written by Andrew Sullivan, an openly gay commentator a Roman Catholic and a follower of the great English conservative philosopher, Michael Oakeshott. The full article appeared on 21 January 2019 under the title of the Gay Church in the New York magazine.

Is Cardinal Pell gay? What does it matter if he is? I have no problem with homosexuality that is not predatory. I had a fellow medical student, a good friend, who dropped out of medicine and was subsumed into anglo-catholicism, became an Anglican monk, and I heard that he died of AIDS some time ago.

I have written extensively about Alister Brass, who was an inspiration for me, and whom I miss greatly, even though he has been dead for 34 years. As a teenager I read Peter Wildeblood’s account of being criminally charged with homosexuality and then spending time in prison for what was ultimately bad law. I was appalled on reading his book Against the Law.

As a boy, I grew up when the “confirmed bachelor” culture was transitioning into open avowal of one’s sexual preference. To me it seemed an innocent pastime for blokes who preferred other blokes, whatever the euphemism.

I have always hated the word “closet”; it may just as well be applying to a confessional box or any dark and secretive environment where homosexual activity is possible. However, homosexuality should not be stigmatised. After all, Tasmania, the last state to do so, expunged it from the criminal code 20 years ago.

Celibacy once may have been a means of survival of the intellectual tradition, but now seems to be a honeypot for communal homosexuality. What is distressing is the level of denial and hypocrisy with which the Roman Catholic hierarchy surrounds this association.

Thus celibacy and homosexuality are uneasy companions, although at one end there is Saint Augustine who was openly gay, and at the other end St Thomas Aquinas to whom homosexuality was an abomination.

Now Australia has seen George Pell acquitted by the High Court for historic sexual offences. In the background, there is a heavily scrubbed report of the Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

So as not to misstep in the quagmire of the High Court, below is essentially a compilation of quotes, including from those advocating Pell be freed.

Now the High Court judges say that is not enough. Other witnesses who gave evidence that they thought the Cardinal would not have had the opportunity to commit the lewd acts ought to have been taken into account, even though they could not give a first hand or personal evidence of what happened to those boys on that day.

Bizarre. One witness swears on oath: this is what happened to me at this place on this day. Other witnesses say: I do not know what happened on that day but that is not what usually happens – and that creates a doubt and voids the conviction. Compounding improbabilities become “reasonable doubt”.

It was argued that because Pell’s assistant, Portelli, didn’t have a specific memory of standing on the stairs on the chosen dates of December 15th or 22nd, 1996, that his testimony about Pell’s practice of being out front could not be relied upon.

 Justice Patrick Keane replied: “I can say I shaved last Friday and I don’t have a recollection of it, not because it didn’t happen but because I shave on work days”.

His point? Do you have specific memories of things done out of routine?

No, we remember things out of the ordinary. Therefore it is unreasonable for Portelli to have a specific memory about two dates in 1996.

The judges also made the point that the accuser’s recollection of the sacristy wasn’t actually proof of the abuse, only proof that he had been there.

Let me tell a story – perhaps a parable. Let us say it was the early years of the last century. Let us say it was Lonsdale Street in Melbourne. In this parable, there was once a junior barrister who used to be shaved by a barber, as was the custom of the day prior to going work.

At the same time of the day early in the morning there was a judge, a man of distinction, who would come in to the same barber shop and be shaved also. The younger and older men would exchange pleasantries and talk about legal cases while they were shaved and perfumed. Most days, they would leave together and walk to Chambers. However, there were some days the judge would leave before the young barrister. One day, the young barrister, the judge having left earlier, decided to take a short cut up a quiet lane, and turning the corner, he perceived a familiar person – it was the judge, who seemed to be adjusting his trousers. In front of him against the wall was a young boy not more than 13 or 14 clutching a newly-minted shilling.

The young barrister uttered a cry, the man who was the judge turned, his expression one of power. What was the young barrister to do? After all, he and the judge regularly shaved together; how could he in retrospect possibly ever remember the day years on what had happened on that particular day – unless he had openly accused such a respected member of the community then; a man of power, a man who wore a wig, a man who could pronounce life or death on a personal career?

Perhaps, just like all your hypothetical speculation, Mr Justice Keane, there is always a confounding storyline – fable or parable – however you define it.

Especially in a real life situation getting away from our exchanges of parables, if it emerges that there was a history in a person’s background of systemic cover ups, the law is presented with a dilemma. Men of distinction do not lie under oath. Axiomatic?

Of course, that is only non-admissible speculation to the collective mind of the High Court, but still enough for a jury to convict in a Victorian court. However in the Court of Courts, there is this reasonable doubt, because no other has come forward to dispute the man of power’s testimony. The child is in essence disbelieved.

It will be interesting if Pell, despite all the travel restrictions, suddenly turns up in Rome on his way to a new closeted life in the denizens of the Vatican, away from a succession of the civil cases, which threaten to follow.

However, there was one touch I loved about wee Georgie Pell, the prisoners cheered in Barwon prison when they heard of his release. I remember that the prisoners cheered when Johnny Cash played for them in Folsom prison – but then Johnny Cash had a guitar.

I have one last quote from the porter in Macbeth as he opened the gates – this for the departing Pell, who has had a life of power so eloquently portrayed in the initial quote from Andrew Sullivan.

I had thought to have let in some of all professions that go the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire. 

Boris

He is the type of Pom who reminds me that England is a nice place to visit but not be infected by the culture – by a product of the Eton boot camp – that nurtures the professional buffoon with the razor sharp mind.

Maybe he has now learnt a lesson that will resonate in his future actions. The buffoon, who boasted he was shaking hands with all and sundry in a hospital, while COVID-19 lurked. Hopefully that buffoon will be replaced by a less arrogant and more compassionate person who does not run the country in the same slapdash manner as we have seen him washing his hands – otherwise, God help the United Kingdom.

There is nothing more humbling than looking into the eyes of the person who has saved you. I know from personal experience.

However, the community is sick of spin doctors who aid and abet the culture of lying; Johnson revealed how really sick he thought he was. It was far sicker than the public was led to believe. Those in charge determined that Boris should not die. The fact that he had two staff constantly caring for him showed how intensive his care was. Otherwise he would not have survived. There must have been fear that a secondary cytokine storm may have intervened and finished him off. It must have been close.

Therefore, can we but cast this spinning vermin out from the Temple No 10? Almost Johnsonian?

And for God’s sake Johnson, grow up. There are many unseeing eyes watching you. 

The World that Boris Missed

A lot of radio stations in Europe will collaborate this Friday (March 20th 2020) at GMT 07:45 to sound the track of Gerry & The Pacemakers – You’ll never walk alone. Please join this collaboration to show gratitude to the people that are doing their best to help us survive this pandemic. And to have our thoughts by the people who lost their loved one.

When I first saw this announcement, it triggered a number of conflicting memories. The song originally came from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical “Carousal”, which in turn had been adapted from a French story about a fairground rouseabout who had difficulty declaring his love for his girlfriend; nevertheless she gets pregnant; he is killed in an accident before his child is born; but is permitted to return to earth for a day to see the child.

“You’ll never walk alone” is a highly sentimental song, which nevertheless moves me. It is just one of a number of good songs in this musical. However, the musical’s recognition was dwarfed at its release by some of Roger and Hammerstein’s other musicals: “Oklahoma”, “South Pacific”, the “King and I”. I saw the film as a teenager.

Some years on I was persuaded to go to hear a group of Liverpudlian bands that were touring Australia in the 60s in the wake of the Beatles phenomenon. One was Gerry and the Pacemakers. Gerry Marsden, the lead singer, was one of those Tommy Steele lookalikes – all teeth and quiff.

I went because a friend had free tickets and while I remembered “Ferry cross the Mersey”, the West Melbourne Stadium was not the best place for romantic ballads. My memory of it faded from view, until the late Paul Lyneham, the ABC personality with that somewhat crooked personality, revived memories with a band he called sardonically “Pacemaker and the Gerries”, which as it turned out in a macabre way foreshadowed his death.

Another fragment many years on – I was in the Melbourne Cricket Ground, the night Liverpool played there in 2013. It was one of the last nights, before I was stricken with my illness – a night I remember clearly walking to the ground and then dodging the traffic to catch a tram back to the apartment – almost my last night of freedom.

In any event, the fans as one had erupted into their Liverpool Football club anthem “I’ll never walk alone.” In the bellowing it loses the romantic lilt of Hammerstein’s words and the melody itself is drowned. However, the intensity remains.

All the pieces have come together with that simple announcement above and the accompanying video of ordinary people singing or miming or whatever – there is something about British working class optimism that makes up for all the Boris buffoonery. 

Opening Australia Too Soon

We now appreciate the Tasmanian Premier closing his borders so none of his Tasmanians can cross to the mainland. However, his action in quarantining the Mainland from the outbreak in Tasmania shows great foresight. We always thought it was the reverse. What cunning!

The “Burnie Incident” is unsurprising, given the demonstrated level of incompetence in the health service, proof of what happens when all the rules that the Commonwealth government put in place are ignored or flouted. Strange things happen when discipline is lax – generally such laxity teams up with incompetence.

One of the problems with many, but by no means all, small hospitals is that administrative capacity of the hospitals is deficient. In particular medical administration is often problematical as incompetents are shuffled between these health services, often with glowing references. This a general comment and not one specifically assigned to either the Burnie or Mersey hospitals, which have a conjoint administration.

Tasmania is lucky it has so many hospital beds. Some years ago, the question was always raised as to why the Mersey Hospital needed to be built, but then there must have been a seer in their midst who saw virus in the mist.

In Burnie, the virus has been let out of the bottle – infection control has been such that COVID-19 has been let loose in the community. One of the Ruby Princess passengers has been blamed for being the first case in the North-West. However ascribing actual blame is for others.

What is important now is that there is a real life situation to follow the out-of-control virus, not some abstract model. Australia can now witness from its falling rate overall what happens in a region where it is easily out of control and to see if the Australian remedy can be reinstated and indeed works.

Burnie in its population makeup is not unlike a western Sydney suburb. There are a string of small towns along the coast from Wynyard, abutting Burnie to Devonport like an attentuated suburban Melbourne and Sydney. I mention Wynyard and Devonport specifically because they are the two travel hubs for north-western Tasmania. Rex flies to Wynyard and Qantas though Qantaslink to Devonport. Devonport is where the Spirit of Tasmania berths, and given the current history of boats and the virus, there is a certain vulnerability I would have thought.

With such restrictions the north-west provides an opportunity to see how quickly the virus can spread and how quickly this underprepared community reacts. If the virus escapes the enforced isolation of the 5,000, then every community in this part of Tasmania is at risk. Possibly viral spread could engulf Tasmania.

Wynyard

The next two weeks will tell all, but it is to be hoped that the introduction of the Army, AusMat, and emergency supplies of equipment and trained staff will halt the spread. There is the complication of the FIFO miners, who are flying in through Devonport but are moved immediately to the mines down the West Coast and thus avoid Burnie. Further, there is always the follow up question of how many miners come from Burnie or other north-west coastal towns?

Hopefully, the police will continue to conduct comprehensive surveillance not only along the coast but also the three main ways south. The first is across Cradle Mountain (from the guys who went from the topiary town of Railton to Strahan – they must have got a shock to be apprehended). The second is the main route down the Murchison Highway, although there is a possible diversion through Hellyer Gorge. Finally, for those who really want to take the COVID-19 virus on a scenic trip South, there is a third route along the Road to Nowhere down through the Tarkine and across the Pieman River at Corinna; hopefully the ferry is still running.

I only mention these routes as apparently there has been an allegation of a COVID-19 carrier, known to have infected a number of health workers, who has vanished from the north-west. Cannot be found. But then there a myriad of unmade roads and forest tracks impossible to police.

It is the problem of Tasmania. One of the most beautiful places on the planet, yet its inhabitants demand much while disregarding their responsibility to conserve and preserve; they could give back more. In this case together with the rest of Australia they may watch how this snafu is corrected.

Mouse Whisper

Hairdressers and barbers take a bow. Excoriated because you were allowed to remain open while others were not, you have plied your trade without being a school for scandalous conduct.

But like all mice I fear a Trim.

Trim

Modest Expectations – Palladium

In 1633, the Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church forced Galileo Galilei, one of the founders of modern science, to recant his theory that the Earth moves around the Sun. Under threat of torture, Galileo recanted. But as he left the courtroom, he is said to have muttered: “all the same, it moves”.

Last week, 359 years later, the Church finally agreed. At a ceremony in Rome, before the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Pope John Paul II officially declared that Galileo was right. The formal rehabilitation was based on the findings of a committee of the Academy the Pope set up in 1979, soon after taking office. The committee decided the Inquisition had acted in good faith, but was wrong.

In fact, the Inquisition’s verdict was uncannily similar to cautious statements by modern officialdom on more recent scientific conclusions, such as predictions about greenhouse warming. The Inquisition ruled that Galileo could not prove “beyond doubt” that the Earth orbits the Sun, so they could not reinterpret scriptures implying otherwise.

This extract is reprinted from a 1992 issue of New Scientist when the Roman Catholic Church at last accepted that the Earth was round and we were heliocentric. However, what is remarkable is that the Pope asked for advice on the subject, which should have taken no time at all to resolve. Instead it took from 1979 to 1992 for the Report to be acted upon by the Pope.

I do not think we have three centuries for ratification of climate change.

I am not sure that we can as yet class our Government as the modern day equivalent of the Inquisition – high on strigine intolerance; low on intellectual enquiry.

Nevertheless, we are in the grip of the “anti-science” virus, simple in structure but extremely virulent.

In an effort to contain its spread, I would be interested if anybody in the media has asked the Prime Minister whether he believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible, whether the starting date of Earth has been set as 4004BC, as given to the Garden of Eden. Also would he care to interpret the Book of Revelations in terms of his government’s policy?

It is sad that those naïve followers believe this whole sorry contribution of the Prime Minister to this summer’s tragedies will not be repeated; that for the next two years Morrison, with a shepherd’s crook in hand, will guarantee us Australians green pastures and forget this summer ever happened, while Santos contaminates the already over-stretched aquifers of northern NSW and we have the next severe bushfire season in the offing. 

Coronavirus – Another one for our Pentecostal Juggler

The coronavirus has been labelled “deadly” in the news bulletins. The whole doomsday scenario is compounded by people looking like white aliens wandering around being ominous. The facts: 13 cases of coronavirus in Australia as of February 1. Nobody has died in Australia. In fact, those infected have left hospital and infection is said to be mild. Doesn’t sell newspapers this last line.

Coronavirus

In contrast, last year in Australia there were 217,000 cases of influenza and 430 deaths.

The difference is that there is a vaccine for influenza and none for this coronavirus. In other words, there is no defence except quarantine. Yet there is no hysteric reaction to these dreadful figures in relation to influenza, although single cases are singled out.

Then we have the anti-vaxxers who have been somewhat silent during the coronavirus, but why shouldn’t they be. After all there is no vaccine to complain about as yet.

Returning to the coronavirus, the rule of thumb says 14 days is the incubation period. Therefore there is a logic in locking down the world for 14 days or wait until 14 days after the last case. This is an expensive solution.

That is the problem with blanket bans selectively on person-to-person contact. When you do you lift the bans? The number of university vice-chancellors having Chinese withdrawal symptoms must be an imminent public health emergency in itself and while you have a ban on all Chinese people, then when will it all end?

After all, what is the difference between quarantining the Australians for 14 days in Wuhan rather than the expense of quarantining them on Christmas Island? What was the problem of sending public health experts to Wuhan, and making a list of those already there? Two questions? Have the Australians in Wuhan been there for 14 days? Have any Australians currently in Wuhan contracted the infection? Just arrange a quarantined conduit out of the country making sure that there is no wild animal meat in the luggage. That was apparently what has happened, and there is this scattering of people across the outer reaches of Australia with all the inconvenience that entails.

What was interesting was the admission by Len Notaras on the ABC on Tuesday morning that the Qantas 747 had been specially fitted with air conditioning to purify the air in the cabin. Well, if I had been interviewing you, Les, I would have asked why did it have to be specially fitted. You mean Les the current crop of planes are bags of viruses?

It is something I had always suspected, travelling by plane is an excellent way of picking up airborne disease. Maybe whatever was done to this flight should be done to all flights, whether domestic or international. Wake up, Australia. This admission means that flying currently is a public health risk.

However, lets hope nobody gets coronavirus while they are clustered together on Christmas Island, in “discrete” family cluster rather than the “discreet” family cluster as set out in the ABC media release

The problem is that you can impose a ban with your jaw jutting out as if you are a person of resolve. Let us see the same chin jut to show the same resolve in lifting the ban.

At present, the World Health organisation is giving the Prime Minister an out by saying the travel bans are unnecessary. He could take the advice and say Australia will be lifting the ban as soon as everybody is released from Christmas Island. Strength against hysteria is the stuff of leadership, rather than being swept along.

  • How many cases?
  • When was the last case reported in Australia?
  • What has been the outcome of those diagnosed in Australia?

Report to the nation on the facts.

Just an Opinion?

Chris Brook

Polymath & serial blogger

I first met Malcolm Turnbull in person in the First Class International airport lounge in San Francisco.

I was there as an accidental intruder. I had not long entered the hallowed space and thought it strangely small for a Business Lounge, but having realised the airline’s mistake said not a word.

Suddenly, and breathtakingly, a little whirlwind entered, comprising Malcolm Turnbull and a praetorian phalanx of trim bespoke young men (his preferred tableau I later learned). 

At once he began declaring that he was a very important person and had come to America for just one day as a very important person – hence the Gilbert & Sullivan rendition from the Pirates of Penzance.

Although I am a large man, I can be remarkably invisible when I choose, and so that is what I chose. 

What transpired in my mind’s eyes were the lyrics from Penzance, sung in front of his claque of fawning courtiers which commences (sic):

“I am the very model of a modern Major-General

I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral

I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights

Historical

From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical…”

It can be an astonishingly satirical tour de force.

I immediately enjoyed the rendition, yet horrified by the spectacle, and decided that I had stumbled upon a Gilbert & Sullivan tableau in this airport lounge.  Whether he actually completed the above rendition or not, Turnbull struck me then the most arrogant person I had ever met. 

Many other politicians and indeed Prime Ministers have taken the stage since then.

Roll forward to the Centenary of Federation at the beginning of 2001 and my second meeting with Turnbull. My son was a youth ambassador and a recipient of the Centenary Medal. As a loving parent I accompanied my son to the celebration.

This time Turnbull was more formal, he may have been one of the presenters, but there was no dent in his confidence even given his trouncing in the 1999 Republic referendum. 

It was all about Malcolm again rather than those being presented with their medals, an attitude reinforced when I briefly met him.

So I concluded at that time that his hubris was so great that a public career was unlikely, but he survived metaphorically a bloody pre-selection. Yet in spite of all his personality quirks, he is (and was) a very appealing man – highly intelligent, articulate, a real thinker and financially successful. Like many others I wanted him to succeed when he eventually did become Prime Minister.

Time passed and his world changed several times.

Australia adopted populism early, very early, and has more experience than many other nations of its impact, whether bad or worse (I’m afraid there is no “good” on this scale).

And so we have had a blizzard of failed Prime Ministers.

As for Turnbull, in my opinion he failed miserably even though he became Prime Minister against my expectations. 

I am still puzzled though, as to why he subverted his entire belief system to the trolls in the Liberal/ National coalition only to trigger “his own suicide vest” when he realised he had utterly failed. 

And I am still wondering. 

Stop the Train. I want to get off.

I was reminded of a journey I made on the Indian Pacific once. The number of British TV celebrities who seemed to have traversed the continent in a bubble of fine wine and food recently has prompted this memory.

However, when I boarded the Indian Pacific all those years ago, my destination was not Perth. It was Ivanhoe in Western NSW and was the most convenient way to get to Wilcannia where I had a series of meetings. I did not want to drive that long way from Sydney nor was it convenient for my host, the late William Bates for me to fly to Broken Hill. However, he could pick me up in Ivanhoe in Western NSW. It just so happened that Ivanhoe was a station on the Indian Pacific Railway. It was not a regular stop.

Ivanhoe is a hamlet of about 300 people, but William said he would pick me up if the train could stop there. The problem was that the Indian Pacific passed through Ivanhoe at two or was it three in the morning. The train agreed to stop. One lone person with a suitcase alighted – me.

Now, Ivanhoe has another problem, which having been there before, I knew about. The station was about one and half kilometres from town. This was because the train stop was originally a fettlers’ camp rather than being part of town.

So if William Bates had forgotten to come or was delayed because of other business, I had a bit of a walk to town, even though I assumed William would have made a booking at the local pub.

My fear of being forgotten was soon allayed. A pair of headlights dazzled me. William was waiting for me. He got out of car and helped me with my luggage.

“I hope you don’t mind sharing a room with me, doc. The local member has come to town and taken all the other rooms.”

“I hope you don’t snore,” was all I said.

Let me say that the mattresses in the Ivanhoe Hotel reminded me of the kapok ones upon which I slept in my youth. I remember that we did have an early start, so sleeping was a brief interlude. In the morning when we emerged from the Ivanhoe Hotel, confronting us was the local member complete with his election-friendly, hail-fellow-well-met demeanour. We chatted as we waited for the café to open, since it was the only place you could get breakfast. William thought the member was a bit of tosser, but he was nevertheless helpful.

Manara Hills

Then leaving the electioneering member, William and I departed along the Cobb Highway, a wonderful name for a dirt track through the Manara Hills with their amazing Aboriginal stencilled hands, until it joined the paved Barrier Highway, just out of Wilcannia. Now that is a journey. In fact, of all the road trips in Australia I have made (and they are many) the trip through the Manara Hills has some of my fondest memories – but that is another story.

William Bates was a Barkinji man, and I was privileged to know him. I met with him often in those days. A good man; when I mixed with many Barkinji he taught me a great deal about his Nation. The problem with so many white fellas is they tend to see Aboriginal people through a lens not a prism. I do not know whether, since that the Barkinji shaft of light has diminished with the cultural encroachment, which has occurred.

Darren Chester

I must admit that the emergence of Darren Chester is one of the most sensible happenings since the demise of gun-toting Bridget and the attempted Assumption by the Penitent Joyce. McCormack has survived but it will be Littleproud who will eventually succeed to wear the Golden Akubra, assuming the numbers remain as they are and the party does not become an overseas branch of Bharatiya Janata Party.

During the East Gippsland bushfires, Chester was there in the bushfires, showed a steely but compassionate resolve, and like the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, acted as a leader. He lives on the edge of the bushfire area in Lakes Entrance. At times, the fire would have come perilously close, I imagine from my knowledge of the area.

It is obvious that he has been appalled by Barnaby’s antics and those of his coterie of loud-mouthed Queenslanders. Pauline Hanson spooks the Queensland nationals into eating coal at every meal to exorcise themselves. To some extent the spookiness carries over into the NSW Nationals with the Shooters and Fishers Party triumphantly taking the last Murray cod from the river to show who is boss – us or Nature. The mantra for this party seems to be that to be a conservationist is to be sissy. However, if Ricky Muir’s showing in the 2019 Senate election is any guide, this party has very little traction in Victoria.

Chester is far enough away from these sideshows to be an objective voice.

He once had plenty of timber in his electorate, and still has. The timber industry, with its penchant for chopping down one of the climate change antidotes will have more than its normal axe to grind. There is so much harvesting of burnt trees to be undertaken particularly the pine before the bugs beat the industry to it that they will hardly be able to cope.

Notwithstanding, the forestry industry is a longstanding culprit in leaving behind wood and scrub remnants after the logging. Hazard reduction is more that burning a bit of undergrowth. It is an industry in itself, and Chester’s constituents won’t be impressed if this means a pall of smoke over his electorate for most of the year. Have to become smart!

Yet in a perverse way, the bushfires assist Chester not only because he showed courage in face of fire but also he has the chance to assure proper conservation policies and oversee if the sustainable logging mantra can be turned into a win-win situation.

Nevertheless, he must help assure the country that his Party does not remain Coal Comfort Farm even though he is speaking from his Veterans’ Affairs portfolio. There is much more to be said.

Darren Chester was once a journalist. So were John Curtin and Alfred Deakin. Role models are very useful when you have to withstand bullying and anti-intellectualism.

Mouse Whisper

Disaster One:

Bushfire smoke hangs like a pall over Parliament House as ACT burns.

Disaster Two:

Hail stones as big as golf balls litter Parliament House lawns, broken car windows, bureaucratic sobs heard as far away as Civic.

Disaster Three:

Politicians return to Parliament House to find Trough no longer in full working order having been sabotaged by gun-toting Girl from the Bush.

All in 30 days. Wow! This climate change sure is something!

Modest Expectations – The meaning of Life

Stop Press: Premier Andrews will strive to lead Australia out of the charred wilderness at the next Federal election. He is a builder.

Anthony Norman Albanese will make a great Governor- General.

Yet it is reasonable to believe prophecy is just one step ahead of fake news.

Nevertheless, what is going is eerily reminiscent of the Liberal Party Coalition in 1972 when it entered a period of policy paralysis – Vietnam and China being two unresolvable problems. Despite the apparently huge wave of support generated for Whitlam, he did not win a huge majority in the 1972 election. Despite the narrow margin to Whitlam, the two unresolvable were immediately resolvable.

On the other hand Rudd did have a landslide, and in the process the man from which Morrison is seeking advice, John Howard, lost his seat. Australia was prosperous and yet the Prime Minister lost his seat. This had not occurred since 1929 when Australia was struggling economically; Prime Minister Stanley Melbourne Bruce was intent on confrontation. He lost his seat of Flinders.

Over the years the fickle nature of the electorate has come to resemble Queensland where there have been electoral landslides over the past 50 years. Queensland is unicameral and thus landslides are not complicated by a House of plush red seats. Rudd and Abbott both won large majorities, but the Senate – the house of the Red Plush – can muddy the policy waters and in between even in the lower house when there are slim margins and independents calling the shots, policy goes out the chamber in a gust of deals.

So bugger bushfire policy, sweetmeats for the privileged and the rent seekers is the go, with parliament a sandpit.

But underlying Dante’s Australia are the climate change denialists.

Young John Howard was a protégé of John Carrick and Bob Cotton, two guys out of Florentine casting, and he was their Chosen One, but it took from 1974 to 1996 for him to achieve his aim – Prime Minister Howard. To be so single-minded requires a certain sort of brain. But John you are 81 and I admire you for your tenacity. You actually made a much better Prime Minister than I thought possible, because you had principles. Many of my achievements were achieved under your watch, although I am not sure you would acknowledge that.

However climate change is reality, just like getting out of Vietnam and recognising China was a reality so long ago when we were both young. And I sure I know where you stood on these two issues, Young John, just like climate change.

Don’t get it wrong again otherwise Daniel Andrews is a real threat to your protégé, Scotty.

In the meantime, read on …

To market, to market, to buy a plum bun, Home again, home again, market is done.

Everybody is concentrating on Scott Morrison in these extraordinary times because politics Australia has never seen such a transparent calculating self-marketeer as its Prime Minister. In this season of the bushfire, his prime aim is that he must not let it consume his base – the Liberal Party of NSW.

He has been wrong-footed, and there is discontent within the ranks. Worse, the country is watching and listening to the ABC and not the Murdoch publications, and Alan Jones, the parrot on his shoulder, is also away. The belated announcement of the call up of reservists, the deployment of aircraft and ships are all good anchors on which to embed images of a forceful leader.

Undermining the NSW Premier is an essential strategy. She and her head of fire fighting have been criticised unsurprisingly with the Daily Telegraph implicated, especially in the plotting. Shane Fitzsimmons has the temerity to say nobody told him of the deployment of defence force staff. Then the blame is smudged in the need for all to come together. Nobody wins by personal spats at a time when the country is burning; but seeds are sowed for a time in the future when social media starts to be infected by stories about what could have been done better before the intervention of the Marketeer.

In marketing terms, the emphasis must be taken away from the States – the fire fighters, which are the Premier’s responsibility and thus the essential ingredient in halting the fires. The emphasis must be transferred to men and women in uniform, his responsibility. The fire fighters only have fire trucks and a few aerial helpers, but the real toys are held by the Defence forces. The Defence Forces can provide the imagery of might, even if they in the present circumstances providing a very public but, if analysed, marginal impact.

A good marketeer demands images and big ships and big aircraft with attendant servicemen and women helping the small child onto a helicopter conveys both concern and relevance. “Army heroes” – The Daily Telegraph shouts on the front page – is ferrying people away in helicopters heroic? Soldiers doing their job – but heroes? In these Telegraph front page images, there is not a firefighter in sight.

After all, the community wants good news stores of heroism and the Defence forces – a federal responsibility – coming to the rescue is the story.

Now the images are collected and the Murdoch Press assured, control of the ABC is the target. Reading the hostility towards Morrison on Twitter by prominent ABC employees will test how strong Ida Buttrose will be under the inevitable “ember attack” by the Murdoch claque. A strategy of inserting a number of friendly commentators repeating the Prime Ministerial mantra into the ABC reporting schedule is underway. I suggest one look at some of the commentators based in Canberra who show the first signs of this phenomenon – earnestly repeating without commentary the government’s media release. Once this is done to the ABC seen as untouchably “independent”, then media control is complete. The ABC becomes a loyal servant, and who cares about a journalist without an outlet.

Prince Valiant coming to save the damsels in distress with an audience of faithful knights and yeomen is a perfect marketing morality play. However, the Prime Minister has a long path to cement that role given the uncertainty of his out-of-town rehearsals, but there is always Jon Shier as producer.

However in deploying the defence Forces, Mr Fitzsimmons recognised the problems when a group untrained in fire fighting are dumped upon him, and he went public. I am sure if he had been informed he would have suggested an appropriate role, but normally outwardly calm, he was obviously irritated that he was not told prior to the Prime Minister’s announcement.

After all, the current Minister of Defence, Linda Reynolds should know. She has had an interesting career. She has had an astonishing rise to one of the major portfolios has this Senator from Western Australia. However, she had two parallel careers: one working as a employee of the Liberal Party and the other as a member of the Army reserve from the age of 19 years, rising to the rank of Brigadier and being awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross. This is a relatively recent award given for conspicuous “non-warlike activities”.

She was wrong footed in taking the Prime Minister’s lead by going to Bali with her family, while Australia burned over Christmas, and leaving her portfolio to Minister Littleproud.* Modest Expectations Joel 11/10/19

Having been in the Army Reserve for 29 years, she would know the capability of the reserve forces. Given the gravity of the present situation her first response was surprising in seeming to criticise Mr Fitzsimmons rather than indicating she wanted to cooperate.

However, she made a big deal of the deployment of reservists when the Prime Minister announced it as unprecedented. The obverse question is why the reservists have been left idle domestically for so many years; again, Minister Reynolds should know. Hence if she thought they could contribute why did she delay any recommendation given that she would be well aware that mobilisation of such resources takes time. Or did she recommend in a suitable time that they be deployed and her advice was initially rejected. I presume she is not a muppet, saying nothing when all these disasters were unfolding.

One of tasks foreshadowed for the reservists is burying dead stock; and I think it a bit harsh when my friend said when that is finished they may be asked to bury the Government.

Somebody who knows

Chris Brook PSM FRACP State Health and Medical Commander (Emergency Management) Victoria 2009

You don’t need an analysis of the response to the 2009 Victorian Fires or the 2010 Queensland Floods. It’s all on the public record and in people’s living memories. What you also already know is that the then PM Kevin Rudd was front and centre from the outset in both events and was praised for his initiative.

That’s not to say that his promises were prudent, nor even fulfilled in whole, but he was everywhere. 

In both cases there was a massive rebuilding and recovery effort, largely due to the important work of the States continuing long after Federal intervention had come and gone.

But this misses the real story of the here and now.

It looks to me as though Morrison is set to reinvent himself, as he must, to get through this. All of the anti-climate change rhetoric and anti-socialist left tirades do not change the fact that he has lost the respect of a good part of the community – although the hyper partisan Murdoch press remains staunchly supportive.

He must by now realise that his precious wafer-thin budget surplus is gone and that long term economic damage has been done.

For the fire affected coastal and alpine communities the damage to domestic tourism – their lifeblood – will last for years.

So he will pivot embarking on a huge rebuilding effort; a stimulus thus cunningly concealed. If he’s clever the cost will be described as a capital injection (from borrowings but no one will worry about that) and he can still claim that we are in surplus on the current account.

Gorse – an example of Government indifference

Janine Sargeant – Tasmanian ratepayer & regular blogger

Recently I wrote to the Premier of Tasmania because I was concerned about the rapid spread of gorse along the Zeehan to Strahan road on the west coast of Tasmania. Its spread is symptomatic of the disregard of the environment by all levels of Government, given that gorse as well as blackberry are two of the biggest invaders on the west coast.

If an example of where fuel reduction is needed, this is one hell of a big one.

Fuel reduction is but one element in what should be a comprehensive Statewide fire management plan; the lines of responsibility are clear, readily accessible and the expected results can be easily tallied against the actual achievement.

On Tasmania’s west coast, it rains – a lot. However, it is now clear from the NSW South Coast experience that temperate rain forest can burn. The only thing that prevents it occurring in Tasmania is the level of rainfall, which this year has been about two metres. By way of contrast, the NSW South Coast’s rainfall this year was about half the expected rainfall, between 40 and 60cm, as it was also last year. Much has been said about the desperate lack of rainfall across much of Australia in what is the driest and hottest year on record.

However, despite the rainfall, Tasmania is vulnerable and the gorse invasion is just one symptom of Government’s neglect of the fire risk.

I would hate to have to quote this next summer because nothing has been done and the West Coast has been burnt – with gorse being a prominent culprit.

DIPWE defines the spread of gorse on the west coast as “widespread infestation”. Gorse is a declared weed under the Tasmanian Weed Management Act 1999 and “a Weed of National Significance”. Government’s response is supposed to be to “prevent further spread”, a response in word only as there is not action. Gorse is a major issue in a region that is heavily dependent on “wilderness”, native forests, wild rivers, spectacular scenery and unique fauna – these define the reasons why tourists come to Tasmania.

However, apart from being a hugely damaging invasive weed environmentally, gorse is a major fire hazard, because of its oily content and tendency to shed its dead wood as it grows.

Some years ago there was a gorse eradication program in this area, which seemed to be keeping this weed in check, but there is no evidence of anything being done recently and as a result, the spread of the gorse has gone unchecked. There is no evidence that agricultural contractors, utility maintenance crews, road and earthmoving contractors and other people visiting the areas infested with gorse, are required to undertake basic hygiene measures to prevent spread of seed; this doesn’t happen. In fact it is reported that the roadside mowing that occurs from Zeehan south towards Strahan is actually spreading the infestation closer and closer to Strahan due to seed spread because the vehicles are not being cleaned.

There needs to be an integrated control approach with a combination of methods: herbicide, mechanical, burning and biological control, for maximum chances of long-term success.

Tasmania’s environment, wilderness and forests are an incredibly rich resource that must be protected and in the face of what has been happening across NSW and Victoria, the Tasmanian Government needs to sit up, take notice and act before Tasmania too is wiped out by fires. The gorse invasion is one element of a potential major fire problem that being ignored. My letter to the Premier is ‘being considered’; I hope the response is a little more enthusiastic.

Mouse Whisper

My marsupial relatives, the dunnarts on Kangaroo Island remember that during the 2007 fires there were over 800 people, seven fixed wing water bombers and an Elvis Skycrane Helitanker, all assisting in firefighting efforts.

Now dunnarts smell smoke; and run at the first whiff.

Thirteen years later I have asked on DunnartMail how are they and if the resources committed in 2007 are different from that committed today. The fire in 2007 was contained quickly and the Dunnarts replied to my query.

Unfortunately, this time I have had no response. Communication has been lost.

There may be 500 firefighters, with about 50 of the Reynolds reservists there as back up, and there is at least one 737 waterbomber. Maybe the response is comparable to the 2007 effort and has not slipped backwards. Probably not. Who would know. But what of my cousins?

Now they may be extinct – a terrible, terrible outcome.

I weep for them – they were such a close-knit community.

Modest Expectations – Qin Shi Huang

So Donald had gone to the Walter Reed Hospital, the betting given his track record is that he may have been stented and sent back to the White House where there is probably the equivalent of a coronary care unit on site; but not in sight. It was recorded that a year ago his coronary artery calcium had been rising and was indexed at 133, which puts him the range of risking a heart attack within 3-5 years. But with a man who is so addicted to the sunny side of his street, we can only speculate about this particular episode. But from afar he does not appear well, a point I mentioned in my blog on 17 May this year.

Ironic that this news would come in the same week that that the Kooyong Papillon has been fluttering about retraining us elderly to avoid the poubelle of old age.

More about that next week, but really are we surprised?

An Apologia of Academics

In response to my comment on the creation of exotic names for senior positions, a former academic drew my attention to another university, which has gone for the Latin dictionary.

This particular university has appointed scientia professors, presumably on the basis that scientia being the Latin word for knowledge, those without that appellation are sine scientia – or in the vulgate of the Quad, dumbo professors.

Earlier in the year, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians wasted everybody’s time with a series of motions put to an Extraordinary General Meeting to form a cohort of what were to be called ‘Respected Fellows”.

One young female Fellow stood up and asked whether passage of this motion to set up this exclusive group would mean that all those who did not gain entry to the RF club were not respected. Same logic as the above comment about “scientia”.

Although this was a unsubtle way of interfering with the democratic processes by setting up a junta, it was soundly defeated. At least the College gave its Fellows the choice of whether they wanted this nonsense.

What is it all about? Is it only vanity? As I indicated in my comment in the last blog, I think this title escalation is a ridiculous affectation, and affectation is always a perfect subject for satire.

At the heart of all this titular mumbo-jumbo, it is probably about privilege – and privilege in this world of ours is one getting somewhere because one has been inducted into such an elite. It is very seductive to be enticed onto a ladder of privilege where ultimately the reward is the laurel accolade of smugness. Probably in about 400 CE, one would have found that there were a number of laurel wreaths strewn among the ruins of Rome.

Impartiality – the silent partner in Democracy

I have never met the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Tony Smith. When you read his curriculum vitae, he has all the characteristics of the modern politician growing up through a variety of politicians’ offices before being rewarded with a safe seat, which he plodded through in his initial years. However, he became Speaker of the House of Representatives after the demise of the unfortunate Bronwyn Bishop.

I knew Bill Snedden very well and one of his wishes was that after his speakership, which lasted from 1976 to 1983, the speaker, once elected to the role, would be immune from challenge in the House and generally challenge at the election. Snedden was concerned that the Speaker role be seen as even-handed, and having witnessed one of Whitlam’s crueller acts – the public humiliation of Jim Cope, which led to his resignation as Speaker, Snedden was determined to advocate some protection for the position.

When he resigned after the defeat of Fraser Government in 1983, he regretted that he had not another term to pursue the reform, yet he followed his own dictum that the Speaker on resignation as Speaker should exit Parliament immediately. He said inter alia “…under the Westminster convention, when the Speaker leaves the chair he leaves the House. I think this is right. This Westminster practice has been firmly in place all this century and considerations of which I have spoken have led to its acceptance. I have weighed this principle against other considerations, both political and personal. I have concluded that the Westminster practice is correct and, pursuant to it, I intend to leave the Parliament and will resign forthwith.”

Needless to say his wish did not come to pass and the Speakers have come and gone until Tony Smith was elected in the wake of Bronwyn Bishop’s disastrous stewardship. The Speaker’s standing as an impartial chair was severely compromised by her antics, and only compounded by Gillard’s previous ill-advised manipulation to have Peter Slipper installed as Speaker.

The Speaker’s role needs a person with a firm grip on the rules, but also common sense and a sense of humour and above all a person who exhibits impartiality.

One of Whitlam’s less desirable acts was his lack of defence of the then Speaker, Jim Cope. Cope’s “crime” was naming a Minister, Clyde Cameron. Whitlam failed to support him and Cope immediately resigned, barely holding back his tears. Later Cameron realized the gravity of what he had instigated and apologised to Jim Cope.

However, although Cope was visibly distressed, when the time came to elect his replacement and Giles, a Liberal party member was selected by the Opposition to contest the ballot against Labor’s choice, Gordon Scholes, a voice was heard clearly calling out in the House “How do you spell Giles?” It was Jim Cope. His sense of humour never deserted him.

Jim Cope was a good Speaker with only a hint of partiality.

Moving onwards to Tony Smith, Smith’s conduct in the House has been so impeccable that at the last election, he was elected unopposed, and in fact his nomination was seconded by the Member for Caldwell, a Labor MP who glowed as she seconded his nomination.

That is an important first step, but although it would be impossible to know definitely, his performance as Speaker has kept control of the proceedings so that mostly the feet are out of the gutter and if not he has ensured that they are lifted back onto the pavement. That is his immense value to Australia at a time when there is much partisan hatred in the air.

He does not attend the Liberal Party Room, which even Snedden did on occasions. That is another step towards achieving what Snedden fervently wished. Smith is loathe to use his casting vote. I have not read whether he subscribes to Denison’s rule laid down by that Speaker of the House of Commons.

Then he does not seem to flaunt the not inconsiderable perks of office, and while Snedden was the last speaker to dress in full regalia, Smith’s gravitas proceeds without having to dress up to emphasise this.

The main drawback to an independent speaker underneath all the constitutional bluster is that, unlike the British situation where one seat more or less doesn’t matter generally, in Australia each seat is at a premium. However, having looked at Smith’s seat of Casey, it is buffered by two Liberal-held seats where the suburbs bordering on his electorate if redistributed into his electorate (as probably will happen eventually )would be unlikely to change it from being a Liberal seat. Therefore, Smith is in a safe seat and unlikely to be defeated any time soon, which buys time if the notion of an impartial Speaker immune from political challenge is seen as a necessity for Australian democracy to be maintained.

I fear that installing a partisan clown in the Chair may be one tipping point for civil unrest.

I may overstate the point, but one cannot underestimate Tony Smith’s role in sustaining our democracy.

Yet the resulting conundrum of the unchallenged member is that it would effectively disenfranchise the voters in his electorate. It would be interesting to ask them whether they would pay the price for having such a person as the Speaker as their Member.

The Media & Private Health Insurance 

Guest blogger:  Terry Stubberfield FRACP*

Sometimes you just have to say something and not just grumble into your breakfast cereal about the latest media commentary.

Thus this response was prompted by Ross Gittin’s recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald (30.10.19) – “Funds cling on for dear half-life” – complete with image of grasping skeletal X-ray hand. This article made a number of claims without any supporting data.  

Gittins stated that patients are experiencing “huge out of pocket costs that they were not expecting”. Yet at the same time it is interesting to note that in the June 2019 quarter report from the Australian Prudential Regulatory Agency (APRA) the average out of pocket cost per service/episode for private hospital care for the quarter was reported as $314.51, compared with the cost for the June 2018 quarter of $308.73.

For consultant physicians 86.8% of medical services in the Private Hospitals attracted no Private Health Insurance (PHI) payment; by comparison, if you look back three years to June 2016, it was 85.3%. In other words more patients are paying no gap.  Furthermore, that payment for a consultant physician/specialist service was no more than $25, irrespective of how funded. Consultant physicians indeed having the lowest gap payment, of any medical group, if calculated as a percentage of the service cost, i.e. 1%.

In discussing the cost of the private health insurance industry Ross Gittins has concentrated on medical services. Reviewing the June 2019 quarter data provided by APRA the total funds paid by PHI during that quarter for selected areas were:

  • Medical Services $603m  
  • Accommodation and Nursing $2,789m
  • Prosthesis $543m#
  • Dental $697m
  • Optical $204m 
  • Physiotherapy $112m 
  • Chiropractic $77m.

The summary of the June 2019 quarter data presented by APRA states: “medical benefits paid per service … does not mean medical services overall decreased or increased in cost”. 

So medical services are just one piece of the puzzle.

Ross Gittins’ article simply jumps on the populist wagon where over-paid specialist doctors are the cause of the PHI sector’s woes when the data above raises serious questions about escalating costs elsewhere in the health system.

Mr Gittins also falls victim to the common error of lumping all medical specialists under one umbrella when there are multiple specialist groups: consultant physicians and consultant paediatricians for instance are those medical specialists whose expertise is predominantly cognitive; they manage the most complex conditions often for the life of the patient – adult and paediatric – on referral from general practitioners and other specialists. This referral system is one of the strengths of Australia’s health care system.

The APRA report doesn’t comment on “medical specialists” as if they are homogenous group, but appropriately deals with the different medical specialties separately.

In a speech given by Peter Kolhagen, APRA’s Senior Manager, Policy Development, to the Health Insurance Summit 2019, he questioned the health insurance funds for their tardy response to the impact of a range of issues and changes the delivery of health care in Australia – including regulatory and health demands. APRA appears to not single out medical specialists as the root cause of all the problems for private health insurance in Australia.

Gittins however uses surgery as a proxy for all medical specialists, which reflects his basic lack of understanding. Hence his final thought bubble in the Sydney Morning Herald article claims medical specialists are promoting private over public hospital care in order to line their pockets and that if there was not a private hospital system, “…they’d (specialists) do far more of their operations in the public system, probably doing more operations in total than they did before (to counter the huge drop in their incomes)”.

This is disturbing, simplistic and displays little understanding of the delivery of hospital care in Australia. The resources required to provide additional inpatient services to replace the current private hospital services, would be considerable,

Just add the annual recurring expenditure currently provided to private hospital care, (according to PHI data, of around $15 billion),

Then add the cost of infrastructure required and additional nursing and hospital medical staff required to provide much of the day to day health assessment, organisation and implementation of care.

Analysis of health care in Australia is a useful exercise, given that health care represents a significant proportion of government expenditure. However, Australians should not be inflicted with simplistic commentary that can only result in misleading the readers who rely on commentators like Gittins to give them useful and accurate information.

# A real growth increase of >10% in the past decade and I thank Stephen Duckett from the Grattan Institute for this information – and a matter which is obviously concerning enough for the Government to launch a separate inquiry into this increase in the cost of prostheses.

*Dr Terry Stubberfield is a consultant paediatrician practising in a regional Victorian city. He is President-elect of the Australian Association of Consultant Physicians.

A Royal Wave through a Crack in the Door

The door ajar; the recognisable face; the smile; the object of the smile a young lady with long hair, her face concealed; the furtive but practised royal wave; the door shuts; the young lady gone. New York wakes for another day.

I wondered where Prince Andrew Albert Christian Edward had been. I cannot remember in fact seeing him on television, except during his matrimonial tussles and briefly as a Falkland War hero.

In discussing his relationship with the “unbecoming” Mr Epstein, HRH made mention of the fact that he does not sweat.

Of course, he does not, HRH perspire. Would anybody question that fact?

However that is trivialising the seriousness of the claim.

However, on that note, HRH has suggested he does not sweat because he got an overdose of adrenalin during the Falkland War. Nearly forty years later, he says that the after effects persist. Did I hear that learned gentleman at the back of the room clear his throat and was that clang another’s jaw drop? It is known that the use of other drugs such opioids can be a cause of reduced sweating, but for how long?

It is a rare condition and because of his claim it cannot be readily attributable to a congenital affliction, especially as Dad and Brother Charles are shown often perspiring freely after a chukka or two.

However his anhydrosis claim could be tested very readily, if there was enough interest in pursuing HRH.

Otherwise, Your RH, the RAF Salmon Boars are prepared to recognise your outstanding claim with a special flyover.

In fact, the interview may be the start of another crack in the house of Windsor; it recovered from the last crisis – but then the Queen was twenty-years younger – and the potential consequences are not just airbrushing away a case of serial adultery as was the case with the Diana tragedy.

Broken is the crown …

However, this not just one indulged ageing man, who disputes whether he sweats or not on the basis of a highly unlikely reason, a figure of derision, a butt for satire, but a serious challenge to the integrity of society. If guilty, then he is a high profile child trafficker. Exploitation of children is as unacceptable as slavery. That other Elizabeth queen was deeply involved in the slave trade, but there is no record of her ever regretting it. No; she did not among her many achievements invent Teflon.

Just different times; different climes, the apologists murmur. Just poor Andrew Albert Christian Edward. This episode is mere fluff on the shoulder of humankind. No it is not!

Slavery may have been the legacy of the First Elizabethan Age; it would be a pity if trafficking in children is the legacy of the Second.

Mouse Whisper

The derivation of the term for a member of the British Conservative Party comes from the Irish “tóraidhe”, (pronounced tawra) referring to a bandit. Ultimately the root verb for “tóraidhe” implies “pursuit”, hence outlaw or bandit.

In the late 17th century Whigs were those who did not want James, Duke of York, to succeed Charles II, as he was Catholic. The Duke’s sympathisers became known as Tories, and the Duke was briefly James 11, until the powers that be did a reverse brexit – more a bradit and invited the Dutch House of Orange to juice up the monarchy.

Brexit Boris the Brigand is a real alliterative tongue-roller – but Bradit Boris has a distinctive dissonance.

In the absence of a photo of Boris the Brigand, here is Boris the pirate